THE Chilean farmers are perhaps the richest of their class in the world. They live like feudal lords on their great estates, often numbering their retainers by the hundred, and massing their cowboys like an army at the annual round-ups. They have great flocks of sheep, vast droves of cattle, and the finest horses on the west coast of South America. They raise every year more than 28,000,000 bushels of wheat, quantities of excellent wine, and export all kinds of fruits and vegetables to the desert lands farther north.
Agriculture is, in fact, the chief business of Chile. Fully one-half the people are engaged in it, but only the nabobs are the landowners. In the whole United States, with its seventy-five million inhabitants, there are only 31,000 persons who individually own 1,000 acres or over. Here a thousand-acre farm is a garden-patch. I meet daily, men who have 10, 20, and even 30,000 acres of land, and I have visited several estates each worth more than $1,000,000. I have a geographical textbook of Chile, just published, which gives the government valuations of the farms of each province. There are hundreds in every State assessed at more than $100,000, and in all Chile there are scores valued at $1,000,000 and upwards.
I am writing this chapter at the little railroad town of San Rosendo, about 1,200 miles south of the Peruvian frontier, and 300 miles south of Santiago, in the great central valley of Chile. The valley is from 20 to 100 miles wide, and about 600 miles long. It extends from above Santiago to hundreds of miles south of it. On the east of it are the snowy walls of the Andes, with here and there the cone of a dead volcano rising above the other peaks, and on the west the lower mountains and hills of the coast range, their sides covered with green. Between these almost parallel but winding walls lies some of the best soil of South America. The valley is cut by many creeks and small rivers, which, fed by the Andean snows, carry with them to the sea loads of silt so rich that it makes fat every inch of soil upon which it drops.
In some streams, such as the Mapo, the amount of silt is so great that it coats the lands, by the aid of irrigation canals, to the depth of an inch per year. Other streams, such as the Biobio and some streams of southern Chile, are almost as clear as crystal. The whole of the valley north of this point is irrigated, and the country is like a vast garden, made up of fields divided by canals along which hedges of Lombardy poplars have grown up to the height of sixty feet and more.
Some of the estates are walled with stone, and it is only occasionally that you see fences of wire or boards. There are no barns standing out on the landscape; the only buildings are the great low, rambling structures of the owners and the mean, squalid houses of the labourers. The latter I shall describe more fully farther on. Oxen everywhere take the place of horses or mules. Clumsy carts drawn by these beasts, with yokes tied to their horns, are the farm waggons, and the ploughs are forced through the furrow by the same motive power.
The estates are as a rule well kept. I passed vast vineyards, the vines of which, now covered with the red leaves of winter, spotted the landscape with fields of blood. The vines are dwarfed as they are in France, and in many cases are trained upon wires. They are planted in rows about five feet apart, and oxen are used to plough them. The Chilean wines, both white and red, are excellent, and the amount exported every year is constantly increasing. The climate of Chile is similar to that of California. The same crops and fruits are raised in both places and the conditions of successful farming are alike, save that in California one finds most of the farms very small.
What would one of the California women who tells you that 40 acres are more than enough for one person to take care of, think if she were asked to manage a farm worth $1,000,000 and comprising more than 11,000 acres ? There is a woman who owns an estate of this size near Santiago. She directs it herself, and this notwithstanding that she is now considerably over three score and ten. She keeps her own books and at the same time manages all the details connected with her household and its numerous inmates. This woman is one of the remarkable characters of Chile. Her name is Senora Emilia Herrera de Toro. She belongs to one of the oldest families of Chile, and the estate has been in her family for hundreds of years. It lies within two hours by rail of Santiago, and, as is the case with most of the wealthy farmers of the country, the family live upon it during the summer months only, spending the winter in their home at the capital. It was in company with our American Minister and his wife that I visited Madame de Toro and thereby had one of the most pleasant and interesting experiences of my stay in Chile.
Leaving Santiago, on the train we rode under the snow walls of the Andes, through hacienda after hacienda, by vast vineyards of blood-red vines, by walled fields filled with herds of cattle and sheep, until we came to the station of the “Aguila” estate. Here we were met by a spanking team of bays and driven for a mile or so over the estate before we came to the home. This consisted of many long, low, one-story buildings, with roofs of red tiles and wide porches floored with brick, running about patios and gardens. A grove of trees, at least ioo feet high, looked down upon it, and the long leaves of a great palm rustled a welcome as we stepped upon the porch. There were, I judge, 100 large rooms in the house, and all on the ground floor. The furnishings were more with regard to comfort than to the show which one sees in all the Chilean city homes. We were made to feel that we were in ” Liberty Hall,” and free to go and come as we pleased. There were about thirty children and grandchildren of Madame de Toro visiting her, as well as several other guests. We were duly introduced, and later in the day drove over the great farm in quite royal style with Senor Santiago de Toro, who, under his mother, is chief manager of the estate.
Our carriage was a three-seated drag, which once belonged to King Louis Philippe, the mate to which is now the property of the English royal family and is kept in the Windsor stables.
Senor de Toro bought the vehicle in Paris after the deposition of Louis Philippe, and it has been so carefully kept that it looks as well to-day as when a king was its owner. We had six horses, managed by three postillions and outriders in livery, and thus drove for mile after mile through wide avenues of Lombardy poplars, by the two lakes which supply the family with fish, frightening the ducks and swans which were there floating, on to the rose garden, which contained more than a hundred varieties of roses, past meadows where great flocks of sheep were grazing, and by many irrigated fields being made ready for next year’s crops. Here was a forest of eucalyptus trees planted for their lumber, there an orange grove, the trees still bearing their yellow fruit, and farther on a vineyard. Most of the fields were surrounded by well-made stone walls, and every part of the estate seemed carefully and economically managed. I noticed in one place a Chicago windmill, and Senor de Toro told me that he used American ploughs and other American machinery.
The estate is to a large extent a dairy farm. It has about 2, 000 cattle, and 300 milch cows, from which come something like $6,000 worth of milk and $8,000 worth of butter annually. Upon it are also 200 horses, although all the farm work is done by oxen, which are the only draught and farm animals of Chile. The horses are kept chiefly for breeding, and for the use of the family and guests. It is necessary to have a large number of horses, for parties of fifteen or twenty often want to go horseback riding at the same time, and the Aguila estate is managed more for the comfort of the family than for profit, although it is, for all that, a very profitable farm.
Madame Emilia is fond of giving presents. She has one man busy all the year round making baskets to be used in sending gifts to her friends, or filled with fruit to be given to guests when they take their leave. She raises for sale 500,000 oranges a year, but 50,000 are always left on the trees for home use. All of the mutton eaten on the estate is home-raised, and the 800 sheep reared on the farm are chiefly for the use of the owner and her friends. She also raises great quantities of onions, squashes, and other vegetables to give away, and sends them to the Santiago hospitals by the cart-load. I saw piles of such vegetables stacked up for this purpose at the rear of the house. There was enough, it seemed to me, to feed a good-sized American town for a year. Mountains of pumpkins, great piles of squashes, bags of walnuts, and cart-loads of corn all awaited shipment as gifts. The owner delights in the old way of doing things, and the table is chiefly supplied from the estate, the ice-cream being made by snow brought from the mountains in bags on the backs of the peons. As it takes several days to make the journey, the ice could be more cheaply procured by train from Santiago; but she prefers the old way rather than the new, and the estate is kept as much as possible as it was in the days of her girlhood. Each of her many grandchildren has his own pony, and I saw little boys and girls between the ages of four and fourteen gal-loping about the place and holding their seats like grown men and women.
The meals served to guests on such an estate are of course excellent. You get up when you feel like it and have your coffee or tea and toast in your room. At eleven or twelve o’clock all the household meet at breakfast. This is what would be called a course dinner, beginning with soup and ending with coffee. Then at seven o’clock there is dinner, with perhaps a lunch or tea at four o’clock, and supper late in the evening. The better class of Chilean families keep very late hours, and there are usually some at Aguila who stay up chatting till long after midnight.
During my stay at Santiago I paid a visit to the famous estate of the late Madame Cousino, known as Macul. Her name will doubtless be familiar to many of my readers, since she has been much written of in the newspapers as the richest woman in the world, the Chilean woman who possesses millions of acres of land, mines of copper, silver and coal, towns and factories, and an income of millions a year. Madame Cousino was very rich, but there are to-day women in Chile who are richer than she ever was. She was however a lavish spender, and her estate, which is now being settled up, will not aggregate, I am told, $10,000,000. She was, nevertheless, a remarkable woman and fond of all things modern.
Macul contains about 5,000 acres and cost when Senor Cousino bought it $600,000. I venture to say that more than that amount has been spent upon it, and it is now valued at over $1,000,000. It has 100 of the finest of blood horses, the choicest of sheep, and 200 of the best of cattle, bred from imported Durham stock.
It has a vineyard which contains several hundred thousand vines, and produces millions of bottles of wine annually. American ploughs and other machinery are used upon it, and it takes a regiment of peons to do the work. The estate is kept like a prize farm, and lines of tall poplars mark out the courses of the irrigation ditches. The water-rents for Macul cost about $5,000 a year. The ground is very rich and all things grow luxuriantly. Along the poplar hedges I saw blackberry bushes 30 feet high. They were wild blackberries and had grown up between the poplars.
I doubt whether there is a finer park anywhere than on the farm of Macul. It has long avenues of trees 100 feet in height, the branches of which meet overhead and form arbours reaching almost as high as you can see. At places other avenues meet these, and one stands and looks down these long arbours in four different directions. There are groves of great trees planted so regularly that every way one looks the eye runs along the straight line of one of the rows. There are lagoons which wind in and out among mossy rocks and beds of flowers. Swans and other water-fowl swim upon the lagoons, and over their dark waters orange trees, palms, and weeping willows hang. Here you walk upon what seems a natural bridge, in the centre of which is a rustic table under a canopy of bark, and there a waterfall splashes over the rocks, and as you look upward you see bronze statues of Neptune and his wife which the silvery drops are spraying before they flow onward to their falls. Here is a winding cave and there a lemon grove laden with yellow fruit. There are hedges of roses and other flowers, great greenhouses filled with orchids, and in short a variety of beautiful things. It takes 30 men to care for the gardens alone, and 18o men are employed in the vineyards.
One of these big farms always has its manager or major-domo. It has its sub-overseers and its army of rotos, or common farm hands. The rotos are of the cross formed by the union of the Indians and Spaniards. They are the labouring class of the country and correspond to the peons of Peru. They are, how-ever, of a different character from the Peruvian labourers, although fully as drunken and as shiftless as to money-making and money-saving. They are brave to excess and will not tolerate abuse or insult. You can kick a Peruvian peon and he will smile; the Bolivian servant, it is said, is afraid that his master is angry with him if he does not thrash him once or twice a month, but the Chileno would be likely to resent such treatment with a stab or a blow. These men all carry knives, and on provocation they do not hesitate to use them. They care little for life, and I am told many of them would kill a man for a dollar. On the other hand, they are usually fond of the men they work for, and it is hard to get them away from the estates where they were born.
Most of the rotos are in debt to their masters. They live on the estate, each having for himself a hut and about two acres of ground; they are paid from 40 to 6o cents a day for their work. This is in Chilean silver, so that the wages are really only from 14 to 20 cents a day. They receive food in addition to their wages, but this is only for themselves, not for their families. Their first meal is usually a couple of handfuls of toasted wheat flour, which they mix with water to form a mush, or bake in a cake. At noon they have a bowl of hot beans, and for supper, or dinner as they call it here, they get a second bowl of beans with perhaps some toasted meal added. The last two meals they eat in the fields, with what extras their wives bring them from home. They sit down on the ground to eat, and their only eating utensil is an iron spoon, or what is perhaps more common a mussel shell. It is on such foods that the rotos work from sunrise to sunset; and on that they carry enormous burdens and do the heaviest of work.
The homes of the rotos are little better than our pig-pens. They are usually just high enough to get into and not over fifteen feet square. Their walls are of wattled twigs, sun-dried bricks, or, in the south, of boards; the roofs are usually of thatch; the earth is the floor and in many cases the bed of the family. A box or two and a table form the furniture. A house seldom has more than one room, and the people herd together, several families often occupying the same apartment.
The chief end of the rotos’ life seems to be to get drunk. He works only for this, and nine-tenths of his kind are in a state of intoxication at least once a week. He usually stays drunk and will not work as long as his money lasts. For this reason Monday is called the “rotos’ holy day” for he is so drunk on Sunday that he has to take Monday to “taper off.” The men, women, and children all drink together. None of them seems to have any desire to better his condition and all continue in this state till they die. The liquor used is the vilest of alcohol, made of potatoes and rotten vegetables. It would, as one of their employers says, kill an ordinary man at a thousand yards. They gulp it down in great quantities and drink it, not for the pleasure of drinking, but to get drunk.
The result of their excesses, of their poor food, and of the insanitary condition of their houses is that the mortality among them is very great. They breed like Australian rabbits, and their babies die like flies. Only the strongest children live ; the peon child who has constitution enough to grow up in Chile has constitution enough for anything. It is, perhaps, for this reason that the peons as a class are as strong as any people in the world. I have seen rotos carrying bags of nitrate, each weighing 300 pounds all day, and tossing them about like bags of feathers. Four of them will lift a piano and trot off with it, and at the mines peons may be seen carrying bags of ore, each weighing 150 pounds, up the notched sticks that serve as ladders, all day long.
Comparatively few rotos ever go through the marriage ceremony, but nearly all have wives, and they are, as a rule, true to them. They are kind to their old people and always ready to help one another when in trouble. They have the humour of the Irish and the superstition of the Chinese, and are as great fatalists as the Turks. They are as treacherous in their enmity as are the Spaniards from whom they are descended, and will stab you in the back if they have the chance,. It was thought that the system of common schools inaugurated by the Chilean government might attract the peon. It has not done so, however, to any extent, and today of the 300,000 people in Chile less than one in four can read and write.