Strathard Heritage Digital Archive

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THE STORY OF “PAMPA”

    To Pampa. My black Argentine-whom I rode for Twenty years without a fall. May the earth lie on him, as lightly as he once Trod upon its face. Vale….or until so long”.

    This interesting article is written by John Lewis.

    So wrote Robert Bontine Cunningham Graham, known to many as “Don Roberto”, about the death of his horse that he had ridden for nearly twenty-five years and which is inscribed on his  memorial on the Gartmore village green.  

    Don Roberto was born on the 24th May 1852 and was brought up at the family home  Gartmore House which had belonged to the Graham family for more than 200 years.

    At the age of eighteen, already very much of an individualist, and having learnt French and Spanish in Brussels, Don Roberto travelled to Argentina where he ended up living for seven years in what became a very adventurous experience, and where he spent much of his time on horseback.

    In 1883 and after many years living in Argentina, the United States and Mexico he and his wife returned to Gartmore and, on the death of his father, he took over the estate.

    It was then that “Pampa” came into his life. One day, as Cunningham Graham was walking through the streets of Glasgow, he came across a horse working on a tram. The horse was clearly not accustomed to the work and was giving the driver a lot of trouble. On offering a hand, he recognised the beast as an Argentine mustang.

    He then discovered that on  the horse’s hind quarters it bore a brand which he remembered as that of Curamalal Estancia in the southern part of the Buenos Aires province, and which Don Roberto had known during his stormy days in the Argentine. This 600,000-acre ranch was managed by my grandfather, John Campbell, who had emigrated from Caithness in the 1880’s.

    He was so delighted at the discovery that he immediately went to see the director of the tramway company where he found out that the horse had only arrived from South America a couple of days ago and that it was the most troublesome that they had ever tried to handle.

    He paid fifty pounds, three times its purchased price, and he personally unharnessed the animal from the tram, saddled up and “after a wild tussle in which the mustang came off second best”, rode him to Gartmore.

    “Pampa”, as he called the horse, turned out to be the best and highest spirited steed he ever owned, and became one of the pride and joys of his life.

    Pampa accompanied him whenever he went to London and was stabled near his London home.  Don Roberto was regularly seen riding in Hyde Park and he rode him to Parliament during the years that he was an MP. The first Scottish Socialist MP was seen frequently riding to his seat at Westminster in full gaucho attire.

    Many of Cunningham Graham’s literary friends took to Pampa and his fiery spirit, as they took to his master’s character.

    In 1909, having ridden him for nearly twenty-five years, Pampa was getting old and was retired to a farm in Weybridge where he saw out his days with a couple of rescue horses and in idyllic conditions.  Though fit, Pampa died suddenly at the age of thirty-one.  Don Roberto admitted to his friends that he felt the loss of the animal so much that for several days he thought that he was demented.  He wrote the touching tribute on the Gartmore memorial and throughout the rest of his days he regularly visited Pampa’s resting place.

    Don Roberto, who was much loved in the Argentine for his many books written on the history of South America, died at the age of eighty-three in March 1936, during a visit to Buenos Aires. His body lay in state and was visited by the President of the Republic and other senior ministers, as well as many of his friends and a crowd of admirers.  His hearse was fittingly escorted to the ship that brought him home by two famous Argentine ponies that had previously  done a 10,000-mile overland  trek from, Buenos Aires to New York.

    Don Roberto’s many travels ended at Inchmahome where he was laid to rest next to his wife.

    Don Roberto on Pampa in Rotten Row London.