Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Pioneer Tales from Bariloche

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Pioneer Tales from Bariloche

Article excerpt

EACH MORNING I STEP OUT into my small garden and conscientiously check every flower and bud. Then I raise my eyes to take in the dramatic landscape surrounding the town of San Carlos de Bariloche. The snowy peaks of the Andes range, its natural woods as shady and still as they were centuries ago, and the great Lake Nahuel Huapi, always rough at daybreak, reflect a golden sky which slowly turns an intense blue as the sun rises.

At these moments it seems as if one can hear, very faintly, the beat of the Araucanian kultrun, and the murmur of a brook echoing the voices of ancient explorers or pioneer families lost in the distance. These images recall a bygone century when the military conquest of the desert had been completed and its native occupants scattered and decimated. In the 1880s, the Tehuelches and Araucanians, numbering nearly 60,000, lived in the foothills of the Andes, in an area about 250,000 [km.sup.2]. Under the rule of Chief Valentin Sayhueque, these tribes had ranching establishments which, according to travelers' reports, were similar and often superior to many of those in the Pampas in the south of Buenos Aires province.

The soldiers who fought in the war against the Indians, however, did not fare so well with the land. When the army of the Andes Campaign was disbanded in 1883, each soldier was rewarded a certificate entitling him to 100 hectares of the conquered territory at the site of his choice. This proved impossible since the soldiers had no money and the parcel had to be measured at their expense. Besides, the army discharged the soldiers wherever they happened to be. The handful who did manage to settle had no tools, no wives, no experience and little knowledge of the territory. Moving frequently in search of less snowy sites and reliable water supplies, they sank from poverty into destitution and soon disappeared. The only ones to profit were some officers (who customarily received larger tracts) and speculators who bought or traded the certificates. These were eventually listed on the Buenos Aires stock exchange.

After this war which could claim neither victor nor vanquished, an immense empty expanse of land was added to the national territory. In order to auction it off to the public, the government passed legislation allowing settlers to acquire land titles by simply submitting a bid to the proper authorities. The first application for a tract next to Lake Nahuel Huapi was filed by the American rancher Jarred Augustus Jones who hailed from Bosque County, Texas, and had been contracted to transport livestock for the great ranches that were being formed to the south and east of Nahuel Huapi.

Jones, still a bachelor, established himself in 1889 with two associates on the northeast shore of the lake and on the bank of the Limay River with the livestock he had received in payment for his work. As the owner of 1,500 head of cattle, an unusually large quantity in those times, he became the area's first important rancher.

At the same time another American, George Harkness Newbery, from Long Island, New York, acquired land by purchasing certificates on the Buenos Aires stock exchange. Newbery, a dentist, was busy travelling and attending to his many businesses. He occupied only part of that land several years later. In 1893 the first white family, that of the Bohemian Jose Tauschek, settled on the lake some 20km from Jones' property. Tauschek, his wife and two children industriously tended their market garden, a few animals and a small European-style house. It was on the Tauschek farm, no doubt, where fried eggs and bacon were first eaten in that region, the Tauscheks having brought with them chickens and pigs. It is rumored that many travelers, as well as local people, came to the house to see the only unmarried white woman in those parts, the Tauscheks' daughter.

More young blood poured into the town in February 1895 when a small boat landed on the beach of Lake Nahuel Huapi and its only crew member disembarked. …

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