B. H. Kauffmann
30 May 1879
My Dear Sister Lizzie:
It is a burning shame that I have let so much time pass without writing to you. But I have been (and am) too busy to write such letters as would interest you, and such letters as I would like to write. I fear you will begin thinking me an incorrigible humbug. I have no doubt you came to the conclusion that we were all dead, but such is not the case. In fact there are more of us alive that ever there were before. Our baby … came to this world of trouble & sorrows, a short time ago – a very nice looking little boy, but with an awful temper – He is perfectly well and sleeps nights well but all day long must be in some ones arms, or he gets up a terrible yell!
Here we are all well, only that Julia is suffering from tooth ache – and no one here to pull the tooth – at least no one who is a practical dentist, and she dreads to let one who may be a blunderer, take hold of it – so it is probable she will suffer for some time.
You will have seen by the papers that war has been declared by Chile, against Bolivia & Perú – maybe none of the papers have gone into detail, so I will explain the cuestion (for want of something better to write of) which is about the following.
If you take the map of the West Coast of S.A. you will observe that a short distance of sea coast belongs to Bolivia; which divides Perú & Chile. The country west of the Andes lying between the parallel of Arica (in Perú) and the northern boundery of Chile, is the section of country in which are the immense deposits of “Nitrate of Soda”, a material used in many ways in Europe, but principally for manuring the land. This material is most abundant inland from Iquique & Pisagua in Perú, but there are also considerable quantities of it in Bolivian territory. This material forms and important article of commerce; and has interfered materially with the sale of Peruvian Guano, being used for the same purpose and being much cheaper than guano. For a long time past the extraction from the deposits and refining & shipping the nitrate of soda has been carried on principally by Chilenos and chilean capital, but principally on peruvian soil. The exportation became very great, and as I said, its sale in Europe was causing great competition to the Guano, until during Pardo’s administration the govt resolved to monopolize the “Salitre” (as the nitrate of soda is called) to cut short its competition and to this end, put a very high export duty on all “salitre”, exported by merchants, and offered to buy all the works and lands producing the article; and in fact did so; but givingbonds (not money in payment) which were secured by the “salitre” itself; which the govt hypothicated. Now, although the greater part of the Chilenos got the value of their property, this monopoly took out of their hands a very good business, which in the course of time would have yielded immense fortunes to those engaged in the trade. This monopoly, as a natural consequence, had the effect to augment the production of “salitre” in Bolivian territory and there again chilenos went with their money into the old business, but without any drawback or difficulty in the way to export duty. Some years ago a boundary dispute arose between Bolivia and Chile, but was finally settled leaving the “map” as it is now found. One of the stipulations of the boundary settlement was that no tax was to be put on Chile Capital or products thereof employed in developing mines or “salitre” works for a period of 25 years. Ever since the monopoly effected by Peru, chilenos have longed to have possession again of the “salitre” business. But this they see is impossible unless they hold the territory. So the general impression is that they have resolved to take the territory by force of arms.
Some months since the Bolivian Govt. put an export tax of 10 cts. Per 100 lb. On nitrate of soda, which it seems is contrary to the treaty stipulation, and Chile at once declares war against Bolivia; and takes possession, with intention of keeping it, of the “salitre” territory of Bolivia. Peru sent an envoy to mediate between the belligerents but Chile would not listen to mediation. Then it became known that a treaty offensive and defensive existed since 1843 between Bolivia and Peru. Chile sees that Peru cannot be neutral so war is declared at once by Chile, and within two days after the declaration of war the Chile fleet blockaded Iquique and compelled the ships loading guano at “Pabellon de Pica” to leave their anchorages and destroyed all the facilities for loading guano and destroyed the boats and launches in all ports south of Islay and burned the town of Pisagua. Peru and Bolivia were both quite unprepared for such arrangements and of course could do nothing to stop the brave(?) chilenos. It is thought by many that, after the war would continue sometime, Chile would make overtures to Bolivia offering to assist the latter to take that part of the Coast of Peru north and south and inland from Arica, in exchange for what she (Bolivia) would lose in the south and Chile remain with all the salitre country of both Peru and Bolivia; thereby giving the latter a much better sea port than she now possesses. For you must bear in mind that Arica, although on peruvian soil, is really the seaport of Bolivia, as all the trade to the latter passes through Arica and Tacna into Bolivia. It being almost impossible to get to the interior of Bolivia via her own ports, owing to the tremendous mountains to be crossed while via Arica and Tacna the road is comparatively easy. This bit of intrigue may still be carried out, but it is hardly probable now. The Bolivian forces have joined the peruvian at Tacna and Arica and the campaign may be said to be opened. There was a long delay in getting the peruvian fleet ready, and the chilenos, in their braggadocio way, declared the peruvians were cowards and afraid to move their vessels from Callao. However all was ready for one division of the fleet, composed of two ironclads and three transport to move, and they sailed on the 16th of this month for Iquique. On the 22nd the Chile fleet, 2 ironclads and 4 transports and gun boats appeared off Callao “looking for” the peruvians, who by that time were near Iquique. Of course the chilenos put off south to ascertain where the peruvians had gone to. On 23rd the latter entered Iquique, completely surprising the blockading fleet of chilenos and sinking two of their vessels. Unfortunately, it was necessary to destroy one of the peruvian ironclads – the “Independencia.” She was far from being a strong ship, and before going out, they put a heavy gun in her bow, that, when discharged, while the ship was charging one of the Chile ships, and at full speed, the concussion was so tremendous as to literally shake the vessel to pieces so that it was necessary to run her ashore in order to save the crew from a watery grave. The other peruvian ironclad turret ship “Huascar” went on south, it is supposed to Antofagasta, a small port near the southern corner of the bolivian coast, which the chilenos have made their base of operations, and where they have supplies and 14,000 troops. If the “Huascar” has no mishap she will play “smash” with the Chile “cause”. Antofagasta is a small place with not a drop of natural fresh water; all water has to be brought a long distance or condensed from vapor of sea water, and about 5 well directed shots will destroy all their “condensors”, and then the troops will have to evacuate, or die of thirst. In the meantime nothing has been seen or heard of the Chile fleet since 22nd. And there you have the thing up to date!
I will not make more than one comment on the war, and that is that in my opinion it is most unjust and villainous on the part of Chile, nothing better than an attempt at “highway robbery”. Let’s see if they come off gainers.
But it is getting late. Give my love to Father, Emma, Minnie and all friends, reserving for yourself the “hundred thousand bushels” that are yours by right.
Your affte Bro.
Excuse haste, mistakes and nonsense!