Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Story of the Village of Bell Ville, Córdoba, Argentina (Part 4 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.

The raids continue...

Dick’s brother Walter Seymour arrived to stay with him accompanied by a friend, Hume Kelly.  They were thinking of buying land in the area and had been scouting around, but their progress was slow because of heavy rain.  Other European farmers had put them up, but it had been muddy, uncomfortable and full of mosquitoes, made all the more frustrating because their cautious hosts feared indian raids and insisted for their own safety that they stay longer than they wished. 

In addition, when they were traversing the vast pasturelands they frequently got lost in the waving sea of grasses which, they said, was like being at sea on dry land.  As had been the case with Dick, Walter was tempted by the relatively cheaper land near the indian border because the war between Argentina and Paraguay was expected to finish soon, freeing the soldiers to defend this frontier. 

On their travels they learned that when they were put up for the night, after breakfast the following day they were expected to pull their weight with farm chores such as ramming in posts for wire fencing.  This was because farmers suffered a good deal from what they called the ‘army of loafers’, young Englishmen who travelled from one farm to another, expecting to be fed, watered and entertained.

Walter and Hume also had a grim story to tell.  They had been told about two Englishmen who, in the company of two other friends, started an expedition into Indian territory near the Andes, intending to trade with the Indians in exchanging their aguardiente (a coarse spirit) for cattle.  As they approached the mountains they fell in with a party of Indians who seemed quite friendly.  Free samples of the alcohol were distributed as a gesture of goodwill.  A few days later a further contingent of natives arrived, and delegations visited them continually asking for spirits. 

It occurred to the four Englishmen at last that they were not advancing any further in obtaining cattle, and that they had got themselves into a trap.  To show they meant business, they fortified their encampment as best they could and knew that they would not be attacked if the indians knew they were well armed.  This situation continued for another ten days during which they refused to supply any further alcohol, while they tried not to feel unnerved by their nightly sight of indians round their camp fires eating raw meat and often quarrelling amongst themselves.

Their mules and horses were appropriated too, and with their food fast disappearing, they became desperate to escape and were considering fleeing on foot when to their great joy a Chilean officer with a company of soldiers appeared.  This was because, in their attempt to gain something further from the Europeans, they had reported to the Chilean authorities that they had surrounded some Spanish spies.  The Englishmen explained the situation to the officer, who obliged the indians to return some of the horses and mules and escorted them across the Andes.  Before leaving they took the precaution of making a bonfire of all they couldn’t carry with them, including what was left of the aguardiente, much to the disappointment of the natives.

Some months later the Englishmen tried again.  They travelled with a Frenchman, who later told the story.  This time they took a herd of mules to sell near the Andes once again, but further north in the province of San Juan. Their friends had tried to dissuade them, and to wait till the volatile situation in the provinces had resolved itself, but they were brave – or foolhardy - and refused to listen. 

This time the danger came from local revolutionaries, who cordially invited them to join them round their camp fire to drink mate and then attacked them.  They put up a fierce fight, and took several of their assailants with them when they were eventually killed.   A Frenchman had also been with them, and by playing dead was able to survive, thanks to the help of some friendly Indians, who helped to staunch his wounds.

At Monte Molino the problems continued. 

Richard Seymour was determined to introduce sheep farming at Monte Molino, and on his way back from Rosario with rams he had purchased, he was met at Fraile Muerto by one of the peons, who imparted to him the unwelcome news that another Indian raid had cleared the estancia of all its horses – some 100 – and cattle numbering 200 or so, which included bullocks and milking cows.  Apparently some days earlier the men had been engaged in erecting fencing round a large paddock when a peon galloped up to advise that a troop of natives had driven away all the cattle, and were just glimpsed disappearing in the distance.  It was too late to give chase for they were too far away (and unbeknown to them they would have had no horses to use anyway). 

This was not merely a financial disaster for Richard and Frank.  The disappearance of the horses and bullocks represented a more valuable loss – their time, because it was impossible to replace them at once.  The one consolation was that their small colony of a dozen pigs had escaped capture, as they could not be carried off.  In fact they were flourishing.  When they were purchased and brought by train as far as Rosario they were unloaded at Fraile Muerto, where they somehow escaped and were seen careering wildly down the high street, being pursued by Hume and a string of small boys who kept up, the closer to observe and laugh at the gringo unable to manage his charges.  They had never had this much fun. 

The creatures were eventually caught and loaded onto the carts which would take them to their new home at Monte Molino and during they journey the pigs entertained themselves by eating the bottom out of the cart.  Maize, which was fortuitously cheap, suited them best of all, and they were frequently found wandering in and out of the house, snorting and snuffling about for cobs.

The elements were often against them.  The tearing winds in the winter (known as the pampero) which whipped across the flat plains, turning it into a dust bowl and day to night and the violent thunderstorms in the summer, often with hailstones that could reach the size of a chicken’s egg and destroy everything in their path, including lambs on occasion.  The enclosed vegetable garden of which they were so proud was destroyed in a matter of minutes round about the time all their livestock was stolen, which did much to dishearten them.

Example of a self-assembly tin house imported from England

It was a relief when the brick house was finished, for the metal house purchased from England and assembled in situ was hot in summer, cold in winter, and noisy all year round.  Richard says –

“...the kitchen was not yet finished, and in the meantime we used one of our sitting-rooms for culinary purposes... it was not quite completed according to European ideas, the walls not being plastered, no floors down, and a ladder still our only staircase – yet, to people who had lived for two years without floors or plastering, in a dwelling which freely admitted not only the winds of heaven, but also its waters, the present strong weather-tight abode was a palace of comfort.”

They eventually replenished their sheep livestock, and at shearing time discovered that whereas the gauchos were very rough because they wanted to clock up as many as possible and at times wounded the poor creatures severely, the women on the other hand were significantly slower than the men but were neater, gentler with the animals and rarely caused casualties.  In those days there was no wool press available and the only way to compact the wool was for a peon (or, on occasions, a visitor) to jump in to the very large sacks and stamp the wool down as it was stacked, being unable to get out until the wool level rose accordingly with him to the top.  The income made from wool was modest however, as the American Civil War had ended and United States exports to Europe had resumed.


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

Next time:  Harry's Story, and Cholera comes to Bell Ville.

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