|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|
[Transcriber’s note: This short chapter covers Argentine and world history for the period 1900-1930 - with no references to any Benitz. We will transcribe it at a later date.]
THE story of Alfred’s life from the early years of the new century onward is concerned mainly with his travels and with his numerous hunting trips in which, as in everything he put his hand to, he displayed uncommon skill. From this time on, apparently, he allowed his diary to lapse for long intervals, and only kept the record when he was travelling or engaged in hunting expeditions.
He was now a man of affairs, and although only 41 when the century dawned, already had a sizeable fortune accumulated through the years of hard work and adventure, that he had gone through in the Chaco. He continued to keep a close eye on “Los Palmares,” the estancia at Laguna Yacaré [wrong: between Salado and Calchaquí rivers), as well as on the other Benitz properties, but he was also able to indulge his penchant for travel and hunting.
Late in the 1890’s he struck up a friendship with John R. Todd, the celebrated English explorer and big-game hunter, when the latter visited “Los Palmares.” Alfred introduced Todd to hunting, South American style, on an expedition that lasted one month and that cemented their friendship. Todd later invited Alfred to join him in hunting trips in Alaska [correction: the Yukon, Canada] and East Africa, and every time that Alfred visited England he invariably went to see Todd. It was on the Alaskan [Yukon] and East African trips that Alfred secured most of the hundreds of trophies that now line the walls of nearly every room in the large house at “Las Tres Lagunas,” a monument to his skill as a sharp-shooter. [See John Todd’s Recollections & Benitz Queries for e-mail exchanged with Chris Owen, his great-grandson.]
Alfred’s first major voyage was a six-month trip to Europe and the United States in 1904, nearly 29 years after the Benitz family had arrived in Argentina from California. It was the first time that he had left Argentina in all those years. [Incorrect His first trip to Europe & the US was in 1893-1894; see his diaries for those years. An interview with him was published in the San Francisco Call on September 5, 1893.]
The first thing he did on arriving in London was to get himself a complete new outfit of clothes, and after a three-day visit in the British capital, he went 300 miles up country to see his friend Todd. The two men spent most of the three weeks that Alfred was in England together, travelling up into Scotland, through the Lake District and to other traditional points of interest.
One of the major goals of Alfred’s trip was to return to his father’s home at Endingen to discover what he could about the relatives there. He left for the continent on August 14 and after a leisurely trip reached Bonn where he looked up Anton Sinn, an old friend of the family. Recording the trip in his diary, Alfred wrote:
“Enquired of the coachman whether he knew Sinn, and we found his brother and family. He telephoned to his brother Herbert who lives in a town not far away. Well, I took the Rhine steamer to Coblenz where I met Anton Sinn, also his brother again, and we had a great time going about listening to the bands, and drinking beer and Rhine wine. His brother left us in the evening, and the next day Anton and I went back to Bonn, where we visited his brother who was having a birthday party, and where I met some more of his relations.
“In the afternoon we climbed up to the old ruins of Drachenfels on the Rhine and had supper on the shores of the river. We then crossed over and took the train to Coblenz, where Anton left me. I stopped the night at Coblenz and the next day took the train to Bingen. Very picturesque with all the old castles. Also passed the Lorelei. At Bingen I stopped a few hours and drank some cheap Rudesheimer. In the afternoon I took the train to Offenburgh, passing through Baden-Baden, and then took the railroad and got to Endingen where Father’s and Mother’s folks came from. An old fashioned place. Stopped at an inn and next day went up to the town hall where I enquired for any Benitz people.
“First found Mr. and Mrs. Hildebrand, who seemed to be second cousins of Father’s, and then went with him to the house of Barbara Benitz Werg, an old lady who is the daughter of Thadeus Benitz, Father’s brother. She has a son called Franz, also a daughter (ugly). Theodore Lederlie is the son of Anna Benitz Lederlie (dead) who was the daughter of Thady (Thadeus) Benitz. Theodore is a fine chap, and is married with two children. He has lots of letters written by Father, about the year 1854. Stopped two nights in Endingen and went up to the old church on the hill, St. Catherine’s, with the Hildebrands. It is a fine country with forests on the hills, and vineyards in the valleys, which seem to be very rich and well cultivated; the people all living in the villages and going out during the day with their cow and ox teams.”
Our traveller then returned to London, spent two days doing the town and then went down to Southampton on Aug. 27 to take a boat for New York and the United States. On this first trip, Alfred probably enjoyed his trip to America more than he did the one to England for the simple reason that he met and talked to a lot of men who talked his own language in the United States - cattle growers, veterinarians, agricultural experts and meat- packers. After a brief stay in the east, he went to St. Louis, arriving there on September 8. He describes his experience there as follows:
“Went to the Monticello Hotel where Hattie and Katie (William’s eldest daughters) were staying, with Mrs. Stewart. Mr. and Mrs. Allyn, Mrs. Lang and Mrs. Hamilton were also staying there. Hattie and Katie were there for about a week and then left for Washington with Mrs. Stewart. I gave Hattie a present of $200. I went nearly every day to the Fair (Cattle Exhibition) and met quite a lot of young Argentines. I also went a great deal to the Pabellon Argentino, where I met Mrs. Bischoff several times, and paid her a visit at her sister’s house. The cattle show was very interesting and I met Mr. J. H. Miller and a lot of the professors and heard Mr. Gosling lecture on ‘Cattle Judging.’ I paid $3 for some Catalpa seed, which an old man in charge of the Catalpa Exhibit, was to send out to me in South America.”
From St. Louis Alfred went on to Texas where he saw a great deal of the famous Longhorn cattle of the Lone Star State.
“On the 11th of October,” he wrote, “I left for Texas, travelling in the daytime so as to see the country. Muskogee seems to be a very thriving town with plenty of gas and oil. That night I arrived at Parsons, Kansas, where I stopped the night, and the next day went on to Dallas. At Dallas they were just having the State Fair and Carnival, so all the hotels were full. I managed to get a room at the Windsor Hotel for two nights, and then took the trolley to Fort Worth where Dingler’s circus had just arrived. I went out to see the stockyards and also went through Swift’s packing house. Cattle did not seem to be up to much. Met Dr. Klein, the government Veterinary Surgeon, who was very kind in explaining the ‘Texas Fever’ in cattle, and also in showing me how they cured it here.
“That night I went to see the circus, which was a very great affair, but I had to walk back to the hotel. Next morning I went back to Dallas and then took the train to Corsicana where I was very kindly received by Mr. Allyn (the father of Willie’s wife) and family. The next day being Sunday we only went for a drive, but the following day we visited the cotton-gin, oil-mill, well-drill and ice factories. In the evening we went out to the Fish-Pond and had a jolly supper, but no fish.
“Oct. 18: 1 left in the morning for College Station, where I was very kindly received by Dr. Marshall, Dr. Francis the ‘boss vet’ being away. I had mess with the teachers. The following day Dr. Rizin innoculated a calf against ‘Texas Fever’ to show me how it is done, and also gave me a pamphlet explaining everything. I left before noon and went back to Bryan station, where they were having a county fair, and there I saw a roping contest. I then went on to Austin where I stopped two nights. I went through the State Capital and also through the records to see if Father’s name was there, but could not find it. They told me there had been a fire about the year 1855, which .had burned a lot of records. I then went to see a lawyer, a Mr. Morrow, promised to write to me if he could find out anything.” [His father served in the army of the Republic of Texas, see page Wilhelm Benitz in Texas ]
Texas was as far as Alfred went into the interior of the United States on this trip back to the country where he was born. After spending a few more days visiting cattle shows and comparing experiences on cattle-raising with ranchers there, he turned about and went east again to New Orleans. There, on Oct. 28, he took a small steamer, the “Bradford,” to Colon on the Isthmus of Panama. It was the first time he had been back to this region since 1875, and a great change had been made - the United States had constructed the Panama Canal which linked the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and made it possible for a continuous voyage from San Francisco to Buenos Aires. In. stead of following the itinerary down the east coast of South America, however, Alfred continued down the west coast, passing through the highly picturesque and rugged countries of that side of South America. He recorded his impressions of the west coast in his diary:
“Nov. 2: I arrived at Colon early in the morning and after being visited by the health officer, we got alongside the dock where we had to wait for the train to Panama. At 2:45 p.m. we arrived at Saco town, which is the entrance to the Panama Canal. Saw the de Lessups buildings and the statue of Cristóbal Colon (Christopher Columbus). I got through the customs-house all right without having to open my baggage. I arrived at Panama at 6:15 p. m. and went to the Grand Hotel, where I was told that the steamer had left, but later the nigger porter said that the steamer was delayed, so I hurried and tried to get aboard.
“I saw the agent and the harbor-master, and got permission from the police. I got a row boat and went to the Boca where I found the steamer ‘Loa’. I gave the nigger $2.50 to get me aboard. It took an hour and a half in the row boat and we reached the ‘Loa’ at 10:30 p.m. She is a boat of about 2,000 tons, with the cabins on deck. The cabins are large and comfortable, and I have one to myself. There are lots of Germans on board.
“Nov. 10: we have had fine cool weather since we left Panama on the third, with south-westerly breezes. The ‘Loa’ is a slow boat and we did not get to Guayaquil (Ecuador) until the evening of the sixth. Fine vegetation along the river. Went ashore on the seventh and had breakfast at the Hotel Paris. Panama hats were for sale on the boat and ashore; bought two for $5 and two more on board for $4. We stayed at Guayaquil until the afternoon of the eighth and next day arrived at Payta. Today we touched at Eten and tonight arrived at Pacasmayo. Here the coast is poor and dry, with hills and no vegetation. We took on board bales of tobacco, rice, coffee, sugar, etc., bound for Callao. ,
“Nov. 11: we stopped for a while at Salaberry, which is the same as all Peruvian ports, namely high hills, mole running out short distance and small lighters for cargo. The usual health inspections.
“Nov. 12: we got to Callao harbor and I immediately went on shore, and took the electric tram (half an hour) to Lima, where I put up at the Maury Hotel which had good rooms at four ‘soles’ per day. Lima is a very quaint town with narrow streets and many churches. The women wear ‘mantillas’ and are mostly dressed in black. I went to see the resting place of Pizarro at the Cathedral, which is of immense size and was built in the year 1625. There are lots of curio shops selling ancient pottery and silver of the Incas. Went to the Bank (Peru y Londres) where there seemed to be plenty of business going on.
“Nov. 15: went to Oroya by train; this is the highest railway in the world; the tunnel by Monte Meigo is 15,722 feet [4,792 m.] high, and Monte Meigo itself is 17,574 feet [5,357 m.] in height. Fine scenery: the glaciers, snow, precipices, etc., were grand. Quaint and ruddy-faced people with droves of ‘burritos’ (burros). We stopped the night at a crowded hotel. I suffered from a headache, the effects of the ‘soroche’ (altitude illness), but I believe I was better than most of the passengers. The Austrian ‘hacendero’ (farmer) was very bad.
“Nov. 17: I went a day’s journey by train to see the famous Cerro del Pasco (copper) mines, returning to Lima next day at five p.m. I then took a coach and an electric tram which took me to Callao where I got on board the ‘Loa’ again, which sailed at 9 p.m.
“Nov. 19: a nice trip from Callao to Mollendo which we left at 7:30 p.m. Here most of the passengers got off and now there are only a few on board. We have been in sight of land most of the time, and the sea is quite smooth. There are some pretty high mountains in sight. Very slow trip, and no excitement. Looks like a very ‘triste’ (sad) country, but they say that back in the Table Mountains there are some good sheep ranges.
“Nov. 22: we stopped for a bit at Antofagasta to take on cargo, and on the following day we arrived at Tal-tal and Chañaral. Went on shore at Tal-tal. All these coast cities are dry and arid and only kept lively by the nitrates and minerals of which there is a great lot for shipment at most of the ports.
“Nov. 25: we reached Coquimbo today, which is quite an important port. Yesterday we stopped for a while at Caldera. Went on shore at Coquimbo and drove over to Guayacan to the smelting works where the steamer picked us up. Both at Caldera and Coquimbo lots of women came on board selling fruits, prawns, cheese, etc.
“Nov. 26: arrived at Valparaiso. Nice smooth sea and fine view coming in.”
This was the end of Alfred’s first [wrong: second] major trip by sea since he had gone to work to carve his living out of the pampas and the forests of the Chaco. He stayed briefly in Santiago and the country nearby and then crossed over the towering Andes mountains, to arrive back home in time for Christmas.
For the next three and a half years, there is no available record of Alfred’s doings. However, he plunged once more into the work of the estancia at Laguna Yacaré [wrong: “Los Palmares” was between the Salado and Calchaquí rivers], moving cattle between “Los Palmares” and “La California” regularly. He became more and more interested in hunting and was already coming to be considered in the. region where he was known as one of the best shots in the country. In 1908 he made another important move, purchasing the estancia “Las Tres Lagunas,” which adjoined his one league of land at “Las Tijeras” and also the original Benitz ground at “La California.” He added much beauty to the already distinctive garden and park at “Las Tres Lagunas,” planting fine flowering bushes and hundreds of trees. This was to be his home, and he put a great deal of time and money into the planning and beautifying of it. It was also, as previously mentioned, to become the “museum” for hundreds of his trophies of the hunt, from Argentina, Alaska [correction: Yukon], East Africa and the other scenes of his triumphs with the rifle [See Alfred's diaries.] It was in this same year, in July, that he went on a hunting trip that lasted almost four months with his friend Todd. The trip was made into Alaska [wrong: Yukon] and it gave both men a period of solid enjoyment, living in the open and making their way through virgin country, on the move always and thoroughly relishing the rough and ready life of the camp.
Nasutlin Bay, near White Horse, was one of the “jumping-off” places that the two men used to begin one leg of their hunting trip. The entries in Alfred’s diary describing this place and their departure from it give a fair picture of the experiences they had:
“Aug. 10: three months today since I left Buenos Aires. Went over to the store with the two canoes which we put in a shady place near the stores, and covered with bushes. We collected the 34-foot boat we had bought and said good-bye to everyone. We owe $36.60 at the store, which we pay at White Horse, as we made an arrangement to pay all our debts there. Nice interesting scenery around Nasutlin Bay. The Indian we hired began at noon. We left at 12:30 and went on till 5 p.m. for 12 miles when we reached Wolf River. Rowed in Wolf Bay for seven miles and sailed about five miles up Nasutlin River.
“Aug. 11: left camp at 7:30 a.m. after putting some pitch and oakum on the bottom ends of the boat. We travelled until noon. The Red River is very shallow and gave us a lot of work. Stopped at noon opposite to a cabin. I guess we had done about fives miles. In the afternoon we travelled only about three miles as the river was getting worse. Camped at a sand bar near to a timber point. Many moose tracks.
“Aug. 12: left at 7 a.m. travelling until. 11 a.m. All hands towing and tugging as it is nearly all rapids. Went on from noon until 2 p.m. where the two mile ‘portage’ begins, which is about 12 miles from Red River and Nasutlin Junction, and 28 miles from the store. All hands wet to the waist, as also yesterday.
“Aug. 13: today made the two miles of bad water in cañon. At about a mile and a half farther on we struck the first waterfall. We unloaded and drew the boat over the fall, and then backed her to the rock where we had put the cargo. About 300 yards farther we unloaded again, and about half a mile farther on when we got to the last waterfall, we decided to do it (unload) again. Got finished about 3 p.m. Very hard work today; we were nearly swamped at the first waterfall and lost two pans and a bucket there. Anyhow we saved at least half a day by not making for the two-mile portage. Murky day.
“Aug. 14: passed about three miles of very difficult water, the boat stranding several times. All hands were towing, but it became better afterwards. I saw lots of tracks, moose and big bear. Camped about a mile beyond English Creek. Lots of moose tracks here. Rained hard last night. We camped on a high place on the left hand side where the river makes a turn. Killed a porcupine and six ducks.
“Aug. 16: left camp at 7:30 and stopped again as usual at 11:30. Ordinary going. I went ahead with rifles, but saw nothing. In the afternoon had good going for four hours. Killed seven geese and five willow-grouse. Grouse very good to eat.
“Aug. 22: this morning Todd killed a bear which was fishing at the mouth of Wolf River. Left camp at 9:30 a.m. and rowed across and down the lake. In the afternoon sailed to south-east corner of lake where we built our camp close to the mountains. Fine day but rained in the evening. Bag: three pidgeon and one bear.”
The hunting party was making its way up into some mountains which they reached early in September. On the march, Alfred shot his first caribou, describing it as having “41 points, with slight velvet on the horns and a fine fat animal.” [Likely the head that today, 2002, hangs over the fireplace at “La California”.] The stay in the mountains lasted only one week and the party then moved back to Moose Valley Camp in the lowlands.
“Glad to get out of the mountains,” Alfred wrote. “Most of the time it was snowing, with hail, sleet and rain and very little game.”
This kind of weather was, in fact, what the hunters bad to put up with most of the time. “Cold and cheerless” wrote Alfred day after day in his diary. The sun came out for only brief intervals, and rain, sleet and snow that forced its way into their tents and cabins and usually soaked them was the order of the day.
But despite his comments on it, Alfred appeared to enjoy the weather almost as much as he did the hunting itself. He was out in the open, testing his strength against the elements of nature and his wits against the animal life of the country.
The Alaska [wrong: Yukon] trip ended at White Horse on Oct. 6. Alfred made his way back to Argentina in leisurely fashion and carried on with the business of the estancias in Santa Fe and the Chaco. The next important section of the diary available is dated two years later when he set out on another hunting trip, again with John Todd. The trip was quite a sizeable undertaking, for it included 52 bearers and two mutual friends of the companions on the Alaska venture.
The following extract from one of the guide-books which Alfred brought back with him from this trip furnishes an idea of the conditions and the kind of terrain encountered on the expedition, which was made in British East Africa.
“To those who have had the rare pleasure of visiting British East Africa, the word ‘Safari’ will have no strange meaning. But for those less fortunate, it is only fair to enlighten them.
“According to an extensive traveller, the word ‘safari’ is derived from the Arabic and seems to have a close alliance to the word ‘m’safara’ (a caravan) and also to ‘m’safari’ (a traveller) and had evidently been corrupted through a Swahli medium to its present form. Anyway, ‘Safari’ has now become an English word.
“A party coming to British East Africa would, on leaving England, take the International Sleeping Car company’s Train de Luxe to a Mediterranean port. Then follows a pleasant voyage through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. Disembarking at the old slave stronghold of Mombasa, the railway is taken on to Nairobi (which is 5,550 feet [1,690 m.] above sea-level), the capital, and the most convenient centre from which to outfit.
“The start is made with capable guides and every convenience consistent with camp life, to whatever point is decided on. Civilization is left behind, and one emerges into a country still garbed in its primaeval simplicity, from which the natives are not excepted. Many are the attractions which meet the eye, odours which fascinate, the song of the birds, the chattering of monkeys, the buzz of insects and the maganificence of the butterflies. Then the pleasant warmth of the sun and the bracing air make living a pleasure. A suitable spot is chosen for a camp, by a brook or a grove of trees. Those on slaughter bent will find that they have sufficient choice, from the lion, the leopard, the buffalo and rhinoceros to the hartebeeste or the smaller gazelles. In, the evening after the fires are lit and guards set, to prevent any prowling leopard or lion from coming too close, the cool air invites sweet repose to the weary hunter.”
Alfred took few notes on this trip, but judging by the long list of trophies which he assembled at its conclusion, it must have been most successful. [Note: The quotes for: Oct. 4 & Nov. 2 are from an unknown diary (or letters) written when he was in Nairobi; however, Oct. 7 through Oct. 18 are from Alfred’s brief notes made while on safari.]
“Oct. 4, 1910: (Nairobi): Mr. Todd arrived here after a fair voyage of 19 days from Marseilles to Mombasa. We have been here three days getting ready for our start on the safari. On our five hour railway trip from Mombasa we were continually in sight of big game. The country looks very fine with natural grazing and everything seems to grow remarkably well. The place (Nairobi) is full of blacks with most peculiar adornments and paints - and often quite naked. They seem quite a contented lot and go around singing and bucking about on the least provocation.
“Oct. 7: left Nairobi in a coach drawn by six mules, in which we went as far as Blue Post on the Theika River, which is about 30 miles from Nairobi. At noon we stopped at Scotstown, near the power station. The following day we left Blue Post and arrived at Kilmangobo. I killed a hartebeeste at 250 yards, which Banbury finished with a revolver. Todd afterward got two wildebeeste, two water-hogs, one tourmiel and four sternbok does.
“Oct. 10: Todd got two hartebeeste, one impala, one water-bok and one zebra. Afterwards we went southeast and I got two impala. We saw lots of game, including two groups of baboons.
“Oct. 11: went with Bunbury up the south of his house and scared up a big rhino, which Todd afterwards got. Found a buffalo in papyrus reeds, which I got. A wounded rhino escaped and led us a long and unsuccessful chase,
“Oct. 12: in the afternoon went out and got a wart-hog and an impala.
“Oct. 13: Todd got a crocodile, a reed buck and an impala. I got two giraffes.
“Oct. 14: sent ten loads of heads, etc., to Nairobi. Moved our camp higher up on the hill as there were a few mosquitoes there last night. My mule escaped during the morning and spoilt my forenoon. In the afternoon tried for wildebeeste on the other side of the hill, but unsuccessfully.
“Oct. 15: walked up to Brian White’s house and photographed some giraffes. Men brought my mule back.
“Oct. 16: we crossed the river and I shot a wilde-beeste, three wart-hogs and 11 water-buck. Saw hundreds of animals.
“Oct. 17: went toward hill and started up a fine rhino with big horn and shot him close to our tent. Horn measurement: 22 1/2 inches. In the afternoon shot a hartebeeste, but did not get the scalp.
“Oct. 18: our bearers arrived back from Nairobi with five extra men, bringing champagne, whisky, sacks and cartridges. Went on the other side of the hill and got a small wart-hog, but did not take the head.
“Nov. 2: Todd and I got back yesterday after 24 days hunting; we went to Vesturme’s place, about 15 leagues from here, to start. We went on eastwards for 1 1/2 days march across the Theika river and near the Itanga hills. I got a huge buffalo with my 500-bore at about 7 yards; they are very tough animals weighing about a ton - and awfully “malo” - the most dangerous animals here. There were two rhinos also killed on the place, their horns measuring 24” and 22 1/4”; a stupid animal but quite dangerous when they get wind of you and you don’t see them until they are on top of you. Generally they whistle like a steam engine when they charge. We are going on to the southern Guaso Nyri. We have 57 men; 1 head man, 2 first gun bearers and 2 second, 2 “boys” (servants), 1 cook, 2 syces, 2 askaris (police) and 45 porters. The porters carry 60 lbs. and get 1 1/2 lbs. corn meal per day and about three-pence pay. I got about 90 heads and was lucky to get two fine male lions, the list of game being - 10 hartebeeste, 3 wildebeeste, 7 impala, 2 waterbuck, 1 common waterbuck, 3 buffalos, 11 wart-hog, 4 Grant’s gazelle, 3 rhinos, 10 tommies, 1 eland, 2 bushbok, 3 zebras, 3 Robert’s gazelle, 7 topi, 2 dik-dik, 1 baboon, 1 lesser kudu, 2 Chandler’s reedbok, 5 Ward’s reedbok, 6 colobus monkeys, 3 lions, 1 cheetah, 1 hyena, 1 jackall. We had a very good time and were in very good health. I did a tremendous lot of walking. I had no narrow escapes; a herd of 40 buffalos charged me but I am not sure if they did it on purpose or not. I shot about 500 shots and did a lot of long distance shooting with telescopic sights and often got animals 400 to 500 yards away.
The following is the list of heads sent to Rowland Ward, The Jungle, 167 Piccadilly, London, for preserving and mounting:
|1 Chamber’s Reed-buck||1 Defassa|
|1 Ward’s Reed-buck||1 Hartebeeste|
|1 Thomson’s Gazelle||2 Wildebeeste|
|2 Busbuck||1 Zebra|
|1 Robert’s Gazelle||4 Wart-hogs|
|2 Lesser Kudu||1 Buffalo|
|2 Impala||2 Rhinoceros|
|1 Grant’s Gazelle||1 Coke’s Hartebeeste|
|1 Baboon||4 Coloby Monkeys|
|6 Topi||1 Cheetah|
|1 Waterbuck||2 Lions|
In addition to the above imposing list, there were many lion, zebra and gazelle skins which were made into rugs. The majority of the mounted heads are now hung in the halls of “Las Tres Lagunas” where they make a vivid impression on the person who steps into the estancia house for the first time. [Note: The house was replaced in the 1970’s; many of the trophies were distributed within the family.]
EARLY in 1915 Alfred became engaged to Miss Olga Blanche Horner, and they were married in Buenos Aires in September of that year. For their honeymoon they went to the United States spending almost five months in an extensive tour of California and all the old spots that Alfred had known in his boyhood. They visited Fort Ross, the former Benitz home in Oakland, the Howard farm and also made many side-trips to surrounding points of interest. In February, 1916, they returned to Argentina to begin their married life.
Mrs. Benitz is a member of one of the oldest county families of England. Her father, Edward Horner, was a cousin to Sir John Horner, K.C.V.O., of Mells Park, Frome, Somerset, where the earliest family records date from the year 1248.
Mells Manor House and Church, Somerset [UK]
In a biography written by Mrs. Francis Horner in 1933, called “Time Remembered,” she says:
“Mells Village was extraordinarily feudal... The Horners were a very clannish family. They had everything in common and lived in an almost feudal way. They were supreme, and no one had begun to doubt the power of the landlord or the divine right of the gentry, and Mells was more feudal than most villages. The people had to consult the Horners as to what names their children were called by.
“The story goes that at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in England, the Abbot of Glastonbury, who owned the Manor of Mells, attempted to forestall Thomas Cromwell by surrendering the title deeds of all the Abbey’s manors into the King’s own hand. In order to ensure their safety, the deeds were concealed in a pie, and Jack Horner, who was at that time Steward to the Abbot, was entrusted with their delivery. During the journey, he was reputed to have ‘put in his thumb and pulled out a plum,’ to wit, the title deed of the Manor of Mells, and kept it for himself. Hence, the ‘lampoon’ which has been handed down and has since become a favourite nursery rhyme.
“The original Mells Park house was replaced in the 18th century by a Georgian mansion which was destroyed by fire in 1917 and rebuilt under the direction and guidance of Sir Edwin Lutyens.
“Mells Church, where there is a board showing the names of the rectors dating from the year 1226, was first rebuilt in the 15th century, and restored in 1860 - 1876. Here and in the Horner Chapel are many gifts, tablets and memorials to the Horner family, including a fine equestrian statue in bronze, designed and made by A. Munnings, which was erected to the memory of Edward Horner, the last direct male heir to the Horner estate, who fell at Cambrai during the European war in 1917. Nitor in Adversis.
Soon after his return from the United States, Alfred followed the example of Johnny and Willie and bought land in the picturesque and charming Córdoba hills, at Cruz Chica, near the summer resort town of La Cumbre. All three brothers built comfortable summer homes in, this delightful spot and spent most of the summer months there with their families and with their houses usually full of relatives and friends, invited to share the pleasant living to be had there. However, the pleasant valley where the houses were [are] located was to turn into the death trap of two members of the family and four other persons who were swept to death in one of the “flash” floods common in the hills which on occasion send raging torrents of water roaring down usually half-dry creek beds.
Willie had built “Greystones,” a spacious house made of the stone from which it took its name, overlooking a valley and the local golf course [See photos.]. Alfred’s house, “El Rincón,” was built halfway up one of three high green hills. He had blasted away part of the rock found in every Córdoba hill to build his house and to construct a winding, uphill drive as the approach to it. The hills were then terraced and landscaped down to a wall of about ten feet in height, at the foot of which ran a small meandering stream, bordered by huge rocks. [Note: Today (2002) El Rincón is the only summer home still in the family, owned by Mary Sundt (née Horner), Auntie Olga’s adopted niece. See photos.]
It was this stream, trickling, pleasant and crystal clear in normal times, that was fated one day in March, 1916, to carry an angry wall of grey flood water that snuffed out six lives and destroyed John’s house, “Cruz Grande.”
On the opposite [correction: same ] side of the stream from Alfred’s house and farther down in the valley, John built his summer residence precisely at one of the numerous bends made by the stream before it disappeared underground to seek its outlet in one of, the many lakes in the region. The house was surrounded, as protection against the occasional sudden rises in the level of the stream, by a four-foot wall. When the house was being built, the architect pointed out to John that it occupied an extremely vulnerable position in the event that an unusually large volume of water should collect in the hills and be hurled down into the valley. He offered his opinion that the four-foot wall would be completely inadequate to ward off such a rush of water, but John insisted that it would offer enough protection. He paid for his error in judgment with his life and those of five other people, including his daughter, Margery, who was 19 years old. The others who lost their lives in the tragedy, which occurred on March 20, were three house guests and the family chauffeur, who made an heroic effort to save them all. [Note: Today (2002) the house still stands. It and the grounds are owned by St. Paul’s School which use them for sports and other daytime activities. See photos.]
The news clippings from the Buenos Aires newspapers describing the catastrophe are still preserved in the day- book at “La California.” The appalling suddenness of the tragedy is preserved in the words that were written while the impressions of witnesses were still fresh:
“One of the favourite resorts of the Córdoba Hills in the stretch from Los Cocos to Cruz Chica, and somewhere about halfway down between the two, Mr. John Benitz had his summer residence, known as Cruz Grande and familiar to all English visitors. It was a most delightful spot snuggled into the ‘quebrada’ and what nature had left undone, Mr. Benitz had added to make it a paradise.
“And this is the scene of a terrible tragedy. Flowing by the house, such a small trickle in ordinary times, that it seems hardly credible that it could cause such havoc, a small mountain brooklet or rill swelled up to the proportions of a torrent, and wrecked the whole property, so suddenly apparently that there was neither time nor opportunity to escape. The following telegrams we received yesterday tell the dread tale in all its fearful completeness.
“Los Cocos, March 20th - This morning, caused by heavy rains, the river at Cruz Grande overflowed and completely destroyed the summer residence of the John Benitz family and resulting in the death of seven persons. Only the eldest daughters, Elsie and Josephine, were saved. The bodies of Mr. John Benitz and the chauffeur have been found.
“March 20th (11:30 p.m.) - Supplementing my previous telegram, I regret having to report the deaths of Mr. John Benitz, his daughter Margery, Miss Dawnay, Mrs. Withington and her daughter Helen. Mrs. Benitz, her daughters Elsie and Josephine, and her sister, Miss Kintosh, escaped in a most providential manner. The strong current carried the house completely away. Miss Josephine Benitz was injured. We understand that Dr. John Halahan has been summoned to render professional aid to the victims.”
The next day, the Buenos Aires Standard printed the following appreciation of John:
“Mr. John Benitz was an ‘estanciero’ in a large way in the province of Santa Fé, very advanced in his ideas, enterprise and intelligence.
“The family originally came from California, and was the first to introduce into this country the production of ‘alfalfa,’ much to the surprise of the natives who could not understand what was to be gained by growing ‘pasto’, (grass).
“At about the time the English Company which first owned the Sierras Railway Line (Córdoba and North Western) began to get to the end of the hills, Mr. John Benitz made a trip and was struck by the beautiful scenery and the unrivalled climate. His first impression was to build at Capilla del Monte, on the site now occupied by Mr. Mallet’s Hotel Británico, but as he offered a price per hectare (a measure equal to approximately two acres and a half [2.47 acres]) and the owner wanted to sell by the meter there was no deal and Mr. Benitz bought his land, built his house and settled at Cruz Grande.
“He was the life and moving spirit of the district. Previous to his advent, there were no roads, and after forming a committee, mainly composed of one, he soon had the best roads in the whole country, and what is more kept them up.
“In many other ways he was a remarkable man. Well-read and versed in the world’s affairs, and with statistics at his finger-tips. His hospitality was unbounded.
“Such a terrible happening will find a wide and sad repercussion, not only in the nooks of the Córdoba Hills, but also in English and Argentina circles where the Benitz family were so well-known.
“It is feared that the disaster has affected the residence of the Dunn family, on the opposite side of the stream, also other residences along its course and in the valley in general. Communications by rail are interrupted from La Cumbre station, owing to the storm and inordinate rainfall. The disturbance was still active at a late hour last night, and it is feared that there is a serious loss of life and property in the district.”
It was owing to the skillful and indefatigable efforts of Dr. John Halahan that Josephine Benitz (now Mrs. Howard Webster), who risked her life in her valiant effort to save her father, eventually recovered.
Fig. 20 — Part of “El Bermejo” estancia
Fig. 21 — A typical “vivienda”
Fig. 22 — Branding cattle
Fig. 23 — A close-up of the branding
In July of 1916, four months after the tragedy in Córdoba, Alfred bought the estancia “El Bermejo” [wrong: Campo Winter] which was situated near the town of Resistencia in the Chaco. He had previously disposed of “Los Palmares,” the place at Laguna Yacaré [wrong: between the rio Salado and Calchaquí] where he had spent so much time and where he had laid the foundation for his fortune, but he had an irresistible urge to possess property “up north,” and so he bought “El Bermejo” [wrong: Campo Winter]. He made frequent trips to “El Bermejo,” [Campo Winter] and on one of them in 1918, which he made with Mrs. Benitz, he mentions seeing quite a bit of our old friend “Lord Donkin,” who lived and worked at “La California” in its early days.
During this period, a hungry world was crying out for Argentine grain and meat, and although nothing is said about it in the diary, it may be assumed that Alfred was working night and day supervising the production of his estancia. He also continued extremely active in the business management of the other Benitz properties, a job which had become more demanding on his time and energy since the death of John.
In July, 1920, occurs the next series of entries in the diary available to us [and on this web-site]. It describes the trip that Alfred made to England to bring back Mrs. Benitz to Argentina after a visit to her parents at Mells Park. As usual on his trips to England, Alfred stocked up with clothes, did a great deal of sight-seeing and spent considerable time with his hunting companion, John Todd, staying five days at the latter’s house at Mereside. The trip also included a jump over to France where Alfred was interested in, and eventually bought, a thorough-bred horse which he intended to use for show purposes in Argentina. The trip to France also was notable for the fact that our voyager returned to London from Paris aboard one of the old Handley-Paige airplanes, among the first that were used for the cross-channel flight. This probably was the first time that Alfred had been up in a ’plane, but be dismisses the experience with his usual objective writing. His account of the trip to France follows:
“Sept. 8: went to the French consul to fix up passports for going to France and later went to the Royal Mail office to book passages on the R. M. S. “Arlanza” sailing for Buenos Aires on the 24th inst.
“Sept. 9: we lunched at the Trocadero and then went to Cook’s to book tickets for Paris via Boulogne, and reserved seats in Pullman for following day. Then went to Negretti and Zambra and ordered a sundial. Day excellent. Had good dinner at Frascati’s. [The sundial was installed at El Rincon.]
“Sept. 10: this morning at 8 a. m. met Willie and Uranga at Victoria station, and we all left for Paris via Folkestone. [Note: Willie was Alfred’s nephew, he lived at and managed estancia “La California”; Uranga was a good friend & fellow polo player of Willie’s from Argentina.] Olga left today for Pebmarsh. Had a good trip over the Channel and arrived in Paris at 4:30 p. m. Went to the Normandy Hotel which seems a poor sort of a place. Had dinner at a good restaurant which had been recommended to us by a waiter at the Grand Hotel where we had a drink. Tried to get rooms at the Grand Hotel, but were unsuccessful. Fine nice weather.
“Sept. 11: fine warm day, the best we have had in Europe. Willie, Uranga and I took the 7 a.m. train to Nogent-le-Breton, where we arrived at 9:45 a.m. We were met at the station by Mr. Avelin who showed us his two places and also his ‘percheron’ stallions. I bought a three. year-old gray called ‘Rata’ for 50,000 francs, to be put on board for South America. He won first prize at the Show here. He has a white blaize on his forehead and what looks like a small scar up in front of his right hind leg. Very fine horse. Avelin says he thinks he could win the championships at Chicago next year. He is going to brand A. B. on the foreleg hoof.
“Had lunch at La Touche with Avelin and his family. Very nice place. Left Nogent-le-Breton for Paris at 5:30 p.m., arriving at 8:40. Had a very scanty dinner as it was too late for dinner at the Normandy.
“Sept. 12: did not see Uranga today. Willie and I had a walk through the Tuilleries Galleries, then took a cab through the Bois de Boulogne and to the Eiffel Tower where we went on top and had a fine view, but it took about two hours with all the different elevators. Had lunch at the Cafe de la Paix and afterwards went to the Race Course at Longchamps where we saw some interesting races and fashions. Had dinner at the Cafe Paris, very good dinner, good company and high prices. A guide took us to see some dancing, but we soon cleared out and went to bed. Most beautiful weather.
“Sept. 13: got a ticket to London on the Handley-Paige aeroplane and bought a necklace for Olga, also went to London and River Plate Bank with Willie. We left in auto from Paris with four other passengers at about 11:30 a.m. to go to a place just outside where the flying-ships were, and left on the ’plane about 12:30 p.m., arriving at Cricklewood aerodrome about 4 p.m. After the usual customs and passport formalities were gone through, they dropped me at the Great Central Hotel. It was a very fine trip, beautifully sunny in France, but here cloudy and overcast. Met Dolly King and her brother, with two other ladies, and had tea with them. Sent telegram to Olga and Willie and also wrote to Olga.”
[Note: At the time of these diary entries, Sept. 1920, Alfred’s nephew Willie was a widower with two small children. He had recently suffered the loss to influenza of both his first wife, Flora King (Sept. 1917), and their second child, Stuart (June 1919). In addition, WW-I had claimed the life of his younger brother, Frank (Aug. 1918), a pilot in the RFC. A year after these entries, in August 1921, Willie celebrated a happier event, he married Eileen Frend. Dolly and Malcolm King were siblings of Flora.]
The next day Alfred went down to Mill House at Pebmarsh, where Mrs. Benitz was staying and spent the next six days rambling about the countryside and acquiring last-minute purchases in preparation for the departure for Buenos Aires on the, 24th.
“Sept. 15: rained slightly several times during the day. Went in the car with Olga and Mrs. Horner to Chisthurst where we had tea with two old maids, Miss Lucas and Miss Salmon, who had a very pretty garden and a lovely old-fashioned house. Also visited the old church where Olga was christened, then to Bury Green where the Horners lived for about 25 years, until fourteen years ago. A fine property but a bit neglected. Called on Dr. Priest and family at Waltham Abbey, and then home by Bagor, Halstead and Epping Forest.
“Sept. 16: rained greater part of forenoon. Went in the car to ‘Brookwoods,’ Haddingham, to lunch with Colonel Sparrow who has a very fine collection of trophies, big game from India, South Africa, West Africa, British East Africa and Somaliland. Beautiful place with fine garden and trees. Went to the local pub in the evening and bought a half dozen of port as a present to Mr. Horner. Bought packing cases to despatch china, etc., to the steamer.
“Sept. 17: went in the Ford car to Colchester and lunched at the ‘Red Lion.’ Ate three dozen oysters. Afterwards went over the old castle, dating from about 1060. Lively town and nice looking country. Black-berried in the evening.
“Sept. 19: yesterday despatched four cases to Southampton. Cases containing dresses, clothes and china. This morning motored over to Claxton-on-Sea where we had lunch at the Grand Hotel, and then went for a walk on the shore and pier, where we listened to very good music at the glass pavilion. Came back by St. Osyth where there is an old priory.
“Sept. 20: Mr. Horner and I motored to Earls Colne and went through the Hunt’s factory, where they make all kinds of grinding and chaffcutting machinery. In the afternoon, Mr. Horner, Olga and I went to have tea with Mrs. Henry Dickenson. Fine trees in beautiful park.
“Sept. 21: rained all forenoon. In the afternoon after tea went out for a long walk around the park to Halstead, about eight miles. Getting ready to leave tomorrow.
“Sept. 22: left with all our luggage by the 10 o’clock train from Bures and arrived in London at 12 o’clock. Sent luggage on to hotel and after visiting bank, Lloyd’s, etc., went to lunch at Prince’s. We dined with Dolly King, Malcolm King and a Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and then went to Wyndham’s Theatre, where we saw ‘The Prude.’ Very good.
“Sept. 23: this morning I called on Colonel Fenwick at 36, Conduit Street, where I met Mr. Gillyat. They insured my ‘percheron’ and will cable to the vet. at Nogent-le- Breton to see if the horse is sound, and if so will insure him for one year. If not, they will return me the cheque to the Argentine. Sent two bottles of whiskey and a large tin of tobacco to Mr. Horner as a present. Paid Fortnum and Mason for a barrel of 30 gallons of whiskey. Olga gave a luncheon party at Prince’s to me, her Uncle Charlie, Mr. and Mrs. Priest and Winnie Hayward. In the afternoon went to Negretti and Zambra to see about the sun-dial and took it to the hotel. Afterwards went to the oculist, as my glasses were too strong. Packing to leave tomorrow.”
Sea voyages by now were familiar events to Alfred, and he only notes in the entry for the next day the names of some of the passengers, including those who would be table companions during the trip for him and his wife. There is no further entry in the diary until October 6 when the, “Arlanza” reached Buenos Aires after a pleasant but uneventful trip, and with that entry we close the story of this journey:
“Oct. 6: we arrived in Buenos Aires after a most enjoyable voyage, in good company, this morning. After visiting the customs and passing everything all right without paying any duty, had our luggage despatched straight through to Las Rosas. Higham lunched with us, and after tea we went to Palermo Park to see the Rose Garden, which was a most beautiful sight. We took the night train to Las Rosas, where we arrived next day at 10 a.m.”
Fig. 25 — Don Alfredo and his Percherons
Alfred now once more settled back into the routine of managing his own estancia and the family interests that were entrusted to him. Even though he was already past 60, he was in fine physical condition and he could not stand for long the stationary life. He was always restless when tied down to one place and felt himself “cooped up” even in the vast expanse of land on an estancia in the Argentine pampas.
Thus in 1922, when he was 63 years old, he decided on a new adventure: the crossing of the Andes mountains on horseback. Here was a venture that would make most youths of today quail, but it was made to order for Don Alfredo. Mrs. Benitz was just as game as he, and went along with him on the arduous trip which took almost a month from the departure until the return to “Las Tres Lagunas.”
They went from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca by train and then crossed Argentina westward to the town of Zapala, in the foothills of the Andes. We turn again to the diary:
“Nov. 18 (1922): tried to get an early start, but the peons did not turn up with the horses until 6:30 a.m. Each had two horses and three pack-mules. Went north for about one and a half leagues, and then in a westerly direction. Passed Lake Miranda, where there were a lot of boats, about 10 a.m. and then went about three leagues and a half more to a stream where we stayed for luncheon. In the afternoon from about 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. we passed over Sainico Pass but it was not very cold. After crossing the Pass and over to a deep hollow with lots of trees we went on about a league farther and stopped at a slope by a small stream, as the guide said it was better feed for the horses. He said we had come 15 leagues that day. Olga was very tired, and our faces were pretty well tanned. Lots of dust going behind the horses.
“Nov. 17: had to go a long distance around to get to Pulmari [Estancia “Pulmarí” is located on the river Pulmarí shortly before it empties into the river Aluminé, about 3 leagues south of lake Aluminé, approx. half way to Aluminé town.], as the River Alumina was very swollen, and we had to go over by the ferry (30 cents each horse) [most likely at Lonco Luan]. It is a lovely blue lake surrounded on two sides by snow mountains. Fine scenery. We stopped for lunch at about a league from the ferry, and I was unfortunate enough to leave my false teeth there. Left camp at 1:45 p.m. Up-and-down road, and rather difficult for bullock carts. We went to see Babs, and his wife and found them at home, and later Chumps and Humphrey [Horner, Olga’s brothers] turned up. They are busy shearing now. Very comfortable house, and the most fertile spot we have seen. Brought some wedding presents to Babs. We are not very tired, considering the journey. This place is 40 metres higher than Zapala, or 1,040 metres above sea level. There is a small garden and I am sure that with proper irrigation things could be grown very profitably. Frosts in summer.
“Nov. 19: Olga and I and Humphrey and Chumps went for a picnic to Monte Tarvera, Polechini, where there is fine forest of ‘auracana’ and other trees. The ‘auracana’ are enormous trees. We measured one which was five meters in circumference. The rough grass here is said to be very fattening for animals, when in seed. Highest point going was 500 metres over the houses. [correction: the “auracaria” is a monkey-puzzle tree; its pine fruit was a staple of the Mapuche indian tribe - formerly known as the Araucano tribe.]
“Nov. 24: left Pulmari at 6 a.m. with the two Pinchura brothers for Curacautín [in Chile], taking two horses each and two pack-horses. Humphrey went with us as far as Whitworth’s, about six leagues, which is alongside the lake [Aluminé] and a very nice place where they gave us a very good lunch. Fine view of Llana [Llaima] Volcano which was sending out a little smoke. We left again at 1 p.m. and got to Quintana’s Almacén (store) at Pehuencó [river in Chile] about 6 p.m. where we stopped for the night. We did 14 leagues today and reached the River Bío Bío, whose tributaries we passed at Liacura and Pehuelca. It is a bleak country up to the frontier, but fine scenery and plenty of snow. Lots of Indians’ huts to be seen on our way down. [Per distance and sequence of place names, they most likely rode over the “Paso de Icalma”, 1,298 m., north-west of lake Aluminé.]
“Nov. 25: got an early start at 6 a.m. and went [west] seven leagues, arriving at Longingay at 11 a.m. We stopped for a moment at Swaittgero’s, a big store, with water power half a league away. Lots of fields of alfalfa on the way. Stopped at a poor restaurant for lunch and a rest until 1:45 p.m.; I changed one hundred Argentine for three hundred Chilean pesos. Went over the mountains until we got to Manzanares where we arrived at 7:20 p.m., tired out and wet, as it had rained for the last hour. At Malacahuello a Comisario (district police chief) stopped us and wanted to see our guia (authorization) for the horses, so one of the men had to go back to Longingay, which meant that he left us at 6 p.m. and did not join us again until the next morning at 9:30, but he had the ‘guias,’ all right. Climbed all afternoon, three hours up and then down. Wonderful forests of oak, coigue [coíhue], etc. Quite a nice hotel at Manzanares, where there are hot springs. There are two other guests besides ourselves, a rheumatic German and a Chilean cattleman. The hotel is surrounded by the highest mountains we have yet seen.
“Nov. 26: had baths in the morning at Manzanares. Supposed to be good for rheumatism. This is quite a nice hotel, very well kept by a Frenchman with a Swiss-French wife. We left there at 3 p.m. and arrived at the Hotel Terina, Curacautín, at 5:30 p.m. after a very nice ride through very nice country. This is where the real timber is found; saw several saw-mills on the road, and lots of sawn timber about. The railroad begins here. Election day, so the town was pretty lively with chaps on horseback dashing about.”
The Benitz’ abandoned their horses here and took the railway, travelling to Victoria, Concepción, Talcahuano, Santiago and then back over the mountains again to Argentina by train. They reached Buenos Aires on Dec. 4 and after a day in the national capital returned to “Las Tres Lagunas” where they found things normal, although the weather had not been kind to the crops.
THE intervening years after the trip made by Alfred and Mrs. Benitz over the Andes in 1922 saw little worthy of note apparently, in the closing days of Alfred’s long and fruitful life. The diary itself records nothing of the daily activities on the estancia at “Las Tres Lagunas,” nor of Alfred’s personal goings and comings in watching over every detail of the manifold labors that occupied his time and energy.
Fig. 24 — Don Alfredo with one of his faithful henchmen
He resumed his diary at two later periods - once in 1925 when he and Mrs. Benitz made a three-month trip to England and again in 1929 when, on one of his frequent trips to his estancia “El Bermejo” in the Chaco, Alfred took time off to visit the famous Iguazú Falls, located at the juncture of the Argentine, Brazilian and Paraguayan frontiers. From Iguazú, Mr. and Mrs. Benitz continued their trip to Asunción, the picturesque capital of Paraguay, one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere.
The last eight years of his life were divided between “Las Tres Lagunas” in the Province of Santa Fe, and their summer home “El Rincón” in Córdoba. Their pleasant life was marked by visits with neighbors and hosts of friends and with the members of the ever growing Benitz family, whose sons and daughters increased as the years went by. They also made periodical trips to Buenos Aires where they generally stayed for a week or so to visit the theatres, the cattle-show at Palermo Park (which is the biggest event of the year in the life of Argentina’s cattlemen), the opera and the other amusements offered by the national capital.
Alfred in 1937 reached the ripe age of 78, still in full possession of his magnificent mental and physical attributes. He was the last remaining member of the original Benitz family which had come to Argentina 62 years before. Willie Benitz, his last surviving brother, had died in 1910, at the age of 56, while on a visit to the United States, cut down by a heart attack. Mrs. Josephine Benitz, the matriarch of the family who had taken over when Father Benitz died and had carefully guided it through the first difficult years in a strange land, had died peacefully at her home “La Josefina,” in Córdoba, in the year 1912, at the age of four-score and two. She was a grand old lady who set a fine example of industry and dignity for all those about her, and her pioneer character, shaped in the semi-wilderness of early California, was a prime factor in the progress and the moral elevation of the Benitz family. She was laid to rest in the family cemetery at “La California.”
And now Alfred comes to the last of his days. In September, 1937, be and Mrs. Benitz were spending some time at “El Rincón.” Busy as always with a thousand and one things, Alfred kept his diary with his usual meticulous care for detail; these are the last entries that he made:
“Sept. 12: Fine day. The bulls I bought from Drabble’s on the 7th arrived this morning looking quite well. After tea Willie and Eileen, Gifford, Williams, Topham, Jim Traill. and young Sympson came for bowls and tea.
“Sept. 14: warm day, strong north wind, barometer low. Clearing up my office and desk. In the afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Haden arrived from Buenos Aires to stop a few days. Had a long walk with them and Olga through monte [woods].
“Sept. 15: hot strong north wind which in evening turned south, with a few drops of rain at 6 p.m. Mr. and Mrs. Haden had a ride in the forenoon. Nothing done in afternoon on account of heat. Bertolozzi coming next Monday to see about renovating old bathroom. Also Bosio came to see about ‘alcantarilla’ [small bridge] in the ‘paraiso monte.’ [chinaberry tree woods]”
Two days before his death, which occurred on Sept. 18, Alfred put down the last jottings that were to bring to an end the long list of his recordings of his own life:
“Sept. 16: cleared up during the night, with strong south wind. Had rained eight and a half millimeters. Looks as if the ‘seca’ (drought) is not ended. In the morning went to ‘Las Tijeras’ 26-28. Vaccinating calves from No. 14. Mrs. Haden had telephone message from Buenos Aires, so that they left on afternoon train. Letters from Doherty re, ‘percheron’ that won’t serve, also from ‘La Emiliana’ wanting to buy a stallion. Gerdes and Phyllis a new baby (John) . . . ”
Don Alfredo’s activities did not cease as he grew older. He had many interests at his estancia “Las Tres Lagunas” besides the working of the land and cattle breeding; chief amongst them the breeding of Percheron horses and tree plantations. During the summer months he and his wife kept open house at their home “El Rincón” in the Córdoba Hills. Here they entertained their friends of all ages. The number must be legion whose summer holidays have remained a glorious memory of bowls, tennis, bathing, picnics and paddling in the river, thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Don Alfredo and “Mrs. Alfred”.
Up to the age of seventy-six Don Alfredo was still enjoying this life to the full. His end came suddenly, as he would have wished, without any previous illness or suffering. He died at “Las Tres Lagunas” on the 18th of September 1937, and was buried in the family cemetery at “La California” on the following day. It would be difficult to find a more appropriate epitaph for his tomb than the words of D. H. Lawrence:
”There shall be in that rich earth
A richer dust revealed.”
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)