National Geographic : 1933 Oct
LIFE ON THE ARGENTINE PAMPA BY FREDERICK SIMPICH AUTHOR OF "SKYPATHS IN LATIN AMERICA," "GIGANTIC BRAZIL AND ITS GLITTERING CAPITAL," "MEN AND GOLD," ETC., ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE « " E DON'T eat armadillos in Dal / las or race our horses after V V ostriches; otherwise this flat Argentine pampa, with all its wire fence, windmills, and cow music around the water troughs, looks, smells, and sounds just like Texas. Even the pampero windstorms here blow like our Texas northers." Lured to this tail of the hemisphere by the same "cow music" that echoes over our own cattle plains, my new-found friend from Texas was showing me about one of the pampa's enormous ranches, or estancias, feudalistic in their magnificence. All about us the boundless, eye-tiring pampa stretched flat as a billiard table, its dead level broken here and there only by clumps of exotic trees set about a ranch house, or by the tall, spraddling towers of windmills marching like steel skeletons to far horizons. Pampa the Indians called this region, which was their name for plains. So Span iards took the word, and thus we, too, know the vast, flat Argentine grasslands that sweep from the Atlantic to the Andes. History picked this pampa as a vast stage for one of its most eventful and swift-mov ing dramas. Probably no other region, in so brief a time, has seen more astounding changes. More Europeans are settled here, more magic cities are leaping up, more rail ways being built, and more wealth amassed than in any equal area below the Equator. Ask Paris waiters if any other visitor spends like an Argentine cow king, who "leaves all change on the plate." ALFALFA WROUGHT HISTORIC CHANGES Alfalfa alone, as we shall see, migrated to this new land to bring it amazing economic strength. In a few short decades, with such forces as prize bulls, barbed wire, cold stor age, and fast ships, man turned a wilderness into a farm so big and rich that now it helps fix the world price of bread and meat. This swift rise of a new Canaan, whose theme song, as the Texan hinted, is the ceaseless moan and bellow of myriad kine, affords a fantastic example of mass migra tion. Its marvel is not in the fact that mil lions of white settlers swarmed across the South Atlantic to this fecund pampa. That was extraordinary, of course; you can im agine the infinite host slipping down under the equatorial horizon like figures turning in a phenakistoscope. But the whole truth is harder to imagine. Not only did the millions move from south ern Europe, but, as if lifted and carried overseas on some magic carpet, they took with them to the pampa a whole cross-sec tion of European life. Speech, culture, reli gion, manners, and customs they carried; likewise tools and trades-even their ani mals, fowls, grains, fruits, flowers-and weeds. THE LONG SPANISH TRAIL TO THE RIVER PLATE To-day their thistle almost covers Argen tina. Tradition says the first thistle seed came over accidentally, in the long hair of army mules! Along immigrant trails into the pampa a scattered fringe of European grass, weeds, vegetables, and berries first grew up, where fodder, camp refuse, and seeds from food were dropped, just as along the Santa Fe* and Oregon trails our cov ered-wagon trains introduced many berries, plants, and fruit trees from farther east. History holds no parallel in time or space to certain aspects of this amazing move ment of people and plant life. But, you ask, since whites first landed, some 400 years ago, why was the conquest of the pampa so long delayed? The reasons are plain, yet curiously interesting. Except for Indians, who at first dwelt near the River Plate country, the pampa was empty. No glittering pagan cities, no rich gold mines or Inca treasure were here to lure the Conquistadores. Also, Europe still lived then from its own farms. It had not yet grown so thickly peopled or so highly industrialized that, as later, it had to look overseas for more bread and meat. Here, as in our own land, white settle ments were long confined to limited regions. The Atlantic seaboard had been settled for many generations before we knew much about our Far West. So it was on the pampa, with this difference: Spain, who * See "The Santa Fe Trail, Path to Empire," by Frederick Simpich, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for August, 1929.