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Category: Military

185. campaign, expedition, or conquest?

Coronel Franklin Rawson, Recoleta Cemetery

When one of the defining moments of a nation’s history has three distinct names, controversy forces people to choose sides. Choose carefully between Campaña del Desierto, Expedición al Desierto or Conquista del Desierto… it reveals a lot about your political beliefs.

For most of the history of Buenos Aires, it was connected only to other cities upstream from the Tigre Delta. At odds with the indigenous people to the south, the Spanish began to carve out extra territory for themselves as did Argentines after independence. By the 1870s, successive campaigns had re-drawn the southern limit of the nation & gradually pushed it west at the same time. The map below shows these waves of expansion as they moved further away from the red dot of Buenos Aires:

Expansion of Buenos Aires

In an effort to raise government funds & acquire new territory, the nation put all land south to the Río Negro up for sale. Fewer than 300 families purchased estates that added an important expanse to Argentina. The sale also concentrated national power in the hands of a few. The only problem was that the land sold by the national government was not technically theirs… yet. Various indigenous tribes were living there, so the Minister of War was sent to “deliver” the land to its new owners.

In 1879, Julio Argentino Roca marched the Army into indigenous territory with modern weapons & killed an estimated 4,000 during the course of the fighting. About 14,000 were taken prisoner, marched to Buenos Aires while shackled, & separated based on sex. Some were used as conscript labor & some were jailed, but the end result was akin to genocide. Roca’s tactics also stopped a persistent problem of raids on cattle ranches & farm land. Capitalizing on his military success to launch a long political career, Roca was elected President in 1880.

Call it what you will, the fact that European immigration was desired just as enormous tracts of land needed to be worked made Argentina what it is today. Many of the upper-ranking officers who participated in this event are buried in Recoleta Cemetery… just pay attention to the plaques. From my point of view, these images are so politically incorrect that they would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Agustín Guillermo Casa, Recoleta Cemetery

A gun & sword top an entire array of indigenous weapons: a quiver of arrows, a hatchet, a lance, a bow & even a boleadora. In exchange for leaving the instruments of war aside, an indigenous man can now work the land with a shovel & improve his intellect by reading. No further comment necessary.

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182. joaquín cazón

Nicolás Rodríguez Peña, Recoleta Cemetery

Unassuming & rather neglected, one of the founding fathers of Argentina lies inside. Nicolás Rodríguez Peña was born in 1775 in Buenos Aires & after a short stint in the military, he decided to go into the soap business with Hipólito Vieytes. Vieytes & Rodríguez Peña turned out to share more just than commercial interests… they were responsible for gathering support to declare independence from Spain in 1810. Discreet meetings took place either in the soap factory or at the country estate of Rodríguez Peña.

The early years after independence were rocky ones. In 1812, Rodríguez Peña formed part of a brief triumvirate government along with Juan José Paso & Antonio Álvarez Jonte. But factions came & went, & so did Rodríguez Peña’s influence in Buenos Aires. Eventually caught on the wrong side, he chose to join San Martín in ousting the Spanish from Chile & remained there after the decisive battle in Chacabuco. Spending 37 years away from Argentina, Rodríguez Peña died in Santiago de Chile in 1853.

His remains were brought back to Buenos Aires in 1894 & placed in Recoleta Cemetery in a family vault built after his departure from Argentina. On the base of the pedestal, a list of family members related to Nicolás includes his wife, Casilda Ygarzábal de Rodríguez Peña, who passed away in 1844 & Joaquín who died in 1869:

Nicolás Rodríguez Peña, Recoleta Cemetery

Small plaques below the pedestal are the only reminder that Nicolás is buried here:

Nicolás Rodríguez Peña, Recoleta Cemetery

The participation of Rodríguez Peña in the independence of South America is noteworthy not only because of his constant participation regardless of internal conflicts, but also because he used his entire fortune to support the cause. Now that’s dedication. This tomb was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946 & is scheduled for restoration later this year. Unfortunately nothing remains of the estate in Buenos Aires where revolutionary meetings were held, but that location is now a beautiful public square filled with jacarandá trees which bears his name… Plaza Rodríguez Peña:

Plaza Rodríguez Peña, Buenos Aires

Update (Jun 2008): About one year after this post was written, the crypt was restored & the column replaced. Text on the column is in French—some unreadable & with mistakes—but the general idea is easily conveyed:

N. R. Peña / jeune americain / de Buenos Ayres / mort malhuereusement / le 13 janvier 1831. / Sa mort / à laissé ses amis [column broken] / inconsolables / à prive ses parens / du meilleur des fils / et son pays / d’un citoyen habile / et vertueux / quien aurait été / sans doute lux des plus / beaux obnemens [difficult to decipher]

N.R. Peña, young American from Buenos Aires, sadly died the 13th of January 1831. His death has left his friends unconsolable, has deprived his parents of their best son & his country of an able & virtuous citizen who would have been without doubt the most beautiful light…

Nicolás Rodríguez Peña, Buenos Aires


163. coronel estanislao del campo

Estanislao del Campo, Recoleta Cemetery

Online biographical information about this career soldier is unfortunately sparse, but after the independence wars Juan Estanislao del Campo allied with Lavalle against Rosas. Fighting in several battles, he was one of the few to accompany Lavalle on the flight through northern Argentina.

The son of Estanislao del Campo & his wife, Gregoria Luna, became a recognized gauchesco writer, most known for a hilarious farce titled “Fausto.” Coronel Estanislao del Campo passed away in 1861, & this tomb was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946.

Estanislao del Campo, Recoleta Cemetery

Estanislao del Campo, Recoleta Cemetery


150. military burials

The burial of upper-ranking military officials can be quite a show. Generals get the full treatment as Granaderos trumpet a funeral march & raise their swords:

Military burial, Recoleta Cemetery

One of the officers buried ended up here, complete with his sword, hat & an Argentine flag. I always have mixed feelings about services like these. On one hand, it’s a wonderful show & hard not to stop & stare. On the other, a family is looking for closure during a difficult time. Dozens of tourists snapping photos of a weeping widow can’t be a good thing. Then again, the military committed horrible human rights violations during the last dictatorship that they still haven’t paid for. It’s a hard call.

Thanks to Mike & Stephanie for the above photo. I didn’t have my camera that day, & we had just finished a cemetery tour when we ran into this.

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147. padres del libertador & remedios de escalada ◊

Padres del Libertador & Remedios de Escalada, Recoleta Cemetery

Everyone should know who “The Liberator” refers to: José de San Martín. He’s without doubt the most important Argentine who ever lived as well as a key player in world history. San Martín should be buried here alongside his parents (with the flag) & his wife, Remedios de Escalada (small tomb on right). But he’s too important even for Recoleta Cemetery… more on him in a bit.

A small plaque hidden in the bushes states that the parents’ remains were moved to Yapeyú in Corrientes province in February 1998. Their home was there, & it was the birthplace of San Martín. Another plaque explains that flag—a copy of the one San Martín carried during battle—was made by one of the Damas Patricias Argentinas, descendants of Argentine founding fathers:

Padres del Libertador, Recoleta Cemetery

Padres del Libertador, Recoleta Cemetery

Responsible for leading the armies that eliminated Spanish control in Argentine territory, San Martín crossed the Andes Mountains on horseback with his troops & freed Chile from the Spanish. Not stopping there, he continued north to Perú. San Martín’s leadership & military skill gave three nations their independence. By the time fighting in South America was over in 1824, Remedios de Escalada had passed away from yellow fever. Their daughter, Mercedes, was cared for by her grandparents while San Martín was on the other side of the continent.

Instead of resting on his laurels or taking charge, San Martín returned to Buenos Aires & immediately left with his daughter to Europe. Before setting sail, he bought a simple tombstone & laid Remedios de Escalada to rest in Recoleta Cemetery… at that time only open for under two years. Her portrait decorates the adjoining wall:

Remedios de Escalada, Recoleta Cemetery

Remedios de Escalada, Recoleta Cemetery

Argentines thought San Martín had abandoned them, & many European nations refused to allow San Martín to enter… after all, he was a revolutionary. Living in London, Brussels, & eventually settling in Paris, San Martín kept informed of events in South America but vowed never to use his sword again. He insisted that his fight was against the Spanish, & internal conflicts were a big mistake between newly independent nations.

A number of Argentine leaders visited him often in Europe, & he attempted one voyage back to Argentina. But due to the conflict between Buenos Aires & the rest of the nation, San Martín disembarked in Uruguay instead. He would never return to Argentina, dying in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France in 1850.

History almost forgot about San Martín because of his absence. But the opponents of Rosas (namely Sarmiento & Mitre) made sure that the contributions of San Martín were remembered. His remains were finally repatriated to Argentina in 1877. San Martín’s final resting place is inside the cathedral on Plaza de Mayo, protected by two guards of a regiment he created, the Granaderos:

José de San Martín, Recoleta Cemetery


116. name missing

Door, name missing, Recoleta Cemetery

Notoriously difficult to photograph due to its location, this unnamed vault possesses one of the best doors in Recoleta Cemetery… definitely on par with that of David Spinetto. Perhaps not visible given the angle of this picture, the door is actually curved. Amazing.

Update (06 Mar 2009): Last year this vault was purchased & refurbished by the family of Brigadier Juan José Nogueira, who served in the Argentine Air Force. The polished door looks spectacular, & an equally shiny plaque commemorates his participation in the Falkland Island War. It also states that Nogueira passed away on the feast day of the Virgin of Loreto… oddly enough she is the patron saint of aviation in Argentina:

Brigadier Juan José Nogueira, Recoleta Cemetery

Brigadier Juan José Nogueira, Recoleta Cemetery

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