A bit of Danish history in El Chaltén

We came across this sign while walking around El Chaltén

P2070032_thumb A bit of Danish history in El Chaltén

I just had to find about more, and that is why the internet and Google have been invented. I didn’t find that much information, but suddenly an amazing story about Andreas Madsen showed up. Before I tell the story, you need a few facts. Andreas Madsen was born in Handbjerg, Denmark on October 17, 1881 (the red dot on the map).

Map-Handbjerg-DK_thumb A bit of Danish history in El Chaltén

He was the first farmer in El Chaltén, who built his farm house facing Mount Fitz Roy, and later became a popular Author in Argentina


p align=”center”>DSC07908_thumb A bit of Danish history in El Chaltén

Most patagonian pioneers at the turn of the last century were adventurers from poor, densely populated parts of Europe for whom the wild mountains and desolate windswept steppes of this part of the New World offered opportunities for progress that were lacking in their native lands. Some came looking for gold and others were fleeing the long arm of the law, but the majority ended up in Patagonia by chance: upon arrival they learned that the Argentine government would give land to settlers in the south.

Born in 1881 to an impoverished farming family in western Denmark, Madsen ran away from home and went to sea. He arrived in Buenos Aires aboard the steamer “Skanderborg” in 1901 when Argentina was in the midst of attempting to work out its frontier with Chile. He landed a job as a cook with the border-marking expedition that Francisco Pascacio Moreno led to Patagonia in the following year. Mount Fitz Roy and the area around Lake Viedma so enamored him that he stayed there and spent the next decade breaking horses, hunting pumas and doing anything else to stay alive.

In 1912 he returned to Denmark to look up his childhood flame Steffany Thomsen, found her and married her. When the First World War broke out, the couple immigrated to Patagonia for good in 1914. At first Andreas Madsen continued working in the Lake Viedma region, but had to move further west due to pressures exerted by groups of large landowners. He settled on the banks of Rio de las Vuetas, at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy. On Estancia Fitz Roy, their farm facing the mountain that so fascinated him, he planted cereal crops and raised several types of barnyard animals in addition to sheep. At the entrance gate of his house was read the phrase” “Think big thoughts, feel big feelings, speak clear words” (the phrase that was on the sign in El Chaltén, first picture in this post)

Fanny, who had notions of nursing, attended to the region’s sick and injured free of charge. With her instructions, Andreas served as midwife during the births of their four children: Peter Christian, Karl Richard, Fitz Roy and Anna Margarethe. The one son was named Fitz Roy, after the mountain. They used Danish Magazines, which came with the mail two or three times a month from Puerto Santa Cruz, to teach their offspring how to read and write. Fanny kept track of the region’s climatic changes for the Weather Bureau.

All the early explorers, mountain climbers and glaciologists who passed through the region were guests at their farm.

When a serious fracture put an end to his puma hunting days, Fanny suggested that he write down his hunting experiences. This he did in English, and the editor of the magazine Argentina Austral in Buenos Aires translated the tales to Spanish. His book Patagonia Vieja was published in 1948; and Cazando Pumasin 1956, after Fanny’s death.

Andreas Madsen moved to Bariloche in 1963 (this is where we spend Christmas) were his children had gone to live, and died there on the 1st of September 1965. He, his wife and children are buried in the family farm outside El Chaltén. In 1972 is remains were transferred to the family cemetery located a few meters from his home, Estancia Fitz Roy, according to his will.

Andreas Madsen, whose farm house just outside El Chaltén (Santa Cruz) is open to tourists (unfortunately we didn’t get to visit the farm house, because we didn’t know about it, when we visited), came with a surveying expedition and ended up a settler. His books, poems and letters written about his pioneer years offer fascinating insights into life during the early 20th century in the wilderness of the Andean foothills. His book Patagonia Vieja (Old Patagonia) and Cazando Pumas(Hunting Pumas) were such a success in Patagonia that he was invited to give talks in Buenos Aires (Source: http://www.dkargentina.com.ar/madsen.php and https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Madsen).

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