Day 20 (Thursday February 16, 2012) The Buenos Aires-bound British steamer Herminius left New York City on February 20, 1901, carrying three Americans who were fleeing the country. The two men, Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabaugh, were the notorious bank and train robbers known as Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. The woman, Ethel “Etta” Place, was Harry’s companion. In Argentina the trio purchased a small ranch with a log cabin at the foot of the Andes near the town of Cholila (Chubut Province). By the end of the summer in 1902, they had 300 heads of cattle, 1,500 sheep, and 28 horses. The life as ranchers in the idyllic Cholila Valley would not last for too long. The trio had to sell the property four years later after suspicion arose that they had been involved in robbing a bank in Rio Gallegos—a city located approximately 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) south of Cholila at the very end of the continent. The newspaper reports indicated that two Yankees had robbed the bank for a sum that would be worth at least U$S 100,000 today. The Argentinean police was aware of Parker’s and Longabaugh’s criminal past—the Pinkerton National Detective Company was working behind the scenes on an extradition to bring the outlaws back to the US. Butch and Sundance became instant suspects and were going to be brought in for questioning about the raid in Rio Gallegos. Tipped by a local police officer and friend, the bandits sold the ranch and fled to Chile. They returned to Argentina in December 1905 to rob a bank in Villa Mercedes, San Luis, in Central Argentina and fled again to Chile. Etta will eventually go back to the US. The two men settled in Bolivia and might have been killed by the Bolivian police near the town of San Vicente in November 3, 1908, after robbing a courier transporting the payroll of a silver mine company. However, some believe that both Parker and Longabaugh made it back to the US, lived in anonymity for several years, and died in their native land.
Today we drove past the road to Cholila—we were hoping to visit Butch’s log cabin, but it was raining very hard so we decided to continue. I doubt that the two Yankees who robbed the bank in Rio Gallegos were Butch and Sundance—apparently other American bandits had chosen Patagonia for their operations—but I still wonder how anybody would be expected to get from Cholila to Rio Gallegos through the barren Patagonian steppes back then. It had to be by horse, right? A number of cars were introduced to Argentina in the 1890s (the very first car—a steam-powered De Dion Bouton tricycle—was brought to the country by Dalmiro Varela Castex in 1888). By 1904, there were enough cars that a car club, the Automóvil Club Argentino (ACA), was created. I very much doubt that cars had made it to Patagonia by 1905 and I suspect that most roads were probably impassable. Trains were not an option either. By 1900, Argentina had 16,500 kilometers of railroad tracks. But no tracks had been laid close to the Patagonian Andes at the time. The track connecting Buenos Aires with Bariloche (200 kilometers north of Cholila) would not be completed until 1934—in fact the arrival of the American outlaws to Cholila preceded the official establishment of the town of San Carlos de Bariloche that took place on May 3, 1902. I marvel at the intrepid spirit of travelers back then. I am sure that in the case of Butch and the Kid the pressure of being pursued by the Pinkertons was incentive enough to flee to South America and settle in a remote location away from railroads and telegraph lines. Still, it probably took a lot of guts to board a ship to a far away, relatively unknown country. Thousand of European immigrants were landing in Argentina at that time (including my Italians ancestors: Scavino, Parodi, Cassale, Balmarossa). In 1914, 50% of the 2 million inhabitants of the city of Buenos Aires were recent immigrants. I cannot even imagine the sanitary conditions of the ships bringing destitute Europeans to America. I will try to think of those poor travelers next time I have to wait in line for more than 10 minutes at LAX or when the guy sitting behind me on the plane kicks my seat repeatedly for eight hours straight!
There is not much to report about today’s ride from Bariloche to Esquel except that it rained most of the day so we could not enjoy the beautiful scenery hidden behind the clouds. We took very few pictures; most of them of a car in flames that we encountered a few kilometers south of Bariloche. The temperature dropped quite significantly so we had to stop to add the liners into our jackets and pants. To fight the cold we prepared and devoured some ramen by the road under a light rain. By the time we arrived to Esquel our feet were completely wet. We were ready for a nice hot shower and we were lucky to find it at Hotel Sur Sur. The owners, Hugo and Maria del Carmen, lived for many years in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood, before they decided to open a hotel in Esquel. Hugo and Maria del Carmen ride a beautiful BMW R1200. It was a real treat to meet them.