Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans/Chapter 26
THE WONDERFUL PALACES OF MITLA.
I TRUST my readers will pardon my frequent allusions to antiquarian research; but, craving the modern Mexican's pardon, the old vastly predominates, in certain portions of Mexico, over the new.
Ruins without end are scattered over these hills and throughout the alluvial plains, indicating the vast number of inhabitants that must have been at one time, or in successive ages, concentrated here. Those spanning the valley of Etla have been already mentioned; but the great aboriginal mounds are equally numerous in that of Ejutla, while immediately above the city of Oaxaca are the extensive mounds and fortifications of Monte Alban, that proclaim the former existence there of a wonderful civilization. These, though examined by me, our space forbids me to more than mention, but in the valley of Tlacolula, twenty miles southeast from Oaxaca, is the crowning achievement of those ancient peoples, in the palaces of Mitla, the former abode and the places of burial of the Zapotec kings. No ruins in Mexico, and probably none in America, are more elaborately ornamented, in their peculiar style, than these.
Lying between two great groups entirely different in the architecture of their original buildings, this Mitla assemblage of stone structures possesses peculiarities belonging neither to those of Yucatan, to the northeast, nor to those of Central Mexico, to the northwest. Though from its geographic position it should form a connecting link between the two great systems, yet it does not, but stands out peculiarly conspicuous for its singularities of architecture and ornament.
When our party found itself within twenty miles of Mitla, and with a couple of days' leisure, it decided to go there at once. But "at once" being words not found in the Mexican vocabulary, we were not surprised to find, on assembling in front of the hotel at the time appointed, that the horses we had engaged were not there. After a protracted search, we found our mozo, and wrathfully demanded why he had not returned to inform us of his inability to furnish the horses. "Para que?" said the
astonished mozo. "What for? Was it not sufficient for you to know that I was not there?"
Late in the forenoon he made his appearance with an antiquated coché, drawn by three horses and two mules, and we rode out through the gate of the city in triumph. At the gate and beyond we encountered hosts of Indians coming in to market, the poorest of them bearing heavy burdens strapped to their backs, secured by a broad band over their foreheads, the more fortunate riding in rude carts with wooden wheels, laden with corn and charcoal. Two leagues out, we entered the Indian town of Tule, which is famous all over Mexico for its giant savin-tree, more celebrated, however, for its breadth than height. It is no mean rival of the gigantic baobab of Africa (Adansonia digitata), which Humboldt considered the oldest organic monument on the globe, but the largest examples of which, as near as I can ascertain, measured but thirty-four feet in diameter. This tree of Tule—tulé is the Aztec name for bulrush—measured around its trunk, at five feet from the ground, 146 feet, following its irregularities; longer diameter of the elliptical trunk, 40 feet; diameter of its spreading bulk of branches, 141 feet; height, about 160 feet. This grand old arbol is in the centre of the village, in the enclosure containing the parish church, which it completely overtops. Its vast bulk can be seen rising above the plain at a long distance from the village, and it is said to have sheltered the army of Cortés, when on its terrible march to Honduras, three hundred and sixty years ago.
Our road beyond lay over a fertile plain to Tlacolula, a fine town with many good buildings, in a region of aboriginal mounds. In the outskirts, the houses were surrounded by hedges of cactus, with gates made of canes, enclosing fields of corn. The main road to Tehuantepec branches off here, and we left it and bore more to the east, through a lateral valley, where the soil was poorer, though bearing thin crops of cane and corn. We rode under high cliffs full of caves and holes, in which a miserable people found shelter, and great rocks were set up on the ridge, as though the milestones of the Cyclops, to guide one to the valley of Mitla. After rounding these cliffs, the semicircular valley opened out, with an Indian town lying at the bottom, and the ruins hidden behind it surrounded by hills on three sides. Two great trees stand in the centre of the town, landmarks visible miles away, and beneath these some dozen or so of women were holding market in the open air as we drove up. The only good house in the village was that of Don Felix Quero, this being of stone, and all the rest of mud or adobe. We were surprised at the neatness of the house, which surrounded a great square yard, containing orange and pomegranate trees, and above the clean, flagged court hung cages of parrots and mocking-birds. We got here a very good dinner, and clean beds, which are generally rare articles in the country districts of Mexico. In the market-place of the town, we found a great stone pillar twelve feet high, and scattered about were mounds of adobe; but the real ruins were situated across the river.
The Indians here are Zapotecs, and not only speak their ancient language, but retain their old customs and manners. When they meet, they salute by carrying the hand of their neighbor to their lips, especially when a young person meets an older one. Though the Indians of the valley are Zapotecs, about eight leagues distant, in the almost inaccessible hills, are Indians who speak a distinct language and differ from them in many respects. These are the Mixes; their chief town is called Ajutla, and they are said—though I do not believe it—to retain the cannibalistic feature of their ancient sacrifices. They certainly yet sacrifice birds, wild animals, and fowls to their gods, being only nominally Catholics, and being as great heathens as ever. Owing to this belief, that they sacrifice and devour all strangers visiting this country, no white men go there; but, being a lean man, I think I would not hesitate to venture a visit. These cannibals have ever preserved their independence; they were never conquered. The Spaniards subjected the Aztecs, Tlascalans, Miztecs, and many others, but the Mixes have always maintained their liberty. The town was full of them the night of our arrival, it being Saturday, on their way to market in Tlacolula and Oaxaca. This was their halfway place, where they passed the night, though the next morning they departed before daylight. They brought with them oranges, peaches, and peppers; these they carried in nets, on the backs of mules and donkeys. We bought thirty large oranges for six cents, and a mule load, or five hundred, for a dollar. These people seemed not quite so dirty as the Zapotecs, who were immaculate as compared with the Mexicans,—the Aztecs.
It was a simple life opened to us in that Indian village, primitive as at any period prior to the conquest; in the morning the women brought out their calabashes of peppers, Chili beans, and fruit, and squatted down beneath the great tree, waiting for a customer, spinning industriously the while; and this they kept up all day long, chatting and gossiping till evening fell.
We devoted several days to the exploration of these ruins at Mitla, known to the world only through vague accounts given in archaeological works; and it is from the fact that their history
is so obscure, and that no popular descriptions of them have been given, that I assume that my readers will be interested in a description of these "dwellings of the dead."
Mitla, says the eminent antiquarian, Bancroft, author of "The Native Races of the Pacific Coast," is probably the finest group in the whole Mexican territory. Here was a great religious centre, mentioned in the traditional annals of the Zapotecs, the original name of which seems to have been Lioba, or Loba, the place of tombs; called by the Aztecs Miquitlan, Mictlan, or Mitla, "place of sadness," dwelling of the dead; often used in the sense of hell. The gloomy aspect of the locality accords well with the dread significance of the name. A stream, with parched and shadeless banks, flows through the valley; no birds sing, or flowers bloom, over the remains of the Zapotec heroes.
Humboldt, though he describes them, never saw these ruins. The first exploration was in 1802, by Don Luis Martin and Colonel De la Laguna from Mexico, who visited and sketched the ruins, and from whom Humboldt got his information. In 1806, Dupaix and Castenada, and in 1830, the German traveller, Muhlenpfordt, made plans and drawings which were published, the originals of which may yet be seen in the institute of Oaxaca. Muhlenpfordt's plan, given by Bancroft, is said to be the only general one ever published. The French archaeologist, Charnay, took photographs of Mitla a score of years ago.
There are five groups of ruins, three of which are in excellent preservation. A portion of the village is built among them, and lies near the bed of the shallow and treeless river. After crossing this river-bed you enter the little adobe hamlet, where the only vegetation is cactus and nopal, and find yourself unexpectedly amongst the ruins. As they do not lay claim to regard so much on account of their height as for their extent and elaborate ornamentation, the wall of the first rises before you while you are yet unaware of its vicinity. Though it contains some immense blocks of porphyry, and traces of hieroglyphic painting, its ruin is more complete than the second group, to which we anxiously hastened. The first collection is about one hundred and twenty feet by one hundred, and the walls, fifteen to eighteen feet high, enclose a large court, on three sides of which are rooms. The outer walls of all the ruins are composed of oblong panels of mosaic, forming grecques or arabesques. There seems to be no sculpture on the walls, but only this peculiar mosaic, formed of pieces of stone, each one about seven inches in length, one in depth, and two in breadth, accurately cut, and fitted into the face of the wall, forming patterns so complicated in their nature that only the accompanying engravings can properly represent them. This mosaic, all the figures of which are rectangular or diagonal, gives the distinctive character to Mitla that distinguishes it from all other ruins. The façades of the Yucatan ruins are carved, while Palenque is noted for its sculptures and stucco in bas-relief, and Copan for its idols and altars. We are overwhelmed with the magnificence of this great work as a whole, and impressed by the careful execution of the details of this stupendous undertaking.
Beneath a wall of the northern building is an underground chamber, known as the subterraneo, in the shape of a cross, each arm about twelve feet long, five and one half feet wide and six and one half feet high. The immense block of stone that covers the junction of the two galleries is supported by a monolith, called the "Pillar of Death," from a tradition that whoever embraces it will die before the sun goes down. To the horror of our Indian guides, each of our party took particular pains to embrace that pillar most affectionately, and we still live. Traditions are rife about these ruins. One relates that from this subterraneo leads a long, underground passage, across the court, to another subterranean chamber, which one account represents as full of treasure, and another as full of mummies. The soil of the court has been dug over at various times by treasure-hunters, and it is confidently believed that two old Indians residing here are cognizant of an immense amount of buried gold and silver; but they will not reveal it, and merely extract sufficient to keep them comfortable.
We crawled into the subterraneo, which was about three feet square, and, as it seemed to extend farther, our archaeologist was fired with the desire of opening it. Accordingly, having secured permission from the jefe of the village, he set a dozen Indians at work, some with long steel ox-goads, to sound the cavities, and others with wooden shovels. The result of a whole day's labor was to show that there was formerly a tomb there, but that the passage, if any existed, had been filled up hundreds of years ago. The interior of this chamber was of faced stone, with panels of that wonderful mosaic, which was repeated in adobe bricks. The third group is the most interesting, since not only are the outside walls cut in mosaic, but there are several rooms and courts, the sides of which are a labyrinth of grecques. The lintels of this and the adjacent ruin are immense blocks of porphyry, one of which is nineteen feet in length, a solid block of stone, raised to its present position by some lost process of engineering, certainly by one that is unknown to the Indians of to-day. The rooms are narrow, and at present open to the sky, but were once undoubtedly protected by a roof. But what distinguishes the ruins of Mitla from all other remains of Mexican architecture is, as stated by Humboldt, six columns of porphyry, fourteen feet in height, which are ranged in line in the centre of a great hall. They are very simple, having neither pedestal, capital, nor architrave, but stand as almost the only examples of the kind found in American ruins.Above these ruins is a stone church, in the central portion of this bench of the foot-hills on which they are built. We entered the curacy adjoining the church, which was simply the old building of the Indians, roofed with tiles, and were hospitably received by the cura, who recounted to us the traditions respecting his strange abode. This ruin is larger than the others, being 284 feet long and 108 wide, with walls five or six feet thick. Two great stone pillars, twelve feet high, stood in front of the doorway. The walls had the same ornamentation of diagonal mosaics, and the portion used as a stable contains the best preserved fragments of paintings in the ruins, of characters resembling the Egyptian, exquisitely colored in red and black, the colors yet fresh and bright. The cura was very intelligent, though he had Indian blood in his veins, and he had very clear ideas as to the uses of the various buildings. The first group, he said, was probably used as quarters for the troops; the second, the largest and most elaborate, was the palace of the king of the Zapotecs, who came here two or three months in each year, as to a buen retiro; the third and highest building, from which and out of which the church was built, was used by the priests, and these paintings that adorned the panels in the walls were probably hieroglyphical, and in their custody.
There was one more ruin, a pyramidal mound about seventy-five feet in height, faced with stone, with a series of stone steps fronting westward, and containing to-day, like the pyramid of Cholula, a chapel on its summit. "I am inclined to believe," says Bancroft, "that Mitla was built by the Zapotecs at a very early period of their civilization, at a time when the builders were strongly influenced by the Maya priesthood, if they were not themselves a branch of the Maya people." Scattered over the ground, as about the pyramids of San Juan, near Mexico, are idols of clay and rude implements of stone. The children brought us many, some excellently carved, flat heads of terracotta, that probably once served as ornaments for the walls against which they were stuck. Mention is made of stone wedges, and axes and chisels of copper, having been found in the ancient quarries, yet visible, not far distant from the ruins. That the hills about are full of ruins which no one has seen of late, we were fully convinced. We visited several sepulchral structures of stone, their inner surfaces carved into the same strange shapes as adorned the walls.
Professor Bandelier, sent out by the Archaeological Institute of America, had remained here twelve days, but had not seen these paredones, or Indian walls, in the hills which we visited. The first one we saw at the hacienda of Sagá, and Mr. Bliss and myself visited it while Mr. Aymé carried on his measurements and excavations at Mitla, from which it is one league distant. It is called the "subterranean palace," is beneath the house of the proprieter of the hacienda, and was discovered some twelve years ago. The first intimation that this modern house had been built above a tomb of the departed Indians was from a phosphoric light, that a servant saw dancing over an aperture in the floor of the main hall. An excavation revealed a vast vault in the shape of a cross, each arm of which was about thirty feet in length. Three skeletons were found stretched out in it, which crumbled to dust on exposure to the air. The sides of the great blocks, about five feet in height, were ornamented after the fashion of Mitla, but instead of mosaics the figures were cut from the solid stone. This was of a fresh red color, and the raised portions in relief were burnished. Perhaps all those on the walls of Mitla were, at one time; but these alone have preserved their color, by having been buried.
We effected our descent to the tomb through a hole covered by a loose plank in the floor, and escaped from the damp and dismal place in the same way. Then the courteous proprietor supplied us with horses, and we ascended the high hills in quest of the paredones above the valley,—a most tedious climb, over ridges and through barrancas. We found the largest paredon in a dense thicket on a hill commanding the whole valley, near the gap through which passes the trail to the Mixe village of Ayutla. A sepulchre is formed here, of massive blocks, in the form of a cross, about ten feet deep, six wide, and thirty long. All the inner faces of these immense blocks are sculptured, like those at Sagá, while other dressed rocks are scattered about.
About two miles from Mitla is a high hill, the top of which has been levelled and fortified. A wall of stone from ten to twenty feet in height completely surrounds it, in all more than a mile in length. The hill is about six hundred feet high, precipitous and inaccessible except towards Mitla, where the wall is not only double, or overlaps, but the entrances are not opposite each other and penetrate the walls obliquely. After a very hard climb we reached the summit, where we found the remains of adobe dwellings, great heaps of stones, as though gathered for defence, and thousands of fragments of pottery. There were also great rocks poised near the battlements, as if ready to be toppled over upon an enemy attacking from below. The fortification follows the contours of the cliffs, at all points presenting a perpendicular face to assailants. The hill completely dominates the little valley hidden from the world in this romantic spot, and overlooks the larger valley outside and all the dry plains and hills about Mitla. It was evidently built by a different people from those architects of the palaces below, and it must have served well as a place of defence. Terrible battles have been fought here, one of the greatest of which, if we may believe tradition, was regarding the possession of Montezuma's daughter. It seems that the king of the Zapotecs and the king of the Miztecs each desired the daughter of the Mexican king for his son to marry. She was given to the Zapotec, upon which the king of the Miztecs made war upon him, and a sanguinary battle was fought upon this very hill, overlooking the palaces of the Zapotec king, and the Miztecs were defeated.
At sunset, we descended from this deserted fortress to the valley that lay below. A solitary plain stretched before us, covered with rock and stone, and a few dry bushes. It was late, and even the pasture boys had gone to their huts, and all was still. As I walked down the steep slopes, I thought upon what this valley must have been when Mitla was in its glory, swarming with the flower of Indian nobility, with men of intelligence, architects of skill, and warriors of renown. How did this little valley support them all? Was it always so dry and sterile? Where are those people now, and how long is it since they built these palaces and tombs? THE NEW DISCOVERY (SCULPTURED STONE). On our way homeward we visited the town of Teotitlan, the "dwelling of the god," so called because the chief deity of the Indians once had his residence on a high peak overlooking the town. We were met by the alcalde, who wore nothing but a hat, shirt, and sandals, but who carried a silver-headed cane as a badge of authority. The people of the village were clad in rags and were very dirty, while the children roamed around with no covering to their nakedness but their hats, and some of these even were brimless.
A thunder-storm came over and prevented much exploration, but we discovered several large stones, one with a carved representation of a tiger on it, and bought a few very curious jars, or pots, of peculiar make, and very uncommon. The traditions of this place are well preserved, and though the people are inhospitable, an archaeologist of perseverance could pass a most profitable season among the hills and in the valley of Tlacolula.
Some years ago, in this valley, a great discovery was made of a large number of copper axes; nearly a bushel of them were ploughed up, by a very intelligent friend of ours, Señor Fidencio Fenochio. Unfortunately, as they were of nearly pure copper, they were melted down, to be used in the reduction of silver. TWO TYPES OF "COPPER AXES." But our party secured a number, and the six that fell to my lot were the first, so far as could be ascertained, ever brought to the United States. Two of these went to the Smithsonian Institution, and four to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, at Cambridge. Upon analysis they proved to be almost unalloyed, the Smithsonian specimens containing 98.7 per cent of pure metallic copper, the balance being iron, arsenic, and antimony. Prof. F. W. Putnam, a high authority, describes these specimens, as well as all others known of American aboriginal copper ornaments and implements, in a paper which is unquestionably the most valuable contribution to our knowledge of the subject. Among the "axes" obtained by me were two of the shape of the Greek Tau, of pure copper and very thin. A figure of each type is here shown, reduced in size. Although the larger and thicker specimens may have served as axes, yet the tenuity of the smaller ones forbids any supposition that they were so used. They most probably served as currency, and as articles of tribute.
After our return to the city of Oaxaca, our chief projected a series of expeditions to the hill towns and mountain districts of the great State, which involved three long and fatiguing journeys among the Indians of the sierras, where gentes de razon, or "reasonable men," were scarcer than the gold which was the object of these expeditions. We rode, in all, over nine hundred miles, horseback and muleback, and our adventures were of such a romantic character as to be almost out of place in a sober book of travel. At all events, the space at my disposal will not permit me to include them, and I hasten on to the conclusion of my explorations in Southern Mexico; though with extreme regret, for notes made from the saddle are always more interesting than those from a car window, and fresh fields far more fascinating than a region traversed by beaten paths.
Our friend and companion on these excursions was a noted horseman of Southern Mexico, Don Santos Gomez, who provided the best of horses and the safest of mules, conducting us to our destinations with the tender solicitude of a mother. Each caballero of the party was fully equipped after the Mexican fashion, which is the best in the world for travel on horseback. On his head he wore a broad sombrero, or felt hat, of native manufacture, and from his shoulders, in the cool of morning or evening, depended the sarape, or blanket shawl, also the product of native skill. Having a slit in the centre, through which the head was thrust, it fell around him in graceful folds, hiding the broad belt about his waist, which contained a cuchillo, or broad-bladed knife, and his revolver, and covered likewise the saddle, as well as a goodly portion of the beast he rode. For the rain he had his manga de agua, or rain-cloak, a rubber sarape, like the poncho of South America, so broad and ample that it not only protected the rider from rain, but could be spread out over the animal beneath him from head to tail.
The sarape, I am inclined to believe, is an aboriginal garment, worn by the Indians of Mexico in pre-Columbian times. It is made about two metres in length and one in breadth, nearly always with a short fringe at either end, and generally colored in bright stripes with native dyes. It is, in fact, a long, gay-colored blanket, with a slit in the middle, always parallel to its longer sides, which is the centre of a pattern-work more or less ornamental, according to its nature and price. I have noticed that there is a similarity of pattern in all the sarapes which have come under my observation, the ornamentation of the centre being always in certain zigzag lines, which reminded me of the grecques on the walls of the palaces of Mitla.
We did not adopt the extreme Mexican costume, as worn by our guide, Don Santos, with leather breeches, or shaggy goatskin chaparreros, nor deck our heels with enormous silver spurs,—which, though often several inches in diameter, are less cruel than the needle-pointed English ones; nor were our jackets of embossed and silver-braided leather, nor our pantaloons ornamented with silver buttons adown their seams. For we had assumed the garb of the Mexican only as it should contribute to our comfort, and were not intending to lay siege to any fair señorita,—if perchance any such existed in the sierras,—or to display ourselves otherwise than as caballeros en viage, or gentlemen on a journey.
Coming down from our third and last trip into the hills, on the 8th of September, it was found that the next steamer for the United States would sail from Vera Cruz on the 13th. To reach the nearest point on the railroad to the coast necessitated a horseback ride of one hundred and seventy miles, clear through to Tehuacan, over an extremely rough mountain road, and with scant three days to do it in. Don Santos, who had been a most active courier in the Franco-Mexican war, and had served in various pronunciamientos, volunteered to place me in connection with the railroad within three days, or kill his best horse in the attempt. And he did it, without damage to his gallant stallions, but at an expense to myself of a fever, which has racked my bones at intervals ever since.
My good guide left me at the station in Tehuacan, where, after placing in my hands the bridle of the horse I had ridden so many long days and nights, and to which I had become devotedly attached, he embraced me with all the affection of a brother, and wished me God speed on my journey. He was a type of the true and trusty guide of Mexico; may he long survive to guide other travellers where I have been!
DON SANTOS, CABALLERO. To one who has travelled for nearly two months with no other means of transportation than mules and horses, the sight of a railroad is most refreshing. Even if he make what may be called a Mexican connection,—that is, find himself just twenty-two hours late for the train,—he has consolation in the fact that he is again in a portion of the country where a train runs at stated intervals, even though but once a day. I had been in the saddle, previous to reaching the station of Esperanza, for sixteen days; in the last three, had ridden one hundred and seventy miles, sixty in the last day, and had reached the railroad in a state of exhaustion and fever, for which the great heat of the southern valleys, in violent contrast to the cold of the high plateaux, was mainly responsible.
Two months previously I had left Cordova for Southern Mexico, taking with me but little luggage, as the travel was to be on horseback, and had left nearly all my effects with a worthy man whose acquaintance I had made but a few days before. At that time the yellow-fever was within eighteen miles of Cordova and rapidly advancing up the mountains. Now it was in the town itself, and raging still more fiercely than at the coast, and it was reported that the small-pox was carrying off such as the vomito spared. Three telegrams, sent in advance, elicited no response from my friend, and I feared he had departed, a victim to the vomito, until the dreaded station was reached, and my luggage found in possession of the agent.
It is a very strange fact,—but nevertheless a fact,—that, no matter how much the vomito has devastated a place, the prominent people all seem to be spared. Here in Cordova, it was reported, a dozen people had died daily for a month, yet at the depot there were the same officials, the same porters, even the same women and children selling mangos and pine-apples.
Dreaded by many is the passage through the city of Vera Cruz during the summer or the autumn months. Every precaution is taken against delay there, and people en voyage hurry through hardly daring to draw a deep breath till safe on shipboard. My calculations had been made with an eye to this fact, with the intention of going direct from train to steamer; but there was a great obstacle to the carrying out of this plan. As we got down clear of the mountains and were crossing the Llanos, we were saluted by furious blasts; the palm trees were wildly lashing their trunks with their long leaves, and the wind whistled and howled through the train.
A chronic complaint along the coast of Vera Cruz is that blast of Boreas called the "Norther." It swoops down upon the sea like a bird of prey, sending ships ashore, and laying low many a forest monarch and many a residence on land. The open roadsteads of this coast offer no protection, except for the slight shelter afforded by the island and castle of San Juan de Ulua, in the bay of Vera Cruz. The sea dashes over the quay in great waves, and over the sea-wall into the streets, covering the customhouse with spray, and the houses of even the back streets with incrustations of salt. The wind howls through the streets, filling everybody with sand and consternation; but it is a welcome visitor, nevertheless, and the amount of disease and fever germs it dislodges, and sends off to be dissipated in thin air, cannot be calculated. During the "Norther" all the small boats and lighters are drawn out and hauled up beyond the reach of the surf. Larger boats and steamers are made as snug as possible, and the crews rejoice in a short period of enforced leisure.
By this series of gales the steamer was detained three days beyond her usual time of leaving, and I, after having made such frantic efforts to reach her, after having ridden so fast and far to catch her, found myself stranded (as it were) in Vera Cruz till the storms were over. Then we departed from this glorious country, from this land of surprises, of deep, impenetrable forests, shrouding from human view cities born thousands of years before our history began, and at the port of Progreso, at the extreme tip of Yucatan, we finally said good by to Mexico.
Seven months previously I had landed on this very shore, a stranger, not knowing a single soul. I had gone into the interior, and had since travelled many a mile through the forests and over the plains and mountains of New Spain. Now I was returning to the "States," laden with the spoils of many a foray in historic fields, and rich in the recollection of many friends,—pursued, perchance, by the curses of a few enemies. It seemed like parting from scenes of home, when we steered away from Yucatan, and the low sand-hills, with their fringes of palms, amongst which nestled red-roofed houses, sank down behind the sea.
Two days later, we were dodging the carriages in the streets of Havana, and listening to the band, at evening, as it filled the cool air with music in the Parque de Ysabel. Havana, too, was stricken with yellow-fever, but we heard more of it before we reached the port than after we had entered it. Indeed, the port officials, rotten with pestilence and jaundiced with past fevers, wished to place us in quarantine, instead of warning us against infection on land. But we sauntered on shore, and took aboard cargoes of sugar and tobacco, and really gave the fever little thought. Nor had we any occasion to, though we were saddened, and reminded that the climate of Mexico was not entirely perfect, by the death of one of our number, only one day out from Havana. We buried him next morning at sea, almost within sight of the Florida coast, and three days later we crossed the Gulf Stream, and entered the harbor of our grandest city.
THE BORDER STATES.
"O vale of Rio Bravo! Let thy simple children weep;
Close watch about their holy fire let maids of Pecos keep:
Let Taos send her cry across Sierra Madre's pines,
And Algodones toll her bells amidst her corn and vines;
For lo! the pale land-seekers come, with eager eyes of gain,
Wide scattering, like the bison herds, on broad Salada's plain."
BY RAIL TO NORTHERN MEXICO.
I AWOKE, one morning, on the banks of the Rio Grande, the great river separating the two republics of the North, with twenty-five hundred miles between me and the city from which I had departed five days before. I had left it in the gloomy twilight of an evening in May, on the first day of that month of disappointments.
O the kaleidoscopic changes of that ride by rail! We left New York with hardly a tree in blossom; in Western Pennsylvania, the cherries, peaches, and pears were bursting into bloom; in Ohio, they had hidden their skeletons of branches in sheets of pink and white; and in Indiana and Illinois, as the great road trended southward, foliage and flower vied in its display of verdure and efflorescence.
Night fell about us in the centre of the famous Horseshoe Curve, partially veiling its glories and its beauties; but before the second day had drawn to a close we had reached the Mississippi, had crossed its miracle of a bridge, and had entered the city which stands at the confluence of our mightiest rivers,—St. Louis. Thirty-six hours and a thousand miles parted us from the great metropolis of the coast; but we did not stop here, for a train was in waiting in the great Union Depot, and it was but a step from Eastern to Western track; another iron steed was harnessed into our carriage, and in another hour we were dividing the mists that lay above the Missouri prairies. At daylight, next morning, we were half-way across the State, at ten o'clock we sliced off a corner of Kansas, and at noon were in the Indian Territory. When I sought my berth that night, the third of the journey, we were still speeding across the boundless Indian prairies; but when I awoke, next morning, the beautiful plains, with vast herds of cattle feeding on them, and covered with flowers of every color, proclaimed our entrance into Texas. Diagonally across this grandest of States we drew a southward-trending line, and the thousand pictures that danced before our eyes—that appeared, vanished, and were replaced by others, which in turn waltzed away into space—were seen through the crystal plate of a hotel-car window. We ate, we played, we slept; we awoke refreshed, to renew the blissful experience of the day that had passed, with an ever-recurring change of scene.
And so, as I said at the beginning, we reached the Rio Grande, where I opened my eyes from my fourth night's restful repose, and left with keen regret the shelter of my temporary house on wheels.
It is at San Antonio, one hundred and fifty miles from the Rio Grande, that one first enters a really Mexican settlement. Beyond San Antonio, running south, the great inclined plane of Texas, which slopes to the Gulf of Mexico, and which is fertile in the northern and central portions of the State, becomes more sterile, and is covered with chaparral, of cactus, yucca, and mesquit,—vegetation anything but attractive, though shading a peculiarly sweet and nutritious grass, which renders this region desirable for the cow-boy and ranger. It is not my purpose to describe other country than that pertaining to Mexico; yet in Texas we find ourselves in a former province of New Spain, and at San Antonio in an ancient Mexican town, set down in the centre of a very pleasant and fruitful region.
The scenery of this section, though of the finest, is less attractive to me than its history; for here were established, as early as 1690, by monks coming up from Queretaro and Zacatecas, those frontier missions of Mexico. The "Mission Period" lasted from 1690 to 1820, or so long as the Spaniards held possession of Mexico; but at the opening of this century, Texas, although a province of New Spain for one hundred and fifty years, was almost unknown to Americans. Austin's bold project of colonization opened it to the North, and in a few short years it became more populous and prosperous than any State of the Mexican confederation. Then came the inevitable trouble between the hardy and independent citizens of this remote province and the military rulers sent to govern them from Mexico. After the massacre of the Alamo, in 1836, the Mexicans lost men, and courage, and territory, until the last was finally entirely wrested from them, and the limits of Old Mexico fixed at the Rio Grande, instead of the Rio Sabinas.
But, except to pause a moment to gather up these scattered threads of history that connect San Antonio with the country we are about to visit, we have no cause to linger here; our destination is Mexico. Let us return to the Rio Grande. The Mexican monks pushed their religious conquests into the Indian country, founding fortified posts as far east as San Antonio; but there was no permanent settlement on the Rio Grande until 1737, when the Presidio of Laredo was established. Herds of cattle and horses gradually extended over the intervening country, and to the south and west; but at the breaking up of the colonies, in 1820, these became the prey of the Indians, or ran wild, and gave rise to great droves of mustangs, which were in later years found grazing here in countless numbers.
So complete became the desolation of this southwestern section that, when General Taylor marched with his army from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande, in 1846, it is said that not an inhabitant existed there. It was not till 1850 that the repopulating of this portion of Texas commenced, when the mustangs were caught or killed, and the foundations laid for that great enterprise of stock-raising, to which alone this arid region is adapted. Over this apparently worthless territory the stock-raisers of Texas are now quarrelling bitterly, and running fences in every direction, one owner alone having above one hundred miles of barbed wire around his ranch.
Along the entire length of the treacherous Rio Grande, there are few natural passes through the sterile hills that guard its banks. Laredo is situated at one of these, and is the objective point for the great railways, which are shooting their steel shafts across the Border, and which take no heed of men or towns, but seek for passes with natural advantages. It is the largest town in Webb County, which has an area of fifteen hundred square miles, and lies along the river. Its climate is mild, though trying, and cattle are pastured throughout the year, though only about one tenth the county area is fit for cultivation. The population of the county is about eight thousand, which represents a gain of six thousand in ten years; and its taxable property $2,000,000, or a million and a half more than in 1870. Laredo itself contains about six thousand inhabitants, constantly increasing in number, and the American element yearly gaining on the inert and useless Mexican.
Every town on the Rio Grande has its counterpart on the opposite side of the river, and so there is here a new and an old Laredo. One, the American, is busy, prosperous, progressive; the other, the Mexican, is idle, lifeless, and gone to decay. Yet, notwithstanding that the American Laredo has such an undesirable neighbor, it is advancing with mighty strides, dragging after it the moribund carcass of its sister town, which it is all but resuscitating, in its own efforts to enter into a new and quickening life. It is an American town engrafted upon a Mexican stump, but which might have been a yet more vigorous shoot if it had been a seedling in virgin soil, instead of a nursling with decaying roots.
There are few beautiful buildings in Laredo, but these are ambitious ones, such as the court-house and jail, which cost nearly sixty thousand dollars, and those of the several railways. If I were writing of the Laredo of five years hence, I should speak of handsome and substantial structures, for these are destined to be built. The Mexican character of the town is visible in its plaza and church, the former treeless, and the latter more barren of ornament than is usual in the houses of worship in Catholic Mexico.The town has a bank, several second-rate hotels and first-rate bar-rooms, many large mercantile houses, an "opera-house," a ten-thousand-dollar school fund, telephones, and water-works, and electric lights in prospective for the very near future. Yet, withal, Laredo is set down in the midst of a landscape that is absolutely heart-rending in its dreariness, and rejoices in a
|Main Plaza.||MONTEREY.||Bishop's Palace.|
climate that, though healthy, is most discouraging and appalling, alike to resident and new arrival. It is hot, but that is nothing; it is windy, but that does not signify; yet when heat and wind combine, and the one scorches the Rio Grande sand until it is fine grit, and the other hurls it into the air in whirlwinds of dust, then the dweller in Laredo muffles his head and curses his unhappy lot, while the temporary sojourner curses likewise, but departs. But for the heat, and the sand, and the fleas, and the Border Mexican, it would be pleasant to live in Laredo, if one were not obliged to gaze continuously upon its joyless scenery. But as Laredo is the "gateway" to the promised land of Mexico, one need not remain here if he choose to go farther, for here two great international lines cross the Border and invade Mexican territory. One hundred and sixty-seven miles west is Corpus Christi, the Gulf terminus of the "Mexican National" railroad, while to the north is San Antonio, connected with Laredo by the "International and Great Northern." Here the "Oriental," the southern courier of the vast "Gould System" of railroads, leaps straight across the river, penetrates the tierra caliente, or hot coast region, and draws a direct line for Mexico City. Thence it will be continued southward by the "Mexican Southern," a concession controlled by General Grant, and eventually may penetrate the confines of Guatemala, and even Central and South America. Who knows? With a management presided over by the greatest general of our armies, and the skilful organizer of our railways, it is possible that within a decade of years one may obtain, over the "Gould System" of roads, a through ticket from New York to Panama, or from St. Louis to Quito. All possibilities seem limitless, after an inspection of the great lines of the Southwest, thrown into Mexico through the force of genius and enterprise.
The muddy Rio Grande was bridged by the railways but little over a year ago, until which time it had always been crossed by ferries. It was in the dry season; at that time it was but a gentle stream, meandering sluggishly between its sandy banks, and which a man could almost wade across. It endured the ignominy of being spanned, without remonstrance; but as the melting snows fed its mountain sources, far away in Colorado and New Mexico, and its multitudinous branches swelled its current to a torrent, it then, in the expressive language of the West, "just humped itself," and bore those bridges triumphantly away to the Gulf on its turbid bosom. But it is not always that man proposes and river disposes, for the structures of iron and stone now built will be able to defy old Rio Grande in his wildest mood.
The bridge we crossed, belonging to the "National," was built, it was said, in eight days. The distance from Laredo to Monterey, our destination, is one hundred and seventy miles, for the road does not directly approach it, as land is worthless here, and a road must zigzag over the country, and cover a good deal of it, in order to get some return for its outlay. It would seem that Nature intended the broad and arid Rio Grande valley to be forever a dividing line between the two republics; though steam and electricity were things not taken into account in the original plan of the continent, so that excellent roads now span otherwise impassable areas, and conduct to fertile fields beyond.
The frontier is crossed at about seven in the morning by the daily train which reaches Monterey at six in the evening. On the Mexican side of the frontier the luggage is examined by gentlemanly customs officials, and later on the road a polite young man makes pretence of peeping into your valise; but further than this there is no inconvenience, and you would not know that the smoothly-running train was not in the United States. The "National" is a narrow-gauge (three feet), but the cars are wide and comfortable, and those of the first class contain reclining chairs. For three hours the passage is through a desolate and forbidding country; then the mountains, offshoots of the Eastern Cordillera, show their crests, always fantastic in shape, and toned by distance into amethyst and purple. They present every variety of outline: conical, jagged, and even rectangular, the most conspicuous example of this last, the mesa, or table-topped hill, being opposite the town of Lampazos, about seventy-five miles from Laredo. This mesa has perpendicular walls, a thousand feet high, it is said, and a surface of nearly a thousand acres. To the top the only access is by a narrow, zigzag path, which only a man, or a donkey, can ascend. And if a man is very much of a donkey, he cannot get up at all. Here, strange to say, is a community of poor people, with a church and a school, and the soil is fertile, and produces great crops of corn for its owner, Señor Milmo, the rich banker of Monterey. Señor Milmo, by the way, is a living witness to the fact that fortunes have been made by foreigners in Mexico; for he, though Irish by birth, married the daughter of a rich hacendado, and so acquired his money and his mesa. Richly has he been repaid for whatever sacrifice he may have made in leaving the stately halls of the Emerald Isle,—with such others of his countrymen as occasionally condescend to honor America with their presence,—as not only has he gained to himself rich store of gold and pesos, lands and cattle, but even his name has undergone a transformation. For whereas in his native land he was known only as plain Pat Mullins, he now rolls under his tongue as a sweet morsel the sonorous sobriquet of Señor Don Patricio Milmo!
Now, why does not Mexico entice thither more of the sons of Erin? What have we of the United States to offer in lieu of such distinction as this? Nothing, alas! We can, indeed, bestow upon them the paltry honors and emoluments of office; but what avails this to the Celt, whose noble nature spurns all lucre as dross? Let our rulers look to this. Let them at once enact that every immigrant be addressed as a "Don"; else New York may lose many influential citizens, and Castle Garden become a howling wilderness!
At the station of Palo Blanco we are in the midst of a region of upland, and many small towns are passed on the mesquite-covered plains, the principal of which are Salado, Lampazos, and Villaldama; but they are not on the railroad, but nestle far away at the foot of a hill, or in a plain where a darker green indicates cultivation and gardens. Mines reputed wealthy in galena and silver—or in traditions of them—give a certain importance to some towns, and Bustamente, sixty miles from Monterey, is celebrated for the products of its looms. There is here a colony of Indians, descended from the Tlascalans who fought by the side of Cortés, and whose ancestors were sent here to form a nucleus of civilization in the centre of the barbarous tribes who then overran the "Kingdom of Nuevo Leon."
At seven o'clock, and sunset, we entered a gap in the mountain wall which separates the valley of Monterey from the wretched country below, and were in an entirely different region. Hacks were in waiting to convey us to the city, which is a mile distant from the station, and to which also a fine tramway leads.
Perhaps that enterprising American who built the tramway from the railroad station to and through the city, whose expenses are about a hundred dollars a day, and who is constantly experiencing annoyances from the civil authorities,—being obliged, among other things, to carry a policeman on every car, who promptly returns every man ejected for nonpayment of fare,—rejoices exceedingly that his lines have been cast in such a pleasant place. It is presumed that he expects to recover a fair interest on his investment; and perhaps he will, if the powers that be cannot find a pretext for confiscating the line, and turning it over to some deserving native,—it being well known to the Mexican that the American has great constructive skill, but no executive ability. Everybody rode at first, from the novelty of the thing, but everybody did not pay; and doubtless the proprietor of the line realized the difference between his position and that of the owners of Northern street railways, whose patrons pay a six-cent fare for a five-cent ride. But the Mexicans are older, as a people, than the dwellers of the North, and perhaps more competent than they to deal with grasping monopolies.
Monterey lies on a fertile plateau enclosed by spurs from the Sierra Madre Mountains, at an altitude above the sea of sixteen hundred feet, and at a distance, in a direct line, from Mexico City of about four hundred and fifty miles. The scenery about Monterey is attractive, especially noteworthy objects being the mountain peaks. One of these, to the east, is known as La Silla, or Saddle Mountain, from a hollow in its ridge giving it the appearance of a Mexican saddle, and the other as La Mitra, to the west, which reminds one of a bishop's mitre.
To one to whom the Hispano-Mexican architecture is a novelty, the city must seem quite attractive, with its enclosed courts blossoming with flowers; but types of its buildings may be found in several of the earlier chapters of this volume.
The city was founded in 1590, although upon the site of a settlement
previously made, and is the oldest and most important of Northern Mexico. The climate is equable and salubrious, and in the gardens and orchards are found fruits of the South, as well as of the North. Like Chihuahua, it carries on its commerce chiefly with the United States, and since the completion of the railroad this has grown rapidly; the population has nearly doubled in the past decade, and now numbers forty two thousand. The buildings of note are the hospital, college, convent, city hall, and bishop's palace. This last-named building, on a hill to the west of the city, is a prominent landmark, not only in the suburban scenery, but in the history of modern Mexico. In September, 1846, the American army of the North had advanced as far into Mexico as Monterey, the capital of New Leon, and the key to all the northern provinces. In the city was the Mexican general, Ampudia, with 10,000 men, and this force the Americans, under Taylor, though only 6,500 strong, assaulted in their stronghold. They commenced the attack on the 21st of September, and after fighting desperately from street to street, assailed from house-tops and terraces by the populace, as well as by the regular soldiery, they penetrated to the central plaza. The next day, the strong position of the bishop's palace was carried by storm, and the entire force of Ampudia captured.
El Monte Rey, the King's Mountain, was for many years, in early times, merely a frontier post of the advancing Spanish civilization. Its location, in a fertile valley supplied with large springs, which pour forth a great volume of water, was most advantageous for trade with the Indians. The streams from these springs flow through half the town, and about their banks are clustered the mud and cane houses of the lower classes. In a stroll, one morning, I encountered a full company of soldiers industriously washing their clothing, and the while it was drying bathing their persons in the swift waters. A thing that will strike a stranger as anomalous in Mexico is, that though every shop in every city keeps and sells vast quantities of soap, and though everybody in the neighborhood of a stream is constantly washing, both himself and his garments, yet every person of the lower order is as dirty as though just dipped in a city sewer. As this fact has come under my observation through thousands of miles of travel, I have at last come to the conclusion that personal ablution in Mexico is done by proxy; that is, that certain ones are hired to exhibit at the lavatories, and thus save the credit of the more respectable of the community.
A great effort has been made, of late, to bring Monterey forward as a health resort, and pamphlets by the thousand, the work of some interested, though injudicious author, have been circulated, praising the city to the skies. There is certainly much here to recommend the place to the tourist. Its buildings are old and quaint, its central plaza delightful, its altitude above the sea sufficient to insure a pure and healthful climate, and it has, a few miles away, some very remarkable mineral springs. But to call Monterey an "Invalid's Paradise" is going a little too far. Because there are no American hotels of note, the food is vilely cooked, and the streets, over which said invalid must be jolted, and the walks, are broken and full of holes. There are no attractions in the suburbs to which an invalid would take pleasure in walking, for the city is completely begirdled by the huts of the lower classes, whose squalor and misery are not exceeded in any other city of Mexico.
Six miles distant from the city, and a mile from a station on the "National" road of the same name, are the hot springs of Topo Chico. There are two of them,—one very hot (208° Fahrenheit), and the other an arsenic spring, just tepid. As I have previously remarked, one needs to forecast events at least five years, in writing of Mexico in 1883; and it may seem uncharitable to mention that the accommodations for the suffering invalid, who has been lured by the seductive pamphlets to these waters of rejuvenescence, gushing out of the "Paradise" aforementioned, are utterly wretched. Yet that is the cold fact; and, until the great hotel goes up, which is promised mañana, and until the present horrible hack, without springs and with the hardest of boards for seats, is replaced by a luxurious carriage, I would advise a seeking of the more accessible thermal waters of the United States. With good hotels, one at the springs and another in the city, Monterey may some time claim as many visitors as its Californian namesake. In advance of the railway, and on its completion, there had been a great influx of Americans into Monterey, and the streets were tolerably full of disappointed fortune-seekers. They came here as to a new country, little realizing, until too late, that this very city was old when our republic was born, and that the Mexican, both Spanish and Creole, possessed an instinct for trade and a love for lucre as keen as the shrewdest Yankee in our country. Beyond establishing a few cheap bar-rooms, they had not accomplished much in the matter of business, and even though these charged a real for a glass of beer or lemonade, they did not seem to be making money.
Race prejudice is stronger here than in the interior, for the Border States have suffered more; and if any one imagines that the Mexican is disposed to allow the American to make a dollar, except by superior skill, he misunderstands the prevalent feeling. He is quite willing el Americano shall spend his own money in the building of railroads, tramways, and hotels, but he will resist strenuously any attempt to capture Mexican trade.
At the time of my residence in Monterey, the papers contained many bitter articles against "the North American invasion,"—el invasion Norte Americano,—some indeed quite able. The Revista, the leading journal, advocated government aid in favor of immigrants of the Latin race, and even of the Mongolian, as opposed to the Saxon, with strong arguments in favor of the first. The great Saxon wave that is now sweeping over Mexico is of course irresistible, and the Mexican's recognition of it, and of his own impotency in arresting it, tends to enrage and exasperate. But though it will be impossible to stay the progress of that southward-sweeping deluge, which threatens to obliterate race distinctions and even the autonomy of Mexico, yet it is most absurd for any American to go there thinking to wrest a living from the soil. In the plateau it is mainly sterile; in the tierra caliente, no unacclimatized immigrant can long survive the fatal climate, and in every portion there are Indians by the thousand ready to labor for less wages per week than would purchase the meals of an American for a day.
During the week of my stay in Monterey, four murders were brought to popular notice, but all committed, so far as we could learn, by aliens from over the Border. One of these was so brutal as to excite comment, even amongst the Mexicans. Two men, named Mudd and Leggett, waylaid and shot a Swedish railway contractor named Hickling, as he was driving through a lonely canon with his buggy laden with silver to pay off his men.
They were captured by Mexican police, who would doubtless have offered no opposition if the threats of lynching, freely made by the employees of the road, had been carried out.
By the Mexican law, no capital punishment could be inflicted; but the alcalde of the village near which the murder was committed thought he could so arrange matters that the chief actors in this bloody drama should be shot, and an accomplice sent to the fortress at Vera Cruz. This, I believe, was done, though it was after I left. They have a way in Mexico of inflicting the extreme penalty, without having the law on the statute-books, which is quite simple and effective. The judge remands a prisoner guilty of murder in the first degree to another court, or orders him transferred from one jail to another. It so falls out that the misguided wretch sees, or is led to believe that he sees, a way to escape, and attempts to run. Now no true Mexican would seek to establish a precedent so contrary to all the traditions of the country as to indulge in rapid locomotion, except in a case of life and death, and where his own was the life at stake. Thus it happens that the soldiers save their dignity, and their prisoner at the same time, by a volley from muskets ready charged in anticipation.
Mexican justice was not likely to prove tardy in this case, as the alcalde was even then smarting under an indignity offered to his own town. But a few days previously a telegraph operator had shot a Mexican "accidentally." Being a man of parts, and perhaps having already had a taste of Mexican law, he at once "lit out" in that expeditious manner designated in the Southwest as "between two days." The authorities immediately wired those below in Monterey to stop the culprit as he passed through; but the operator there, being an American, thought best not to deliver the message until his confrère was well over the Border. Then, being a prudent man, he also made hurried preparations to depart from a land where the atmosphere was not favorable to the transmission of electric currents. But the jefe politico, with an alacrity truly wonderful in one of his race, promptly clapped the delinquent into the calaboose,—el calabozo. It being represented to him, however, that the business of the line, as well as that of the municipality, would suffer, unless he were released, he was forthwith muleted to the tune of twenty five dollars and set at liberty; and the first train northward carried him likewise across the Rio Grande.
The third man concerned in the murder of the Swede escaped, and it was rumored, and afterwards confirmed, that he was hiding in the very house in which I was stopping. Our landlady was an exceedingly able woman, who had "roughed it" along the line for a number of years, and she declared that she knew Charley H. as well as she wanted to, and while she had little doubt as to his complicity in the matter, she wasn't "going to see him given up to any —— Greaser; but if a white man
wanted him, that was a different thing." One evening, at dusk, a horseman rode quietly up to our hotel door and inquired for the landlady; but before she had time to appear, one of the loungers about whispered something in his ear that sent him ambling rapidly down the street. It was no other than the mysterious third party, whom the police—a squad at that time being in our very court—were anxiously looking for; but doubtless before another sun had set Texas had claimed another recreant citizen.
Many of the frontier settlements of Mexico are yet in the condition of that Western colony which hung a tinker for an offence of the blacksmith,—because there were two tinkers in town and but one son of Vulcan. Policy plays a most important part in the decisions of justice; and hence it is that the Mexican army is full of red-handed murderers, who have only escaped being shot by shouldering muskets and becoming themselves defenders of the laws.
In an enumeration of the attractions of Monterey I should not forget the Plaza of Zaragoza, with its fountain and flowers, with the municipal palace on one side, and the cathedral on the other. In the palace are still shown three of the muskets with which Maximilian was shot, and other curiosities. The market building, the Parian, towers above just such a mat-covered pavement as is described in my chapter on the markets of Mexico, with filthy women and miserable men crouched beneath frail tula shelters, and guarding contemptible collections of fruit and vegetables. With an escort, ladies might visit the bishop's palace, now gone to decay and used as military quarters, the Campo Santo, or cemetery, and the "house in the tree," where a small structure is perched in the branches of a giant ceiba.
The bull-ring of Monterey is merely an enclosure of poles, so frail that an animal of spirit could demolish it in a single furious charge; not an amphitheatre such as we find in the federal district. Neither are there here any genuine Andalusian bullfighters, imported from Spain, as in the capital, who rarely fail to drive the rapier straight to the spinal marrow; nor was my blood stirred by the rabble in Monterey as it was at the first bull-fight I saw in Mexico, under the shadow of the hill of Chapultepec. As for another Mexican institution, the cock-pit, it is nothing more than a circular shed with thatched and pointed roof.South from Monterey a diligence formerly ran to the city of Mexico; but the constantly advancing railroad has pushed its
terminal stations nearer and nearer together, until it now merely covers the distance as yet untraversed by the iron horse. In company with the General Superintendent of the "National," I went over the road to the end of the rails, where horses and an ambulance were in waiting to convey him and his escort south to San Luis Potosi. A son of the lamented General Ord, a dashing young horseman, accompanied him as compañero, whom I had met two years previously with his father in Mexico City.
The gallant old soldier was as well known on the Border as the Mexican General, Treviño, who married his daughter, and whose aspirations for the presidency, as well as his capitulation to his opponent, Diaz, are well known. We had an excellent dinner in a construction car, and then, after gathering the details of the recent murder of his subordinate, the Swedish contractor. Superintendent Gardner gave orders to march, and his little cavalcade tightened their saddle-girths, buckled on rifle and revolver, and were soon hidden from my sight in a cloud of dust. The next place of importance south of Monterey is Saltillo, capital of the State of Coahuila, about sixty-five miles distant, a city of note, containing seventeen thousand inhabitants, with cotton factories and various native industries. The valley in which it is situated is considered fertile. The town lies on the slope of a hill; its streets are well paved; some of its buildings, as the church and bull-ring, are worthy of notice, and its alameda so fine as to attract the attention of every visitor. About seven miles beyond is the hamlet of Buenavista, famous for the battle fought there, on the 23d of February, 1847, between the forces of General Taylor and Santa Anna. The result of that battle was largely due to the almost impregnable position selected by Taylor in the pass of Angostura, where Santa Anna could not use his artillery or cavalry, nor derive much benefit from the great numerical superiority of his infantry. At all events, the five thousand Americans sent ten thousand Mexicans flying southward, so thoroughly whipped that the whole northern province remained in their undisputed possession. Agua Nueva, the village in which the American army was encamped at the approach of Santa Anna, lies at the upper end of a beautiful vale, called La Encantada,—the Enchanted Valley. Not finding this an advantageous position, Taylor fell back to Angostura,—the Narrow Pass,—where the valley, some six miles wide below, narrows to less than two.
The next great city south is San Luis Potosi, at a distance of 385 kilometres, say 275 miles, from Monterey. The intervening country is remarkably dry and sterile, and the plains, as described by a recent traveller, "dusty, monotonous, covered with cacti, aloes, and yucca,—yucca, aloes, and cacti,"—almost exclusively given up to vast haciendas with infrequent towns and ranchos. It is in the main a wretched and thinly populated region, so dry that wells and water-tanks are objects of interest, even of solicitude, and give names to various hamlets, as Agua Nueva and Tanque la Vaca. No more interesting object will be seen than the mountain of Catorce, with its famous mining town, about which are clustered traditions of bonanzas such as few silver regions can lay claim to. San Luis will interest a traveller coming from the North as a thoroughly representative metropolis, in streets and architecture, of Southern Mexico. It contains numerous churches, which possess excellent paintings, a fine cathedral, and an attractive alameda. The famous silver mines of Potosi, now fallen in and neglected, in a cerro within sight of the city, once produced enormously, and from one of them, it is said, was obtained the largest piece of solid gold ever found in America. It was sent to the king of Spain, who in return gave a large clock, which may be seen in the cathedral to-day. The city has a population of forty-five thousand, and is destined to be an important railway centre, as not only does the National, coming down from the north, connect it with Monterey and the United States, and, passing through, extend its trade to Mexico City, but a branch of the Central, leaving the trunk line at Leon, runs through to Tampico, 300 miles distant, on the Gulf of Mexico.
Passing beyond the southern border of the State of San Luis, we enter the great and famous hacienda of Jaral, which was—perhaps is now—the largest in Mexico. Half a century ago, its proprietor, the Marquis of Jaral, was reputed the largest landowner in the world, owning over three hundred thousand head of live stock, and slaughtering annually sixty thousand sheep and goats. His hospitality was unbounded, but his oppression of the peons of his estate bore heavily upon them; he even razed the houses of a village, and scattered the inhabitants, to prevent them from getting a town charter, which would give them control of the land.
Next south is the town of San Felipe, 6,900 feet above the sea, and next Dolores Hidalgo, chiefly remarkable as the parish of the Mexican patriot, Padre Hidalgo, where the first note of liberty was sounded, in September, 1810. Directly south, situated in the midst of a fertile and beautiful champaign, is the flourishing city of Celaya, containing thirty thousand inhabitants. Here the two great railroads meet and cross; the Central coming up from Queretaro and Mexico, and the National from Acambaro and the capital. By the former it is 180 miles to Mexico City, passing through Queretaro, ancient Tula, and the northern entrance into the valley; and by the latter 200 miles, through the large and quaint Indian cities of Acambaro and Maravatio, and the beautiful valley of Toluca.
From Saltillo, on the 24th of every month, a conducta, or silver train, starts south for the mines of Zacatecas, in charge of a noted conductor, who has safely transported millions of silver over this route. He has a band of excellent mules; his men are trusty and armed to the teeth, and his reputation is such that the ladrones, or robbers, always give him a wide berth. Being a most companionable and delightful man, he sometimes allows a traveller to join his caravan, and treats him like a prince. The march is leisurely made, the noonday halt is long, abundant time is allowed for hunting, and the fortunate guest is entertained with song and dancing at every hacienda. Notwithstanding that the completion of the railroad will obviate the necessity for horse or diligence, I think that, if again called upon to make the southward journey into Mexico, I shall seek out this courteous caballero and attach myself to his conducta.
- See Fifteenth Annual Report of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, 1882. In this Museum we find arranged, (through the indefatigable industry of Professor Putnam,) not only collections of the antiquities of Mexico, but specimens of indigenous products illustrating the growth of native industries in modern times.