Life On The Chilean Frontier

SOUTHERN CHILE is seldom visited by travelers, and yet it is one of the most interesting parts of the country. Northern Chile is a desert. For one thousand miles south of the Peruvian boundary there are not enough trees to furnish switches for the public schools. For hundreds of miles south of Santiago the only trees to be seen are those which have been planted along the irrigating ditches, and it is only when one reaches the neighbourhood of Concepcion that one sees other trees of any size. After this the country changes and you come into a land of woods. Within the past few days I have been travelling through forests. I have been in the frontier regions of Chile where large farms have been cut out of the woods, and where the stump-filled fields remind one of the newly settled regions of our wooded Northwest.

The greater part of southern Chile is covered with natural forest. It contains some of the best soil in the country and has so much rain that the farms do not require irrigation. Until within recent years it has been a wilderness. Now the govern-ment is opening it up for settlement. Railroads are being ex-tended down into it, and new towns and villages are springing up. The frontier towns remind one of the new settlements in the United States. Take Temuco, for instance, where I spent some days; it is twelve years old and has a population of 10,000 people. It covers about as much space as an American city of the same size ; its muddy streets are, however, wide, and the one and two-story houses which line them are wooden. They have ridge roofs and many of them are mere shanties. Although the climate is as cold as that of Washington, not a house has a chimney; the people generally believe fires to be unhealthy and, like the Chinese, rely upon their clothes to keep them warm. The streets cross one another at right angles, and in the centre of the town there is a park or plaza of about an acre, where the military band plays and where the people walk about on Sunday afternoons and chat with each other.

Temuco has a club where you find the latest English, German, and Chilean papers. It has three hotels, two French, and one German, all of which are better than the hotels in American towns of the same size. It has saloons, where raw alcohol is sold to the peons and Indians, but the saloons are fewer than in an American town of similar character. It has several Catholic churches, a Protestant mission, and a school established by the missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The street scenes of Temuco are interesting. There are many curious costumes. There are dark-faced Indians, Germans, and well-dressed Chilenos. Dark-faced men with ponchos over their shoulders and the air of brigands bring in great carts drawn by oxen. Each man carries a goad, fifteen feet long, and directs the oxen by striking them on this side and that. Now and then one sees teams of six or eight of these beasts.

Oxen in fact form an important element of Chilean transportation and farming. It is on ox-carts that the thousands of bushels of wheat grown in the vicinity are brought to market. Oxen everywhere do the ploughing, the hauling of lumber, the draying, and everything that heavy horses or mules do with us. The method of yoking the oxen is the same here as it is all over Chile. The yoke rests on the neck just back of the horns. It is tied by straps to the horns, and all of the pushing or pulling of the cart or plough must be done with the head. The yoke is a heavy piece of wood, so fastened that one ox cannot move his head without the other, so that it is impossible for him to swing it from side to side. The tongue of the frontier cart is not unlike a telegraph pole : it is a part of the cart itself, so that the oxen have the weight of the cart resting on their horns. This is cruel in the extreme, and the oxen move painfully along, with protruding eyes, as they drag their heavy loads.

In company with Don Augustine Baeza, the government inspector of colonization, I made a trip into the wilderness over thirty kilometers of new railroad, which is almost finished, but not yet ready for traffic. The road is being built by the State to open up new lands ; it is part of a system which will extend from one end of agricultural Chile to the other. It is well built with 6o-pound rails and the English four feet, eight inch gauge. The rolling stock will be American. The road will cost, excluding the bridges, about $12,000 gold per mile. It was in a Bald-win engine and on American hand-cars that we made a part of our journey over the line. The steel bridges, of which there are two, each costing over $100,000 were brought from France. Why America did not get the contract I do not know, a large number of the best of the Chilean railroad bridges having been imported from the United States.

It was interesting to notice how the Chilean government opens up and disposes of its public lands. It builds its own rail-roads and regulates the settlements upon them. It lays out the lots about the stations, selling them at low prices to actual settlers. The railroad-town boomer has no chance along the government lines of Chile. Other government lands are sold in large tracts at auction, the auctions being held in different parts of the country once or twice a year. Just now money is scarce and valuable lands sell for low prices. The land is usually sold in blocks of fifteen hundred acres, but one purchaser can buy at each sale up to five thousand acres, and if he wants more he can, of course, purchase an additional amount through a third party or under another name. At such sales a quarter of a mil-lion acres are often sold at one time, bringing from $1.75 to $33 gold per acre, according to location and the character of the soil. The buyers must pay one-third cash, and the balance, without interest, in ten equal instalments extending over ten years. Many of the rich men of Chile have become so by buying these lands, as they rapidly increase in value. The only provision required by the government is that the purchaser shall fence in his property.

Chile has been anxious to secure immigration and in the past has offered extraordinary inducements to colonists. Until lately each male immigrant was given one hundred acres of land, a team of oxen, a cart, a barrel of nails and three hundred boards to build him a house. He was also loaned money for his passage from Europe to Chile, and was paid fifteen dollars a month for the first year of his residence. He received besides fifty acres additional land for every son over ten years of age. Of this amount, however, the land alone was free. He was expected to pay back all advances, the whole amounting to about $600, within eight years after his arrival. These terms have now, how-ever, been discontinued. While they were in force, numbers of Germans came into Chile, and to-day parts of the New South Chile are largely German settlements. The cities of Valdivia and Puerto Montt, situated on harbours on the south coast, are to a large extent German cities, and most of the property there be-longs to Germans. They own great wheat farms about Angol and Traiguen, large towns in the region to the south, while they have established tanneries and breweries in a number of places. The trees of southern Chile furnish excellent tan bark, and a great deal of sole leather is made at Valdivia and shipped thence via Hamburg to Russia.

There is much good land in Chile, and some of it can be bought very cheaply, but I would not advise any but those pre-pared to farm in a large way to come here. Labour is so cheap that the ordinary American workman cannot compete with the Chilean roto. The only openings for our people are as proprietors and managers. The man who can bring with him capital of $10,000 and upwards—better $50,000 or $100,000—can make money in farming or in land speculation.

Owing to the extravagance of the Chilenos, the fall of silver, and the possibility of complications with the Argentine Republic, the times are at present hard. Many of the large estate owners are in straitened circumstances, and some of the best of the big estates are being sacrificed. I am told that farms that have paid as high as 20 per cent on a valuation of $300,000 can now be bought for $i00,000 or less. Many such farms are irrigated. It takes much money to operate them, but their profits are proportionately large. The farmers pay from 10 to 12 per cent for what money they borrow from the banks, and the complications of the times have so involved them that they have been compelled to sell.

It seems to me that there are many chances for good investments in Chile. There are opportunities for electric franchises in the larger cities. Several of the best copper mines are idle for lack of money, and there is nitrate territory, still undeveloped, near the fields, into which English companies have put more than $100,000,000, and out of which they have taken fortunes.

One of the most promising of the money-making fields in the southwest of South America is in the coal mines of Chile. There is a great bed of coal running along the coast southward, beginning at about 300 miles below Valparaiso. No one knows the extent of the deposit, or how far it reaches down under the water. The mines now being operated are near Concepcion in the neighbourhood of Arauco Bay. Millions of dollars’ worth of coal have been taken out of them, and they are now producing many hundred thousand tons of coal every year.

During my stay at Concepcion I visited some of these mines. They are different from any mines we have in the United States and are in some respects far more difficult to work. The seam of coal, which at its best is about five feet thick, begins at the shore and runs down under the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The rock above the vein is slate and shale, and so compact that the water does not drip through. The tunnels are so clean that one could walk through them in a dress suit without getting soiled. The latest machinery is employed, and in visiting them I had several experiences which it is hard to realize could take place in Chile. Think, for instance, of riding on an electric trolley coal train through a tunnel over a mile long under the Pacific Ocean at a speed of twenty miles an hour! Imagine mines lighted by electricity, forming a catacomb of corridors and chambers under the ocean! Realize that just above great steam-ships are floating, and that the coal taken out of this bed of the Pacfiic is being shovelled into them. To the picture add sooty miners, half-naked, blasting out the coal, loading the cars, and follow the train carrying twenty-seven tons of black diamonds to the shaft, where a mighty steam engine lifts four of them at a time to the surface, and you have some idea of what is going on in the Lota coal mines.

The mines are now producing 1,000 tons of coal per day and 750 miners are employed in them. They pay a profit running high into the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and are as carefully managed as any of the great coal properties of our own country. I asked as to the pay of the miners and was told that they receive from ninety cents to one dollar Chilean, or from thirty-one to thirty-five cents of our, money. I wonder what our Pennsylvania miners would think of such wages. The Chilean miners, however, have their houses rent free and coal is furnished them at cost price.

The Lota coal mines were the foundation of the Cousino for-tune, of which much has been read in the stories published of Dona Cousino, the so-called richest woman in the world. It was her husband, Matias Cousino, who opened the mines. He worked them to such an extent that a town of 14,000 people grew up about them. He established great smelting works near by, to which in his own steamers he brought ore from his copper mines in the north. This smelter is still in operation near Lota. It is just below the beautiful park and palace which Madame Cousino has made at a cost of many thousand dollars. The park is full of wonders of landscape gardening and picturesque effects of land and water. It has winding walks, grottoes, and cascades. Statues of Indians and mythological characters are scattered here and there through it. There are deer and other animals in its woods, birds of many kinds in the great aviary, and altogether such a variety of curiosities of nature, art, and animal life as one seldom sees outside of a public museum or a zoological garden.