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Transcribed & PDF files ; PDF files only.
We have transcribed the diaries verbatim — as written, without correction. All spelling and grammatical errors have been retained unchanged. To aid the reader with Spanglish terminology, unfamiliar names (people & places), and old measures (weights, distances, currencies, etc.) we have provided a set of: Reference Pages. We recommend you have these available — they will open in a separate window or tab.
The “La California” estancia day-books that have come down to us are a log of the activities at the estancia, covering the years 1888 through 1906. The main protagonists are the second generation Benitz family members and their key employees.
For many years, the day-books lay forgotten in a back room at La California, where rats and mice chewed them up. Discovered in the late 1970's, the diaries were moved to the attic at El Piquete. The first surviving day-book covers the year 1888; it is badly damaged along one side. The day-book for 1889 is missing, but the subsequent diaries beginning with 1890 are complete and undamaged, except for damp stains. We suspect 1888 was the first year a formal record of activities was kept because the 1896 and 1897 diaries contain lists by year of dates when certain activities were performed (e.g. shearing) and in all the lists the first year listed is always 1890 (which also hints that no diary was kept for 1889).
The first diaries are written entirely in English (with many Spanglish terms). Beginning in 1902, the daily entries are made in English or Spanish. By 1903, Spanish entries predominate. The entries are brief, most likely scribbled hurriedly at the end of each day. Spelling and punctuation suffered greatly; sentences are reduced to phrases, periods and commas are scattered at random. We have deduced from the content and handwriting that most of the early entries were made by John and Herman, some by William and Alfred, some by segundos (apprentices) and assistant managers such as Mr. Macintosh. Where possible, we have indicated the likely author.
Note on Language: The diaries’ principal authors began with the Benitz brothers William, Alfred, John, and Herman. They grew up in the city of Oakland (California) where they were not exposed to U.S. ranching terminology. Consequently, they learned the terminology of their new trade after arriving in Argentina. Unfamiliar with the correct English terms, they either resorted to Spanish (usually misspelt) or Spanglish – Spanish terms mangled into English, either learned from their English-speaking neighbors or invented by themselves.
They wrote in English because it was their first language upon arriving in Argentina; German was their second, and Spanish a distant third. They had been educated in English and German as children at Fort Ross, English at the schools in Oakland, and learned Spanish only after arriving in Argentina (in 1874). Already teenagers, they most likely learned Spanish “on the job” out of necessity for it would have been the language of the workmen. Apparently, it was not until 1902 that they were sufficiently fluent in Spanish to make entries entirely in Spanish – per the hand-writing, both English and Spanish entries were made by the same person.
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)