Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/537

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SIX WEEKS IN SOUTHERN MEXICO.

its association with the names of their famous countrymen previously mentioned.

The chief of our expedition was provided with letters to all the principal men of Oaxaca, and while awaiting permission from the authorities to visit the Indians of the sierras, we made a side trip into the valley of Ejutla, southward. After examining the little known ruins of Monte Alban, and visiting an old convent, where the patriot Guerrero was shot, in 1831, we ended our journey in this direction at the town of Cuilapan, formerly a great city of the Miztecs, and containing a large adobe mound, in which copper axes, mirrors, and golden ornaments have been found. Even now, the inhabitants of this place speak the Miztec tongue, while at Zaachila, a near town, the Zapotec is spoken, and farther up the valley, nearer Oaxaca, is a small colony of Indians whose language is the Aztec. This little body of aliens, sandwiched in between Zapotecs and Miztecs, is doubtless a relic of the great Mexican invasion of the fifteenth century, when the armies of Montezuma, after penetrating as far south as Tehuantepec, were driven back by the allied kings of the country. So rich was this valley at the time of the Spanish invasion that the soldiers of Alvarado had the natives make for them spurs of solid gold, which were worked with great skill.

Many are the stories told here of those early times, so numerous that half a volume might be filled with them, and so fascinating that I reluctantly pass them by. But we will leave antiquities and traditions for a while, and glance at an ancient industry, which, originating here, has made this region famous the world over. In this same village of Cuilapan we found ourselves in the original home of the cochineal, where, enclosed by hedges of the organo, were little gardens of the nopal, or cochineal cactus. The anciently used kermes, or "scarlet grain," was replaced by the cochineal insect, which furnished the brilliant dyes, crimson and scarlet, after the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. This precious dye—more valuable once than at the present day—is obtained from the dried bodies of the female cochineal (Coccus cacti), which feeds on the leaves of the Opuntia cochinillifera, and other cacti closely allied to the prickly-pears, and called