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Articles in the News

Revista de la Sociedad Rural de Rosario
Enero - Febrero, 1955

LOS BENITZ
CASTA DE PIONEROS EN LA ARGENTINA

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(Source: Fort Ross archives)

The following article, written by Dr. Pó M. Olcese for the Revista de la Sociedad Rural de Rosario (the magazine of the Rosario Rural Society), is an excellent description of the arrival and first years of the Benitz family in Argentina, in particular the success of the brothers William, Alfred, and John.  It includes a letter from William A. Benitz (son of brother William) detailing their experiences, as well as interesting (and flattering) observations by someone outside the family.

Stuart B. Pryor was the first to provide us a copy of the article.  Copies of it abound within the family.  Fort Ross has an excellent copy; the Sonoma County Library (Santa Rosa, California) has a photocopy and provided us the following translation into English.  The translation (like all) sadly loses some of the flow and Argentine camp (country) terminology.  If you can, we recommend reading it in the original Spanish by clicking on the images.

 


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THE BENITZES
A BREED OF PIONEERS IN ARGENTINA

For Revista de la Sociedad Rural de Rosario by Dr. Pó M. Olcese
(translated by Prof. Nelida Lopez-Newgord)

All those who, for many years, have been engaged in this endeavor of cultivating the soil and fostering quality cattle, have invariably heard the name of one of the Benitzes and their rural activity in our country tending evidently to cattle-raising. From parents to children, from grandparents to grandchi1dren, all were indubitably men of integrity, and true men of the farm land, founding rural establishments which have remained as prototypes of an intelligent and relentless effort. To say “Benitz” in certain areas of the provinces of Santa Fé and Córdoba is as much as saying: perseverance, capacity, intelligence in all that pertains to rural life: In other words, men of integrity and honest men.

Many years ago, I was on the farm of Mrs. Eustolia Iriondo de Fraga in the north part of our province, and had to leave for Santa Fé [city] immediately. It had rained torrentially and it was impossible to use either a car or carriage; therefore I decided to make part of my journey on horseback. I had to cross the Espín Arroyo, which because of the rains was quite rough at the time, and it looked as though it had overflowed. The foreman objected to my doing so – of course, he would go with me – and it was then that he said: “I fear for you. When I was quite young an Englishman who tried to cross drowned in that same Espín. So that you know, if you can't swim, don't ride the horse into the current, or it will defeat you even though you may be the most knowledgeable person in these parts. The current is strong and the bottom treacherous.” The supposed Englishman was one of the Benitzes, a family of true pioneers, precursors in many wild areas which are now centers of production and civilized life.

However, so that the reader need not speculate, we swam across the Espín even though we [were] veered off our course by the current. This digression is meant only to clarify later an evident mistake made by the descendants of that first Benitz, a Californian and not English, and whom tradition kept calling Benitez.

Prompted by my desire to establish the image of those men and the Benitzes that I could meet – among them don Guillermo, already a man when I was a child – I requested information that had to do with the family as a whole, and here I transcribe the letter that I received some time ago, together with a photograph of the three brothers, with their sincere faces, their intelligent foreheads and eyes of honest men. The letter sent from the establishment La California, dated November 24, 1954, says the following:

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“Dear Sir:

“I didn’t answer your letters of September 3 and 21 because I wasn’t here.

“You honor my ancestors with your desire and intention of relating the arrival and activities of these emigrants. It gives me great pleasure to tell their story now.

“My Grandfather, Guillermo Benitz, a German, emigrated to Mexico in 1832 when he was 17 years old; in 1843 he purchased 17,000 acres in Fort Ross, California, to which he brought 900 cattle, 200 breeding mares and 300 sheep. In 1847 he married Josefina Kolmer, 16 years old at the time, who had crossed the plains from St. Louis in carts. They had 10 children. The first three were killed by the Indians, who were constantly attacking the fort and stealing cattle; this and the invasion of hordes that arrived when gold was discovered in the region made them decide to emigrate to the River Plate with his family.

“The. Benitz family arrived in Buenos Aires in 1874, and then went to Rosario as a more central point to look for land.

“In February 1875 he bought 4 leagues of land in a place known as Los Esteros (the present La California) in the Dept. of Iriondo (now Belgrano) for 16,000 hard pesos. It was open land, without wire fences or trees. The nearest railroad station was Cañada de Gómez, from where they brought everything they needed by ox-drawn carts, the work being divided among the children. The following year, my grandfather died: the eldest boy, Francisco [Frank], left to go to Chaco, where he tried to develop the Espín Colony, with North American emigrants (that was the largest piece of land that remained in the hands of Governor Iriondo, whom you mention). Francisco didn't do well and his mother had to sell a league of land to cover his debts: it is presumed that Francisco drowned crossing a swollen stream in 1881: two other brothers, Carlos and Herman died respectively in 1877 and 1893.

“The three brothers, Guillermo (my father), Alfredo (who settled in the Chaco with 16 leagues of land and called it Los Palmares, Dept. of Calchaquí) and Juan with four leagues in Los Algarrobos, Dept. of Unión, Córdoba; worked in partnership until 1902, when they separated, my father retaining 2 leagues of La California, Alfredo with Los Palmares and one league of La California and Juan with Los Algarrobos. The three were very active, enterprising men; their estancias were exemplary for their good wire fences and equipment, their buildings, their alfalfa fields, the cattle, all, in short, were very complimentary to the inhabitants of the pampas.

“Alfredo, who lived some 20 years in [the] Chaco, had many encounters with the Indians, and was very fond of hunting wild animals, which he also did in Africa and Alaska. He sold his land in the north to buy the estancia Las Tres Lagunas, owned by Knight and Porteous, next to La California. He died in 1937.

“Juan, well known in the Rural Society of Rosario as a very cooperative member, drowned in [a flash flood] of the Cruz Grande River in 1916. Guillermo (my father) was very active in his cattle business and in buying and selling land. He died in 1911.

“From what I have told you, you may reduce, verify or modify according to what you think is best. I sincerely appreciate the intelligent and strong support you have given our rural society, and I congratulate you for the tradition that is preserved for our ancestors, to whom we owe so much.

“I am enclosing a photo of the three Benitz brothers, such as they were known in the rural society; from the left, Guillermo, Alfredo and Juan. I will appreciate your returning it. I shall be happy to answer any question that you may have. My cousin Juan has settled in England, and I don't think it's worth trying to get information from him.

“Yours truly,

“Guillermo A. Benitz“

This letter makes us aware of what the country was like not too many years ago, and allows us to judge the caliber of the men who were never afraid of adversity or the desert, establishing their worth and influence by themselves, without any sponsors backing them or relying on the support of any men or governments. They truly incarnate a special breed of men and the work they did honors their descendants as well as the one ancestor, Don Guillermo Benitz, who emigrated to Mexico in 1832 when he was only 17 years old! I only have to correct one error. The land (once Benitz desisted) was bought by Don Agustín de Iriondo, who was not the governor of Santa Fé, and which later came into the hands of Doña Eustolia Iriondo de Fraga, by virtue of being Iriondo's daughter.


© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)