|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|
ALTHOUGH the daily struggle of the early estanciero in Argentina was a never-ending demand on his labor, the Benitz estancia now had reached the point in its development where, from time to time, there was opportunity for recreation. The favorite forms of relaxation and entertainment were, as we have seen, dances in the estancia house and hunting trips. The Benitz boys, living as they did almost constantly in the open, with gun in hand and more in the saddle than on the ground, were naturally drawn to the excitement and other attractions of hunting. It was to them a sport readily at hand in the virgin country where they lived.
Many were the hunting expeditions that they arranged and carried out, by themselves or with some of the now numerous guests at the estancia house. Typical of such expeditions was one made in the month of May, 1881, into the territory of La Pampa [correction: the Espín & Calchaquí rivers are in Santa Fé province, 200 km north of Santa Fé city, as is the Mistolar area, all in the vicinity of the town of Calchaquí.] The record of this sally was kept in the day-book, written by various members of the party. Since no entries were signed, it is impossible to single out the author.
Fig. 14 — Calchaquí La Vuelta Saturday Evening
“May 23: we passed the Arroyo Mistolar and camped on the banks of the Calchaqui river at noon. Picked up a tame horse on the way. We had just finished breakfast when Juan sang out ‘Tigre!’ We all rushed to our rifles, and Alfred got in the first shot, hitting the animal in the mouth. Juan and I both fired and missed. Alfred also fired again and hit him. Robson shot once more, and the tiger just managed to scramble up the bank when Juan got another shot into him, but quite unnecessarily. Marched to the banks of the Saladillo river and camped for the night. Supper of roast tiger very good. Found an empty caña bottle [Paraguayan rum]. Bag: 1 tiger [puma?] (nine feet long [3 mt.]) and 1 horse.
Fig. 12 — Camp Monte Aguara — Ralo Monte
“May 24: Queen Victoria’s birthday. Passed the Saladillo on foot carrying our things over. Horses driven across. Marched to Monte Aguaras. Robson got an aguaras (a species of Argentine wolf) just outside the monte. Wolf for breakfast was not appreciated. In the afternoon we all went out except Ignacio and shot two deer. My horse fell and cleared out, and I lost my companions, and after missing my way all over the shop, camped out for the night. Heard a rifle shot, replied, but the monte was too thick to find a way through. Bag; 2 ‘guinchos’ (sea-gulls).
“May 25: got up before sunrise and just afterwards met Johnny who guided me to their camp, where I found my horse. We made a good breakfast of roast and boiled venison, and then moved camp to the other side of Monte Aguaras. In the afternoon all hands went out except myself. They came back with two ‘gansos’ (wild geese), 1 lion [puma?] and a young lion alive. Mula, my horse, cleared out. Bag: 2 gansos, 1 lioness measuring six feet from head to tail, and 1 lion cub captured.
Fig. 13 — Interrupted Siesta — Monte Aguará
“May 26: staking out skins (for drying), mending gear, etc. Alfred brought in a ‘guasubirá’ (antelope) at noon. Lion steaks very good. At one o’clock all hands went over the camp. Saw a splendid laguna about half a league wide. I killed a small ‘javalí’ (wild boar). Bag: 1 antelope, 1 wild boar. Antelope for supper very good.
“May 27: had a Sunday wash in the lake. Waited till tiger and lioness skins were dry. Shifted camp about one league to the westward. Shot a ‘gama’ (doe) for the pot. Saw a large troop of ‘baguales’ (wild horses).
“May 28: went out after baguales. Alfred shot one and brought some meat in. In the afternoon some Indians brought us a lot of honey. Great feast of wild horse ‘carne con cuero’ (meat with the hide a delicious dish when cooked over a low open fire) and wild honey. Game very scarce. In the middle of the feast the dogs began a fight and one horse cleared out and all the rest followed, except three which the Indian peons mounted and went after the runaways. They brought back all except four.
Fig. 15 — Camp at Isleta de Los Mosquitos — Sundown
”May 30: two of the horses came back of their own accord during the night and the other two were found close by. Marched till noon and then rested two hours. Marched all afternoon through swamps ‘Tajarino,’ ‘Cortadera’ and ‘Espartillar’ till we came to the Laguna del Cura which is surrounded with palm trees. The Indians caught a bagual. Water in the laguna was salty and bitter. Found sweet water in the swamp.
“May 31: marched through belts of palms, other trees and swamps. Robson wounded a ‘ciervo’ (species of South American stag) and we tracked it up. I got a shot and hit it in the body. It jumped up and cleared out into a swamp where John tracked it, and Robson finally dispatched it, and it was dragged out in triumph by José, Johnny and Robson. Marched through a very thick clump of trees, crossed the Calchaqui river and went on till 2 o’clock when we halted, ate some ciervo venison and rested. Venison very good. Marched on again till after sundown when we camped on the banks of the Arroyo de los Perros.
Fig. 16 — Passing Arroyo de Las Conchas about a xxxx wide
High wooded banks lower down
“June 1: marched at sunrise through very thick fog for about a league until we crossed the Arroyo and then went on across open country with scattered montes. I saw a ‘yacaré’ (crocodile). Camped at a swamp before entering the thick woods. Alfred shot a stork for breakfast at the Laguna del Carancho. Marched all afternoon until we came across a ‘colmena’ (wild honey-comb) of which we ate as much as possible and took some along with us. Went on to the Laguna de las Nutrias where we camped for the night.
“June 2: in the morning we marched in a Scotch mist and passed the fence at Espín and the Arroyo and arrived home at 11:30 a. m.”
Fig. 17 — Pleasure (?)
Tiglumas[?] in Tabanos Moscas Bravas Mosquitos
Rxxxxx Rain in Torrents and the Lona all holes.
Encampamento de Las Sabandijas 15th. Feb.
The hunting expeditions were not, as previously mentioned, the only form of entertainment on the estancia. An entry in the day-book after the return from the hunting trip pointed out that “although we work very hard all day, we often have dances in the evening, generally on Saturday night.”
Alfred’s twenty-first birthday occurred on June 15 and Herman’s eighteenth birthday fell on the 28th. If a dance was held for Alfred’s birthday, no mention was made of it in the day-book. On the other hand, through some mix-up that is not explained, two dances were held on successive nights to celebrate Herman’s birthday. The day-book said:
“On the occasion of Herman’s birthday we had a ‘baile’ (dance) which was attended by several friends, who arrived on the 27th instead of the 28th, when they were invited, and we danced until daybreak. The guests then went home and returned the next night for another ‘baile’ when still more people came over in the evening, and we danced until 3 a.m. The next day we were all more or less done up, and all the dancers left for home.”
One month and eight days after he became of age, Alfred took the first step in his well-laid plan for cattle raising in the Chaco. He bought a league and a half of land near the Espín river and the Laguna Yacaré, signing his note for it. [Clarification: Laguna Yacaré is in Santa Fé province. The “Gran Chaco” is a geographic area that encompasses northern Santa Fé, north-east Santiago del Estero, all of Chaco and Formosa provinces, and extends north into Paraguay. See Frank’s diaries 1880-1881 and Alfred’s day-books 1884-1889.]
It was at this time that another tragedy was visited on the family. This was the death of Frank, who was drowned in the Toba river at Espín. His death was doubly tragic for be had been married only two months earlier to a girl of that neighborhood named Elisa Burchell [sp?]. The news of the accident was received at “La California” on Oct. 19 from Johnny, who with Herman and Mr. Von der Becke had left the estancia on July 29 for a trip to Espín.
The details of the tragedy were not known until Feb. 14 of 1882 when Johnny and Herman returned. The day-book said:
“They said that Frank had gone across the river and had asked them to be on the river-bank at 6:30 with the boat to meet him. They went out hunting and forgot the time and so arrived late. They waited some time but he did not come, so they started to look around and they found his rifles, clothes, saddle, etc., on the bank of the river. They could only think that he had tried to swim the river and had been drowned. Alfred went to Cañada de Gomez on the 17th to meet Frank’s widow and her little sister, who came to stay with us for a few days.
“March 30: lots of the animals were ill and many had died of the ‘peste’ during the month of February, but this month they began to improve and what with medicines and injections got a good deal better. The big thoroughbred bull ‘Prince Consort’ was taken ill on the 14th and in spite of all our care he died two days later. That meant 600 pesos gone up the flue. Josephine and her two children had come up from Buenos Aires to stay with us for two months. She now has two girls, Bertha and Matilde.
“April 9: the first copy of The Standard, the first English newspaper in Buenos Aires, arrived.
“May 15: a little girl was born to Willie and, Clara (Hattie). Their first anniversary was on April 25. Willie had taken Clara to Rosario on the 2nd and Mother had gone on the 12th. Mother stayed for a week with Clara and they all came back with the baby on June 9. One afternoon Alfred took Clara and the baby for a drive in the new little trap. The horse stumbled and fell, breaking the shafts, but by a miracle it did not kill the baby.
“June 27: we received notice by cable from the States of North America of the death of Mrs. Howard, Mother’s sister, Caroline.
“April 1, 1883: Alfred, Johnny and Edwards left for the Chaco.
“May 30: the fifth of this month was a great day as Baby Hattie cut her first tooth. The 15th of the month was her first birthday, and she had a large party. All the neighbors’ children came, ten in all. The 22nd was Willie’s birthday,
“July 4: we celebrated as usual. We blasted a log, put up the flag and a lantern, and at night sat around under a tree and had ‘mate.’ One of the peons, Hosabia, played his guitar and sang for us.
“July 9: today is the Argentine Independence Day. We had a big dance and all our neighbors’ were invited. They all came and enjoyed themselves very much. There were Mrs. Fay, Mrs. Dickenson, Miss Duffield and Melville, Wish and Bell. Pini remained on and danced every evening with Miss Gunn. Johnny is learning to dance.
“July 17: we received a letter from Alfred from the Chaco. There was great excitement here about a railway to be built by Hume’s brother from Cañada de Gomez to Las Yerbas.
“July 27: Willie and Clara went to ‘Las Lomas’ for another deer-hunt. They had a champagne supper and a ball and arrived home at one o’clock in the morning.
“Aug. 22: today was Johnny’s birthday and we had a big dinner and a dance afterwards.
“Aug. 28: the surveyors for the new railway came. They camped on our land. There were four of them, Gregg, Crabtree, Price and Chapman. They worked all the morning and came to breakfast with us. The line was to go right through our new colony, where there would very likely be a station. It was finally decided, however, to make a station on our new land, so the surveyors came to the house and took measurements of the house, garden, potreros, etc., so as to make a map. The peons got drunk.
“Nov. 1: we received a letter from Josephine saying, that another little girl has been born to them, on the 28th of last month. She has four little girls now.
“Dec. 25: Alfred came back from the Gran Chaco with two mules.”
On this first trip, Alfred had been making all the final arrangements for his first large expedition to the Chaco. He was all ready now and early in the year 1884 he launched his enterprise.
ON March 30, 1884, Alfred left “La California” at the head of a party of 11 with almost 800 cattle and a score of horses, plus the other paraphernalia needed to hack out a new livestock establishment in the wilderness of the Chaco. The site chosen for Alfred’s experiment was the Laguna Yacaré, near the Espín river.
For the next 20 years, Alfred spent most of his time on this project, either on the place itself or busying himself with affairs connected with it.
On this first trip, Johnny and two friends, named Fredericks and Walker, accompanied him. Seven peons made up the rest of the group. The trip to Laguna Yacaré required three weeks and it was negotiated with a surprisingly small loss of livestock, in view of the difficulties faced.
“La California” to “Laguna Yacaré”, 1884
(created by: P. Benitz, 2002)
The story of the trip and the daily activities of the group after it reached its destination is taken from the day-book, which was kept just as scrupulously as its counter-part at “La California.”
“April 1: marched up to Venutra Suarez and locked animals in corral. William came up to see us in Porteños camp, and we counted the cattle: 786 in all without the eight oxen, among them the eight calves. The peons are Heraldo Gomez (capataz), José Cerdo, Zalome Sosa, Juan Mercedes, Basto Ibarra and Eduardo Río. They earn two pesos per day and one peso each half night of patrolling. The cartman (Dionisio) gets six reales (about 60 centavos) per daylight turn. Hugo and Miguel go as far as Suarez with us and then go back.
“April 2: we travelled to Moyas’ puesto and locked in. A very dark and drizzly night - it had rained almost all day. Butchered a calf. We have five young greyhounds with us and three big ones, two small pointers and four large ones. Mr. Walker has one fox-terrier.
“April 3: travelled from Moyas’ puesto to the edge of San Martín [de las Escobas] colony, four leagues (12 miles). As it was too late to pass through the colony, we rounded up for the night in a corner of the fence. The next day the cattle ran away, but we got them together again all right. We hired a ‘vaquero’ (cowboy) Manuel Mansilla at two pesos per day to go up to the Salado river. Passed through San Martín and stopped for the night up against the Quiñones Estancia fence. Butchered an old fat cow. Lost the map of the province.
“April 5: marched from the Quiñones fence up to the Zárate camp and camped for the night beside some lagunas. The dogs caught their first deer.
“April 6: we travelled up to the edge of Pilar Colony where the colonists wanted to buy horses. Fredericks got sleepy on the watch, so did the peons and consequently the cattle got away. They were found next day two leagues away. The next day we marched up to the Torino Nuevo Colony. Cattle went splendidly, rode through excited colonists.
“April 8: marched up to the north of Colonia Felicia on Orcheta camp through Arroyo Prusiano. Cold night with full moon. Cattle went very badly.
“April 9: marched up to the edge of Colonia Progreso through fine open country. Cattle were very difficult to drive. Dogs killed a doe. Cold weather.
“April 10: marched up between Cululú and Salado rivers on Crespo estancia. Had no trouble in crossing Cululú. Bought sugar and yerba ($5.62) in Progreso. Fine camp where we stopped at night. Fine weather.
“April 11: passed the Salado. Had some trouble with the cattle and cart at Amelia [Emilia]. Cart crossed the river with cargo. Crossed river in canoe ($3.00). Hired seven or eight men with guide to help get cattle over river. Spent $16.75 in getting them over. Camped on the edge of the Salado river. The next day we went as far as ‘Las Delicias’ estancia where we discharged the vaquero and paid him off. Lots of trouble with the cattle.”
The remainder of the trip was made under circumstances just about the same as those related in the foregoing passages, and on April 20 the expedition reached its destination. The cattle and horse were immediately locked up in temporary enclosures which had been built on Alfred’s previous trip. The first big job was to build permanent corrals, most of the material for which was obtained from the remains of buildings left by an earlier settlement (colony) that had been abandoned.
The day-book for April 23 said:
“While the men were with us, we made the corral which took four days. Heraldo and José put the posts in, while Dionisio carted the posts from the old colonists’ house, toward the east, and from the pile around the house. One of the men put his horses out to grass with ours for six days at $1.50 per day. The day we finished the corral, the cattle herder from Santa Rosa estancia locked up a small herd of yearlings in our horse-corral, on their way to Reconquista.
“April 27: we branded our calves as Don Benito came the night before with some soldiers and also their cart with a couple more soldiers. We marked (branded) all the calves, some 250. Heraldo and José went on horseback and the rest on foot. Don Benito and the men went back to San Pedro in the afternoon as it was too hot to hunt with the dogs.
“April 28: we counted the cattle in the corral. There were 753 with the eight oxen. We had butchered nine on the road up here, so we are just 24 short. All the peons left today. Heraldo searched for the lost cattle toward the Freiera camp near Zárate where we had a ‘disparada’ (flight or runaway of cattle [stampede]). Walker, Fredericks, Johnny and Alfred were quite alone for seven days until Perico Pereira and Anastasio Rosa came from Reconquista to work for us; Perico to take care of the cattle at $15 a month and Anastasio to help build, etc., at $18 a month.
“May 4: Perico began to work today and Anastasio the following day when we began hauling timbers from a deserted hut in the bend of the Espín river. The hut was in a good state of preservation and the timbers were long enough for our house. Alfred and Johnny took it in turns to go over there every day, taking the man with whom we made a contract to cut ‘paja’ (rushes) for us, which he found in the pass on the Espin river. We paid him $3 the hundred bundles. The first day he cut 600 bundles, and we hauled the first load of 200 bundles to the house. We had on hand the ‘cumbreros’ (beams), ‘cañas’ (bamboo poles) and about half enough posts for the sides of the house. We had not butchered since we branded the calves as we lived on the game which the dogs caught, or which Walker, Johnny or Fredericks caught. We already had the skins of more than 40 does, 40 wolves, two wild pigs and a wild deer. We put up the tent that was over Castillo’s cart and put our goods under shelter.
“We had a good deal of wet weather at first and the corral took some time to dry again. Fredericks or Walker generally did the cooking which was mostly ‘puchero’ (typical dish of Argentina, made of [boiled] meat and vegetables), ‘guiso’ (stew), ‘asado’ (meat roasted over an open fire), cheese, rice, etc. All were enjoying good health and wishing the house was finished so that we could get under shelter as the tents in the carts were rather leaky. The cattle are doing first-rate and seem to get fat almost at once. The black ox died soon after we arrived, also two very fat young heifers. Guess the black ox was sick before we left home. We collected the fat from the two heifers. About every five days two postboys passed in a cart going from Reconquista to San Pedro and back with letters and parcels.
“May 16: Alfred, Johnny and a peon went to the pass and got 200 bundles of reeds. The greyhounds caught a deer and an ostrich while Johnny killed two foxes and Fredericks a deer, and an ostrich. There was a south wind blowing which was very nice and cool.
“May 18: Johnny and Perico went out shooting and killed a very fat bagual, also they caught a live one which was left tied up to a tree until next day. He was wounded. We brought all the fat and meat from the dead one home. Alfred took the dogs out for a run and they caught two ostriches and three does.
“May 19: Alfred, Fredericks, Walker and Perico took our horses and went to where we had left the second wild horse tied up, as wild horses will often follow tame horses. We found him dead from his wound. We brought the fat home in a demijohn, but could not bring all of it as we had nothing to run it into. The weather was nice and cool still, and the cattle looked better every day. They now scattered out better in the night time. The horses were also in good condition, but the oxen had become rather wild.
“May 20: the two postboys and some colonists passed and had breakfast with us. They were on their way to Reconquista. Alfred went with Anastasio and got another load of posts for the house and the next morning Johnny went with the cart and got another load of timber. He took his shot-gun with him and brought back some pheasant, and a stag. We laid out the plans for the house; it will have two rooms, each five yards by six, and a verandah, three yards broad in front.
“May 24: Alfred brought the last load of timber in the cart. We set fire to the land so as to begin to plow, and also set fire to the cañada (cane-break) on the other side of the laguna to see if any ‘bichos’ came out.”
(The word “bicho” as used in Argentina, although usually meaning insects, has a wide variety of meanings. It is used for animals in general and also for vermin of all kinds. The author of the day-book in this case apparently had the latter meaning in mind, i.e., rats and snakes).
“We put up the two main posts for the house.
“May 25: Alfred and Anastasio went out for a run with the dogs and caught three does. Gipsy the bitch over-taxed herself and died - a great shame, as we would rather have lost two of our best horses. The colonists came back from Reconquista and brought us two arrobas of cornmeal at six reales the arroba. Fredericks and Johnny left at noon to go to the Espín arroyo. They camped out all night.
“May 27: we put up the ‘tijeras’ (a sort of cross-beam of iron in the form of an X) on the house. One of the beams broke, and we had to make another; a bad job as the axe was all broken and the adze was not worth a damn. We cleaned up around the place and mended up the door and gatebars so they could be locked and put posts with iron bars in the corral. The two Moores and an English boy, called Jack Heart, arrived. They were very much surprised to see the place occupied. They stayed with us for a day or two and had some hunting with Alfred, Fredericks and Walker. Johnny and a peon worked all one day tying canes on the roof. The man who cut the reeds came back from San Martín and brought us six arrobas of flour, some onions, corn and pumpkins. It was a very foggy day, so we had to have a man looking after the horses all the time.
“May 29: Alfred, Walker and Anastasio began thatching the house with the reeds. The following day the Moores left, for the men they expected to meet did not turn up. We gave Anastasio permission to go with the postboys to Reconquista and advanced him $10. We also gave him $2 to buy a new axe, which by the way we never got. Alfred and Walker were still thatching. Fredericks went out shooting all day but did not get anything. Very nice weather, cool soft wind.”
The greatest excitement that came to break the monotony of Alfred and his companions was the very infrequent passage of other pioneers, hunting parties, surveyors and other occasional visitors. Most of these, like the Benitz boys, were participating in the huge task of carving a civilization out of the wilderness that was then the Chaco. Today, this territory of Argentina is fairly thickly settled and is one of the country’s richest agricultural areas. Its main industry, however, is not the fattening of cattle, as Alfred foresaw, but the raising of cotton and yerba mate, the national drink of the Argentine.
One of the infrequent breaks in their solitude occurred on the last day of May when a company of surveyors for a new railway called on the rising Benitz establishment. They were received with the spontaneous and open-handed hospitality that goes hand-in-hand with the frontier life, whatever part of the world it may chance to be in.
The log-book had this to say of the surveyors:
“Mr. Harmen, Mr. Ricketts and two other Englishmen (Cotherington and Stevens) arrived in the evening with a carriage, two horse-wagons and three tents. All were armed to the teeth. They were going to see the Murietta camp and were also going to try to find a pass to the Paraná to build a railroad through. They stopped several days. Sat up with them until nearly midnight, singing to the banjo and drinking Scotch whisky.
“June 1: gave Perico permission to go hunting and he killed a wolf. Went over and had supper with the English fellows, sat up until midnight and had a bully time. Alfred caught two does with the dogs. The next day Alfred went out on horseback and brought back some more reeds for thatching, while Johnny took care of the cattle and horses. The postboys returned from Reconquista but our peon Anastasio did not. The weather was very dry and sultry.
“June 5: we sold a yearling to the Englishmen for 12 pesos. Alfred had been to Pájaro Blanco and returned bringing Brown, Richard Morgan, Joe Moore and Jack Heart along. Luciano Leiva and another gentleman stayed all night on their way to Reconquista. The next day all our visitors left for Mal Abrigo [Malabrigo]. [Note: Pájaro Blanco was derived from the Colonia California established in 1867 by Californians from Sonoma county, including their uncle Frank Benitz, and almost certainly still included English speaking families with whom they could socialise. It was south of Alejandra, a British colony, and west of the arroyo San Javier - see e-mails by Javier Maffucci Moore.]
“June 7: the bulls killed a little white milch-cow, broke its leg. Only one milch-cow left now. The next morning it began raining and rained hard all afternoon. Thought the strong south wind would blow the house down. Very cold in the night. Walker was very lame as his horse Madrina jumped on his toe.
“June 10: Benito Ramayan and family called at noon on their way to Reconquista. Anastasio came back and brought his wife along, so we hired her to wash, cook and act as maid-of-all-work for us at $5.00 monthly wages.”
The next noteworthy event in the life of the campers was the gradual completion of their task in building the house. On July 1 the west side of the structure, as well as the front wall, was finished “so we raised the flag.” Several days earlier the tedious job of thatching the roof had been completed and Johnny had made a fireplace, for although, the Chaco is in the sub-tropical region and has fiercely hot days, the nights are nearly always cool enough to make a fire welcome. And in the winter-time, from May through September, the days likewise frequently are cool and even cold when the sharp south wind, cutting like a knife, sweeps up from the pampas below. It is then that the fireplace assumes its rightful position as the “heart of the house.” The exact date when the house was finished is not stated. The boys apparently moved into it as soon as a part of it was livable, completely fed up no doubt with living under leaky tents. On July 14, the day-book observes that “we ate off plates for the first time in three months.” Early in May word had been received that Herman was dangerously ill and that either Johnny or Alfred should return home immediately. Johnny set out with Walker to return to “La California,” but when they reached San Pedro they found a letter saying that Herman was much better so they turned around and came back to Laguna Yacaré.
Alfred suffered a bad accident on May 24 when his lasso broke while he was out hunting and nearly put his eye out.
We return to the day-book for a further detailed report of the life of the group in the Chaco:
“Aug. 30: during this month Anastasio pulled down the adobe walls at the back of the house to make room for a vegetable garden where we planted lots of seeds: onions, lettuce, cabbage and tomato. Alfred’s eye was still very painful and was very bad. In spite of this, he went hunting with Anastasio and near the Toba river they shot a large wild stag, a carpincho (a species of South American wild hog [correction: rodent the size of a hog, a.k.a capibara]) and a watersnake about three yards long. We were also very busy this month making more corrales. The weather was very foggy and hot in the early part of the month and everything was very dry. Rain wanted badly. We went hunting nearly every day and also fished in the lagoon where we got lots of ‘bagre’ (a native fish [catfish]) and also a fish with large uneven teeth which we called ‘dientudo.’
“Walker left us to go to Cañada de Gomez for a month or so and Alfred went to Alexandra Colony in the ox-cart, returning on the 23rd with two boards, a shelf-arrangement, a small canoe (a present from Ruiz), 2 arrobas of rice, 8 arrobas of corn, 4 of flour, a bag of lime, an empty barrel, five chickens and plenty of reading material [1 arroba = 11.5 kg = 25 lb.]. He spent $47 and also had sold eight hides for $21.20. He could not sell the doe-skins so he brought them back again. He also brought back with him a ‘correntino’ (the designation given any person hailing from the Province of Corrientes) boy whose name was Manuel. On the way back he found a nest of ostrich eggs, 26 of them in it.
“Anastasio and his wife left on the 24th. We paid him $36 and lent him the chestnut mare. Manuel now did the cooking. Johnny and Manuel went hunting on the 27th and found three horses in the monte toward the north, one of them wearing a bridle and a small rein. The cart from San Pedro came in the afternoon and brought the new big canoe we had bought [observation: “canoe” is likely Spanglish for “canoa”, a narrow flat bottomed boat made of planks].
“On Aug. 30 Jobson and Agustín came for the night, also Ramayon with 12 men who had come to hunt with the ‘bolas.’ They left after breakfast next day to go ‘boleando’ in the Rinconada. Alfred accompanied them as far as the Arroyo. In the evening Comandante Rivas of Belgrano came with three soldiers and stopped the night. They left a cart stuck in the Arroyo Espín. The weather was still very hot and there had been no rain.”
The remainder of the year was notable for the fact that the Chaco establishment of the Benitz family now began to branch out and to carry on agricultural as well as livestock farming. Herman arrived on Oct. 16 from “La California” and almost immediately began plowing for the first crops to be planted - potatoes and corn. These crops did not prosper because of the extreme drought that hit the Chaco just at that time. However, the brothers persisted and eventually succeeded in reaping substancial crops.
In the day-book for the last three months of the year (1884) there was reflected the increasing traffic of hunters, colonists, surveyors, soldiers and Indians (the latter, incidentally, usually being hotly pursued by the former). The edge of the wilderness was being taken off within less than a year after Alfred planted his permanent establishment. There were also frequent goings and comings between the Chaco estancia and “La California,” and most of these trips meant an exchange of fattened cattle, ready for the market, for new, lean livestock which would be put through the same process.
The last few entries for the year show:
“Dec. 17: a surveyor named Mr. Wiggin came from their camp on the other side of the Espín and stopped the night. He is going to survey the Murietta land. He had one horse, two carts and 12 men. He left us on the 22nd, going westward and left 20 oxen, four horses, two carts and a lot of provisions until he came back.
“Dec. 25: didn’t know it was Christmas Day until the afternoon. Wrote a letter to Johnny. Herman and Juan went to the monte and chopped timber for making a peon’s house. The weather was awfully hot, and on the 29th we had a dust storm. Walker came back from Pájaro Blanco where he had had a grand dance, but be did not find the peon he went to fetch.
“Dec. 30: Alfred went to San Pedro to visit Jobson and Ramayon. Three of Wiggin’s peons came back from Wampita [La Guampita - south of Espín], Calchaqui, with a horse and a cart. They could not go on with the cart as the Indians had stolen five of their horses. The next day, the last of the year, it rained all day, very hard.”
In the meantime, life was progressing normally at “La California.” The year 1885 was ushered in with a severe drought, typical of the north of Argentina in mid-summer, but the dry spell was broken in the middle of the month by a three-day rain. It rained intermittently there for the rest of January.
Alfred, who had gone down to “La California” early in the month, left early on Jan. 30 for Laguna Yacaré with 200 horses in search of a new and better road, over which he planned to drive larger numbers of cattle later on. Willie and his wife Clara went during January to the nearby estancia “Las Costas”** where they set up their home.
In the Chaco there was a great deal of rain during the first two months of the year, flooding many of the normally half-dry creeks and streams there. The rain effectively halted most of the work on the estancia, but it furnished the boys an ideal excuse to indulge in their favorite sport, hunting. Toward the middle of January, there was a slight let-up in the rain, but this was only temporary and it was not until Feb. 14 that it was possible to resume normal work.
On Feb. 15, which was a Sunday, the day-book reports:
“Today was Carnaval. It was a misty, drizzly day and the sun, which we had not seen for three days, only appeared for a few minutes. Ran with the dogs again in the morning and caught four does and a fox. The Espín is still very high. We have a lot of people to feed: there are Alfred (who by this time had returned from ‘La California’ with his horses) and Herman, Benavides and family, Valentín and family and José María and family. A great deal too many, as it is hard to feed them all, but they work very hard thatching and plastering the house, doing the fencing and planting vegetables.
“A milch-cow died in the corral during the night. Guess it was from eating some poisonous weed, or perhaps snake-bite, as Leon, one of the dogs, died two days later with a very swollen neck. Don’t know whether they ate the dead cow’s meat, as some of the other dogs also have swollen necks. There are a good many snakes about here, with all this water and the floods. Herman, while hunting ducks in the laguna, killed a rattle-snake with 14 rattles.
“We are now plowing and planting potatoes. The thatching of the peon’s house was finished and the peons have begun to mud-plaster it. They did the southeast, south and some of the west walls.
“Feb. 27: a lot of correntinos and their families came during the night, on their way to the ‘San Antonio’ estancia. Some one stole Alfred’s new ‘rebenque’ (an Argentine type of riding whip, with a heavy stock and a short flat whip-end). Guess it was one of the correntino peons. Alfred went on a bagual hunt with a party of four men, one woman (Valentín’s wife) and two children. They stopped out until Sunday, leaving Herman all alone with the women.
“March 1: Alfred and party came back at noon from running baguales. Juan only caught a baby foal. They reported having seen four herds of wild cattle roaming about.
“March 5: we had a row with Juan’s wife, and they leave tomorrow. She is too flighty by half, so the next day we paid him off: $9.35 cash and a ‘vale’ (credit) for 30 pesos on Jobson. They left in the forenoon, also Valentín and José María and their families, leaving Herman and Alfred alone. The last four nights we have been troubled with mosquitos. The weather was very hot.
“March 15: Alfred and our new peon, Valdino, started on a hunt in the morning but they had to come back on account of the mosquitos. Also it began to drizzle and in the afternoon rained quite a lot. George Moore and the two boys of Estevan, also a native boy, came during the afternoon, looking for work. We could not fix up anything with the boys on account of the difficulty of getting here, but we took on Valdino, at eighteen and a half Bolivian pesos per month. We had been bringing wood from the nearest abandoned hut and were planting posts for the fence around the vegetable garden. Valdino had been plowing and raking the ground for planting seed.
“March 25: we finished the fence around the field and Herman plowed all day. Three men came past from Ramayon’s on their way to Reconquista. They brought the mail, also Herman’s gaited horse which had been sent up from home with Jobson. They reported that Jobson had been hurt by one of his fine bulls, and had to be taken down to Santa Fé. We cured several animals that were suffering from ‘Empacho’ (a stomach disorder [indigestion]).
“March 26: two carts belonging to Ovido of San Martín came in the afternoon with corn for sale. We bought 11 ‘fanegas’ (a fanega is slightly more than a bushel and a half [fanega = approx. 56 litres]) of yellow corn and one ‘fanega’ of soft white corn at $2.88 and $4.50 of corn on the cob. Rather dear, but we had no time to send the cart to Reconquista to buy it. The weather was very windy and cool. The next day Alfred went out to look for a new colony reported earlier by one of the postboys; he found it on the other side of the Rinconada.
“April 5: the weather cleared and the sun came out nicely. Alfred had gone to Mal Abrigo and was expected back in the morning but be did not come. Herman was expecting him and put the lantern outside in the corridor so Alfred could see his way to find the house. He came back the following day. He received $22.50 for nine hides be had sent some time ago to Mal Abrigo. He also went to Pájaro Blanco where he made some purchases. Spent 20 pesos at the store where he bought some ‘bombachas’ (long, baggy trousers used by most country residents in Argentina) at $5. Cash on hand: $21. We, cured some more cattle of ‘empacho’ in the morning and then cleaned out the garden. A herd of 300 yearlings from ‘Las Rosas’ came back from Reconquista. Ramayon would not take them as they were too thin.
“April 11: Herman, who had gone back to San Pedro on the 9th to fetch the mail and to get some sugar and yerba mate, returned with a letter from Johnny saying that a new batch of cattle had left ‘La California’ on April 1st, on their way up here.
“April 21: Alfred arrived back with the new herd of cattle this afternoon. He had gone down to San Pedro on the 15th to meet them on their way up. He met our cattle on this side of the Quebracho river [near San Justo?] and they camped at the arroyo that night, arriving here about two o’clock, when we counted them. There were 1,179 of the 1,193 that left from home. Eight were butchered on the road and the rest lost were small calves, also a cow was left near Paraíso. The peons helped take care of the cattle for the rest of the day, and they were locked in the corral tonight, although it was rather small for the large number of animals.”
The receipt by Laguna Yacaré of one herd of more than 1,000 cattle at this time reflected the fact that Alfred rapidly was building up his establishment into what amounted to big business for that part of the country. Interspersed among the entries that follow, from the daybook, will be a considerable number of comments about Indian raids and trouble in general from the savages who, with the advent of the white men, had turned from hunting and trapping to stealing and trouble-making. The Indians still would fight and kill, if necessary, but their main occupation was raiding the white man’s estancias and farms. Eventually, Alfred was to establish himself as a leader in the defense measures against the Indians. He led a number of campaigns against them, and in 1895 conducted one big expedition which wiped out a substancial number of the savages and which was responsible for setting up a reasonable safety for the settlers.
Another batch of more than 1,000 cattle was received at Laguna Yacaré on May 30. With this new herd, a total of more than 3,000 cattle now were feeding and fattening on the Chaco ranges. The first few days of June saw almost constant rain so that the newly arrived livestock could not be put into the corrals. However, by June 8 the weather had cleared enough to permit the distribution of the animals.
“We mixed some of our thin cattle with the old ones on the other side of the gully and locked the middle lot of cattle in the corral for the night as they walked too much at nights and gave a lot of trouble. Next morning we found three calves dead in the corral, squashed. We were having a lot of trouble with the new cattle as they had gotten into the habit of wandering off into the woods. We were trying to accustom them to go northwards, toward greener pastures, and not to walk so much as it kept them thin.
“June 15: today was Alfred’s birthday.
“June 25: Alfred went to Pájaro Blanco on the 25th, some business connected with giving title deeds to F. Smithers for a league of land [buyer of western-most league of “La California”?]. Herman was left alone with the two peons, Flores and Valdino.
“July 13: in the morning, before daybreak, we found that the Indians had stolen all our horses, after having cut the stallion loose. The only horses left were the old chestnut and the grey. Alfred and Valdino immediately went over to Walker’s on the two horses and got Walker and Jobson to help follow the Indians on some of Walker’s horses. Alfred and Pedro Lecover remained behind to look after Walker’s cattle while Walker went to catch eight horses to loan to Alfred.
“Alfred and Valdino came back next day after dinner with some of the horses they had recovered from the Indians. They reported having overtaken the Indians yesterday before sundown and by a quick dash took the horses from them, but without killing any Indians. They brought back 14 of ours and three of Walker’s, but one was left behind because of fatigue. There were also two strange mules and several strange horses and mares. We found that two had died from lance thrusts and two had been wounded by arrows. The horses still missing were: two of Walker’s and ten of ours. But we will get even with the redskins yet. I guess some of the other horses had been lanced. The weather is now cold and windy, but the Espín is still in flood and all the montes outside are full of water.
“July 15: we found some more of our horses on the edge of the monte, near the pass, which we had thought stolen so that we could account for all except four.
“July 16: tonight the Indians tried to force open the gate at the back of the corral and managed to get out two of the eight bars in the gate, before we saw them. Valdino found another horse which the Indians had left near the ‘quebrachal’ (small clump of quebracho trees). The little horse which the Indians lanced and a chestnut horse which we found in the ‘quebrachal’ died.
“July 17: late this evening, which was foggy, Valdino while out looking for horses saw an Indian galloping through our land. He gave chase but the Indian escaped. It was a sure sign that they are still about. We counted our cattle and found two dead. We locked our horses in the corral and only let loose those that had been ridden in the afternoon and that would be ridden next morning.
“July 27: have not been able to write in the log-book for several days as we have been busy branding cattle. Walker came over and gave us a hand. We branded 765 calves, but there were still a great many left. A great number of animals got damaged during the branding, and so we skinned about 20 this month. Toward the end of the month the weather was cold and pleasant. We laid in a stock of firewood from the monte and kept big fires going as the nights were very cold.
“Aug. 24: in the early part of the month the weather became warmer and toward the 20th it rained in regular spring showers with the sun shining in between. We had started to do our planting and had sown some sweet corn, melons and mate. Valdino had dug out some fig and peach trees he found on the other side of the river and planted them in our garden.
“Late today Teniente (lieutenant) Bartolomé Fracio with nine soldiers arrived and stayed the night. They came to take away the horses we took from the Indians, but which we had already sent to Pájaro Blanco. They left the next morning for Las Chilcas by way of Lake Wampita [La Guampita]. We gave them about half of our meat and some yerba. We had been burning our fields for the planting and had started plowing for maize. Herman started to plow in the morning but could not find the oxen in the afternoon. We planted about 30 fig trees.
“Sept. 1: it began raining again and poured hard all day. The whole country is now under water.
“Sept. 4: we had another Indian alarm today. Some of the horses that were loose cleared out into the fields. We went after them but could not find anything. The next morning we found the horses in the monte. The land is now beginning to look like a green carpet.
“Sept. 9: we put the cattle from the east side on rodeo for the first time and they were looking much better. In the evening, we went to hunt tigers and Alfred and Valdino went beyond the Espín to look for an ox that had been missing for 15 days. It was a stormy-looking day, but it did not rain except for a few drops. In the evening a cyclone came up but it did not do any damage to our camp.
“Sept. 20: Walker arrived in the middle of the night looking for his mares. Guess the mosquitos had driven them off. The quest was successful. The mosquitos are awful torments now. The weather is damp and hot. The cattle are giving us very little trouble and we have been able to do more work in the garden, plowing and sowing. We sold 118 hides at $4.80 which gave us $278.34.
“Sept. 30: some surveyors with 12 men came to survey Torres’s land. They went west of the Espín. Torres himself was here and we sold him a novillo for $18 and helped him to take it up to his place. Martinac, the surveyor, was here for several days, surveying the line north of the Espín. Alfred and Rhodes tried to build a bake-oven of mud bricks, but the sides fell in. One of our milch-cows was bitten by a snake and died.
“Oct. 3: Herman, Rhodes and Alfred cut alfalfa all day. We bad a splendid crop of alfalfa which we were anxious to finish cutting before the rains come again.
“Nov. 18: we had another Indian raid. Gaspar came in the evening at sundown in a great hurry with the news that 14 Indians had chased him outside Levy’s fence. Alfred, with two horses and a peon, immediately went to follow them up. He came back next day saying that he overtook the Indians somewhere near the Laguna Rusa and took their horses, 13 of them, and everything else away from them, including nine lances. The three Duran’s, Pedro, Tigre (our dog), Santos, Celadonio and Alfred were in the party.
“Nov. 22: the surveyors finished their work. They stayed the night with us and left the next day for Santa Fé. We had a man here who made us a proper brick oven which stayed up all right. He also cleaned the place up a bit.
“Dec. 25: in celebration of Christmas we had an ‘asado’ of ‘carne con cuero.’ Jobson, Don Gregorio Torres and his men, and Santos came over for the dinner. Don Gregorio put a barrel of wine on the table. It was a very warm and close day.
“Dec. 27: today was a lovely day and Herman went hunting along the river. He took the dogs with him and lost them, except for Tigre and Petal. As they did not return, we went to look for them but found only Spea, dead in a wood. She had died of a snake bite on her side.”
Thus closes the year 1885 on the Benitz estancia in the Gran Chaco. It was a year of great progress in the estancia itself and one of success for the Benitz boys, despite the growing Indian attacks and the continual buffs from the weather in the form of alternate drought and flood.
AS we have already seen, Carlos Pellegrini began his term (1890-1894) as President of Argentina under the most difficult conditions. He was faced with financial chaos and spreading economic depression. But he ruled with an enlightened, if firm, hand and under his wise administration the country rapidly got back on its feet; the result was that his tenure as Chief Executive opened the door to a new period of prosperity.
The political situation became stable and the agricultural and commercial development of Argentina was given great stimulus by the arrival of a veritable flood of immigrants from Europe. Like the United States, Argentina at this time received the overflow of human material from the worn-out soil of Europe. The census taken in 1895 showed a population of 4,044,000, more than double the population of 25 years previous - in 1871 the population was only 1,835,000.
During the early phase of the great movement of immigrants to this country, French, Spanish and English strains predominated, in that order. But later on the tremendous stream of immigration from Italy gathered volume, and Italians and Spaniards became the most numerous in the new-comers to Argentina. So great was the influx of Italians that Argentina authorities today estimate that half of the country’s present  population of more than 16 million is either Italian or of direct Italian descent.
It was also during the turn of the century that Argentina’s foreign trade boomed. The basis of this trade was the wheat and the cattle that were being raised by thousands of estancias like the two operated by the Benitz family.
The following article, taken from The Standard of Buenos Aires in the early 90’s, reflects the development of agriculture in the Rosario district, where “La California” is located:
“Within the last year or so, great impetus has been given to Rosario business since the farmers and the colonists who have large tracts of growing crops are buying more agricultural machines, with the apprehension that farm-hands will be scarcer than ever this harvest. What with the vast increase this year of ploughed lands, and the addition of some 38 new colonies, and best of all, a most favorable season, it will be a difficult job for the farmers to get their wheat and ‘lino’ (linseed) harvested in time. We have no figure to give our readers of the probable amount this year of wheat and ‘lino’ crops, but contracts are being made right and left for the young ‘lino’ which threatens to beat the wheat crop, both in quantity and value. Maize (corn) is neglected and very little sown, and there is still a large quantity of old maize on sale. The shipments, we understand, have given poor results, as, until the maize is kiln-dried before the shipment, the export trade of this article is uncertain. Mr. Topping, we hear, has just received some splendid machines for drying maize.”
The growing wealth of the young nation and its inhabitants naturally led to a more ostentatious and refined life. Fine clothing, toilet articles and excellent house furniture now began to appear on the scene. All such luxury goods were imported from Europe, since there was virtually no manufacturing industry in Argentina, and the small amount that did exist was connected directly with this country’s raw materials. The old fashioned low brick-and- mud houses were gradually giving way to stately manor houses on the estancias and to the palaces of the very rich in the cities.
The first trams appeared on the streets of Buenos Aires and later in Rosario and other large cities of the interior. These slow-moving vehicles, drawn by two horses, were picturesque and quaint in their manner of operation. They announced their presence by means of a shrill cow-horn, which was blown at odd intervals. They stopped at any time and any place to pick up a fare, however long they had to wait; to drop passengers or crew in the corner grocery store to change money, have a quick one, or simply to exchange the time of day with a friend. The male passengers and the crew customarily enlivened the trip by indulging in loud and outspoken comments on the charms of the feminine passers-by.
The horse-drawn trams lasted only a few years; they were soon replaced by electrically driven vehicles of a more business-like character. The bumpy and uneven mud streets, which usually became impassable bogs in time of rain, were succeeded by paved thoroughfares, made at first of stone and later of wooden blocks. The oil lamps which had replaced candles, in their turn gave way to gas, and the solf[sic] light of the gas within a few years fell victim to the sharper and clearer light of electricity.
In almost all of these improvements of public services, British capital and technical skill were predominant. The British financed the first railway, back in 1860 -the 40-kilometer (25-mile) stretch of line that ran from the center of Buenos Aires to the small town of Morón, now the site of Argentina’s first important commercial airport. The first engine used on this railway, dubbed affectionately “El Porteño,” is now installed in the historical museum at the small town of Luján, just outside Buenos Aires. The word “porteño” is used to signify a resident of the city of Buenos Aires.
Thirty years after the construction of the Buenos Aires-Morón railway, the rail network in the Argentine reached out to most of the developed regions of the country. And there was a total of 10,000 kilometers of track in 1890, linking the provinces to the great national capital. British capital and engineering built and. maintained these railways, and it was only in 1947 that the first concrete steps were taken to transfer ownership and operation of the railways to Argentina. The British also were active in the financing and construction of water-works, port installations, electric-power systems and public utilities in general. One Argentine historian, taking cognizance of the tremendous aid given his country by British brains and money, suggested, perhaps jokingly, that it was to be regretted that “England did not keep the country a little longer as a colony.”
“In the hands of an orderly, energetic, well-governed and administered nation,” he wrote, “how many unfortunate calamities might have been avoided in our country. Great industries, public works and progress would have evolved almost at once, and our civilization and prosperity established 50 years sooner.”
Whether this rosy view of the situation would have proved correct must remain one of the great, unanswered questions. But there is no doubt that the British influence in Argentina contributed greatly to this country’s progress and welfare.
The general progress of agricultural and livestock activities in Argentina during this period could want no better a medium for its telling than the day-books of the Benitz estancias at “La California” and Laguna Yacaré. Off-hand remarks, such as the amount of cattle being moved between the two establishments, or the amount of wheat being harvested, give the full measure of the advance in these two important industries, even though they are presented in the clipped and impersonal language of the man of action.
Within the Benitz family, there had gradually come to be a tacit understanding which placed each member at a certain post in the growing family holdings. Thus, Johnny had become the manager of “La California”; Alfred, aided by Herman, ran the Laguna Yacaré enterprise, and Willie and his wife had gone off to Entre Rios Province to live. This informal situation continued until 1897 when formal papers were drawn up among the remaining members of the family providing for the disposition of the property.
While Alfred turned more and more to hunting in his spare time, Johnny became a great sports enthusiast and was one of the men principally responsible for the development of polo to the position that it enjoys today in Argentina. Herman was destined to live only a few years more - he died in 1893 - but during his last years he was fairly active in the Chaco.
Over the whole family, Mrs. Benitz continued to keep watch and to give counsel, seeing to it with her characteristic vigor that her counsel was followed.
Willie and Clara, who had gone to Santa Fé Province to live in 1885, returned in September of the following year because nothing but bad luck had dogged Willie there. He told his family that he had lost more than 1,500 head of cattle there in less than a year due to storm and disease. On Feb. 24, 1887, Willie left for Entre Rios Province to take charge of the Burke [more likely: Bunge] properties there.
The day-book for that day noted that:
“from our 520 squares of land in the Tijeras league, we received 10 percent of the crop. We had been selling horses to the colonists (farmers who rented out relatively small bits of land, or who worked them on a ‘share-crop’ basis) and expected to do a big business through Willie as horses were cheap in Entre Rios.” [Note: a ‘square’ is Spanglish for ‘cuadra’ - a land measure no longer used, slightly less than 1 hectare; its size varied by province, that of Santa Fé being larger than that of Córdoba.]
The remainder of the log-book for the year was taken up with the reporting of the comings and goings between “La California” and Laguna Yacaré, with Johnny’s increasing participation in polo matches in the vicinity, with the establishment of a daily stage-coach running from Cañada de Gómez, and with the achievement by the Benitz family of the position of landlord in the business of running their large landholdings. The entry of Dec. 11 was typical of the latter:
“Alfred (home on a visit from El Chaco) and Johnny went through all the colonies. The wheat looked fine and the colonists were busy cutting it. We sent meat to them every day. Up to date we have killed 21 cows for them and sold $312.70 worth of meat.”
Far to the north, Alfred’s estancia was becoming ”surrounded” by other estancias and farms, although the buildings themselves were in truth separated by many leagues of land. Nevertheless, the wilderness that Alfred had found on his first trip to the region was fast disappearing before the inexorable push of pioneers and settlers seeking new horizons.
With the estancia itself now functioning smoothly, the main problem facing Alfred and his fellow estancieros was that of Indian depredations. The savages still skulked around the edge of the great estancias, more cunning than bold in their methods, making midnight incursions to steal cattle or horses when the opportunity offered a minimum of risk. As stated before, Alfred, who was a splendid physical specimen and who was a natural leader of men, had taken the job of rooting out the savages into his own hands, drawing on the aid that could be given him by his neighbors.
The first detailed account we have of these expeditions against the Indians is found in the Laguna Yacaré log-book, late in 1887. Unfortunately, the story of the campaign loses a good deal in the dry and terse style of the log-book, interested only in setting down the bare facts. It is still, however, a thrilling story and deserves to be retold here in full:
“Sept. 4: left at 6:30 in the morning to follow up the Indians who had stolen 23 horses last Sunday from Felix’s puesto. The party consisted of Alfred, Valdino and Gay from our place, and about ten men from the Torres estancia. The missing horses were 13 of Valdino’s and five or six of ours, plus a large number of cattle. It seems that the Indians had cut the fences and had gone northwest. Valdino and Juan, who followed them up about three leagues north of the starting point, said there were about 17 Indians. We took 28 horses with us, including Charlie Gay’s, and reached the Torres estancia at noon (which will give the reader some idea of the distance separating the estancias). At night we reached a point north of a monte just south of Cueva del Tigre, where we slept.[See map Chapter XV - it shows: Laguna Cueva del Tigre, Fortín Las Chilcas, Fortín Charrúa.]
“Sept. 5: left camp at 6:15 a.m. and at noon reached Isleta Larga. Morrell saw us camped there and thought at first we were Indians. He complained a great deal of disease among his cattle, etc., but treated us first rate. Weather cloudy and misty at times but a fine day on the whole.
“Sept. 6: camped all day at Chilcas. Drizzly forenoon. Cleaned arms and rested horses. Morrell treated us very well.
“Sept. 7: drizzly morning. Left Chilcas at 9 a.m. for Charrua. Arrived at 1:30 p.m. and camped there. Found two mules’ and one horse’s tracks going southward, about two leagues west of Chilcas. Elías and Valdino looked for tracks and found where Indians had camped and slept, namely about two leagues west at an ‘estero’ (swamp). Also found a horse which had been lanced. Shot it.
Fig. 18 — 9th. Mounted Infantry on their way to hunt Indians
“Sept. 8: left camp at Charrua at 6:30 a.m. and marched in northeasterly direction for about three leagues, where we struck the Indian trail and from there went north for about three leagues more. Unsaddled but found no water for us or horses. Lost my watch near Charrua. The land at Charrua was very good going for about one and a half leagues, then came on a tremendously high ‘tucurusal’ (a mountainous ant-heap, sometimes reaching to nearly three meters in height).
“Sept. 9: travelled about half a league from the Isleta Larga toward the north and found a place where the Indians had camped for a day or two. Water in puddles, also large tracks. Camped until 1:30 p.m. and marched until dark. About four and a half leagues from camping place saw tracks of 20 or 30 cows going eastward. Tracks were about ten days old. A league farther on, found a cow and seven calves, all tired and thin. Also found tracks of cattle taken by Indians. No water for night.
“Sept. 10: marched through very bad land for about four and a half leagues until 10 a.m. when we passed a stretch of poor timber where we found a rotten water-hole, from which we pulled an ostrich and a fox. Gave water to horses and tried to clean out water-hole which was full of mud. Lots of cattle tracks here, old and new. Left again at 4:30 p.m. and travelled about three leagues until dark. Tracks suddenly went almost due west from camping place at noon. Lots of tracks about 1 p.m. of cattle going north-east and others going almost due west. No water for night. Slight frost.
“Sept. 11: about ten minutes walk from our camp we found a swamp with splendid water, beside which were two tired horses and a mare with our brand. We also found 24 wigwams and farther on a cow with three calves. We butchered a calf. The land was made up of strips of trees and open fields. Rather good. Marched during the afternoon through trees to the north and then out west but only went about three-quarters of a league and then camped for the night at an inlet in the corner of a wooded piece where we found some more wigwams that had been deserted about a week ago. I stood guard that night.
“Sept. 12: we got onto the track of the Indians and marched north-north-east through woods. Found a very large Indian encampment on the east side of the land, evidently deserted only the day before. Went hot on the track until noon and travelled about four leagues. More open country now. We found that the Indians had butchered 20 cows in the past four days. No water at noon for horses. Coarse but pretty good land yesterday and today. Found our grey mare killed on the road. Left camp again at about 3 p.m. and marched northeast through the forest of quebracho until dark. No water again, and horses are getting very thin. Found where the Indians had encamped at a water-hole in a gully about two nights ago, but they had dried all the water up. Saw a cow there and also a worn-out horse. Marched about three leagues to the east. Hot day.
“Sept. 13: found deserted Indian camping place about half a league from where we slept, also a fine lagoon of water. Indians had left previous morning. Cow bones about. Camped here till about 3:30 p.m. and Elía and Valdino went ahead about an hour. They soon came back and reported an encampment about a league and a half to the east. We waited until dark in a corner of the wooded clump and then marched to a point about half a league from the encampment. At about two o’clock in the morning left to have a go at the Indians, leaving the spare horses hobbled and the pack-mule loaded.
Fig. 19 — Plan of Indian encampment during Indian hunt
“Sept. 14: we were going behind the wigwams in the long strip of trees when we saw an Indian among the horses knocking about there, so we chased him and killed him and then galloped down toward the wigwams to get the horses. We found 19 horses and mares and there were about 50 cattle right in front of the wigwams. When the Indians saw us, they yelled and shot about ten shots at us. We collected the horses with ours, and then four of us went back to fetch the cattle, but they had come along by themselves. We were driving the animals away when the Indians shot at us, so we went toward the water-hole in the corner which we had passed the previous day, but the Indians chased after us and almost surrounded us. We then made southwards to the open land. Sixteen Indians came after us and began firing and yelling at us. We got off our horses and took shelter behind them and fired back at the Indians, but had to march on, on account of the shooters on foot who would creep up close and bang away at us. The latter shot Elía’s horse in the leg, as well as Rosada’s horse. The Indians then stopped and waited, and we came at them suddenly. They charged too and about twenty-five came at us full speed ahead. We managed to hit one (another one had been hit before) and they suddenly turned and fled giving us a volley of yells ‘ah-hu-u-u-uah.’ We marched south about four leagues and then turned east and passed through the south point of a palm grove. Marched until about 9 a.m. and then dug small well and found salt water, but drank it as we were nearly mad with thirst. We then kept marching slowly eastward all night, all sick with diarrhoea.
“Sept. 15: fearful march all night and next morning until 7:30 a.m. when we reached Monte Bajo where there was a big surveyors’ corral. Here we found a beautiful inlet with splendid water. Didn’t we drink! We had nearly all died of thirst. Juan and Elía had got separated from us the previous night, so we sent Valdino and Eustacio to look for them. Elía’s horse turned up about noon and Elía himself arrived about 3 o’clock on foot, having lain down in a monte, overcome by sleep and thirst. Great rejoicing. Juan still missing, and it is a very hot day. Anxious. We searched monte near here, which is not very large, shot a buck and caught some armadillos, but no sign of Juan. We had a wonderful pack-horse which carried the pack for 28 hours. Valdino seemed to be afraid the Indians would follow us up. Calculated that we had marched about 11 leagues from the encampment. Five leagues to the south and six to the east.”
Juan apparently turned up later, although no further mention is made of him in the log-book at this period. He was mentioned further on, however. The expedition came upon another Indian encampment on Sept. 25, the day before the arrival back at Laguna Yacaré.
“We sacked it,” says the entry for that day. “Took 60 horses and mares away, but killed no Indians. We burnt and broke up everything and arrived home next day.”
The effects of this expedition apparently had a very salutary effect, from the estanciero’s point of view, on the pilfering activities of the Indians, for it was not until eight years later, in 1895, that it was felt necessary to organize another campaign. Alfred headed this expedition, as he did the first one. The 1895 raid followed a wholesale looting campaign of the estancias by the Indians. Alfred gathered together a large party of long-suffering owners and their peons and went out after the redskins.
The party left Laguna Yacaré on Sept. 4, eight years to the day after the earlier offensive. The second expedition largely paralleled the first, for the Indians were located after ten days’ marching. The group again waited until nightfall, sent two peons out as scouts, and we’ll let the log-book tell the rest of the story:
“Sept. 14: Elía and Valdino went on foot last night to spy out the encampment. There were no fires, but we could hear the Indians talking and laughing, and their dogs barking, from our encampment nearby. About 3 a.m. we saddled up, leaving our spare horses hobbled and the pack-horse loaded. We worked our way round to the encampment to gather up the stolen cattle. The moon had just got up. We got past the encampment all right and I was able to see the horses. Suddenly an Indian appeared among them. He asked Valdino who we were and, not receiving an answer, jumped on to a horse’s back, giving three hoots. We immediately chased after him and shot him as he was getting into the clump of trees near the place. Then we hurriedly gathered all the horses we could see and charged down toward the encampment at full speed. Right in front of the wigwams there was a group of about 50 head of cattle, which we drove out together with the horses. The Indians fired about ten shots at us when we got right in front of the wigwams. This, was just before daybreak.
“We left the cows when we got some distance away and hurried the horses (19 of them) toward ours and rounded them up together. Elía, Alfred, Casimiro and Juan then went back to the toldos to see whether there were any cattle left, but there were none. The Indians had already come out of the trees and were marching southward in the open country. One Indian we could see was driving about 15 horses toward the wigwams. When they saw us, they fired at us and yelled, so we turned back and made our way to a water-hole, about a league to the west of the camp, to get water in our bags and to water the horses before proceeding any farther.
“Just as we got to the water-hole, the Indians came upon us and nearly surrounded us, so we retreated southward to open country where - when we got to about one thousand meters away from a clump of tacuará (a kind of bamboo) trees - they came at us again full lick with ear-piercing yells and firing at us. Again they nearly succeeded in surrounding us. Six or eight of them would get off into the tacuará trees and rush up at us within a couple of yards and fire: Seemed very good shots, but fortunately missed us on all tries. One of the first lot of shots wounded two horses, however, one of them a grey that Elía was riding. When they got too close, we would retreat. One of the Indians who was wounded at the beginning was taken off by his companions.
“When Elía’s horse was shot, they all got together and after a bit about 28 of them came at us again at full lick, as though to have a hand-to-hand fight. When they were about 100 meters away, one who came on ahead was shot, which considerably cooled the others. Their cartridges also seemed to have run short, as they had fired at least 200 shots. These Indians seemed to have clothes and hats like white men and were of thick-set build, dark-skinned and had very broad flat faces. All the shouting was done in their usual language. (The Indians probably were of the Dalguitas or Calcbaqui tribes, who came from the north-east mountainous regions and customarily wore white men’s clothing).
“We marched on and the Indians remained behind. The question now was water, for the only water to be found was in the monte where the Indians were, and it was out of the question to go back. We continued our march in a southerly direction until we got to about four leagues away from the old encampment and then doubled to the east, crossing the southern part of a grove of palm trees.”
The rest of the trip back to Laguna Yacaré was pretty much of a nightmare because water was extremely short and there were several false alarms that the Indians were following them and preparing to attack. Nothing came of these alarms, however, but nearly every member of the party suffered severe hardship because of the lack of water.
On their way home, the Indian hunters found out that their fellow-estanciero Morrell also had set out on an expedition against the savages, hoping to ally his forces with those of Alfred, but the two groups never made contact. The Benitz part arrived back at Laguna Yacaré on Sep. 27, bringing with it 42 horses, which was 14 more than the number it started with. The party also found that the Indians had raided the Laguna Yacaré place “several times in our absence” but that they had done no important damage.
While the northern branch of the Benitz family was chasing Indians, life was proceeding at a more tranquil pace to the south. Things were running along smoothly at “La California” which continued to prosper. Year after year, the crops and the livestock increased the wealth of the family and absorbed its chief interest. Another member of the family had disappeared, however. This was Herman who, after a long period of ill-health, had died on Jan. 31, 1893, at the Argentine seaside resort of Mar del Plata. Herman had gone there late in 1892 in the hope of shaking off his poor health, which had been so persistent that it had plunged him into a deep spiritual depression. But the sea air failed to cure his illness, and toward the end of January he began to sink rapidly. The end came on the last day of the month. The body was brought back to “La California” and laid in the family churchyard there, where Father Benitz, Charlie and Uncle Frank already had found their last resting place. The simple but beautiful family cemetery, placed in a grove of trees and surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, today guards the remains of almost 20 members of the Benitz family.
With Johnny managing “La California,” and Willie running the Bunge properties in Entre Rios, Alfred spent most of his time on business trips connected with the general administration of the family holdings, in addition to his activities in the Chaco. These trips took him to the principal cities and to hundreds of estancias in northern and central Argentina, and he came to be a well-known figure in the estancia life of the country.
An interesting article about the Benitz family at this period appeared in the River Plate Sport and Pastime Journal on April 22, 1892. The article, couched in the somewhat affected style of the journalism of that day, gives an interesting picture of the family’s history and interests, and is therefore reproduced here in full:
“When Mr. Benitz, Sr., with his family came to this country in 1875 from California, he found it in a very different state to what it is at present. No railway to his destination and no roads of any worth, the difficulty of moving his goods and chattels was great, but that being overcome, Mr. Benitz arrived at the ground which he had chosen and bought. Three leagues of land between what are now called Elisa and Las Rosas were retained out of the four leagues bought, and to this the ‘Lares and Penates’ (sic) of the family were carted with considerable difficulty.
“It was decided to build a house which would be not only suitable to the immediate wants of the family, but one in which could be entertained the numerous friends and passers-by, whom all estancieros receive with a welcome known only in camp life. In addition, Mr. Benitz was of the opinion that when building it would be better to build with regard to possible future requirements, so the result was a house of much larger extent than most of those I have seen ‘replete with every comfort’ (this is the auctioneer’s phrase, and I believe copyright) an ‘altos’ home with sufficient room to accommodate 25 visitors, and though so many may not often be seen there at one time, it is certain that they would be received, should they arrive, as though they had been expected for a week.
“The number of skins disposed about the rooms is simply astonishing to one not knowing the sporting proclivities of the brothers; the astonishment, when one knows them, is that they have not been fallen upon and smitten by the way. Lion, jaguar, wild boar, guanaco, serpent and indeed, every class and kind of skin indigenous to this country is to be found at ‘La California,’ and some of them are most beautiful specimens.
“To describe the park in front of the house, and the trees and gardens around, is difficult. The appearance of the ground when one comes from the dining room is most imposing, and Guardian, the giant puma, prowling from end to end of its tether, makes it more imposing still. All the trees are grown from seed brought into the country by Mr. Benitz, not one being on the place prior to his arrival, and the result is simply marvellous. The blue-gums, of which few exist in Santa Fé, are here the finest to be seen. Pepper trees, silver and golden wattle, pines from the States and many other varieties are to be found in profusion.
“In the garden behind the house are pears, apples, quince, figs, cherries, peaches, raspberries, strawberries - of both European and Alpine varieties - and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Mrs. Benitz takes almost as much interest in her garden as in her diary.
“Most sadly, 12 months after the building of the house, Mr. Benitz died, and left his; widow and sons to carry on the estancia business.
“To arrive at ‘La California,’ you take the train to Las Rosas and return toward Elisa, then at an angle almost acute, turn to the left and with your destination unmistakably in front of you, carry yourself on for another half- league. ‘La California,’ ‘Las Lomas’ and ‘Las Rosas’ are all in touch with one another and more or less equidistant.
“Mr. John Benitz, so well known to your readers that it is needless to mention the many sports in which he excels, is the actual head of the establishment, and it was he who gave me the information for these notes and who showed me all over the place. What was seen was nearly the whole estancia, but much was related, and I think it as well to combine the two in one narrative.
“Commencing with the horses: the breeding of horses for harness purposes is the aim of Mr. Benitz and many were being handled and broken in during my visit. There are four ‘mañadas’ (herds) of mares, each containing 40, and this year great luck has happily been their lot. The stallions, four in number, were selected from the stud of Mr. John Nash of Carcarañá and ‘El Refango’ and do not detract from the professional reputation of that gentleman as a breeder of high-class animals. They are Clydesdale, Cleveland and one Irish hunter of great power and form, and their stock are just of the class required in this country for carriage and draught purposes. One pair of chestnuts, rising five, are almost perfection, and a great horse or foal which galloped past me struck me as being the very animal for carrying weight and beautiful in every point.
“All cannot be noticed, but all are good. Mention must, however, be made of a pair of pure white ‘criollo’ ponies which are now being broken into harness. They are as handsome as any driven in the ‘Row’ and should turn out as valuable. The ‘potros’ (colts) of which there are 75, rising three, and some 50 or more, rising two, and the fillies to the same amount are kept in separate enclosures and they look as well as any to be seen around. The mares are mostly Suffolk Punch and are descended from the great old horse Nelson, which belonged to Mr. Paul Krell.
“Two thoroughbred bulls and one hundred breeding cows are in the home cattle. But this does not represent all the stock. In the three leagues of camp, now almost entirely laid to alfalfa, one must expect a few more. Of late there have not been so many on account of Mr. Benitz’ having ploughed and put in this alfalfa, but in a few days (they are now on their way) he will have some 4,000 head of cattle for fattening. That the cattle were removed from ‘La California’ Was due to the fact that the pasturage was found not to have the nutritive powers hoped for, and so they were sent to the Gran Chaco where Messrs. Benitz rent some 16 leagues of camp, and where they have over 8,000 head, which are of the best and fattest. Every year herds are taken there to ‘invernar’ (to fatten) and other cattle are taken up for the same purpose. To the markets of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Córdoba and Santa Fe, there are continued assignments sent from here and from the Chaco.
“The sheep consist of 3,000 Black Face from the flocks of Mr. Kemmis with 30 imported rams. The capons and hoggets are all in separate paddocks, only the breeding ewes being together. The sheep dip is some six feet deep and some 50 yards long, and is built with its approaches and principles of the soundest.
“Three hundred pigs from ‘famed Berkshire’ complete the stock, but still there are many working bullock’ employed in ploughing the last thousand squares, which are to take in alfalfa in July and for home purposes.
“There are now 3,800 squares of alfalfa divided into ‘potreros’ (paddocks) and fenced to perfection. No wheat is grown except by the colonists on the land who this year from 1,000 squares averaged 16 ‘quintales’ (the quintal is a measure weighing 100 kilograms) of excellent grain.’ [Note: a ‘square’ is Spanglish for ‘cuadra’ - a land measure no longer used, slightly less than 1 hectare, its size varied by province, that of Santa Fé being larger than that of Córdoba.]
“The ostrich about which Mr. Benitz wrote you last week and which had supposedly ceased to lay, has now beaten her record, as on the day of my visit, the 21st inst., she had deposited 98 eggs and still looks as though she could eat another packet of tin-tacks, or a cold chisel, for which she seems to have a penchant. There are 15 of these birds in the small paddock adjoining the house and very charming they make the view, but this is the only domestic one.
“The Gran Chaco, which I have never visited, is I hear, though wild and rough, specially adapted for breeding cattle on a large scale, and is the home of all wild game. Mr. Alfred Benitz is in charge there and has had many a brush with the Indians, for whom he generally accounts. Mr. Herman Benitz spends his time doing the hard work - he likes it - either here or in the Chaco, or on the estancia in Entre Rios, where another brother, William, is manager. Herman was in the expedition against the Indians some three years ago which was commanded by the Comandantes Agramonova and Separa, in which 100 men took part. He was away for three months, and has many tales to tell of the sufferings and experiences he had there, and of the scalps that fell (I mean came off) to him.
“The success of polo in this province owes much to Mr. John Benitz. He and Mr. Alfred Dickenson, enthusiasts of the game, whip up from every available spot those who can play, and those who are likely to make good players, and encourage the ‘young idea’ not by swearing at him when he makes a bad stroke or breaks some rule, and so unnerving him, but by applauding any mark he makes on the field, and telling him afterwards of his mistakes. These are the class of men who make the game popular and bring in new blood.”
At the time the above article was written, Herman was still in good health, but he died nine months later.
In the year 1897 a series of important changes was made in the distribution of the Benitz properties. Mrs. Benitz, Alfred, Johnny, Willie and his wife, and Josephine (Mrs. Schreiber) all met in Rosario for the signing of papers to formalize a situation that had already existed in fact for a number of years. Mrs. Benitz and Josephine put their signatures to documents, renouncing their rights to all Benitz property except that still held at the old American home, at Fort Ross, California. They both received cash for their shares in the common property. Then Alfred, Johnny and Willie signed partnership papers setting up a joint control and operation of the remaining property. All these documents were signed on March 8, 1897. The partnership arrangement lasted only for little more than a year, however, and the land was then divided among the three brothers. Alfred received one league of land belonging to the original four purchased by Father Benitz. at “La California,” and this league was given the name “Las Tijeras.” He later bought and joined to this league the adjoining estancia “Las Tres Lagunas,” where he built the house that now holds hundreds of the trophies of his big game expeditions. Johnny received four leagues of land that the family had acquired in Córdoba [Estancia “Los Algorrobos, near Monte Buey]. This country proved so attractive that Alfred also bought land there later. Willie received the two leagues of land remaining of the original “La California” parcel (one league had been sold to Mr. Smithers many years previous to pay one of Frank’s debts) and settled down there.
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)