An Old Colonist, John Scott

I met at Chymen Aike a fine old English colonist and flockmaster, John Scott. As he had had experience of starting two new sheep farms, he was able to give interesting data. The laws of Argentina, of which Santa Cruz is a territory, divide land, according to their fitness for cultivation or for pasturage, and sell or lease them in tracts fitting the use. In this region one could purchase eight leagues and lease eight more adjoining, thus giving one approximately 100,000 acres of land. This is considered a tract of the right size for economical management. One expert and well paid manager and one good central station with dips and shearing sheds could nicely take care of the sheep of 100,000 acres. Such a tract of land would carry from 16,000 to 50,000 sheep, depending on how well it was grassed and somewhat upon the shelter for winter. It would all be carefully fenced, provided with pastures and huts in the pastures for shepherds and possibly with telephones to the huts, as is done at Chymen Aike. Mr. Scott says that to the northwest of the territory of San Julian there is yet much unoccupied land that is dry and thinly grassed, yet it is capable with windmills and wells of supporting many sheep. He made for me the following estimate of the cost of acquiring land in southern Patagonia. I may as well note, however, that since that time the laws have been modified :

He applies for a tract of eight leagues, let us say, or about 50,000 acres. His first payment is to fee a lawyer in Buenos Aires, $1,600 (paper money). He then pays a rental in advance, $1,600. He must then fence the land, costing about $20,000. He then pays an official surveyor $1,600. Then for five years he pays an annual rental of $1,600 for his eight leagues. If he has complied with all of these provisions he can at the end of five years buy this land at a cost of $10,000 per league or $80,000 for his 50,000 acres. As these figures are in Argentine paper money, worth about 42½ cents of our money, it will be seen that the land is sold for about 75 cents an acre. It requires from three to six acres to keep a sheep a year.

The government wisely prohibits a man from selling his land before he has been on it the required time, and he must have perfected title. That makes it difficult for large companies to monopolize the land. The advantage to the estanciero of having a title to his land is important; he fences, builds and goes about his business, knowing well that it is permanent. This is in sad contrast with the condition of our own sheepowners on the western ranges, for our laws do not permit leases of pasture lands nor the sale of them in tracts large enough to put our own sheep breeding on a business footing.

Not every one in Patagonia becomes wealthy at sheep-farming. The winter of 1900 was a hard one, and Mr. Scott lost the third of his sheep. The winter of 1904 found him in the Gallegos district with 30,-000 sheep. Snow fell eighteen inches deep on the level, and 16,000 died. Mr. Scott says that the wild guanacos died sooner than the sheep, not having the instinct to paw away the snow from the grass. He is now farming in the San Julian country, a few hundred miles to the north, where it is higher and drier and his camp will carry only from 500 to 1,000 sheep to the league. He finds on that dry land a considerable amount of Merino blood useful.


I have mentioned the large use of Romney rams in Patagonia. It is a breed with a curious history. In Kent, England, there is a large tract of low rich land termed marsh. It is drained, as are the lands of Holland, and is not now wet. It is, however, marvelous grass land and is given over chiefly to pasture. In winter it is a bleak wind-swept country. On the marsh sheep live as they do in Patagonia; that is, out in the pastures all their lives, being seldom if ever fed. The sheep are not so large as the Lincolns and Cotswolds, are rather coarse-wooled and very hardy and active. There are several more highly finished and perfected breeds in England, but the Romneys brought with them the qualities of endurance and the habit of getting a living from grass, be it lush or scant, so in this far southern region the breed supplants all others. The one rival is the Corriedale of New Zealand.

The Corriedale is a hybrid sheep, resulting from crossing the Australian type of Merino with the Romney, Lincoln, and Leicester; that is, different New Zealand breeders used different material in beginning the making of the hybrid Corriedale. Later the types were blended by interbreeding. Corriedales are smaller than Romneys, with finer wool more densely set. They are favorites around Punta Arenas and the great Explotadora company uses many rams of this breeding. Sheep in South Am-erica are in layers, as one might say. At the bottom, where cold is most intense, and conditions are most severe, there are Corriedales and Romneys, with Romneys leading. Northward where pastures are more scanty and wool, not mutton, must be the chief consideration, one finds the large Merinos of Rambouillet type. Some hundreds of miles yet further northward one comes to the fat, clover-covered pastures of the agricultural provinces, with a climate that will permit oranges to grow, and here the Rambouillet, once universal, is being displaced by the stately Lincolns.


What do South American estancieros receive for their wool and mutton? In 1911, the year of my visit, wools at Punta Arenas were bought at prices ranging from 14 to 20 cents per pound. To place such wool in New York would cost about 2 cents per pound, including freight, insurance and commissions. It is good wool—better in some ways than we produce, being cleaner and stronger. From the little port of Gallegos in 1910 was exported nearly 6,500,000 pounds of wool, most of it going to England and Germany. We could obtain a lot of mutton from this region and perhaps some day we may be compelled to, if we need it, although it would seem that our own farmers might and ought to furnish us with all the meats that we need. At Rio Seco, on the straits, I secured figures showing the cost approximately of laying down prime lamb mutton in London. For 1911 the cost was a little under 6 cents a pound. It is impossible for our farmers on their high-priced lands and with their dear labor and expensive costs of forage and grain to produce live mutton for what could be laid down in New York prime dressed and frozen Patagonian lambs.

We may have to come to this, but I hope it will not be for many years. Our farmers are now for the first time in many years getting on their feet. Low prices for meats would put them back and stop farm development; the building of good country homes, the education of farm boys and girls and in the end nearly the entire country might suffer because when the farmer has money to spend it makes the mill wheels to turn, and when he is hard up industry languishes.


One day I met Rev. J. Stanley Smith, a Church of England minister. He was a fine, manly, athletic, companionable man, and the story *f his ad-ventures would make a book. His parish includes 50,000 square miles. He has a church at Punta Arenas and makes endless pilgrimages among the estancieros up and down the coast and far to the interior. The parson goes out without purse or scrip or horse of his own ; he is welcome everywhere, kept as long as he will stay and then is provided with fresh horses and sent on to the next estancia. At one place he will baptize a baby, at another he may (but this rarely) solemnize a marriage or he may administer the sacrament. He cheers the lonely women; rallies the men who may be inclined to be a bit careless in matters both temporal and spiritual; gathers the children about him and tells them stories of the world and of his adventures. Altogether he is as sane, wholesome, inspiring a young man as any I know.

Illustrating the difference in men, I later met a solemn, sourfaced young man, also a missionary but of a different sect. To him I spoke my appreciation of Rev. Smith.

“Ah, yes, he may be all that, but I have my doubts as to the soundness of his theology,” was the sour one’s reply. What a fine rebuke the Master would have for that misguided and mistaught man, who puts theology before manliness, love and helpfulness.