|Alfred A. Benitz||Page last modified:
|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|
AFTER the death of his father, Alfred failed to maintain his diary for more than two months. However, part of the gap in the narrative is filled out by the diary of Frank, the eldest son, who stepped into his father’s shoes and who directed the formative work that still remained to be done in order to make the estancia a going concern.
The entries in Frank’s diary are concerned chiefly with the never ending toil that went into the slow process of getting the estancia into tip-top shape. They are of considerable interest because they reflect some of the difficulties faced by pioneering people in any country.
On Sunday, July 2, 1876, five days after Father Benitz had died, the family gathered with Mrs. Benitz to go over the personal possessions of the elder Benitz. Frank wrote:
“This morning, on arising, I saw the constellation ‘Orion’ for the first time in the east. At 10 a.m. the whole family assembled in Mother’s room and examined the contents of one of Father’s trunks. We found his Mexican naturalization papers dated June 15, 1844, Mendocino, California. They were signed by the Governor, Manuel Micheltorena. At 4 p.m. Mr. Tregarthen came; he was on his way home from Rosario and brought us two letters of condolences, one from Mr. Schreiber, dated June 30 and one from Mrs. A. Glimman of July 1. Today is Charlie’s birthday.”
The first Fourth of July spent on the estancia was a day of sadness instead of the great celebration that had been planned by the boys to mark the 100th anniversary of the United States. Frank noted in his diary that the day passed “very quietly, no distinction being made between this and any other ordinary day.”
“I had some paraíso trees planted south of the house and also staked out positions for trees in the backyard, a few by the meat and chicken house, and some along the side of the house,” he wrote. “The ground is very dry, and I had four men carrying water to the trees all the afternoon. We have at present four Argentine and four German peons (farmhands) working on foot, while on horse-back we have a capataz (foreman), Juan Faria [Farias?], and also two other peons as well as a man working the chain-pump at the well.
“Today Mother presented us with a little gold-dust that Father had. It is some of the first gold-dust discovered in California and was found at Sutter’s mill. She also gave me a piece of quartz from Fraser river and another piece that Father had found personally in the mines. She also presented me with two Japanese coins, and the others with various things.”
In his entry for the following day, Frank describes the “pisadero,” or home-made brickyard, with which every estancia was equipped in those days. The majority of present-day  estancias also have their “pisaderos.” It was here that the peons made the huge mud-and-straw bricks used in the construction of nearly all buildings.
“I took the men down to the brickyard and set them to work cleaning out the pisadero, which is an enclosure where the mud and straw are mixed by the animals treading it previous to making it into bricks. The bricks are then piled up into four walls and a fire is built inside; the fire is then kept going, a top is added to the structure, and the bricks are baken until they fall apart, ready to be used.”
This system of brick-making has not changed through the years. It was, and is, a god-send to the estanciero since it saved him the difficulty and the expense of bringing from one of Argentina’s ports this important and widely used building material.
The domestic servant problem was a problem in those days as well as now. Alfred wrote that the family had to dispatch the cook to Cañada de Gomez because she “got to be very obonoxious, finding fault with everything, refusing to work, and was saucy.” He added that “we are very unfortunate with cooks, changing them so often.”
The importance of trees in the life of an Argentine estanciero is clearly indicated by Frank’s diary during this period. Almost daily the first thing mentioned is the number of trees planted on the day in question. To a certain extent, the trees planted by man on the great unending flatness of the pampas have come to eke out the penury of Nature in the matter of varied scenery. Although the rich black soil of the pampas has been endowed with tremendous wealth, Nature, perhaps in compensation, had withheld the surface adornments that would break the monotony of the vast expanse of unbroken horizon. It is perhaps no accident that the numerous clusters of trees amund the main buildings on estancias are referred to as “montes” (literally, hills) which offer the only variation to the otherwise universal flatness of the land.
Frank was also busy at this time writing to friends in California, advising them of the death of his father and requesting them to have the news published in all the newspapers around Oakland, as well as all the German papers in California. In the same letters, he invariably requested the friends to send him tree-seeds, especially of the types of trees not found in Argentina.
On July 8, Frank, who was a man of action like Alfred and who usually limits his diary entries to a few lines, made the following unusually long entry:
“The dogs made a great deal of noise at 11 o’clock last night. I arose and heard the wagon coming in which brought the mail. I received a letter from Schreiber, letting me know that he had received the notice of Father’s death and had put it in the papers in Buenos Aires. The notice was mis-printed, calling Father ‘Benitez,’ and instead of ‘Endingen,’ it read ‘Eudingen.’ Mr. Schreiber afterwards had these mistakes corrected, but the notice had the wrong date of death, having it the 28th instead of the 27th. The notice appeared in La Capital of Rosario of July 5, 6 and 7. Schreiber also sent me a copy of his new lithographic bird’s-eye view of Rosario.
“The men finished planting and watering the poplar and willow trees at the low place at the brickmaker’s well. I then set them to work planting 40 pear and seven pomegranate trees in the eastern field below the avenue. This concluded the work of planting trees. The peons also finished the sewer.
“I wrote a letter to John Roff, Timber Cove, California, telling him of Father’s death. I requested him to gather 25 or 30 pounds of seeds such as acorns, laurels, manzanita, buck-eye and pine. I especially requested him to gather acorns of the various kinds of oak, namely, mountain, white, etc.
“July 9: the trees being nearly planted, today we discharged a number of men - three Germans, six natives and one of the horseback peons, ten men in all. We have retained two Germans and four Argentines for work on foot and the capataz, Juan Faria, also a peon for the cattle and another for the pumps. Nine men in all. A lot of our cattle had strayed away in the fog of the day before yesterday, and the capataz brought a band of 50 of them from “Las Rosas” (a neighboring estancia [bordering the north-east edge of today’s Las Rosas town]), but as there were still many more there, he asked for a ‘rodeo’ (roundup) so William and Alfred went over there this morning to ‘part’ (select and drive home the missing cattle.)”
A few days later, Frank went to Rosario to buy a coffin for Father Benitz and to lay in supplies for the estancia. He wrote that, while he was waiting in Rosario for the train to take him back to Cañada de Gomez, be was “surprised to see Mr. Kinkelin,” the carpenter he had hired, and more surprised still to see Elisa, the servant-girl, in the company of the carpenter. No whisper of romance crept into Frank’s matter-of-fact reporting of this incident, but it may fairly be assumed that their appearance together was more than just a coincidence.
When Frank arrived home on July 13, he noted that the “Deutsche La Plata Zeitung,” the German-language newspaper of Buenos Aifes, and its English-language colleague, “The Standard,” both carried the news of his father’s death. He also noted that the “Zeitung” obituary notice was headed “Dem Andenken eines Machern Mannes.” (Memories of a Brave Man).
Until July 26, Frank’s diary was occupied with the daily routine of the task of building the new home - planting more trees, ploughing, making roads, caring for the cattle, breaking horses and so forth on the never-ending list of jobs that confront the estanciero. On the 26th, he wrote that “many of our cattle have the hoof-and-mouth disease” and that they were being treated with a home-made mixture of vinegar, salt and alum. The treatment consisted of washing the animal’s mouth’s and hooves with this solution.
This disease, which has been largely controlled in Argentina although it still does exist in some parts, is of particular interest to American readers because of its political import . The existence of the disease was seized upon by the lobby of the cattle interests in Washington 25 years ago as an excuse to push through Congress legislation barring the entry of Argentine fresh meat into the United States. The lobbyists proclaimed vociferously that the free entry of this meat would bring with it the danger of infecting American herds. The prohibition still stands, and it is one of the major sore points in relations between the two countries. The Argentines claim that the prohibition is not based upon the fear of contagion of American herds at all, but upon the greater fear of American cattle-growers of the competition they would have to face from the succulent and cheap beef grown on the Argentine pampas. Until some solution of this problem has been found, it will always offer a latent source of trouble in Argentine-American relations.
Frank noted with some bitterness on July 29th that
“this evening Mother and some of the others counted the money in Father’s trunks for the first time. They did not think it worth-while to let me know that they were going to count.”
It was at about this time that there had sprung up between Frank and the other members of the family a coolness that eventually was to result in his departure from the estancia to found his home elsewhere. Perhaps the role of head of the family had proved too much for Frank to manage, or perhaps he had quarrelled with some of the others. Although the available records give no clear-cut reason for his separation, subsequent events would indicate that the differences arose over Frank’s trouble with financial affairs.
Frank’s diary breaks off at this and we turn again to Alfred’s record, but before doing so we shall digress to consider some of the traits and customs of the Argentine “gaucho”, or cowboy, since he will play a considerable part in the events that are to follow. Like his counter-part in the legendary Wild West, the American cowboy, Argentina’s gaucho with his romantic trappings and colorful background has virtually disappeared from modern life on the pampas, except in movies, tangos and novels.
The gaucho originally was a mixture of Spanish and Indian blood, the true “criollo.” Reared on the pampas, he gained his livelihood by carrying out jobs that were just about the same as those done by the cowboy. And there is just as great a body of legend in Argentina about the gaucho, hard-riding and hard-living, as there is in America about the cowboy. Probably because of the dominant part played in Argentina’s national life by cattle, the gaucho is even more celebrated in the song and story of this country’s literature than the cowboy is in American. One notable difference between the two is that the gaucho almost never carried a gun, in contrast to the traditional “six-shooters” of his American colleague. His life was just as violent and rough-and-tumble as that of his counter-part in the north, but he depended on a wicked-looking knife to carry him through his personal adventures.
The gaucho’s main activity was herding cattle on the big estancias or driving them to market or to other estancias several leagues away. He sometimes, but not often, saved enough money to buy a plot of ground on which to build a mud hut, known as a “puesto.” His food was mainly beef and “mate,” but he sometimes lived on horse-flesh. His bed was his sheepskin saddle, stretched out on the pampa under the starry sky. He could endure all sorts of privations with remarkable fortitude, and he was daring, courageous and proud. Relentless in his pursuit of an enemy, he was faithful, kind and extremely hospitable when his confidence had been won.
When he was ill, he took his chances on recovery through the ministrations of a “curandera,” a woman doctor who cured most ills by the age-old method of herbs and brews. Her system of therapy was also distinguished by incantations, charms and other paraphernalia remarkably close to those of the African medicine man. However, she was frequently the only thing approaching medical assistance available to the gaucho, and, often as not, her treatment was remarkably effective. In many cases pronounced hopeless by regular physicians, a “curandera” has been called in as a last resort and has saved the patient. Such cases, the “curandera” made sure, always received wide attention, and they had a profound effect upon the simple nature of the gaucho. The “curandera” in the interior of the country - as distinct from her sharper sister in the large cities - usually was a descendant of the Indians. She possessed a large stock of professional secrets, handed down for many generations, which she guarded with the utmost care; probably the majority of them originated with the witch-doctors.
The gaucho frequently met sudden death at the point of a knife, from an Indian arrow, or as the result of a fall from his horse during a cattle stampede. The knife-fights which caused considerable mortality among their numbers was a system of destruction worked out by the gauchos themselves. The principals faced each other with their knives in the right hand and with their ponchos thrown over the left arm to serve as a sort of shield or buckler. Slashing and parrying, they then went after each other until one of the contestants was no longer able to give combat-and this usually meant he was either dead or mortally wounded. It was a slower method than the gun- play of the cowboy, but it was just as effective.
In the camp (country), when a little child dies it becomes an “angelito,” or little angel. This means that a wake will take place which customarily includes a dance and is held in the nearest “pulperia” or tavern. There, in a long low room lit by candles are gathered perhaps a hundred guests, mostly gauchos and peons with their families, who have probably ridden a long distance for the show. Along the walls are placed rows of benches where the women and girls sit waiting for the men to ask them to dance. The dead child is dressed in its best clothes and seated in a chair upon a table, while the bereaved mother sits disconsolate at its feet. Above the child’s head are a picture of the Madonna and Child together with others of saints and angels. When passing before the little corpse, the women cross themselves.
A gaucho with a guitar provides the music for the younger people to dance the Tango, Cielito, El Gato and other typical dances. These dances include much play of the hips and eyes, stamping of the feet and jingling of spurs, above which may be heard the sound of high falsetto voices intoning the usually lachrymose words of the songs. The older men sit or stand about in groups discussing camp affairs and drinking, while the matrons gather in a circle and talk gossip and scandal. The atmosphere reeks of cheap tobacco, scent, common wine, perspiring humanity and the smoke of greasy candles. Such gatherings constituted one of the few social activities of the rude life of the gaucho, and unscrupulous owners of “pulperias” have been known to hire or buy an “angelito” solely for the purpose of attracting custom.
The gaucho, like the cowboy, used a “lasso.” It was made of rawhide from which the hair had been stripped and then made into a rope about the thickness of a man’s little finger. It was softened by hammering and by being forced through a narrow ring. Constant applications of mutton fat were necessary to keep it pliable, but with care it usually served the gaucho for many years. The “rope” consisted of four strands plaited to a point about eight feet from the end where the number of strands was increased to eight. These were joined to an iron ring which served as the run- ning loop for the large noose. The end that was carried in the hand or attached to the saddle was a plaited loop. The usual length of the lasso was 60 feet [20 meters].
Before the lasso was thrown, the noose at the ring end was formed-usually from two and a half to four yards around. The remainder was then coiled, two or three coils being taken together in the right hand with the noose, while the rest of the coils were held in the left hand. If too much slack were allowed between the coils in the left and right hands, the danger existed that the slack would become entangled and cause trouble, especially if the thrower were on horseback. The lasso was swung around the head, preparatory to being thrown at the “target.” When the throw was made, great care had to be taken that the noose flew upward and open. Once thrown, the rope uncoiled as it flew through the air. The moment the rope tightened on the animal, the thrower pulled back as though in a tug-of- war and digging his heels firmly in the ground, or into his stirrups, bore heavily on the rope with the entire weight of his body.
A horse may be lassoed in a corral at a distance of ten yards [10 meters], either by the feet or around the neck. A strong colt is quite capable of dragging two or three men around the corral if the job is bungled, but an experienced lad can easily overcome the same animal. To become an expert in the use of the lasso, the gaucho usually began to practice in childhood, using a piece of string or rope on cats and dogs.
To throw the lasso from horseback is infinitely more difficult than to throw it from a standing position on the ground, but at the same time it is much more effective because the strength of the horse is then called into play on the side of the thrower.
An efficient gaucho can lasso an animal at a distance of 20 yards [20 meters] while riding at full speed.
Great care must be taken not to entangle the coils of the slack with the reins or legs of the rider’s horse, or even to touch him in any way. For this reason, the lasso must be swung almost level with the head before being released. The end of the lasso retained by- the thrower is fastened to a strong ring and then again fastened to the larger ring which forms part of the Argentine saddle or “recado.”
When an animal has been caught around the neck or horns, it must not be allowed - especially if wild - to cross either in front of or behind the rider’s horse. Such a manoeuver would involve the danger of a half-turn being taken around the rider’s arm or leg, or even a whole turn around the body. Another possible danger is that of being charged by the enraged cow or bull and to avoid this, the horseman turns, as soon as the noose settles on the target, to the near side or away from his quarry, keeping the rope taut. It is really the horse that holds the captive, the rider doing nothing more than guiding the operation. Some horses are so cleverly trained that they can keep the rope taut themselves, thus permitting the rider to slip out of his saddle and dispatch the victim.
Another standard piece of equipment of the gaucho was the “bolas,” originally an Indian hunting weapon and entirely of South American origin. The “bolas” consist of three balls, usually of stone. Two of them are about the size of billiard balls, while the third is about half that size and is shaped like an egg. All three balls are moulded into bags of hide, and each of them is then attached to a thin rope of twisted hide about three feet [1 meter] long. The three are fastened together in the middle so that the ball held in the hand -the egg-shaped one is about six feet [2 meters] from the other two, and their whole weight is not more than one pound [0.45 kg.]. When thrown, the “bolas” are first whirled around the head and then released so that they go circling through the air with the two heavier balls beside one another, turning on their own axis, and the hand-ball at the other end. When the thongs of hide strike the legs of the animal, or whatever the object of the thrower may be, they wind themselves rapidly,about and completely hobble the victim.
This weapon was developed by the Argentine Indians to catch the fleet-footed native animals of the plains-deer, guanacos and ñandús (a species of ostrich [rhea]). Different types of “bolas” were used to catch different animals. Thus, an Indian stalking an ostrich would be armed with a set of “bolas”about the size of pigeon eggs and attached to strings of greater length. The gaucho used “bolas” made of wood to trap horses. A completely different type of “bolas” is used against tigers, jaguars, vicuñas and other wild animals. Called “bolas perdidas,” this type of weapon consists of one heavy ball alone, which either stuns or kills the victim. The heavier type of three - ball “bolas” may be thrown from a distance of up to 70 yards [70 meters], the ostrich “bolas” from one hundred yards, and the “bolas perdidas” can be effective at 120. From the point of view of the victim, the “bolas” are extremely difficult to avoid, the only sure escape being to run toward the thrower and to fling itself flat on the ground.
These were some of the customs and “mores” of the gaucho. Although, as already stated, he has today  virtually disappeared, he was still in his prime when Alfred Benitz reached Argentina and the youthful pioneer came to know and respect many of his better qualities.
ALFRED resumed his diary after a lapse of more than two months during which he was becoming adjusted to the new way of life on the broad and fertile pampas of Argentina. His vacations at the Howard farm and the chores he was assigned around the house at Oakland had given him a “leg up” on the experiences he encountered on the estancia. It was on Sept. 10, 1876, that he picked up again with the diary which for a number of years was to comprise chiefly the chronicling of the numerous bangs and bruises, the daily labor and the simple entertainments of his active life as an energetic young lad on a pioneering estancia.
Alfred was rapidly becoming a skilled horseman, but in the process be suffered a number of falls and contratemps, all of which he duly recorded. He developed a tremendous love for horseflesh and, like most men in the interior of Argentina, was more at home astride a horse than he was on his own two feet. Almost daily he rode off over the pampas on some errand or other, either for himself or for the household, and he also did a lot of riding with the men who cared for the cattle. Around the house itself, his main job appeared to be the daily milking of the four cattle who supplied the family. The following entries in the diary are typical of the things that Alfred did and the things that happened to him during this period:
“Sept. 10: after coffee, Mauree and I milked four cows. I then bathed and afterwards drove up the oxen and the horses. I rode the big white trotter horse.
“Sept. 14: it rained very heavily last night and this morning, so everything was muddy and I did the milking in the pouring rain. It cleared up a little in the afternoon so I planted a row of paraiso seeds near the road. In the evening when I rode my chestnut to bring up the horses from the camp, he tumbled with me and I turned a somer- sault over his head.
“Sept. 18: Charlie was going to Cañada de Gomez today, but he couldn’t go because he had such a side-ache so I went in his place. I rode a little white horse, and led Charlie’s big horse as far as Suárez’ where I left the white horse and rode the other to Cañada de Gomez, arriving at ten o’clock. After eating at Hansen’s, I got the papers, Willie’s shoes, etc., and started back at 1:30 p.m. I got $1.00 for going and gave two ‘reales’ to Suárez’ peon for caring for the white horse.
“Oct. 2: after coffee, I went to Cañada de Gomez. I rode the dark chestnut (‘zaino’) as far as Suárez’ where I left him and continued on the lazy little white horse to Cañada de Gómez [note: accented correctly], where I arrived at 11 o’clock. I ate at the station for a peso and then went to the shoemaker’s to get my boots which were nearly finished. I waited until 3:30.and then started back, picking up the mail at the station. On the way home when I got to our first ‘cañada’ (gully), it was very dark. Suddenly I heard a dog bark. I looked back and saw a man on horseback right behind me but he galloped off quickly when he saw that I had seen him. It looked very suspicious, so I, rode on slowly and got home about seven p.m. Tonight there was a strong ‘pampero’ (a sudden windstorm of the pampas) blowing, with some hail. Frank wrote to say that he was obliged to stay in Rosario for another week.
“Oct. 17: Braun and I hauled two loads of bricks down to Father’s grave, as Kuhn had fixed the fence around it. In the evening we had great fun ‘parting’ [Spanglish of ‘apartar’, to separate] out some cattle which did not belong to our herds. My little horse was very rambunctious. When we returned, I was trying to trim his hooves when he reared up and kicked me on the nose a terrible lick which made it bleed and swell up. It was sore for several days.”
The next day, Oct. 18 , Frank returned from a long stay in Rosario, and Charlie and Josephine went to the station at Cañada de Gomez to meet him. Nothing is said about what Frank was doing in Rosario, but it later developed that he was making up his mind to leave “La California.” Alfred wrote that “everything is now settled about the amount of money we have - there is about 23,000 pesos left” and said that on the following day Frank left again to go to the Province of Tucumán to look over the land there. The eldest son had decided that he could not remain at home any longer and was striking out on his own.
An interesting sidelight on the character of oxen, those patient but perverse beasts of burden who served the early estancieros so faithfully, occurred in Alfred’s diary entry of Oct. 26:
“Willie took a party to a ‘monte’ some miles away,” he wrote. “Willie and a ‘vaquero’ (cowboy) were on horseback, while Braun, Lariana and Vicente drove the wagons. They had a lot of trouble yoking up the oxen and the young bullocks. Oxen are queer creatures; sometimes if they are accustomed to a creak in one of the axles, they will refuse to move if it is not there, and one then has to put sand on the axle to make it creak.”
The month of November - late spring in Argentina - was the time for planting crops. Alfred and the other men on the estancia were busy part of the month planting potatoes and, of all things, spinach. The inevitable trees also were planted in large numbers. Much time was spent in hunting horse and cattle which had strayed from the range, for there were virtually no fences on estancias in those days. Today, no matter how large, every estancia is fenced in and there are few properties in Argentina’s vast territory which are not carefully marked off with fences. Most places assign one peon to the job, exclusively, of inspecting the miles of fencing every day to make sure it is in good condition. Alfred said that
“our estancia was not fenced in any more than the other estancias, so that we were obliged to go to the rodeos almost every day to part out our animals. Most of them went to ‘Las Tres Lagunas’ belonging to Mr. Watt and to ‘Las Rosas’ belonging to Capt. Kemmis. One day I went over to ‘Las Lomas’ belonging to Mr. Dickenson, and when we had parted out about 40 of our animals, Mr. Dickenson would not let us part out any more.”
[Note: Ea. “Las Tres Lagunas” (TL) abuts the SW corner of Las Rosas town and lies along the west half of Ea. “La California’s” then northern boundary; Ea. “Las Rosas” abuts the town on its NE corner, with Ea. “Las Lomas” NNE beyond it. In 1906, Watt’s son Al married Alfred’s niece Hattie Benitz. In 1908, Alfred bought the “TL” and in 1915 he married Dickenson’s first cousin Olga Horner. Kemmis was the founding father of Las Rosas town.]
About the middle of November, Frank returned from Tucumán, full of stories about the fertility of the land there and about the possibilities of raising sugar cane, the main product of the province. A week after his return he had a quarrel with Charlie. Alfred mentioned the quarrel in his diary but said that he knew none of the details; it must have been a serious one, none-the-less, to merit even mention in the diary, ordinarily completely clean of any references to personal relations. On Dec. 12 the money left by Father Benitz was divided and Frank, with his share in his pocket, left “La California” for good. He was the one discordant element in the large Benitz family.
Unfortunately, he was no more successful in making his way after leaving the family estancia than he was in getting along with his brothers while there. He attempted several ventures, none of which succeeded and several of which ended with him deep in debt. On several occasions the family was forced to liquidate his bad debts, some of which were big enough to require the sale of portions of the land on “La California.” [the western-most league, 2,500 has.].
Once Frank had left, the remaining brothers worked hard and with complete harmony under the watchful eye of their mother, whose strong personality remained the dominating force in their lives up to the day of her death.
Alfred’s diary was kept fairly consistently during the early part of 1877, recording among other things a great drought that lasted for three months with devastating effect on crops and livestock; a grasshopper plague that added to the hardships created by the drought and, finally, another family tragedy-the death of Charlie Benitz, whose frail body could not stand up to the rigors of the pioneer life.
For the day to day description of these events and other details of the estancia life, we turn again to excerpts from Alfred’s diary:
“Jan. 3 (1877); Willie and Uncle took our hides to Rosario in the wagon to sell them. They will bring back boards for making troughs and other wooden things about the estancia, and a new chain for the well as the old one was continually breaking, which meant that somebody, usually me, had to go down the well, stand up to their neck in water, and fix it from below.
“Jan. 6: Uncle, Willie and Mauree came back from Rosario where they bad sold the hides for 50 ‘reales’ each, making a total of 618 pesos. They brought back a new small wagon. In the afternoon we hauled back home 25 sacks of potatoes and tasted our first water-melons. We also sold quite a number of them. The weather has become very hot and dry with a north wind blowing all day.
“Jan. 12: Faria’s daughter, Rosaria, was very sick with whooping-cough. In the evening I went to drive the horses home and caught a long-legged black-bird near to the corral. Its feathers came to a point at the back of its head, and it had a kind of spur on the side of one of the wings. It is called a ‘téru-téru’ (plover). It was another very hot day, 106 Fahrenheit [41C] in the shade.
“Jan. 16: Lariana went away because he did not want to drive the horses to camp in the morning. In the evening when I brought the horses back from the camp, I was riding the little ‘zaino’ when he fell on his head and turned a somersault, so that I came down with such force that I could scarcely move my arm afterwards; I had landed on my left shoulder. I put cold water on it, but it still hurt exceedingly.
“Jan. 25: I have been obliged to leave my diary until today as I could not write because the fourth finger of my right hand became very swollen and sore, caused I believe by the fall from my horse. The day after the fall, and as I could not sleep that night on account of the pain, the ‘curandera’ came. But she said it was only a bruise and put ‘caña’ (an alcohol obtained from sugar cane [raw rum, often Paraguayan]) and salt on it. As I could hardly move my arm, I stayed indoors all day.
“Faria’s daughter died that night, and the next morning Faria and a peon took her body to Totoras to get buried, where the natives danced her into heaven all night.
“Lariana came back to us on Thursday and consented to work for us again for ten pesos a month. Willie had taken on a new peon named Daniel, a tall fat fellow.
“After the pain in my shoulder eased somewhat, the swelling in my finger began. It was very painful as the finger swelled up dreadfully white so that I could not sleep for three nights. It is open now at last, however, and is getting better. I put a poultice on it made of hot milk and bread and ground flax-seed. I was still lame in my shoulder, although it didn’t give so much pain as before.
“Jan. 21: we sold 150 ‘sandías’ (water-melons) for 90 pesos. In the evening the grasshoppers came again very thickly and they ate everything straight off: trees, maize (corn), potatoes, water-melons, wheat, etc. We tried to keep them off the trees but could do nothing. We may have some maize left, however. Charlie went to Rosario in the morning to see the doctor.
“Jan. 30: Mr. Schreiber came back with Charlie to stay a few days. He was a great friend of Father, who met him while on a visit to Rosario. He is a nice fellow and we all like him very much. He seems to be getting sweet on Josephine.
“Feb. 13: after I had milked, I had a shower bath and after coffee helped Uncle hoe down the corn in the little field, which had been eaten by the grasshoppers. Afterwards I went to help Lariana who was breaking another horse. It bucked hard and I helped him to turn it around. Johnny and I pulled up water at the well after dinner and again later. I took a siesta in the afternoon. We then threw water over Elisa as it was Carnaval.”
The throwing of water over young ladies by young gentlemen was the principal pastime in the country during the Carnaval festivities in most of Latin-America; although this practice has died out for the most part, a modified form of the sport - that of squirting perfume from small glass containers - is still indulged in at Carnaval time.
“The weather was still very hot and dry and windy. They said it was the biggest drought for many a year. When some santiagueños (natives of the Province of Santiago del Estero) went past our estancia with a lot of mares, I had to go down to the well to see that they did not water their horses, as our well had nearly given out, and we needed every drop ourselves. Faria’s baby (born yesterday) was christened in the forenoon, and I went to see it done. It was called Benenino. All the relations were there, chattering like a lot of monkeys. When I got back, I found that Braun had brought Mauree (the servant girl who had left the estancia to go to Rosario) back again. They would have come last night, but they lost their way and rode all night long. A lot of Mauree’s things were stolen in Rosario.
“Feb. 15: Willie came back from Cañada de Gomez with Schreiber, who has made some drawings of our house, which were very good. Herman was a little sick in the afternoon and had to lie down, and Lariana got bucked off a small wild filly (‘potranca’) he was breaking in, so that the foreman had to go down and catch the filly with the ‘bolas.’ Schreiber is certainly courting Josephine.
“Feb. 20: Neild and Mr. Greenwood of Cañada. de Gomez came at noon and had dinner with us, and Mr. Coombs and Mr. Tregarthen stopped on their way to ‘Las Rosas.’ Schreiber and Josephine announced their engagement in the evening. Herman was still sick and in bed all day. Gave him some castor oil. Today was an exceedingly hot day.
“Feb. 22: Mr. Kretzman came after coffee in the morning and said that a teacher was coming out from Buenos Aires to teach Johnny and Herman. Herman was feeling a little better. It rained a little and the temperature has changed. It has turned coldish and is very cloudy with a south wind blowing.
“March 2: I have progressed very well with my Spanish and today started to write my diary in that language, for practice. Naturally there are many mistakes as I spelled the words the way I heard them pronounced by the peons, which is anything but pure Spanish. Camp people are in the habit of clipping the ends of their words, with the result that a recado (saddle) would be a ‘recao’ and ‘Vamos por allá’ (Let’s go over there) would sound like ‘bamo pa ya,’ besides other pronunciations peculiar to the camp.
“We finished cutting down all the maize stalks and made a big bonfire with them. The locusts had left us a little maize, as some of it was very young when they came. I collected some from the ‘chacra’ (farm) and from the place near the paraíso trees, and altogether we had about four cartloads in the big shed. The weather has turned very hot again and there is a north wind blowing.
“March 7: in the morning Johnny, Herman and I took the bricks out of the brick-oven to start making the house at the new ‘puesto’ located toward the east side of the estancia. The well, which was to be finished next day, was four ‘varas’ (a vara is about two feet eight inches [81 cm., x 4 = 3.2 mtrs.]) deep and had seven feet [2.1 mtrs.] of water in it, but the water was rather salty. We now had plenty of water for the animals, apart from the well at the house, which was nearly empty. The weather is still very hot and dry, and the camp badly in need of rain. It had looked like rain several times during the last few days, but the clouds always passed over without a spot of rain falling.
“March 11: Charlie, who went to Cañada de Gomez last night, arrived back with Mr. Schreiber and his partner Mr. Holt. Schreiber gave Josephine a gold bracelet, pin and pendant, set with pearls and emeralds. He is very sweet on Josephine. In the evening we all went for a ride.
“March 12: Faria’s baby (born only a month ago) died early yesterday morning, and tonight the peons had the usual dance because the ‘angelito’ had gone to Dios.
“March 15: our milk is getting very scarce now owing to the drought, and I only obtained a bucket and a half from eight cows today. It was a frightfully hot day, the hottest of the year, and the cattle are getting very short of water as there is very little left now in our wells.
“March 20: William and I had to look after the camp all day as a soldier came over from Alvarez saying that all the peons had to go there to report. We sent some and the rest went in the evening. Faria and Lariana were able to return the same day as they had their papers in order, but most of the estancias were left without any peons.
“March 21: today the big drought broke! We had only just gotten 35 bags of maize into the shed when the rain came down in large torrents, with great hailstones too.
“March 25: there was another terrific storm today. The lightning struck and killed two cows and a calf in a field about a league [3 miles] away from the house. We went out afterwards and skinned them.
“March 26: the rain finally stopped today and the sun came out. One could almost see the grass growing. It had been so parched after three months without rain. In the evening when I was collecting the horses, my horse slipped in the mud at the gully, threw me and bolted. I lost my saddle but Lariana caught the horse. Later I found the saddle, with one of the stirrups missing. This horse had bucked a good deal all day.
“We now have eight peons in all and they were kept busy all the time. We had bought a new bunch of ten horses from Faria at 15 pesos and they were all branded without throwing anyone.
“April 1: it began to rain again several days ago and the water has come down in torrents all day today. The corrals are consequently very muddy, and the horses were slipping and falling about a good deal, and we all came off several times. Schreiber came out on a visit and rode all the way from the station, mostly at a gallop, and was very tired. The next day he was so stiff and sore that he could hardly move. The tutor for Herman and Johnny arrived. He is very thin, a Swiss and we pay him 30 pesos a month.
“April 8: Mother and Charlie went to Rosario in the afternoon to see the doctor because Charlie has a very swollen foot.
“April 11: I went to do some shopping in Cañada de Gomez. I left very early and arrived there about 9 a. m. I bought 60 posts of ‘ñandubay’ wood and had them loaded into a cart. Another cart was filled with 200 ‘arrobas’ (the arroba is an old Spanish measure equal to about 25 pounds [or 11.3 kg., x200 = 2,260 kg.]) of sand, and a third with 137 ‘arrobas’ [1,548 kg.] of lime. It was all very hard work. I had lunch with Don Agusto. The carts left at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and so did I but when I arrived at the estancia after dark the carts had not gotten there. They turned up at about 10 o’clock that night.
“April 12: at about 2 o’clock a peon came from ‘Las Lomas’ [Dickenson estancia NNE of Las Rosas] with a letter from Mother, who was at Cañada de Gomez station. She said that Frank and Charlie were there, and that Charlie was very ill. She wanted William to go at once. He returned at l p.m. tonight and said that poor Charlie had died there. He had tried to lift a heavy part of a new pump into the carriage. It was too heavy for him, and they carried him into the station-master’s bed, and two hours later he was dead. Poor Charlie. He had always been ill since he was seven years old and had gradually gotten worse. Mr. Woods is coming out with them tomorrow to bury Charlie. I slept with William that night. It was such a lovely day.
“April 13: today at about 12 o’clock, Frank and Mr. Woods arrived in the carriage bringing Charlie in his coffin. Mother, Mrs. Woods and Watt and Suarez came in the latter’s carriage. We buried Charlie at 2 o’clock. Scharf, Smithers and Thompson were present. Mr. Woods said a few words over Charlie’s grave. He is buried next to Father.
“Poor Charlie. He died on the 12th April and was 20 years, nine months and ten days old. He had been ill since August in 1870.”
WE now enter a period of almost 25 years in which Alfred failed to keep his diary with any regularity. Not until two years after the turn of the century, when he decided to take a trip to Europe, did Alfred again turn to his diary, and the burden of our story is carried forward, consequently, by the collective “day-book” which is kept on all estancias. A large share of the entries in the “day-book” undoubtedly were made by Alfred himself, but there was no particular order in the authorship of this record, and any member of the family who happened to be in a position to do it, made the entry for the day.
This quarter of a century was one of growth and expansion for the Benitz family and for its adopted country.
The family’s activities in the cattle and grain business were extended to the north by Alfred who put into effect a plan that he had long projected. The plan was born as the result of a hunting expedition to the region known as El Gran Chaco, the vast jungle-like but extremely fertile territory where the boundaries of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay meet. Alfred’s plan was to buy cattle and horses in poor condition, drive them north to El Chaco and fatten them on the lush grass he found there, and then to sell them afterward at a handsome profit. It was in the execution of this plan that Alfred spent what he considered the most satisfactory period of his life. He was living in the open country, which was what he liked best, leading a very active life and was completely at home in his surroundings. This type of life to him was much superior to living in the estancia house. He lived alone in tents for months at a time, fought Indians and struggled with the elements to turn his plan into a profitable enterprise.
While Alfred was away on his numerous trips, on many of which he was accompanied by other members of the family, the activities at “La California” grew. The estancia prospered rapidly because of the diligent work and planning of the Benitz family. It rapidly became one of the best-operated and best-known of the entire Rosario district.
The development of the family resources went hand in hand with the almost dizzying progress of Argentina as a nation.
The year 1880 marked an epoch, for it saw the beginning of a new political and economic era in Argentina. Three years earlier the first cargo of frozen meat - today one of the country’s principal sources of wealth - had been exported, and the extension of the railway to Tucuman brought the northwest, with its great agricultural resources, within reach of the national capital. A branch rail line, owned by the state, had already been linked by a halfway station called Villa María on the Córdoba-Rosario railway which ran through the Province of Córdoba westward to Villa Mercedes and the Province of San Luis, thus opening the land through which it passed. Settlements sprang up and more modern methods of stock-raising and agriculture were introduced. Although at this particular time the principal exports remained wool and hides, the basis was being laid for a great transformation in foreign trade, a transformation that was to make wheat and meat Argentina’s chief source of wealth and fame in the outside world.
Gen. Julio A. Roca, who had gained fame as an Indian fighter, was now the President of the country. He was a man of vigor and foresight, equipped with the tremendous advantage of personal knowledge of all parts of the country he governed. He encouraged immigration and railway construction. The railways were built chiefly with British capital and technical direction and with Italian labor. Roca’s right-hand man was Carlos Pellegrini, one of the outstanding figures of Argentine history. He was the son of a French father and English mother, and although he was educated at Harrow, he was nevertheless a thorough Argentine. Roca’s presidency (1880-1886) was a period of unprecedented peace and increase in the nation’s wealth.
Foreign capital, chiefly British, poured into the country, and improved maritime communications brought Europe nearer. Year by year, the export of grain increased. Great numbers of Basque and Italian laborers travelled 6,000 miles every year to help reap the Argentine harvest. This done, many of them returned each year to work on the harvest in their native countries, a peregrination made possible by the opposite seasons on the two sides of the equator. But a large number of the workers also saved their money, bought land in Argentina, settled down here and worked their way to swift fortune.
However, the rapidly rising tide of prosperity which up Argentina’s fertile west. Several lines were also built into the wheat and cattle country of the Province of Buenos Aires. The country was on the march. Wherever the railway went, it brought prosperity and the rapid development of enriched landholders chiefly brought on a wave of financial speculation. Toward the end of his tenure, Pres. Roca was forced to declare the notes issued by some banks non-convertible into gold. The wave of speculation reached its height under Roca’s successor, Juárez Celman (1886-1890), and the growing prosperity was severely shaken by extravagance in public spending, inflation, scandals in public finances and excessive borrowing to meet ever-growing budget deficits. Huge sums were spent on public works and in the improvement and embellishment of the city of Buenos Aires, but frequently the amounts expended in graft and corruption were far greater than those actually expended on the public works themselves.
Finally, the orgy of reckless finance and of paper money provoked universal protest and opposition. In 1890 ten thousand citizens gathered in the Tennis Club of Buenos Aires and the resignation of Pres. Celman was demanded. A revolutionary committee was formed under Leandro N. Alem who set about to organize the revolt. The rebel forces won over the Navy and part of the Buenos Aires Army garrison. After two days of fighting, in which more than 1,100 men were killed or wounded, Alem and his companions were forced to capitulate. However, they gained their objective, for Celman was forced to resign and Pellegrini, who was Vice-President, took over as Chief Executive.
Pellegrini now strove with all his considerable intelligence and vigor to avert disaster. He halted the vast public works program, effected drastic economies in government expenditures, and sent an emissary, Victorino de la Plaza (who became President 23 years later), to London to make terms with the British bankers. The founding of the Banco de la Nación (National Bank) did much to restore credit and confidence, but it took the country more than ten years to recover completely from the financial crisis of 1889-1891.
There were two great factors that helped Pellegrini in his task: the railroad and the plow. Unlike modem revolutionary movements which, because of improved communications, necessarily sweep up entire countries in their convulsion, the upheavals of those days customarily had little repercussion outside the capital city. This was what happened in Argentina in 1890... The farmers and cattle growers on the great estancias in the interior of the country caught only faint echoes of the political and military turmoil, and that, usually, after the event had occurred. They kept on with their daily task of creating wealth out of the soil for themselves and for the country. The Benitz family was typical of this enforced aloofness from politics, and only a vague mention occurs now and again in the day-book of the major political developments that were taking place in Buenos Aires, which easily might have been another country.
A third factor that played an important part, historically and economically, in the events of this period was the Indian. A major part of government activity at the time was the control of the original inhabitant of the country, still numerous in many parts, and the dispatch of expeditions against him when he became too bold in his raids and in his attempts to halt the inexorable encroachments of the white man. The Indian was important, too, in the life of Alfred Benitz, for he still infested the Chaco region where Alfred was shaping his fortune.
The first colony in the Chaco was founded in May, 1866, by a group of 12 farmers who, curiously enough, had come to Argentina from California just as the Benitz family had. [Correction: The location is wrong. See Frank X. Benitz, Alfred's uncle and co-founder of Colonia California.] Their settlement was established on the Paraná river, on the site of what is now a railway station named Espín, about 135 miles [220 km.] north of the city of Santa Fe. The group, which originally had appeared to plan only an exploration expedition, became enthusiastic over the land and applied to the government for a grant of 40 square leagues of land. Their request was readily granted by the government, eager for settlers in this semi-wilderness. At its start, the “California Colony,” as it was called, had a population of 62.
The colony was subjected from the beginning to continual raids and attacks from the Indians, chiefly the Moscoví and Abipon tribes in this region. The farmers set about constructing an adequate defense. They dug a ditch ten feet wide and five feet deep, on the inner side of which they built a stout stockade of tree trunks bound together with thongs of hide. The Indians, who refused to leave their horses in order to fight, were unable to cross the moat, so they adopted the tactics frequently employed by their red-skinned brothers of America - riding around the stockade, they shot flaming arrows onto the thatched roofs of the houses inside, hoping to set them afire.
At the alarm cry of “Los Indios!” the entire colony mobilized for action. All horses and livestock were driven inside the stockade by boys and women, while the men rushed to their assigned posts. Every person in the colony eventually took a gun to help in the defense. Although the colony had only a small stock of Kentucky rifles and a tiny brass cannon for firearms, they were in the main successful in standing off their assailants. Their vigilance was of necessity eternal, and it was dangerous to approach too near the stockade without first clapping one’s hands and calling out “Ave María,” the pass-word. If the lookout came out and answered “Sin pecado concebido” (Conceived without sin), only then was it safe to go in. If this formality were not carried out, one ran the risk of being shot on sight.
The type of defense evolved by the farmers of the California Colony was widely copied by other settlements and towns in the Chaco, for all towns, and estancias as well, in the northern part of Argentina were required to be continuously on the alert for their own preservation. Most of them had a watch tower with a huge bell in it which was rung furiously at the approach of the Indians. The entrance to the tower was a narrow spiral staircase which admitted only one person at a time. I [sic] was permanently well-supplied with rifles, ammunition and provisions and generally had a small cannon on the roof. These towers were called “miradores” (literally, watchers) and they bad one large room capable of sheltering 100 people.
The Indians of this region were similar to those of the United States in other ways than their habit of shooting lighted arrows into the settlers’ buildings. They rode astride their horses on sheepskins and carried long lances - sometimes 20 feet [6 mt.] in length - which were sharply pointed in hard wood or in iron. Just below the point was tied a tuft of horsehair or sometimes a tress of human hair from the head of one of the Indian’s victims a practice suggestive of the scalping methods of the American Indians, which had cost the life of one of the Benitz babies in California.
Each Indian carried his “bolas” wrapped around his waist and he generally led another horse. They lived in wigwams made of the skins of animals with tree-branches used as support poles. Their vanity usually gave them away to the white men, for they smeared their bodies with potent-smelling ostrich grease. The repulsive odor of this grease could be detected a long distance off by the livestock, and when the cattle or horses suddenly bolted in one direction it served as an unfailing warning to the settlers that the Indians were approaching from the other. The reason for the panic of the livestock was not any knowledge or fear of the Indians, but of the ostrich from which the savages secured their body-grease; both cattle and horses are terrified of the South American ostrich (“ñandú”) because of its powerful kicks, and the mere sight of one is usually enough to panic an otherwise docile horse or group of cattle. The Indians were also similar to their American counter-parts in that they uttered a nerve-shattering war-whoop when they attacked.
The Argentine government had carried out several major expeditions against the Indian menace, but they all had been effected in the southern half of the country. Virtually nothing had been done to eliminate the Indians of the Chaco where Alfred took livestock, and although the gradual advance of civilization had steadily pushed the savages back northward, they still constituted a grave threat at the time that Alfred was feeding his cattle and horses there.
The first major Indian expedition was carried out by the tyrant Rosas, as already noted, in 1833. The man who was to become the hated dictator in later years showed his customary energy and ruthlessness on this mission. He slaughtered thousands of Indians and drove them to the south, freeing 5,000 square leagues of land from their depredations. The annexation of this land made Buenos Aires five times larger in area than it had been previously. After the fall of Rosas, in 1852, the Indians surged back again and recovered some 2,000 leagues of the 5,000 he had deprived them of. Twenty-five years later, in 1877, the Minister of War, Col. Adolfo Alsina, undertook a new expedition against the Indians. He recovered all the land that had been lost and a considerable portion besides. In the midst of his campaign, however, Alsina was stricken by a fatal illness. His successor was Gen. Roca, the same man who later became President. Roca forced the Indians still farther back, south of the Rio Negro. Roca’s conquest of the savages in the south was permanent. It opened up for settlement and colonization the whole Rio Negro valley which is today one of the most fertile agricultural regions of Argentina.
At the time that Roca had just about finished his last Indian campaign, the Benitz estancia was entering into its first period of solid prosperity. On Nov. 12 of 1878, Josephine Benitz became Mrs. Schreiber in a ceremony that was held at “La California.” The only description available to us of what must have been a truly festive occasion is given in the terse and matter-of-fact language of the day-book which impartially noted that “the weather was fearfully hot, the wells were all dry and Willie was in a bad humor.” No explanation was given for Willie’s bad humor. It was reported that several people came from Rosario for the party, and it may be assumed that all the neighbors for leagues around were present for an event of such importance. None of the details of the party were given, however, so that they must be left to the imagination of the reader.
Some of the events listed in the day-book for the period following the wedding were:
“Jan. 30, 1879: the month was very hot. We had some good sales of our cattle in Rosario as Willie had sold 227 novillos (yearlings) for 3,065 pesos. It continued very hot until the end of the month. Everything was very dry. Towards the end of the month we had a great storm with hail and a great deal of rain. The hail knocked down half the peaches and broke some windows.
“July 4: we celebrated as usual, hoisted the American flag, fired off the little cannon and had shooting with our rifles. We also had a good breakfast. In the afternoon Mr. Walker and Mr. Donkin came over and stopped until 9 p. m. We made a big bonfire and played leap-frog around it. It was a very pleasant day.
“July 15: Mother signed another note for Frank, for three months for 2,500 pesos. She received a letter from him last Sunday. Johnnie came back from a hunting expedition with 13 ducks and one deer.
“Aug. 2: we received a telegram from Schreiber saying that Josephine had given birth to a baby girl in the morning (Bertha Josephine) and that Mother should come right off. She left for Rosario at midnight and we saw her off to Buenos Aires.
“Sept. 5: Mother returned from Buenos Aires after an absence of more than a month.
“Sept. 16: a large ‘manga’ (swarm) of locusts passed over the estancia going south. Willie’s ostrich laid its first egg.”
During the next two months the day-book revealed nothing of particular interest except that during November Josephine came up from Buenos Aires with her new baby for a visit to the estancia, and Mrs. Benitz, accompanied by Willie, went to Rosario to make her will and “to get back some notes of Frank’s.” Four square leagues of the estancia land also were fenced in, no mean achievement, and the completion of the job was celebrated on Dec. 20 with an asado, or barbecue, in which Mrs. Benitz and the girls joined the 11 men who had done the work.
There was another type of annotation seen increasingly in the day-book at this time which did as much as anything else to indicate that the estancia house was becoming a country establishment in the grand style. This was the listing of the visitors at “La California”. Neighbors from other estancias, visitors from Rosario and Buenos Aires, and guests from abroad were being received in considerable number.
“Jan. 6, 1880: today was Mother’s birthday and we had several visitors - Mr. and Mrs. Dickenson and their son Alfred; Miss Allyn and Mr. Melville.
“Jan. 22: we worked all day putting up the gate in the new road. We had started fencing again and we are going to put fencing around the whole of the estancia. During this month we sold 184 of our novillos for 3,000 pesos and 16 hides at 55 centavos each.
“Feb. 11: a Mr. Goodacre, who has just arrived from England, came over with Mr. Merrick of ‘La Caledonia’ ** and Messrs. Krell, Myers and Stiefel came to breakfast on their way out to their new estancia ‘Los Tigrecitos.’** Mother signed another note of Frank’s for the sum of 4,123 pesos.
“March 10: we commenced the fence around the north of the ‘quinta’ (vegetable garden) and the peons’ quarters, and also began building a new barn, pulling down an old house to furnish the mud for the bricks.
“March 31: we had several visitors this month; Mr. and Mrs. Dickenson and Alfred; Trail, Smithers, Roosey and Moncton.
“April 30: this month we put up a swing fence on two squares of the land to the east of the house. On the 19th we had another dance and among our new visitors was a Mr. William Hope. Josephine and her baby came to stay again for a while as things were very unsettled in Buenos Aires and Rosario and a revolution was threatened. On the 21st the first postman started between Villa Suarez, ‘Los Castaños,’** us and Cañada de Gomez. This was to be a regular postal service.
“June 26: Alfred came back at noon from Cañada de Gomez with Miss Brandt. He had been there to look for a servant girl but could not find one. He said that there was great excitement in the town because it seems that there had been quite a fight in Buenos Aires with 3,000 of the Provinciales killed or wounded.”
The “Glorious Fourth” of July was passed on the estancia in the usual fashion with much shooting of guns and cannon, burning of logs and a tremendous amount of good eating. On the 17th of July, Johnny fetched a servant girl from Cañada de Gomez and also brought back the first letters that the Benitz’ had received from Buenos Aires since the revolution there. In its usual sparse manner, the log-book mentions the letters and the revolution but gives no details whatever of the description of the bloodshed, with which, it seems likely to assume, the letters would be filled.
“Aug. 17: Josephine and the baby returned to Buenos Aires and Willie left for the Gran Chaco to look after Frank’s affairs for a bit. Sofia, the new servant girl, also left. She stayed just one month and two days.
“Sep. 8: Willie arrived back from the Gran Chaco and spoke very highly of the place. Alfred decided to go up there for a few days to help Frank with his place. We had to pay Frank’s note on Lloyd’s, due Sept. 23, for 4,247 pesos, and Frank signed a paper for 6,888 pesos payable to us in six months’ time. Goodacre stayed here for breakfast on his way back to England, also a Mr. Von der Becke who arrived early. Uncle is very sick with a boil on his neck.
“Sept. 25: today Uncle was worse so we sent Adolfo to Cañada de Gomez after the doctor, who came that evening and found Uncle very sick. We had to send a peon to Cañada de Gomez during the night for the medicine.
“Oct. 2: Uncle became much worse and could not be left alone.
“Oct, 14: Uncle died at 5 o’clock this morning, aged 64 years, less two days. We sent word to all the neighbors and a great many people attended the funeral which took place on the 15th at 2 o’clock. We received a letter from Alfred saying that he liked it very much up there in the Chaco.
“Nov. 5: the locusts arrived in the evening and while we spent a long time trying to chase them out of the vegetable garden, a large swarm came over and laid their eggs in the fields. The gardener, Don José, tried to work in the garden against the locusts, while his mother, her son, and another dark lady sheared 66 sheep during the afternoon. The weather was very hot and sultry.
Fig.10 — The family estancia house — c.1890?
“Nov. 23: two photographers came and took a picture of the house and of us all. Von der Becke arrived in the evening and stayed overnight. He said that he had had a very good time up in the Gran Chaco and that Alfred was well and had killed five Indians in a fight.
“Jan. 3, 1881: a very fine day. We sent the cart to the station with hides and Johnny went to Scharf’s for a certificate of sale. We were killing locusts with all hands, even the cook. Mr. Stormont, Watts and ‘Lord’ Donkin came to breakfast. Donkin, ‘the brave,’ had taken to playing an accordion which he had bought from a peon at the station.”
(This fellow Donkin apparently was quite a character. Note that the writer of the day-book departs from his usual spartan and sombre style to give him two nicknames in the same entry. Donkin was frequently mentioned for some personal antic, an extremely rare occurrence in the day-book, but we have no other information about his character.)
“Feb. 16: Alfred arrived back from the Gran Chaco in the afternoon. Mr. Donkin plagued the life out of us with his accordion. He saved the life of a child yesterday. She had fallen into the well.
“Feb. 21: Mr. Watt brought over four Englishmen to breakfast. They had come out from England on a tour round the world: a Mr. Jardine, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Knight and another fellow. A fire started again on the south corner of the estancia.
“Feb. 28: we sold the last [most western] league of camp to Smithers for 4,000 pesos, equal to 5,452 Bolivian pesos, and since he bad taken up Frank’s note on Lloyd’s of 4,592, he paid the balance to Willie who is going to the United States in two days.
“March 2: Willie went off to the States of North America to get married to Miss Clara Allyn, a charming girl from Corsicana, Texas. He fell in love with her when she came to the Argentine on a visit to her sister [correction: like her elder sister, she was a teacher brought to Argentina by President Sarmiento]. Since she was only 17, her sister thought her too young to be married, but although she went back to the States, Willie corresponded with her and used to ride to Cañada de Gomez to post his letters to her. They became engaged after a few months.
“He took 2,000 pesos with him. Johnny and Donkin went as far as Rosario with him to see him off. Johnny obtained a note from him of what money he took along, and Donkin got the money from the bank.
“March 30: Donkin, Herman and Alfred have been treating the cattle with a solution composed of starch, vinegar, salt and water. We cured about 20 in all. The ‘peste’ (disease) is very bad but we don’t know if it is distemper or scab. There are several animals dying. Alfred had a bad fall from his horse and hurt his shoulder. We had several visitors this week: Mrs. Wood, Miss Cross, Captain Irwin, Captain Hemingway and Mr. Bartlett, and we had another dance on Saturday evening. Johnny and Capt. Irwin went hunting nearly every day in the early morning and killed a lot of game.
“April 21: Donkin, ‘the brave,’ signed the pledge. The mason came and broke down the wall between the last two rooms on the patio and put a door there for William’s suite, as they are going to live here after they are married.
“April 25: Willie and Clara were married today at 5 p.m. in Corsicana, Texas.”
Fig. 11 — A camp scene
[The “La California” house is in the background. Johnnie is the rider on the left.
The shed on the right foreground is about where the swimming pool is today]
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)