Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans/Chapter 28
ALONG THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY.
WE made the journey down from Monterey to Laredo in a day so hot that the ironwork of the cars, and even of the reclining chairs, was hardly bearable to the touch. At eight o'clock of the morning succeeding I boarded a pay-car of the Pecos and Rio Grande Railroad, and ran north some thirty miles, to visit the coal-fields which that line had but recently entered. We reached the principal mine, San Tomas, at ten, and on the high bank of the Rio Grande, which is here about a gunshot across, found an excellent dump and veins of coal, alternating with seams of slate, two and three feet in thickness. The coal is semi-bituminous, burns freely, is easily mined, and the capacity of the company is not equal to the demand. The main drive at San Tomas is about a thousand feet, with an air-shaft five hundred feet from the entrance. Some twenty miles beyond is another deposit, and back along the line are several experimental shafts searching for seams of sufficient width—five feet—for profitable working. The great want of Mexico is coal, with which to supply the locomotives of the great international roads; and this discovery of veins on the Rio Grande, right at the Mexican portal, is likely to prove of great value and convenience.
Taking a "sleeper" on the "International and Great Northern Road," I departed from Laredo that night, and awoke next morning at San Antonio, which place I had left ten days previously, after a most delightful night of repose. If any place in the Southwest could tempt me to depart from my subject awhile and describe other sections than those pertaining to Mexico, it would be San Antonio, with its springs and parks, old mission building, and most perfect climate. But if we linger too long in Border land we shall not penetrate the region beyond. A day of delight I spent in San Antonio, and then, as I had returned this distance northward merely to make connection with another portion of Old Mexico, I took train westward for Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras.
Two vast systems, the Gould, or "Missouri Pacific," coming down from Saint Louis, and the Huntington-Pierce combination, the connecting link in the lengthy chain between San Francisco and New Orleans, meet here and cross. The "Sunset Route"—as this eastern division of the southern transcontinental line is called—owes its existence and success to the indomitable pluck, faith, and energy of Col. T. W. Pierce, of Massachusetts, who long ago, when railroads were almost unknown in Texas, projected the "Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio" road, from the Gulf of Mexico to the great plains, stretching away, vast and unknown, in the direction of the Western Ocean. Mile by mile, almost foot by foot, struggling against difficulties almost insuperable, this road was steadily pushed forward, until it at last reached San Antonio, and its engineers were received with ovations by the delighted inhabitants. Thence it sped westward into the region of sunset, taking its course through a fertile belt of counties; and perhaps might not have stopped this side of the Pacific itself, had not expediency suggested a halt. Eastward, feeling its way cautiously at first, but later progressing by impetuous leaps, another road was aiming to cross the vast Texan prairies. Another man, world-renowned for sagacity and bold emprise, C. P. Huntington, the Railroad King of California, had his eye upon this same territory. The result was a compromise, and the "Southern Pacific" completed the connections which made the Crescent City a neighbor to the Golden Gate. This gigantic enterprise, by which the East and West were united by a perennial route with a summer climate, was only perfected, and the last spike driven, four months previous to my journey over it. Yet here I was, rolling smoothly along, without jolt or jar, over a road perfect in every appointment, and in a train containing sleepers and palace cars, and with every convenience for travellers. And in this region, formerly so famous for the
exploits of the Border ruffian, all my changes, by a strange chance, were made at midnight, in quiet and perfect security. It was twelve o'clock when we reached Spofford Junction, where I left the Sunset Route and took its Mexican spur, the "International," for Eagle Pass and Mexico. The train I left sped westward, after exchanging news with the "California Express" going eastward. How strange it seemed, this meeting in the night, in the centre of an arid plain, of messengers respectively from the Mississippi and the Pacific! The place of meeting, named after the attorney of the road, R. S. Spofford, Esq., consisted, at the time of my arrival, of a few tents and shanties, while the land about, seen by moonlight, seemed sterile. For all that, it is destined to be an important station, when direct connections are made with the North.
In the gray dawn of a cool morning I walked through the straggling suburbs of Eagle Pass and sought a hotel. No one was stirring, but the hotel door was wide open, so I marched into the first vacant room, lay down on the bed, and pieced out my broken night's rest with a nap. After a breakfast of good quality, I strolled about the town, and then, taking my "gripsack" and revolver, went over the Rio Grande into Mexico. Eagle Pass possesses, in respect to local attractions, few advantages over Laredo, its rival down the river. Although the natural outlet of Mexican trade, lying at the entrance into the most fertile region of the Mexican Border, it will not progress with the rapidity of the southern town, but ten years hence will probably be a more prosperous city. My reasons for predicting this will appear, as we go over the length of railroad already built into Mexico.
In the language of the local paper, "The Maverick," which was started only the week before my arrival, Eagle Pass has had no "great big boom"; but since the advent of the railroad within her precincts, there has been a steady, substantial improvement and growth. The latest and surest indications of an advanced state of civilization, ice factories and telephones, may be found here, and at least one enterprising merchant has run one of the latter across the Border, as witness the following from the paper previously mentioned: "Jim Riddle has placed his Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras stores in connection by a telephone. We have heard of men who were 'penny-wise and pound-foolish,' but Jim ain't that kind of a hair-pin." If we needed further assurance that a future was in store for this enterprising town, we may surely find it in an item to the effect that "Hop Lee, Esq., a Celestian of great experience in the 'washeewashee' line," had opened a laundry opposite the post-office.
No town on the Border is going to retrograde with a live paper like "The Maverick" to guard its interests; and we heartily join in the invitation extended by the editor to a contemporary, to "shake" on his expressions of good will.
I crossed the Rio Grande over a temporary or "low-water" bridge, which had been thrown over in six weeks; the permanent one—if one can be permanent, in that terrible stream of floods and surprises—was then building, with an iron superstructure, and with six massive piers of cut granite founded on the bed-rock of the river. The town on the Mexican side of the river is Piedras Negras, attractive despite its filth and the squalor of many of its inhabitants. It is of stone and adobe, and lies about a mile away from the railroad station, which was then surrounded with tents, and houses in process of construction. Presenting my credentials, I was permitted to pass to the end of the track, in a box-car half filled with railroad ties, which every jolt of the train set sliding about in a most alarming manner.
Through the region having an outlet at Eagle Pass, formerly ran the great highway from Durango and Chihuahua and the rich Laguna country, northward, to San Antonio and St. Louis. The surface is nearly level, the soil fairly fertile, the crops of corn quite excellent, and the fields large, only needing irrigation to make them highly productive. Cultivation is not now extensive, as all available labor is employed on the railroad.
An immense trade was formerly conducted over this route by means of caravans, or trains, which also ran down to Chihuahua from St. Louis by way of Santa Fé and El Paso, a distance of over fifteen hundred miles; but later on, from Presidio del Norte and San Antonio. All this is changed since the advent of the railroad; but a picture of the trains in those old caravan days, by Mr. Bartlett, the United States Boundary Commissioner, may not come amiss. "If a merchant here desires to make his purchases himself in New York, or our other great markets, he must leave here in the fall, when it will require forty to fifty days to reach his destination by the way of New Orleans, His goods must then be purchased and shipped to Indianola, on the Gulf of Mexico, to be sent to San Antonio; or to St. Louis, and thence by water to Independence. Now comes the most difficult part of the transportation: wagons, mules, harness, and the various trappings, must be purchased, and teamsters procured,—all of which requires much time and
a large outlay. The large Missouri wagons, which carry from 5,000 to 5,500 pounds each, cost, all equipped, from $1,200 to $1,300 each, and twenty of these, which is not a large train, $26,000. Then each team must have its teamster, at $25 per month, and a wagon-master, or director of the train, at $100. Besides the ten mules to each team, fifteen or twenty extra are required, as on their long journeys accidents cannot be avoided. Men to herd and take care of the animals must also be provided, and, finally, provisions for the journey. This will give an idea of the expense of fitting out a caravan, or train; and if the merchant gets back with his goods in ten months from the time he left, without encounters from hostile Indians, or the loss of any of his wagons or their contents, in fording streams and otherwise, he may consider himself fortunate."
This was written in 1852; thirty years later, the railroad brought with it a change, and American goods now flood the market of Chihuahua at a slight advance over prices prevailing in the North.
Relics of that age of wooden wheels, when carts without a particle of iron in their composition were solely used by the native Mexicans, yet survive. All along the Border, as well as in the interior of Mexico, we meet with these carretas, with wheels hewn from a single block of wood, and yoked to the patient bulls or oxen by a rigid cross-bar lashed to their horns.
My companions in the box-car were about equally natives of Texas and Mexico, whose conversation was chiefly of bullfights and cock-pits. Piedras Negras, they declared, was full of thieves and murderers,—all Mexicans according to the Texans, but all Texans according to the Mexicans.
From the foreman of the gang I obtained some valuable information regarding the difficulties attending railway construction on the Border, and the jealousy with which the Mexican defends his prerogative. It was only the week before, he said, that his hand-car ran down a "Greaser" on horseback, by which half his men were seriously injured, and the horse killed. Unfortunately, he said, the Greaser was uninjured, and lay in wait for an opportunity for revenge, and shot at him as he was wiring a telegraph pole. A man up a telegraph pole would offer, presumably, a fair mark; yet the Mexican missed him, and the railroad man, descending hurriedly, brought him to terms, after a short, though exciting chase.
During one of our frequent breakings-up a jug of molasses was smashed, which proved a double disappointment, as the men thereby lost their sweetening, and we lost our seats on the floor. At about four o'clock in the afternoon we reached the end of track, having passed two towns of considerable size, though built of adobe and of the meanest sort, and through fifty miles of a country already attracting the attention of Texan rancheros. We met one of these worthies, a stalwart young American, with a carbine slung to his saddle and a six-shooter belted about his waist, guarding a large flock of sheep.
This "International" road, the Mexican offshoot of the "Sunset" system, pursues a southwesterly course toward the capital of Durango, where it will connect with the Central Railroad. If continued on from Durango, it will end eventually at the Pacific, at some point, depending upon a practicable pass through the Sierra Madres and a sheltered harbor with
navigable channel. It will thus form a great and much-needed transcontinental line between the Eastern United States and the Pacific Ocean; and, as it is being built without subsidy, it can choose its own route, and so seek out the territory richest in mining and agriculture. It enters first the great State of Coahuila, which contains two cities, eleven towns, and numerous haciendas and ranchos. The cities of Parras and Monclova are flourishing, productive centres, while the Sabinas valley contains bodies of extremely fertile land, and the Laguna country the only lakes of any extent north of Chapala and the valley of Mexico. A spur southward from Monclova can connect with the "National" system at Saltillo, whence is a straight course to San Luis Potosi and Mexico City.
This system, then, when perfected, will control a rich agricultural region, and will draw to itself, by branches and independent lines, the products of the valuable mines of the sierras. Mining operations in Coahuila are not now active, but were formerly, in districts now deserted, and which may revive with the coming of the railroad. Iron, in a pure state and in great masses, is found in the Sierra del Valle, and at other points, and copper, lead, amianthus, nitre, and sulphur, in various districts. A great furor was created, a few years ago, about the mineral deposits of the Sierra Mojada, which lie in a desert country, one hundred miles distant from the nearest centre of population. In the Government Report (Mexican) one hundred and forty mines are enumerated, showing nearly every mineral found in Mexico. It is supposed that this region will be profitably opened again when entered by the railroad, and hidden mines brought to light that the wild nature of the country has hitherto kept secret.
At the construction camp, where I was given a bunk by the physician in charge, and dined with the well-known contractors, the Monroe Brothers of California, I had an excellent opportunity of witnessing the wonderful operation of track-laying. At half-past six next morning, the advance engine blew its whistle for all hands to report for duty, and started for the front, pushing ahead of it a long line of platform cars laden with ties and rails. Each car contained thirty rails, fifteen on a side, sufficient for four hundred and fifty feet of track. A mule pulled it to the end of the rails laid the day preceding, when four men, armed with powerful tongs, seized a rail, two on each side, and ran it out, before the car had well come to a halt. "Steady," says the foreman; "drop," and it falls with a clang on the sleepers, while the other side does the same; the old mule draws the car ahead, and the process is repeated. Sharp after them come the spikers, two sinewy negroes in advance, who drive so rapidly that their strokes keep up a running clatter, and who do all the heavy work, the Mexicans not being up to it. Four gangs then follow behind the iron-layers on each side of the track, each one taking every fourth spike; meanwhile men are screwing up the bolts and nuts, and boys are dropping and gathering up the spikes; and before one has ceased to wonder at the rapidity at which the work goes on, the load is laid, and another is brought up; the procession constantly moves, leaving behind it an iron trail which progresses at the rate of over a mile a day.
At ten o'clock the telegraph men came along with a hand-car, on which was a revolving creel of wire, which was run out as they went along. A man took a loop of wire, climbed a pole,—not one was in sight at daybreak,—and attached it, while two companions tightened it on the stretch ahead. Connection was made with our car by a copper wire, and we were in correspondence with all the world, in a country which had been surveyed less than ninety days, in a valley in which not a tie spanned the road-bed ten days previously, and at a point at which the rails supporting our car were only dropped the day before!
Even so progresses the "North American invasion," from four several points at once, and constantly moving its advance guard a mile a day nearer the Mexican capital. Well may it cause the reflecting Mexican to tremble, and the unthinking to wonder! Here, as at Monterey, the "Greaser" makes his feeble protest against the inevitable advance; he cannot block the wheels of the engine, but he can annoy the engineer; so he rides his horse over the track, heedless of warning whistle, and drives his cattle in front of the locomotive. Down in the interior of the republic one of these conceited rancheros tried to stop an engine by lassoing the smoke-stack; as the lariat was a tough one, and firmly attached to the saddle, it may not be necessary to add that he did not repeat that experiment,—at least not in Mexico.
From the coming of the steam-horse, indeed, a new industry has sprung. Formerly, the scurvy and hide-bound cattle of this region were considered dear at ten dollars a head; now, they are scarce at fifty. And why? Because the Mexican has passed a law that every animal killed on the road shall be paid for to the tune of sixty dollars! And now these guileless "Greasers" are flocking to the railroad with their flocks and herds. Goats and sheep, emaciated cows and bulls, are as thick along the track as tenpins in an alley; no sooner is one knocked over than its place is taken by another, urged up the bank by its exultant owner.
The engine emits a constant whistle of alarm, while the engineer pours out a stream of blasphemy that would terrify any but a Mexican, to whom profanity is as mother's milk. The very first telegram that came over the wire to our car was to warn the road-master that the captain of police was in waiting for him up the road, as an old ten-dollar bull had been killed the day before, and the grief of its owner was great. At the same time, a Mexican was killed,—probably as he was pushing the bull on to the track; and as the engineer had "skipped the Border," the only thing clear to the officials now was to calaboose the road-master. The gentleman whose presence was so much desired by them was my companion back to the river; and he went very cheerfully, with the prospect of that calaboose in the distance. But he was disposed to take a somewhat sinister view of the "Mexican movement," I fear, from some remarks he casually let drop on the way.
"Now," said he, calling my attention to the letters painted on every car,—F. C. I. M.,—"what do you suppose those stand for?"
"Why, that, I presume, is an abbreviation for the name of the company, in Spanish,—Ferro Carril Internacional Mexicana."
"No, sir," said he, with emphasis, "it means Fools Caught in Mexico, in the ranks of which your humble servant doesn't propose to train any longer than he can help."
He informed me that the road was being laid with fifty and sixty pound rails, the former from England and the latter from Germany, which are admitted in bond, duty free, at New Orleans. The Mexican laborers he found willing to work, though weak at first, but they rapidly improved with good food, to which all their lives they have been strangers.
We started back on a grain car, receiving a cheerful send-off from the telegraph operator, to the effect that five men had been murdered up the track by the Kickapoos,—which we fully believed; and that four Kickapoos had been killed by the Mexican soldiers,—which we doubted.
The car was filled with dirty Mexicans, who were most intolerably saucy, but with whom we were soon quits, by leaving them switched off on a siding till morning, while we travelled for the Border on the engine. It was just sunset as we slid away, and left them howling lamentations at being left to the mercies of Los Indios barbaros, the Kickapoos. I don't believe there were ten Indians in the State; but even one is enough to cause a village full of Mexicans to run like smitten curs.
Reaching the Rio Escondido, or Lost River, we found the rails only "fourth-spiked," but we rattled over them safely, stopping to take water at the end of the bridge. Our road-master, thinking to astonish the keeper in charge of the water-tank, who lived here all alone, gave out that seventeen men had been murdered down the track, that all the section hands had fled, and that we had five Kickapoo "stiffs" aboard, being all we had "saved" of a party of fifty or more. To which information the waterman calmly replied, that he guessed the boys down the track had forgotten how to use their Winchesters. This was a rebuke to our friend, who said no more about the mythical "stiffs," and we went on without delay to the Rio Grande.
Orders from the superintendent arrested our engine on the southern bank of the river, and an alcalde and posse arrested our road-master, before he could secure his "grip" and a few necessary articles, and shake from his heels the mud of this land of "God and Liberty." We could not help him, and, as he went off to cool his heels in the calaboose, he earnestly advised us to depart at once from this wretched region, unless we wished to swell the ranks of the "fools caught in Mexico," with various phrases reflecting on the officials, which it is needless to repeat.The moonlight guided us over the low-water bridge and along the river-bottom, a mile or so, to the town, where I reached the hotel at about eleven o'clock, and in company with a young man who had been "run out" of the Sabinas valley on account of some infirmity of temper. I inquired what it was that had particularly incensed the Mexicans, and he said that it was only
because they couldn't understand his Spanish. He had given his orders to them in a tone loud enough to be heard over the entire valley of the Sabinas, but they persisted in not understanding him. "And so," he continued, "I pulled out a six-shooter and said, 'You miserable, God-forsaken yeller-bellies, and scum of soap-grease, do you understand that?'"
"And did they?"
"Well, I should smile. D' you s'pose I'd leave a good position of a hundred and fifty a month, and found, if I didn't have to? "
I left Eagle Pass with the silvery moonlight flooding its sandy streets; another midnight connection placed me aboard the California Express, and I awoke next morning at the Pecos River. The scenery here is grand enough to warrant a visit for no other purpose than to view it, for the track runs along the Rio Grande, beneath stupendous cliffs hollowed into natural caves. We crossed the Rio Pecos at Painted Cave, 224 miles from San Antonio, over an iron bridge that seemed hundreds of feet above the foaming river, while the mighty walls of rock towered high over the solitary station and the slender structure that spanned the chasm. Above the Pecos, the water of the Rio Grande seems clear and blue; below it, yellow and turbid. Both rivers flow rapidly along between gaunt and gray rock-ribbed banks, where the vegetation is solely bear-grass, and yucca, and bright flowers, with no succulent grass, and no living thing in sight.
Twenty miles farther on is Langtry, where, in a construction car switched off on a siding, we found an excellent breakfast awaiting us. There were no buildings here but the station, yet I read in an El Paso paper of that week, "A big boom seems to have struck Langtry on the 'Sunset'; the deputy surveyor of Pecos County is consulting with Mr. Roy Bean about laying off lots for a hotel and a stockyard in this enterprising town." I said to myself, as I read this item, that "big boom" must have knocked all the buildings clean out of the place; but the real significance of the paragraph is shown in an additional morsel of news: "Mr. Roy Bean is now ready to sell a few choice lots in this enterprising city." Yet I am ready to believe, knowing the astonishingly rapid growth of those frontier towns, that Langtry may be, at the present time of writing, a large and flourishing place.
Our dinner we took at Maxon Springs, 350 miles from El Paso, where the usual fine station buildings and water-tank, with a telegraph office in a side-tracked baggage car, comprised the town. Beyond the curious hills which surround this place, we passed a "prairie schooner" and a Mexican ox-team, encamped to escape the oppressive heat, while their poor animals sought vainly for a dinner off the parched and scanty herbage. It was a dreary country, the only other animate objects in view being the Chinese section hands, whose tents of flimsy canvas we occasionally passed, a hawk now and then, or a coyote. A fellow-passenger aptly pictured it, in a single sentence, as a region so poor that even a crow "would have to tote his rations over it."But the land improves as we go westward, and at Murphysville, 230 miles from El Paso, an active goat might get a good day's feed from less than an acre. Twenty-five miles back from this station is Fort Davis, an important military post, and southwest, about eighty miles distant, on the Rio Grande, is Presidio del Norte, once an important frontier town and the future initial point, perhaps, of the Mexican branch of a transcontinental railroad. The run to Valentine, 159 miles from El Paso, is over finer territory, which is eagerly sought by rancheros, who are willing to pay even four dollars an acre for it, as they are crowded out of the better lands to the north and east. At Valentine, which is a coaling station, with extensive sheds, a turn-table, and a round-house, we got an excellent supper, and then steamed on again, over a road everywhere smooth and excellent, with fat and lively deer skipping off towards the hills, coyotes loping away from the track, and prairie-dog villages appearing one after the other. Darkness settled about us, leaving the impression that we had now reached a land of plenty, and we saw no more of Texas until three o'clock next morning, when we ran into El Paso.
An omnibus was in waiting, and into it I climbed, but had hardly seated myself when the vehicle—which had rumbled off with great flourish and bluster—stopped, and the frouzy-headed conductor poked his face in and said, "Fork over!"
"All right, drive on."
"Why, to the hotel, of course."
"That's just where we be now, stranger."
I was too sleepy to expostulate over the extortion, but descended to the "office," registered, and was assigned a room at the "Central," then the largest hotel in town, and by all odds the dirtiest in the State, though fairly served. El Paso, situated in the extreme western part of Texas, lies 500 miles from Spofford Junction and 633 from San Antonio. In approaching it, I had run along two sides of an obtuse-angled triangle through the great State of Texas, leaving out any trips southward from Eagle Pass and San Antonio, comprising above a thousand miles across its territory alone. The town—whose inhabitants will doubtless be mortally offended because I do not call it a city—is about half a mile across, and situated in the centre of a verdureless, mud-colored plain, with a semicircle of gravelly hills on one side and the Rio Grande on another.
Its buildings are mainly new, as houses of wood and brick are fast replacing the old adobe hovels; there are several hotels, numerous, large, and well-supplied stores, two banks, many good residences going up in the suburbs, and plenty of room for expansion. There are several newspapers here, one of which, "The Times," displays energy, ability, and enterprise.
There are abundant indications that El Paso will grow to the proportions of a great and perhaps attractive city, as it has an advantageous situation, nearly four thousand feet above sea level, and is entered by several great railroads. The "Sunset Route" passes through it from east to west; the Texas Pacific meets it here, affording the shortest route directly across Northern Texas to St. Louis; and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé comes down from the North, across New Mexico and a most attractive country, from the Missouri River. Nearly all the progress of El Paso is recent, and is due to these railroads.
The valley in which El Paso is situated is from a mile to three miles wide, and nearly forty miles in length, possesses a soil which is extremely productive when well irrigated, yielding excellent crops of wheat in particular, and its climate is remarkably fine, equalling that of Santa Fé and Mexico City. Above the town is a small kiosk, perched on a spur of the hills, whence is obtained a delightful view, at the feet of the observer, over the town and down the Rio Grande valley; where the river runs is green, while all else is brown and bare, as far as the eye can reach, even to the distant mountains of Chihuahua. The banks of the Rio Grande—the Rio Bravo del Norte—here are low and easily approached, while at Eagle Pass and Laredo they are high; though the volume of water is not appreciably less and the current is rapid; this town also suffers from the terrific storms of sand that affect the settlements farther down the river.
Water-works now supply the city, and street-cars run from the principal depots through the town and over the river to the Mexican settlement. Two bridges here cross the Rio Grande, one belonging to the Central Railroad, and the other to the municipality.Across the river from El Paso is Paso del Norte, the most northerly town of any size in Mexico, as well as the oldest in this region, having been founded, as a mission, at or near the close of the seventeenth century, probably in 1680. It is an unpretentious mud village, which is content to remain so, if those restless Americanos from over the Border will only allow it to. But they will not, and the Yankee "City of the Pass," like Laredo, is pushing its apathetic Mexican sister into prominence. About the only buildings not of adobe are those composing the offices of the Mexican Central, while the other conspicuous and native structures are the old church and the mud fort. Both are ancient, but the church is of great age, dating probably from that period when the Spaniards were driven south from Santa Fé by the Pueblo Indians. Amongst a heap of old church
registers thrown carelessly into a corner of the chapel, I saw one of the year 1682. The sexton who displays them is a curiosity of the Border, and will, for a small fee, eagerly conduct visitors through the little church.
I secured, and herewith present, a picture of the interior of that lonely church on the Mexican Border, which was far more interesting to me than that of the great cathedral in Mexico City, since its ornaments and paraphernalia are reduced to the simplest requirements for confessional and pulpit service, and the requisite decoration of Virgin and altar-piece. Add in imagination a group of kneeling figures before the altar rail, and you have all the characteristic features of a church interior throughout Mexico. Farther into the republic, the houses of worship are more lavishly adorned, but here, doubtless, the clergy feared to make the usual display of gilded carving and paste ornaments, lest the cupidity of the Border ruffian should excite him to lay sacrilegious hands thereon. A grateful coolness, even in the hottest weather, always pervades these churches, owing to the thickness of their walls, whether of stone or adobe. Great beams, ornately carved in lilies and roses, support the tiled roof of this particular structure, which is not so high as some sanctuaries I have seen in Indian pueblos.
The population of this town, of about five thousand inhabitants, differs in no particular from that of the southern settlements of the Border, but the place itself is more attractive. In front of the church is a barren plazuela, which lies at the head of a valley that follows the river on its course for many a mile, and here is held the market, which is well worth inspection.
Irrigation brings fertility to fruitful gardens, and vineyards which produce excellent grapes, and raisins which are eaten stewed like plums. El Paso wine is in great demand, as it has a strong body and has the flavor of Malaga, when mellowed by age. The grape is large, blue, rich, and juicy, though a white variety is raised with the taste of Muscadine. A population of above fifteen thousand supports itself upon the products of the valley, and the wheat, pears, peaches, onions, and apples of the cooler portions of the mountain range. But with the exception of the fruit trees, and the willows and poplars of the river-banks, the chaparral is about the only vegetation of the region. "The exquisite climate, at a level of nearly four thousand feet above the sea, and these environs of cultivated land, contrasting forcibly in their vivid green with the gray alluvial hills, and rocky mountain crests, impart to the place a charm peculiar to all the scenery of Northern Mexico, which has something Levantic, or of a North African character." Its gardens and vineyards, and its slow-running acequias, meandering through narrow streets and adobe walls, give to Paso del Norte an aspect different from other frontier towns, as if a fragment of Southern Mexico had been transported here across the intervening deserts.