On 12 February 1834, Charles Darwin’s sister Susan penned an affectionate birthday letter to her beloved brother, who was then enduring the voyage of HMS Beagle. She wrote (in part*):
My dear Charles
This is your Birthday; so I must begin my letter to wish you joy, and many happy returns of it (but not abroad) mind that.
Papa who never forgets anniversarys remembered this day of course at Breakfast and sends you his best love & blessing on reaching 25 years. Poor old Nurse Nancy entertained me all the time I was dressing this mor[nin]g with many lamentations over your absence on this day when you ought to be eating Plum pudding with us, & all the Servants say she has not failed to put them in mind of you; so as I have often told you before, you are not forgotten by the least of us.—
….Good bye my dearest old Charley from y[ou]r very affectionate Susan Darwin[.]
My attention was directed to this ruined wagon when I visited Killik Aike last February while doing fieldwork in the Santa Cruz beds with a very accommodating group of Argentine paleontologists and geologists, including Sergio Vizcaino, Susana Bargo and others. My trip to Argentina was funded in part by a generous Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society.
My Argentine colleagues were there to collect Santa Cruz fossils. My purpose was to revisit historic fossil localities of the Captain Marshall Field Paleontological Expedition. One morning Sergio decided to visit Killik Aike to search for fossils there, and I jumped at the chance to see this historic place and talk to the present owners about old family records. While the rest of the party was fossil-hunting, I visited the estancia and had a long interview with John Locke Blake, sheep breeder, author and master of Killik Aike. Later we were all treated to a wonderful asado of wood-fired lamb and an abundance of carrots and potatoes plucked from the estancia’s famous garden.
Locke told me that when he bought the place from the Feltons in 1980, he found two North American wagons abandoned near the shore. When he tried to move them to higher ground, they fell to pieces. He believes they were owned and used by John Bell Hatcher and the Princeton Patagonia Expedition (1896-1899). Hatcher did, in fact, bring his own outfit from the US when he came here to collect fossils, and he left this outfit in the care of Barnum Brown, of the American Museum of Natural History. Brown then abandoned the wagon in Patagonia when he returned home in 1900. Brown had collected fossils at Felton’s estancia, also, and at least one report claims that Hatcher sold his wagon to Felton. Could one of the North American buckboards found at Killik Aike be Hatcher’s wagon? Very likely.
The other wagon might have belonged to Handel T. Martin, another North American who collected in the Santa Cruz beds in 1904. Martin also brought his own outfit from North America. It is not known what Martin did with his wagon when he abandoned the field and returned home.
I took many pictures of these two wagons. I paid particular attention to marks or manufacturer names that I thought would be helpful in untangling these remains. If there are any buckboard experts out there who can identify the make and model of the wagon depicted here, and tell me something about its history, I’m all ears. Help me put the cart before the horse.