(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Altamira ranch is a vast estate in the wildest section of the Arauca River basin of Venezuela, a ranch that was established early in the history of the country’s cattle business. Late in the nineteenth century, it was divided into two parts by one of the owners’ joint heirs. One part of the ranch kept the old name and went to the male heir of the Luzardo family. The other part went to a daughter who married a Barquero, and it took on the name from the new owner. As the years went by, the two families carried on a feud that killed most of the men on both sides. During the Spanish-American War, the owner of Altamira quarreled with his elder son and killed him; he then starved himself to death. His wife, Doña Luzardo, took her only remaining son to Caracas to rear him in a more civilized atmosphere.

Years go by. Finally the son, Santos Luzardo, decides to sell the ranch, which was allowed to deteriorate under irresponsible overseers. The young man goes into the back country to see the place for himself and to determine what it might be worth. On his arrival, he finds that the neighboring ranch of the Barqueros fell into the hands of Doña Bárbara, a mestiza who was the mistress of the real owner before she ran him off his property. Doña Bárbara is in the process of taking over the Altamira ranch as well, with the help of several henchmen, including Don Balbino, the ranch’s overseer. Santos decides to keep the ranch and try to make it prosperous again.

Santos is able to rely on the help of a handful of loyal cowboys who knew him as a child. These include Antonio, a cowboy who was his playmate years before. Santos’s first move is to end the feud between himself and the Barqueros. He finds Lorenzo Barquero living in a cabin in a swamp, the only land his mistress did not take from him. After making his peace with Lorenzo and his illegitimate daughter, Marisela, Santos takes them to live at Altamira ranch. Marisela is as beautiful as her mother, Doña Bárbara, and Santos wishes to retrieve her from barbarity.

Most of the cattle was stolen from the Altamira ranch, and only about one hundred head are left. Nevertheless, Antonio sees to it that many hundreds more are allowed to stray into wild country, thus saving them from Doña Bárbara and Señor Danger, an American squatter who is in the process of carving his own ranch out of Altamira land. One of Santos’s first acts is to discharge Don Balbino, Altamira’s treacherous overseer, who, since he is working for Doña Bárbara and is her lover, thereupon seeks the mestiza’s protection.

Santos, who was trained as a lawyer, decides first to try legal means of repossessing the lost parts of his ranch. He goes to the...

(The entire section is 1111 words.)