Great number of cattle – Beef Cheap
The principal exports of Buenos Ayres are hides, tallow, and horses – but the imports are general. The number of cattle bred in the province of Buen: Ayres and in the adjoining province is almost incredible. The immense plains called the Pampas afford abundant and excellent pasturage. Tens of thousands are daily slaughtered near the City. Merely for their hides and tallow – very little of the beef is used, whilst all the rest is left to be prey to innumerable birds, which in consequence assemble in vast flocks, and soon clean the bones of all meat, presenting the spectacle of birds naturally at enmity with each other amicably enjoying the same repast, and also of birds, whose natural habits are not carnivorous, eagerly devouring this unwonted food, whilst in the neighbourhood the fine river abounding with fish is from this cause almost totally deserted by aquatic birds.
You will naturally imagine that beef at least will be very cheap – so it is. In the town we usually gave 4 shillings for a whole quarter – whilst in the country you might have it for the taking. Many of the servants and slaves subsist wholly on this diet, and I heard of one gentleman (old Admiral Brown) who daily gave his men 25 lbs each without vegetables or bread. You may also doubt of the quality of the Beef, and consider it as of the worst. On the contrary it is very delicate and tender (as they never keep cattle beyond two or three years) with this drawback however that it is almost destitute of fat, and has therefore not that rich taste a which a proper admixture of fat & lean communicates to our Beef. If you are ill natured enough still, or remember the old joke of my fondness for beef, you may expect me to burst out into raptures about the place, and wonder how I could ever be induced to leave this earthly paradise, where I could eat, eat even to satiety. But alas tis this very abundance which makes me withhold my need of approbation – I am still fond of roast beef – but roast beef – beef steak pies – in short beef in twenty shapes coming before me every day for weeks is enough to overcome the partiality of the most desperate devourer of beef. Providence has wisely ordained that our food shall be obtained with labour and some degree of difficulty, and has annexed to the difficulty of obtaining it a great deal of pleasure – withdraw this barrier, and let abundance overflow, when satiety succeeds, and disgust even to loathing will follow in the train. From all that I have said no one need want a meal of beef – and those who beg have other objects than a morsel of such food.
(I am told that the rapidity with which an ox is killed, and skinned, is wonderful. The whole is the work of a few minutes. Even should the animal be very obstreperous, they have a most effectual way of catching it and securing him, which is termed lassoing, of which I shall speak more fully when we come to Monte Video, where I saw it.)
It may perhaps not be un-amusing here to take notice of the method employed by the inhabitants of South America in catching their cattle. This plan is known among us by the name of lassoing, from the instrument used being termed lasso. It surpassed every thing that is known in Europe, that for the same purpose, being sure and effectual.
The lasso is a long rope made of hemp or hide, and has at the one end a large noose, while the other is plain and retained in the hand of the lassoer. When it is intended to be used, it is coiled up so as to be held in the left hand, while the right hand retains the noose very slackly – and then when the object to be aimed at is near, the lassoer whirls his weapon rapidly around his head and can throw it over any part of the body he pleases, over the head, horns, fore or hind legs of the animal. Positively you can have no idea of the excellent and almost unerring certainty of the Buenos Ayreans who will fearlessly pursue the horse at this greatest pace & the bullock when tossing his horns and tearing up the ground with rage, and never fail to secure them.
Suppose a furious bullock which it is your object to secure, the Gaucho (or countryman) who by the bye are most expertly mounted on his horse which is trained for the purpose, will pursue it and watching the proper opportunity will, throw his lasso over the horns, or as is generally the case, over one of the hind legs. As soon as he succeeds, he gives out his lasso rapidly and his horse aware of what is to come, plants his foot firmly so as to sustain the shock, which he will meet with when the enormous animal has reached the end of his tether, and rendered more ungovernable by the sudden check, exerts himself the more till in the midst of his struggles the lasso fairly tumbles him on the ground. The violence of the shock is oftentimes so great, that the poor horse absolutely rears on his hind feet, and finds the utmost difficulty in preserving his balance & not being capsized. As soon as the bullock is down, the hamstrings are immediately cut and he is completely mastered. The same mode of lassoing is adopted in catching horses in the open fields or in a wild state, and where an Englishman in his way would [take] an hour or more, the Buenos Ayrean will succeed in five minutes.
Besides the simple lasso there is another with three Balls, which have the effect of breaking the legs & these by their weight & consequent rapid rotatatory motion entangle inextricably the poor animal. In this way it is said that many tigers are caught, and other wild animals.
I should imagine that a flying enemy might be successfully managed by this contrivance so simple, and when once the lasso is around his neck, he must instantly stop and yield or be as instantly strangled. I am not positively aware whether or not they ever resort to this exped.t I believe they do and woe betide the luckless traveller who is thus entrapped. If he perceives the impending danger, his only chance will be to trust to the speed of his horse – neck or nothing – helter skelter on he flies – imagination & fear drives him on, till he reaches a place of safety. But if alas he knows that he cannot place dependence upon the excellence of his horse, if luckily he is provided with pistols or other weapons, he must boldly rush upon his antagonist, close with him, pistol or poignard him for the lasso will avail him nothing when the object of his aim is too close to him, as it requires a considerable sweep to throw it with certainty. If as is possible, the traveller cannot or does not resort to either of these modes of saving himself, no time is given him for reflection or supplication – the lasso is thrown – its aim is unerring – it has passed over his head – he has hardly time to feel the unpleasing sensation of his leathern cravat, before he is unceremoniously tumbled from his horse – expeditiously stripped and may thank his stars, if the well known knife does not put an end to his joys & his pains – so true is it that it is a maxim here, as in England, that “the dead tell no tales.”
I am glad that the frequenters of the Kings Highways are ignorant of this ultra quod non plan of coming at their booty. If they got an inkling of it I am sorely afraid that its superior elegance & facility would so strongly recommend it to their adoption that all however old would common the practice & soon reach as high perfection as their masters. As a measure of precaution would not the legislature act very immediately in passing a law, whereby to learn lassoing should be declared felony, without benefit of clergy.
With all their skill in the use of the lasso, the Buenos Ayreans are neither, good shots or Anglers. Lassoing is all in all to them, and in our Packet an Indian boy, after successfully catching the poultry, pigs and sheep, totally failed when he endeavoured to apply the same principle to fish. And no wonder they are so expert – for it is a well known proverb that perseverance will overcome everything. So it has been with them. From infancy to old age hardly a day elapses but they use their favourite instrument and hence they seldom fail to succeed at the very first throw. With the horse & his lasso the Buenos Ayrean feels the same confidence as we with our pistol or our sword, deprive him of these, and he sinks into nothingness.
Cheapness of Meat at Buenos Ayres
All kinds of animal food are equally cheap with beef as mutton, pork, & poultry – a sheep or pig for two or three shillings – a large turkey for somewhat less and so on. In short did a man place his supreme happiness in the indulgence of a gross appetite, he need go no farther than Buenos Ayres in search of his earthly paradise.
Horses at Buenos Ayres
Besides these animals, which are used for food, you have here also an almost innumerable breed of horses affording to the equestrian the most ample and cheapest means of following his favourite exercise. In fact you can often purchase a passable horse for little more than the hire of one for a day in England. All the natives, s a matter of course learn to ride from their earliest years, and continuing thro’ life the daily practise of galloping for miles, they become the most fearless and dexterous horsemen in the world, yielding neither to the Arab nor the Cossack of the Don. This superabundance of Horses, recalls to my mind an old saying among us, when a person happened to express a desire for a thing which was unattainable “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” This pithy maxim, so just and so popular in Scotland, is totally inapplicable in its original application in Buenos Ayres – for it is a fact, that nothing is more common or less thought of, than the circumstance of beggars soliciting charity on horseback. I little thought that in my travels that I should find such an illustration – but we are always learning. A law is in existence that no person shall gallop thro’ the streets of the City. To indemnify themselves for this restriction, you always see then at a hard gallop, when beyond the walls. And no ground can be better adapted for the purpose than the vast plains of the Pampas, without hillock or eminence, and extending for hundreds of miles. These plains commence immediately beyond the town, and thither the townsmen scamper, when released from the duties of the store or the counting House.
Rapidity of Riding
In traversing these immense levels, you must [take] a guide, whose conduct would somewhat surprise you. As soon as all is ready, off he sets at full speed – never stops – never looks behind him to see if you are following him. Your object must be to look sharp – to endeavour to keep up with him or content to be left behind. In this way an almost incredible number of miles will be covered over each day – and this rapidity is often continued for a fortnight or more on the stretch. It matters not if your horse is knocked up or not – spare horses are always to be had, and they never think of looking after a broken winded horse.
Fruits and Vegetables of B. Ayres
From what I have lately mentioned of the abundance and consequent cheapness of meat, you can easily set forth what we would call a sumptuous repast at a small expense. But somehow or another living for a short time in the City costs you infinitely more than you would anticipate. Lodgings, accommodations, labour, and several other items are high – so that at last the balance is not much in your favour. Wines and spirits are plentiful and reasonable and good. The fruits, with which the dessert table is supplied are such as are well known to us – Strawberries – apples – pears – grapes & peaches, which are to [be] had here for the plucking – besides plums, melons & oranges. But all these are greatly inferior to the same fruits in Europe, preserving the same form & size but coarse and tasteless with few exceptions. Their water and musk melons are very fine and when not indulged in to excess are excellent [aljinsants ? abjinsants] for quenching thirsts. While we were in the Harbour, the vegetables from the country were good but exceedingly dwarfish, consisting of lettuces – turnips like marbles – greens which could easily be dispatched at a mouthful.
Leaving now the general description, which I have just been giving, I shall revert more immediately to what occurred while we were laying at anchor.