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Patagonia Bookshelf

Ostrich Tales — an Anthology
Observations of Darwin's rhea in southern Patagonia

New York Sun (newspaper), 25 March 1908, unsigned
In February 1908, the United States Navy paid a goodwill visit to Punta Arenas, as part of a global show of strength (aka The Great White Fleet). For a whole week, the local traders in furs, feathers and the like did a roaring trade.

[emphasis added]

Strange Sights in Punta Arenas -- Pleasant and Busy Life in City of Perpetual Winter -- Wealthy and well Ruled -- No place entertained U. S. Fleet with more Hospitality

On Board U. S. S. Lusitania,
U. S. Battle Fleet,
Punta Arenas, Feb. 7

Anchor was cast soon after noon and by 3 o'clock the first men were inshore. The glad hand was stretched to them.

The visitors were surprised at the place. They found shops where everything that one could wish was to be purchased. If you wanted your fountain pen fixed all the parts necessary were to be obtained. If you wanted kodak supplies there they were. If you desired paint, brass tubes, fine olives, dog biscuit, rare wines, high grade cigars, a theatrical performance, a suit of clothes made to order, fresh meat or fish, fresh milk, diamonds, hunting supplies, exchange, books, hardware -- well, everything that a reasonable person could wish was to be had at moderate prices, except furs. The furs were there by the bale, and they too were cheap when you considered the prices you would have to pay for the same product in the United States, but they were not cheap for Punta Arenas. Prices were advanced 50 per cent on furs as soon as the first man from the fleet struck the shore.

The first thing that struck the eye as the launches swung into the long landing pier was an enormous sign painted on the sea-wall saying: SPECIAL PRICES FOR THE AMERICAN FLEET! It was the strict truth, especially as to furs. Fox skin rugs that had been selling for $25 went to $40. Guanaco skins that had been $10 went up to $15. Seal skins that were $50 went to $75. The only way to get the lower prices was to get some resident of the town to purchase for you on the pretext that he wanted to make a gift of the furs. Then you paid him and you got furs nearer their real Punta Arenas value.

[...] The bluejackets then swamped the fur stores. Many really fine specimens of furs can be secured here and at moderate prices compared to those in the United States. The bluejackets spent thousands upon thousands of dollars, and so did the officers. Fox, guanaco, seal, otter, alpaca, vicuna, puma - any kind of fur that seems to be in the market, except tiger's skins, was to be found. Then the plumage of birds, ostriches, swans, gulls and so on was sought eagerly. Some of the skins were fully dressed and some not, but the commonest sight in Punta Arenas for the six days the fleet was here was hundreds of sailors making for steam launches with great bundles of furs under their arms. Many a woman in the States will have the opportunity of explaining to inquiring friends that Tom or Dick or Bill got that fur for her right across from Tierra del Fuego, and many an officer will show a floor covering with something of the same satisfaction.

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