Along The Coast Of Argentina

From my note book I quote : “As I progress northward along the coast of Patagonia I am more and more impressed with the immense stretch of country it presents. I learn, too, that while in the region close to the Straits of Magellan the land is now all taken and most of it is fully stocked and even overstocked, yet here in the more northern parts is a vast amount of unoccupied land, all good sheep land, though having capacity of only 800 to 1,000 head per league (nearly 6,250 acres). The aspect of the country remains strikingly similar, though there are here and there high parts, like our buttes or mesas of the West, but nowhere true mountains east of the Cordilleras. Thus far I have seen no trees save a few stunted ones in cañons. Thus far almost all the settlement has been by Englishmen, and where the Argentines own land they quite often employ English managers, who have the training and capacity for the constructive work that is to be done.

“The weather seems most capricious ; at one hour warm and sunny, again tempestuous and cold as ice. I am now in the region of a government railway-building enterprise. There is absolutely no agriculture possible here without irrigation, which is today impossible, though no doubt some day the rivers will some of them be turned out of their beds and alfalfa be grown. The soil everywhere shows evidence of having in comparatively recent times been under the sea; it is almost uniformly stony or gravelly, but it is probably quite fertile, with water. Traveling leisurely along the coast by ship gives one an opportunity to meet the estancieros and secure useful information. I wish to get down here the story of a Patagonian pioneer, or Auguste uillaume, one of the most interesting figures in the early history of the country.


“In 1873 Señor Guillaume first crossed Patagonia, going from Punta Arenas north to Golfo San Jorge, returning to Punta Arenas. He saw few Indians on this journey; in fact, the Indians avoided the coast country, as it was usually without water for themselves or their horses, and the pasturage is far better westward toward the Cordilleras, where the rainfall is more abundant. In 1880 Señor Guillaume took sheep south from the province of Rio Negro to Rio Coyle, not far from Gallegos. The journey took one year. The sheep were grade Merinos. For some years he lived on the Coyle, with his sheep, which throve. In 1904, the year of the hard winter, he had 14,000 sheep. Of these 2,000 died and 5,000 wandered away as the snow in drifts was higher than the fences. He never recovered any of the 5,000, although he learned that some of them reached Lago Argentino, 200 miles away.

“Señor Guillaume is now located near Rio Santa Cruz. On 16 leagues (about 100,000 acres) of land he keeps 20,000 sheep. The land is fenced and divided into seven pastures. His ewes are of Romney type, mixed with Rambouillet-Merino. He uses Rambouillet rams. His flock has averaged 6.6 pounds. He sold his last clip for $10.50, or nearly exactly 21 cents per pound, American money. The wool clip realized him gross $27,720, American money. The present wool clip will scarcely realize so much as that, since wool now is very much lower in price than it was then.

“The expenses on this estancia are light. In busy season ten men are employed, usually but four, whose wages are $70 to $80 per month, Argentine paper (worth 44 cents in gold). They have meat furnished, but buy their food in addition. The land cost Señor Guillaume $10,000 in Argentine money per league ($4,400 in gold) or $35,000 gold for the 8 leagues. (He leases eight leagues). What it cost to fence and stock I could not ascertain. It seems evident, however, that this is a very profitable estancia. Señor Guillaume says that by far the best grass is west near the, Cordilleras, but the cost of getting down the wool from there, a distance of eighty to 100 leagues, is too much to leave a good profit. The camps near the Cordilleras he also considers dangerous because of snows in winter, though many of them could cut and stack hay. He says that the territory of Santa Cruz is far from being stocked, and that it could easily carry many thousands more sheep than at present, his exact term being “millions” more, which is evidently careless speaking. He says the government does not grant land freely enough to permit the most rapid settlement; that is, the government reserves the best land for purposes of colonization instead of granting it to sheep-farmers at the standard price of $10,000 per league of 6,250 acres ($4,250 American money).

“March 12:, This day has been a lovely day, after & night of storm. We have anchored a mile off shore (as we often do), and are taking on wool all day long by means of lighters and a small steam launch that we carry with us. We are now in the territory of Chubut. As we come northward the climate is more and more marked by aridity. The port of Rivadavia is the terminus of a new railway being built by the government. It is typical of the world-hunger for land and its products that there should be building here a railway, for the land near the coast is rough and barren. It is much like the dry parts of Arizona, with thorny shrubs, salt or bitter shrubs and thin, small grass beneath. I went a distance into the country and to a mountaintop, whence I could see for many miles. The interior, however, is a moister land than I explored along the coast. One finds many climatic peculiarities in this country that are difficult to explain.

“Here we loaded much wool in sacks in the manner of North America, whereas heretofore all of it has been baled in heavy, close bales. Near here is a colony of Boer farmers, of whom I hear various conflicting reports. It is evident that some of them are thriving. They are engaged in sheep-farming and in agriculture by irrigation. In truth, all that can be done with the land from here to Cape Horn is to keep sheep on it, and for that it is one of the best regions that I have ever seen, although parts of it require a great deal of land per sheep, say in the poorer parts eight to ten acres to one sheep.

Quite commonly 1,000 head are put to the league of 6,250 acres.”


I passed from the territory of Santa Cruz to the territory of Chubut. I gave but a most superficial study to the land and work of Santa Cruz, which was unavoidable in so limited a time. From all the evidence I could get and from the best men I gathered that the sheep breeding industry is capable of much expansion in Santa Cruz ; that only the southern end is fully stocked, leaving the middle and drier parts and the western sections nearly bare of sheep, and that there can be but little doubt that there will be seen presently a considerable increase in the numbers of sheep and the out-put of wool in this region. Without railways it is difficult to see how sheep can get to the coast from the richest mutton-making regions of the Cordilleras. Nevertheless, it is evident that there will be likewise a large increase in the output of canned mutton and some development of frozen mutton as well. Probably each of these products will soon be at least doubled. There can be no question that sheep owners in Santa Cruz are making large profits. These are usually sent out of the country, to England, Scotland or Buenos Aires. No one, apparently, cares to make a home in this bleak, half-barren, wind-swept land.

According to the census of 1908, there were in Santa Cruz more than 2,000,000 sheep. They have probably doubled in number since then, and there is doubtless room for 5,000,000. If the region along the Cordilleras can be opened up by railway or navigation, and if alfalfa comes along the rivers to help out the scanty grazing, the sheep population will vastly expand. Chubut, the territory lying next north, had in 1908 a few more than 2,000,000 sheep. Here, as we shall see, the numbers also increase. It is typical of the reaching out of man to the command of all the remote corners of earth that these deserts should be fenced, watered and then peopled with sheep, the wool of which goes to clothe men in many northern lands. Moreover, the lamb roasts produced here go to grace many a dinner table from Edinburgh to Cornwall. As in other parts of South America, the possibilities for sheep-raising are al-most unlimited.


I quote from my journal: “I am having a great time studying Español. A senorita on the ship hears me read and says that I read very well. I now know a great many words by sight, but I do not recognize them when some one repeats them to me, not can I get hold of them if I wish to use them. My respect for a baby increases vastly. Think how it gets hold of a language ; in two years it has mastered it, and all that time has never given it a moment’s study and has had ample time for play. I had a happy time ashore at Rivadavia. I climbed a high, steep mountain to get a view of the courttry, all a waste of hills and table lands, covered with brush for the most part with some little yellow grass between the shrubs. Giant clam or oyster shells abound all over the hills. Darwin says the coast emerged lately from the sea. `Lately’ with scientists means a million of years, more or less. This is the terminus of another government railway, wherefore it is a busy place. The poor government had a bit of hard luck here. Drilling wells for a water supply, it found only petroleum. Think of finding thick, nasty petroleum when dying of thirst.

“As usual we anchored out a mile from the beach and went in on the steam launch. It is great fun riding on the old tea kettle, but one has the lurking memory that one wave striking her from aft would fill her deep enough to put out her fires and two waves would send her to the bottom like lead. Our launch draws a chatta or barge to be laden with wool, and we can ride in that, if we fear the launch. The crew of the chatta is composed of unreformed pirates. The men are delighted to see us go ashore; when we return they do not put up a plank for us to walk over to the chatta, but pick us up and carry us on their shoulders, though the distance may be no more than three steps. For this service they expect a dollar. The ship’s mate grins to see this robbery and even permitted the same extortion to be practiced upon a lot of Italian laborers coming on to the ship.

“My heart is strangely light, every nerve and muscle tingling. We are approaching Madryn, a port in Chubut, where I leave the Sarmiento and hope to receive letters from home.”