Memories Of Santa Ana
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Of all the memories of South Amreica that linger in my mind, those of Santa Ana are the pleasantest. We reached Santa Ana by coach from Los Altos, a happy drive full of interest and pleasant anticipation. I recall vividly that the roads were incredibly wide with much grass growing in them. Often they would be like narrow pastures, so that traveling sheep or cattle could get food. Occasionally we dipped down into a hollow where there were trees and a little brook, like one would see in our own land, but quite different from what one would expect or find in Argentina. I recall that we passed a herd of rather thin cattle being driven along the highway. They were hurried nearly as fast as they could be hurried and perspiring and panting for breath. I remarked the unwisdom and cruelty of this, and received the astonishing information that it was done purposely for the good of the cattle ; that in winter time when they are in thin flesh and must eat much coarse, hard grass, there is danger that they will become constipated; that the cattle receiving occasional vigorous stirrings-up of this sort come through in far better condition than those that do not. As this is confirmed by practical English and Uruguayan estancieros alike, there must be truth in it. Possibly here is a hint for some of our southwestern ranchers.
We scared flocks of small green parrots from the trees that overshadowed the brook, saw many doves, much like our North American turtle doves, but smaller, and occasionally in paddocks or pastures we saw ostriches. My boy interpreter Samuel was as happy as a lark; every detail of the glad, free life of the camp was a joy to him. I quote from my journal:
"I am sitting in the sunshine under the back porch of the estancia house. A grave old green and gold parrot is at my side; he surveys me philosophically. I have just moved him into the sun and he seems half to smile. There was another, smaller native parrot here by me, but he scolded so that Miss Gepp came gravely to take him away. There was also a nice little native dove. The woods are full of doves and they coo deliciously in the mornings. The long, low, homey, English-built estancia house is set down in a grove of giant eucalypts and the trees are as full of parrots, oven birds, palomas (doves) and other birds as they can well be. I wish I could have time to write of all the delightful things that tempt me. We have had a ripping time since leaving Montevideo. This morning, which was a bit frosty, Samuel took a cold bath and was afterward chilly; in fact, I myself am wearing my fur coat, so he asked me if he could take a run. `Certainly; the best thing you can do; just bring me a nice tail feather from that ostrich yon-der.' The field is dotted with ostriches and in the cool mornings they run with their wings lifted, just for exercise, I have no doubt; but Samuel did not overtake an ostrich.
HOME LIFE ON AN ESTANCIA
"I am writing with my gloves on for the reason that my fingers are tender and the cold keys hurt them. I have awful chilblains on my fingers. Did you ever hear of such a thing? It seems common here. But what fine fires we have evenings in two fireplaces at this estancia. Henry Gepp is a type of the old English gentleman. His father was a clergyman and headmaster in a big school in Derby-shire. He has been many years in South America. He has had ten sons; eight are living, and seven of them are managers of estancias. One is at home, a young man, and two daughters are with him. An aunt keeps the house: the mother is dead.
"My coming here was quite accidental. I had not heard of Mr. Gepp at all, but I had a Ietter to his son whom we visited at Los Altos. He told me that his father hoped to meet me; so he put us into a coach drawn by four good horses and we came, journeyed thither, some thirty-two miles. To our astonishment they were looking for us and luncheon was ready. The son had sent a courier ahead to warn them. My last days in the camp are my happiest ones. The house is much like a gardener's cottage in England with its low walls, tiled roof, casement windows and tiled floors. It is cozy and rather spacious. It is full of books and papers and has the best country library that I have ever seen. Among the volumes are my own books, which Mr. Gepp honors me by reading.
"Unluckily the magnificent eucalyptus trees have worked havoc with the orchard; there is left but one orange tree and its oranges are small. The eucalypts sap the moisture. Away from the trees, however, he has a beautiful garden of half an acre, and so beautifully tilled that it is quite weedless. Although the nights are frosty, yet the hardy things grow well. The soil is a rich, black loam that is easily tilled. In the spring he will plant melons and all sorts of summer-growing corps. Just now the aunt came with a great basket of biscuits, the sort they buy ready made; they come in big gunny sacks and are hard as iron, almost, but awfully good, if one has strong teeth. She came with a basketful of them that she was selling to a boy on horseback, a son of one of the pasture-tenders. The aunt said: `See what a lot of these one gets for 20 cents.' They also sell mutton to the peons and perhaps to some others of the neighbors.
"This morning I had a happy experience. The sun was just lighting up the frosty camp, and all the trees were full of birds, singing. One bird sang almost precisely like a robin. I wonder how he learned the song. If I hear it again, I will try to jump up and see which one it is. There is one bird that looks a wee bit like a robin.
" `Auntie' had brought me a kettleful of hot water for my bath and I had that big wide English tub affair of tin, so I gaily bathed and then in the keen, frosty air afterwards, rubbing myself and jumping to get warm. Then I came out to my breakfast, with Samuel Aguirre. I ate uncooked rolled Quaker oats with milk. I had asked for them in that form. The family had breakfast much earlier, but one señorita sat down to pour the coffe and play hostess. She and `Sammie' talked, mostly in Español, but I could understand some of their words. I ought to talk it more than I do. Then we went out to see Mr. Gepp, who was in his gar-den working, taking out some salsify, and so I helped him, and we talked gardening. He says that he is able to keep the garden always weedless. He has the finest collection of American gardening tools that ever I have seen, and all were polished and shining. In the afternoon we drove over the camp. It is a little place of about 5,400 acres with some 7,000 sheep. Great ledges of rough, rounded granite rocks stick up through the soil and then there are wide stretches of smooth pasture lands between. He took us to see where there was soft limestone; he is eager to get it crushed for his garden and for the alfalfa, which has not been a success. While we were driving we came to a school, the only one in leagues and leagues around. The children were just going home, mostly on ponies, and I asked that we be allowed to visit the school. The building was a long, low wooden shed, unpainted, with a roof of thatch and a floor of black earth, quite hard and very clean. The señorita lives in the school, with her mother and younger brother. They have a few little trees and some flowers near the house and a fine caladium in a tub inside, safe from the frost. There were no ceilings to the rooms, so they must be practically as cold as out of doors. The señorita was very pretty and intelligent. She asked us to have tea, which we did, in her neat dining-room with its roof ceiling and wooden sides, which were hung with some good pictures. As we sat at tea I told her some things about the teachers in our own land, and especially that we could not keep them long, for they married. She laughingly replied that here they seldom married but remain teaching till they were 50. I doubt it. Then we went into the school-room. The desks were good, much like ours in North America; the earthen floor was very clean and the books good, furnished by the State. I noticed a wall map of Uruguay and one of North America, each of the same size.
`How the hundreds of parrots in the trees chat-ter. I wonder what it is all about. We go today to drive over a neighbor's estancia, a very great place belonging to Alejandro Gallinell. This morning I arose late, so breakfasted alone; but the young daughter sat beside me and talked; she had been shy before. She has never been in school even for one day. Auntie taught her. She reads and loves `Little Women' and good American books. The library is excellent.
"My host has gone through many revolutions-those sad and sinister happenings that prevent Uruguay's development and constantly menace its happiness. Because of revolutions he keeps no horses, hiring men who own their own mounts. He has bred cattle and sheep in thousands. `It is a very different world, Mr. Wing, from that with which we are familiar in England, and no doubt it is as different from what you know in America,' he said. `We make many mistakes coming down here and undertaking to do things. For example, the owner of this place had a delightful garden just above the house, with also an orchard. About thirty-five years ago he planted small eucalypts about it. They looked lovely when they were young; they broke the wind and all that. Now they are near 100 feet high and _the garden and orchard are totally ruined; the trees have sapped every bit of the moisture and life from the soil. Then the great trees have attracted the parrots, as you note, which do a lot of damage, and the neighbors complain of them. I have shot many, but when one dies a hundred come to its funeral. I Jove gardening. Come see the beginning that we have. As you say, it is a glorious soil, still it is not very far down to the rock. We ought to have it half full of growing things by now —cabbages, English beans, lettuce, turnips, carrots and spinach, but it has been too dry to get all planted, so you see the land half bare. We have another chance; in the spring we can plant corn, squashes, watermelons and many things that you grow in North America. Then if the rains come fairly well, and the` locusts do not come we shall be living from our garden nearly all the year. We can grow potatoes, and sweet potatoes, too, if the season is right. What we lack is any regularity in seasons. And then we have terrific rains that wash the soil, and winds that blow away both soil and seed, so that gardening is not so simple a thing as in England or America. I love all forms of animal and bird life. These ostriches are wild and yet one of the old cocks will eat from my hand. When I am working in my garden, little birds come to gather the worms that I turn up. I observe that one sort of worm is eaten by one bird and another sort by a different bird.
"I purchase many of my seeds from North Am-erica and have grown fine American maize here, the Learning and the Golden Wonder. Did you observe the little black skunks on the camp? You see how tame they are. I once did not allow them to be killed and they grew very common about the place. One day the maid in the kitchen heard some-thing moving about in a pot that was under the stove; investigation showed it to be one of these skunks. We carried it carefully out and down across the stream before letting it go, but in no time it was back again and in the same warm spot. It had to be killed. Later we learned that the skunks would kill chickens, so now we do not en-courage them to come about. They have no odor, when undisturbed. The fur buyers here do not pay much for them.
"I hardly know what is to come to this country; it is changing fast.. Time was when we had many English families in this neighborhood; now they are nearly all gone and the few remaining English owners are selling their places. We had a church once, not far away. Now our family is the one remaining to attend. Land is worth about $32 per acre; that tempts the owners to let it go, although I do not see what they will do with their funds that would be better than leaving them here. Some are going to Brazil, where lands are said to be good and cheap, but there are many difficulties up that way, I understand. Be it as it may, agriculture is coming in and many estancias will go in that way. And the native farmer is very bad; he cultivates very little indeed, and lets the land grow up in weeds. He does not understand the principles of moisture conservation by cultivation. The original farmers here were many, of them from the Canary Islands. They are dark people and not negroes; they make capital ox-drivers and fairly good agricultural labor. There is great danger that under careless farming with the deluges of rain that come the soil will some day be washed from the slopes and the land practically ruined. Only the level places on the hill summits and the little valleys should be plowed."
A happy evening followed. The old living-room had a fine fireplace. We piled it full of eucalyptus wood, and the quebracho of the north, wood as hard and heavy as anthracite coal. We sat by the cheery fire and talked. Beside the blazing fire was a pile of good literature.
CROSSING OF BREEDS OF SHEEP
Mr. Gepp believes in cross-breeding. He uses Shropshire and Romney rams, pure-bred rams and cross-bred ewes, assorting the ewes at the beginning of each breeding season and putting them to rams most suitable. I was much interested in seeing how he keeps the sheep from his neighbors' fences. He builds low, parallel fences distant about six feet and the cattle can eat over them or step over them to get the grass, while the sheep do not jump over. The height is about thirty-three inches. It is a great object lesson for South America. It teaches that there is no excuse for a man's having scab in his flock even although the neighbors may have it.
Santa Ana, Henry Alleyn Gepp, the aunt, the daughters and the fireside linger in my memory. Ever faithful, since my coming home to America Mr. Gepp has been a good correspondent. He has kept me posted as to the news. The rains came; the year followed good; there was a wealth of grass; it was a "fat year," and he sold his wool for the top price in Liverpool. The household kept well, the melons throve in the garden, and while he did not write it to me, I know well that the forest of giant eucalypts behind the house is yet musical with the tongues of myriads of birds. Mr. Gepp escaped terrible losses when there were revolutions, because he was beloved of all the countryside. His was a manner of perfect courtesy and kindness to all whom he met, and it came from a good heart. One finds men of this type in odd places.
Time did not permit me to go farther afield in Uruguay. There were native estancieros all around me ; I did not try to take account of what they were doing because as a rule they were not doing things very well, and I was informed that it was doubtful whether they could tell me what it cost to do what they did. They were not, as a rule, making much money; that was evident. Their cattle were usually ill-bred, although to their credit they are buying better bred bulls as fast as their means will allow. Their sheep were almost always scabby and of mixed breeding. I had secured in Montevideo from large estancieros, exact costs of wool and mutton production. I had seen enough estancias to give me a mental Picture of what they were like. My work was done, and the good steamer Ionic was nearing port to take me to England.
I left Mr. Gepp and his household at Santa Ana with sincerest regret, for it was a place where one could happily spend weeks or months.