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Pioneer tales from Bariloche.

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. Carlos Wiederhold, the son of a German merchant who settled in Chile, had set out from that country and crossed the Perez Rosales pass over the Andes with the intention of establishing the region's first trading company. Having chosen a site where the Andean woods end and the plain begins, this 29-year-old entrepreneur built a house and set up his business. Wiederhold's trading company quickly prospered, patronized by the boundary commissions who were working in the area to define the Chile/Argentine border. These commissions carefully studied the mountain chains and water courses, making some important geographical discoveries. Chile claimed a frontier based on the continental division of waters, while Argentina maintained that the criterion should be a line linking the tallest peaks of the Andes. Unable to resolve their differences, the two countries finally agreed to turn to Great Britain as an arbitrator in order to end the controversy.

In 1897 the territory around Lake Nahuel Huapi came under national administration and the region's first justice of the peace, Jose Luis Pefaure, was appointed. At the same time, a government project which made it possible for settlers to acquire a 625-hectare lake-front parcel of land caused a population boom. According to the books kept by the judge - recording births, marriages and deaths - by 1899 the burgeoning community on Lake Nahuel Huapi counted 850 souls. And by 1901, 177 Argentine children had been born to pioneer families hopefully awaiting the realization of the Nahuel Huapi Agricultural Community project.

When the pioneer homesteads were measured, an area was set aside for the establishment of a town. The most appropriate site was found to be the Wiederhold estate; thus don Carlos became the first white inhabitant of what is now the town center. By 1899 Wiederhold had shipped 300,000 kilos of wool to ports in Chile, and in 1900 he brought to Lake Nahuel Huapi a 60-ton steamer with a cargo capacity of 40 tons and accommodations for eight passengers. Thanks to the Condor the seven-day journey from the lake settlement to the population centers of southern Chile was reduced to three days. By contrast, it took forty to sixty days for a wagon to make its way to the Argentine ports of Viedma or Rawson through the Patagonian desert.

At about the same time, the Wiederhold property acquired the name San Carlos in a somewhat fortuitous manner. It seems that a resident of the Limay district, a Scot named Henry Neil, sent a letter to Wiederhold. But through poor knowledge of the language, or perhaps by mistake, he addressed him as San Carlos, instead of Don Carlos or Senor Carlos. This greatly amused Wiederhold, who showed the envelope to all his customers with much hilarity, exclaiming, "I'm a saint!" Indeed, he was so amused that he named his business San Carlos, hence the name of the city. Bariloche (added years later to distinguish it from other towns named San Carlos) is derived from the indigenous name of a nearby mountain pass. The actual founding of the town of San Carlos de Bariloche was confirmed by presidential decree on May 3, 1902.

The event triggered the construction of a few flimsy little houses opposite the San Carlos warehouse. They were flimsy partly because they were built by poor folk, but also because there were still no measures for subdividing the land. At this point Captain Mariano Fosbery of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment stationed in Limay decided to lay out a provisional street, "so you can walk in this town in a straight line." A detail of soldiers started work across from the warehouse, and a townsman named Benito Boock volunteered to measure blocks. Even though the group did not have a theodolite, the alignment was found to be nearly exact by Apolinario Lucero, the official surveyor appointed in December 1902.

On the first block, Luis Bonefoy opened a butcher shop. Down the street was Hotel Perito Moreno, established in 1902 and run by its owners, Jose Riveiro and his wife. The hotel had accommodations for twenty guests, as well as a dining room where the town's social events were held. When the steamship Condor came to port, it would give as many blasts on its siren as the number of diners it was bringing to the restaurant, thus informing the whole population that newcomers were about to arrive. And, of course, there was the one-classroom schoolhouse, a highly cosmopolitan institution devoted to the education of children of German, Spanish, Norwegian, Italian, Arab, Russian, French, North American, Chilean and Argentine parents.

School ceremonies were held near the town's only natural monument, the Historic Cypress. This tree's place in history dates from Francisco P. Moreno's expedition to Lake Nahuel Huapi in 1880. He had camped in its shade before being taken prisoner (for one day) by the Saihueque Indians. A naturalist, Dr. Moreno had already made several surveying journeys to the region. In 1894, the government appointed him as a border arbitrator, a task that entailed covering endless miles of mountainous terrain and negotiating with his Chilean counterparts the line to be drawn between Argentina and Chile. On one of these official expeditions he wrote: "My journey that day was the most beautiful I have made in all my days as a traveller ... cypresses and alerces grew in profusion here ... I measured one that day and its trunk, at the height of a man on horseback, measured more than eight meters in circumference. It was the tree that stands looking over the town of San Carlos."

For the excellent manner in which he performed this task the government rewarded Dr. Moreno with 7,500 hectares of land. Dr. Moreno's response was noble: he accepted the land but immediately returned it to the nation under the condition that it be reserved in perpetuity as a national park.

Meanwhile, Wiederhold's business was bought by the Chile Argentina Cattle and Trading Company. San Carlos de Bariloche produced good wheat harvests, which had to be reaped manually since the uneven terrain prevented mechanized harvesting. The wheat was processed into flour at the company mill. However, no one would buy it since everyone had worked voluntarily in the harvest. The same happened with potatoes, lentils and apples. And external markets were extremely distant. The Nahuel Huapi Agricultural Community, therefore, found it hard to prosper.

In 1903, an Italian named Primo Capraro and his miner friend Federico Baratta arrived from California in search of gold, which they hoped to find by panning the sands of the region, rumored to be rich in the precious metal. Fortune eluded them, however, so they turned instead to the timber waiting to be cut in the nearby forests. Wood was an important commodity both for local use and for dispatch to buyers far away. Since all of the town's houses were made of wood, Capraro soon switched from logging to construction.

The Chile Argentina Company was experiencing severe difficulties at this time so Capraro decided to buy it out. With the help of several families of Italian immigrants whom he brought to the town, don Primo set about building an empire. Soon the old company headquarters became home to a gamut of activities: fruit distribution, import-export, structural and rural carpentry, a sawmill, a foundry, a Ford agency, a boat yard, an agency of the Argentine state petroleum company (Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales), a news service for the Patria Degli Italiani newspaper, and an Italian Consulate.

From then on the resourceful and genial don Primo would preside over any ceremony or celebration conducted in the town. An incident illustrating the spiritual greatness of this man took place in the home of the Goyes, a Swiss family living on Lake Moreno. The couple were expecting a child and don Primo was to be the godfather. At the time, the First World War had broken out in Europe and brothers and friends of the Swiss couple were set against one another. Disturbed by the sad turn of events and concerned for the infant's happiness, Capraro chose an unusual name for him: Neutral. Neutral Goye grew up a living example of peace and of the indomitable spirit of the pioneers.

By 1910 the census indicated that San Carlos de Bariloche had a population of 1,250, but still there were no roads and no bridges, only cart tracks. Telegraph service had been installed, but the mail arrived on horseback. The town had trade and transport, a good doctor and plenty of hard workers. Life was harmonious and peaceful. But much remained to be done and bringing modern amenities to the town was an uphill struggle.

The first automobiles arrived in the town in 1912: three Mercedes the size of threshing machines brought the Governor of Neuquen, don Eduardo Elordi, and Francisco P. Moreno, in his capacity as president of the reception committee for Theodore Roosevelt, who was passing through Bariloche as a tourist on his way to Chile. Hard on their heels came a Buick with which La Veloz, the first public motor transport, plied the 500km route between Bariloche and Neuquen. The trip could be completed in the amazingly short time of 38 hours when all went well; however, it was not uncommon to find the vehicle stuck up to the axle in a rut of the unpaved road.

Back in Buenos Aires, the Ministry of Public Works steadfastly continued its efforts to bring progress to Patagonia, now through the Hydrological Studies Commission. The commission was headed by the American geologist Bailey Willis, and its assistant chief was Emilio Frey, who knew the region well from having worked on the Argentine Border Commission since 1894. Among the projects it was studying were a rail link to San Carlos de Bariloche from San Antonio, a 900km distance along the Atlantic coast, and watershed, tourism and industrial development. In 1913 the commission was set up in Bariloche, raising its citizens' expectations of progress. But it was not until 1934 that the first locomotive came puffing into San Carlos de Bariloche, pulling three passenger coaches behind it. With that all-important transport link the town quickly changed the focus of its efforts to tourism.

Emilio Frey became the superintendant of the national park in 1928. He and his associates worked to develop tourism in the park, which today, after a number of expansions, covers 560,000 hectares of breathtaking Andean lake country dominated by the 11,000-foot-high perennially snow-capped peaks of the Tronador ridge. Its myriad lakes and rivers offer great fishing in dreamlike settings: forests that harbor more than 250 species of wild flowers and meadows where three species of implanted deer - axis, Dama and Colora - graze together with the small native species pudu.

The city of San Carlos de Bariloche today has a population of 90,000 and tourism is its main industry. It can accommodate 25,000 visitors, and its high season consists of the summer months - December to March - when tourists come to enjoy fishing, hunting, trekking, mountain climbing, wind surfing, boating, trail biking, rowing, mountain biking, or all kinds of convenient and attractive excursions organized by local outfits. Or they can participate in cultural and social events at the area's many first-class centers offering lectures. conferences, music, literature and the visual arts. In winter the ski slopes of Catedral ridge draw skiers from the four corners of the world. The trails are 3.5km long and the lifts can handle 8,000 persons per hour.

The constant growth of all this activity brings with it more than a few problems, obliging one to take a good look at the flowers in the garden and admire the landscape every morning at dawn.
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Title Annotation:San Carlos Bariloche, Argentina
Author:Vallmitjana, Ricardo
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:May 1, 1992
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