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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 November 2007

Gauchos & Gumption: An Argentine Honeymoon





My grandmother’s name was Leora Marie Boessen. She grew up in Langlois, Curry County, Oregon, and when she was 18, she received a telegram from an old classmate, Claude Banning. “I am three hundred miles south of Buenos Aires. There are no women. Will you come?”

It was 1910, and Claude had traveled to the South American pampas with his father, mother, and younger brother (Burrel, Lizzie and Ray Banning) to make a killing in cattle ranching. Or so they thought.

Leora (always called Marie) accepted. Claude returned and they were married in Langlois and immediately sailed for Panama. At Panama City they left the ship, hired mules and a guide, and hacked their way through the jungle to Colón, where they caught a ship for Buenos Aires.

A week before her marriage, Marie’s ankle had been crushed by a runaway horse, but, on her crutches, she managed to climb the mountain in Rio de Janeiro with a statue of Christ on top. Afterward, in a pique she threw the crutches overboard before they reached Buenos Aires. She limped badly all her life.

They took a train south from Buenos Aires for some 200 miles, then rode the rest of the way on horseback to Chilean Canyon and the cattle “ranch.” I have a set of crude photographs of the area, and of their activities, which my grandmother shot with a Brownie box camera.


Claude and Marie spent two years living out of a tent, chumming with their gaucho ranch-helpers on the desolate, lonely plains, baking in summer and freezing in winter. I am particularly fond of the photo of Marie, below) seated by a lone campfire in the middle of nowhere, “making tea.”



Another astonishing picture shows my grandmother and her mother-in-law, Lizzie Rice Banning, ironing their starched white aprons and petticoats! Marie took to wearing “gaucho” pants and floppy gaucho hats, but Lizzie never did. And Lizzie always carried a little pistol in her apron pocket.

In October, 1911, Marie became pregnant. They headed back to civilization, traveling in a wooden wagon pulled by a team of horses. The journey took them about 6 months, and in June 1912, when they reached Buenos Aires, the baby [my mother] was born in a Buenos Aires hospital. Her birth certificate is a page torn from the Bible, across which is scrawled her name in Spanish: “Americano, Mary Elizabeth Banning.”

The baby did not thrive. Finally in desperation Claude rode a hundred miles to a telephone and called a physician in New Orleans, who prescribed goat’s milk.

The baby improved, but when she was six months old, Claude and Marie decided to leave the family’s Argentine cattle operation and sail back to the United States.

This caused a family rift, even though later, with the outbreak of World War I, the rest of the family followed. (The photo at the left is of Claude and his younger brother, Ray). They settled in Oregon, on a ranch near Dixonville (east of Roseburg in Douglas County). Marie was ecstatic at being back in civilization, and two more children were later born.

But leaving the Argentine pampas broke Claude’s heart. All his life my grandfather kept his iron cattle brand and his two leather-holstered pistols and his clay maté cup hanging on the bedroom wall. And each day for the rest of his life he read the Buenos Aires newspaper, La Pravda (I think it was called), in Spanish.

I am fascinated by people’s lives, especially the lives of relatives. There’s a book in the making (mine) on Marie Banning and her honeymoon in the Argentine.

8 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Lynna, what a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it with us. It sounds so fascinating and how brave and adventurous of your grandmother to take off for Argentina with her new husband. I particularly loved the pictures of your grandmother. I do hope that you write the story of your grandmother's honeymoon and life in Argentina.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I agree, Lynna, with Elizabeth. What a great story! I even see the family resemblance in the photos.
;-)

You'll write a wonderful book about this. What inspiration!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Lynna, my heart's in my throat. Please write this story, and write fast.

Your grandmother had such courage to go off to live in such wilderness and desolation with a man and a family she didn't know well. At the same time, your grandfather had the courage to give up the life he loved in Argentina for the family he loved by returning to Oregon.

11:32 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

What a woman! You have to be so immensely proud to come from such fabulous stock. This is going to be a terrific book and I cannot wait to read it. This explains so much about they way you write. When the people in your life are heroic and romantic you cannot help but write that way, can you?

6:47 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

for Kathrynn...

Family resemblance? Yeah, I've been told how much I resemble my great-uncle Ray Banning. Grin.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a wonderful story! It would make such a fabulous book! You have to write it! Had your grandparents been sweethearts before your grandfather went to Argentina with his family? How well did they know each other? How did your grandmother's parents feel about her going all that way?

10:33 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Tracy--How well did my grandparents know each other?They were not sweethearts, in fact did not know each well as adults. As children they were in elementary school together, but Claude moved away when he was 11.
Consequently, he hadn't seen Marie for 7 years before he proposed via telegram.

Family approval? Marie's father and mother (Edgar and Maia Boessen)
were horrified, but the two of them had a pretty interesting story of risk and adventure of their own, so...
Maia was Danish; Edgar was German.
They lived across the border from each other and ... to be continued.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Beatifull story!
I got to this blog just by chance, because I am planning to visit Argentina, and I was looking for apartments in Buenos Aires, but I've started reading what you wrote here and,... well.. THANKS FOR SHARING, very very nice =)

8:28 PM  

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