Adventures in Peru, Chapter 6

The Luck of the Deal

Hunting Pumas and Guanacos, Part 3

Guanaco hunting with expert bola throwers is most exhilarating sport, if one has a good horse under you, and decent galloping ground to ride over—almost as inspiring as riding after the rhea, or wild ostrich, in the Argentine. Not quite so fascinating, however, as the pastime I enjoyed on Hamilton Langley’s estate, where I learned how to run an estancia. I got “nowt,” as the Yorkshiremen say, for wages, during my apprenticeship, and had to find my own grub and horseflesh.

Langley was a fine horseman, a grand rider over any kind of country; and with him hunting was a passion. He kept a pack of dogs, consisting of two staghounds, and four of the greyhound lurcher type. I had a similar lot of lurchers, a prize-bred French pointer, and a King Charles. The latter was a smart little chap, and absolutely fearless, as the following incident will show.

One day my groom came to me about 8.15 a.m., full of news about a tiger cat. He said it was the biggest he had ever seen and that it had just run into a clump of bushes not far away. I called up my dogs, and, six-shooter in hand, proceeded to the spot indicated. I tried my best to persuade the big dogs to try and rout the tiger cat out; but they didn’t relish the task. Imagine my surprise when the little King Charles dashed into the clump, and drove the cat out into the open! The other dogs then joined in the fray, and soon settled matters to their entire satisfaction. My lurchers and Hamilton’s dogs made up a useful pack, and we used to put them on the scent of any mortal thing that came our way. Deer, however, provided our chief diversion.

On one occasion, I remember, we got to the end of Langley’s big paddock, or potrero, and found the gate closed against us. The boss promptly put his horse at it, and landed over in magnificent style. We, who were not so well mounted, had to open the gate and ride through. My horse was of the half or three-quarter type raised by the late William Kemmis. When sent to England they fetched good prices as high-class hunters. Lots of fellows of my acquaintance had, at various times, hunters bred by Kemmis or Langley on shares, i.e. they kept them and rode them for several months, and then sold them. What they got over and above the original price, they divided with the owner. The usual figure the breeders charged was £100. In the days I am speaking of, there were heaps of wild horses in the Argentine. When I took up my quarters at Bella Vista, I bought seventeen (“al corte”) for £2 apiece; and was extremely gratified to find that three of them were up to my weight. Six others made fine carriage horses, after they had been broken in. I frequently drove them in my big, heavy dog-cart three at a time, native fashion, i.e. one in the shafts, and one on either side of him. The way they went hell for leather over the Camp was a sight for sore eyes!

Before proceeding further, I ought, perhaps, to explain the meaning of al corte. The words are the Spanish equivalent for “as they come.” A number of animals are driven out of a herd of maybe five hundred, into a corral. The gates are then closed, and the Peons, with much cracking of whips, induce the horses, or mules, or what-not, to stampede round the corral. When they have got pretty lively, the gate is suddenly flung open. Then one has to look smart, or you’ll get overwhelmed in the rush. Note particularly the first ten animals that come out. They are yours, if you are the fellow who is buying. In that little lot you may get several horses—if horses are your game—worth £20 apiece. On the other hand the majority may consist of useless yearlings, and one or two old brood mares. It is all in the luck of the deal.

When I bought my horses two separate hundreds were driven into the corral. I had ten out of the first hundred, and seven out of the second. Only three were “stumers,” and these I turned over to my groom, who found them very useful for rough work.