Deviation Actions

ColorCopyCenter's avatar

A Boer kommando in southern Argentina, 1912

The photo is taken from B.M. Du Toit's "Colonia Boer: an Afrikaner settlement in Chubut, Argentina", an excellent text on the Boer colony established in Patagonia by Cape Rebels, Transvalers, and Free Staters who rejected British sovereignty and were dissatisfied with poor economic and political conditions in post-war South Africa. The photo shows the aftermath of a famous incident in the early history of the Boer exile colony in Argentina, in which the Boers raised a makeshift kommando to avenge the murder of a Boer settler.

At the time, the region of Chubut in Argentina where the Boer colony had been established was still a somewhat lawless frontier, where the Latin, Welsh, and Boer settlers of the region had to contend with numerous criminal elements such as Chilean livestock thieves, corrupt local officials, extortionist Argentine police, and all manner of bushwhackers, outlaws, and robbers. Settlers on the sparsely populated Patagonian pampa naturally formed mutual protection groups for communal defense against outlaw threats, and the Boer exiles were no different in that respect. In response to livestock theft or extortion, the Boer settlers frequently banded together and took to their Mausers and horses, riding off in hot pursuit of outlaws or crooked officials. Although most disputes and thefts were bloodlessly settled once the criminal elements realized they had been surrounded or ambushed by superior numbers of Boer burghers, that was not always the case, as illustrated in this photo.

There are two accounts of the incident in question, differing only in minor details. Both accounts agree that the story starts in 1912 with a Boer settler, Gert de Lange, who had a horse-drawn cart that exactly resembled the cart used by a local business to transport their payroll and earnings to town. In a case of mistaken identity, a pair of Russian bandits ambushed Gert de Lange as he was riding to town in his cart, confusing de Lange's cart for the business's cart, which they had intended to rob. In the course of the hijacking, Gert de Lange was beaten and mortally wounded by the Russians, who tried to hide the evidence of their crime after realizing their mistake. The Russians dismantled the cart and hid the pieces with de Lange's corpse in the scrub nearby.

After de Lange went missing his wife, Lenie Delport, raised the alarm in the Boer colony, and an ersatz kommando was rapidly raised and mobilized to search for the missing settler. Maans Blackie organized the initial search party, which retraced Gert de Lange's route into town and found signs of a struggle in the dirt road before discovering de Lange's corpse and the remains of the cart. Willem Cook played a leading role in tracking the spoor of the Russians from the scene of the crime to their hiding place in the rocks atop the Serro Chenque near Comodoro Rivadavia, the main town in the region. Finally, the two Russians were shot and killed by the best sharpshooters in the kommando, Louwtjie and Daantjie Louw, a pair of brothers who had trekked from pre-war South Africa into German Southwest Africa in their youth and had grown up in the untamed wilderness where they had mastered the use of their rifles in hunting.

The photo shows the aftermath of the shooting, with the Boers of the colonial kommando (and possibly some Argentine onlookers) gathered around the dead Russians, one of whom appears clearly visible on the lower right. It is difficult to determine exactly what model of rifles the Boers are posing with in the photo due to the poor detail of the original image. However, written accounts of visitors and settlers from the earliest days of the colony all the way until the late 1930s frequently and explicitly mention most Boer settlers owning Mauser rifles for self-defense and hunting. Initially, Mauser cartridges were difficult to obtain for the Boer settlers in remote Patagonia, but after the discovery of oil and natural gas in the area by Boers drilling for water, increased commercial traffic to the port of Comodoro Rivadavia near the Boer colony allowed easy access to ammunition.

I believe this may be the only existing photo of a Boer kommando raised outside of Africa, so it is something of a remarkable find.
Image details
Image size
1604x1135px 5.63 MB
© 2018 - 2021 ColorCopyCenter
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
Boers and Russians battling in Patagonia, that's a combination you never expect.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
They ended up settling a fair number of Russian Jews in southern Argentina due to the pogroms in Imperial Russia at the time, and I suppose they thought that the windswept pampa was not too different from the Russian steppe.

In Patagonia, the Argentine government encouraged settlement by a lot of different European ethnic groups, and due to the isolation and remoteness of the territories there, the immigrant settler communities often preserved their cultural distinctiveness and religious/linguistic separation from the Latin Argentinians for many decades. Although today, the only settler group that really managed to remain fully separate is maybe the Welsh, many of whom can still speak the Welsh language or English in addition to Spanish. The Afrikaner settler group was much smaller from the beginning, and the majority of them were repatriated to South Africa in 1938, so there are not many left in Argentina today, and only a handful still speak Afrikaans and retain their Protestant religion.