HISTORY OF RANCHOS
by Víctor Landolfi
Ranchos village, April 2020
|6) The first constructions and lighting|
1) INTRODUCTION AND SOURCES
In this historical summary of Ranchos village and its region we present an explanation of the main aspects of the community such as social, political, economic, cultural, etc.; that goes as back in time as possible. On many occasions we not only mention local issues but also provincial, national and international ones; in order to provide a larger context from which they can be explained and understood.
We use the following sources for writing this text: “Ranchos y su comarca, desde su prehistoria hasta 1851” (Ranchos and its region, from its prehistory until 1851) by Marta Inés Martínez and Carlos Antonio Moncaut, 2005. “Ranchos; sus hijos y sus amigos” (Ranchos; its sons and friends) by Carlos Pablo Bona, 1978. Both books published by General Paz district council. We also used “El indio en la colonización de Buenos Aires” (Natives in Buenos Aires colonization) written by Roberto Mafany, 1940, published by Comisión Nacional de Cultura (Culture National Commission). Finally, we also used Ranchos railway museum web site.
We specially want to show our gratitude to Néstor Juan Úbeda who gave us many pictures, some of which were included in this text and in other pages of this same web site.
2) THE EMERGENCE OF FORTS
In many regions of today’s Buenos Aires province, that during the first decades of the 18th century belonged to the Viceroyalty of Perú, there used to be natives’ attacks against the population that sometimes were very violent. One of the main reasons why this happened was the greed for thousands of head of cattle that freely walked through the vast fields.
Authorities set up militias usually formed by poor peasants armed with spears and firearms who were paid with maté, tobacco and pieces of meat. These militias were easily defeated, like in 1740, when a violent natives’ attack in La Magdalena (the region where Ranchos village is today) caused the robbery of many head of cattle; a lot of hostages were seized; many died; and several houses were destroyed and burnt. Moreover, natives could reach very near Buenos Aires city during those days.
This event, among others of the same type, made Buenos Aires city Attorney General Gaspar de Bustamante, in 1741, warn the council about the necessity to establish a fort line in order to hold back natives.
3) LIFE IN FORTS
The first forts were established in strategic points near villages, and were surrounded by wide and deep ditches and wooden palisades. There was a watchtower inside made of logs, and next to it there was a “caramanchel” (stall) that was a kind of underground cave that was used in case of attacks, or for protection against storms or the sun.
Life in forts was tough because soldiers neither were paid nor given food or maté. They usually had to hunt birds or animals in order to have something to eat. There were parasites and rodents inside forts that destroyed soldier’s uniforms; to make matters worse, they had very few firearms for which there rarely was ammunition. As a result, there were many deaths and desertions, that is why soldiers began being paid a small salary since 1750 which, at least, helped to reduce the desertion rate.
There are many references concerning the tough life of forts’ soldiers in gaucho poetry works such as “Martín Fierro” by José Hernández, and “Poesía Gauchesca y Nativista Rioplatense” (Native and River Plate Gaucho Poetry) by Alvaro Yunque. We quote the following fragment from the latter:
One was killed by natives,
another one killed himself,
other died of smallpox,
another one drowned,
the fifth one was shot
for unruliness and deserter;
of the group of seven friends
Buenos Aires Province
only two remained.
To the indigenous camp
one of us escaped yesterday.
And I am here keeping on wondering
whether I am I or I am another one.
4) BEGINNING OF MILITARY ORGANIZATION. BLANDENGUES
The first forts that were built consisted of a group of precarious shacks like farmyards. The same could be said about the condition of those who were inside them, because the clothes they wore were similar to those that used any peasant. They were armed mainly with spears and some few carbines, sabers and pistols. They had thorough knowledge of their land and were brave fighters, but they did not know anything about military techniques. These troops were called Blandengues.
These soldiers managed to hold back natives’ attacks for many years, and their organization improved as new forts were being established. However, money that was supposed to be used to finance these troops began being used for other purposes, because of political and administrative difficulties around 1760. As a result, Blandengues were on active service without being paid for some years until 1766, when they finally gave it up completely.
This lack of protection led to the return of natives’ attacks, and a solution neither political nor administrative could be found because Blandengues continued to be out of service. Landowners began to worry about this situation, that is why they decided to finance these troops themselves. Consequently, there were at least 3 companies of Blandengues back on active service in 1771. These troops were in a state of indiscipline and insubordination as they were commanded by countrymen and, to make matters worse, they almost totally lacked arms of any kind.
These problems were solved some years later by Juan José Vértiz, who was by then governor and soon afterwards viceroy of the River Plate. He also ordered the construction of more advanced forts that were useful both to hold back natives and to incorporate fertile fields, in order to be used to produce food for the population. The construction of the following forts were finished by 1781: fort of Chascomús, fort of Ranchos, Monte’s fort, fort of Lobos, fort of Navarro, fort of Luján, fort of Areco, Salto’s fort, fort of Rojas, fort of Mercedes and fort of Melincué.
There was a fair quantity of Blandengues in each one of these forts, apart from a captain, who was the chief, and a chaplain; among many others. The troops periodically carried out surveys led by a corporal, in which they went further away from their fort. This was tough for the troops involved because as they did not have tents, they had to sleep outdoors several days. As regards clothes, viceroy Vértiz ordered to provide Blandengues with uniforms in 1779. They consisted of a blue jacket with red collar and cuffs, a round hat, leather high boots, and 2 holsters lined with blue cloth.
5) POLITICAL ORGANIZATION. JUSTICE OF THE PEACE AND COUNCILS
Justice of the Peace is an institution that was created during the viceroyalty of the River Plate, and was established in those villages that did not have councils. It was an honorary position symbol of prestige, because the appointment as Justice of the Peace was regarded as honor and distinction towards the person chosen. This person was someone who stood out among the people of the town, which were generally illiterate by the time when this institution was created.
Some Justices of the Peace were in villages near the border with the desert and natives’ territory; in those cases, the buildings where they functioned were used for different purposes such as stockrooms to ration food. As almost all decisions were made by Justices of the Peace, they had a great responsibility. Sometimes they became political and opinion leaders, and could grant favors to people, thanks to political relationships they had with the government of Buenos Aires.
Justices of the Peace knew little about law and its enforcement; their decisions were usually made based on local customs of the time, and their beliefs. Those Justices who used the position for their own benefit turned out to be kind of arbitrary rulers, which began to be a reason for worry, particularly after May Revolution. That is why manuals with instructions for Justices of the Peace began being published and distributed in order to inform them, and also to control the situation in some towns. Regulation of Justices of the Peace became a marked tendency some years later, once Juan Manuel de Rosas assumed office as Buenos Aires province governor.
When a new law that created councils was passed in 1854, not only a new government form was introduced, but also, a limit was set to the powers of Justices of the Peace. The first Justice of the Peace for Ranchos village was appointed in 1822, during Martín Rodríguez’ term of office, together with other 27 ones for the rest of the province districts. Some years later, in 1855, the local council was created. The town hall was first placed in front of the main square where today is General Paz farming industry society building. Many years later, in 1939, it was moved to its present location very near the previous place. Ranchos’ town hall is similar to many others built during Manuel Fresco’s term of office in those districts of Buenos Aires province that did not have buildings for their councils.
Once the town hall was inaugurated, a group of inhabitants of Ranchos came up with the idea of making a coat of arms. The idea was later accepted and so, Pedro Pellisier, drew one divided in 4 parts. The right upper picture shows a humble house like a hut and a landscape, similar to those that existed while the fort functioned that inspired the name of the village. The picture next to it has a background of stars; the Southern Cross is joined by 2 perpendicular lines that intersect with each other over the image of the monument to the heros of May Revolution, which is today placed in the village’s main square. The left lower picture is a drawing of the lake; and the other one to the right, is the church under a bright sun. Finally, there is a motto at the bottom that says “Ranchos amoris serit” that could be translated from Latin as “Ranchos, the one that sows love”.
6) THE FIRST CONSTRUCTIONS AND LIGHTING
There are records of travelers that describe Ranchos village by the end of the 1860’s and beginning of the 1870’s. There were in those times many traces that revealed the village had been a border with natives’ territory, such as cannon pieces used as fences at street corners. Rains made streets impassable, and there were always many dogs roaming. It seemed to be a place in ruins with several houses without roof, which suggested that it had been more populated in the past. The church was a shack with 2 bells, one of them broken and the other one cracked. There were also many homeless people wandering around.
There are many archival records that show that Buenos Aires city street layout was like a grid similar to a chessboard. Most of its streets crossed at right angles and equidistant from each other. This same layout was copied in many towns, and Ranchos was one of them. Its final street layout left 2 empty spaces that were used for squares. In 1856, the cemetery was moved to its present location, which is set back from the built-up area. The main reason for this was that the places that were formerly used for this purpose had remained among new houses and constructions.
There were few constructions with tiled terraces in those days, because they were mostly thatched roof shacks. Brick buildings first appeared in the 1940’s that differed from old houses in the iron bars, the wooden blinds, and the front doors with hand shaped knockers that the latter had.
Ranchos’ streets were made of earth and its pavements of brick. There were crossings made of stones at the corners in order to help people cross streets, especially when it rained and the village flooded. Street lighting, until 1904, consisted of kerosene lanterns that were put out when there was moonlight. Kerosene was substituted for gas for some years until 1911, when electric arc lighting was first used. Later, in 1918, filament light bulbs began being used.
7) THE SOUTHERN RAILWAY
The Southern Railway line was begun being built in 1865, and Ranchos was one of its stations. The increasing wool, leather and cattle trade was the main reason why this line was built. Production was taken to Constitución square, in Buenos Aires city, by means of horse-drawn carriages before the existence of the railway. This means of transport had a much smaller capacity and was much more expensive than the railway. Moreover, horse-drawn carriages did not offer the possibility to transport high quantities of people.
The construction of this line started at the beginning of 1864, and by the end of the following year the train service to Chascomús was inaugurated. Many landowners and people related to the horse-drawn carriage freight system were against the railway; however, this opposition weakened as time went by. For instance, the amount of wool transported by train in 1866 was 8.250 tons; while in 1870 was 36.498 tons. Horse-drawn carriages were increasingly used to take production to the stations, where it was then loaded to trains.
By the end of the 1860’s and beginning of the 1870’s another railway line, the Western Railway, had plans to build a line from Merlo (Buenos Aires province) to Azul. Coincidentally, by this same time, in 1871, the board of the Southern Railway submitted a project to extend the line from Chascomús to Dolores, and to build a new one from Altamirano to Azul; and another one from Lomas de Zamora to San Miguel del Monte. Buenos Aires province state agreed to finance only the extension from Chascomús to Dolores, but the construction of all these 3 lines had already begun by the time this decision was announced; and it did not stop. Therefore, the first stretch of the line that started at Altamirano and reached Ranchos was inaugurated the 1st of march 1871.
The second stretch of this line from Ranchos to General Belgrano was inaugurated some months later the same year. The same happened with the third stretch to Las Flores in 1872, and with the last one to Azul in 1876. There is a village called Villanueva placed in the second stretch of this line, some 30 kilometers from Ranchos, and both villages are within General Paz district. The train station in Villanueva was located in fields donated to the Southern Railway by José Antonio Villanueva’s family. This man was one of the first to bring merino sheep from Spain for reproduction and improvement of wool. There documents issued by the Consulate of Buenos Aires on this regard, in which the hero Manuel Belgrano praises José Antonio Villanueva’s work and initiative in his fields quite near to the place where today is Ranchos.
Finally, there is an interesting event concerning Villanueva village and its train station. It happened when who was by then Prince of Wales and later King of England and Emperor of India, Edward VII, visited Villanueva village. He traveled in a train especially prepared for this purpose, and his main activity there was visiting Negrete country house, which belonged to the British Citizen David Shennan. This man was a forerunner of polo in Argentina, and the first polo game in this country was played in 1875 in his fields of Villanueva.
8) PRIMARY EDUCATION AND THE NATIONAL SCHOOL
There have been small schools in Ranchos throughout the 19th century. According to a provincial census conducted in 1881, there were 4 schools in the village. The Common Education Law is passed in 1884, during president Julio Argentino Roca’s first term of office. This law set 4 basic points: education had to be obligatory, free, gradual and neutral. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was the main forerunner of this law, which precedent was another law passed in 1869, allowing the creation of teacher training colleges during his presidency until 1874.
In 1887 school No 1 “Domingo Faustino Sarmiento” is inaugurated in Ranchos. It is named after the former president as well as other 50 schools of Buenos Aires province, as a result of a decision of the provincial schools authorities. Some years later, in 1913, the Popular Teacher Training College is created in Ranchos. Both educational institutions were the result, on the one hand, of the enforcement of the education laws previously mentioned and, on the other, of the work done by Sarmiento Association.
This Association was formed by Ruperto Flores in 1885. Its main objective from the beginning was to spread primary education to as many children of the village as possible, so they could go to state-run schools. When in 1887 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento himself learnt about the existence of this Association and its work, he sent a letter to Ruperto Flores who was by then its president. In this letter Sarmiento praises the creation of the Association, and also makes an assessment of education in Argentina. We quote some excerpts of this text below.
Regarding the creation of the Association he says: “Nothing reliable and lasting had been done about this before, and you have the honor to continue working, so other people will follow you in other places of the Republic”.
Further on he continues: “Governmental decisions have been misled by people prepared mainly to tackle cattle raising business issues for those who demanded it, without taking care of those who did not take part in it. Your association should be more concerned with bringing more children to new schools, than worrying about existing ones; you should be more concerned with those who do not learn anything, than with what is taught to those who receive education”.
He finally adds: “I am satisfied and grateful to submit myself to the president of Ranchos Sarmiento Association; at your service: Domingo Faustino Sarmiento”.
As regards secondary education, a commission is formed by the end of the 1950’s, as a result of the growing interest of many people to have a national school in Ranchos. This commission was integrated by Alberto Ferrante, who was by then Ranchos mayor, among others. The main achievement of this group was a decree issued by the national government of president Arturo Frondizi, in 1959, that allowed the creation of a national school in the village. The following year classes began being held, provisionally, in the town hall.
In 1959, the council and the government of Buenos Aires province received money from national authorities to buy a lot where to build the school. However, this purchase finally did not take place because an inhabitant of Ranchos, Genaro Pérsico, decided to donate a lot next to the railway tracks, where the school was then built and is located thus far.
9) A CHURCH THAT MADE HISTORY
By the end of 1811 an inhabitant of Ranchos village submitted a request to the First Triumvirate government asking for the construction of a building for the church, in place of another one that had burnt some time before. A proposal was made in that request to sell a team of mares that were freely walking and did not belong to anybody, in order to get the money for the building. The proposal was accepted, so a new building was put up with the money obtained from those mares. However, there was no church for some time, so services in the meantime were held in a room that had been the kitchen of the house of an inhabitant of the village.
The new temple was a gabled thatched roof building made of adobe that had an arch next to it holding 3 small bells. In 1863, the national government decided to build a new church for Ranchos, and for that occasion Bartolomé Mitre, who was the president by the time, visited and stayed in the village for 3 days. The construction that began then was so slow and had so many interruptions that, 30 years after it began, the walls had not yet been plastered, and its floor did not have tiles. To make matters worse, those who went to services there had to take there own chairs in order to have something to sit on.
As for president Mitre’s visit, his main activities during those days were focused on the inauguration of the new church construction. A special ceremony was held in which he was with Francisco Vivot, who was Ranchos Justice of the Peace by the time, among others. On that occasion, Mitre began plastering the building with a silver trowel; then a service was held; and finally he addressed the people. We quote an excerpt of president Bartolomé Mitre’s speech that day.
“Compatriots: I did not intend to talk after the eloquent sermon of this respectable priest, but my gratitude to Ranchos’ people does not refrain me from saying my farewells to you”.
“From the moment I gave up fighting I made way to the construction of the northern iron road, and I have also been present at the inauguration of many works. I began today the construction of the church you are going to put up, which contributes to peace and is so pleasing for me. I am grateful for your warm welcome, and also for how spontaneously people from Ranchos and Chascomús supported me at the Battle of Pavón. I will never forget the memories of those days as well as today’s”.
10) PATO (DUCK), ARGENTINE NATIONAL SPORT
We mentioned before, when talking about the railway history, the polo game that was played in Negrete country house located in Villauneva village, in 1875. This was the first game of this sport played in Argentina. However, this is not the single sport that can be mentioned in Ranchos’ history. Pato (duck), which is the national argentine sport, has also been important. The pato field “El Siasgo” also placed in Villanueva, some 30 kilometres from Ranchos within General Paz district as well, was founded in 1954.
This sport originates far back in time, and considering its qualities, it is deeply related to the type of life and the characteristics of the place of the time when it appeared. The first pato game was played in a field were today is located Buenos Aires city, in 1610. The game began when a group of men riding horses met; they put a duck or hen in a piece a leather partially sewn, so the animal within it could stick out its head; and then a kind of handle was fixed to that piece of leather.
The place were the game was played or the field, as it were, was limited to the enormity of pampas, and no teams were formed among the men there. Each one struggled to snatch the duck out the others’ hands and run away with it. The gates of the fields where like goals, and anyone holding the duck managed to escape through them. Absolutely everything was permitted such as the use of bolas and knives, in order to prevent others from running away with the duck.
This game was expressly forbidden in Buenos Aires province in 1822, during Martín Rodríguez’ term of office, and this prohibition lasted until 1938, when a decree issued by who was by then governor of the province, Manuel Fresco, authorized the game again. This time, however, it was officially considered a regulated sport. The reason for this decision was that some months before this happened, Alberto del Castillo Posse, who was a Buenos Aires province rancher and exponent of argentine traditions, had drawn up the rules of pato, and some trial games had been played putting those rules into practice.
This sport began to spread since then. The Pato Argentine Federation was created, and other fields were founded apart from the one already mentioned, “El Siasgo”, located in Villanueva village. In 1953, president Juan Domingo Perón, issued a decree that turned pato into the national sport. In the course of time, pato became an orderly, fast and elegant sport.
Ranchos village, April 2020
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