Alfred A. Benitz Page last modified:
Missing cover

(Courtesy of A.M. Benitz)

“Alfred Benitz
Pioneer, Sportsman and Gentleman”

No parrot pic.

Don Alfredo
and his inseparable “Perico”

(circa 1935 - Photograph by George R. Daly)

Published by Olga Benitz
“La California”, Argentina

Printed by C. J. Austen
in collaboration with and in the printing establishment of
Perelló, S.R.L., Corrientes 432, Rosario,
the 20th December, 1952.
[Ghost written by Eileen Benitz,
based on the original draft,
The Chronicles of Alfred Benitz, 1815 - 1937,
compiled by Lillian Marsh-Simpson,
May 1st., 1938.]



This book gives the story of the life of Don Alfredo Benitz, or Uncle Alfred, as he was known to so many of the young in this country, besides his many nephews and nieces. It is compiled directly from his own diaries, and from information given by those fortunate enough to have heard of some of his adventures from him personally.

He was a naturally quiet and reticent man, and it took many questions and much prompting to draw from him the bare outlines of episodes which others might have turned into stories of danger and excitement.

He undoubtedly inherited much of his love for open spaces and wild life from his parents, Californian pioneers, and he spent many years of his young life working in the Chaco. In those days, this entailed protecting yourself and your cattle and particularly your horses, from attack; by Indians and wild animals. He also hunted big game in Africa, Northern Alaska and the Yukon, before he finally settled down to the more peaceful, if still energetic, life of managing his estancia.

To all those who knew him he will be remembered with affection as a shy, retiring man; uncritical of others, and full of those great gifts: kindliness and charity.

E. B.


1 The Beginning
2 The Miners
3 The Family Grows
4 Life in Oakland
5 The Last Days in America
6 The Voyage to New Horizons
7 Argentina and some of its History
8 Buenos Aires
9 Rosario
10 Pioneering Again
11 Frank’s Diary
12 Life on the Pampas
13 The Growth of a Family and of a Nation
14 A Hunting Expedition and Life on the Estancia
15 Cattle-Raising in the Chaco
16 Argentina at the Turn of the Century
17 Argentina in the 20th Century
18 Travels and Big Game Hunting
19 Marriage and Further Travels
20 Finis
  Glossary of Spanish Terms
  Appendix of Illustrations

Transcriber’s Notes & Observations

  1. Included in these web-pages is the complete transcription of the biography.  Tony Benitz kindly lent us his copy of the biography so that we could scan it.
  2. Words and notes between square brackets are our observations not in the original text, [e.g. acres converted to hectares]. Where we found factual errors, we point to another document on the Benitz web-site with the correct information.
  3. Other changes:
    • Inserted the photos, etc. from the “Appendix of Illustrations” with the matching text.
    • Indented quotes from letters, diaries, etc. to make them stand out and break up the text to make it easier to read on the web.
  4. Quotes from Alfred’s diaries are not verbatim.  We strongly recommend verifying dates and quotes with the un-edited diaries, which we are adding to the Benitz website (page images in PDF format, and text transcribed verbatim).  A few quotes are flat incorrect, have been merged, or come from a combination of sources; we flag these as we find them.  Most changes to quotes do not alter their original meaning.  The biographer edited quotes to improve their readability: grammar and spelling were changed, words were added or omitted, quotation marks were added, tense was standardised to past (whereas Alfred often mixed his tenses past and present), Spanglish terms were translated into standard English, and accent marks were added to Spanish words.
  5. Please bear in mind the biography was published in 1952 in Argentina by and for Anglo - Argentines fifteen years after Uncle Alfred’s death in 1937.  Though modified considerably from the original draft of May, 1938, it is much more readable.  The original draft, The Chronicles of Alfred Benitz, 1815 - 1937, is largely composed of entries from estancia day-books and his diaries.
  6. The biography was always subject to Auntie Olga’s editorial whims. Yet, whatever her shortcomings as an editor, thanks to Auntie Olga’s efforts we have a biography that remains the best organized record of (Californian-Argentine) Benitz family history of Uncle Alfred’s generation.  That said, here are some notable omissions:
    • It is impossible to believe Uncle Alfred had no love interests during 40 of his most virile years, from age 15 in 1874 (when Bella Williams was the recipient of his Valentine Day’s card) until age 56 in 1915 (when he married Olga B. Horner, Auntie Olga).  There are some intriguing gaps in the diaries (e.g. see 1876 & 1877), and, per family anecdotes, Alfred was far from celibate.
    • The biography makes no mention of Auntie Olga’s brother Humphrey’s children (John, Mary, & Willie Horner) whom she & Alfred took in after Humphrey’s death and whom she adopted after Alfred’s death.
  7. Complementing Alfred’s biography is that of his brother John Benitz by Carlos Alberto Foglia (1997), Juan Benitz, de California a Woodgate. La historia de un pionero 1860-1916; it contains illuminating insights into how the family was viewed by outsiders.
  8. Chapter notes:
    • Chapters 1 - 3: For more detail see the Wilhelm Benitz web pages for his letters (several referenced here), as well as court proceedings, newspaper articles, county histories, etc. 
    • Chapter 7: Argentine history, from the discovery by Spanish adventurers to the arrival of the Benitz family.
      • If you are interested in its general history, we recommend: Breve historia de los argentinos, by Félix Luna, 1993, Editorial Planeta Argentina, Buenos Aires, chapters VI - X discuss the 1880-1930’s period.
      • If you are interested in the history of estancias (ranches), read Los Estancieros, by María Sáez Quesada, 1980, Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, in particular chapters V & VI describe the British “gentleman farmer” estancieros of that time.
    • Chaptes 14 : Mistakenly places a hunting trip in the La Pampa and Córdoba provinces — it took place in northern Santa Fé west of the Calchaquí river.
    • Chapter 15: Alfred and his brothers claimed ownership to a league of their older brother Frank J. Benitz’s failed Colonia Espín near the former Laguna Yacaré (1884-1889); however, Alfred was evicted end of 1889.  He moved his stock onto land rented from the Santa Fé Land Co. (a.k.a. La Forestal).  This second camp, between the Salado and Calchaquí rivers, became estancia “Los Palmares.”  See his diaries for the years mentioned.  The biography has merged the two camps, speaking of them as if they were one and the same, they are not.  Alfred eventually bought “Los Palmares” in 1904; the brothers’ previous offers in 1894-1896 were turned down.
    • Chapter 15: Colonia California was founded in 1866, near San Javier (SFé).  “Uncle Frank” (Franz Xavier Benitz) was one of its founding members.  For more about the colonies of American and British settlers in northern Santa Fé, see our Franz X. Benitz biography.
    • Chapters 18 & 19: see John Todd’s recollections about their travels together.  The biography mistakenly places their 1908 hunting trip in Alaska (US), it took place in the Yukon (Canada).  See our transcription of Alfred’s notes and diaries.
    • Chapters 18 & 19: Alfred’s camp on the Rio Bermejo was “Campo Winter,” not “El Bermejo.”  Estancia “El Bermejo” was next to it and was managed by Alfred’s brother John for a group of English & Scottish investors (see the diaries of Alfred & John).

Alfred Benitz
Pioneer, Sportsman and Gentleman


Ten years after the fabulous gold rush of ’49 into California, then a raw frontier region, the story around which this book is written began with the birth of Alfred Benitz.  It is the story of a man of adventure and action who, early in his youth, left the United States to go to faraway Argentina.  There he spent the rest of his days, and there he died at the age of 78, in his estancia [ranch] house on the broad Argentine pampas which poured forth a wonderful sustenance to him and his family.

In his adopted homeland, Benitz was one of a handful of men who were instrumental in producing a type of wealth whose benefit to mankind was more enduring than that of California’s gold.  He and his brothers were typical of the men who built up the great cattle and wheat production that today makes Argentina one of the three or four most important sources of these foodstuffs in the whole world.

The large Benitz family (there were seven children) was one of the best known among the pioneers of Argentina, where a surprisingly large number of the early “estancieros” [ranchers] were foreigners.   Alfred was the most outstanding and colorful member of the family.  This little story of his life is an almost continuous series of adventures and events in the out-of-doors, his natural habitat.  In the field, on the hunt, chasing Indians, herding cattle, and always in the open air if possible, Alfred Benitz was in his bones a man of action.  He spent the last years of his life on his estancia “Las Tres Lagunas” [Las Rosas, prov. S.Fé, Argentina] but whenever the opportunity offered, he would trek off on a hunting trip or return to the virgin wilderness of the Argentine Chaco [the region, it includes the provinces of Chaco, Formosa, and northern Santa Fé], where he spent 20 years in the open.

The Benitz family moved to Argentina when Alfred was 15 years old.  His father, William Otto Benitz [correction: William Benitz - no middle name], already had built up a sizeable fortune from 30 years of farming in California.  William Benitz was born into a large, middle-class German family living in Endingen-in-Bresgau, in the Duchy of Bresgau [correction: County of Breisgau, in the Grand Duchy of Baden].  In 1832, at the age of 17, he left home to join the thousands of other Germans who were at that time turning their eyes to the land of opportunity, the United States.  William shipped as an ordinary seaman on a merchant vessel bound for America, but he was not to reach his goal until almost 11 years later.  [correction: William sailed from Le Havre as a passenger on the ship ‘Utica’, arriving in New York on December 2, 1833; he was 18 years old.  He was ship-wrecked in 1834 or 1835.]  The ship was wrecked off the coast of Mexico and young Benitz was one of the few survivors.  He managed to reach the coast and settled down, to remain in Mexico until 1843 [correction: he served in the Texian army, see Texas 1830’s] when he made his way north to Mendocino county and a settlement known as Fort Ross, about 70 miles north of San Francisco.  Actually, he was still in Mexico for California at that time had not yet come into the Union.  Three years later, he met and married a 16-year-old, rosy-cheeked German lass named Josephine Kolmer, whose parents had brought her to America from Germany and, incidentally, from Benitz’ own home-town of Endingen, when she was three years old.  The Kolmer family first settled in St. Louis but in 1841 [correction: 1833-North Carolina, 1841-St.Louis, 1845-California] her father decided that the opportunities in California were more attractive and made the trek across the rolling plains and over the mountains to the west coast.   Josephine thus received an appropriate introduction to the pioneering life that she was to live first in California and later in Argentina.

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Fig. 1
Upper California
(Movements of
the Benitz family)
(1832 - 1874)

William Benitz and his young wife settled down to the rugged life of the semi-wilderness that was then northern California.   Benitz’ industry and the natural opportunities apparently formed a happy combination, for in 1852 he wrote his brother Anthony a letter [6 May, 1852] saying that “after many years of struggle and hardship,” he had made his fortune. (Anthony lived in Pittsburgh, Pa., and he hastened to forward William’s letter to Endingen where the Benitz family had been without news of William for 12 years).

Perhaps the unending toil and the hardships of the frontier helped to overcome, in a rough sort of way, the grief that the young couple had to bear in the early years of their marriage.  Their first three children all died in infancy. The first died at birth.  The second, a golden-haired little girl, was kidnapped by Indians while playing near the house.  Mrs. Benitz, hearing the baby’s screams, dashed off on a horse after the Indians, rode into their encampment and snatched up the baby before the savages’ surprised eyes.  They were so astonished they did not attempt to stop her.  But it was too late - the little girl had already been scalped, and she died a few days later.  The third child was smothered by his Indian nurse who tried to stifle his crying when he kept her awake.

Frank, the oldest of the surviving children, was born in 1850 and two years later, Josephine, the eldest girl, was born.   This was the year in which William wrote his brother Anthony that he had made his fortune.  The foundation for his wealth, probably modest enough, was laid when William went into partnership with a German neighbor, a man by the name of Meyer, and the two bought Fort Ross and turned it into a farm.  This “fort” consisted of a wooden main building and several smaller outlying sheds.  It had been built in 1812 by Russian settlers.  The Russians had made the long trip through Siberia and Alaska, then Russian territory, and down the coast to California where there was a considerable Russian colony.  Fort Ross and many another “fort” like it had been built to serve as protection for fur traders against the raids of renegade white men and Indians who constantly preyed on the wealthy fur establishments.

Fig. 2
Society of California Pioneers
Wm. Benitz, 1842

Benitz and Meyer acquired six square leagues of land [correction: 4 California leagues (7,000ha. / 17,400ac.), see California Ranchos], 10,000 head of cattle and 200 horses and mares.  They planted grain and potatoes and marketed their crops at the settlement of Sonoma, 18 hours distant by schooner.  Both Fort Ross and Sonoma were located on the seacoast.  In 1852 the partners sold 4,000 pounds of potatoes at five cents a pound, and their farm apparently was flourishing in its other branches as well. [Corrections per letter, May 6th. 1852: 1,000 cattle, 200 horses, 400,000 pounds (182,000kg.) of potatoes]

Some idea of William’s standing as a man of wealth may be had from the fact that, a few years later, he was sending substantial sums of money to his family in Germany to relieve the suffering that followed the political upheaval of 1848.  These sums ran as high as $500.  He corresponded with his brother Thadeus, whom he advised strongly not to come to the United States.  Despite his success in making his way in America, William always harbored a rankling sort of bitterness toward the raw young country, possibly because he felt that Germans and other foreigners were discriminated against.  One letter [27 June, 1853] to Thadeus, after harping on the dangers of the voyage to America, said: “. . and although some people have made their fortunes, thousands go astray in these inhospitable lands.  No one would envy me if I told them what I went through in all parts of America, on water and on land, and of the many things that I have done (but nothing an honest man would reject) and how many unfortunate countrymen I have met.“  Actually there were already several members of the Benitz family living in different parts of the United States.  Anthony, as already mentioned, was living in Pittsburgh where he was a prosperous businessman.  A married sister, Mrs. Maher, was living in Cleveland, Ohio.  Two cousins, Louis and Adolfus Benitz, led the uncertain lives of gold prospectors in Mexico, and William’s youngest and best loved brother, Frank, also lived in Cleveland, but later was to come to live and work at Fort Ross.  “Uncle Frank” probably was responsible for first planting in William’s mind the seed of the idea of going to Argentina.  He had traveled as a sailor and had wonderful tales to tell of the land of the pampa [Note: In 1866, he was a co-founder of the “Colonia California” near San Javier, north-eastern Santa Fé province].  When the family left for Argentina, in 1874, Uncle Frank accompanied them and lived the rest of his life with them in the new land. [For more information about each of WBz’s relatives, see “Roots & Branches” in the home menu, in particular the family background in the Endingen Ancients page.]


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Fig. 3
The Society of California Pioneers


In 1822 Mexico severed her last ties of allegiance to Spain and established herself as an independent nation. Part of the territory over which she estapblished her sovereignty included what is today the State of California. However, the Mexican rule lasted only until 1848 when California became part of the United States as part of the settlement of the American-Mexican war.

On the eve of the signing of the peace treaty, a discovery was made in California which was to thrill the young nation to its very core and to send a mass of humanity westward. This was the finding of gold on the farm of John A. Sutter on the south fork of the American river, near Sacramento. A workman on the farm, James Marshall, digging into the soft earth of a mill-race, noted hundreds of bright, sparkling particles in the ground he was turning over. Closer inspection showed them to be gold; Marshall had made one of the most momentous discoveries in the history of America. This happened on Jan. 24, 1848. Marshall’s monument now marks the spot where he made his discovery.

Although Sutter tried to keep the sensational knowledge a secret, news like this could not long be kept from the outside world. Once it had leaped the bounds with which Sutter vainly tried to dam it up, the story of the discovery of gold soon was known in every corner of the land, and abroad as well. The first result was that the entire population of the immediate neighborhood converged on the site of the discovery. Later hundreds of small towns in the west were deserted. Farmers, trappers, store-keepers, businessmen - all abandoned their usual pursuits to seek gold. Everybody dug for ore with whatever implements were handy, some even using Jack-knives to gouge the metal from the earth. The stories of fortunes acquired overnight were legion. Seven men working one site took out 275 pounds of gold in six weeks, according to one story, while another one said that two partners obtained $17,000 worth of gold from a trench several feet wide in return for one week’s work.

These stories of fabulous wealth to be had almost for the asking - or so it seemed at least to the people not on the scene - soon reached the East, and the great Gold Rush of ’49 was on. Thousands of men in all walks of life, including substantial citizens as well as down-and-outers, picked up their belongings, lock, stock and barrel, and with their families made their way to the new El Dorado. Some made the long journey in sailing vessels around Cape Horn, while others - impatient at the delay involved in the dreary sea trip - left ship at the Isthmus of Panama and hacked their way through the disease-infested forests and jungles of that then-inhospitable region, to proceed north by land to California. Many made the long and still dangerous trip across the United States by boat and by covered wagon. The plains of the West soon were strewn with the bones of animals that died of thirst and exhaustion, and with the wreckage of many a covered wagon that had been attacked and set on fire by hostile Indians.

One “forty-niner” wrote in his diary:

“On one 15-mile stretch of desert trail, I counted 750 dead horses, mules and oxen; and in the last ten miles, 362 wagons, besides quantities of leather trunks, clothing and other things, thrown away to lighten the load.”

Yet in spite of these and other hardships, in the year 1849 nearly 100,000 people poured into California in search of gold. And for those who survived the journey, the goal was well worth it: in the first year five million dollars in gold was taken out of the earth, and by 1853 the annual golden harvest had risen to sixty million dollars. After that year, production began to decline.

The Benitz family was, in the center of all the excitement attendant on the discovery of gold. In 1845 William Benitz was working with Sutter, who for many years was a steady visitor at the Benitz home. Sutter was a man of standing in the frontier region and dressed to fit the part. He invariably wore a flowing black frock coat, checked trousers (which Josephine Benitz once mended for him) and a huge broad-brimmed felt hat, in addition to the usual accoutrements of the frontier life. This apparel was draped on a magnificent frame, so that Sutter made an imposing figure. He generally carried in his right hand a general’s baton, granted him by the Mexican government. Like Benitz, Sutter always felt more kind toward the Mexican government than he did toward the administration in Washington.

Sutter himself was Swiss, but he was highly regarded by the Mexicans who made him a sort of minor frontier official. It was partly because of this position that he obtained 11 square leagues [11 California leagues: 19,400ha. / 48,800ac.] of land around the present site of Sacramento, and it was on this ground that the famous millrace where gold was discovered was located. The land was known as “Sutter’s Fort” because in 1839 he had built a fort and trading post there. Because of the strategic position of “Sutter’s Fort” and because of Sutter’s standing with Mexico City, he was a man of considerable importance in the years immediately preceding and following the acquisition of California by the United States. The first covered wagon to cross the plains had driven into “Sutter’s Fort” in 1841, ending its long trek. A few years of American administration undermined his official position, however, and the lawless bands that accompanied the gold-rushers robbed and ruined him. When he died in 1880, he was a poor man.

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Fig. 4
Old Fort Ross, as seen from the hill

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Fig. 5
Fort Ross, California

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Fig. 6
Russian Bastion at Fort Ross

The year 1853 brought increased prosperity to William Benitz. He and his partner, Meyer, at that time owned two ranches, one of 20,000 and the other of 11,000 acres. [For more accurate details, see California Rancher.] They sold the latter for $26,000 cash and kept the larger one, the site of Fort Ross. Benitz had invested $36,000 in other business, from which he had an income of $500 a month. He also owned a piece of land farther up the Sacramento river which he called New Bresgau, the name given it subsequently on official U.S. maps. This land was a grant from the Mexican government, made in 1845 when Benitz was working with Sutter.

Perhaps because of his prosperity at this time, Benitz underwent a period of nostalgia for Germany. In a letter [27 June, 1853] to his brother Thadeus, he expressed a longing to return to his native land, invest money there and, perhaps, to purchase real estate. He even went so far as to ask Thadeus to be on the lookout for a nice piece of ground that he might buy. The plan never was realized, although Benitz repeatedly broached the subject in later years.

On Sept. 22, 1854, another child, a boy, was born to the Benitz’. This was William Otto. The hard times that struck America in 1855 had their effect on the enterprises of the Benitz-Meyer partnership. Crops were plentiful and money was scarce, a combination which worked to their direct disadvantage. For example, the potato crop was extremely large and Benitz alone was forced to store more than 200,000 hundredweight [correction: per letter 5 April, 1854, 20,000 cwt. (900,000kg.).], which included the crop of the previous year. Many of the potatoes were lost through deterioration. In February of 1855 the banks in which the two partners had invested $14,000 suspended payments, and for a time it was doubted that any of their money would be recovered, although a part of it eventually was restored.

Added to these losses, Benitz suffered another serious blow when the government confiscated all but 7,500 of the 21,500 acres [3,000 of 8,700 hectares] of his New Bresgau property. Under Mexican rule, grants of land were generous and common, but the complicated formalities necessary for making the title to them valid were often neglected. Instead of confirming all existing titles at the time the territory passed to the United States, the American government named a land commission to contest all titles and title claims in court. This procedure resulted in the rejection of a large proportion of Mexican-granted titles, and Benitz was one of the victims.

After losing two-thirds of his New Bresgau land, Benitz decided to devote one more year to agriculture and then, if it still did not pay, to turn to cattle-breeding on a large scale. He already owned 500 head of cattle, 300 horses and 200 pigs. He bought a number of bulls and stallions to build up his livestock herds and also purchased 1,000 sheep for which he paid between 8 and 12 dollars per head. The Benitz-Meyer partnership was dissolved, and the land remaining to Benitz at Fort Ross extended ten miles south to the Russian River, which formed its boundary.

Benitz established a few hundred cattle on the river bank with some cowboys to watch them, and bought a ferry to carry travelers across the stream to the ranch on the opposite bank. This ranch was owned by Capt. S. Smith, a close friend of Benitz. It is interesting to note that Capt. Smith’s house, 24 miles from Fort Ross, was the nearest post-office, and that Benitz contributed $50.- a year as his share in the maintenance of the postal system in that part of the country; a messenger was sent once a week from Fort Ross to the Smith’s house to look for letters.

Benitz himself operated a quite considerable establishment on Fort Ross, with six permanent employees and a large number of itinerant employees, e. g., cowboys, harvest-hands, etc. The six permanent employees were a hunter, a surveyor, a cattle foreman to supervise the cowboys, a carpenter, a blacksmith and a cook. Their salaries ranged from $60 to $30 a month. As California was a “free” state, where negro slavery was forbidden, most of the work in the fields was done by Indians from the government reservation, just off the Fort Ross property. This reservation had an Indian population of 150, and they were obliged by federal law to “work out” on neighboring farms and ranches at eight dollars a month.

Louis Benitz, one of William’s two prospector brothers in Mexico[correction: cousins, see Endingen Ancients], came to California at this time, remained long enough to make ten thousand dollars and then returned to Mexico because he did not like the United States or its inhabitants. His attitude toward the self-confident American of those days was typical of foreigners in general at the time, and it was identical with the attitude of William who never overlooked an opportunity to grumble about the discrimination practiced against foreigners.

The situation of the foreigner was, in fact, an unpleasant one. The self-reliant and strong-willed American of the frontier led a life that did not conduce toward a tolerant and friendly attitude toward anyone he considered an outsider. On the contrary, the average frontiersman and pioneer tended to be bigoted, intolerant and extremely insular. The people of California were no exception. They formed secret societies to oppose what they called the encroachments of the foreigners, who were denied the right to vote and who could only become citizens after 20 years’ residence in the country. The net result was that the foreigner was virtually disenfranchised and, in many respects, had the status of a freed negro slave.

One of these secret societies was called the Know Nothing Party, and its name reflected accurately the mental attitude of its members toward most major problems, although it had been adopted for another reason. The party was formed for the purpose of blocking the easy naturalization of immigrants whose entry into the United States was just beginning to attain its great volume. The nominations of candidates for public office were made in secret meetings, and all members were required to vote for those candidates, under penalty of expulsion from the party if they did not vote as told. Only the members of the party hierarchy knew the organization’s secrets; the rank and file knew absolutely nothing, and it was from this fact that the party’s name was derived. It afterward grew into the American Party, which was important enough in 1855 to carry nine state elections.

Under the conditions which such a political party helped to create, it is not surprising to find Benitz saying in a letter [8 March, 1855]:

“Why don’t the German people emigrate to countries where Germans are better looked at? If I could sell out today or tomorrow, I would go immediately to another country, possibly to Germany. I would rather go to Russia than to the dirty States (verunreinigte Swaten). One hears everywhere of the ill-treatment of the Catholics and the burning of their churches. That is freedom! Another American has just run off with $100,000. This sort of thing is not unusual here now, as last year twenty functionaries escaped with official money, and during the last few years the city of San Francisco has been robbed of at least a million dollars”.

There was also considerable lawlessness at this time. Country roads had become unsafe because of the bandits who infested lonely stretches, and everyone, whether American or foreigner, went well-armed. Benitz had a narrow escape on one occasion. He was riding along the road at a full gallop when there came the sound of a revolver shot, and a bullet grazed his nose and right eye. He always kept a collection of rifles and several Colt six-shooters, the famous weapon of the cowboy, which he taught all his household to handle.

In the year following the elections of 1855, conditions became more orderly. Land litigation was cleared up, and there was a general belief that a better future was in store for California. This belief was, indeed, borne out by developments, and the state’s progress was to continue with relative smoothness until the great Civil War of 1861-65 hampered it somewhat.

In spite of the loss of most of his New Bresgau property and of $12,000 in cash, Benitz was not discouraged. Faced with these losses and with the necessity of renovating much of the Fort Ross property (the mill had been operating for 12 years now and had to be almost entirely rebuilt), he went doggedly ahead with the task, making do where he could and spending every penny wisely, so that he came through with flying colors. He actually increased his wealth considerably, at a time when many other farmers around him were going into bankruptcy. Fort Ross and all it contained was now his alone and he was free from indebtedness, the pitfall that proved the downfall of most of the farmers who had gone broke. He owned a total of 17,000 acres [6,880 hectares] of land, 900 head of cattle, 200 horses and 900 sheep. He had cut down his agricultural outlay considerably and planned to buy 500 young cows, since there was room on his land to handle 2,500 cattle. His next plan was to acquire six dairy farms, stocking them with 200 cows each. At the same time, he decided to reduce his stock of mares and horses, which he found more difficult to breed than cattle.

On July 2, 1856, Josephine Benitz presented William with another son, who was named Charles. There were now four children in the family: Frank, aged six; Josephine, four; William, two, and Charles. The Benitz’ had been married for ten years, and Mrs. Benitz was 26 years old. She was an ideal helpmeet for her husband, who was devoted to her.

Although their pioneering life was a rough one, they made a conscious effort toward something of a cultural atmosphere in their home. Their library contained 150 volumes, which made it one of importance at that time and in that region. Their chief entertainment after the day’s work was to read among these books, listen to the music provided by a musical box, or to discuss world affairs. One of the principal themes for discussion at the time was the Crimean war, and Benitz apparently had no more love for the British than he did for the Americans. He stated [letter 8 March, 1855] in no uncertain terms that “people in general sympathize with the Russians, loving to see the English arrogance humbled...”

In this same year political conditions became so bad locally that a drastic remedy was provided. The country had been subjected to a corrupt local administration, and robbery and murder were an everyday occurance. The law- abiding citizenry, by far the majority, finally took corrective measures into their own hands. They formed the famous “Vigilante” committees which chased and caught the criminals and dealt out summary justice: the major offenders were hanged on the spot, and the others were run out of the region. Then there was peace. On the whole, the agricultural districts were fairly orderly and safe, but the mining zones were always dangerous because of the bandit gangs that infested them looking for easy wealth.

Late in the year 1857, Mrs. Benitz’ father, Michael Kolmer, died after several years of a steady bout with the demon Rum, which ruined his health and ate up his fortune. One of the stories told about him at the time of his death was his refusal to forgive his daughter, Caroline, for the unorthodox manner of her marriage. The story is of some interest in itself as it illustrates one of the “mores” of frontier life.

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Fig. 8 — The Kolmer Ranch, Sonoma

When Caroline took the step that enraged her father, there were no resident clergymen in California, or in the rural districts, at least, and it was an important social event when one would make the long and difficult journey to the remote areas from the nearest large city to legalize the various unions that had occurred since the visit of the last minister. Prior to the visit of the minister, most marriages were formalized only by the mutual consent of the principals and had the sanction of neither law nor church. When the news spread that a minister was en route, all the newly-weds were collected in the most accessible town-hall for a mass ceremony, which invariably was made the occassion for feasting and dancing.

Such a collective ceremony duly came to pass at Sonoma, and of course everyone for miles around went to the party, including William and Josephine Benitz who took Caroline with them. At the end of the evening, the minister made a speech in which he thanked all members of the community for their hospitality, and particularly thanked the new bridegrooms for their generosity in the matter of fees. In fact, he said, he was so impressed by this generosity that he offered then and there to marry free any other young couple who cared to step forward.

At this, William Howard, one of the young swain of the neighborhood who had been seeing quite a bit of Caroline, approached her and murmured into her ear. She said yes, so they were married on the spot, using one of the rings from the platform curtain as a wedding ring.

It was this entirely unforeseen marriage that caused Michael Kolmer to fly into a rage. When he heard the news, he rushed to Caroline’s room, tossed all her furniture and clothes into the yard where he made a bonfire of them and vowed that he would never see or speak to his daughter again. He kept this harsh vow for several years, but eventually relaxed it enough to seek Caroline and speak to her, but he never did completely forgive her.

With the advent of civilization, the type of marrying parson whose practice of his profession caused Kolmer such discomfort, gradually disappeared. So did many other landmarks of frontier life. Among these was the haphazard and lackadaisical postal service which existed early in the 1850’s. In spite of many innovations, some of them extremely novel, the government was unable to provide either efficiency or security in the mails. A letter to Germany cost 30 cents and the sender was in no way assured that it would reach its destination.

The government had made heroic efforts to establish and maintain a communications route over the plains and through the mountains to the Far West. One of the most bizarre of these efforts was the attempt to use camels in the stretch of desert that had to be crossed to reach California, but this came to naught. In 1857, some progress was made when a contract was awarded to John Butterfield of the Overland Mail Co. for a semi-weekly mail service between the Mississippi river and the Pacific coast. The following year a regular stage-coach and mail service was established which covered the distance in less than 25 days.


No stage-coach

Fig. 7 — Wells’ Fargo Express, 1850

Three years later the Russell, Majors & Waffell Transport Co. inaugurated the famous Pony Express, which was to become one of the most famous legends of early American history. These swift couriers and their gallant steeds carried first-class mail from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento at a cost of $5 a letter. The “ponies” were not, of course, ponies at all but fleet American horses, stationed at stages from ten to fifteen miles apart. Each rider covered three of these stages, and was obliged to ride a minimum of 33 miles before he passed the precious mail-pouch on to his successor. The best trip ever made by Pony Express was seven days and seventeen hours, but the regular schedule was ten days, about fifteen days faster than the schedule of Butterfield’s Overland Stage.

The maintenance by the Pony Express of its timetable in all kinds of weather and in the face of Indian attacks and other hazards won for this service a fame for all time in American story and song.

Its existence was a short one, however, for only sixteen months after it was inaugurated it fell a victim to the swifter rush of advancing invention: in October, 1861, the Western Union Telegraph Co. completed the construction of its transcontinental telegraph line, and it was then possible to send urgent information from St. Joseph to Sacramento in less time than it used to take a Pony Express rider to saddle his horse.


As the decade 1850-60 neared its end, Benitz had just about completed the transformation of his farm from an agricultural to a livestock basis, although he always continued to cultivate large quantities of fruit trees.

In successive years he reduced steadily the amount of land given over to crops, which were proving less profitable each year. Potatoes were fetching one cent per pound; barley, one cent; oats, one cent and a half and wheat two and a half cents. With costs steadily increasing and wages for farm hands going up along with them, a man could not raise crops and make money. So Benitz turned from agriculture and concentrated on livestock and fruit. He built up his livestock herds, which were already of respectable size, and eventually acquired 12,000 head of cattle, 1,500 sheep and 150 horses.

He put in hundreds of young fruit trees, expanding his orchards gradually until he had 6,000 fruit-bearing trees in 1859 and had marked off another 60 acres for the planting of an additional 1,800 apple trees during the next year. Between the old and the new orchards, there was a 15-acre piece of ground which Benitz selected as the site for the house he planned to build for his rapidly growing family. The old home was too near the coast and was exposed to the strong northwesterly winds which became violent at times. The new home would be completely sheltered, would have an excellent supply of pure water and would afford an excellent view of the surrounding country- side. Situated between the two orchards, it stood in the springtime amid a veritable paradise of scented blossoms.

Even at this time, when he was planning his new house, Benitz seemed pretty definitely to entertain the idea of going to another country. He nursed the idea for a long time before taking a definite decision, but was at all times receptive to the thought of breaking away from the United States and settling down in another land, which he hoped would be more hospitable than America. In a letter [4 September, 1858] written to his brother Thadeus in 1860, Benitz said:

“If I had intended to remain here, I would have advised you to come long ago, but I cannot sell out so soon. I want $100,000 for Fort Ross as it stands. It now consists of 17,500 acres, and my new ranch, New Bresgau, of 6,750 acres. In my opinion, these places will be worth double in three year’s time, and my livestock also will have doubled itself by then. You need not stamp your letters as I get them just the same and will gladly pay the postage”.

Alfred Benitz was less than one year old when this was written by his father. It was evident that one of the very powerful controlling factors in his life from his very birth was working toward the move that was to take Alfred, when a boy of 15, to Argentina. Perhaps the move would have been made earlier, but the Civil War must have delayed the decision. Although California was far removed, literally and figuratively, from the scene of the four-year conflict, it could not help but feel the effects of the convulsion caused by the war.

When Alfred was born, on June 15, 1859, the Benitz family already consisted of three boys - Frank, 9; William Otto, 5, and Charles, 3 - and one girl, Josephine, who was 7. The family was completed with the birth of two more boys, John in 1861 and Herman, who arrived on April 22, 1863.

Apart from its effect on Father Benitz’ plans for leaving the United States, the Civil War caused a steep increase in the cost of living and also brought with it a heavy war-tax. It may be assumed that these two new burdens did nothing to increase Benitz’ love for America, since they were the direct result of a war in which he had little or no interest.

California was on the side of the Union from the start, and despite her distance from the battlefronts she participated to some extent in the war effort, contributing both men and money. A force of 1,000 men was raised and equipped with arms. Fortifications were constructed at San Francisco. The warlike atmosphere of the Golden Gate region was increased by the installation of a number of 400-lb. cannon and the presence in the harbor of several of the new and wondrous “iron-clad warships”.

A diversion from family history may be permitted here to recount the thrilling story of the monitors and the ironclads. In March, 1862, Confederate forces seized the federal naval yard at Norfolk, Virginia, and encountered an unexpected prize in the frigate "Merrimac". They transformed her into an iron-clad by fastening heavy iron plates to her sides in a sloping fashion which threw off enemy cannon balls harmlessly. On March 6, the "Merrimac" sailed into Hampton Roads and destroyed five wooden warships of the Federal forces there. This operation of destruction was carried out with almost complete impunity by the "Merrimac", and the Confederacy appeared to have uncorked a new weapon that threatened to smash the Federal control of the seas. But as always in wartime, the new weapon soon met its match. The very day after the "Merrimac" had created havoc in Hampton Roads, Capt. John Ericcson, inventor of the screw-propellor, presented to the Union forces a warship for which he had drawn the plans. It had been built in 100 days, and Ericcson called it the "Monitor", but the public immediately dubbed it "a cheesebox on a raft." It was, like the "Merrimac", an ironclad ship, but it lay very low in the water, its deck almost awash and surmounted by a small, revolving turret, the "cheesebox" of public fancy. The iron turret, revolved by machinery, was the main feature of the "Monitor". It carried two cannon capable of throwing heavier cannon-balls than any seen in naval warfare up to that time.

The entire nation was gripped with excitement over what would happen when these two monsters of modern warfare, the "Merrimac" and the "Monitor", met. And the expectant nation was not kept waiting long for the answer. Exactly 48 hours after the finishing touches had been put to the "Monitor," on March 9, the two ironclads came to battle in Hampton Roads, the site of the "Merrimac's" earlier and easier victory.

In armored protection, the two vessels were just about equal. But the "Monitor" had three definite advantages over her more formidable appearing opponent: because of her smallness and her low position in the water, she offered a difficult target; her cannon balls were heavier than those of the "Merrimac", and, - most important of all - her revolving turret gave her a much greater manoueverability and fire-power range.

The battle raged for several hours. The "Monitor" sent cannon balls thundering against the iron sides of the "Merrimac" and onto her decks. Neither ship could pierce the other's armor at close range, but as the clumsy iron monsters manoeuvered around each other, hammering with big guns at each other's armor, the "Merrimac" began to suffer. Her funnel was shot away, some of her iron plates were loosened and a leak sprung under the casemate. The "Monitor" suffered too, and her commanding officer was blinded when a Confederate shell exploded against the pilot-house shutters. But it was the "Merrimac" which withdrew from battle first, and although the battle technically was a draw, it saved the Union merchant fleet and meant a tremendous moral gain for Washington where officialdom had begun to fear that the "Merrimac" would sail unopposed up the Potomac and lay the capital in ashes.

The historical importance of the encounter was much more far-reaching than its effect on the fortunes of the Civil War, for the battle completely revolutionized all ideas of naval warfare. Within a short time, all major European powers had scrapped their plans for wooden warships and had turned to the new ironclads, which were the forerunners of the great floating engines of destruction known as battleships today.

California shared in the excitement over the battle of the ironclads and in the progress of the Civil War in general, but later in 1862 was confronted with another potential conflict which was much closer to her, geographically and emotionally, than the far away North-South war. This was the troubled situation in Mexico, where Emperor Napoleon III, seizing as a pretext the alleged unjust treatment of foreigners, had declared war and forced a ruler of his own choosing, Maximilian of Austria, on the country. It was fairly obvious that Napoleon was taking advantage of Washington’s full preoccupation with its own troubles to try to establish for France a foothold in the new world, convinced that he could achieve his own brand of empire building with impunity. The Californians, many of whom had been Mexican subjects only 14 years before, were thoroughly aroused and were prepared to send 25,000 men if necessary to help drive the French from Mexico. However, with the release of Federal troops at the end of the war to give solid backing to strong American protests, Napoleon’s dreams of empire collapsed. He withdrew his troops and deserted Maximilian, who was later dethroned and executed by the Mexican forces under Juarez.

While all this history was being written, the Benitz family life was proceeding its natural course unperturbed.

“Uncle Frank” Benitz, William’s favorite brother, had moved out to California from Cleveland in 1861 and at once became an important figure in the household. His wife and son refused to leave the amenities of Cleveland, where they lived with two married daughters and their families. The greatest attraction that California held for “Uncle Frank,” apart from being with his brother and family, was the climate that was to become famous in the real estate literature of later years. Alfred also was an enthusiastic booster of California’s weather, of which he wrote in his diary some time later:

“The California climate is unique; the seasons, as known in other countries, do not exist.

“There is a season of somewhat greater heat and no rainfall, when even irrigated land looks brown and parched. That is summer. Again, there is a season with delightful warm days, followed by chilly nights and rainfall, which transforms the country into one vast carpet of flowers and green vegetation while the high mountains in the background are covered with snow. That is winter.

“There are giant geraniums, one mass of bloom. Roses appear everywhere, filling the air with their perfume, and fragrant violets appear in numbers almost beyond belief. There are groves of graceful palms and dark pepper trees with their bright red berries, while long avenues of stately eucalyptus adjoin the green fields of growing grain. The whole is bathed in an atmosphere of extraordinary mellow- ness and brilliance.”

As if nature had not blessed California with a lavish enough hand in the matter of climate, the gold discoveries of 1849 were followed in the next decade by the unearthing of additional widespread mineral deposits. No less than two thousand silver and copper mines were discovered in the early ’50’s and some mercury deposits were also found. The excitement attendant on these discoveries was not nearly so widespread nor so intense as that which followed the discovery of gold, but nevertheless they brought hundreds of prospectors to the scene of each new discovery. Mercury deposits were found in Sonoma county, where the Benitz home at Fort Ross was located; these were of small importance, but they led to the discovery of copper, silver and gold deposits in the county as well as in the adjoining counties of Marin, Mapa and Mendocino. Copper was close as four miles from Fort Ross.

Father Benitz, who rarely was stampeded into any decision, refused to become excited over the discovery of copper on his land. Instead of abandoning the farm for the mad rush to seek quick and easy wealth in minerals, he made prudent investments in companies which proved to be sound. But he always considered the farm as his main activity and the one to which he should dedicate his chief attention.

The operation of a farm in the United States was at this time undergoing a period of adjustment. Mechanical inventions such as the harvester and the binder went hand in hand with the increasing difficulty of securing labor. Most single and foot-loose men preferred prospecting for gold, with its glittering possibility of success, to toiling in the fields as a farm-hand at the lowly pay of two-and-a-half to three dollars a day.

This scarcity of labor was off-set, at harvest time at least, by the new farm machinery. The new threshers could do the work of many men, some of the larger models handling as much as 1,400 bushels a day. Benitz bought a small machine that threshed 2,000 bushels of grain in a fortnight.

Meanwhile, his cattle breeding had reached the point of maximum expansion and he was forced to reduce his herds because his pasture-land was becoming crowded. He got rid of 1,100 head of cattle and that, despite the fact that he had lost 200 head the previous year in heavy floods which drowned many cattle in the Sonoma area.

The idea of moving from the U. S., which Benitz had been considering for many years, advanced another stage in 1867 when he sold most of his farm land and moved his family to Oakland where he could start his children’s education while he cast about for his future destination.

Seven years were to pass before Benitz finally made up his mind that Argentina would be the country to which he would remove. But there were several factors that led to the decision to sell the farm. One was the education of the children. Another was his belief that the American people and government were embarked on a program of persecution of all foreigners. Still another was the depredations that were being visited on good farming land by the gold-miners.

A particularly obnoxious development to him and to other farmers had been the new methods employed by prospectors who called themselves “hydraulic miners.” Their system was to tear away the hillsides with torrents of water thrown from high-pressure hoses, in search of gold. The result of this system was that, in addition to destroying the natural contours of the land, a combination of mud, sand and stones known as “slickens” oozed over nearby fertile pastures and crop-land, leaving wholesale ruin for agriculture in their wake. For years an open conflict, similar to the later battles between sheep-herders and cattle ranchers, was fought between the farmers and miners. Pitched battles were fought, many participants were killed, the law enforcement authorities were totally unable to cope with the situation and a state approaching regular warfare was reached. When it appeared that actual war might break out, a test case was taken to a Federal court, which ruled in favor of the farmers, ordering the hydraulic miners to “cease and desist” in their operations.

The conflict between the farmers and the miners was at its height when Benitz sold his farm. This disagreeable situation was perhaps the immediate cause of his decision to sell the farm, although the other factors, plus the wanderlust idea already mentioned, also played their part.


In the year 1873, when Alfred began the diary that he was to keep intermittently the rest of his life, the Benitz family was solidly established in Oakland, where they had lived for the past six years [See portrait photos taken during that period]. Their home was located just outside what were then the city limits. It was a comfortable two-story dwelling in Colonial style with a broad veranda from which steps led down to a garden profuse with all the flowers that the California soil and climate could create.

At the back of the house there was a larger garden with shady walks and a croquet court. A row of Cypress trees closed off the vegetable tract and the chicken yard. Beyond these were the stables, the barn and some hothouses.

The family life was organized on the classic pioneer precept that “to eat, one must work,” and even the youngest children were required to do their share of the daily chores around the large house. Alfred, who was remarkably tall and strong for his 14 years, usually was called upon to do the jobs requiring extra brawn and muscle. His duties consisted of caring for the yard and gardens and of daily errands to the post-office to fetch the mail. Charlie was supposed to share with him the task of watering the garden, but be was not very strong and he often bribed Alfred into doing his share. This meant that Alfred generally had to get out of bed and about his tasks long before breakfast, even though he had the help of his mother and his sister, Josephine, in the watering of the vegetables and flowers.

Family Tree in bio.

The Benitz Family Tree
A.D. 1815-1937

(The original is at “La California”.)

Alfred, Johnny and Herman all attended the “Lincoln Grammar School for Boys and Girls,” a few blocks from the Benitz home. Alfred studied the usual grammar school curriculum under a Mr. Graven and in addition took lessons in German and book-keeping. He liked his studies as much as most boys, but the bane of his existence was the weekly music lesson which caused him no end of embarrassment, and his classmates no end of amusement, because his voice was at the breaking stage and he never could tell whether it would go up or down when he was required to render solos.

School began at eight o’clock in the morning, continued until eleven, when there was a 10-minute recess, and then resumed until noon. The scholars returned at one and remained until three, after which, apart from the inevitable homework, their time was their own.

Alfred led the life of a normal, healthy young boy. He applied himself to his studies so that his marks in general were above average. He played outdoors a great deal and also seemed to be a more eager reader than the average boy of 14. He was interested enough in reading to pay 50 cents a month (taken from his allowance of two dollars) for membership in the Oakland Public Library and also spent ten cents a week on that old reliable magazine of the youth of yesterday, “Frank Leslie’s Boys and Girls.”

On Thursday, May 8, 1873, Alfred began to write down in a notebook the things he did, heard, saw and talked about in his active young life. These were the first entries in the diary that forms the basis for this book. Ten days after he began, his older brother Frank, who had seen with interest Alfred’s penchant for writing down the daily events of his life, presented him with a handsome leather- bound diary. This was a proper book for writing, and Frank told Alfred that it was meant to encourage him in his, plan.

It should be reiterated at this point that Alfred Benitz was a man of action above all else. There is little in his diary of the parlor philosophizing that most men feel impelled to express when they start to write about themselves and their actions. However, the burden of Alfred’s story is carried along in most places by the rush of action.

The first entry in the diary, made when Alfred was still 13, contained what might be expected from a schoolboy of that age. He mentioned that at school he “had grammar and analysis most all day” and also wrote down that after supper he went to the lending library “and paid for this month (fifty cents).” The remark about the fifty cents may be considered a sort of trail blazer in Alfred’s system of diary-keeping; he was terse to the point of abruptness in his entries, but any financial transactions were duly noted down. Frequently, he would note his financial standing when no particular action was involved. Boy and man, he always had a keen sense of the value of money.

The twenty-second of May was Frank’s birthday, and in observing this fact, Alfred wrote that he did not give his big brother a present “but I wish I had been able to.”

The end of the school year came one week after Frank’s birthday:

“Thursday, May 29: 1 hardly slept last night on account of the strong gale which blew all night long. In the morning I had written examinations and afterwards I went to the Exhibition of the Fourth and Fifth grades, but their room was so crowded I couldn’t get in, so I went along to the library and returned my books, as I was not going to belong the next month. On the way back I stopped at the grocery store and measured my height. I found that I was now five feet, seven inches tall, only one inch shorter than Father, and the same height as Charlie who is three years older. He is very thin. Josephine is five feet, five inches.”

School had not been out for long when Mrs. Benitz took Alfred and Johnny for a vacation visit to the farm of “Uncle Bill” Howard, the same Willie Howard whose unorthodox marriage to Caroline Kolmer, Mrs. Benitz’ sister, had given such discomfort to Michael Kolmer.

The Howard farm was located about four miles from the town of Freestone and the journey to it from the Benitz home in Oakland involved travelling by train, steamer, stage-coach and wagon. While the journey undoubtedly was an exciting one for Alfred and Johnny, the numerous changes of method of transportation and the length of the trip must have made it tiring to Mrs. Benitz.

The two Benitz boys had a gay old time on the farm. The Howards had four children, one boy, Charlie, and three girls, Lizzie, Clara and Amelia. Alfred and Johnny were at the age where they presumably had little interest in their girl cousins, but with Charlie and a friend of his, Willie Morgan, they passed the time swiftly in the innumerable pursuits that can occur to healthy young boys on a farm nestling in the semi-wilderness.

The entry recorded in his diary by Alfred on the first day of the visit concluded:

“After dinner Charlie, Willie Morgan (also there on a visit), Johnny and I went after water-snakes. We succeeded in catching one large water-snake and three smaller ones. After supper Charlie and I went hunting with a musket, and Charlie shot a rabbit. I shot at a robin but missed it. When we returned home we all played parlor-games.”

A typical day at the farm is described in another entry:

“Charlie and I got up at half-past five and went after a horse that had got loose, but we couldn’t catch him. Coming home I shot a wood-pecker. After breakfast we went to have another try at catching the horse. I caught him and rode him home, but his backbone was so sharp I could hardly walk afterwards, and I got a headache through being jogged so much. Uncle then took us to his big field and showed us how to use his new plow, and we plowed the cornfield, Charlie driving the horse while I held the cultivator. While we were busy a crazy man came along and fell into the creek. He scrambled out and got onto the fence and fell off that. Then, seeing my coat hanging on the fence, he tried it on, hollering and talking the whole time. We were on the other side of the fence then, but we plowed on until we got to him. Just then Uncle Howard came along and the crazy man walked off, leaving my coat and hat in the creek. Poor man, he was afterwards sent to the asylum at Stockton.”

The rest of the visit at Uncle Willie’s was spent in rambling over the countryside in search of berries and nuts, helping with the plowing and the hay-making and, in general, giving Alfred a pretty good foretaste of the kind of life he was to know and to love in Argentina.

Alfred’s fourteenth birthday was on June 15 and, by the strange workings of fate, it was on that day that he first heard of the definite intention of Father Benitz to go to South America. This was, then, truly a red-letter day for him, but his diary gives no indication that he recognized it as such. There is no mention of any birthday party and the revelation of his father’s momentous decision was appended as a sort of after-thought to the usual doings of the day, as follows:

“After dinner, Mr. Helmke, a friend of Father’s, arrived and said that Father had made up his mind to go to South America.”

However, South America was to occupy a more and more prominent position in the diary and on the last day of June, after Mrs. Benitz and the boys had returned to Oakland from the farm, Alfred wrote:

“This morning I went along to the stables to see the new cow that Father had bought, and which was to be my special care, to water, feed and milk twice a day. I then went to the grocery store and measured myself. I had grown another three-quarters of an inch while I was in the country. That evening Father told us that he was going to South America in October.”

The plans for the South American journey did not actually materialize until a year later, in July of 1874, but for the next year the conversation in the Benitz household again and again centered around the great adventure which was in the making.

On July 21, 1873, Alfred wrote:

“Today we were all very excited as Uncle Frank arrived from South America where he had been living for seven years. I spent the whole of the afternoon listening to what he said about the place. He said that in the Argentine Republic when anyone sows any seeds, someone has to keep the parrots from eating them, and also that you can get one hundred oranges for a ‘real’ (worth about 12 cents). I decided I would rather be a sailor than anything else, and Frank said that he was going to the Argentine Republic in October or November.”

Five days later, Alfred again reports that Uncle Frank held forth at length on the marvels and the attractions of South America in general and of Argentina in particular.

The thoughts of South America, far away and wonderful, occurred to Alfred and the rest of the family under the spell of Uncle Frank’s oratory, but it is evident from the diary that ‘they did not occupy all the waking hours of the Benitz’ and, least of all, of Alfred who was very busy with the smaller but closer realities of everyday life.

The following selections from Alfred’s diary, taken from the month of August, 1873, give a fairly good cross-section of his life at the time.

“Aug. 4: the weather has now become much cooler especially in the early morning, and late evening, and Mother had a fire lighted in the parlor. William came over for one week-end and brought us a big box of huge peaches, also two young coons for Johnny’s museum. Tonight Father brought out his electricity machine, and we all had to stand in a row and catch hold of one another’s hands, while those at either end grasped the machine. Together we felt only very little electricity, but afterwards when we were electrified separately I could only feel it in my arms, but I felt it hard enough. I had to tell them to stop as it seemed as though my arms were swelling and the flesh was being pulled from my bones.

“Aug. 10: Uncle, Johnny, Frank and I took the train to San Francisco. We walked for a while looking at the town and then took the horsecar to Woodward’s Gardens. First we went to see the bears and the birds on the hill, and then went to the museum.where the stuffed animals were kept. We next visited the tropical gardens, the picture gallery and the sea-lions. We afterwards went into the beautiful aquarium where we saw the ‘infant wonder’ which was a six-months-old baby who weighed only three pounds. After looking at the beavers, the alligators, birds and vampires, the menagerie and the skating-rink, we went to the theater and saw the Brinkley family act a, play called ‘The Pantomime Doctor,’ which was very laughable. After partaking of some chocolate and sandwiches, we started for home and got back about six o’clock.

“Aug. 11: this morning at school, Mr. Brost occupied a great deal of time telling us about the bad effects of smoking and drinking. In the afternoon we had to talk about something and as I couldn’t think of anything else, I talked about the time I came very near to being drowned at Fort Ross. In the evening Charlie came down to supper for the first time, and afterward while Father made the musical box play tunes, I read a book called ‘Jack Harkaway Among the Brigands!’

“Aug. 16: Mother and Charlie left for the Parker’s ranch at Cloverdale where Charlie is going to stay for a while to get strong. I went to the depot to see, them off and carried Mother’s valise.

“Aug. 17 (Sunday): I was putting on my best shirt preparatory to going to church when the button came off at the neck. I made Josephine sew it on, but it came off again, so I had to sew it on myself. Our seat in the church was occupied when I finally arrived, so I came home and spent the day reading and listening to what Uncle Frank was saying about South America.

“Aug. 24: today was Johnny’s twelfth birthday, and I gave him a penholder. Mother came home from Cloverdale in the evening, leaving Charlie there.

“Aug. 25: I bought a blank book from Frank. It had two hundred and fifty pages in it, and cost fifty cents. I called it my ‘fact book’ of The Value of Money and kept my accounts in it. Tonight I had a bad cold so Mother gave me some medicine, and made me chew ‘yerba santa.’ Before going to bed, I listened to Uncle and Father talking about the lizards, crocodiles and snakes in South America. There seemed to be some mighty big ones. Father said he would go there as soon as he could sell some property and take some of us boys with him and buy land there.

“Aug. 30: a friend of Josephine’s, Bella Williams, came to spend the day. In the afternoon I played croquet and ‘hide-and-go-seek’ with them after supper and then Josephine and I took Bella home. We went past our school on Twelfth Street where we met Mr. Williams. We walked on until about three blocks past the bridge, Bella and I going on way ahead. We listened to the band playing in the park for a while and then Josephine and I came home. On the way back we met Mr. Hesse, who invents water-wheels, and he walked back with us. Mother and the children (Johnny and Herman) went buggy-riding this afternoon and later Uncle took them to the San Francisco theater to see the ‘Decapitation Act.’

In those days the American school system did not have the present long summer vacation, from June until September, so after returning from Uncle William’s farm, Alfred and his brothers and sister had to return to school in July for a short term. This was followed by a brief vacation, and then the children returned once more to their desks and slates. The re-opening of school in this year (1873) occurred on Oct. 6. Alfred carefully noted in his diary entry for Oct. 24 that “Mr. Brodt said my paper on Analysis was the best written of all the scholars. That afternoon we had to write a composition on ‘Astronomical Clocks in Washington,’ and some of us had to stay in after school while Mr. Brodt talked to us about some noise we made while he was out of the room.”

Alfred’s scholastic achievement on the subject of “Analysis” apparently was balanced by his youthful vitality which wouldn’t let him miss the opportunity of contributing to the noise when the teacher was absent. The diary at this time also reveals the price that Alfred had to pay for refusing to sing solos along with the rest of the class. The Nov. 11 entry said:

“The buttons of my suspenders came off while I was at school, and I had to take care my pants didn’t fall down. Also I had to stay three-quarters of an hour after school because I wouldn’t sing alone at singing’ class. I played football before school, at recess, noon and after school when we went to an empty lot on 12th Street and played for an hour. It was splendid fun. I gave Charlie $1.25 for a share in a five-barrelled pistol, and as my Mother had given me 25 cents for wiping the dishes while Wrota (the maid) was away on holiday and for helping her to wash our two dogs, I now had 30 cents over.”

On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, Alfred wrote that he acquired complete control of the pistol, having bought out Charlie’s remaining interest in it for $1. Like most American boys, Alfred ate too much turkey on Thanksgiving Day and had pains in the stomach afterwards.

No image.

Newspaper Cutting from “The Call” of December 22nd, 1873

One of the highlights of the Benitz children’s life during the month of December was a trip to San Francisco three days before Christmas to attend a benefit performance. The show was one of those soup to nuts theatrical performances, as illustrated by the accompanying showbill, that were so popular in the last century.

Alfred tells about it:

“Dec. 22: after doing my chores, I put on my Sunday clothes and Josephine, Bella, William and I went to the city. We barely caught the train from Oakland, and arrived in San Francisco about five o’clock. We walked to Swain’s restaurant and had coffee and cakes. We then strolled up and down Montgomery Street, Kearney Street and Market Street for about two hours, looking at the sights. At half-past seven, we made our way to the California Theater and got seats in the dress circle. They gave a play called ‘William Tell’ and Madame Bishop sang. I thought the singing was most superb and was very well satisfied with the acting. Unfortunately, we were obliged to leave during the last act so as to catch our train, the last one for Oakland. After paying all expenses, we each had 75 cents over. It was a delightful day.

“Dec. 24: Christmas Eve. Father gave me five dollars in silver, making me $7.50. I then went to the grocery store and got a sack full of things for the poor and took it to the poor-house in Webster Street. The storekeeper gave me a nice little pipe which I gave to Uncle Frank. After supper we all gathered round the Christmas tree. I got a smelling bag from Bella, and Josephine gave me a bottle of red ink. I scared Herman by putting on a flashing false-face and a sheet. I met him on the landing as he was going to bed and succeeded in frightening him pretty well.

“Christmas Day: we had a very good dinner at one o’clock, after which Charlie and I took a walk down to the Washington Street wharf and looked at the tugs and schooners, and also at the engine in the gas works. In the evening I read the Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid, till bedtime. The next morning I woke up with a feeling of dizziness on account of having eaten some painted candy. I also had a headache and a pain in my inside. I read most of the day and Father operated on us with the electricity machine.”

Alfred closed his diary for the year 1873 with a statement on his financial position - he had nine dollars in the bank - and with the speculation that appears to be universal with the human race at the close of each year - wondering where he would be and how he would spend the close of the next. The dice already had been thrown by fate, and it was ordained that he would usher out the old and welcome the new year on Dec. 31, 1874, on the broad pampas of Argentina where he was to spend most of his life.


Five days after the new year opened, Alfred recorded in his diary that preparations at last were under way for the voyage to South America. He wrote that a prospective buyer of the Benitz property had shown up and thal several real estate agents had begun dickering with Father Benitz on the handling of the sale. On the last day of January the preparations advanced a bit more when Johnny, Herman and Alfred were taken to the sHoe-maker’s to be equipped with a new outfit of shoes.

Most of the diary for the early months of the year is taken up with the routine daily doings of Alfred and the family. The following entries, selected at random, offer an insight into the way in which Alfred’s time was spent:

“Feb. 14: today was St. Valentine’s Day. I received two comical Valentines before breakfast, they were found under the door. After breakfast, I bought a Valentine at Hardy’s with 25 cents borrowed from Josephine and sent it to Bella (Williams) in East Oakland.

“Feb. 16: I had to wipe the dishes after breakfast as the Chinese New Year began today and our Chinaman servant went to San Francisco to enjoy himself.

“Feb. 21: today was the day before Washington’s birthday, so there was no school. As I was returning from the library where I had been to change my book, I heard the firebell ringing and saw a large light in Washington Street. I ran to see what it was, and it was the fire-engine house on fire. The building was completely burned down before the engines began squirting water. Louis, our Chinaman, returned in the evening and brought us a quantity of fire-crackers to celebrate Washington’s birthday.

“March 8: Josephine, Bella and I went to church (Presbyterian Independent) and heard Mr. Eyejamb preach. After dinner Charlie and I went down to First Street and Broadway to see Mr. Hesse’s new water-wheel engine.

“March 9: today I had a quarrel with a boy at school. He threw some dirt at me, so I threw some in his face. I wasn’t afraid of him as he was smaller than me.

“March 20: school closed for a week’s vacation and we had the usual exhibition in the afternoon, but only a small one. There was singing and speeches, but Mr. Brodt did not call upon me to speak, greatly to my relief.

“March 28: I began to study the Spanish alphabet.

“April 7: I started lessons in book-keeping today. There was trouble at school as after lessons the night before two boys had a fight and one hit the other over the head with a bat, and he was in a critical situation.

“April 17: I took Bella and Mother to an evening concert in aid of the Presbyterian Independent church, which was held at Brayton Hall in Oakland. The program consisted of singing and solos on the piano, and was very well done. We got home about ten o’clock after having had hard work squeezing our way through the crowd.”

May 8th of this year was a milestone in Alfred’s life for it was on that day that he took his first dancing lesson. As the entry in his diary shows, this first lesson in the social amenities was not a complete success:

“I started going to a dancing school. After supper I dressed myself in my Sunday clothes and went to a Music Hall on Sixth Street, where I paid $2 for a month’s tuition in dancing. Mr. Lundt showed us the steps and those who could find partners danced the waltz, schottische, quadrilles and lancers. I could not get a partner so I had to look on. I came home at 9 p.m.

“May 15: Bella and I went to the dancing class accompanied by Mother and Josephine. We went through all the steps, but I did not dance the waltz or the schottische, only the lancers with Bella. We weren’t going for another month as the Hall had been engaged by another party.”

The first hint of romance in the Benitz family came when Alfred, overlooking completely his association with Bella, wrote with typical small-boy scorn that Josephine was being courted.

“May 22. Harry Burdell took Josephine to a Calico Ball and then took her out riding. Nuts on her, I think. During the afternoon Mother said I could go to Uncle Howard’s again for vacation, but Father said we should probably go to South America in July.”

The next dancing class was held on June 5, which was also the last day of school, and that night Alfred achieved some sort of land-mark in his life by dancing lancers and quadrilles, which he had avoided in the first two sessions. Coming home from the dancing class, he wrote, Bella and he found a lady under the hedge, very distinctly under the influence of liquor. He added that the two young puritans aroused her, only to discover, to their horror, that she took out a pipe and began to smoke it. The entry closes with the pious observation that “she was at last induced to move away.”

Despite the imminence of the departure of the family for South America, Alfred in mid-June made the journey by himself to Uncle Willie Howard’s farm at Freestone. On June 28, Uncle Willie received a letter from Father Benitz announcing that the Oakland property had been sold for $100,000 and that the trip to Argentina had been definitely set for late in July.

Alfred stayed on at the farm for another week and returned to Oakland on July 7th. The next day, Father Benitz and some of the family went to San Francisco to buy clothes and other equipment needed for the journey and for life in the new land.

Let Alfred’s diary tell the story of the remaining busy days:

“July 8: Father, Mother, Willie and I went shopping in San Francisco. We went to Hastings’ Clothing Store and Father bought me a suit of black summer clothes ($18), a greyish coat ($5) and a linen coat ($2.50). He then bought me a pair of gaiters ($6) and a pair of good slippers for $2.50. We then went to a trunk factory and bought several trunks and a valise. We afterwards went to a saloon where we had a very good dinner. After buying me a black straw hat, we walked around for a little while and then returned to Oakland.

“July 9: I took my money out of the bank ($14) and gave it to Father to keep for me.

“July 10: Mother, Josephine and I went to San Francisco and had our photographs taken. Mine in the small size. We then went to Hastings’ Store again and bought underclothes and shirts, and after a good dinner returned home.

“July 12: Father went to San Francisco and bought eight saddles, and in the afternoon we were busy packing swords and books and the saddles. Father said that we would probably start for South America on the 20tb.

“July 16: we sent our slow freight in advance. In the afternoon, Mother took the children to San Francisco to buy them clothes. There was an article about us in The Tribune.

“July 18: I rose early today and helped to pack the pictures and send them to the buyers. The piano ($225) and the carpenter’s bench ($20) were also sold and taken away.

“July 19: I had to go around the house with the auctioneers, who were pricing the beds, furniture, etc. Afterwards Father sold everything that was left very cheaply, for $475.

“July 24: Father went to San Francisco today and engaged berths for us on the steamer ‘Arizona’ bound for New York by way of Panama, which sails on Wednesday, the 29th. The berths cost $100 each.

“July 25: Johnny, Herman and I went with some friends to the theater in San Francisco and saw a play called ‘The Royal Marionettes.’ It had stuffed people acting little plays such as ‘Red Riding Hood’ etc. Although we had balcony seats we could not see much of it as all the children stood up. When we got home I went to see my best friend, Eugene Howell, and he walked home with me. He promised to write me if I write to him, as we shall not see each other again, I bid him good-bye.

“July 28: this was our last day in California. In the morning we carried all the trunks downstairs. In the afternoon I had my hair cut and went with Father to get our tickets for the steamer to New York. Last night Josephine’s boy friends came and serenaded her so that I did not get to sleep till late for the noise they made. Today there were a good many visitors who came to say good-bye. Charlie went over to the Williams’ in the afternoon and Bella sent me her photograph. The steamer goes tomorrow. Hurrah! Hurrah!”


The Benitz family was now embarked on the great adventure. For Father Benitz it meant at long last leaving behind the shores of the country he always had considered inhospitable and uncouth, as well as the realization of his dream of many years to go to the wonderful new continent to the south.

For Alfred and all the other children it must have meant, more than anything else, the excitement and thrills of a sea voyage - and that was a real adventure in those days - plus the superior feeling that change and movement always give to youth over their less fortunate companions who have to stay behind.

What the voyage meant to Mrs. Benitz must be left to conjecture. Nothing is recorded in Alfred’s diary of his mother’s feelings on the eventful day that the “Arizona” sailed out of San Francisco harbor.

Since there were no steamship lines in those days which carried passengers direct from America to the South American countries, it was necessary for the Benitz family to make the long and roundabout trip to the Isthmus of Panama by steamer, across the Isthmus by train, to New York by another steamer, then to London by a third ship and from London to Buenos Aires by still another vessel. This was the regular itinerary for anyone who wanted to go from California to South America in the days before the Panama Canal. Although the journey was a long one, requiring two months and ten days, it was made without major incidents. It provided Alfred with an abundance of material for his diary and, perhaps because of the greater leisure available to him, the entries during the voyage are noticeably longer than those that be had been in the habit of making previously. The first day Alfred wrote:

“July 29: (off the coast of California, on the s. s. Arizona) today we began our trip to South America. I got up at five o’clock in the morning, put on my Sunday clothes, and helped to carry the trunks to the sidewalk in readiness for their removal by the express-wagon. I then wrote a short letter to Uncle Howard and took it to the post-office. Willie rode on the express-wagon while we all walked to the depot, where we took the train, and afterwards met Willie with the luggage in San Francisco. From here Frank and I walked to the steamer “Arizona” and the rest of the family went in a hack.

“After we had been on board for about an hour, a great many friends arrived who had come to see us off. Dr. Cole, who was also sailing, was surrounded by a crowd of people and had a brass band playing. At twenty minutes past twelve, the ship cast loose from the wharf, a cannon was fired from on board and we slowly steamed out of the harbour. ‘Good-bye, Oakland and friends, never expect to see you again.’

“We passed Ford Point at ten minutes past one, Pasadero at about three o’clock and an hour later still were in sight of land. Dinner is at two p.m. and supper at six. There are a good many nice things to eat, and so far I have felt no signs of sea-sickness. After supper, Josephine and I walked arm-in-arm about the deck and watched a school of porpoises which followed the ship for nearly an hour. They were very graceful as they jumped out of the water, and generally go two by two. Their colour is brown on top and white underneath. We also saw in the distance two whales spouting. Towards night-time the sea became rougher, and at ten-thirty I went to my room, after waiting a while for a lantern. Frank, Herman and I sleep in one room, No. 5. I am in the top bed, Frank in the middle and Herman underneath. It was a very pleasant day, and they all said that it ‘could not have been better for the beginning of a voyage.’

“July 30: I slept pretty well last night, and when I woke this morning we were out of sight of land. Before breakfast Charlie and I walked about the deck. Afterwards I got a book from a bookcase in the parlor. It was called ‘Wild Oats.’ I thought it was going to be a book on farming, but it wasn’t. After dinner I walked over to the steerage and looked at the engine. I then held some worsted for Josephine to wind and after that walked around with Charlie. We then went into the parlor and listened to a man play the piano. At four o’clock precisely there was a false alarm of fire, so as to train the Chinese sailors what to do in case of a real fire. They all rushed to the boats and buckets and squirted water from a hose into the sea. I could not help wondering if they would do it so well if the ship really was on fire. We received our eating tickets today. All the passengers sit together for meals at one long table. It is now getting much warmer, although the sun hardly appeared all day. I went to bed at half-past six.

“July 31: this forenoop I watched Captain Seabury take the observations. At mid-day we had run 261 miles in 24 hours. The ‘Arizona’ burns four tons of coal a day. Supper which was at five o’clock consisted of clam soup, deap-sea bass, roast beef, tea and cakes and mush-melon (cantaloupe). At ten o’clock tonight we were opposite the boundary line between Mexico and California, and were out of sight of land.”

The next day Alfred observed that “this thing is getting very monotonous, nothing in sight but water and sky or fog,” and in truth the trip was settling down to the regular monotony of a sea voyage, broken only by the small incidents that assume much greater proportions at sea than they do on land. Another fact that may have helped to belittle the charm of the trip for Alfred was that he eventually was overtaken by sea-sickness. Although it made him feel slightly uncomfortable, the mal de mer had only an insignificant effect on his appetite. One day, apparently the worst in his bout with the bane of sea travellers, he complained that he was so much under the weather he was reduced to eating “only beafsteak at breakfast, soup at dinner and,roast-beef for supper.”

The “Arizona” stopped at the Mexican port of Acapulco on Aug. 5. It was the only port of call between San Francisco and Panama. Alfred, Josephine, Frank and Willie made up a small group of tourists who went ashore for a brief time and were properly superior, in the best tourist tradition, over the native surroundings. One week later the ship had reached Panama where the Benitz’ left it to trans-ship to another vessel bound for New York.

Here are Alfred’s impressions of Panama:

“Aug. 12: (Panama harbor) at four o’clock, this morning I could see the native boats already hanging about the ship. I watched a large flatboat come alongside, and an engine on a boat next to that, which was unloading the ‘Arizona’ of wine-casks and hides. Later on all the family except Charlie and I went ashore at Panama, some in rowing boats and the rest in little steamers. When they came back in the afternoon they gave a very discouraging report of the town, its uncleanliness and high prices for everything. At about eleven o’clock Charlie and I hired a native to row us and two girls from on board to one of the larger islands where we walked along the shore and picked up some shells. We then went for a walk through the cool, thick woods to another part of the beach. The butterflies and flowers in the wood were beautiful, and the trees so low and close together that it was impossible to get through where no path had been cut. We then walked back to the boat, and the native rowed us to the ship, for which I paid him a dollar. We missed our dinner through going to the island, but I made it even by eating a very hearty supper.

“Aug. 13: this morning I watched them unload the ship, and after breakfast hired a boat to take Johnny and Herman to the nearest island. We took off our shoes and stockings and waded along the beach, looking for shells until we came to some large rocks. Here we gathered some shells from little pool which were full of starfish, sea-eggs and live shells. When we got back, Willie and Mr. Hammerstede, who plays the piano very well, were just starting off to row to another island, and as they invited me to go along with them I did so, and helped them to row across. We walked along the beach and then around the island, which is much smaller than the others. When we got back, I climbed up to the ship by a rope. We were just in time for dinner.

“Aug. 14: this evening the officers from the ‘Richmond,’ (apparently an American warship) brought their brass band over to the ship to play dance music, and everyone danced. Then our amateur minstrel troupe gave an entertainment of songs and recitations, which lasted until midnight, when we went to bed. We are crossing the Isthmus of Panama tomorrow.

“Aug. 15: the gong sounded at half-past four this morning for us to get up, and at five we had breakfast. We then left in a little steamer which took us to Panama and landed us at the shipping company’s warehouses, which were also the depot for the Panama railroad. The way from the boat to the depot was lined with soldiers to prevent our smuggling anything in. After about half an hour’s delay, the cars started and we were whirled to Aspinwall, a distance of 47 miles which we made in two hours and forty-five minutes. I stood on the observation platform for most of the journey, looking at the changing scenery. The railroad runs through forests, swamps and luxuriant vegetation. We passed a few groups of houses here and there, some with tile roofs, but most of them were covered with large leaves. At a quarter past ten we arrived at Aspinwall, where the s. s. ‘Acapulco’ was waiting alongside the wharf which was about a hundred yards from the depot. As soon as the train stopped, a great many niggers, some of whom were very bold, crowded into the cars to carry our baggage to the steamer. She is a magnificent iron ship of 3,000 tons, with screw propellor, and is about a year old. She is a great deal prettier than the ‘Arizona’ and has white sailors and black waiters on board. Before dinner, Father, Willie and I went into the town to buy oranges and limes. It is a very miserable and stinking place, and all the inhabitants are niggers, and very impudent. We walked about the town for a bit, and then went into a saloon and drank iced lemonade. There is only one two-storied building of about 300 feet long, and most of the shops are either fruit-stores or saloons. We bought fifty oranges and a hundred limes and then returned to the steamer for dinner. Mother gave me 40 cents, making me 90 cents. After dinner, Johnny and I went ashore and walked around the town buying cakes and candy. Meanwhile it had beguin to rain very hard, so that we were obliged to wait in a shop for about an hour before we could get on board again. We afterwards heard that it rained eight inches. After supper we left for New York and are now once more at sea.”

The rest of the voyage to New York was eventless, except for the fact that the first day out in the Caribbean Sea Alfred really did get sea-sick. This time he went one entire day without eating, and on several occasions lost meals. In defense of Alfred’s seamanship, it should be said that the sea was very rough a good part of the trip. Alfred himself was quite careful to point this out every time he had to record the fact that he had missed a meal.

“Aug. 23: we arrived at New York today. After the pilot had come aboard at 2 a.m., Charlie and I could not sleep so at four o’clock we got up and went on deck to look at the land and houses we were passing. At five o’clock we went by Sandy Hook, which is about 20 miles from New York and at six a.m. we saw some forts. Half an hour later we were still waiting for the health officer to come aboard. After he arrived we still had to wait in front of the dock for a steamer to get out of the way. Finally at 7.30 a.m. we fastened to the wharf. We then waited for an hour while, Uncle Frank got ready, but as he did not appear at the end of that time we carried our baggage ashore, and I helped to check it. Father got an express-wagon which took our things to Hoboken, and also hired an old man and his son in two hacks to drive us to the steamer which took us across the Hudson river to Hoboken where we drove to Busch’s Hotel.”

During the last part of the sea voyage, Alfred had his first experience with thieves and immediately after arriving in Hoboken, he had his second.

The night before the “Acapulco” put into New York, he hung his trousers on their accustomed peg with 80 cents in the pocket. Next day the money was gone, together with the purse that held it, and Alfred blamed one of the ship’s waiters for the loss. The first night that the family spent in the hotel in Hoboken, a burglar tried to force his way into the room where Johnny and Alfred were sleeping, but failed because the door was bolted. It might be expected that a young boy with a fairly good imagination would go to considerable length to describe these incidents, and even perhaps “gild the lily” a bit. But not Alfred. In his diary, from start to finish, he was objective almost to the point of being impersonal. He recorded these events as he recorded others in the diary, merely setting down the facts and giving us no peep into his personal feelings on the matter.

During the week’s stay in Hoboken, which was predominantly German in population, the Benitz family renewed acquaintances with many old friends not seen for years. They also got together immediately with Mr. and Mrs. Mahrer who were to accompany the Benitz’ on the trip to South America. Mrs. Mahrer was Father Benitz’ sister and she and her husband had come,to Hoboken from Ohio for the trip to Argentina. They apparently found the new land distinctly different from what they had expected, for they remained only a short time and then returned to America.

The German atmosphere in Hoboken was reflected in Alfred’s entry in his diary for August 25:

“There are a lot of street musicians in Hoboken. A brass band went by last night after I had gone to bed and woke me up so that I could not get to sleep again for some time. When I at last went off, the band came back again. This morning Father gave me $1.50 making me $1.75, so Frank, Willie and I went over to New York by the Barclay Street ferry, which landed us away in the southern part of the city. From there we went to see the ‘Acapulco,’ and then on to the offices of the Brazilian Steamship Line in Bowling Green, where on enquiry we found that the fare to Río de Janeiro was $200. After walking up to the end of Broadway and stopping at Remington’s stores to price guns, we took a horse-car for Central Park where we strolled along the delightful walks, made of asphalt, to the menageries, looked at the animals, walked around the lake and saw the boats. We then went to the Casino, a beautiful eating house, where we ordered cups of chocolate, sandwiches and doughnuts. After visiting the ‘Deep Dark Cave’ and the ‘Stone Castle,’ we sat down for a while in one of the many pretty summer-houses and watched the wonderful fountains playing. We then took the horse-cars to the ferry, then the ferry for Hoboken, and arrived at the hotel just in time for supper.”

Two days later the final plans were completed for the long and roundabout trip to Argentina. Alfred reports that there were no steamships going to Buenos Aires and adds that “no sailing vessel will take us,” although he does not say why. In view of this situation, the only course open was to take a ship to England and then board another ship there bound for Argentina. The German steamer “Wesser” bound for Southampton was selected for the first leg of this journey and Alfred described her as “nearly as nice as the ‘Acapulco’.

On August 29 the party of twelve sailed on the “Wesser,” after a few final purchases had been made, among them four Winchester rifles. As stated above, the Benitz party now included the Mahrer’s in addition to Uncle Frank and the family itself.

The passage across the north Atlantic required 12 days and the weather was fairly miserable for most of the trip, as it is likely to be on that part of the ocean in August. When the Benitz party arrived at Southampton, its members trans-shipped immediately and left the same day for South America. That was on Sept. 9 and Alfred’s diary entry for the day is of considerable interest, for it discloses that in those times as well as today the traveller could frequently overcome customs’ difficulties by the ancient device of giving the guardian of the law a little something on the side. The entry follows:

“In the English Channel - last night I got up at 11.30 to see the pilot come aboard (the ‘Wesser’), and then went back to bed again. When I woke this morning at 5.30 we were opposite the great hospital on the Isle of Wight. This is Netley Hospital, an immense building, the largest hospital in the world, and is built of rock. We also saw a castle which is Osborne House and is Queen Victoria’s summer residence. It overlooks the channel of Spithead. We arrived at Southampton at about 6.30 a.m. and after breakfast went ashore to the Customs’ House. Mother had some loose luggage, and she was not allowed to take it on shore at first, but an officer made it all right. Father had some difficulty with the Customs’ House officer’s demands but £6 did it. At about 9 a.m. Father and I went into the city of Southampton. I tried to buy a knife, but could not find what I wanted, and Father bought our tickets for the voyage to Buenos Aires, which cost $146 apiece. At 11 o’clock we took a little steamer which took us out to the South American ship, the s.s. “Boyne.” She is a magnificent steamer of 3,318 tons, has an iron-screw propellor, and although three years old, everything looks so nice and new. A lovely yacht sailed round us several times, she was a lovely affair. We left Southampton at 3 o’clock and an hour later were going regularly. When we passed through the Needles at 5 o’clock, the pilot took his leave. The sea was pretty rough, and the ship rolled a great deal, also the rudder made a lot of noise. We had some difficulty in getting seats for supper, as there are a great many passengers but finally managed to get a table to ourselves. There are two bunks in each room, and this time Frank and I are sharing a room.”

The first day out, the “Boyne” passed through the Bay of Biscay and a great deal of heavy weather simultaneously. Nearly everyone on the ship was seasick, including Alfred, although he was well enough so that he “could not help laughing at some of the men on the deck who were looking into the water and feeding the fishes.” By the time the ship reached Lisbon, the temperature had risen and so had the spirits of the passengers who left the “Boyne” in droves to visit the ancient Portuguese capital. Alfred was not among those who went ashore, but he apparently was deeply impressed by the descriptions given of Lisbon that night by the passengers who did tour the city.

He wrote that “the houses are tall and well-built, and the straight long streets beautifully paved. There are four public squares, the finest of which is the Praga do Comercio; it is open on one side of the river, and on the other three sides is surrounded by government buildings. This square is beautifully paved with colored tiles, arranged in a wavy design. Lisbon was once destroyed by a terrible earthquake and most of the old city lies under the water.”

This impression of Lisbon offers a sharp contrast to what Alfred thought of Pernambuco, the first Brazilian port touched by the “Boyne.” The youthful traveller seems to have been pretty well disgusted with the Brazilian town, which he described as “very dirty - the streets look as though they had never been cleaned, and all the rubbish seems to be thrown from the houses. The buildings are high, and while some are newly whitewashed, others are stained and mouldy. All have dark and gloomy balconies with bars to them like a dairy window.”

Río de Janeiro was reached on Sept. 30, and its scenic beauties were duly chronicled by Alfred:

“We arrived at Río de Janeiro and stayed here for two days. It is a most beautiful harbor, surrounded by green hills and mountains, one of which rises in a peak with a rounded top and is called ‘0 Pao de Azucar’ (The Sugar Loaf). The town is built in terraces and there are lots of brightly painted houses of all colors built on the hills, which look very pretty among the trees in the bright sunshine. We all went ashore and took a train to the Botanical Gardens, where we saw a splendid array of palms. The tallest and thinnest of these is said to be the Mother Palm of all the palm trees in South America, and is over a hundred years old. There were also some very large water-lilies in a pool, with huge leaves about four feet across. The trees were crowded with little brown squirrels, some of them so tame that we fed them with nuts.”

The next and last port of call for the Benitz’ before reaching the goal of their long voyage was Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. This city failed to attract the travellers, who remained aboard the “Boyne” all day on Oct. 7, the day the ship arrived. At seven p.m. on the following day the “Boyne” weighed anchor and turned its nose across the broad and muddy waters of the Río de la Plata* (River Plate) heading toward Buenos Aires. On Oct. 9, at five a.m., the “Boyne” anchored 11 miles off Buenos Aires, just 70 days after the Benitz’ had boarded the “Arizona” in San Francico.


[ * The literal translation of Río de la Plata is “River of Silver,” but the first English settlers in Argentina transliterated the name to River Plate. This practice of giving Spanish names and words possible phonetic value in their English form has been employed widely by the British in Argentina. For example, the Spanish word “campo,” which means field or country-side, is universally called “camp” by the English in Argentina. There are numerous other examples of this philological phenomenon. ]


THE country in which the Benitz family had now arrived, and in which they were to make their permanent home, was endowed with a fabulous wealth of natural resources, chief among them being its rich black soil. Coupled with this tremendous natural wealth, Argentina had one other invaluable asset: the character of her people, similar in some respects to that of the [North] American people and, like the latter, the product of a smaller melting pot process.

The combination of the two factors eventually was to make Argentina the most important nation, politically as well as economically, in Latin America.

So that the reader may better understand the complex and at times puzzling background of the Argentine, we deflect the course of our book at this point from Alfred’s diary to a brief resume of the country’s history during its formative period.

The Río de la Plata was discovered in 1515 by a party of Spanish explorers under Juan Díaz de Solís, one of those intrepid Spanish sea-captains who carried Spain to its period of greatest glory, the Age of Gold under Charles I. Like so many of his compatriots. Solís was seeking a southward passage to the spice-rich East Indies, but he discovered instead a river and a country that in the course of history would produce wealth of a different kind, perhaps, but in an infinitely greater measure.

Sailing down the Atlantic coast, Solís penetrated into the great expanse of muddy water that is the Río de la Plata and anchored his ship on the northern coast at a point between the present Uruguayan cities of Montevideo and Maldonado. Uruguay at that time was inhabited by several savage tribes, the most notorious of which were the Querandi, Timbú and Charrúa Indians, who had settled along the banks of the river.

As Solís brought his ships to anchor, a small band of men, women and children, naked except for their brillant feather head-dress and a profusion of silver ornaments, ran down to the beach and made friendly signs.

Solís was at first skeptical, but the Indians showed by signs that they had no arms and he was induced to put off in a small boat with eight of his men. They never came back. No sooner had the Spaniards landed than the decoy group darted back into the bushes, and before the white men could regain their boat they were surrounded and massacred by the hordes of savages who seemed literally to rise up from the ground. The bodies of the Spaniards were dragged into the bushes, from which smoke was seen rising in a few minutes. In full view of the horror-stricken party on board the vessels, Solís and his companions were cooked and eaten by the Indians.

The incident should not be interpreted to mean that these Indians were habitual cannibals. However, the custom among them was occasionally to consume the bodies of superior enemies killed by valor or cunning, in the hope of assimilating the better qualities of the victim.

The survivors of this hapless expedition returned to Spain and reported to the court the discovery of a fresh water sea, which is what they judged the Río de la Plata to be.

The next visit to the Río de la Plata was made four years later by Magalhaes (Magellan), in the service of Portugal. He entered the river, but could find no outlet to the west and again turned eastward. It was from this point that he began his famous voyage around the world, passing through the straits at the southern tip of South America which now bear his name.

In 1527 another Portuguese navigator, Sebastian Cabot, sailing under the royal commission given him by Charles I of Spain, set out for the East Indies to colonize the discoveries of Magalhaes. Instead, however, he entered the Río de la Plata, anchoring off the present site of Buenos Aires. He later continued inland, up the Paraná river, and established a colony, Sancti Spiritus, in what is now the province of Santa Fe. Cabot then continued still farther up the Paraná and arrived at the great Iguazú Falls, one of the natural wonders of South America where the boundaries of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay converge at a great waterfall that dwarfs Niagara.

During his trip into the northern part of Argentina Cabot encountered many Indians who wore rich silver ornaments. It was this fact that led him to name the great estuary off Buenos Aires the Río de la Plata, a misnomer if ever there was one. Neither a river nor silver in its appearance, the Río de la Plata is the estuary of the Paraná and the Uruguay rivers and is a great expanse of shallow, muddy waters. Cabot gave it the name it now bears because he thought that it would lead eventually to the silver deposits from which, he reasoned, the Indians he saw had gathered and fashioned their ornaments.

The first serious attempt to colonize the new region was made in 1534 when Don Pedro de Mendoza, a Basque noble, left Cádiz for the Río de la Plata at the head of a group of 2,000 men–the largest and wealthiest expedition that had yet left Europe for the new world. He reached his goal in January of the following year, and the sailors on his ship gave the name of Buenos Aires (Good Airs) to the new settlement in gratitude to their patron saint, Santa María de los Buenos Aires, for the success of their voyage. This name, incidentally, is another misnomer of the same proportions as that of the Río de la Plata. Any resident of Buenos Aires will heartily confirm that its climate is one of the most unpleasant of any of the large cities in the world; it is almost permanently steeped in humidity and could well use a few “good airs” occasionally to sweep away this curse to the city’s climate.

The colony was founded on Feb. 2, 1535, but it was wiped out two years later, after Mendoza had returned to Spain, by the Querandi Indians. The few survivors fled to Asunción where a fort had been built in 1535 by Don Juan de Ayolas one of Mendoza’s lieutenants who had ascended the Paraná river to what is now Paraguay. Asunción was at that time the most important city in Spanish America.

It was not until 43 years later, in 1580, that the permanent settlement of Buenos Aires was assured when Juan de Garay, another Basque, came down from Asunción with a large expedition, fully equipped for the pioneering life. On his way down from Asuncion, de Garay founded the present city of Santa Fe (1573), the first permanent colony that the Spaniards had been able to establish south of the juncture of the Paraguay and Paraná rivers. The expedition that de Garay led to Buenos Aires included a nucleus of Spaniards and 200 families of the relatively peaceful Guaraní Indians. They were accompanied by 1.000 horses, 200 cattle and 50 sheep, in addition to mares, oxen, carts and other necessities. The caravan marched overland, while boats carried down from Santa Fe arms, munitions, seed and grain. De Garay succeeded in planting the Spanish flag on the old site of Buenos Aires, and under the name of “Ciudad de Santisima Trinidad, Puerto Santa Maria de Buenos Aires,” the city was rebuilt for the third time. Four years later, de Garay met death when he was ambushed, while asleep, in the woods by Indians who killed him and the members of his party.

The rejuvenated settlement prospered and gradually grew into an important town, while the cattle and horses brought from Europe by the Spaniards multiplied in great numbers, many of them spreading over the pampas to the south and east across the Uruguay river, eventually becoming wild. Prior to the Spanish conquests there were no dogs, sheep, goats, cats, horses or cattle in the country. The indigenous animals –llamas, vicuñas, alpacas and guanacos– were of some use as beasts of burden, but they could not fulfill the functions of the European domestic animals and were hunted chiefly for their beautiful furs. A species of ostrich called the “ñandu” still exists, and in the remote parts of Argentina there may be found even today jaguars, pumas, wolves, wild-cats, tapirs, carpinchos (a species of hog [no! It is a large rodent the size of a hog]), ant-eaters and yacarés (alligators). Of the smaller animals, the foxes, skunks, hares [only the “mara” or Patagonian hare; the common hares are from Europe], nutria, cuatís, vizcachas, armadillos and otters are still plentiful, together with a large lizard called the “iguana” which at times measures more than three feet in length. In the ocean off Argentina and in its rivers, there are to be found seals, sea-lions, alligators and turtles.

All of these animals were plentiful when de Garay founded Buenos Aires for the third time, and a good number of them probably were used as food by the colonists. The new settlement was confirmed by a Royal Decree on Feb. 11, 1594, and Francisco de Zárate, who was then governor, began to construct fortifications on the banks of the river. By the year 1620, Buenos Aires had grown into a town of more than 3,000 people and was definitely here to stay.

One of the most prominent names in the early history of Buenos Aires was that of Hernandarias de Saavedra, governor of the city in 1601. Of distinguished Spanish ancestry, he was born in 1561 at Asunción where he was educated at the monastery of the Franciscan Fathers. There he lived until he was 15 years old, when he led an expedition against the Indians in the Andes mountains. Later he joined Juan de Garay in his expedition to the south. In 1588 he distinguished himself in the defense of Corrientes, now a large Argentine city, against the Indians of the Chaco and by the time he was 30 he was the leading “criollo” in the vast region which lay between the Upper Paraguay river and Buenos Aires. “Criollo” is the name given in a number of Spanish American countries to the children of Spaniards born in the new world.

When the Spanish Lieutenant-General of Asunción was deposed in 1590, Saavedra was called upon to fill the vacancy, and eleven years later he was unanimously elected Governor of Buenos Aires.

Although severe with the Indians when the circumstances demanded, Saavedra was also just and protected them from the tyranny of his fellow-countrymen who for many years had forced them into slavery and exploited them in other ways as well. At the end of his term as Governor, he was named “Official Protector of the Aborigines,” and when, in 1610, Spain promulgated laws forbidding the further enslavement of Indians, Saavedra did his best to secure their enforcement. However, in spite of the law and of Saavedra’s efforts to enforce it, captive Indians continued to be sold as slaves, and after the Battle of Quilmes (a villa in the Andes mountains) where the Calchaquis made their last stand, some 40,000 of them were made slaves. The town of Rosario was composed almost exclusively of families from this tribe, while 11,000 of them were exiled to each of the cities of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Santiago del Estero.

In 1630 the Jesuit colonies in northern Argentina were attacked by Portuguese settlers living in what is now Brazil, and during the next two years the Portuguese carried out a continual series of raids, one result of which was that 60,000 Indians were killed or carried off into slavery. In order to defend their settlements, the Jesuits, who heretofore had taught the Indians to renounce violence of all kinds, appealed to Spain for authority to train and arm their converts. The Jesuits rebuilt the city of Santa Fe in 1688 and the following year 500 of them worked on the fortifications of Buenos Aires and on the building of the cathedral there.

The increasing prosperity of the Jesuits eventually began to excite envy and avarice, and several accusations were brought against them. Although the accusations were proved groundless and although their rights were upheld in the Royal Decree of 1745, the prestige and power of the Jesuits began to decline. Their expulsion from Spain in 1767 had its effect in South America as well and gradually their entire possessions were overtaken by the Paraguayan government. Paraguay had been their base of operations in South America.

A series of wars and uneasy breathing, spells of peace between Spain and Portugal set in during the second half of the seventeenth century and continued for almost 125 years. In 1680 an expedition dispatched by the Portuguese governor of Río de Janeiro landed opposite Buenos Aires and built a fort which was a called Colonia. This was the first move in the miniature game of power politics. whose prize was what is now Uruguay. Colonia was the first permanent European settlement on Uruguayan soil. When the Spanish-Portuguese dispute finally ended, the Spaniards held all the land between the southern limits of the present territory of Misiones (Argentina), the sources of the Río Negro and Lake Miriam and the coast of the Atlantic and the Río de la Plata, including Montevideo. The boundaries of the latter were fixed by Gen. Brunio Mauricio de Zabala, Governor of Buenos Aires, and approved by Spain in 1726 as follows:

“On the south as far as the Río de la Plata; on the west to the Cufre river; on the north to the Cuchilla Grande, and to the mountain Pan de Azticar on the east.”

Both Argentina and Uruguay had become more thickly populated, and as civilization increased among the Indians, many of them married Europeans. In 1629 a Royal Decree had united into one Vice-Royalty the hitherto separate governments of Buenos Aires and Asunción, together with the provinces of Charcas, Potosí and Cochabamba, the latter two regions forming part of what is now Bolivia. Until the eighteenth century, there was but one Vice-Royalty in South America –that of Perú which extended from the western to the eastern shores of the continent. Because of the difficulties of administering such a vast region, four new Vice-Royalties were created in 1776– the same year that the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. The new Vice-Royalties included: New Spain, embracing all Spanish possessions in North America; Perú; New Granada, which later became Colombia, and Buenos Aires.

The naming of a Viceroy at Buenos Aires led to the establishment of a government in the city in 1788. From this time on, its trade and prosperity increased rapidly. The following year commerce was encouraged by a Royal Ordinance which permitted the export of salted meat, tallow and horsehair to Spain and to other Spanish colonies free of duty.

As the city grew steadily in wealth and importance, the Viceroys came to maintain all the pomp and dignity of the royal court at Madrid. Their term of office was five years and the post carried ananual stipend of $30,000. The salary was but a small part of the total income of the Viceroy, however, since most of the incumbents never were loth to “improve their opportunities,” and the customary thing was for the Viceroy to retire to Spain at the end of his term with his fortune made. It is asserted that one Viceroy at a birthday dinner was given $50,000 in presents. These Viceroys, as well as other top government officials, were appointed by the King and were almost always native-born Spaniards. Up to the year 1810, when Argentina declared her independence, only 18 out of the 160 Vice-roys and 600 other officials named by the King had been born in Argentina, and the latter received their appointments only by virtue of having been educated in Spain.

The Marquis de Sobremonte was the Viceroy at the time of the English invasions of Buenos Aires (1806-7); his role in the defense of the city was anything but a happy one.

On June 27, 1806, Gen. Viscount Beresford (formerly William Carr), one of Wellington’s companions in arms, led the first of the British assaults on the city. With a body of 1,500 troops from a British fleet under the command of Sir Home Popham, Beresford landed a few miles below the settlement of Quilmes, now a flourishing Buenos Aires suburb, marched on Buenos Aires and took possession of it. Sobremonte fled to Córdoba. The Governor of Montevideo, Ruis Huidobro, made preparations to recapture Buenos Aires, but while his expedition was being equipped, Santiago Liniers –the captain of a Spanish vessel in port– arrived at Montevideo with the same purpose. Liniers, who was Spanish of French origin, worked swiftly to assemble an army, crossed the river with them from Colonia under the darkness of night and landed on the opposite bank north of Buenos Aires. He merged his forces with a group assembled by Juan Martin Pueyrredon and the two men then led their band, 3,000 strong, into the city to drive out the English invaders. This occurred on Aug. 12, almost two months after Beresford had first landed.

Beresford himself surrendered and was taken prisoner. For the following eight months he was detained as a political guest-prisoner in the historic municipal building at Lujan, outside Buenos Aires. This building or “cabildo” was constructed early in the eighteenth century. Decorated in picturesque early Spanish style, it is now used as a museum, housing several mementos of the English officers held prisoner there, including a guilt ormulu clock presented by Beresford to Liniers, his captor. Other prisoners of note held in the building in later times included Gen. Manuel Belgrano, Gen. Marcos Paz and Gen. Bartolomé Mitre. The Royal Tobacco Revenue Building, erected in 1780, stands near the “cabildo.” It was also used as a jail for political prisoners and the Marquis de Sobremonte was held there after his fall from power.

Sobremonte was forced to appoint Liniers to the military command of the city and to delegate his own powers to the Cabildo, after which he retired to Montevideo.

In February of the following year the British, who had not abandoned their plans for this part of the world, landed a force under Sir Samuel Auchmuty on the northern bank of the Río de la Plata and captured Montevideo. On July 5, 1807, reinforcements arrived from England under the command of Gen. Whitelock, and the stage was set for the second and last of the British invasions of Buenos Aires.

Across the river, Liniers worked feverishly to meet the new threat. With the help of every inhabitant, he made thorough preparations for resistance. All streets leading inio the city were blocked by barricades, 15 to 20 feet deep, made of hides. Small pieces of artillery were fixed at the corners of the streets and on the low roofs of the houses. At that time houses were built with the windows projecting over the street and with iron bars protecting them, so that each house with its flat roof could soon be made into a miniature fortress.

The British crossed the river at night and began their attack on the city just before dawn. As they advanced, the cannon planted in the trenches poured a destructive grape-shot into their columns, while an incessant shower of stones, bricks, boiling water and musketry fire was rained down from the windows and the roofs of the houses. The British, unable to retaliate against their hidden enemies, fell by the hundreds. For two days the conflict raged and finally the column under Gen. Auchmuty took refuge in a building where bullfights were held in the Plaza de los Toros (now the Plaza San Martín). A second column under Gen. Crawford, after losing half its men, took shelter in the Santo Domingo church in Calle Defensa and finally were forced to surrender. The following day an armistice was declared and the British agreed to evacuate the Río de la Plata within two months.

For the heroic part that he played in the defeat of the British on these two occasions, Liniers is now one of the maximum heroes of Argentine history. Spain appointed Liniers Viceroy and he was still in office when the news of the crowning of Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain arrived. The people of Buenos Aires refused to acknowledge Napoleon’s control of Spain and Liniers was forced out as Viceroy. This was the first downward step in his political career. He became embittered against the native populace and became a firm Royalist; eventually he was shot by the first Junta (government) in 1810 because he was leading a counter-revolutionary movement after the Declaration of Independence.

On July 18, 1809, the French expelled from Spain, Cisneros became Viceroy in the name of Ferdinand VII. But his term of office was to last less than a year.

The allegiance to Spain by this time was more apparent than real. A strong revolutionary movement was beginning to take shape in Buenos Aires, with enthusiastic support from the cities of the interior. The idea of independence, nurtured by the knowledge that the people singlehanded had beaten the British twice, had taken a firm grasp on the imagination of the colonists. It was not to be dismissed by Royal Injunctions.

The first step toward independence was the formation of a Council, under the title of “The Provisional Government of the Provinces of the Río de la Plata.” An attempt by the Spanish, with the aid of the royal troops in the city, to make Cisneros President of the Council put the match to the powder-keg of revolution: it blew up with the revolt of May 25, 1810, which established “La Republica Argentina” as an independent nation.

The following year the same leaders who had inspired the Argentine revolution prepared to spread the fire of revolt and independence to Uruguay, then known as the Banda Oriental. The command of the revolutionary forces in Uruguay was given to Gen. José Artigas, who had aided the Argentines in their struggle for independence. The people of the interior rose to Artigas’ appeals, and after three years of struggle the Spaniards were driven out. The political power of Spain had been banished forever from the Río de la Plata.

On July 9, 1816, the separation from Spain was formally declared, with Buenos Aires as the seat of government.

For 14 years after the loss of what had promised to be one of her wealthiest colonies, Spain stubbornly refused to acknowledge the fact. Madrid apparently was counting on disputes among the various factions in the new republic to give her an opportunity to re-establish control. These disputes were almost continuous and on several occasions, Spain appeared to have almost within her grasp the opportunity she was seeking. Madrid waited in vain, however. On March 1, 1822, after 12 years of armed conflict and bitter disagreement, the representatives of all the liberated provinces met in Buenos Aires, and a general truce and amnesty were declared. Presented at last with a united front, Spain finally acknowledged Argentine independence in 1824.

On Jan. 23, 1825, a national constitution was drawn up and in the same year Great Britain signed a commercial treaty with the new nation, the first in a long series of agreements between the two countries. The treaty was negotiated for the British by George Canning, then the prime minister, who looms large in all histories of Argentina for the encouragement he gave the fledgling republic. Argentina was recognized by the United States in 1823, and from the moment of recognition by the two great powers her independence was assured.

During the first 20 years of life as an independent country, Argentina made substancial progress toward national maturity. This, despite the fact that she was racked from the beginning by internal strife and by the struggles for power always attendant upon the birth of a new state.

As in the United States, the main political issue of the formative period was the struggle between the proponents of a strong central government and those who supported the “states rights” theory. In Argentina these two groups were known, respectively, as the “Unitarios” (Unitarians) and the “Federalistas” (Federalists). The fight between the two groups did much to retard the growth to nationhood of the young republic, but its effect was as nothing compared to the dire future that lay in store for Argentina under the black night that was to come –the 22-year dictatorship of Juan Manuel Rosas, one of the bloodiest and most ruthless tyrants who ever strode across the pages of South American history.

Rosas’ road to power was paved by the general discord and bickering among Argentina’s leaders during the 1820’s. Some of the quarreling was inspired by political ideals, such as the unitarian-federalist struggle, and much of it resulted from the purely personal ambitions of the “caudillos,” or regional chiefs [war-lords]. But whatever its cause may have been, its effect was to leave the country completely disunited and, in some respects, bordering on anarchy. The industrious people of Argentina, struggling to establish an orderly life in the new land, were sick of political strife and when the “man on horseback” came along, they turned eagerly toward him. It was the traditional setting in which dictators arise and fasten their iron grip on nations. And that is exactly what Rosas did.

The scion of a wealthy Buenos Aires family, Rosas lived during his youth on the family estancia in the pampas. He spent most of his time there in the open air and learned to do all the tricks and feats of skill of the gauchos (cowboys) better than the gauchos themselves. A man of dominating personality, gifted with extreme physical prowess, he soon became the model and the idol of the gauchos. By the time he was 25 years old, he was the acknowledged “king” of the southern plains, with a thousand hard-riding, half-savage horsemen at his command. In 1820, when Rosas was 27, he took part in the war against the caudillos of the other provinces and rose to a leading position because of his personal bravery in battle. In one of the last struggles before he became dictator, Rosas defeated Juan de Lavalle in a battle outside the gates of Buenos Aires. That was in 1829, and from that time on he demonstrated consummate political skill.

He had a henchman, Juan José Viamonte, made provisional governor of the city. Viamonte immediately summoned an assembly which elected Rosas governor and captain-general for a three-year term. Rosas was inaugurated on Dec. 8, 1829, with broad powers and with the enthusiastic support of the populace as a whole, who fervently hoped that he would put an end to the bloodshed and strife that had plagued the country for a decade.

Rosas proceeded to rule with a strong but ostensibly just hand, thus increasing his popularity. At the end of his term, he was replaced by Juan R. Balcarce. Rosas made a great show of scrupulously obeying the mandate to leave public office when his term was up. He “retired” to his estancia, but not for long. In 1833 he increased his fame further still by leading an expedition against the southern Indians during which more than 6,000 natives were killed or enslaved. It is of historical interest to note that Charles Darwin, then making his famous trip around South America on H.M.S. Beagle, met Rosas during the Indian campaign; the English naturalist was greatly impressed by the Argentine leader at the time, but when he came to write his book about the trip several years later he sadly noted that he, like most of the Argentine people, had greatly miscalculated the character of the man.

While Rosas was hunting Indians, his agents in Buenos Aires were busy preparing the way for his return to power. Balcarce quarrelled with Rosas’ followers and was overthrown. When Rosas returned to Buenos Aires from his expedition, he was received with great honors and was again elected governor of the province. With great ostentation and protestations that he did not again want public office, he rejected the position four times but finally was “persuaded” to accept it. Inaugurated in 1835 (March), he was given dictatorial powers and his term of office was fixed for as many years as he considered necessary to restore peace and order.

Just as Adolf Hitler was to do in Germany almost 100 years later, Rosas insisted that this mandate should be given the cloak of legality by a plebiscite. The result was overwhelmingly in his favor.

When he finally accepted the post as governor, he was crowned by the women of the city, the streets were illuminated, bands of music paraded about the city and the populace rejoiced with shouts of “Viva the Restorer of the Law” and “Death to the Unitarians.” Rosas himself was a Federalist, but all aspects of the old Federalist-Unitarian soon faded into the background as the tyrant moved about establishing his dictatorship.

For more than 20 years he held the people of the country in abject terror. The “Mazorca,” a crude predecessor to Hitler’s Storm Troops and Gestapo, was the dictator’s main instrument of government. The “Mazorca” had been organized during Balcarce’s term of government to promote the return of Rosas to power. It was composed of desperados and cut-throats whose only law was the word of Rosas. They swore fealty to the leader and pledged themselves to do his bidding, even though it meant death to them. They wore a uniform of scarlet tunics and pointed cups, carrying long staffs to which were attached long scarlet pennants. These pennants carried the inscriptions “Viva los Federalistas” (Long live the Federalists) and “Muerte a los Unitarios” (Death to the Unitarians). The Unitarians immediately were hunted down and killed or driven into exile. Innumerable atrocities were committed by the “Mazorca” in the name of patriotism. Rosas defended his barbarities on the ground that he was carrying out his mandate to “restore law and order.” But soon the persecution leaped beyond the ranks of the Unitarians and spread to anyone who dared to criticize Rosas. The ruler gradually concentrated into his hands all the power of government and, through the use of the “Mazorca,” spread his iron control over the entire country. His partisans were placed in all provincial offices and he exercised absolute authority over them.

The blue and white colors of the Argentine flag became proscripted and were replaced everywhere by the scarlet of Rosas. Anyone wearing a scrap of blue cloth was immediately considered guilty of treason and dispatched with one of the hideous knives favored by the “Mazorca.” Rosas’ fanaticism in searching out and eradicating all conceivable opposition went to the greatest extremes. He even required that houses be painted blue or pink as a proof of loyalty. Many ancient buildings in Buenos Aires still bear faded traces of this unique form of patriotism.

Many uprisings took place against Rosas, the most notable of which occurred during the early part of his tyranny under the leadership of Juan de Lavalle, in 1840. At the head of a considerable group of Unitarians who had returned to Argentina from exile and had formed an army in the province of Entre Rios, Lavalle invaded the province of Buenos Aires. He was defeated, however, and shot the following year by Rosas.

One of the foremost of Rosas’ military leaders was Gen. Manuel Oribe who, in 1842, was named by Rosas to lead an Argentine army against Uruguay, whose government was hostile to Rosas and gave shelter to all political refugees from Argentina—just as occurred in more recent times after the military revolution of June 4, 1943.

Uruguay’s independence had been secured by Argentina in a war against Brazil in 1828, after the Portuguese had invaded the Banda Oriental. The campaign led by Oribe against Uruguay was also supported by Justo José Urquiza, then governor of the province of Entre Rios and at the time one of Rosas’ most devoted followers. Eventually, however, Urquiza was to prove the man who ousted Rosas from power.

Montevideo resisted the Argentine invasion with great bravery, and for nearly ten years withstood the siege of Oribe’s forces. It was the longest and most stubborn war ever fought on Uruguayan or, indeed, on South American soil. Montevideo seemed doomed to go under to superior forces when timely intervention by France and England upset the plans of Rosas, who had quarrelled with both countries. The Anglo-French fleets blockaded Buenos Aires and drove Argentine vessels from the Río de la Plata, and although the blockade eventually was lifted with no decisive result it swung the day in favor of the plucky Montevideo garrison.

About this time Urquiza broke openly with Rosas after a number of minor quarrels. Early in 1851 he obtained support from Brazil and Uruguay and decided to make an all-out effort to overthrow the dictator. The legislature of Entre Rios passed a law “accepting” the resignation of Rosas as director of the foreign policy and affairs of the United Provinces of the River Plate, as Argentina was then known. Urquiza then hurried across the river to Montevideo where he raised an army of 30,000 men. On Jan. 8, 1852, Urquiza led his forces across the Paraná river. Rosas had gathered together an approximately equal number of men, and the two armies clashed at Monte Caseros, about ten miles from Buenos Aires, on Feb. 3. The tyrant was defeated and fled from the field of battle in disguise. He and his daughter Manuelita were smuggled aboard a British ship and carried to Southampton, where the dictator died in 1877. It was learned later that Rosas, prior to his defeat, had taken the precaution of sending large sums of money secretly to England, hidden in bags of grain exported by a British firm in Buenos Aires.

Rosas literally applied the knife of the gaucho to the culture of Argentina. He turned back the clock of civic development and did his best to destroy all intellectual and cultural activities in Argentina. He did effectively destroy personal liberties, law and all sense of individual security. At his death, he was the most bitterly hated man in Argentina, and his name still is a term of repulsion for all Argentines except a small handful of “nationalists” who openly worship Rosas as their maximum hero. These “nationalists” are the totalitarian groups who enthusiastically supported Nazi Germany in the second World War and who are responsible for the pro-Axis name that was given this country during the recent conflict. Despite the defeat of the Axis powers, the “nationalists” remain true to the totalitarian creed of the right; they find in Rosas the optimum expression of their philosophy.

A provisional government was formed under Urquiza, and the Brazilian and Uruguayan troops which had collaborated in the defeat of Rosas withdrew from Buenos Aires. All the provincial governors met in the small town of San Nicolas, in the province of Buenos Aires, and an agreement was signed naming Urquiza provisional chief of state and summoning a federal congress to draft a constitution. Because of the predominance of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe was chosen as the site of the Constituent Assembly. The proud porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) refused to participate in the Santa Fe meeting. Urquiza would not use force in trying to bring Buenos Aires into the union. When the Assembly appointed him President of the Confederation, he established the seat of government at Paraná, capital of his home province, Entre Rios. The province of Buenos Aires was recognized as independent. At that time the city of Buenos Aires was part of the province; it is now a federal district, similar to the District of Columbia in the U. S., and its administration is theoretically autonomous, although it is in point of fact completely dominated by the national government.

On May 1, 1853, a Constitution was adopted by the Assembly, and it was promulgated by Urquiza on May 25, Argentina’s national holiday. Urquiza was elected first president. During his administration treaties were signed with Great Britain, France and the United States, opening the Paraná and Uruguay rivers to foreign trade and commerce. In 1865 the first immigrants arrived from Europe, and the first passenger mole was erected in the port of Buenos Aires.

The separate governments continued to operate until 1859 when the long-standing tension between Buenos Aires and the rest of the country snapped as the result of legislation passed by the Paraná congress which the porteños considered prejudicial to them. The Congress then authorized Urquiza to use force against Buenos Aires in order to secure its entry into the confederation. Another armed conflict became inevitable. The battle occurred on Oct. 23, 1859 at Cespeda where the Buenos Aires forces, led by Gen. Bartolomé Mitre, were defeated. An agreement was signed on Nov. 11, re-incorporating Buenos Aires into the union.

Urquiza resigned the presidency at this juncture to become once more the Governor of Entre Rios province. The struggle between the two leading provinces was not yet settled, despite the defeat of Buenos Aires at Cespeda, and in 1861 the armies of Mitre and Urquiza met again, this time at Pavón in the province of Santa Fe. The ensuing battle resulted in a resounding defeat for Urquiza. Mitre was elected provisional president of the confederation, now for the first time a truly united nation. Mitre later was elected president of Argentina.

For four brief years the country was to enjoy a period of peace and prosperity, marked by the construction of its first railway. The railway, the Argentine Central, ran from Retiro station, near the Casa Rosada, to the Tigre delta about 30 kilometers away. It was built in 1863. The following year construction began on the Buenos Aires Great Southern road. These two systems, now the largest in Argentina, were capitalized and constructed by Great Britain, as were the majority of public works carried out in the young republic. Mitre’s administration was characterized by solid progress and by many reforms. Foreign capital was given ample guarantees and was welcomed to the country. Rivers and harbors were carefully surveyed. Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe, was made a port of entry and began the growth that has made it second only to Buenos Aires in size and importance. Located on the Paraná river, Rosario at present is the greatest grain shipping port in Argentina and one of the most important in the world.

This progress was halted temporarily by the war with Paraguay. Relations with that inland country had been deteriorating ever since the Rosas regime had refused to recognize Paraguay’s independence in 1842. In 1862, Francisco Solano López, a tyrant of the same stripe as Rosas, came into power in Paraguay and immediately embarked on an ambitious program for establishing an empire in the heart of South America. His father, Carlos Antonio López, had built up Paraguay’s prosperity and had also created a large, well-edified and well-equipped army. His son began his campaign by seizing the Brazilian province of Matto Grosso along the Paraguay river. He then demanded free passage for his troops through Argentine territory. Mitre refused, and the Paraguayan invasion of Argentina was on. López' action brought about an alliance of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Mitre was named commander of the allied forces. The alliance, signed on May 1, 1865, was the first step in the war that lasted four years and was perhaps the bloodiest in all South American history. After many reverses, the allies finally gained the upper hand. They entered Asunción on January 2, 1869, but López, fighting with the tenacity and fury of a demon, continued to resist for 15 months. He was finally killed near Aquidabán on March 1, 1870, and peace was proclaimed in June. Mitre had been replaced in 1868 as allied commander by Gen. Caxias of Brazil, whose troops carried the main burden of the military operations of the last two years of war.

Mitre’s term as president ended in 1868. He was succeeded by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the victor in elections described as the most peaceful and true expression of the people’s will in the hitherto turbulent political history of Argentina.

Sarmiento is known today in Argentina as “The Great Educator” because of the tremendous stimulus he gave the development of the country’s school system. During his administration, the entire system was revamped and developed; Sarmiento applied many of the educational principles then prevalent in the United States, principles with which he had become familiar during a visit to the U.S. around 1860 [See Clara Allyn, school-teacher & wife of Alfred’s brother William]. But he also built new roads, fostered immigration and in general did his utmost to develop the country to economic and political young manhood. Immigration began to pour into the ‘country at the rate of 20,000 yearly. By 1870 the population of Buenos Aires had increased to 180,000. The increase in wealth went hand in hand with the upsurge in population, and the world has seldom seen a more meteoric rise to national affluence than that of Argentina in the decades between 1870 and 1890. The basis for the country’s wealth lay in its export of agricultural products.

Sarmiento’s tenure of office was marked by only one untoward political development of importance. This was the effort by the last of the provincial “caudillos” [war-lords] to rebel against the authority of the central government. This “caudillo” was a man named López Jordán who in 1870 gathered together a force of gauchos and outlaws and proceeded to terrorize the province of Entre Rios. Urquiza, who was still the governor of the province, was captured by the rebels and despite his age was assassinated. López Jordán then had himself proclaimed the governor of Entre Rios. Sarmiento dispatched federal troops to put him down, but more than a year was required to subdue him. He finally was defeated and driven into exile.

The presidential elections of 1874 resolved themselves into the now traditional struggle between the provincial and the porteño forces [porteño: port-person, i.e. from Buenos Aires]. Dr. Nicolás Avellaneda, the candidate of the former, won the election over Gen. Mitre, who had again entered the political lists. The porteños, disgruntled, appealed to arms again, but their revolt was shortlived. It was put down by troops under Julio A. Roca, then a young colonel [later president], and Avellaneda was installed as president on Oct. 12, 1874.

Avellaneda’s inauguration occurred only three days after the Benitz family had completed their long trip from California to this “land of promise” where Alfred Benitz was to make his home and his fortune.


Although the Benitz family arrived when the political excitement preceding Avellaneda’s inauguration was at its height, the event drew no mention in Alfred’s diary. All his attention was absorbed by the direct personal problems and experiences of his family and himself. In line with its factual nature, the diary likewise shows a complete absence of speculation or pondering about the future or about the new vistas that might open up to its author in this strange land. The immediate present was the thing that Alfred dealt with, and that subject was the only one that received treatment at his hands.

After noting that the family said good-bye to the “Boyne” and then went ashore, Alfred wrote in the Oct. 9 entry:

“We walked along to the Customs House where our trunks were examined. We then took two ‘coches’ (a kind of open carriage drawn by two miserable half-starving horses) and drove to the Hotel del Norte, which is situated in the principal street, Calle 9 de Julio, and near to the river. The hotel is roomy and has a large courtyard paved with red tiles and ornamented with rows of tubs which are planted with small lemon trees and flowering shrubs.”

The only thing that Alfred found worthy of mention in his entries for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10 and 11 respectively, was that heavy rain fell on both days and that a small fire occurred at two a.m. on Sunday but was soon put out. Monday, the day of the inauguration, did not even merit an entry in the diary. The weather was of more interest to Alfred and on Tuesday he wrote:

“The weather cleared up today, so Charlie and I went for a walk around the city. The streets which are very straight and narrow are paved with round boulder stones, about the size of a football. The sidewalks, made of brick or stone, are so narrow that only two people can walk abreast. On each side of the streets, there are rows of posts placed at a distance of about ten yards apart. These once held ropes made of hide which were stretched along the sidewalks to protect foot-passengers from runaway horses and wild cattle driven by ‘gauchos’ or cowboys from the plains. The streets in some places are full of holes and big carts without any springs bump over the stones and make a fearful noise as they clatter past.”

During the next 15 days of the family’s stay in Buenos Aires, Alfred and Charlie spent more of their time in exploration of the many picturesque sights. At that time the complicated dredging and dock system which Buenos Aires now boasts had not been constructed, and oceangoing vessels had to anchor out in the river while lighters brought their cargo as far toward the shore as the shallow waters of the Río de la Plata permitted.

“The numerous small steamers which come from the big ships in the distance with cargoes of merchandise unload them into carts that go out into the river from 200 to 300 yards from the shore,” Alfred wrote.

“There are also the water-carts, hundreds of them continually going to and from the river. As there is no proper supply of water to the houses, the watermen take the muddy water from door to door and sell it by the bucket.”

Alfred found the Río de la Plata “like the sea, with no land visible.” He added that

“sometimes on a clear day, with the sun shining on it, it really looks like silver, but usually is a muddy red.

“I also went often to watch the washerwomen or ‘lavanderas’ under the cliffs just behind Government House. It is the place where all the washerwomen of Buenos Aires are allowed to do their washing. All over the ground the women (mostly negresses) kneel beside the pools among the rocks, scrubbing and thumping away at their work, and like most niggers, gabbling and shrieking all the while. The clean linen is spread on the broad beach under the cliffs, covering the ground for yards around, hanging from long lines, and covering the rocks or patches of green grass above the beach. You have to be mighty careful not to go too near them, as they shriek and swear at you if you go too close. This is because some of the young fellows like to amuse themselves by pretending not to see the clothes, and walk over them so as to make the lavanderas mad.

“We also visited the Central Produce Market, which is some way from the central part of the city, and situated on the banks of the Riachuelo, a small stream full of a crowd of brightly painted boats at anchor there. The Market itself is a huge red building containing three floors. The ground floor is for hides, while in the upper floors, wool and grain are stored. The railway goes inside the building itself and there are holes in the upper floors at which the trains halt, when the roofs are removed from the cars and their contents hauled up by cranes to which every floor is accessible. The produce comes from all over the country.”

In addition to giving the above picture of Buenos Aires as it was in 1874, Alfred, with the slight superciliousness of the youthful foreigner, described a typical Sunday gathering of the upper stratum of society outside the Cathedral. He witnessed the scene after he and Uncle Frank had gone on Sunday to visit the National Museum. After dismissing the Museum as “not very interesting,” he continued:

“On our way there we crossed the principal square, the Plaza 25 de Mayo, which is in front of Government House, and went past the Cathedral where there was a great festival. We stopped for a while and watched the people as they came in and out of the church. The ladies were beautifully dressed and the gentlemen with them wore silk hats and were dressed entirely in black except for beautiful colored waistcoats. At the door of the church the gentlemen bowed and then went and stood in front of the building, so that there was quite a crowd of men waiting for the service to end, when they would take the ladies home again. The men, mostly young, waved their arms and hands about while they talked in small. groups. At the end of the service, the church bells rang very loudly and the crowd of ladies came out. In a short while every- one had disappeared.”

On Oct. 22, Father Benitz set off for the river town of Rosario, in company with Uncle Frank and Mr. and Mrs. Mahrer, to look over some land in the country that had been recommended as a likely site for a cattlegrowing ranch or estancia. In. the entry of his diary for that day, Alfred noted that his room in the hotel had been changed and that he was glad of it because he didn’t have to listen to the “Sereno” or night-watchman in his new room. This observation led to the following remarks on the “Sereno”:

“These are a poor-looking lot of men, mostly old, who carry long staffs and heavy lanterns with a light inside. I used to lie awake at first listening to them calling the hours from the stroke of eleven p. m. when they gave a long wailing call of ‘Las once han dado y sereno’ which means ‘Eleven has struck and all is well.’ If the night is foggy, the end of the sentence is ‘nublado’ and so on, according to the weather. The young fellows of the city often start battles with them and take away their lanterns and staffs as trophies. The policemen are dressed in dark blue uniforms with brass buttons on their coats. They wear white spats and small square hats with a peak, like French soldiers, and long swords at their sides. They are mostly very short and have big moustaches.”

Alfred reported that Father Benitz returned from Rosario on Oct. 28 with the announcement that the prospects of getting a good farm were “splendid” and that he would take the entire family back with him when he went back in a few days. The most interesting parts of Alfred’s diary during his few remaining days in Buenos Aires were further pungent comments on the various types of people encountered, their habits and costumes.

“The beggars here are dreadful,” he wrote. “They sit on the sidewalks and are the worst-looking men I have ever seen. Most of them are old soldiers who have been condemned to serve in the army for sometimes as long as 20 years, according to the kind of crime they have committed, and when set free, live on what they can pick up in the streets. They ring at the door continually asking for alms in the name of God, and you cannot walk along for five minutes without being stopped and even clawed at by these people. Unless you give them something or say ‘Perdón, por Dios,’ they will keep following you, cursing and using the most awful language.

“The milkmen are very curious and interesting. They are dressed in a kind of black shawl for pants, and have white cotton stockings and canvas shoes with rope soles called ‘alpargatas’, on their feet. They wear a white embroidered shirt and a beautiful white leather belt covered with countless silver coins, which fastens in front with large silver clasps. On their heads are small round black caps without any brim. The milk is brought in from the villages outside the cities in two long tin cans strapped on either side of the horse. The milkman sits in between them on a very wide and high sheepskin saddle called a ‘recado.’ The butter is made by the horse’s trotting, which seems to be its usual pace, and the butter, together with the milk, is taken from door to door and sold straight from the can. As a rule, their horses are very fine looking animals, well-groomed and cared for, and with their long tails nearly touching the ground. Sometimes a man comes to the door driving two or three cows with their calves, and the milk is sold straight from the cow.”

Of these three types described by Alfred - the night watchman, the beggars and the milkmen - the first and third still exist in modified form [in 1952]. The beggars have largely been eliminated in most Argentine cities by enlightened municipal governments. However, in all the suburbs of Buenos Aires, the “sereno” continues to make his round, usually on a bicycle, and collects two or three pesos monthly from the householders on his beat. The milkmen no longer ride horses; they travel in great-wheeled carts and their picturesque costume has not changed a great deal from that described by Alfred. And the ambulating milkmen, driving their “two or three cows with their calves,” still make the rounds in the suburbs. Their slow-moving charges frequently interrupt a busy stream of automobiles along the more important suburban streets.


Although Father Benitz had not yet definitely decided that he would buy the land near Rosario that he had inspected, he early felt that the area around that thriving city would prove the best farming land of all that he had seen. He decided, therefore, to move the family to Rosario and to make that his base of operations for further trips to look over prospective forms, or “estancias,” as the Benitz family by now was already learning to term them.

The family left Buenos Aires on Nov. 1 for Rosario, taking the train as far as it went to the Tigre Delta. This lap of the journey took two and a half hours. The journey from Retiro station in Buenos Aires to the Tigre Delta today is made in 45 minutes on rapid electric trains, part of the excellent suburban train service which serves the Argentine capital and which, for cheapness and frequency of trains, is unequalled by the commuting service of any other large city of the world. The entire journey from Buenos Aires to Rosario required more than 27 hours at the time of the Benitz family trip; today the time required is only four to five hours.

Alfred, as usual, kept a detailed account of the trip. At Tigre the family transferred from the train to a river steamer. Here is his story of the rest of the journey:

“The steamer left at one p.m., when we had lunch. Most of the afternoon the steamer went through sloughs, and had to be pushed off with a pole, and at four o’clock we entered the Paraná river. It was not as wide as I expected, but I could not see the other side as there were so many islands. At six o’clock we had supper, when there were a good many nice things to eat. Afterwards, Charlie and I went to sleep in a room with two other men. It was a warm day.

“Nov. 2: I did not sleep very well during the night, as it turned cold. At 11 o’clock this morning we stopped at San Nicolás for about half an hour. After breakfast, I went and sat alone near the end of the boat as it was getting rather rough. I was nearly sea-sick and many of the others really were. At two p.m. we arrived at Rosario, and after our luggage had been examined at the Customs, we drove to the Globe Hotel, where we were going to stay for a few days. The rooms are good, but the eating is bad.”

Father Benitz almost immediately started out on a series of cross-country trips to inspect land being offered for sale. He and Uncle Frank together made most of the trips, the first one being to the neighboring province of Córdoba. Subsequently they pretty well covered all the territory within travelling distance. Between these trips looking for land, Mr. and Mrs. Benitz went to Buenos Aires occasionally to stock up on household goods that would be needed on the estancia.

It was during this period that Mr. and Mrs. Mahrer, who had made the long trip from New York to London to Buenos Aires to Rosario, one day decided abruptly that the new country was not for them. Overwhelmingly homesick since their arrival in Argentina, they finally reached the conclusion that this was not the place where they wanted to live. On Dec. 14 they left Rosario for Buenos Aires and there shipped back to the United States.

The Benitz family were sorry to see the Mahrer’s leave, but the event did not change their highly favorable opinion of Argentina. Father Benitz; continued his inspection tours and his thoroughness was evidenced by the fact that it was not until late in February 1875 that he finally decided to settle down on an estancia 35 leagues from the city of Santa Fé. During his three months of search for land, the family remained in Rosario. Alfred’s diary for the period covered a series of minor incidents but nothing of vital importance.

In looking over the available land, Father Benitz saw a fair share of the north central part of Argentina. This part of the country, together with the immensely wealthy province of Buenos Aires, forms the richest belt of Argentina, the zone that contributed chiefly to its growth and prosperity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Like the United States, Argentina boasts all varieties of climate, from lush jungle growth to arid desert, and from sub-tropical conditions in the north to frigid climate in the far south.

The country may be divided into four general categories: mountains, plains, forests and rivers. The most important of the mountainous features is the Cordillera of the Andes, the great backbone of South America which probably is an extension of the Rocky Mountain chain in the United States. It is the towering Andes that form the boundary between Argentina and Chile.

Next in importance are the Córdoba mountains which comprise three different chains. The first of these, the Sierra de Córdoba, lies 30 miles west of the city of the same name and extends 200 miles from Cruz del Eje in the north to Chaján in the south, covering an area of 4,500 square miles. The second is the Sierra del Pocho which lies ten miles west of the Sierra de Córdoba and runs parallel to it for a distance of 100 miles in its northern part; this range covers about 1,200 square miles. In between the two others in size, is the Sierra de Ischelin, lying north of the city of Córdoba. This chain knifes straight northward to the Salinas desert and covers an area of 2,300 square miles.

The principal rivers of central Argentina have their sources in these mountains of Córdoba. With the exception of the Río Negro (Black River) and the Río Salado (Salty River), the best known of the streams in this part of the country simply carry a number: Río Primero, Río Segundo, Río Tercero and so fortb. It is perhaps of interest to mention that Argentina has given the names of her rivers to the ships of her new-born, but thriving, merchant marine, the Flota Mercante del Estado. This fleet was built up at the start of the Second World War and is still growing. It proved a godsend to hemisphere commerce, including trade with the United States, during the recent war.

Two other important bodies of water in northern Argentina are the Mar Chiquita (Tiny Sea) and the Lago de Porongos (Gourd Lake), a great salt lake. The Mar Chiquita is, in reality, a great lagoon that lies in the north-eastern corner of the province of Córdoba. Many rivers and streams empty into it, but it has no outlet.

Argentina’s great forests cover about half the area of the sprawling jungle region known as “El Gran Chaco,” which begins in the northern part of the province of Santa Fé and extends into Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as a large part of northern Argentina. The area covered by the Chaco forests is calculated at some 60,000 square miles, with occasional breaks and open spaces. In addition to these forests, there are great stands of wood in the provinces of Entre Rios, Córdoba and Corrientes. The trees indigenous to the region are the Ñandubay, Quebracho, Espinillo, Algarrobo, Lapacho, Cedar and Urunday. Of these, the Quebracho is perhaps the best known and the most useful. Its wood is extremely hard and durable. It was used originally for ties in the construction of railways, but its principal use today is in the tanning industry which secures from it an extract (tannin) that is used the world over to cure leather. In Argentina it is widely used as fuel.

Quebracho logs were used on Argentina’s first railway, begun in 1863 and completed seven years later. The enterprise was undertaken by William Wheelwright, an American engineer, on behalf of a British company and it linked the inland cities of Rosario and Córdoba, a distance of 283 miles. Wheelwright was granted a concession which included a strip of land three miles wide on either side of the right-of-way, for purposes of colonization. Prior to the inauguration of the railways, there were no transportation facilities except by animal motive-power. Horse carts and slow-moving caravans of bullock carts carrying merchandise sometimes required months to cover a few leagues. The opening of the railway was an event of prime historical importance in opening and developing the interior of Argentina.

During the nineteenth century, some European species of trees were introduced into Argentina. Among them were all the well-known fruit trees, and Argentine fruit is now one of her best-known exports. In 1852 the Australian Eucalyptus or gum-tree was brought into the country by Thomas Tomkinson, an early settler. It readily adapted itself to the climate of this country and today forms the favorite avenue of approach to many estancias.

Argentina’s best known physical feature, her famous pampas, are vast flat areas covered with a coarse grass over which one may ride for days without seeming to advance; they have properly been called grassy seas, for with the wind rippling over them they present to the solitary horseman an unlimited horizon of grassy waves, bounded only by the extent of the rider’s vision. These plains extend from Río Salado in the north to the Río Colorado in the south and are only broken by the group of hills in the southern part of Buenos Aires province, called the Sierras de Tandil and Ventana. Farther to the south, the pampas broaden out and eventually extend westward to the Andes mountains. In the north they reach as far west as the mountains of Córdoba.

When the Spanish conquistadores reached Argentina, the pampas were treeless, except for an occasional, solitary Ombú - a curious manifestation of plant life whose only use is to give shade to the weary horseman. The Ombú has been celebrated in song and story, but chiefly by the English writer William Henry Hudson who used the name of the tree as the title of a collection of short stories about the pampa. The Ombú still serves as the “lighthouse of the plains,” but with the advent of estancias the tree population of the great pampa region has increased tremendously.


Father Benitz, who had already pioneered and made a home in Mexico and California, now set about the task for the third and last time. After almost four months of constant inspection trips and after weighing carefully all the hundreds of factors present, he chose the ground which was to become his permanent home.

The place selected was a parcel of four square leagues, bought from Señor Carlos Vernet at a price of 16,000 pesos “fuertes” (strong pesos). The “strong peso” was a Castillian silver coin weighing an ounce and a quarter, and it was so called to distinguish it from the ordinary peso; it was used in both Argentina and Uruguay during the nineteenth century and was worth two and a half times as much as the ordinary peso. [note: 16,000 pesos fuertes of 1874 converts to approx. 1,500,000 US dollars of 1998, based upon the price of silver then at US$ 70+ per ounce.]

The price paid for the land made it work out at about three pesos and fifty centavos of present-day [1952] Argentine money per hectare. (The hectare is the basic land measure in Argentina and is equivalent to slightly more than two and a half acres [correction: 1 ha. = 2.471 acres]) Today [1952] the same land is worth more than 500 pesos the hectare.

The future home of the Benitz’ was located about seven leagues from Cañada de Gómez, the closest town, and was about 35 leagues from the ancient city of Santa Fé. It consisted of just under 11,000 hectares of virgin pasture land, and the wealth that it produced, and still is producing [1952 & 2001], in subsequent years, proves that Benitz knew what he was about.

With the memories of his former home still fresh, Father Benitz named the new estancia “La California.” The purchase deed was signed on Feb. 18, 1875, but it was not until one month and a half later, on April 8, that the men-folk of the family set out to break the earth for the new home.

The group left Rosario by train at 6 a.m. on a Friday and the trip was described by Alfred as follows:

“Father, Uncle, Frank, Willie, Charlie and I left to start work on the new property, which Father had decided to name ‘La California.’ After leaving Rosario, the railway gradually rose to a higher level which at Cañada de Gómez reached a difference in altitude of more than 150 feet. At Carcarañá, the station before our destination, we crossed a fine iron bridge which spans the Río Carcarañá. When we arrived at Cañada de Gómez at 9.30 o’clock, we were met by a son of Señor Vernet. Four bullock wagons were drawn up outside the station. Father, Uncle and Mr. Vernet started off in the first wagon; Frank, Willie, Charlie and I were in the second, and the other two, piled high with our belongings of tents, tools, food, etc., brought up the rear.

“These wagons were different in size and shape from those that we used in the United States. They were built very high on either side, roofed over with canvas or skins, and had two immense wheels instead of the four small ones. They were drawn by from four to 16 oxen, depending on the load, and the men in charge of them either walked or rode alongside or else perched themselves on a board or yoke tied on the heads of the animals with thongs of hide called ‘cojundas’ which were made from a long strip about two inches wide, which is started in the center of the hide and cut round and round to its whole length for about three meters.

“They also had bamboo poles with a nail in the end called a ‘picana’ or goad, with which they sometimes jabbed the poor animals, yelling and cursing at them most of the time. These oxen go at a very slow, steady crawl of about two miles an hour.

“The rest of the journey took us until just before sunset to accomplish, and a most uncomfortable experience it was, too, not only on account of the jolting of the wagon, as immediately after leaving Cañada de Gómez the road became very rough, but also on account of our smarting eyes, inflamed by the cold strong wind which blew most of the day, and the clouds of dust kicked up by the oxen who flicked their tails against the swarms of flies that pestered them.

“When we at last cut across open country the going was better. At midday we stopped for a meal consisting of a whole sheep roasted on an iron stake before a fire (asado) which was excellent. There was also bread and cheese and fruit. The men in charge of the wagons also ate the meat and a kind of very hard, dry biscuit called ‘galleta.’ Afterwards, we all drank ‘mate,’ which is a tea made from a herb that grows chiefly in Paraguay. The brew was made with boiling water in a dried gourd, also called a mate, and is sucked up from the gourd through a silver tube with a perforated bulb in one end, called a “bombilla.” I thought I liked it pretty well, but the others said it looked and smelled like cow-dung. It is said to be very sustaining and everyone drinks it. After an hour’s siesta we started off again across the wide, flat, open country, now covered with a short coarse grass that stretched away before us like a vast green sea, as far as the horizon.

“Occasionally we came across patches of little scarlet flowers rather like a verbena. We saw several vizcachas (an indigenous rodent of Argentina) who darted into their burrows at our approach, and once a skunk moved across our trail. Fortunately it did not squirt its perfume at our wheels, as the smell would have stuck to it for weeks afterwards. There were lots of little grey and brown owls which followed us for a time with angry cries, trying to chase us from their holes in the ground where they build their nests. They have short, curved beaks, wide flat faces and sharp black eyes. There is always one sitting on each post along the railway fence, and they follow the train with their eyes, screwing their heads almost right around in the most amusing way. Uncle said that they say in Córdoba that if you want to kill one, all you have to do is to walk around it, and it will twist its own neck.

“We arrived at our destination just before sunset. The boundary of the property was marked by posts about a foot high called ‘mojones.’ Otherwise there was nothing to be seen except a well which had recently been opened, covered by a piece of corrugated iron and marked by a pile of stones. After the animals had been watered, they were allowed to roam around and to crop the grass. The wagons were drawn up in a circle, in case of an attack by the Indians, and a fire made of dry bones and dead grass was built in the center. After supper we sat around the fire for a while listening to one of the men twanging a guitar and singing a sort of moaning song, something about ‘mi madre, me muero, mi amor’ (my mother, I die, my love). Señor Vernet was telling us about the Indians and he said that a delegation of settlers founded a colony at Cañada de Gómez in 1860 and that it was constantly raided by the Indians up to the year 1864. The villagers used to take refuge at the nearby estancia of an Englishman named Major St. John, who had a trench and a stockade. At Armstrong, 11 miles farther along the railway line, the workmen constructing the right of way were so constantly bothered by the Indians that they generally kept an engine continually under steam, and on one occasion the savages tried to ‘lasso’ the engine.

“We then rolled ourselves in our rugs and blankets and slept in the wagons. Frank, Willie and I took it in turns to keep watch during the night. I took the first watch and occupied myself by looking at the stars, which seemed to be nearer and brighter than I had ever seen them before. I think it must have been the complete flatness of the country that gave me this impression. The wind had dropped at sunset, and the night became very cold and frosty, so I was glad of the fire. At 10.30 I built up the fire, awakened Frank and turned in.”

The next day all hands were up before dawn, as is the invariable custom in the country, and before breakfast two of the ox-carts left on the first of the innumerable journeys that were to follow, back to Cañada de Gómez, the rail-head, to fetch back the materials needed in building the estancia house. Everything that was to go into the house, except the bricks which were made on the spot, had to be brought up from Rosario or Buenos Aires, shipped to Cañada de Gómez and then hauled to La California by ox-cart. Alfred busied himself, helping to unload the two other carts and putting up the tents in which the men would sleep while the house was being built.

During the morning the three men who were of vital importance in laying out and building the house arrived. They were the architect, the carpenter and the surveyor. Once they had been settled, the first dramatic moment of searching for the site had arrived.

“We then drove over the camp, examined it and finally chose the site for the house,” Alfred wrote. “Father stuck a two-pronged fork into the ground to mark the place.”

That two-pronged fork is still kept in a place of honor in the office of Mr. Willie Benitz, Alfred’s nephew, who now [1952] operates La California estancia.

“It was decided to build a house,” Alfred continued, “not only suitable for our own wants, but one in which we could entertain our friends and to which passers-by would be welcome. Father also thought that it would be better to build with regard to our future requirements, so a two-story building sufficient to accommodate 25 people was planned, the northwest wing to be completed first.

“Early that afternoon a wagon loaded with wood arrived with several men on horseback, who with the car- penter started to put up a large shed.

“April 20: today was Sunday and so no work was done by the men. For breakfast I made flapjacks for everybody, which were much appreciated. I must have made over 40 in all, and we had a great feast. In the afternoon we drove over the camp again to a ‘puesto,’ which is a small plot of ground marked out by a fence or shallow ditch on which is the home of the gaucho - an adobe hut straw-thatched. These generally have a well of blackish water, a shed for the horses and cows, and an ombú tree which provides a certain amount of shade. A few chickens, one or two turkeys and several odd-looking dogs of the yellow greyhound breed seem to be everywhere, together with crowds of children of all ages.

“April 21: this morning after watching the men mark out the foundations for the house, Uncle and I drove into Cañada de Gómez in the ‘volante,’ a sort of high coach, which took us four hours. We approached the town through a rough dusty road, past white-washed mud houses with flat roofs lining the principal streets, and before whose doors stood hobbled horses waiting patiently in the sun. There were several women sitting on benches or stools on the mud sidewalk. The store or ‘pulpería’ had a number of horses tied to wooden hitching posts outside. It was a long mud house surrounded by a shallow ditch nearly full with rubbish of all kinds. Uncle and I sat down at a dirty table. Uncle ordered steak and onions with fried eggs on top, which is called ‘bife a caballo’ (literally, steak on horseback), bread and mate for both of us. Meanwhile I looked around. Here one could buy cheese, long loaves of bread, sardines, dried figs, raisins and soap. Behind the bar was a counter. The bar itself had a lot of bottles of ‘vino seco’ (dry wine), rum, gin and a cheap native wine called ‘caña,’ which is made from sugar cane and which tasted to me like methylated spirits. The bar was protected by a strong iron grill reaching to the ceiling, behind which the proprietor stood with his revolver handy. In one corner there was a huge heap of stinking sheepskins, and piled on the shelves on the wall were stacks of ponchos, saddlecloths, ‘alpargatas,’ cheap under-clothes and bolts of cotton materials. From the ceiling hung strirgs of onions and garlic, held together with plaited straw.

“It seemed to be the custom of the country for anyone entering the store and seeing us eating to say ‘Buen Provecho,’ which means ‘May you benefit from what you are eating.’

“While Uncle was making some purchases, I looked at the man lounging at the counter drinking. He was dressed in a heavy black ‘chiripá,’ like the milkmen in Buenos Aires wore, beneath which showed long, lace-trimmed trousers. The tops of his patent-leather boots were embroidered in scarlet and blue thread while his wide leather belt was covered with silver coins and fastened with a huge silver buckle in front. Into this belt was tucked a long, thin silver-handled knife, while hanging over one arm was an expensive looking fringed shawl, his poncho. Most of the ponchos were hand-woven from the wool of the vicuña, a native animal similar to the llama. They have a slit in the center through which the wearer passes his head, so that the poncho falls down over the shoulders forming a warm and comfortable cloak. His forehead was bound with a scarlet silk handkerchief, the ends falling over one shoulder while on his head he wore a soft round black hat, tied under the chin with two long strings. He had a wonderful pair of great silver spurs and a silver-mounted ‘rebenque’ (whip).

“Outside the pulpería stood his horse, whose long flowing tail and mane, and black glossy coat fascinated me. The horse carried silver-mounted reins and bridle, and a white ‘cojinillo’ (white sheepskin rug) under its black leather ‘recado’ (saddle), with enormous silver stirrups.

“There were several other gauchos with iron spurs tied to their bare feet by thongs of rawhide, who wore long black sashes around the waist, which served to hold up their coarse woollen chiripá and which also held the long, wicked-looking butcher’s knife which they are never without and which they use for everything. Several women in cotton dresses with black shawls over their heads came in to buy things and joked with the men.

“On the way back we drove past the station to see if there were any letters. There were one or two for Father and Mother, but none for me. We went back by a different road and passed by a large white estancia house in the middle of a grove of Eucalyptus trees. Several dogs ran out and barked at us as we went by, and three or four men came out of some huts and called out ‘Buenas Tardes’ (Good afternoon). Farther along we met some gauchos. They had very wide saddles, their bare toes only just gripping the small openings in their long stirrups. Each man had his lasso coiled and fastened to his sadle and carried his ‘boleadores’ slung about his waist.”

Alfred’s diary now jumps swiftly over the intervening months until December of 1875, by which time the north-west wing of the house had been finished and made ready for the arrival of Mother Benitz and Josephine from Rosario. The house was formally opened at Christmas time, and it must have been a tremendous celebration, but our chronicler passes over the event without mention of any festivities.

Most of January, 1876, was spent in getting the house and the estancia. into shape for permanent living, and in February Father Benitz bought his first important herd of cattle, 500 head of which were purchased from a Señor Mansilla at nine pesos and fifty centavos per head. Two days were spent in branding the newly acquired herd. Its number eventually was increased to 1,600 by the purchase of 800 additional head at nine pesos and fifty centavos per head and 300 at seven pesos.

By this time the Benitz’ had built up quite a household. In addition to the family itself, there were the cook, who was the wife of the estancia foreman; a washerwoman; an Indian named Isidro, who was a sort of general servant and who was “Father’s favorite attendant,” according to Alfred; two servant girls, named Mauree and Elisa who worked as house-maids and also helped in the garden, and, finally, a German “peon” named Braum [sic] who worked about the house and garden.

Now, when it, seemed that the new hearth and home was getting off to a sound start, tragedy struck at the Benitz household. Father Benitz, who had brought his family thousands of miles and had seen them firmly established in the new homeland, was not to live to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Less than two years after he had arrived in Argentina, he was cut down and his family was forced to make its way without his help.

Alfred describes his father’s last days in the following words:

“Father had been ailing for some time past. His heart was weak and worn out with the strenuous life that he had led since a lad. He hardly ever went to bed, as he was unable to lie down and had to sit up in a chair at night in order to get any sleep.

“On the night of June 27 (1876), he had been sitting before the fire. Mother left him for a few m inutes to go and prepare his bed in case he felt like lying down. When she returned he was poking the fire. Then he lay back and said ‘I’m dizzy’ and died.

“The dogs howled all night, and when Mother went out with a candle to try to quieten them, as she passed through the door the candle suddenly went out, although there was not a breath of wind.”


AFTER the death of his father, Alfred failed to maintain his diary for more than two months. However, part of the gap in the narrative is filled out by the diary of Frank, the eldest son, who stepped into his father’s shoes and who directed the formative work that still remained to be done in order to make the estancia a going concern.

The entries in Frank’s diary are concerned chiefly with the never ending toil that went into the slow process of getting the estancia into tip-top shape. They are of considerable interest because they reflect some of the difficulties faced by pioneering people in any country.

On Sunday, July 2, 1876, five days after Father Benitz had died, the family gathered with Mrs. Benitz to go over the personal possessions of the elder Benitz. Frank wrote:

“This morning, on arising, I saw the constellation ‘Orion’ for the first time in the east. At 10 a.m. the whole family assembled in Mother’s room and examined the contents of one of Father’s trunks. We found his Mexican naturalization papers dated June 15, 1844, Mendocino, California. They were signed by the Governor, Manuel Micheltorena. At 4 p.m. Mr. Tregarthen came; he was on his way home from Rosario and brought us two letters of condolences, one from Mr. Schreiber, dated June 30 and one from Mrs. A. Glimman of July 1. Today is Charlie’s birthday.”

The first Fourth of July spent on the estancia was a day of sadness instead of the great celebration that had been planned by the boys to mark the 100th anniversary of the United States. Frank noted in his diary that the day passed “very quietly, no distinction being made between this and any other ordinary day.”

“I had some paraíso trees planted south of the house and also staked out positions for trees in the backyard, a few by the meat and chicken house, and some along the side of the house,” he wrote. “The ground is very dry, and I had four men carrying water to the trees all the afternoon. We have at present four Argentine and four German peons (farmhands) working on foot, while on horse-back we have a capataz (foreman), Juan Faria [Farias?], and also two other peons as well as a man working the chain-pump at the well.

“Today Mother presented us with a little gold-dust that Father had. It is some of the first gold-dust discovered in California and was found at Sutter’s mill. She also gave me a piece of quartz from Fraser river and another piece that Father had found personally in the mines. She also presented me with two Japanese coins, and the others with various things.”

In his entry for the following day, Frank describes the “pisadero,” or home-made brickyard, with which every estancia was equipped in those days. The majority of present-day [1952] estancias also have their “pisaderos.” It was here that the peons made the huge mud-and-straw bricks used in the construction of nearly all buildings.

“I took the men down to the brickyard and set them to work cleaning out the pisadero, which is an enclosure where the mud and straw are mixed by the animals treading it previous to making it into bricks. The bricks are then piled up into four walls and a fire is built inside; the fire is then kept going, a top is added to the structure, and the bricks are baken until they fall apart, ready to be used.”

This system of brick-making has not changed through the years. It was, and is, a god-send to the estanciero since it saved him the difficulty and the expense of bringing from one of Argentina’s ports this important and widely used building material.

The domestic servant problem was a problem in those days as well as now. Alfred wrote that the family had to dispatch the cook to Cañada de Gomez because she “got to be very obonoxious, finding fault with everything, refusing to work, and was saucy.” He added that “we are very unfortunate with cooks, changing them so often.”

The importance of trees in the life of an Argentine estanciero is clearly indicated by Frank’s diary during this period. Almost daily the first thing mentioned is the number of trees planted on the day in question. To a certain extent, the trees planted by man on the great unending flatness of the pampas have come to eke out the penury of Nature in the matter of varied scenery. Although the rich black soil of the pampas has been endowed with tremendous wealth, Nature, perhaps in compensation, had withheld the surface adornments that would break the monotony of the vast expanse of unbroken horizon. It is perhaps no accident that the numerous clusters of trees amund the main buildings on estancias are referred to as “montes” (literally, hills) which offer the only variation to the otherwise universal flatness of the land.

Frank was also busy at this time writing to friends in California, advising them of the death of his father and requesting them to have the news published in all the newspapers around Oakland, as well as all the German papers in California. In the same letters, he invariably requested the friends to send him tree-seeds, especially of the types of trees not found in Argentina.

On July 8, Frank, who was a man of action like Alfred and who usually limits his diary entries to a few lines, made the following unusually long entry:

“The dogs made a great deal of noise at 11 o’clock last night. I arose and heard the wagon coming in which brought the mail. I received a letter from Schreiber, letting me know that he had received the notice of Father’s death and had put it in the papers in Buenos Aires. The notice was mis-printed, calling Father ‘Benitez,’ and instead of ‘Endingen,’ it read ‘Eudingen.’ Mr. Schreiber afterwards had these mistakes corrected, but the notice had the wrong date of death, having it the 28th instead of the 27th. The notice appeared in La Capital of Rosario of July 5, 6 and 7. Schreiber also sent me a copy of his new lithographic bird’s-eye view of Rosario.

“The men finished planting and watering the poplar and willow trees at the low place at the brickmaker’s well. I then set them to work planting 40 pear and seven pomegranate trees in the eastern field below the avenue. This concluded the work of planting trees. The peons also finished the sewer.

“I wrote a letter to John Roff, Timber Cove, California, telling him of Father’s death. I requested him to gather 25 or 30 pounds of seeds such as acorns, laurels, manzanita, buck-eye and pine. I especially requested him to gather acorns of the various kinds of oak, namely, mountain, white, etc.

“July 9: the trees being nearly planted, today we discharged a number of men - three Germans, six natives and one of the horseback peons, ten men in all. We have retained two Germans and four Argentines for work on foot and the capataz, Juan Faria, also a peon for the cattle and another for the pumps. Nine men in all. A lot of our cattle had strayed away in the fog of the day before yesterday, and the capataz brought a band of 50 of them from “Las Rosas” (a neighboring estancia [bordering the north-east edge of today’s Las Rosas town]), but as there were still many more there, he asked for a ‘rodeo’ (roundup) so William and Alfred went over there this morning to ‘part’ (select and drive home the missing cattle.)”

A few days later, Frank went to Rosario to buy a coffin for Father Benitz and to lay in supplies for the estancia. He wrote that, while he was waiting in Rosario for the train to take him back to Cañada de Gomez, be was “surprised to see Mr. Kinkelin,” the carpenter he had hired, and more surprised still to see Elisa, the servant-girl, in the company of the carpenter. No whisper of romance crept into Frank’s matter-of-fact reporting of this incident, but it may fairly be assumed that their appearance together was more than just a coincidence.

When Frank arrived home on July 13, he noted that the “Deutsche La Plata Zeitung,” the German-language newspaper of Buenos Aires, and its English-language colleague, “The Standard,” both carried the news of his father’s death. He also noted that the “Zeitung” obituary notice was headed “Dem Andenken eines Machern Mannes.” (Memories of a Brave Man).

Until July 26, Frank’s diary was occupied with the daily routine of the task of building the new home - planting more trees, ploughing, making roads, caring for the cattle, breaking horses and so forth on the never-ending list of jobs that confront the estanciero. On the 26th, he wrote that “many of our cattle have the hoof-and-mouth disease” and that they were being treated with a home-made mixture of vinegar, salt and alum. The treatment consisted of washing the animal’s mouth’s and hooves with this solution.

This disease, which has been largely controlled in Argentina although it still does exist in some parts, is of particular interest to American readers because of its political import [1952]. The existence of the disease was seized upon by the lobby of the cattle interests in Washington 25 years ago as an excuse to push through Congress legislation barring the entry of Argentine fresh meat into the United States. The lobbyists proclaimed vociferously that the free entry of this meat would bring with it the danger of infecting American herds. The prohibition still stands, and it is one of the major sore points in relations between the two countries. The Argentines claim that the prohibition is not based upon the fear of contagion of American herds at all, but upon the greater fear of American cattle-growers of the competition they would have to face from the succulent and cheap beef grown on the Argentine pampas. Until some solution of this problem has been found, it will always offer a latent source of trouble in Argentine-American relations.

Frank noted with some bitterness on July 29th that

“this evening Mother and some of the others counted the money in Father’s trunks for the first time. They did not think it worth-while to let me know that they were going to count.”

It was at about this time that there had sprung up between Frank and the other members of the family a coolness that eventually was to result in his departure from the estancia to found his home elsewhere. Perhaps the role of head of the family had proved too much for Frank to manage, or perhaps he had quarrelled with some of the others. Although the available records give no clear-cut reason for his separation, subsequent events would indicate that the differences arose over Frank’s trouble with financial affairs.

Frank’s diary breaks off at this and we turn again to Alfred’s record, but before doing so we shall digress to consider some of the traits and customs of the Argentine “gaucho”, or cowboy, since he will play a considerable part in the events that are to follow. Like his counter-part in the legendary Wild West, the American cowboy, Argentina’s gaucho with his romantic trappings and colorful background has virtually disappeared from modern life on the pampas, except in movies, tangos and novels.

The gaucho originally was a mixture of Spanish and Indian blood, the true “criollo.” Reared on the pampas, he gained his livelihood by carrying out jobs that were just about the same as those done by the cowboy. And there is just as great a body of legend in Argentina about the gaucho, hard-riding and hard-living, as there is in America about the cowboy. Probably because of the dominant part played in Argentina’s national life by cattle, the gaucho is even more celebrated in the song and story of this country’s literature than the cowboy is in American. One notable difference between the two is that the gaucho almost never carried a gun, in contrast to the traditional “six-shooters” of his American colleague. His life was just as violent and rough-and-tumble as that of his counter-part in the north, but he depended on a wicked-looking knife to carry him through his personal adventures.

The gaucho’s main activity was herding cattle on the big estancias or driving them to market or to other estancias several leagues away. He sometimes, but not often, saved enough money to buy a plot of ground on which to build a mud hut, known as a “puesto.” His food was mainly beef and “mate,” but he sometimes lived on horse-flesh. His bed was his sheepskin saddle, stretched out on the pampa under the starry sky. He could endure all sorts of privations with remarkable fortitude, and he was daring, courageous and proud. Relentless in his pursuit of an enemy, he was faithful, kind and extremely hospitable when his confidence had been won.

When he was ill, he took his chances on recovery through the ministrations of a “curandera,” a woman doctor who cured most ills by the age-old method of herbs and brews. Her system of therapy was also distinguished by incantations, charms and other paraphernalia remarkably close to those of the African medicine man. However, she was frequently the only thing approaching medical assistance available to the gaucho, and, often as not, her treatment was remarkably effective. In many cases pronounced hopeless by regular physicians, a “curandera” has been called in as a last resort and has saved the patient. Such cases, the “curandera” made sure, always received wide attention, and they had a profound effect upon the simple nature of the gaucho. The “curandera” in the interior of the country - as distinct from her sharper sister in the large cities - usually was a descendant of the Indians. She possessed a large stock of professional secrets, handed down for many generations, which she guarded with the utmost care; probably the majority of them originated with the witch-doctors.

The gaucho frequently met sudden death at the point of a knife, from an Indian arrow, or as the result of a fall from his horse during a cattle stampede. The knife-fights which caused considerable mortality among their numbers was a system of destruction worked out by the gauchos themselves. The principals faced each other with their knives in the right hand and with their ponchos thrown over the left arm to serve as a sort of shield or buckler. Slashing and parrying, they then went after each other until one of the contestants was no longer able to give combat-and this usually meant he was either dead or mortally wounded. It was a slower method than the gun- play of the cowboy, but it was just as effective.

In the camp (country), when a little child dies it becomes an “angelito,” or little angel. This means that a wake will take place which customarily includes a dance and is held in the nearest “pulperia” or tavern. There, in a long low room lit by candles are gathered perhaps a hundred guests, mostly gauchos and peons with their families, who have probably ridden a long distance for the show. Along the walls are placed rows of benches where the women and girls sit waiting for the men to ask them to dance. The dead child is dressed in its best clothes and seated in a chair upon a table, while the bereaved mother sits disconsolate at its feet. Above the child’s head are a picture of the Madonna and Child together with others of saints and angels. When passing before the little corpse, the women cross themselves.

A gaucho with a guitar provides the music for the younger people to dance the Tango, Cielito, El Gato and other typical dances. These dances include much play of the hips and eyes, stamping of the feet and jingling of spurs, above which may be heard the sound of high falsetto voices intoning the usually lachrymose words of the songs. The older men sit or stand about in groups discussing camp affairs and drinking, while the matrons gather in a circle and talk gossip and scandal. The atmosphere reeks of cheap tobacco, scent, common wine, perspiring humanity and the smoke of greasy candles. Such gatherings constituted one of the few social activities of the rude life of the gaucho, and unscrupulous owners of “pulperias” have been known to hire or buy an “angelito” solely for the purpose of attracting custom.

The gaucho, like the cowboy, used a “lasso.” It was made of rawhide from which the hair had been stripped and then made into a rope about the thickness of a man’s little finger. It was softened by hammering and by being forced through a narrow ring. Constant applications of mutton fat were necessary to keep it pliable, but with care it usually served the gaucho for many years. The “rope” consisted of four strands plaited to a point about eight feet from the end where the number of strands was increased to eight. These were joined to an iron ring which served as the run- ning loop for the large noose. The end that was carried in the hand or attached to the saddle was a plaited loop. The usual length of the lasso was 60 feet [20 meters].

Before the lasso was thrown, the noose at the ring end was formed-usually from two and a half to four yards around. The remainder was then coiled, two or three coils being taken together in the right hand with the noose, while the rest of the coils were held in the left hand. If too much slack were allowed between the coils in the left and right hands, the danger existed that the slack would become entangled and cause trouble, especially if the thrower were on horseback. The lasso was swung around the head, preparatory to being thrown at the “target.” When the throw was made, great care had to be taken that the noose flew upward and open. Once thrown, the rope uncoiled as it flew through the air. The moment the rope tightened on the animal, the thrower pulled back as though in a tug-of- war and digging his heels firmly in the ground, or into his stirrups, bore heavily on the rope with the entire weight of his body.

A horse may be lassoed in a corral at a distance of ten yards [10 meters], either by the feet or around the neck. A strong colt is quite capable of dragging two or three men around the corral if the job is bungled, but an experienced lad can easily overcome the same animal. To become an expert in the use of the lasso, the gaucho usually began to practice in childhood, using a piece of string or rope on cats and dogs.

To throw the lasso from horseback is infinitely more difficult than to throw it from a standing position on the ground, but at the same time it is much more effective because the strength of the horse is then called into play on the side of the thrower.

An efficient gaucho can lasso an animal at a distance of 20 yards [20 meters] while riding at full speed.

Great care must be taken not to entangle the coils of the slack with the reins or legs of the rider’s horse, or even to touch him in any way. For this reason, the lasso must be swung almost level with the head before being released. The end of the lasso retained by- the thrower is fastened to a strong ring and then again fastened to the larger ring which forms part of the Argentine saddle or “recado.”

When an animal has been caught around the neck or horns, it must not be allowed - especially if wild - to cross either in front of or behind the rider’s horse. Such a manoeuver would involve the danger of a half-turn being taken around the rider’s arm or leg, or even a whole turn around the body. Another possible danger is that of being charged by the enraged cow or bull and to avoid this, the horseman turns, as soon as the noose settles on the target, to the near side or away from his quarry, keeping the rope taut. It is really the horse that holds the captive, the rider doing nothing more than guiding the operation. Some horses are so cleverly trained that they can keep the rope taut themselves, thus permitting the rider to slip out of his saddle and dispatch the victim.

Another standard piece of equipment of the gaucho was the “bolas,” originally an Indian hunting weapon and entirely of South American origin. The “bolas” consist of three balls, usually of stone. Two of them are about the size of billiard balls, while the third is about half that size and is shaped like an egg. All three balls are moulded into bags of hide, and each of them is then attached to a thin rope of twisted hide about three feet [1 meter] long. The three are fastened together in the middle so that the ball held in the hand -the egg-shaped one is about six feet [2 meters] from the other two, and their whole weight is not more than one pound [0.45 kg.]. When thrown, the “bolas” are first whirled around the head and then released so that they go circling through the air with the two heavier balls beside one another, turning on their own axis, and the hand-ball at the other end. When the thongs of hide strike the legs of the animal, or whatever the object of the thrower may be, they wind themselves rapidly,about and completely hobble the victim.

This weapon was developed by the Argentine Indians to catch the fleet-footed native animals of the plains-deer, guanacos and ñandús (a species of ostrich [rhea]). Different types of “bolas” were used to catch different animals. Thus, an Indian stalking an ostrich would be armed with a set of “bolas”about the size of pigeon eggs and attached to strings of greater length. The gaucho used “bolas” made of wood to trap horses. A completely different type of “bolas” is used against tigers, jaguars, vicuñas and other wild animals. Called “bolas perdidas,” this type of weapon consists of one heavy ball alone, which either stuns or kills the victim. The heavier type of three - ball “bolas” may be thrown from a distance of up to 70 yards [70 meters], the ostrich “bolas” from one hundred yards, and the “bolas perdidas” can be effective at 120. From the point of view of the victim, the “bolas” are extremely difficult to avoid, the only sure escape being to run toward the thrower and to fling itself flat on the ground.

These were some of the customs and “mores” of the gaucho. Although, as already stated, he has today [1952] virtually disappeared, he was still in his prime when Alfred Benitz reached Argentina and the youthful pioneer came to know and respect many of his better qualities.


ALFRED resumed his diary after a lapse of more than two months during which he was becoming adjusted to the new way of life on the broad and fertile pampas of Argentina. His vacations at the Howard farm and the chores he was assigned around the house at Oakland had given him a “leg up” on the experiences he encountered on the estancia. It was on Sept. 10, 1876, that he picked up again with the diary which for a number of years was to comprise chiefly the chronicling of the numerous bangs and bruises, the daily labor and the simple entertainments of his active life as an energetic young lad on a pioneering estancia.

Alfred was rapidly becoming a skilled horseman, but in the process be suffered a number of falls and contratemps, all of which he duly recorded. He developed a tremendous love for horseflesh and, like most men in the interior of Argentina, was more at home astride a horse than he was on his own two feet. Almost daily he rode off over the pampas on some errand or other, either for himself or for the household, and he also did a lot of riding with the men who cared for the cattle. Around the house itself, his main job appeared to be the daily milking of the four cattle who supplied the family. The following entries in the diary are typical of the things that Alfred did and the things that happened to him during this period:

“Sept. 10: after coffee, Mauree and I milked four cows. I then bathed and afterwards drove up the oxen and the horses. I rode the big white trotter horse.

“Sept. 14: it rained very heavily last night and this morning, so everything was muddy and I did the milking in the pouring rain. It cleared up a little in the afternoon so I planted a row of paraiso seeds near the road. In the evening when I rode my chestnut to bring up the horses from the camp, he tumbled with me and I turned a somer- sault over his head.

“Sept. 18: Charlie was going to Cañada de Gomez today, but he couldn’t go because he had such a side-ache so I went in his place. I rode a little white horse, and led Charlie’s big horse as far as Suárez’ where I left the white horse and rode the other to Cañada de Gomez, arriving at ten o’clock. After eating at Hansen’s, I got the papers, Willie’s shoes, etc., and started back at 1:30 p.m. I got $1.00 for going and gave two ‘reales’ to Suárez’ peon for caring for the white horse.

“Oct. 2: after coffee, I went to Cañada de Gomez. I rode the dark chestnut (‘zaino’) as far as Suárez’ where I left him and continued on the lazy little white horse to Cañada de Gómez [note: accented correctly], where I arrived at 11 o’clock. I ate at the station for a peso and then went to the shoemaker’s to get my boots which were nearly finished. I waited until 3:30.and then started back, picking up the mail at the station. On the way home when I got to our first ‘cañada’ (gully), it was very dark. Suddenly I heard a dog bark. I looked back and saw a man on horseback right behind me but he galloped off quickly when he saw that I had seen him. It looked very suspicious, so I, rode on slowly and got home about seven p.m. Tonight there was a strong ‘pampero’ (a sudden windstorm of the pampas) blowing, with some hail. Frank wrote to say that he was obliged to stay in Rosario for another week.

“Oct. 17: Braun and I hauled two loads of bricks down to Father’s grave, as Kuhn had fixed the fence around it. In the evening we had great fun ‘parting’ [Spanglish of ‘apartar’, to separate] out some cattle which did not belong to our herds. My little horse was very rambunctious. When we returned, I was trying to trim his hooves when he reared up and kicked me on the nose a terrible lick which made it bleed and swell up. It was sore for several days.”

The next day, Oct. 18 [1876], Frank returned from a long stay in Rosario, and Charlie and Josephine went to the station at Cañada de Gomez to meet him. Nothing is said about what Frank was doing in Rosario, but it later developed that he was making up his mind to leave “La California.” Alfred wrote that “everything is now settled about the amount of money we have - there is about 23,000 pesos left” and said that on the following day Frank left again to go to the Province of Tucumán to look over the land there. The eldest son had decided that he could not remain at home any longer and was striking out on his own.

An interesting sidelight on the character of oxen, those patient but perverse beasts of burden who served the early estancieros so faithfully, occurred in Alfred’s diary entry of Oct. 26:

“Willie took a party to a ‘monte’ some miles away,” he wrote. “Willie and a ‘vaquero’ (cowboy) were on horseback, while Braun, Lariana and Vicente drove the wagons. They had a lot of trouble yoking up the oxen and the young bullocks. Oxen are queer creatures; sometimes if they are accustomed to a creak in one of the axles, they will refuse to move if it is not there, and one then has to put sand on the axle to make it creak.”

The month of November - late spring in Argentina - was the time for planting crops. Alfred and the other men on the estancia were busy part of the month planting potatoes and, of all things, spinach. The inevitable trees also were planted in large numbers. Much time was spent in hunting horse and cattle which had strayed from the range, for there were virtually no fences on estancias in those days. Today, no matter how large, every estancia is fenced in and there are few properties in Argentina’s vast territory which are not carefully marked off with fences. Most places assign one peon to the job, exclusively, of inspecting the miles of fencing every day to make sure it is in good condition. Alfred said that

“our estancia was not fenced in any more than the other estancias, so that we were obliged to go to the rodeos almost every day to part out our animals. Most of them went to ‘Las Tres Lagunas’ belonging to Mr. Watt and to ‘Las Rosas’ belonging to Capt. Kemmis. One day I went over to ‘Las Lomas’ belonging to Mr. Dickenson, and when we had parted out about 40 of our animals, Mr. Dickenson would not let us part out any more.”

[Note: Ea. “Las Tres Lagunas” (TL) abuts the SW corner of Las Rosas town and lies along the west half of Ea. “La California’s” then northern boundary; Ea. “Las Rosas” abuts the town on its NE corner, with Ea. “Las Lomas” NNE beyond it.  In 1906, Watt’s son Al married Alfred’s niece Hattie Benitz.  In 1908, Alfred bought the “TL” and in 1915 he married Dickenson’s first cousin Olga Horner. Kemmis was the founding father of Las Rosas town.]

About the middle of November, Frank returned from Tucumán, full of stories about the fertility of the land there and about the possibilities of raising sugar cane, the main product of the province. A week after his return he had a quarrel with Charlie. Alfred mentioned the quarrel in his diary but said that he knew none of the details; it must have been a serious one, none-the-less, to merit even mention in the diary, ordinarily completely clean of any references to personal relations. On Dec. 12 the money left by Father Benitz was divided and Frank, with his share in his pocket, left “La California” for good. He was the one discordant element in the large Benitz family.

Unfortunately, he was no more successful in making his way after leaving the family estancia than he was in getting along with his brothers while there. He attempted several ventures, none of which succeeded and several of which ended with him deep in debt. On several occasions the family was forced to liquidate his bad debts, some of which were big enough to require the sale of portions of the land on “La California.” [the western-most league, 2,500 has.].

Once Frank had left, the remaining brothers worked hard and with complete harmony under the watchful eye of their mother, whose strong personality remained the dominating force in their lives up to the day of her death.

Alfred’s diary was kept fairly consistently during the early part of 1877, recording among other things a great drought that lasted for three months with devastating effect on crops and livestock; a grasshopper plague that added to the hardships created by the drought and, finally, another family tragedy-the death of Charlie Benitz, whose frail body could not stand up to the rigors of the pioneer life.

For the day to day description of these events and other details of the estancia life, we turn again to excerpts from Alfred’s diary:

“Jan. 3 (1877); Willie and Uncle took our hides to Rosario in the wagon to sell them. They will bring back boards for making troughs and other wooden things about the estancia, and a new chain for the well as the old one was continually breaking, which meant that somebody, usually me, had to go down the well, stand up to their neck in water, and fix it from below.

“Jan. 6: Uncle, Willie and Mauree came back from Rosario where they had sold the hides for 50 ‘reales’ each, making a total of 618 pesos. They brought back a new small wagon. In the afternoon we hauled back home 25 sacks of potatoes and tasted our first water-melons. We also sold quite a number of them. The weather has become very hot and dry with a north wind blowing all day.

“Jan. 12: Faria’s daughter, Rosaria, was very sick with whooping-cough. In the evening I went to drive the horses home and caught a long-legged black-bird near to the corral. Its feathers came to a point at the back of its head, and it had a kind of spur on the side of one of the wings. It is called a ‘téru-téru’ (plover). It was another very hot day, 106 Fahrenheit [41C] in the shade.

“Jan. 16: Lariana went away because he did not want to drive the horses to camp in the morning. In the evening when I brought the horses back from the camp, I was riding the little ‘zaino’ when he fell on his head and turned a somersault, so that I came down with such force that I could scarcely move my arm afterwards; I had landed on my left shoulder. I put cold water on it, but it still hurt exceedingly.

“Jan. 25: I have been obliged to leave my diary until today as I could not write because the fourth finger of my right hand became very swollen and sore, caused I believe by the fall from my horse. The day after the fall, and as I could not sleep that night on account of the pain, the ‘curandera’ came. But she said it was only a bruise and put ‘caña’ (an alcohol obtained from sugar cane [raw rum, often Paraguayan]) and salt on it. As I could hardly move my arm, I stayed indoors all day.

“Faria’s daughter died that night, and the next morning Faria and a peon took her body to Totoras to get buried, where the natives danced her into heaven all night.

“Lariana came back to us on Thursday and consented to work for us again for ten pesos a month. Willie had taken on a new peon named Daniel, a tall fat fellow.

“After the pain in my shoulder eased somewhat, the swelling in my finger began. It was very painful as the finger swelled up dreadfully white so that I could not sleep for three nights. It is open now at last, however, and is getting better. I put a poultice on it made of hot milk and bread and ground flax-seed. I was still lame in my shoulder, although it didn’t give so much pain as before.

“Jan. 21: we sold 150 ‘sandías’ (water-melons) for 90 pesos. In the evening the grasshoppers came again very thickly and they ate everything straight off: trees, maize (corn), potatoes, water-melons, wheat, etc. We tried to keep them off the trees but could do nothing. We may have some maize left, however. Charlie went to Rosario in the morning to see the doctor.

“Jan. 30: Mr. Schreiber came back with Charlie to stay a few days. He was a great friend of Father, who met him while on a visit to Rosario. He is a nice fellow and we all like him very much. He seems to be getting sweet on Josephine.

“Feb. 13: after I had milked, I had a shower bath and after coffee helped Uncle hoe down the corn in the little field, which had been eaten by the grasshoppers. Afterwards I went to help Lariana who was breaking another horse. It bucked hard and I helped him to turn it around. Johnny and I pulled up water at the well after dinner and again later. I took a siesta in the afternoon. We then threw water over Elisa as it was Carnaval.”

The throwing of water over young ladies by young gentlemen was the principal pastime in the country during the Carnaval festivities in most of Latin-America; although this practice has died out for the most part, a modified form of the sport - that of squirting perfume from small glass containers - is still indulged in at Carnaval time.

“The weather was still very hot and dry and windy. They said it was the biggest drought for many a year. When some santiagueños (natives of the Province of Santiago del Estero) went past our estancia with a lot of mares, I had to go down to the well to see that they did not water their horses, as our well had nearly given out, and we needed every drop ourselves. Faria’s baby (born yesterday) was christened in the forenoon, and I went to see it done. It was called Benenino. All the relations were there, chattering like a lot of monkeys. When I got back, I found that Braun had brought Mauree (the servant girl who had left the estancia to go to Rosario) back again. They would have come last night, but they lost their way and rode all night long. A lot of Mauree’s things were stolen in Rosario.

“Feb. 15: Willie came back from Cañada de Gomez with Schreiber, who has made some drawings of our house, which were very good. Herman was a little sick in the afternoon and had to lie down, and Lariana got bucked off a small wild filly (‘potranca’) he was breaking in, so that the foreman had to go down and catch the filly with the ‘bolas.’ Schreiber is certainly courting Josephine.

“Feb. 20: Neild and Mr. Greenwood of Cañada. de Gomez came at noon and had dinner with us, and Mr. Coombs and Mr. Tregarthen stopped on their way to ‘Las Rosas.’ Schreiber and Josephine announced their engagement in the evening. Herman was still sick and in bed all day. Gave him some castor oil. Today was an exceedingly hot day.

“Feb. 22: Mr. Kretzman came after coffee in the morning and said that a teacher was coming out from Buenos Aires to teach Johnny and Herman. Herman was feeling a little better. It rained a little and the temperature has changed. It has turned coldish and is very cloudy with a south wind blowing.

“March 2: I have progressed very well with my Spanish and today started to write my diary in that language, for practice. Naturally there are many mistakes as I spelled the words the way I heard them pronounced by the peons, which is anything but pure Spanish. Camp people are in the habit of clipping the ends of their words, with the result that a recado (saddle) would be a ‘recao’ and ‘Vamos por allá’ (Let’s go over there) would sound like ‘bamo pa ya,’ besides other pronunciations peculiar to the camp.

“We finished cutting down all the maize stalks and made a big bonfire with them. The locusts had left us a little maize, as some of it was very young when they came. I collected some from the ‘chacra’ (farm) and from the place near the paraíso trees, and altogether we had about four cartloads in the big shed. The weather has turned very hot again and there is a north wind blowing.

“March 7: in the morning Johnny, Herman and I took the bricks out of the brick-oven to start making the house at the new ‘puesto’ located toward the east side of the estancia. The well, which was to be finished next day, was four ‘varas’ (a vara is about two feet eight inches [81 cm., x 4 = 3.2 mtrs.]) deep and had seven feet [2.1 mtrs.] of water in it, but the water was rather salty. We now had plenty of water for the animals, apart from the well at the house, which was nearly empty. The weather is still very hot and dry, and the camp badly in need of rain. It had looked like rain several times during the last few days, but the clouds always passed over without a spot of rain falling.

“March 11: Charlie, who went to Cañada de Gomez last night, arrived back with Mr. Schreiber and his partner Mr. Holt. Schreiber gave Josephine a gold bracelet, pin and pendant, set with pearls and emeralds. He is very sweet on Josephine. In the evening we all went for a ride.

“March 12: Faria’s baby (born only a month ago) died early yesterday morning, and tonight the peons had the usual dance because the ‘angelito’ had gone to Dios.

“March 15: our milk is getting very scarce now owing to the drought, and I only obtained a bucket and a half from eight cows today. It was a frightfully hot day, the hottest of the year, and the cattle are getting very short of water as there is very little left now in our wells.

“March 20: William and I had to look after the camp all day as a soldier came over from Alvarez saying that all the peons had to go there to report. We sent some and the rest went in the evening. Faria and Lariana were able to return the same day as they had their papers in order, but most of the estancias were left without any peons.

“March 21: today the big drought broke! We had only just gotten 35 bags of maize into the shed when the rain came down in large torrents, with great hailstones too.

“March 25: there was another terrific storm today. The lightning struck and killed two cows and a calf in a field about a league [3 miles] away from the house. We went out afterwards and skinned them.

“March 26: the rain finally stopped today and the sun came out. One could almost see the grass growing. It had been so parched after three months without rain. In the evening when I was collecting the horses, my horse slipped in the mud at the gully, threw me and bolted. I lost my saddle but Lariana caught the horse. Later I found the saddle, with one of the stirrups missing. This horse had bucked a good deal all day.

“We now have eight peons in all and they were kept busy all the time. We had bought a new bunch of ten horses from Faria at 15 pesos and they were all branded without throwing anyone.

“April 1: it began to rain again several days ago and the water has come down in torrents all day today. The corrals are consequently very muddy, and the horses were slipping and falling about a good deal, and we all came off several times. Schreiber came out on a visit and rode all the way from the station, mostly at a gallop, and was very tired. The next day he was so stiff and sore that he could hardly move. The tutor for Herman and Johnny arrived. He is very thin, a Swiss and we pay him 30 pesos a month.

“April 8: Mother and Charlie went to Rosario in the afternoon to see the doctor because Charlie has a very swollen foot.

“April 11: I went to do some shopping in Cañada de Gomez. I left very early and arrived there about 9 a. m. I bought 60 posts of ‘ñandubay’ wood and had them loaded into a cart. Another cart was filled with 200 ‘arrobas’ (the arroba is an old Spanish measure equal to about 25 pounds [or 11.3 kg., x200 = 2,260 kg.]) of sand, and a third with 137 ‘arrobas’ [1,548 kg.] of lime. It was all very hard work. I had lunch with Don Agusto. The carts left at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and so did I but when I arrived at the estancia after dark the carts had not gotten there. They turned up at about 10 o’clock that night.

“April 12: at about 2 o’clock a peon came from ‘Las Lomas’ [Dickenson estancia NNE of Las Rosas] with a letter from Mother, who was at Cañada de Gomez station. She said that Frank and Charlie were there, and that Charlie was very ill. She wanted William to go at once. He returned at l p.m. tonight and said that poor Charlie had died there. He had tried to lift a heavy part of a new pump into the carriage. It was too heavy for him, and they carried him into the station-master’s bed, and two hours later he was dead. Poor Charlie. He had always been ill since he was seven years old and had gradually gotten worse. Mr. Woods is coming out with them tomorrow to bury Charlie. I slept with William that night. It was such a lovely day.

“April 13: today at about 12 o’clock, Frank and Mr. Woods arrived in the carriage bringing Charlie in his coffin. Mother, Mrs. Woods and Watt and Suarez came in the latter’s carriage. We buried Charlie at 2 o’clock. Scharf, Smithers and Thompson were present. Mr. Woods said a few words over Charlie’s grave. He is buried next to Father.

“Poor Charlie. He died on the 12th April and was 20 years, nine months and ten days old. He had been ill since August in 1870.”


WE now enter a period of almost 25 years in which Alfred failed to keep his diary with any regularity. Not until two years after the turn of the century, when he decided to take a trip to Europe, did Alfred again turn to his diary, and the burden of our story is carried forward, consequently, by the collective “day-book” which is kept on all estancias. A large share of the entries in the “day-book” undoubtedly were made by Alfred himself, but there was no particular order in the authorship of this record, and any member of the family who happened to be in a position to do it, made the entry for the day.

This quarter of a century was one of growth and expansion for the Benitz family and for its adopted country.

The family’s activities in the cattle and grain business were extended to the north by Alfred who put into effect a plan that he had long projected. The plan was born as the result of a hunting expedition to the region known as El Gran Chaco, the vast jungle-like but extremely fertile territory where the boundaries of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay meet. Alfred’s plan was to buy cattle and horses in poor condition, drive them north to El Chaco and fatten them on the lush grass he found there, and then to sell them afterward at a handsome profit. It was in the execution of this plan that Alfred spent what he considered the most satisfactory period of his life. He was living in the open country, which was what he liked best, leading a very active life and was completely at home in his surroundings. This type of life to him was much superior to living in the estancia house. He lived alone in tents for months at a time, fought Indians and struggled with the elements to turn his plan into a profitable enterprise.

While Alfred was away on his numerous trips, on many of which he was accompanied by other members of the family, the activities at “La California” grew. The estancia prospered rapidly because of the diligent work and planning of the Benitz family. It rapidly became one of the best-operated and best-known of the entire Rosario district.

The development of the family resources went hand in hand with the almost dizzying progress of Argentina as a nation.

The year 1880 marked an epoch, for it saw the beginning of a new political and economic era in Argentina. Three years earlier the first cargo of frozen meat - today one of the country’s principal sources of wealth - had been exported, and the extension of the railway to Tucuman brought the northwest, with its great agricultural resources, within reach of the national capital. A branch rail line, owned by the state, had already been linked by a halfway station called Villa María on the Córdoba-Rosario railway which ran through the Province of Córdoba westward to Villa Mercedes and the Province of San Luis, thus opening the land through which it passed. Settlements sprang up and more modern methods of stock-raising and agriculture were introduced. Although at this particular time the principal exports remained wool and hides, the basis was being laid for a great transformation in foreign trade, a transformation that was to make wheat and meat Argentina’s chief source of wealth and fame in the outside world.

Gen. Julio A. Roca, who had gained fame as an Indian fighter, was now the President of the country. He was a man of vigor and foresight, equipped with the tremendous advantage of personal knowledge of all parts of the country he governed. He encouraged immigration and railway construction. The railways were built chiefly with British capital and technical direction and with Italian labor. Roca’s right-hand man was Carlos Pellegrini, one of the outstanding figures of Argentine history. He was the son of a French father and English mother, and although he was educated at Harrow, he was nevertheless a thorough Argentine. Roca’s presidency (1880-1886) was a period of unprecedented peace and increase in the nation’s wealth.

Foreign capital, chiefly British, poured into the country, and improved maritime communications brought Europe nearer. Year by year, the export of grain increased. Great numbers of Basque and Italian laborers travelled 6,000 miles every year to help reap the Argentine harvest. This done, many of them returned each year to work on the harvest in their native countries, a peregrination made possible by the opposite seasons on the two sides of the equator. But a large number of the workers also saved their money, bought land in Argentina, settled down here and worked their way to swift fortune.

However, the rapidly rising tide of prosperity which up Argentina’s fertile west. Several lines were also built into the wheat and cattle country of the Province of Buenos Aires. The country was on the march. Wherever the railway went, it brought prosperity and the rapid development of enriched landholders chiefly brought on a wave of financial speculation. Toward the end of his tenure, Pres. Roca was forced to declare the notes issued by some banks non-convertible into gold. The wave of speculation reached its height under Roca’s successor, Juárez Celman (1886-1890), and the growing prosperity was severely shaken by extravagance in public spending, inflation, scandals in public finances and excessive borrowing to meet ever-growing budget deficits. Huge sums were spent on public works and in the improvement and embellishment of the city of Buenos Aires, but frequently the amounts expended in graft and corruption were far greater than those actually expended on the public works themselves.

Finally, the orgy of reckless finance and of paper money provoked universal protest and opposition. In 1890 ten thousand citizens gathered in the Tennis Club of Buenos Aires and the resignation of Pres. Celman was demanded. A revolutionary committee was formed under Leandro N. Alem who set about to organize the revolt. The rebel forces won over the Navy and part of the Buenos Aires Army garrison. After two days of fighting, in which more than 1,100 men were killed or wounded, Alem and his companions were forced to capitulate. However, they gained their objective, for Celman was forced to resign and Pellegrini, who was Vice-President, took over as Chief Executive.

Pellegrini now strove with all his considerable intelligence and vigor to avert disaster. He halted the vast public works program, effected drastic economies in government expenditures, and sent an emissary, Victorino de la Plaza (who became President 23 years later), to London to make terms with the British bankers. The founding of the Banco de la Nación (National Bank) did much to restore credit and confidence, but it took the country more than ten years to recover completely from the financial crisis of 1889-1891.

There were two great factors that helped Pellegrini in his task: the railroad and the plow. Unlike modem revolutionary movements which, because of improved communications, necessarily sweep up entire countries in their convulsion, the upheavals of those days customarily had little repercussion outside the capital city. This was what happened in Argentina in 1890... The farmers and cattle growers on the great estancias in the interior of the country caught only faint echoes of the political and military turmoil, and that, usually, after the event had occurred. They kept on with their daily task of creating wealth out of the soil for themselves and for the country. The Benitz family was typical of this enforced aloofness from politics, and only a vague mention occurs now and again in the day-book of the major political developments that were taking place in Buenos Aires, which easily might have been another country.

A third factor that played an important part, historically and economically, in the events of this period was the Indian. A major part of government activity at the time was the control of the original inhabitant of the country, still numerous in many parts, and the dispatch of expeditions against him when he became too bold in his raids and in his attempts to halt the inexorable encroachments of the white man. The Indian was important, too, in the life of Alfred Benitz, for he still infested the Chaco region where Alfred was shaping his fortune.

The first colony in the Chaco was founded in May, 1866, by a group of 12 farmers who, curiously enough, had come to Argentina from California just as the Benitz family had. [Correction: The location is wrong.  See Frank X. Benitz, Alfred's uncle and co-founder of Colonia California.] Their settlement was established on the Paraná river, on the site of what is now a railway station named Espín, about 135 miles [220 km.] north of the city of Santa Fe. The group, which originally had appeared to plan only an exploration expedition, became enthusiastic over the land and applied to the government for a grant of 40 square leagues of land. Their request was readily granted by the government, eager for settlers in this semi-wilderness. At its start, the “California Colony,” as it was called, had a population of 62.

The colony was subjected from the beginning to continual raids and attacks from the Indians, chiefly the Moscoví and Abipon tribes in this region. The farmers set about constructing an adequate defense. They dug a ditch ten feet wide and five feet deep, on the inner side of which they built a stout stockade of tree trunks bound together with thongs of hide. The Indians, who refused to leave their horses in order to fight, were unable to cross the moat, so they adopted the tactics frequently employed by their red-skinned brothers of America - riding around the stockade, they shot flaming arrows onto the thatched roofs of the houses inside, hoping to set them afire.

At the alarm cry of “Los Indios!” the entire colony mobilized for action. All horses and livestock were driven inside the stockade by boys and women, while the men rushed to their assigned posts. Every person in the colony eventually took a gun to help in the defense. Although the colony had only a small stock of Kentucky rifles and a tiny brass cannon for firearms, they were in the main successful in standing off their assailants. Their vigilance was of necessity eternal, and it was dangerous to approach too near the stockade without first clapping one’s hands and calling out “Ave María,” the pass-word. If the lookout came out and answered “Sin pecado concebido” (Conceived without sin), only then was it safe to go in. If this formality were not carried out, one ran the risk of being shot on sight.

The type of defense evolved by the farmers of the California Colony was widely copied by other settlements and towns in the Chaco, for all towns, and estancias as well, in the northern part of Argentina were required to be continuously on the alert for their own preservation. Most of them had a watch tower with a huge bell in it which was rung furiously at the approach of the Indians. The entrance to the tower was a narrow spiral staircase which admitted only one person at a time. I [sic] was permanently well-supplied with rifles, ammunition and provisions and generally had a small cannon on the roof. These towers were called “miradores” (literally, watchers) and they bad one large room capable of sheltering 100 people.

The Indians of this region were similar to those of the United States in other ways than their habit of shooting lighted arrows into the settlers’ buildings. They rode astride their horses on sheepskins and carried long lances - sometimes 20 feet [6 mt.] in length - which were sharply pointed in hard wood or in iron. Just below the point was tied a tuft of horsehair or sometimes a tress of human hair from the head of one of the Indian’s victims a practice suggestive of the scalping methods of the American Indians, which had cost the life of one of the Benitz babies in California.

Each Indian carried his “bolas” wrapped around his waist and he generally led another horse. They lived in wigwams made of the skins of animals with tree-branches used as support poles. Their vanity usually gave them away to the white men, for they smeared their bodies with potent-smelling ostrich grease. The repulsive odor of this grease could be detected a long distance off by the livestock, and when the cattle or horses suddenly bolted in one direction it served as an unfailing warning to the settlers that the Indians were approaching from the other. The reason for the panic of the livestock was not any knowledge or fear of the Indians, but of the ostrich from which the savages secured their body-grease; both cattle and horses are terrified of the South American ostrich (“ñandú”) because of its powerful kicks, and the mere sight of one is usually enough to panic an otherwise docile horse or group of cattle. The Indians were also similar to their American counter-parts in that they uttered a nerve-shattering war-whoop when they attacked.

The Argentine government had carried out several major expeditions against the Indian menace, but they all had been effected in the southern half of the country. Virtually nothing had been done to eliminate the Indians of the Chaco where Alfred took livestock, and although the gradual advance of civilization had steadily pushed the savages back northward, they still constituted a grave threat at the time that Alfred was feeding his cattle and horses there.

The first major Indian expedition was carried out by the tyrant Rosas, as already noted, in 1833. The man who was to become the hated dictator in later years showed his customary energy and ruthlessness on this mission. He slaughtered thousands of Indians and drove them to the south, freeing 5,000 square leagues of land from their depredations. The annexation of this land made Buenos Aires five times larger in area than it had been previously. After the fall of Rosas, in 1852, the Indians surged back again and recovered some 2,000 leagues of the 5,000 he had deprived them of. Twenty-five years later, in 1877, the Minister of War, Col. Adolfo Alsina, undertook a new expedition against the Indians. He recovered all the land that had been lost and a considerable portion besides. In the midst of his campaign, however, Alsina was stricken by a fatal illness. His successor was Gen. Roca, the same man who later became President. Roca forced the Indians still farther back, south of the Rio Negro. Roca’s conquest of the savages in the south was permanent. It opened up for settlement and colonization the whole Rio Negro valley which is today one of the most fertile agricultural regions of Argentina.

At the time that Roca had just about finished his last Indian campaign, the Benitz estancia was entering into its first period of solid prosperity. On Nov. 12 of 1878, Josephine Benitz became Mrs. Schreiber in a ceremony that was held at “La California.” The only description available to us of what must have been a truly festive occasion is given in the terse and matter-of-fact language of the day-book which impartially noted that “the weather was fearfully hot, the wells were all dry and Willie was in a bad humor.” No explanation was given for Willie’s bad humor. It was reported that several people came from Rosario for the party, and it may be assumed that all the neighbors for leagues around were present for an event of such importance. None of the details of the party were given, however, so that they must be left to the imagination of the reader.

Some of the events listed in the day-book for the period following the wedding were:

“Jan. 30, 1879: the month was very hot. We had some good sales of our cattle in Rosario as Willie had sold 227 novillos (yearlings) for 3,065 pesos. It continued very hot until the end of the month. Everything was very dry. Towards the end of the month we had a great storm with hail and a great deal of rain. The hail knocked down half the peaches and broke some windows.

“July 4: we celebrated as usual, hoisted the American flag, fired off the little cannon and had shooting with our rifles. We also had a good breakfast. In the afternoon Mr. Walker and Mr. Donkin came over and stopped until 9 p. m. We made a big bonfire and played leap-frog around it. It was a very pleasant day.

“July 15: Mother signed another note for Frank, for three months for 2,500 pesos. She received a letter from him last Sunday. Johnnie came back from a hunting expedition with 13 ducks and one deer.

“Aug. 2: we received a telegram from Schreiber saying that Josephine had given birth to a baby girl in the morning (Bertha Josephine) and that Mother should come right off. She left for Rosario at midnight and we saw her off to Buenos Aires.

“Sept. 5: Mother returned from Buenos Aires after an absence of more than a month.

“Sept. 16: a large ‘manga’ (swarm) of locusts passed over the estancia going south. Willie’s ostrich laid its first egg.”

During the next two months the day-book revealed nothing of particular interest except that during November Josephine came up from Buenos Aires with her new baby for a visit to the estancia, and Mrs. Benitz, accompanied by Willie, went to Rosario to make her will and “to get back some notes of Frank’s.” Four square leagues of the estancia land also were fenced in, no mean achievement, and the completion of the job was celebrated on Dec. 20 with an asado, or barbecue, in which Mrs. Benitz and the girls joined the 11 men who had done the work.

There was another type of annotation seen increasingly in the day-book at this time which did as much as anything else to indicate that the estancia house was becoming a country establishment in the grand style. This was the listing of the visitors at “La California”. Neighbors from other estancias, visitors from Rosario and Buenos Aires, and guests from abroad were being received in considerable number.

“Jan. 6, 1880: today was Mother’s birthday and we had several visitors - Mr. and Mrs. Dickenson and their son Alfred; Miss Allyn and Mr. Melville.

“Jan. 22: we worked all day putting up the gate in the new road. We had started fencing again and we are going to put fencing around the whole of the estancia. During this month we sold 184 of our novillos for 3,000 pesos and 16 hides at 55 centavos each.

“Feb. 11: a Mr. Goodacre, who has just arrived from England, came over with Mr. Merrick of ‘La Caledonia’ ** and Messrs. Krell, Myers and Stiefel came to breakfast on their way out to their new estancia ‘Los Tigrecitos.’** Mother signed another note of Frank’s for the sum of 4,123 pesos.

“March 10: we commenced the fence around the north of the ‘quinta’ (vegetable garden) and the peons’ quarters, and also began building a new barn, pulling down an old house to furnish the mud for the bricks.

“March 31: we had several visitors this month; Mr. and Mrs. Dickenson and Alfred; Trail, Smithers, Roosey and Moncton.

“April 30: this month we put up a swing fence on two squares of the land to the east of the house. On the 19th we had another dance and among our new visitors was a Mr. William Hope. Josephine and her baby came to stay again for a while as things were very unsettled in Buenos Aires and Rosario and a revolution was threatened. On the 21st the first postman started between Villa Suarez, ‘Los Castaños,’** us and Cañada de Gomez. This was to be a regular postal service.

“June 26: Alfred came back at noon from Cañada de Gomez with Miss Brandt. He had been there to look for a servant girl but could not find one. He said that there was great excitement in the town because it seems that there had been quite a fight in Buenos Aires with 3,000 of the Provinciales killed or wounded.”

The “Glorious Fourth” of July was passed on the estancia in the usual fashion with much shooting of guns and cannon, burning of logs and a tremendous amount of good eating. On the 17th of July, Johnny fetched a servant girl from Cañada de Gomez and also brought back the first letters that the Benitz’ had received from Buenos Aires since the revolution there. In its usual sparse manner, the log-book mentions the letters and the revolution but gives no details whatever of the description of the bloodshed, with which, it seems likely to assume, the letters would be filled.

“Aug. 17: Josephine and the baby returned to Buenos Aires and Willie left for the Gran Chaco to look after Frank’s affairs for a bit. Sofia, the new servant girl, also left. She stayed just one month and two days.

“Sep. 8: Willie arrived back from the Gran Chaco and spoke very highly of the place. Alfred decided to go up there for a few days to help Frank with his place. We had to pay Frank’s note on Lloyd’s, due Sept. 23, for 4,247 pesos, and Frank signed a paper for 6,888 pesos payable to us in six months’ time. Goodacre stayed here for breakfast on his way back to England, also a Mr. Von der Becke who arrived early. Uncle is very sick with a boil on his neck.

“Sept. 25: today Uncle was worse so we sent Adolfo to Cañada de Gomez after the doctor, who came that evening and found Uncle very sick. We had to send a peon to Cañada de Gomez during the night for the medicine.

“Oct. 2: Uncle became much worse and could not be left alone.

“Oct, 14: Uncle died at 5 o’clock this morning, aged 64 years, less two days. We sent word to all the neighbors and a great many people attended the funeral which took place on the 15th at 2 o’clock. We received a letter from Alfred saying that he liked it very much up there in the Chaco.

“Nov. 5: the locusts arrived in the evening and while we spent a long time trying to chase them out of the vegetable garden, a large swarm came over and laid their eggs in the fields. The gardener, Don José, tried to work in the garden against the locusts, while his mother, her son, and another dark lady sheared 66 sheep during the afternoon. The weather was very hot and sultry.

No immage.

Fig.10 — The family estancia house — c.1890?

“Nov. 23: two photographers came and took a picture of the house and of us all. Von der Becke arrived in the evening and stayed overnight. He said that he had had a very good time up in the Gran Chaco and that Alfred was well and had killed five Indians in a fight.

“Jan. 3, 1881: a very fine day. We sent the cart to the station with hides and Johnny went to Scharf’s for a certificate of sale. We were killing locusts with all hands, even the cook. Mr. Stormont, Watts and ‘Lord’ Donkin came to breakfast. Donkin, ‘the brave,’ had taken to playing an accordion which he had bought from a peon at the station.”

(This fellow Donkin apparently was quite a character. Note that the writer of the day-book departs from his usual spartan and sombre style to give him two nicknames in the same entry. Donkin was frequently mentioned for some personal antic, an extremely rare occurrence in the day-book, but we have no other information about his character.)

“Feb. 16: Alfred arrived back from the Gran Chaco in the afternoon. Mr. Donkin plagued the life out of us with his accordion. He saved the life of a child yesterday. She had fallen into the well.

“Feb. 21: Mr. Watt brought over four Englishmen to breakfast. They had come out from England on a tour round the world: a Mr. Jardine, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Knight and another fellow. A fire started again on the south corner of the estancia.

“Feb. 28: we sold the last [most western] league of camp to Smithers for 4,000 pesos, equal to 5,452 Bolivian pesos, and since he bad taken up Frank’s note on Lloyd’s of 4,592, he paid the balance to Willie who is going to the United States in two days.

“March 2: Willie went off to the States of North America to get married to Miss Clara Allyn, a charming girl from Corsicana, Texas. He fell in love with her when she came to the Argentine on a visit to her sister [correction: like her elder sister, she was a teacher brought to Argentina by President Sarmiento]. Since she was only 17, her sister thought her too young to be married, but although she went back to the States, Willie corresponded with her and used to ride to Cañada de Gomez to post his letters to her. They became engaged after a few months.

“He took 2,000 pesos with him. Johnny and Donkin went as far as Rosario with him to see him off. Johnny obtained a note from him of what money he took along, and Donkin got the money from the bank.

“March 30: Donkin, Herman and Alfred have been treating the cattle with a solution composed of starch, vinegar, salt and water. We cured about 20 in all. The ‘peste’ (disease) is very bad but we don’t know if it is distemper or scab. There are several animals dying. Alfred had a bad fall from his horse and hurt his shoulder. We had several visitors this week: Mrs. Wood, Miss Cross, Captain Irwin, Captain Hemingway and Mr. Bartlett, and we had another dance on Saturday evening. Johnny and Capt. Irwin went hunting nearly every day in the early morning and killed a lot of game.

“April 21: Donkin, ‘the brave,’ signed the pledge. The mason came and broke down the wall between the last two rooms on the patio and put a door there for William’s suite, as they are going to live here after they are married.

“April 25: Willie and Clara were married today at 5 p.m. in Corsicana, Texas.”

AABz1859_Bio_Ilus11.jpg (40604 bytes)

Fig. 11 — A camp scene
[The “La California” house is in the background.  Johnnie is the rider on the left.
The shed on the right foreground is about where the swimming pool is today]


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.


No image.

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.


AABz1859_Bio_Ilus12.jpg (37652 bytes)

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.


no image.

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.


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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.


No image.

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.”


Bo image.

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.


No tracks.

“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 [1950] 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 [18]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.


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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.


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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.


THE birth of the Twentieth Century saw Argentina risen to full statehood and rapidly on her way to becoming a full-blown world power. The unequalled wealth of her soil, the energetic and progressive character of her people and the temperate clime in which the greater part of the population lived all contributed to the shaping of the nation. These three factors were, perhaps, chiefly responsible for the role that was to fall to Argentina of the most important country in Latin-America.

Alfred Benitz and his brothers, and thousands of other estancieros like them, played no small part in the progress of the country. It was the wheat and meat produced by these men and exported to Europe that first called the attention of the world to Argentina. The wealth that they created made it possible for Argentina to forge ahead at a much swifter pace than any of her neighbors, or any other country in Latin-America.

In the year 1898 when Gen. Julio A. Roca assumed the presidency for the second time, conditions in the country were good. Agriculture and business were flourishing, and the nation's finances were in sound condition. Roca pushed a program of public works, giving special attention to the construction of water-works and drainage systems. The rising young republic also turned its attention to its military establishment. Universal military conscription was introduced and large tracts of land were acquired for the army's camps and schools. The most important and best known of these camps was Campo de Mayo located just outside Buenos Aires. Its proximity to the capital eventually made it a major factor in the political life of the nation.

For some time there had been growing friction with Chile over the delineation of the border along the Andes mountains. Roca decided to negotiate, the question directly with the President of Chile, and the two presidents in May of 1892 signed an agreement which has stood to this day. It put an end once and for all to the border disputes between the two countries. King Edward VII of England was asked to act as arbiter in the dispute, and he fixed the boundary line along the crest of the towering mountain range. To symbolize the peace and concord brought about by this agreement, a huge statue of Christ, known to most school-children of the western hemisphere as "El Cristo de los Andes," was erected on the border itself. A solemn vow was subscribed to by both nations that the statue should crumble to dust before they would take up arms against each other.

Dr. Manuel Quintana became president at the end of Roca's term in 1904, but he died two years later and the presidency was assumed by Dr. Figueroa Alcorta, who had been elected Vice-President under Quintana. He was called upon to suppress a revolutionary movement led by one of the most controversial figures in Argentine history - Hipólito Irigoyen, who was later to become president twice himself. Irigoyen set himself up as the leader of the middle classes and the poor. His enemies said that he was a rabble-rouser and a demagogue. These were the same terms that were to be applied by his opposition to Juan D. Per6n four decades later. Irigoyen was worshipped by the poor and damned by the wealthy. He was the sworn enemy of the conservatives who represented the landed classes and the aristocracy of wealth.

In 1905 Irigoyen attempted his first, revolt. This movement appeared fairly well organized, especially in the Provinces, but the government was strong enough to squelch it promptly. Alcorta, who was in the provincial capital of Córdoba at the time, was arrested by the revolutionaries, but was only held a short time. After Alcorta took over the presidency there was some street fighting in Buenos Aires but this also was put down by the firm hand of the government. It was in this same year that Gen. Bartolomé Mitre died. Mitre was one of the true fathers of the republic. He died at the age of 85 after a fruitful life as a statesman, soldier, historian and newspaper publisher (he was the founder of the great Buenos Aires morning, daily La Nación).

Despite periodic internal upheavals, Argentina was now getting into the stride of a swift march toward commercial and industrial development, the inevitable sequel to the growth of her livestock and agricultural industries during the Nineteenth Century. Oil wells had been discovered along the middle Atlantic coast at the naval base of Comodoro Rivadavia. Great increases continued in her foreign trade, and infant industries within the country were struggling to make good, although they, did not receive a real impulse until the necessities of the first World War zoomed them overnight into a position of the first importance in Argentina's economy. Scientific, literary and cultural progress in general also was marching rapidly ahead.

In 1909 Argentina was requested to act as arbiter in a territorial dispute between Perú and Bolivia. However, Bolivia showed frank hostility toward Argentina, and diplomatic relations were broken off. At the same time, difficulties arose with Uruguay over the jurisdiction of the waters of the Rio de la Plata, but this problem was solved amicably.

Political ferment was still brewing inside the country. It boiled, over in a mild revolution which culminated in an attempt on the life of the President, Dr. Alcorta, during a gala performance at the Colón theater, the home of grand opera in Argentina. A bomb was thrown from the topmost gallery of the huge Colón auditorium during the festive performance, and the Chief of Police, Col. Falc6n, was killed, but the President escaped injury.

A landmark in Argentine history was set up during the presidency of Dr. Roque Saenz Peña, who took office in 1910. A bill bearing his name was put through Congress and became the law of the land, establishing the free and secret vote. This step forward in the country's political life permitted a greater participation of the masses of the people in subsequent elections and was to have a profound effect on the future. Another noteworthy event of 1910 was the taking of the census which showed the total population to be 7,885,237, of whom 2,357,952 were foreign-horn.

In 1914 Saenz Peña died, and the Vice-President, Victorino de la Plaza, took the oath as president. He came into office at a most difficult time because the first World War broke out shortly thereafter, posing an endless series of delicate international problems. The country decided to remain neutral, although there was considerable popular sentiment in favor of the allied forces. Foreign trade was carried on to all powers, but the British control of the seas meant, in effect, that the meat and wheat of Argentina were sold only to the allies. Some concessions were also made to the allies; for example, their warships were permitted to remain indefinitely in Argentine ports for repairs and for refuelling. Several popular gestures of friendship and support for the allied powers, especially France, were made during the conflict. Typical of these was the gift of a handsome sword, together with a volume bearing the signatures of thousands of Argentines, to Marshal Focb, the allied commander-in-chief. As in the second World War, thousands of young Argentines volunteered to fight with the British and French forces.

As a result of the reform of the electoral laws, Irigoyen became president in the 1916 elections. He continued to steer Argentina on a neutral course, even after the Unitel States entered the war in 1917, and embarked on an ambitious program of social legislation and educational reform at home.

In 1922, Marcelo T. Alvear, a member of Irigoven's Radical party, became president. Alvear was a completely different type of man from his predecessor. He had travelled extensively in Europe and possessed considerable diplomatic experience. Urbane and polished, he was in public life the antithesis of Irigoven who made a fetish of his humble origin and way of life. It was during Alvear's term of office that the then-Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and, after his abdication, the Duke of Windsor) visited Argentina. His visit was followed by that of the Crown Prince of Italy. Both royal visitors officially came to Argentina on what were described as "good-will" tours, but the real purpose of their trips was to increase business between Argentina and the other two countries.

After Alvear finished his office, he was succeeded by Irigoyen, who thus became President for the second time. Irigoyen himself undoubtedly was honest, but he was surrounded by as fine an assortment of crooks and grafters as ever took over a political administration. They completely undermined his second administration, and this, couple4 with Irigoyen's social legislation program, which he pushed unflinchingly, aroused public sentiment against him. An unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him was made on Dec. 24, 1929. One year later the situation was aggravated by strikes and rioting in the capital including one pitched battle in the Plaza de Congreso which lasted for nearly a week and resulted in over two thousand casualties. Irigoyen was forced to appeal to the armed forces to restore order. On Sept. 5, 1930, he resigned and the government was taken over by a military junta headed by Gen. José Mix Uriburu. Uriburu called elections for 1932, when Irigoyen's term should have ended, and saw to it that his hand picked candidate, Gen. Agustin P. Justo, won the elections.

Justo, faced with the economic problems of the world depression, embarked on a vast public works project, including the construction of many highways to handle the rapidly increasing motor traffic of the country and also a number of airports. Internally, Justo ruled with a strong hand and was accused by his opponents of using dictatorial methods to make sure that his party (the conservative Partido Demócrata Nacional) won all the provincial elections.

In October, 1934, the first Eucharistic Congress to be held in Latin-America, was celebrated in Buenos Aires. Eugenio, Cardenal Pacelli, then Papal Secretary of State; and now Pope Pius XII, attended the Congress as representative of the Pope. More than 50,000 pilgrims came to Buenos Aires from all parts of the continent. It was a magnificent and impressive sight.

For some years past, the horse-drawn, "coches," with their brutally-treated, half-starved horses, had been superseded, as already mentioned, by electric trams and by motorcars and lorries. Taxis appeared on the streets, to be augmented later by the bus and "colectivo." The latter is a small bus capable of seating from 12 to 15 persons, with about ten standing, usually on the toes of those who are seated. This vehicle, one of the wonders of Buenos Aires, originated with an astute taxidriver who started taking odd fares at 50 centavos each, picking up people as he went, and following a definite route. This ingenious idea gradually grew into big business until the entire city was laced with "colectivo" lines, covering all of Buenos Aires' sprawling area. The ordinary "colectivo" driver is a hardy soul who races his vehicle at a terrific rate through traffic in a manner that is nerve-racking to his passengers and to pedestrians alike, but even so there are miraculously few accidents in which "colectivos" are involved.

The trouble that the "colectivos" encountered in travelling through the streets was symbolic of the real traffic problem that was growing in Buenos Aires. Nearly all the streets in the business center of the city were narrow and totally incapable of handling the swollen mass of traffic that daily congested them. The authorities attempted to meet this in some measure by building wide avenues at regular intervals that would syphon off some of the excess traffic from the narrow streets and divert it into a more swiftly moving stream. The Avenida Roque Saenz Peña [Diagonal Norte], a diagonal thoroughfare running seven blocks from the Plaza de Mayo to the Plaza de la República, where Buenos Aires' famous obelisk is located, was one of these. Work was also begun in the 30's on four important parallel streets - Belgrano, Corrientes, Córdoba and Santa Fe - which effectively served their purpose of speeding up and alleviating traffic. At right angle to these streets was another Buenos Aires' landmark, the Avenida 9 de Julio, reputedly the widest street in the world with a width of 150 meters. A great deal of this modernizing of the city's tortuous street system was done during Justo's administration.

Electric lighting had now supplanted gas entirely in Buenos Aires and in most of the important interior cities. Added to this were five subwav lines that aided tremendouslv in moving the enormous daily crowd of people who travelled about Buenos Aires. The Central Argentine railway, running to Tigre station, the first lap on the Benitz family's trip to Rosario in 1875, had been electrified in 1913 and now operates one of the finest suburban train systems anywhere in the world. Similar improvements had been installed on the other railways serving Buenos Aires' suburbs.

The capital city itself had become one of the most elegant to be found on the globe. It was studded with beautiful parks and plazas and with soaring modern office, and apartment buildings that offered it sharp contrast to the baroque Parisian-style of structure that predominated in the last century. The Rose Garden at Palermo Park is said to be superior, in quality and size, to the famous Versailles Garden from which it was copied. With its luxury shops and magnificent hotels, the city is the tourist's delight.

All the wealth that the capital city offered to the eyes of the newcomer was the result of hard toil done on the pampas. Wheat and meat were the commodities that had built the wonders and the finery of Buenos Aires, and it was men like the Benitz brothers who had made it possible.


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.]

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
2  Dik-dik  

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.

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Fig. 26
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 (2017) El Rincón is the only summer home still in the family, owned by the children of 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.

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Fig. 20 — Part of “El Bermejo” estancia

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Fig. 21 — A typical “vivienda”

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Fig. 22 — Branding cattle

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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” [correction: Campo Winter] which was situated near the town of Resistencia in the Chaco. He had previously disposed [incorrect] of “Los Palmares,” the place at Laguna Yacaré [correction: 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” [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. 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 he 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 Flora’s siblings.]

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.”

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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 just above where 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 - also 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.

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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.”















[ Also see the Benitz website: Glossary of Spanglish Terms ]

Spanish term English explanation
Aguaciles dragonflies.
Aguada pool of drinking water; a well. [watering hole]
Aguaras species of South American wolf.
Alaridos Indian yells.
Alazán sorrel horse.
Alazán overo sorrel piebald.
Algarrobo species of South American [spiny] tree.
Arnera Brazilian tree with poisonous bark.
Arreo harness.
Arroyo stream or brook.
Asado meat roasted on iron grill over open fire [grilled, BBQ].
Atropellar wild rush. [bowl-over]
Bagual wild horse.
Balsa ferry.
Bota boot.
Boyero species of South American blackbird. [also: night-horse]
Bronco untamed colt.
Calchaquis tribe of Chaco Indians.
Camalotes floating islands of trees, weeds or reeds.
Camión truck or lorry.
Cañada gully.
Capataz foreman.
Carguero pack-mule or pack-horse
Carne meat.
Carne con cuero meat roasted [grilled, BBQ] with hide.
Carnear to butcher.
Carpinchos species of South American wild hog [capybara, the largest rodent in the world - no pig, see Spanglish].
Chajá species of South American wild turkey [Southern Screamer - no turkey, see Spanglish].
Chaparral underbrush or scrub.
Charcos puddle or small pool.
Charrúas tribe of Uruguayan Indians.
Chiriguanos tribe of Uruguayan Indians.
Chiqueta a burrow.
Chivero a goat pen.
Choretes tribe of Chaco Indians.
Ciervo species of South American stag [deer, see Spanglish].
Colorado red roan (usually referring to a horse).
Comisaria police station.
Comisario chief of police.
Corral horse or cattle enclosure. [cattle-yards]
Delgado thin or slender.
Diaquitas tribe of Indians from northeastern Argentina.
Domar to tame, or “break,” speaking of horses.
Domador one who tames or “breaks”.
Entre pelado type of piebald horse.
Espartillar field of Esparto grass.
Esparto species of rough grass or weed.
Espín a thorny bush.
Estancia a ranch or farm.
Estero swamp or marsh.
Fiambre cold meats.
Gainza species of South American crane.
Gama doe.
Garrapatas a kind of leech [cattle tick - no leech].
Guasó Jew-fish [also: thug].
Guasuncho wild deer.
Isleta islet.
Jabalí South American wild boar.
Juntar To gather or collect.
Laguna Lake. [lagoon]
Lino Linseed.
Maíz Indian corn. [corn]
Malón Indian raid.
Manada Troop [herd] of horses [typically a herd of brood mares]
Masoar To groom or rub down.
Matacas Tribe of Chaco Indians.
Mate Paraguayan herb or tea.
Mazorca Maize stalk.
Monte Wood or spinney.
Monte bajo Wood of low trees.
Mulita Armadillo
Ñanduty Paraguayan town famed for its lace.
Ñandú Ostrich [South American rhea - no ostrich].
Ovalero Species of South American bird.
Overo porcelana Type of light piebald horse.
Pajonales Thickets of Pampas grass.
Palmar Palm grove.
Palenque Hitching post [hitching rail].
Pampas South American plains.
Pampero South [SW] gale from the Pampas.
Paso Path or track. Trail. [also: pace, and mountain pass].
Patio Courtyard.
Peste Epidemic or disease.
Picana [Cattle] Prod with long handle.
Pingo A fine horse.
Pisadero Treading pen for making mud bricks.
Poblar To colonise.
Puestos Shepherds' houses [estancia section or line houses].
Pulperia Camp inn or store. [See Spanglish]
Quebracho Species of South American hard wood [iron-wood].
Quebrachales Quebracho forest.
Ramada Horse shelter. [?, shed roofed with branches]
Rastrillo Harrow.
Recado South American saddle.
Recorrer Retrace [to ride through the estancia fields checking the condition of the fields and the cattle in them].
Redomón Half-tamed horse.
Revisar To revise [to review, same as Recorrer above; see Spanglish].
Rinconada Corner [inside corner, in geographical terms].
Rodar To fall.
Rosada Pinkish roan or shade of pink.
Rodeo Round up [or a herd, or all cattle in total on an estancia].
Sanjón Large drain [ditch].
Seca Drought.
Tacurusal High ant-hill belonging to species of huge South American ant.
Tajamar Groin or cutwater near pier [a lagoon created by a berm of earth across a creek (arroyo), for watering cattle or irrigation - no piers on an estancia].
Tambo Dairy.
Tarde Late. afternoon.
Tobas Tribe of Chaco Indians who paint their faces.
Toldos Indian [shelter] wigwams.
Tordillo Grey horse.
Trigo Wheat.
Tropilla Troop [herd] of horses or cattle. [See Spanglish]
Tucurusal Bamboo thicket.
Tulipanes Tulips.
Tuviano [tobiano] Type of piebald horse.
Tuyuyu Species of South American stork.
Urraca Magpie. [name often misapplied to the “Pirincho”, a cuckoo common to the pampas]
Vibora Snake.
Yacaré Alligator.
Yaguaron Crocodile.
Yerba Herb. [usually mate]


[ All the illustrations have been moved to the appropriate chapter. ]

Figure Title Chapter
1 Movements of the Benitz family 1832-1874 (map) 1
2 Wm. Benitz certificate "Society of California Pioneers" 1
3 Society of California Pioneers - card 1
4 Old Fort Ross, as seen from the Hill 2
5 Fort Ross, California (Chapel) 2
6 Russian Bastion at Fort Ross 2
7 Well’s Fargo Express, 1850 2
8 The Kolmer Ranch, Sonoma 2
9 Newspaper cutting from the “The Call” of December 22nd, 1873 (performance of “William Tell”) 4
10 The family estancia house (La California) 13
11 A camp scene (La California) 13
12 Camp Monte Aguara 14
13 Interrupted Siesta - Monte Aguaro 14
14 Calchaqui - La Vuelta - Saturday Evening 14
15 Camp at Isleta de los Mosquitos - Sundown 14
16 Passing Arroyo de Las Conchas 14
17 Pleasure? Tabanos, Moscas Bravas, Mosquitos… 14
18 9th Mounted Infantry on their way to hunt Indians 16
19 Plan of Indian encampment during Indian hunt 16
20 Part of “El Bermejo”estancia 19
21 A typical “vivienda” 19
22 Branding cattle 19
23 A close of the branding 19
24 Don Alfredo with one of his faithful henchmen 20
25 Don Alfredo and his Percherons 19
26 Mells Manor House and Church, Somerset 19
-- Family Tree (up to 1935) 4
-- [ Route of Alfred’s first herd, April 1884 (Map) ] 15

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)