Senor Errecoborde

The Welsh people having failed, through lack of capital and ambition, greatly to develop the Chubut valley, the Latins are coming in to displace them. Señor Domingo Errecoborde, estanciero of Buenos Aires province, and of Chubut, has a fine farm on the river, with also an estancia being fenced out in the desert. He pumps water from the river to supplement the supply of the miserable canals. He was kind enough to ask the privilege of showing me some estancias in Chubut and as my interpreter was ill I gladly accepted his offer. Señor Errecoborde has a history. Of a rich family, he ran away from home when a boy and went to sea, learned to be engineer, was on many ships in many seas and for study and culture lived in England, Germany and France. It was this exiling that made him have a warm spot in his big heart for me—an exile from my own land. “At eleven I will come for you,” he said, but it was one o’clock when his equipage appeared at the hotel entrance. How-ever, the whole town knew of his entrance into it. He came with a cracking of whip and a cloud of dust, driving to a strong spring wagon a big horse in shafts and a wild little mule on either side. I do not think that the mules had ever before been in harness, but a detail like that would not concern Senor Errecoborde. Breakfast we had then, and immediately gave our attention to getting away. The “moolahs” had to be disentangled and it took all of the assembled men and boys to head us for the desert. Finally we made a flying start amid a cloud of dust, a cracking of whip and the barking of many dogs. We dashed out into the open country and Señor Errecoborde saw to it that the mules ran as hard as they could run nearly every minute. As the road was thick in autumnal dust and had in it also deep chuck holes it was not as smooth a progress as I have had, but by clinging to the seat, I remained in the wagon.

It was a joy to drive miles and miles among the farms, to see the long lines of Lombardy poplars by the canals, the fields of restful green alfalfa, the ‘adobe cottages and the sheep. It was difficult to realize that I was in South America, not Utah, and I could not but reflect what a different valley it would have been had the Mormons settled there. In fact, were I the Argentine government, I would at once send for the leaders of our Mormon people and show to them the opportunities of Chubut, for Mormons and water will make gardens of ash heaps. Had our Mormons gone to Chubut, today there would be fine, large canals, capable of watering nearly all the valley, with endless miles of alfalfa and frequent villages. They would have had water on the upper mesas where no floods ever come; they would have been exporting apples to England by this time, with a steamship line devoted to carrying them. One has to get away from home to appreciate the great work the Mormon people have done in our West, thanks largely to the strong current of Danish blood among them, their intimate knowledge of the power of co-operation and their patient unremitting labor.

“The trouble in South America,” humorously remarked Senor Errecoborde, “is that people do not like to work between meals.”

We stopped now and then to see a farm and its alfalfa, and perhaps an orchard, although there are all told I think about five bearing orchards in Chubut, and apples sell there for more than oranges in New York. But we ate delicious apples and peaches at one orchard and saw bees drunken with alfalfa honey; their hives were bursting with it. We saw cabanas or pure-bred flocks of Rambouillet-Merino sheep, marvelously big and thick-wooled and good, but perhaps a little too wrinkled for North American tastes. So it went on and on, all the rest of that day, and for several days following.

A NATIVE GAUCHO’S ESTANCIA

I recall one place where we stopped to see the famous sheep of a great breeder, an Argentine. Having inspected the flock we were leaving the corral when he stooped down, picked up something, glanced at it and threw it contemptuously away. It looked like a coin to me, so I picked it up. It was a centavo, a big copper coin. “Why did he throw away this?” I whispered to Señor Errecoborde. “Because he is very rich,” was the reply. “The coin is too small for his use.” We were invited to luncheon, or noonday breakfast. The house, of adobe bricks, had a floor of clay. There were in the principal room a fireplace, one chair, a bench and some boxes that served as seats. The señora was cooking our breakfast over the embers of the open fire. While it was preparing she produced the mate gourd and filled it half full of mate leaves, then with hot water, took a few sips of the tea through a small silver tube and handed it then to us in turn. We sipped mate for an hour, while the mutton boiled over the coals. Whenever the gourd was empty the senora would refill it with water, take a sip herself, then pass on the things to us. It would be an offense against manners to wipe the tube before placing it in one’s mouth.

The senora gave us a delicious soup of rice, mutton and vegetables. In return we presented her with peaches that we had brought and roses that we wore. There was not a living green thing near the Casa of this senora. She and her husband are typical of the true plainspeople of South America who have never known life within gardens and are content to live in what we would consider great poverty and squalor, although that man has large possessions and throws aside as worthless big copper centavos.

AN ENGLISHMAN’S CHACRA

One evening we approached the farm or chacra of Senor Miguel Mullhall, a man of English blood and Argentine birth. He had been an adventurer in many wild parts, chiefly in Patagonia. I spent several nights at his hospitable home. He told many stories of his adventures. Once in the Andes, he took a notion to descend the Rio Negro, a great and then unexplored river flowing to the sea to the north of Chubut. Having no boat, with an ad-venturous North American he made a boat of bull hides, loaded it with wild apples and a little dried meat, and started on that long journey through the wilderness. He came safely through, but it was a miracle. Again he explored the Andes and located passes through which he could drive cattle to Chile. He was a man of great charm and interest, an omnivorous reader, a student of languages and men, now settled down to growing alfalfa in Chubut. He bales the hay, sells it and makes a good living from the proceeds.

Mullhall’s place was new, attractive, modern and comfortable. He had a Spanish gardener who was doing all sorts of interesting things in the new lawn. There was water for irrigation, so that it should soon be a paradise. His senora was the daughter of a Welsh colonist; her father was one of the early leaders of the movement, and an influential man. There was also a sister with children visiting at the house. I quote again from my journal: “These children are astonishing phenomena. I have never seen anything like them before. There are so many of them; the eldest is about twelve—how many are younger I have not been able to count. They are well dressed, well mannered and astonishingly self-reliant, seeming to need neither aid, admonishing nor reproof. When I arrive they come forward, one by one, to shake hands with me, from the greatest to the smallest, without any prompting from their elders. They are in fact nearly exact reproductions in manners of their elders, and enter into all their elders’ interests, sports and amusements. To amuse me they very gravely set the phonographs going. The records are fine ones, not the trashy ragtime we so often use in the North. They dine with us at nine o’clock each evening and drink large cups of strong tea. They have lived in Buenos Aires most of their lives, which no doubt accounts for their manners. I did not dream that children could be so selfreliant and so little trouble to their elders as these appeared to be.”

THE OLD INDIAN GOVERNOR

One night I had come in from a long ride with my friend Domingo (we took out fresh horses every morning, leaving the weary ones wherever we happened to be), and I was hungry, in fact, longing for dinner, which presently was on the table. As we stood by our chairs waiting for our hostess to take her seat the “honk, honk” of an automobile sounded at the front, the one automobile of Chubut. It proved to be the big Italian car of the Presidente of Trelew, an automobile built for use in this wild country, with very high wheels of tremendous strength and an engine of great power. In the car were the Presidente, Señor Alsua, chief of police, and the old Governor of Chubut. Of course there were much ceremonious introduction, hand-shaking, bows and all that, and as the governor remained standing we all stood. He was a most interesting character, tall, lank, brown as an Indian and seeming to have a good deal of that blood. He had a quiet dignity, yet a fund of courtesy and good humor that was irresistible. He was not the permanent governor of Chubut, but was invested by the President of the republic with powers to investigate government affairs in any of the territories of Argentina and to supersede the acting governor if he chose, so he was here in Chubut setting the government house in order. I do not know how much it was needed but I imagine there was enough to be done.

The governor, by his grim yet good-humored reticence, reminded me strangely of our North American Indians, but when he talked every word counted. Dinner was over at ten; we- adjourned to the drawing-room and conversation flowed. I explained to the Presidente how, if it was an American town, by bonding, it would get funds to build waterworks and pave streets. He was much interested, but laughingly said, “Señor, this is South America. In some towns if such a thing were attempted the city government would absorb the funds and the waterworks would not get built, so our law does not provide for such procedure.”

I said the governor was taciturn. He is, with exceptions. He has been a great soldier, general and Indian fighter in his days, and some one asked him to tell of the time when, unsupported, he made a famous campaign down through Patagonia with a troop or regiment of cavalry. It seems that he took his soldiers across the frontier, driving before them a troop of wild mares on which to subsist, disappeared in the wilderness, and was unheard of for months, journeying, fighting and punishing Indians, and going on and on, living on guanacos and horse meat. After six months of disappearance he came out at the Straits of Magellan. It was truly a great feat, and must bear great memories. The old man began the narration, speaking slowly, gravely, impressively. As he went on he warmed to the subject; he rose to his feet; we of course all stood then, and the story continued. His language was simple and strong, and his gestures few but impressive. I could not understand nearly all that he. said; his speech was not clear, but I could under-stand enough to know its purport. Minutes lengthened into hours; I wondered whether I could stand longer. At half past one o’clock the story was finished. “Senores, buenos noches,” said the old governor, with a pleasant smile, and he retired abruptly to his room.

MY FLEA AND HIS EXCELLENCY

I was never more relieved, for I was dreadfully weary. The governor and I occupied the same room, a very large one. We lost no time in going to bed, but now I found myself very wakeful when I needed sleep. I lay wondering what I could do when all at once I felt a flea beginning a thorough, systematic exploration of my body. I hate fleas; they drive me wild. “What shall I do?” I feared to move, lest I awaken the old governor, now peace-fully sleeping, as I knew by his breathing. At last I could endure the flea no longer. I decided to strike a match beneath the bed covers and catch or frighten the pest. This I did, and although I did it with great care the moment that match struck the governor awoke. Nor did I find the flea. Remorsefully I lay quiet and the governor’s breathing soon indicated that he was asleep again; then the flea of tenacious purpose resumed its adventure. When I could endure it no longer I again more cautiously than before lit a match beneath the bed clothes, and again the governor awoke. His long training as an Indian fighter had taught him to hear the slightest noise. After this the flea and I dropped off to sleep.

At six o’clock in the morning the old man sprang out of his bed as lightly as a boy and ten times as wideawake, dressed rapidly, went .out and called for his mate. He could kill off several of me, if that is his normal manner of life. I had slept no more than an hour and a half, but I felt all right after I was up and had bathed in cold water. Perhaps there is not much in North, American rules of hygiene. The children after midnight had each one a cup of strong tea, yet they too seemed to have slept well and to be serene and happy the next morning.