Museo Leleque stands within Estancia Leleque, one of five ranches managed by the Compañía de Tierras Sud Argentino SA (Argentine Southern Land Company) and owned by clothing company Benetton. Displays in the museum depict how daily life for the ranch managers and their families revolved around the farming year. At a table in the boliche, a copy of the Pastoral Review and Graziers Record lies open beside a ledger with neat copperplate notes on the lambs born that season. One record, dated October 1938, reads "plain body, rather leggie, dense fair fleece", while another declares a lamb to be "well trousered". Today, Benetton derives wool for its clothing from the 58,000 sheep which graze its vast 220,000-hectare estate.
The issue of who owns land in Argentina has long been a contentious one. Those that have fared the worst in the struggle for land rights are the indigenous people who lived in the country before any settlers arrived. In the main museum, one display is given over to showing the major conflicts between the native people and settlers. Before 1880, much of the land southwest of Buenos Aires was considered to be territory of the native Tehuelche. Although Spanish, Dutch, French and English explorers came in search of gold between 1520 and 1789, no-one succeeded in forming settlements in Patagonia until the Welsh arrived.
The Welsh settlers generally had a good relationship with the Tehuelche, who taught the Welsh survival and hunting skills, but the government was keen to get sovereignty over the land in the south to prevent Chile from claiming it. As a result, between 1878 and 1885 the government fought the bloody War of the Desert against the indigenous people and took from them the land that today makes up Patagonia. As the ranches sprang up in the early 1900s, the barbed wire fences that kept the sheep in also kept the Tehuelche out. With no land and with their relatives killed in the war, many became depressed and turned to drink. Today, the indigenous people are still fighting for land to be returned to them and for their language and culture to be recognised.
Recent decades, however, have not been kind to estancia owners either. The past years have seen the boom in sheep and cattle farming collapse. Hundreds of farms, struggling to cope with a less and less viable market for wool or meat, closed in the 1990s. The eruption of Volcano Hudson in Chile in 1991, which deposited ash over a wide area of Santa Cruz province and killed over one million head of cattle, was the final blow for many and great tracts of land became deserted.