Alfred A. Benitz Page last modified:

Alfred Benitz - Pioneer, Sportsman and Gentleman

Web Chapters Years Ages Events Places
Page 1 1-5 1845-1874 0-15 Preface & notes.
Family history & youth.
Ft. Ross & Oakland, California, USA
Page 2 6-10 1875-1876 16-17 Emigration & settling into Argentina, father dies. Panama, New York, Southampton, Buenos Aires, Rosario, Estancia “La California”
Page 3 11-13 1876-1880 17-21 The family business, Charlie & Uncle Frank die, Willie marries. Ea. “La California”, Santa Fé, Argentina
Page 4 14-16 1881-1897 22-38 Hunts, expansion north, Indian chases, Frank & Herman die. Calchaquí, Saladillo & Toba rivers, Laguna Yacaré, Ea. “Los Palmares”
Page 5 17-20 1898-1937 39-78 More growth, Travels, & Marriage. Europe, USA, Africa, Yukon, Ea. “Las Tres Lagunas”, “El Rincon”, Patagonia, Chile
Page 6 Appendix Bibliography, Glossary, & Illustrations

 

 Web Page 2:   Building the Family Business 
Chapter 6 Voyage to New Horizons
Chapter 7 Argentina and some of its History 
Chapter 8 Buenos Aires
Chapter 9 Rosario
Chapter 10 Pioneering Again
AABz1859_Bio_Ph01_wPerico.jpg (30949 bytes)

Don Alfredo
and his inseparable “Perico”

(circa 1935 - Photograph taken by George R. Daly)

CHAPTER VI

THE VOYAGE TO NEW HORIZONS

The Benitz family was now embarked on the great adventure. For Father Benitz it meant at long last leaving behind the shores of the country he always had considered inhospitable and uncouth, as well as the realization of his dream of many years to go to the wonderful new continent to the south.

For Alfred and all the other children it must have meant, more than anything else, the excitement and thrills of a sea voyage - and that was a real adventure in those days - plus the superior feeling that change and movement always give to youth over their less fortunate companions who have to stay behind.

What the voyage meant to Mrs. Benitz must be left to conjecture. Nothing is recorded in Alfred’s diary of his mother’s feelings on the eventful day that the “Arizona” sailed out of San Francisco harbor.

Since there were no steamship lines in those days which carried passengers direct from America to the South American countries, it was necessary for the Benitz family to make the long and roundabout trip to the Isthmus of Panama by steamer, across the Isthmus by train, to New York by another steamer, then to London by a third ship and from London to Buenos Aires by still another vessel. This was the regular itinerary for anyone who wanted to go from California to South America in the days before the Panama Canal. Although the journey was a long one, requiring two months and ten days, it was made without major incidents. It provided Alfred with an abundance of material for his diary and, perhaps because of the greater leisure available to him, the entries during the voyage are noticeably longer than those that be had been in the habit of making previously. The first day Alfred wrote:

“July 29: (off the coast of California, on the s. s. Arizona) today we began our trip to South America. I got up at five o’clock in the morning, put on my Sunday clothes, and helped to carry the trunks to the sidewalk in readiness for their removal by the express-wagon. I then wrote a short letter to Uncle Howard and took it to the post-office. Willie rode on the express-wagon while we all walked to the depot, where we took the train, and afterwards met Willie with the luggage in San Francisco. From here Frank and I walked to the steamer “Arizona” and the rest of the family went in a hack.

“After we had been on board for about an hour, a great many friends arrived who had come to see us off. Dr. Cole, who was also sailing, was surrounded by a crowd of people and had a brass band playing. At twenty minutes past twelve, the ship cast loose from the wharf, a cannon was fired from on board and we slowly steamed out of the harbour. ‘Good-bye, Oakland and friends, never expect to see you again.’

“We passed Ford Point at ten minutes past one, Pasadero at about three o’clock and an hour later still were in sight of land. Dinner is at two p.m. and supper at six. There are a good many nice things to eat, and so far I have felt no signs of sea-sickness. After supper, Josephine and I walked arm-in-arm about the deck and watched a school of porpoises which followed the ship for nearly an hour. They were very graceful as they jumped out of the water, and generally go two by two. Their colour is brown on top and white underneath. We also saw in the distance two whales spouting. Towards night-time the sea became rougher, and at ten-thirty I went to my room, after waiting a while for a lantern. Frank, Herman and I sleep in one room, No. 5. I am in the top bed, Frank in the middle and Herman underneath. It was a very pleasant day, and they all said that it ‘could not have been better for the beginning of a voyage.’

“July 30: I slept pretty well last night, and when I woke this morning we were out of sight of land. Before breakfast Charlie and I walked about the deck. Afterwards I got a book from a bookcase in the parlor. It was called ‘Wild Oats.’ I thought it was going to be a book on farming, but it wasn’t. After dinner I walked over to the steerage and looked at the engine. I then held some worsted for Josephine to wind and after that walked around with Charlie. We then went into the parlor and listened to a man play the piano. At four o’clock precisely there was a false alarm of fire, so as to train the Chinese sailors what to do in case of a real fire. They all rushed to the boats and buckets and squirted water from a hose into the sea. I could not help wondering if they would do it so well if the ship really was on fire. We received our eating tickets today. All the passengers sit together for meals at one long table. It is now getting much warmer, although the sun hardly appeared all day. I went to bed at half-past six.

“July 31: this forenoop I watched Captain Seabury take the observations. At mid-day we had run 261 miles in 24 hours. The ‘Arizona’ burns four tons of coal a day. Supper which was at five o’clock consisted of clam soup, deap-sea bass, roast beef, tea and cakes and mush-melon (cantaloupe). At ten o’clock tonight we were opposite the boundary line between Mexico and California, and were out of sight of land.”

The next day Alfred observed that “this thing is getting very monotonous, nothing in sight but water and sky or fog,” and in truth the trip was settling down to the regular monotony of a sea voyage, broken only by the small incidents that assume much greater proportions at sea than they do on land. Another fact that may have helped to belittle the charm of the trip for Alfred was that he eventually was overtaken by sea-sickness. Although it made him feel slightly uncomfortable, the mal de mer had only an insignificant effect on his appetite. One day, apparently the worst in his bout with the bane of sea travellers, he complained that he was so much under the weather he was reduced to eating “only beafsteak at breakfast, soup at dinner and,roast-beef for supper.”

The “Arizona” stopped at the Mexican port of Acapulco on Aug. 5. It was the only port of call between San Francisco and Panama. Alfred, Josephine, Frank and Willie made up a small group of tourists who went ashore for a brief time and were properly superior, in the best tourist tradition, over the native surroundings. One week later the ship had reached Panama where the Benitz’ left it to trans-ship to another vessel bound for New York.

Here are Alfred’s impressions of Panama:

“Aug. 12: (Panama harbor) at four o’clock, this morning I could see the native boats already hanging about the ship. I watched a large flatboat come alongside, and an engine on a boat next to that, which was unloading the ‘Arizona’ of wine-casks and hides. Later on all the family except Charlie and I went ashore at Panama, some in rowing boats and the rest in little steamers. When they came back in the afternoon they gave a very discouraging report of the town, its uncleanliness and high prices for everything. At about eleven o’clock Charlie and I hired a native to row us and two girls from on board to one of the larger islands where we walked along the shore and picked up some shells. We then went for a walk through the cool, thick woods to another part of the beach. The butterflies and flowers in the wood were beautiful, and the trees so low and close together that it was impossible to get through where no path had been cut. We then walked back to the boat, and the native rowed us to the ship, for which I paid him a dollar. We missed our dinner through going to the island, but I made it even by eating a very hearty supper.

“Aug. 13: this morning I watched them unload the ship, and after breakfast hired a boat to take Johnny and Herman to the nearest island. We took off our shoes and stockings and waded along the beach, looking for shells until we came to some large rocks. Here we gathered some shells from little pool which were full of starfish, sea-eggs and live shells. When we got back, Willie and Mr. Hammerstede, who plays the piano very well, were just starting off to row to another island, and as they invited me to go along with them I did so, and helped them to row across. We walked along the beach and then around the island, which is much smaller than the others. When we got back, I climbed up to the ship by a rope. We were just in time for dinner.

“Aug. 14: this evening the officers from the ‘Richmond,’ (apparently an American warship) brought their brass band over to the ship to play dance music, and everyone danced. Then our amateur minstrel troupe gave an entertainment of songs and recitations, which lasted until midnight, when we went to bed. We are crossing the Isthmus of Panama tomorrow.

“Aug. 15: the gong sounded at half-past four this morning for us to get up, and at five we had breakfast. We then left in a little steamer which took us to Panama and landed us at the shipping company’s warehouses, which were also the depot for the Panama railroad. The way from the boat to the depot was lined with soldiers to prevent our smuggling anything in. After about half an hour’s delay, the cars started and we were whirled to Aspinwall, a distance of 47 miles which we made in two hours and forty-five minutes. I stood on the observation platform for most of the journey, looking at the changing scenery. The railroad runs through forests, swamps and luxuriant vegetation. We passed a few groups of houses here and there, some with tile roofs, but most of them were covered with large leaves. At a quarter past ten we arrived at Aspinwall, where the s. s. ‘Acapulco’ was waiting alongside the wharf which was about a hundred yards from the depot. As soon as the train stopped, a great many niggers, some of whom were very bold, crowded into the cars to carry our baggage to the steamer. She is a magnificent iron ship of 3,000 tons, with screw propellor, and is about a year old. She is a great deal prettier than the ‘Arizona’ and has white sailors and black waiters on board. Before dinner, Father, Willie and I went into the town to buy oranges and limes. It is a very miserable and stinking place, and all the inhabitants are niggers, and very impudent. We walked about the town for a bit, and then went into a saloon and drank iced lemonade. There is only one two-storied building of about 300 feet long, and most of the shops are either fruit-stores or saloons. We bought fifty oranges and a hundred limes and then returned to the steamer for dinner. Mother gave me 40 cents, making me 90 cents. After dinner, Johnny and I went ashore and walked around the town buying cakes and candy. Meanwhile it had beguin to rain very hard, so that we were obliged to wait in a shop for about an hour before we could get on board again. We afterwards heard that it rained eight inches. After supper we left for New York and are now once more at sea.”

The rest of the voyage to New York was eventless, except for the fact that the first day out in the Caribbean Sea Alfred really did get sea-sick. This time he went one entire day without eating, and on several occasions lost meals. In defense of Alfred’s seamanship, it should be said that the sea was very rough a good part of the trip. Alfred himself was quite careful to point this out every time he had to record the fact that he had missed a meal.

“Aug. 23: we arrived at New York today. After the pilot had come aboard at 2 a.m., Charlie and I could not sleep so at four o’clock we got up and went on deck to look at the land and houses we were passing. At five o’clock we went by Sandy Hook, which is about 20 miles from New York and at six a.m. we saw some forts. Half an hour later we were still waiting for the health officer to come aboard. After he arrived we still had to wait in front of the dock for a steamer to get out of the way. Finally at 7.30 a.m. we fastened to the wharf. We then waited for an hour while, Uncle Frank got ready, but as he did not appear at the end of that time we carried our baggage ashore, and I helped to check it. Father got an express-wagon which took our things to Hoboken, and also hired an old man and his son in two hacks to drive us to the steamer which took us across the Hudson river to Hoboken where we drove to Busch’s Hotel.”

During the last part of the sea voyage, Alfred had his first experience with thieves and immediately after arriving in Hoboken, he had his second.

The night before the “Acapulco” put into New York, he hung his trousers on their accustomed peg with 80 cents in the pocket. Next day the money was gone, together with the purse that held it, and Alfred blamed one of the ship’s waiters for the loss. The first night that the family spent in the hotel in Hoboken, a burglar tried to force his way into the room where Johnny and Alfred were sleeping, but failed because the door was bolted. It might be expected that a young boy with a fairly good imagination would go to considerable length to describe these incidents, and even perhaps “gild the lily” a bit. But not Alfred. In his diary, from start to finish, he was objective almost to the point of being impersonal. He recorded these events as he recorded others in the diary, merely setting down the facts and giving us no peep into his personal feelings on the matter.

During the week’s stay in Hoboken, which was predominantly German in population, the Benitz family renewed acquaintances with many old friends not seen for years. They also got together immediately with Mr. and Mrs. Mahrer who were to accompany the Benitz’ on the trip to South America. Mrs. Mahrer was Father Benitz’ sister and she and her husband had come,to Hoboken from Ohio for the trip to Argentina. They apparently found the new land distinctly different from what they had expected, for they remained only a short time and then returned to America.

The German atmosphere in Hoboken was reflected in Alfred’s entry in his diary for August 25:

“There are a lot of street musicians in Hoboken. A brass band went by last night after I had gone to bed and woke me up so that I could not get to sleep again for some time. When I at last went off, the band came back again. This morning Father gave me $1.50 making me $1.75, so Frank, Willie and I went over to New York by the Barclay Street ferry, which landed us away in the southern part of the city. From there we went to see the ‘Acapulco,’ and then on to the offices of the Brazilian Steamship Line in Bowling Green, where on enquiry we found that the fare to Rio de Janeiro was $200. After walking up to the end of Broadway and stopping at Remington’s stores to price guns, we took a horse-car for Central Park where we strolled along the delightful walks, made of asphalt, to the menageries, looked at the animals, walked around the lake and saw the boats. We then went to the Casino, a beautiful eating house, where we ordered cups of chocolate, sandwiches and doughnuts. After visiting the ‘Deep Dark Cave’ and the ‘Stone Castle,’ we sat down for a while in one of the many pretty summer-houses and watched the wonderful fountains playing. We then took the horse-cars to the ferry, then the ferry for Hoboken, and arrived at the hotel just in time for supper.”

Two days later the final plans were completed for the long and roundabout trip to Argentina. Alfred reports that there were no steamships going to Buenos Aires and adds that “no sailing vessel will take us,” although he does not say why. In view of this situation, the only course open was to take a ship to England and then board another ship there bound for Argentina. The German steamer “Wesser” bound for Southampton was selected for the first leg of this journey and Alfred described her as “nearly as nice as the ‘Acapulco’.

On August 29 the party of twelve sailed on the “Wesser,” after a few final purchases had been made, among them four Winchester rifles. As stated above, the Benitz party now included the Mahrer’s in addition to Uncle Frank and the family itself.

The passage across the north Atlantic required 12 days and the weather was fairly miserable for most of the trip, as it is likely to be on that part of the ocean in August. When the Benitz party arrived at Southampton, its members trans-shipped immediately and left the same day for South America. That was on Sept. 9 and Alfred’s diary entry for the day is of considerable interest, for it discloses that in those times as well as today the traveller could frequently overcome customs’ difficulties by the ancient device of giving the guardian of the law a little something on the side. The entry follows:

“In the English Channel - last night I got up at 11.30 to see the pilot come aboard (the ‘Wesser’), and then went back to bed again. When I woke this morning at 5.30 we were opposite the great hospital on the Isle of Wight. This is Netley Hospital, an immense building, the largest hospital in the world, and is built of rock. We also saw a castle which is Osborne House and is Queen Victoria’s summer residence. It overlooks the channel of Spithead. We arrived at Southampton at about 6.30 a.m. and after breakfast went ashore to the Customs’ House. Mother had some loose luggage, and she was not allowed to take it on shore at first, but an officer made it all right. Father had some difficulty with the Customs’ House officer’s demands but £6 did it. At about 9 a.m. Father and I went into the city of Southampton. I tried to buy a knife, but could not find what I wanted, and Father bought our tickets for the voyage to Buenos Aires, which cost $146 apiece. At 11 o’clock we took a little steamer which took us out to the South American ship, the s.s. “Boyne.” She is a magnificent steamer of 3,318 tons, has an iron-screw propellor, and although three years old, everything looks so nice and new. A lovely yacht sailed round us several times, she was a lovely affair. We left Southampton at 3 o’clock and an hour later were going regularly. When we passed through the Needles at 5 o’clock, the pilot took his leave. The sea was pretty rough, and the ship rolled a great deal, also the rudder made a lot of noise. We had some difficulty in getting seats for supper, as there are a great many passengers but finally managed to get a table to ourselves. There are two bunks in each room, and this time Frank and I are sharing a room.”

The first day out, the “Boyne” passed through the Bay of Biscay and a great deal of heavy weather simultaneously. Nearly everyone on the ship was seasick, including Alfred, although he was well enough so that he “could not help laughing at some of the men on the deck who were looking into the water and feeding the fishes.” By the time the ship reached Lisbon, the temperature had risen and so had the spirits of the passengers who left the “Boyne” in droves to visit the ancient Portuguese capital. Alfred was not among those who went ashore, but he apparently was deeply impressed by the descriptions given of Lisbon that night by the passengers who did tour the city.

He wrote that “the houses are tall and well-built, and the straight long streets beautifully paved. There are four public squares, the finest of which is the Praga do Comercio; it is open on one side of the river, and on the other three sides is surrounded by government buildings. This square is beautifully paved with colored tiles, arranged in a wavy design. Lisbon was once destroyed by a terrible earthquake and most of the old city lies under the water.”

This impression of Lisbon offers a sharp contrast to what Alfred thought of Pernambuco, the first Brazilian port touched by the “Boyne.” The youthful traveller seems to have been pretty well disgusted with the Brazilian town, which he described as “very dirty - the streets look as though they had never been cleaned, and all the rubbish seems to be thrown from the houses. The buildings are high, and while some are newly whitewashed, others are stained and mouldy. All have dark and gloomy balconies with bars to them like a dairy window.”

Rio de Janeiro was reached on Sept. 30, and its scenic beauties were duly chronicled by Alfred:

“We arrived at Rio de Janeiro and stayed here for two days. It is a most beautiful harbor, surrounded by green hills and mountains, one of which rises in a peak with a rounded top and is called ‘0 Pao de Azucar’ (The Sugar Loaf). The town is built in terraces and there are lots of brightly painted houses of all colors built on the hills, which look very pretty among the trees in the bright sunshine. We all went ashore and took a train to the Botanical Gardens, where we saw a splendid array of palms. The tallest and thinnest of these is said to be the Mother Palm of all the palm trees in South America, and is over a hundred years old. There were also some very large water-lilies in a pool, with huge leaves about four feet across. The trees were crowded with little brown squirrels, some of them so tame that we fed them with nuts.”

The next and last port of call for the Benitz’ before reaching the goal of their long voyage was Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. This city failed to attract the travellers, who remained aboard the “Boyne” all day on Oct. 7, the day the ship arrived. At seven p.m. on the following day the “Boyne” weighed anchor and turned its nose across the broad and muddy waters of the Rio de la Plata* (River Plate) heading toward Buenos Aires. On Oct. 9, at five a.m., the “Boyne” anchored 11 miles off Buenos Aires, just 70 days after the Benitz’ had boarded the “Arizona” in San Francico.

----

[ * The literal translation of Río de la Plata is “River of Silver,” but the first English settlers in Argentina transliterated the name to River Plate. This practice of giving Spanish names and words possible phonetic value in their English form has been employed widely by the British in Argentina. For example, the Spanish word “campo,” which means field or country-side, is universally called “camp” by the English in Argentina. There are numerous other examples of this philological phenomenon. ]


CHAPTER VII

ARGENTINA AND SOME OF ITS HISTORY

[ Transcriber's note: Omitted most of the chapter until a later date. Rather lengthy, it begins with the discovery of the Río de La Plata in 1515. If you are interested in Argentine history, we recommend reading Breve historia de los argentinos, by Félix Luna, 1993, Editorial Planeta Argentina, Buenos Aires, chapters VI & VII discuss the political and economic drivers of the boom period of 1880-1910. If you are interested in the history of estancias (ranches), read Los Estancieros, by María Sáez Quesada, 1980, Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, chapters V & VI discuss the same period and the British “gentleman farmer” estancieros. ]

[Bartolomé] Mitre’s term as president ended in 1868. He was succeeded by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the victor in elections described as the most peaceful and true expression of the people’s will in the hitherto turbulent political history of Argentina.

Sarmiento is known today in Argentina as “The Great Educator” because of the tremendous stimulus he gave the development of the country’s school system. During his administration, the entire system was revamped and developed; Sarmiento applied many of the educational principles then prevalent in the United States, principles with which he had become familiar during a visit to the U.S. around 1860 [See Clara Allyn, school-teacher & wife of Alfred’s brother William]. But he also built new roads, fostered immigration and in general did his utmost to develop the country to economic and political young manhood. Immigration began to pour into the ‘country at the rate of 20,000 yearly. By 1870 the population of Buenos Aires had increased to 180,000. The increase in wealth went hand in hand with the upsurge in population, and the world has seldom seen a more meteoric rise to national affluence than that of Argentina in the decades between 1870 and 1890. The basis for the country’s wealth lay in its export of agricultural products.

Sarmiento’s tenure of office was marked by only one untoward political development of importance. This was the effort by the last of the provincial “caudillos” [war-lords] to rebel against the authority of the central government. This “caudillo” was a man named López Jordán who in 1870 gathered together a force of gauchos and outlaws and proceeded to terrorize the province of Entre Rios. Urquiza, who was still the governor of the province, was captured by the rebels and despite his age was assassinated. López Jordán then had himself proclaimed the governor of Entre Rios. Sarmiento dispatched federal troops to put him down, but more than a year was required to subdue him. He finally was defeated and driven into exile.

The presidential elections of 1874 resolved themselves into the now traditional struggle between the provincial and the porteño forces [porteño: port-person, i.e. from Buenos Aires]. Dr. Nicolás Avellaneda, the candidate of the former, won the election over Gen. Mitre, who had again entered the political lists. The porteños, disgruntled, appealed to arms again, but their revolt was shortlived. It was put down by troops under Julio A. Roca, then a young colonel [later president], and Avellaneda was installed as president on Oct. 12, 1874.

Avellaneda’s inauguration occurred only three days after the Benitz family had completed their long trip from California to this “land of promise” where Alfred Benitz was to make his home and his fortune.


CHAPTER VIII

BUENOS AIRES

Although the Benitz family arrived when the political excitement preceding Avellaneda’s inauguration was at its height, the event drew no mention in Alfred’s diary. All his attention was absorbed by the direct personal problems and experiences of his family and himself. In line with its factual nature, the diary likewise shows a complete absence of speculation or pondering about the future or about the new vistas that might open up to its author in this strange land. The immediate present was the thing that Alfred dealt with, and that subject was the only one that received treatment at his hands.

After noting that the family said good-bye to the “Boyne” and then went ashore, Alfred wrote in the Oct. 9 entry:

“We walked along to the Customs House where our trunks were examined. We then took two ‘coches’ (a kind of open carriage drawn by two miserable half-starving horses) and drove to the Hotel del Norte, which is situated in the principal street, Calle 9 de Julio, and near to the river. The hotel is roomy and has a large courtyard paved with red tiles and ornamented with rows of tubs which are planted with small lemon trees and flowering shrubs.”

The only thing that Alfred found worthy of mention in his entries for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10 and 11 respectively, was that heavy rain fell on both days and that a small fire occurred at two a.m. on Sunday but was soon put out. Monday, the day of the inauguration, did not even merit an entry in the diary. The weather was of more interest to Alfred and on Tuesday he wrote:

“The weather cleared up today, so Charlie and I went for a walk around the city. The streets which are very straight and narrow are paved with round boulder stones, about the size of a football. The sidewalks, made of brick or stone, are so narrow that only two people can walk abreast. On each side of the streets, there are rows of posts placed at a distance of about ten yards apart. These once held ropes made of hide which were stretched along the sidewalks to protect foot-passengers from runaway horses and wild cattle driven by ‘gauchos’ or cowboys from the plains. The streets in some places are full of holes and big carts without any springs bump over the stones and make a fearful noise as they clatter past.”

During the next 15 days of the family’s stay in Buenos Aires, Alfred and Charlie spent more of their time in exploration of the many picturesque sights. At that time the complicated dredging and dock system which Buenos Aires now boasts had not been constructed, and oceangoing vessels had to anchor out in the river while lighters brought their cargo as far toward the shore as the shallow waters of the Rio de la Plata permitted.

“The numerous small steamers which come from the big ships in the distance with cargoes of merchandise unload them into carts that go out into the river from 200 to 300 yards from the shore,” Alfred wrote.

“There are also the water-carts, hundreds of them continually going to and from the river. As there is no proper supply of water to the houses, the watermen take the muddy water from door to door and sell it by the bucket.”

Alfred found the Rio de la Plata “like the sea, with no land visible.” He added that

“sometimes on a clear day, with the sun shining on it, it really looks like silver, but usually is a muddy red.

“I also went often to watch the washerwomen or ‘lavanderas’ under the cliffs just behind Government House. It is the place where all the washerwomen of Buenos Aires are allowed to do their washing. All over the ground the women (mostly negresses) kneel beside the pools among the rocks, scrubbing and thumping away at their work, and like most niggers, gabbling and shrieking all the while. The clean linen is spread on the broad beach under the cliffs, covering the ground for yards around, hanging from long lines, and covering the rocks or patches of green grass above the beach. You have to be mighty careful not to go too near them, as they shriek and swear at you if you go too close. This is because some of the young fellows like to amuse themselves by pretending not to see the clothes, and walk over them so as to make the lavanderas mad.

“We also visited the Central Produce Market, which is some way from the central part of the city, and situated on the banks of the Riachuelo, a small stream full of a crowd of brightly painted boats at anchor there. The Market itself is a huge red building containing three floors. The ground floor is for hides, while in the upper floors, wool and grain are stored. The railway goes inside the building itself and there are holes in the upper floors at which the trains halt, when the roofs are removed from the cars and their contents hauled up by cranes to which every floor is accessible. The produce comes from all over the country.”

In addition to giving the above picture of Buenos Aires as it was in 1874, Alfred, with the slight superciliousness of the youthful foreigner, described a typical Sunday gathering of the upper stratum of society outside the Cathedral. He witnessed the scene after he and Uncle Frank had gone on Sunday to visit the National Museum. After dismissing the Museum as “not very interesting,” he continued:

“On our way there we crossed the principal square, the Plaza 25 de Mayo, which is in front of Government House, and went past the Cathedral where there was a great festival. We stopped for a while and watched the people as they came in and out of the church. The ladies were beautifully dressed and the gentlemen with them wore silk hats and were dressed entirely in black except for beautiful colored waistcoats. At the door of the church the gentlemen bowed and then went and stood in front of the building, so that there was quite a crowd of men waiting for the service to end, when they would take the ladies home again. The men, mostly young, waved their arms and hands about while they talked in small. groups. At the end of the service, the church bells rang very loudly and the crowd of ladies came out. In a short while every- one had disappeared.”

On Oct. 22, Father Benitz set off for the river town of Rosario, in company with Uncle Frank and Mr. and Mrs. Mahrer, to look over some land in the country that had been recommended as a likely site for a cattlegrowing ranch or estancia. In. the entry of his diary for that day, Alfred noted that his room in the hotel had been changed and that he was glad of it because he didn’t have to listen to the “Sereno” or night-watchman in his new room. This observation led to the following remarks on the “Sereno”:

“These are a poor-looking lot of men, mostly old, who carry long staffs and heavy lanterns with a light inside. I used to lie awake at first listening to them calling the hours from the stroke of eleven p. m. when they gave a long wailing call of ‘Las once han dado y sereno’ which means ‘Eleven has struck and all is well.’ If the night is foggy, the end of the sentence is ‘nublado’ and so on, according to the weather. The young fellows of the city often start battles with them and take away their lanterns and staffs as trophies. The policemen are dressed in dark blue uniforms with brass buttons on their coats. They wear white spats and small square hats with a peak, like French soldiers, and long swords at their sides. They are mostly very short and have big moustaches.”

Alfred reported that Father Benitz returned from Rosario on Oct. 28 with the announcement that the prospects of getting a good farm were “splendid” and that he would take the entire family back with him when he went back in a few days. The most interesting parts of Alfred’s diary during his few remaining days in Buenos Aires were further pungent comments on the various types of people encountered, their habits and costumes.

“The beggars here are dreadful,” he wrote. “They sit on the sidewalks and are the worst-looking men I have ever seen. Most of them are old soldiers who have been condemned to serve in the army for sometimes as long as 20 years, according to the kind of crime they have committed, and when set free, live on what they can pick up in the streets. They ring at the door continually asking for alms in the name of God, and you cannot walk along for five minutes without being stopped and even clawed at by these people. Unless you give them something or say ‘Perdón, por Dios,’ they will keep following you, cursing and using the most awful language.

“The milkmen are very curious and interesting. They are dressed in a kind of black shawl for pants, and have white cotton stockings and canvas shoes with rope soles called ‘alpargatas’, on their feet. They wear a white embroidered shirt and a beautiful white leather belt covered with countless silver coins, which fastens in front with large silver clasps. On their heads are small round black caps without any brim. The milk is brought in from the villages outside the cities in two long tin cans strapped on either side of the horse. The milkman sits in between them on a very wide and high sheepskin saddle called a ‘recado.’ The butter is made by the horse’s trotting, which seems to be its usual pace, and the butter, together with the milk, is taken from door to door and sold straight from the can. As a rule, their horses are very fine looking animals, well-groomed and cared for, and with their long tails nearly touching the ground. Sometimes a man comes to the door driving two or three cows with their calves, and the milk is sold straight from the cow.”

Of these three types described by Alfred - the night watchman, the beggars and the milkmen - the first and third still exist in modified form [in 1952]. The beggars have largely been eliminated in most Argentine cities by enlightened municipal governments. However, in all the suburbs of Buenos Aires, the “sereno” continues to make his round, usually on a bicycle, and collects two or three pesos monthly from the householders on his beat. The milkmen no longer ride horses; they travel in great-wheeled carts and their picturesque costume has not changed a great deal from that described by Alfred. And the ambulating milkmen, driving their “two or three cows with their calves,” still make the rounds in the suburbs. Their slow-moving charges frequently interrupt a busy stream of automobiles along the more important suburban streets.


CHAPTER IX

ROSARIO

Although Father Benitz had not yet definitely decided that he would buy the land near Rosario that he had inspected, he early felt that the area around that thriving city would prove the best farming land of all that he had seen. He decided, therefore, to move the family to Rosario and to make that his base of operations for further trips to look over prospective forms, or “estancias,” as the Benitz family by now was already learning to term them.

The family left Buenos Aires on Nov. 1 for Rosario, taking the train as far as it went to the Tigre Delta. This lap of the journey took two and a half hours. The journey from Retiro station in Buenos Aires to the Tigre Delta today is made in 45 minutes on rapid electric trains, part of the excellent suburban train service which serves the Argentine capital and which, for cheapness and frequency of trains, is unequalled by the commuting service of any other large city of the world. The entire journey from Buenos Aires to Rosario required more than 27 hours at the time of the Benitz family trip; today the time required is only four to five hours.

Alfred, as usual, kept a detailed account of the trip. At Tigre the family transferred from the train to a river steamer. Here is his story of the rest of the journey:

“The steamer left at one p.m., when we had lunch. Most of the afternoon the steamer went through sloughs, and had to be pushed off with a pole, and at four o’clock we entered the Paraná river. It was not as wide as I expected, but I could not see the other side as there were so many islands. At six o’clock we had supper, when there were a good many nice things to eat. Afterwards, Charlie and I went to sleep in a room with two other men. It was a warm day.

“Nov. 2: I did not sleep very well during the night, as it turned cold. At 11 o’clock this morning we stopped at San Nicolás for about half an hour. After breakfast, I went and sat alone near the end of the boat as it was getting rather rough. I was nearly sea-sick and many of the others really were. At two p.m. we arrived at Rosario, and after our luggage had been examined at the Customs, we drove to the Globe Hotel, where we were going to stay for a few days. The rooms are good, but the eating is bad.”

Father Benitz almost immediately started out on a series of cross-country trips to inspect land being offered for sale. He and Uncle Frank together made most of the trips, the first one being to the neighboring province of Córdoba. Subsequently they pretty well covered all the territory within travelling distance. Between these trips looking for land, Mr. and Mrs. Benitz went to Buenos Aires occasionally to stock up on household goods that would be needed on the estancia.

It was during this period that Mr. and Mrs. Mahrer, who had made the long trip from New York to London to Buenos Aires to Rosario, one day decided abruptly that the new country was not for them. Overwhelmingly homesick since their arrival in Argentina, they finally reached the conclusion that this was not the place where they wanted to live. On Dec. 14 they left Rosario for Buenos Aires and there shipped back to the United States.

The Benitz family were sorry to see the Mahrer’s leave, but the event did not change their highly favorable opinion of Argentina. Father Benitz; continued his inspection tours and his thoroughness was evidenced by the fact that it was not until late in February 1875 that he finally decided to settle down on an estancia 35 leagues from the city of Santa Fé. During his three months of search for land, the family remained in Rosario. Alfred’s diary for the period covered a series of minor incidents but nothing of vital importance.

In looking over the available land, Father Benitz saw a fair share of the north central part of Argentina. This part of the country, together with the immensely wealthy province of Buenos Aires, forms the richest belt of Argentina, the zone that contributed chiefly to its growth and prosperity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Like the United States, Argentina boasts all varieties of climate, from lush jungle growth to arid desert, and from sub-tropical conditions in the north to frigid climate in the far south.

The country may be divided into four general categories: mountains, plains, forests and rivers. The most important of the mountainous features is the Cordillera of the Andes, the great backbone of South America which probably is an extension of the Rocky Mountain chain in the United States. It is the towering Andes that form the boundary between Argentina and Chile.

Next in importance are the Córdoba mountains which comprise three different chains. The first of these, the Sierra de Córdoba, lies 30 miles west of the city of the same name and extends 200 miles from Cruz del Eje in the north to Chaján in the south, covering an area of 4,500 square miles. The second is the Sierra del Pocho which lies ten miles west of the Sierra de Córdoba and runs parallel to it for a distance of 100 miles in its northern part; this range covers about 1,200 square miles. In between the two others in size, is the Sierra de Ischelin, lying north of the city of Córdoba. This chain knifes straight northward to the Salinas desert and covers an area of 2,300 square miles.

The principal rivers of central Argentina have their sources in these mountains of Córdoba. With the exception of the Rio Negro (Black River) and the Rio Salado (Salty River), the best known of the streams in this part of the country simply carry a number: Rio Primero, Rio Segundo, Rio Tercero and so fortb. It is perhaps of interest to mention that Argentina has given the names of her rivers to the ships of her new-born, but thriving, merchant marine, the Flota Mercante del Estado. This fleet was built up at the start of the Second World War and is still growing. It proved a godsend to hemisphere commerce, including trade with the United States, during the recent war.

Two other important bodies of water in northern Argentina are the Mar Chiquita (Tiny Sea) and the Lago de Porongos (Gourd Lake), a great salt lake. The Mar Chiquita is, in reality, a great lagoon that lies in the north-eastern corner of the province of Córdoba. Many rivers and streams empty into it, but it has no outlet.

Argentina’s great forests cover about half the area of the sprawling jungle region known as “El Gran Chaco,” which begins in the northern part of the province of Santa Fé and extends into Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as a large part of northern Argentina. The area covered by the Chaco forests is calculated at some 60,000 square miles, with occasional breaks and open spaces. In addition to these forests, there are great stands of wood in the provinces of Entre Rios, Córdoba and Corrientes. The trees indigenous to the region are the Ñandubay, Quebracho, Espinillo, Algarrobo, Lapacho, Cedar and Urunday. Of these, the Quebracho is perhaps the best known and the most useful. Its wood is extremely hard and durable. It was used originally for ties in the construction of railways, but its principal use today is in the tanning industry which secures from it an extract (tannin) that is used the world over to cure leather. In Argentina it is widely used as fuel.

Quebracho logs were used on Argentina’s first railway, begun in 1863 and completed seven years later. The enterprise was undertaken by William Wheelwright, an American engineer, on behalf of a British company and it linked the inland cities of Rosario and Córdoba, a distance of 283 miles. Wheelwright was granted a concession which included a strip of land three miles wide on either side of the right-of-way, for purposes of colonization. Prior to the inauguration of the railways, there were no transportation facilities except by animal motive-power. Horse carts and slow-moving caravans of bullock carts carrying merchandise sometimes required months to cover a few leagues. The opening of the railway was an event of prime historical importance in opening and developing the interior of Argentina.

During the nineteenth century, some European species of trees were introduced into Argentina. Among them were all the well-known fruit trees, and Argentine fruit is now one of her best-known exports. In 1852 the Australian Eucalyptus or gum-tree was brought into the country by Thomas Tomkinson, an early settler. It readily adapted itself to the climate of this country and today forms the favorite avenue of approach to many estancias.

Argentina’s best known physical feature, her famous pampas, are vast flat areas covered with a coarse grass over which one may ride for days without seeming to advance; they have properly been called grassy seas, for with the wind rippling over them they present to the solitary horseman an unlimited horizon of grassy waves, bounded only by the extent of the rider’s vision. These plains extend from Rio Salado in the north to the Rio Colorado in the south and are only broken by the group of hills in the southern part of Buenos Aires province, called the Sierras de Tandil and Ventana. Farther to the south, the pampas broaden out and eventually extend westward to the Andes mountains. In the north they reach as far west as the mountains of Córdoba.

When the Spanish conquistadores reached Argentina, the pampas were treeless, except for an occasional, solitary Ombú - a curious manifestation of plant life whose only use is to give shade to the weary horseman. The Ombú has been celebrated in song and story, but chiefly by the English writer William Henry Hudson who used the name of the tree as the title of a collection of short stories about the pampa. The Ombú still serves as the “lighthouse of the plains,” but with the advent of estancias the tree population of the great pampa region has increased tremendously.


CHAPTER X

PIONEERING AGAIN

Father Benitz, who had already pioneered and made a home in Mexico and California, now set about the task for the third and last time. After almost four months of constant inspection trips and after weighing carefully all the hundreds of factors present, he chose the ground which was to become his permanent home.

The place selected was a parcel of four square leagues, bought from Señor Carlos Vernet at a price of 16,000 pesos “fuertes” (strong pesos). The “strong peso” was a Castillian silver coin weighing an ounce and a quarter, and it was so called to distinguish it from the ordinary peso; it was used in both Argentina and Uruguay during the nineteenth century and was worth two and a half times as much as the ordinary peso. [note: 16,000 pesos fuertes of 1874 converts to approx. 1,500,000 US dollars of 1998, based upon the price of silver then at US$ 70+ per ounce.]

The price paid for the land made it work out at about three pesos and fifty centavos of present-day [1952] Argentine money per hectare. (The hectare is the basic land measure in Argentina and is equivalent to slightly more than two and a half acres [correction: 1 ha. = 2.471 acres]) Today [1952] the same land is worth more than 500 pesos the hectare.

The future home of the Benitz’ was located about seven leagues from Cañada de Gómez, the closest town, and was about 35 leagues from the ancient city of Santa Fé. It consisted of just under 11,000 hectares of virgin pasture land, and the wealth that it produced, and still is producing [1952 & 2001], in subsequent years, proves that Benitz knew what he was about.

With the memories of his former home still fresh, Father Benitz named the new estancia “La California.” The purchase deed was signed on Feb. 18, 1875, but it was not until one month and a half later, on April 8, that the men-folk of the family set out to break the earth for the new home.

The group left Rosario by train at 6 a.m. on a Friday and the trip was described by Alfred as follows:

“Father, Uncle, Frank, Willie, Charlie and I left to start work on the new property, which Father had decided to name ‘La California.’ After leaving Rosario, the railway gradually rose to a higher level which at Cañada de Gómez reached a difference in altitude of more than 150 feet. At Carcarañá, the station before our destination, we crossed a fine iron bridge which spans the Rio Carcarañá. When we arrived at Cañada de Gómez at 9.30 o’clock, we were met by a son of Señor Vernet. Four bullock wagons were drawn up outside the station. Father, Uncle and Mr. Vernet started off in the first wagon; Frank, Willie, Charlie and I were in the second, and the other two, piled high with our belongings of tents, tools, food, etc., brought up the rear.

“These wagons were different in size and shape from those that we used in the United States. They were built very high on either side, roofed over with canvas or skins, and had two immense wheels instead of the four small ones. They were drawn by from four to 16 oxen, depending on the load, and the men in charge of them either walked or rode alongside or else perched themselves on a board or yoke tied on the heads of the animals with thongs of hide called ‘cojundas’ which were made from a long strip about two inches wide, which is started in the center of the hide and cut round and round to its whole length for about three meters.

“They also had bamboo poles with a nail in the end called a ‘picana’ or goad, with which they sometimes jabbed the poor animals, yelling and cursing at them most of the time. These oxen go at a very slow, steady crawl of about two miles an hour.

“The rest of the journey took us until just before sunset to accomplish, and a most uncomfortable experience it was, too, not only on account of the jolting of the wagon, as immediately after leaving Cañada de Gómez the road became very rough, but also on account of our smarting eyes, inflamed by the cold strong wind which blew most of the day, and the clouds of dust kicked up by the oxen who flicked their tails against the swarms of flies that pestered them.

“When we at last cut across open country the going was better. At midday we stopped for a meal consisting of a whole sheep roasted on an iron stake before a fire (asado) which was excellent. There was also bread and cheese and fruit. The men in charge of the wagons also ate the meat and a kind of very hard, dry biscuit called ‘galleta.’ Afterwards, we all drank ‘mate,’ which is a tea made from a herb that grows chiefly in Paraguay. The brew was made with boiling water in a dried gourd, also called a mate, and is sucked up from the gourd through a silver tube with a perforated bulb in one end, called a “bombilla.” I thought I liked it pretty well, but the others said it looked and smelled like cow-dung. It is said to be very sustaining and everyone drinks it. After an hour’s siesta we started off again across the wide, flat, open country, now covered with a short coarse grass that stretched away before us like a vast green sea, as far as the horizon.

“Occasionally we came across patches of little scarlet flowers rather like a verbena. We saw several vizcachas (an indigenous rodent of Argentina) who darted into their burrows at our approach, and once a skunk moved across our trail. Fortunately it did not squirt its perfume at our wheels, as the smell would have stuck to it for weeks afterwards. There were lots of little grey and brown owls which followed us for a time with angry cries, trying to chase us from their holes in the ground where they build their nests. They have short, curved beaks, wide flat faces and sharp black eyes. There is always one sitting on each post along the railway fence, and they follow the train with their eyes, screwing their heads almost right around in the most amusing way. Uncle said that they say in Córdoba that if you want to kill one, all you have to do is to walk around it, and it will twist its own neck.

“We arrived at our destination just before sunset. The boundary of the property was marked by posts about a foot high called ‘mojones.’ Otherwise there was nothing to be seen except a well which had recently been opened, covered by a piece of corrugated iron and marked by a pile of stones. After the animals had been watered, they were allowed to roam around and to crop the grass. The wagons were drawn up in a circle, in case of an attack by the Indians, and a fire made of dry bones and dead grass was built in the center. After supper we sat around the fire for a while listening to one of the men twanging a guitar and singing a sort of moaning song, something about ‘mi madre, me muero, mi amor’ (my mother, I die, my love). Señor Vernet was telling us about the Indians and he said that a delegation of settlers founded a colony at Cañada de Gómez in 1860 and that it was constantly raided by the Indians up to the year 1864. The villagers used to take refuge at the nearby estancia of an Englishman named Major St. John, who had a trench and a stockade. At Armstrong, 11 miles farther along the railway line, the workmen constructing the right of way were so constantly bothered by the Indians that they generally kept an engine continually under steam, and on one occasion the savages tried to ‘lasso’ the engine.

“We then rolled ourselves in our rugs and blankets and slept in the wagons. Frank, Willie and I took it in turns to keep watch during the night. I took the first watch and occupied myself by looking at the stars, which seemed to be nearer and brighter than I had ever seen them before. I think it must have been the complete flatness of the country that gave me this impression. The wind had dropped at sunset, and the night became very cold and frosty, so I was glad of the fire. At 10.30 I built up the fire, awakened Frank and turned in.”

The next day all hands were up before dawn, as is the invariable custom in the country, and before breakfast two of the ox-carts left on the first of the innumerable journeys that were to follow, back to Cañada de Gómez, the rail-head, to fetch back the materials needed in building the estancia house. Everything that was to go into the house, except the bricks which were made on the spot, had to be brought up from Rosario or Buenos Aires, shipped to Cañada de Gómez and then hauled to La California by ox-cart. Alfred busied himself, helping to unload the two other carts and putting up the tents in which the men would sleep while the house was being built.

During the morning the three men who were of vital importance in laying out and building the house arrived. They were the architect, the carpenter and the surveyor. Once they had been settled, the first dramatic moment of searching for the site had arrived.

“We then drove over the camp, examined it and finally chose the site for the house,” Alfred wrote. “Father stuck a two-pronged fork into the ground to mark the place.”

That two-pronged fork is still kept in a place of honor in the office of Mr. Willie Benitz, Alfred’s nephew, who now [1952] operates La California estancia.

“It was decided to build a house,” Alfred continued, “not only suitable for our own wants, but one in which we could entertain our friends and to which passers-by would be welcome. Father also thought that it would be better to build with regard to our future requirements, so a two-story building sufficient to accommodate 25 people was planned, the northwest wing to be completed first.

“Early that afternoon a wagon loaded with wood arrived with several men on horseback, who with the car- penter started to put up a large shed.

“April 20: today was Sunday and so no work was done by the men. For breakfast I made flapjacks for everybody, which were much appreciated. I must have made over 40 in all, and we had a great feast. In the afternoon we drove over the camp again to a ‘puesto,’ which is a small plot of ground marked out by a fence or shallow ditch on which is the home of the gaucho - an adobe hut straw-thatched. These generally have a well of blackish water, a shed for the horses and cows, and an ombú tree which provides a certain amount of shade. A few chickens, one or two turkeys and several odd-looking dogs of the yellow greyhound breed seem to be everywhere, together with crowds of children of all ages.

“April 21: this morning after watching the men mark out the foundations for the house, Uncle and I drove into Cañada de Gómez in the ‘volante,’ a sort of high coach, which took us four hours. We approached the town through a rough dusty road, past white-washed mud houses with flat roofs lining the principal streets, and before whose doors stood hobbled horses waiting patiently in the sun. There were several women sitting on benches or stools on the mud sidewalk. The store or ‘pulpería’ had a number of horses tied to wooden hitching posts outside. It was a long mud house surrounded by a shallow ditch nearly full with rubbish of all kinds. Uncle and I sat down at a dirty table. Uncle ordered steak and onions with fried eggs on top, which is called ‘bife a caballo’ (literally, steak on horseback), bread and mate for both of us. Meanwhile I looked around. Here one could buy cheese, long loaves of bread, sardines, dried figs, raisins and soap. Behind the bar was a counter. The bar itself had a lot of bottles of ‘vino seco’ (dry wine), rum, gin and a cheap native wine called ‘caña,’ which is made from sugar cane and which tasted to me like methylated spirits. The bar was protected by a strong iron grill reaching to the ceiling, behind which the proprietor stood with his revolver handy. In one corner there was a huge heap of stinking sheepskins, and piled on the shelves on the wall were stacks of ponchos, saddlecloths, ‘alpargatas,’ cheap under-clothes and bolts of cotton materials. From the ceiling hung strirgs of onions and garlic, held together with plaited straw.

“It seemed to be the custom of the country for anyone entering the store and seeing us eating to say ‘Buen Provecho,’ which means ‘May you benefit from what you are eating.’

“While Uncle was making some purchases, I looked at the man lounging at the counter drinking. He was dressed in a heavy black ‘chiripá,’ like the milkmen in Buenos Aires wore, beneath which showed long, lace-trimmed trousers. The tops of his patent-leather boots were embroidered in scarlet and blue thread while his wide leather belt was covered with silver coins and fastened with a huge silver buckle in front. Into this belt was tucked a long, thin silver-handled knife, while hanging over one arm was an expensive looking fringed shawl, his poncho. Most of the ponchos were hand-woven from the wool of the vicuña, a native animal similar to the llama. They have a slit in the center through which the wearer passes his head, so that the poncho falls down over the shoulders forming a warm and comfortable cloak. His forehead was bound with a scarlet silk handkerchief, the ends falling over one shoulder while on his head he wore a soft round black hat, tied under the chin with two long strings. He had a wonderful pair of great silver spurs and a silver-mounted ‘rebenque’ (whip).

“Outside the pulpería stood his horse, whose long flowing tail and mane, and black glossy coat fascinated me. The horse carried silver-mounted reins and bridle, and a white ‘cojinillo’ (white sheepskin rug) under its black leather ‘recado’ (saddle), with enormous silver stirrups.

“There were several other gauchos with iron spurs tied to their bare feet by thongs of rawhide, who wore long black sashes around the waist, which served to hold up their coarse woollen chiripá and which also held the long, wicked-looking butcher’s knife which they are never without and which they use for everything. Several women in cotton dresses with black shawls over their heads came in to buy things and joked with the men.

“On the way back we drove past the station to see if there were any letters. There were one or two for Father and Mother, but none for me. We went back by a different road and passed by a large white estancia house in the middle of a grove of Eucalyptus trees. Several dogs ran out and barked at us as we went by, and three or four men came out of some huts and called out ‘Buenas Tardes’ (Good afternoon). Farther along we met some gauchos. They had very wide saddles, their bare toes only just gripping the small openings in their long stirrups. Each man had his lasso coiled and fastened to his sadle and carried his ‘boleadores’ slung about his waist.”

Alfred’s diary now jumps swiftly over the intervening months until December of 1875, by which time the north-west wing of the house had been finished and made ready for the arrival of Mother Benitz and Josephine from Rosario. The house was formally opened at Christmas time, and it must have been a tremendous celebration, but our chronicler passes over the event without mention of any festivities.

Most of January, 1876, was spent in getting the house and the estancia. into shape for permanent living, and in February Father Benitz bought his first important herd of cattle, 500 head of which were purchased from a Señor Mansilla at nine pesos and fifty centavos per head. Two days were spent in branding the newly acquired herd. Its number eventually was increased to 1,600 by the purchase of 800 additional head at nine pesos and fifty centavos per head and 300 at seven pesos.

By this time the Benitz’ had built up quite a household. In addition to the family itself, there were the cook, who was the wife of the estancia foreman; a washerwoman; an Indian named Isidro, who was a sort of general servant and who was “Father’s favorite attendant,” according to Alfred; two servant girls, named Mauree and Elisa who worked as house-maids and also helped in the garden, and, finally, a German “peon” named Braum [sic] who worked about the house and garden.

Now, when it, seemed that the new hearth and home was getting off to a sound start, tragedy struck at the Benitz household. Father Benitz, who had brought his family thousands of miles and had seen them firmly established in the new homeland, was not to live to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Less than two years after he had arrived in Argentina, he was cut down and his family was forced to make its way without his help.

Alfred describes his father’s last days in the following words:

“Father had been ailing for some time past. His heart was weak and worn out with the strenuous life that he had led since a lad. He hardly ever went to bed, as he was unable to lie down and had to sit up in a chair at night in order to get any sleep.

“On the night of June 27 (1876), he had been sitting before the fire. Mother left him for a few m inutes to go and prepare his bed in case he felt like lying down. When she returned he was poking the fire. Then he lay back and said ‘I’m dizzy’ and died.

“The dogs howled all night, and when Mother went out with a candle to try to quieten them, as she passed through the door the candle suddenly went out, although there was not a breath of wind.”


 

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© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)