Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Story of the Village of Bell Ville, Córdoba, Argentina (Part 5 of 7)

The story so far:
My grandmother and mother were born in Bell Ville, originally named Fraile Muerto, and this series of posts is the result of my research into this village, later a town.  There were English farmers in the countryside and (mainly) Italian immigrants in the town, and I descend from both.
Part 1:  The history of the area up to the mid nineteenth century.
Part 2:  The arrival of the English farming pioneers as typified by Richard Seymour and Frank Goodricke, who resided at their farm Monte Molino from 1865-68;  their first encounter with marauding indians;  headman Lisada’s gesture of friendship to an indian scouting party.
Part 3:  More encounters with indians; description of gauchos; characters in Fraile Muerto.
Part 4:  The arrival of Richard Seymour’s brother Walter and his friend Hume Kelly.  RS’s stsruggles with farming, loss of all their livestock after an indian attack; the weather and the primitive living conditions.

Cacique Epumer

Harry’s Story
With the loss of all their livestock there was nothing with which to mark Christmas day 1867, so everybody scattered around the countryside to forage.  Two stray bullocks were eventually found and sacrificed for Christmas lunch, at which friends and neighbours gathered to celebrate, totalling some fourteen people. 

But New Year’s Day 1868 was not so pleasant.  Richard arose to the shouts of their peon Lorenzo who galloped into the yard shouting that the Indians were coming.  Hastily scrambling onto the roof, their lookout, Richard saw with dread that the largest number he had ever seen was approaching them at speed.  He calculated their number to be close to one thousand horsemen.  They galloped past their corrals, where they swept up the few horses that had been left from the last raid, and continued onwards to the puesto, one of many small outpost habitations constructed on farms where shepherds lived with their families, the closer to be to the animals they supervised. 

The puesto at Monte Molino was inhabited by Harry, a shepherd who lived alone.
Harry was a wanderer, German by birth, who had begun his working life as a sailor in the English Merchant Navy, moving on later to the US Navy.  The vicissitudes of his life had at length brought him to the River Plate, where he resolved to turn shepherd, and following employment at Monte de la Leña which was abandoned after a narrow escape from the Indians, he ended up at Monte Molino.  Richard says Harry was a good shepherd who as a former sailor could turn his hand to practically anything, and adds “…best of all, he was sober.”
Cacique Calfucurá

When the marauders had passed, they made their way over to Harry’s puesto and saw a bedraggled figure approaching them on foot, wearing only his undergarments and a sheepskin.  They learned that some two hours before daylight he had been awakened by his dogs barking.  He hastily dressed himself and climbed onto his roof.  He could see a number of horsemen in the dim light, one of whom called out to him in Spanish to get down and approach them, as they wanted to speak to him.  Harry asked them who they were, and they replied “Ranqueles”.  This was the tribe that usually raided the area, and Harry was very reluctant to move.  The interpreter for the Indians threatened to burn his house down and murder him if he did not, and he realised he had no choice. 

Cacique Catriel

From experience he gathered as the gloom started to clear that these were not the usual Ranqueles, and that they had a number of gauchos with them.  The chief started questioning him through the gaucho interpreter.  How many soldiers were there at Fraile Muerto, how many people lived at the main house at Monte Molino, how many foreigners and how many peons, how many at the old metal house, and so on.  They had evidently already amassed quite a lot of information about them.  Harry answered truthfully, except when he told them the old metal house was abandoned – Lorenzo, a peon, was living there, and it was therefore thanks to Harry that Lorenzo was later able to escape unharmed.
The chief ordered him to mount behind him, as he wanted Harry to show him the point at which they could ford the river.  By his reckoning he was riding with a troop of five hundred braves.  When they arrived at the river, they forcibly removed his boots and shirt, and sent him on an old horse with four Indians to wade across. 

It was still fairly dark, and Harry failed to find the exact spot which would avoid them getting bogged down in mud.  They floundered about for some time; Harry was convinced that at any moment he would feel a lance going through his back.  But somehow he persuaded the other four that it was due to the poor light, and they managed to return to the bank.  The second time was more successful, though they had to swim the last stretch as the river was in spate.  The cacique recalled them all, and taking back the horse he had been riding, told Harry to go, as he had served his purpose. 
He hid in the reeds for a long time and then followed the river as far as he could to confuse any other Indians in the area who might have attacked him.  He eventually got back to his puesto, where he found that everything in the world he had possessed had been taken, including his two spare horses and the 1200 sheep that were his responsibility.  He set off for the main house on foot, and this is where Richard Seymour found him.
Later in the day, when Harry had rested and got fresh clothes to wear, he took one of Richard’s horses and tracked the Indians’ movements of that morning as far as he could.  He discovered a trail of sheep corpses with part of their flesh removed and no traces of fires.  When 500 sheep found their way back to Monte Molino, they realised that the raiders had driven off the sheep merely to provide sustenance along the way, which they consumed raw.  They clearly had no intention of taking the remaining animals back with them.
When the men attempted to trace some of their horses, they were unsuccessful, but were interested to observe some Indians in the distance who were trying to catch some of their bullocks but when they got close enough came upon a fence, clearly a new concept to them.  They studied it for some time, clearly puzzled, and then departed. 

Harry was unnerved by these experiences, and decided to go and live in Rosario, the nearest city, some 200 km (130 miles) away, where he obtained employment at horse stables.
Richard attempted to encourage local farmers to muster a small army to go into Indian territory to teach them a lesson, but although there was a willingness to fight, it was the general consensus that leaving their properties empty and undefended would be a grave mistake.  Instead they petitioned the government for frontier protection, but the answer was the same as ever – President Bartolomé Mitre was too occupied with the war with Paraguay, where most of the government’s soldiers had gone.  This situation frightened off many potential investors who had come looking for land, and now left the area.
Then came cholera.

Paraguay in crimson, Uruguay in yellow, Brazil 
in green and Argentina in lavender 

In the mid nineteenth century Paraguay was a landlocked country of some 1,200,000 inhabitants, heavily dependent for its trade on the rivers which flowed through Argentina and accessed the Atlantic via Buenos Aires.  Its adjacent countries are Brazil and Argentina, and the boundaries set in the colonial days of the viceroyalty one hundred years earlier were vague at best, and the source of continual conflict between the three countries. 

When Uruguay started a dispute with Brazil over its mutual boundary and Argentina did not give Paraguay permission to cross its land with troops so it could reach Uruguay, it was but a question of time before they all ganged up against Paraguay in a Triple Alliance which resulted in a 10 years war between 1865 and 1875.  Paraguay lost, and its population was reduced by 50-85%, with 90% of the losses being young men.  I often heard it said in the 1960’s that the country had still not recovered from the loss, one hundred years on.
It was a brutal conflict, yet there is evidence that the majority of the losses were due to sickness, disease, a lack of hygiene and a chronic shortage of medical supplies.  The main culprit was cholera, which gradually made its way south as the wounded soldiers left the front.  It reached the Fraile Muerto area towards the end of 1867. 
Once it took hold, 800 people a day were dying in the province of Córdoba as a whole (within which Fraile Muerto was located), and the seminary in Córdoba city lost 32 of its 40 postulants.  Dick Seymour reported a cruel incident which took place near Fraile Muerto told to him by a railway conductor who saw a dead body by the railway line and recognised him to be a local cattle drover.  There was a jug of water by his side, but he had been stripped of his clothes and belongings.  Clearly when the thieves had found him he had already succombed to the disease but was still alive, and the jug of water was a salve to their consciences.

Makeshift hospital in Rosario for cholera sufferers
When Richard travelled to Rosario to transact some business he found the city in the throes of revolution and cholera.  To English gunboats were standing by, summoned from Buenos Aires to protect English interests, and rebels were taking pot shots at it, to which the gunboats were retaliating.  He met up with an English farmer just off the steamer who was making his way to the railway station on his way home.  He was grateful, he said, for the company of a motley assortment to protect him...

 “ English officer and his men, six or seven new acquaintances just arrived in the country, a thoroughbred horse fresh from England, a shorthorn bull named Whirlwind, some twenty sheep, and two or three carts laden with luggage...”
Richard sought out Harry at the stables, and was pleased to see him comfortable and happy.  On the following day the owner of the stables contacted him to tell him that while cutting alfalfa for the horses only a few hours later, Harry had suddenly been taken ill with cholera.  He rushed to see him and found his former puestero on a rough bed in a small hut by the alfalfa field. 

They tried all the traditional methods to cure him – mustard poultices, rubbing his hands and feet, getting him to drink a mixture of port wine, brandy and chlorodyne; but Richard already knew at first glance on seeing the pallor on his face and hands that he was doomed. 

Harry was clearly delighted to see his old master, but was despondent because he knew he was dying.  He begged him to get him a doctor, so Richard rushed back into town to try and persuade a doctor to come out and see him.  It was a fruitless exercise because many of the doctors were either worked to death or down with cholera themselves.  Their movements were also very restricted by the local militia due to the revolution, and all Richard was able to do was obtain prescriptions for medication which might help. 

Sadly on his return to Harry’s bedside he found that he had perished not fifteen minutes after he had left him.    
“...He had been a faithful friend, and I believe felt a real attachment to us, and his sad death grieved us all much.”


Bibliography will be given at the end of the final post.

Next time:  Sarmiento, the new president; Fraile Muerto changes its name to Bell Ville.

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