A Study of Mexico/Chapter I
Recent popular ignorance concerning Mexico — Reasons therefor — Experience of travel by Bayard Taylor in 1850 — Mexico in 1878, according to the then American minister — Rejoinder of the Mexican Government — Present security and facilities for Mexican travel — Picturesque aspect of Mexico — Peons, or agricultural population — Social condition of the people — Mexican architecture and buildings.
Although geographically near, and having been in commercial relations with the rest of the world for over three hundred and fifty years, there is probably less known to-day about Mexico than of almost any other country claiming to be civilized; certainly not as much as concerning Egypt, Palestine, or the leading states of British India; and not any more than concerning the outlying provinces of Turkey, the states of Northern Africa, or the seaport districts of China and Japan. It is doubtful, furthermore, if as large a proportion as one in a thousand of the fairly educated men of the United States or of Europe could at once, and without reference to an encyclopædia, locate and name the twenty-nine States or political divisions into which the Republic of Mexico is divided, or so many of its towns and cities as have a population in excess of fifteen or twenty thousand.
The explanation of this is, that prior to the construction and opening of the Mexican "Central" and Mexican "National" Railroads, or virtually prior to the year 1883, the exploration of Mexico—owing to the almost total absence of roads and of comfortable hospicia for man and beast, the utter insecurity for life and property, the intervention of vast sterile and waterless tracts, and the inhospitality and almost savagery of no small proportion of its people—was so difficult and dangerous that exploration has rarely been attempted; and those who have attempted it have greatly imperiled their lives, to say nothing of their health and property.
Mexico, furthermore, is not fully known even to the Mexicans themselves. Thus, a large part of the country on the Pacific coast has scarcely been penetrated outside of the roads or "trails" which lead from the seaports to the interior. There are hundreds of square miles in Southern Mexico, especially in the States of Michoacan and Guerrero, and also in Sonora, that have never been explored, and are merely marked on the maps as "terreno desconocido"; and whole tribes of Indians that have never been brought in contact with the white man, and repel all attempts at visitation or government supervision.
During the three hundred years, also, when Mexico was under Spanish dominion, access to the country was almost absolutely denied to foreigners; the most noted exception being the case of Humboldt, who, through the personal favor and friendship of Don Marino Urquijo, first Spanish Secretary of State under Charles IV, received privileges never before granted to any traveler; and thus it is that, although more than three quarters of a century have elapsed since Humboldt made his journey and explorations, he is still quoted as the best and, in many particulars, as the only reliable authority in respect to Mexico.
In 1850, Bayard Taylor, returning from California, visited Mexico, landing at Mazatlan, and crossing the country by way of the city of Mexico to Vera Cruz. His journey lasted from the 5th of January to the 19th of February—a period of about six weeks—and the distance traversed by him in a straight line could not have been much in excess of seven hundred miles—a rather small foundation in the way of exploration for the construction of a standard work of travel; yet, whoever reads his narrative and enters into sympathy with the author (as who in reading Bayard Taylor does not?) is heartily glad that it is no longer. For Mungo Park in attempting to explore the Niger, or Bruce in seeking for the sources of the Nile, or Livingstone on the Zambesi, never encountered greater perils or chronicled more disagreeable experiences of travel. It was not enough to have "journeyed," as he expresses it, "for leagues in the burning sun, over scorched hills, without water or refreshing verdure, suffering greatly from thirst, until I found a little muddy water at the bottom of a hole"; to have lived on frijoles and tortillas (the latter so compounded with red pepper that, it is said, neither vultures nor wolves will ever touch a dead Mexican), and to have found an adequate supply of even these at times very difficult to obtain; to sleep without shelter or upon the dirt floors of adobe huts, or upon scaffolds of poles, and to have even such scant luxuries impaired by the invasion of hogs, menace of ferocious dogs, and by other enemies "without and within," in the shape of swarms of fleas, mosquitoes, and other vermin; but, in addition to all this, he was robbed, and left bound and helpless in a lonely valley, if not with the expectation, at least with a feeling of complete indifference, on the part of his ruffianly assailants, as to whether he perished by hunger and cold, or effected a chance deliverance. And if any one were to travel to-day in Mexico, over routes as unfrequented as that which Bayard Taylor followed, and under the same circumstances of personal exposure, he would undoubtedly be subject to a like experience.
In August, 1878, Hon. John W. Foster, then United States minister to Mexico, writing from the city of Mexico to the Manufacturers' Association of the Northwest, at Chicago, made the following statement concerning the social condition of the country at that time: "Not a single passenger-train leaves this city (Mexico) or Vera Cruz, the (then) termini of the only completed railroad in the country, without being escorted by a company of soldiers to protect it from assault and robbery. The manufacturers of this city, who own factories in the valley within sight of it, in sending out money to pay the weekly wages of their operatives, always accompany it with an armed guard; and it has repeatedly occurred, during the past twelve months (1878), that the street railway-cars from this city to the suburban villages have been seized by bands of robbers and the money of the manufacturers stolen. Every mining company which sends its metal to this city to be coined or shipped abroad always accompanies it by a strong guard of picked men; and the planters and others who send money or valuables out of the city do likewise. The principal highways over which the diligence lines pass are constantly patroled by the armed rural guard or the Federal troops; and yet highway robbery is so common that it is rarely even noticed in the newspapers. One of the commercial indications of the insecurity of communication between this capital and the other cities of the republic is found in the rate of interior exchange," which at that time, according to the minister, varied from ten per cent in the case of Chihuahua, distant a thousand miles, to two and two and a half per cent for places like Toluca, not farther removed than sixty miles. Matters are, however, in a much better state at present, and for reasons that will be mentioned hereafter; but the following item of Mexican news,
telegraphed from Saltillo (Northern Mexico), under date of February 15, 1885, pretty clearly indicates the scope and desirability for future improvement, and also the present limitation on the authority of the existing national Government: "The commission of officers sent from Zacatecas by the Government to treat for a surrender with the noted bandit leader, Eraclie Bemal, has returned, having been unsuccessful in its mission. The chief demanded the following conditions: Pardon for himself and band, a bonus of thirty thousand dollars for himself, to be allowed to retain an armed escort of twenty-five men, or to be appointed to a position in the army commanding a district in Sinaloa." How such a statement as the foregoing carries the reader back to the days of the "Robbers of the Rhine," or the "free lances" of the middle ages! On the other hand, a recent consular report calls attention to the circumstance "that a certain local notoriety of the mountain districts, who had acquired a formidable reputation as an independent guerrilla leader in past wars, and as a frank highwayman in the intervals of peace, had made a descent upon the city (Mexico); unarmed and unattended, and purchased two plows."
With a better government and increased rail-road facilities, the amount of travel in Mexico has of late years greatly increased. Before the opening of the "Mexican Central," in 1883, the majority of travelers entered the country at the port of Vera Cruz, and journeyed by railroad (opened in 1873) to the capital (two hundred and sixty-three miles), and returned without stopping en route in either case; or else made excursions of no great distance from points on our southern frontier into the northern tier of Mexican States—Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas—such journeys being usually made on horseback, with preparations for camping out, and also for fighting if it became necessary. Since the opening of the "Mexican Central," however, this route offers the greatest facilities for those who desire to reach the city of Mexico, the traveler journeying by a fast train, day and night, the whole route (twelve hundred and twenty-five miles) from El Paso, in the very best of Pullman cars, over a good road, with every accommodation save that of food, which, in spite of the efforts of the company, is and will continue to be bad, simply because the country furnishes few resources—milk selling at some points as high as twenty-five cents a quart and scarce at that, while butter as a product of the country is almost unknown. But enter Mexico by whatever route, the ordinary traveler has little opportunity to see anything of the country apart from the city of Mexico, save what is afforded by the view from the car-windows, and yet it is from just such experiences that most of the recent books and letters about Mexico have been written.
There is a wonderful depth of truth in a remark attributed to Emerson, that "the eye sees only what it brings to itself the power to see"; and the majority of those who in recent years have visited Mexico would seem to have brought to their eyes the power of seeing little else than the picturesque side of things. And of such material there is no lack. In the first place, the country throughout is far more foreign to an American than any country of Europe, except that part of Europe in close proximity to its Asiatic border. Transport a person of tolerably good geographical information, without giving him any intimation as to where he was going, to almost any part of the great plateau of Mexico—outside of the larger cities—and he would at once conclude that he was either at Timbuctoo or some part of the "Holy Land." The majority of the houses are of adobe (mud), destitute of all coloration, unless dust-gray is a color, and one story in height. In Palestine, however, and also (according to report) in Timbuctoo, the roofs are "domed"; in Mexico they are flat. The soil during the greater part of the year is dry; the herbage, when there is any, coarse and somber, and the whole country singularly lacking in trees and verdure. In the fields of the better portions of the country, men may be seen plowing with a crooked stick, and raising water from reservoirs or ditches into irrigating trenches, by exactly the same methods that are in use to-day as they were five thousand years ago or more upon the banks of the Nile. In the villages, women with nut-brown skins, black hair, and large black eyes, walk round in multitudinous folds of cotton fabrics, often colored, the face partially concealed, and gracefully bearing water-jars upon their shoulders—the old familiar Bible picture of our childhood over again, of Rebecca returning from the fountain.
Place a range of irregular, sharp, saw-tooth hills or mountains, upon whose sides neither grass nor shrub has apparently ever grown, in the distance; a cloudless sky and a blazing sun overhead; and in the foreground a few olive-trees, long lines of repellent cacti defining whatever of demarkation may be needed for fields or roadway, and a few donkeys, the type of all that is humble and forlorn—and the picture of village life upon the "plateau" of Mexico is complete.
Would any one recall the "Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt," it is not necessary to visit the galleries of Europe and study the works of the old masters, for here on the dusty plains of Mexico all the scenes and incidents of it (apart, from the Jewish nationality) are daily repeated: Mary upon a donkey, her head gracefully hooded with a blue rebozo, and carrying a young child enveloped on her bosom in her mantle; while Joseph, the husband, bearded and sun-scorched, with naked arms and legs, and sandals on his feet, walks ploddingly by her side, with one hand on the bridle, and, if the other does not grasp a staff, it is because of the scarcity of wood out of which to make one, or because the dull beast stands in constant need of the stimulus of a thong of twisted leather.
Madame Calderon de la Barca, the Scotch wife of one of the first Spanish ministers sent to Mexico after the achievement of her independence, and who wrote a very popular book on her travels in Mexico, published in 1843, also notes and thus graphically describes this predominance of the "picturesque" in Mexico: "One circumstance," she says, "must be observed by all who travel in Mexican territory. There is not one human being or passing object to be seen that is not in itself a picture, or which would not form a good subject for the pencil. The Indian women, with their plaited hair, and little children slung on their backs, their large straw hats, and petticoats of two colors; the long string of arrieros with their loaded mules, and swarthy, wild-looking faces; the chance horseman who passes with his serape of many colors, his high, ornamental saddle, Mexican hat, silver stirrups, and leather boots—all is picturesque. Salvator Rosa and Hogarth might have traveled here to advantage hand-in-hand; Salvator for the sublime, and Hogarth taking him up where the sublime became ridiculous."
Where Indian blood greatly predominates in the women, the head, neck, shoulders, and legs, to the knee, are generally bare, and their garments little else than a loose-fitting white cotton tunic, and a petticoat of the same material, often of two colors.
At Aguas Calientes, within a hundred yards of the station of the "Mexican Central Railroad," men, women, and children, entirely naked, may be seen bathing, in large numbers, at all hours of the day, in a ditch conveying a few feet of tepid water, which flows, with a gentle current, from certain contiguous and remarkably warm springs. Shoes in Mexico are a foreign innovation, and properly form no part of the national costume. The great majority of the people do not wear shoes at all, and probably never will; but in their place use sandals, composed of a sole of leather, raw-hide, or plaited fibers of the maguey-plant, fastened to the foot with strings of the same material, as the only protection for the foot needed in their warm, dry climate. And these sandals are so easily made and repaired that every Mexican peasant, no matter what may be his other occupation, is always his own shoemaker. As a general rule, also, the infantry regiments of Mexico wear sandals in preference to shoes; "not solely for the sake of economy, but because they are considered healthier, keep the feet in better condition, are more easily repaired or replaced, and make the marching easier." Very curiously, the pegged shoes of the United States and other countries are not made and can not be sold in Mexico, as, owing to the extreme dryness of the atmosphere, the wood shrinks to such a degree that the pegs speedily become loose and fall out. The crowning glory of a Mexican peasant is his hat. No matter how poor he may be, he will manage to have a sombrero gorgeous with silver spangles and heavy with silver cord, or, if he confers straw to felt, he will be equally extravagant in its decoration; and, in common with his blanket, the hat will be made to do duty for many years. The laboring-classes in Mexico—the so-called "peons," who comprise the great bulk of the population—are chiefly Indians, or descendants from Indians, and are a different race from their employers. Originally conquered and enslaved by the Spaniards, and then emancipated by law, they are, as a matter of fact, through their peculiar attachment to the place of their nativity, and through certain conditions respecting the obligation of debts, almost as permanently attached to the soil of the great estates of the country as they were in the days of their former peonage, or slavery. And it is claimed that the keeping of the peons constantly in debt—a matter not difficult to accomplish by reason of their ignorance and improvidence—and so making permanent residence and the performance of labor obligatory on them, is indispensable for the regular prosecution of agriculture, inasmuch as a peon, if he once gets a few dollars or shillings in his pocket, and there is a place for him to gamble within from fifty to one hundred miles' distance, can never be depended upon for any service so long as any money remains to him. In the cities in the northern States of Mexico, where American ideas are finding their way among the people, and where the construction of railways has increased the opportunities for employment and raised wages, the condition of the peons has undoubtedly greatly improved within recent years: but in the agricultural districts the general testimony is to the effect, that there is little appreciable change in their condition since their emancipation from involuntary servitude, "and very little sympathy or cordiality between them and their former masters and present employers. And in the cities, also, the caste feeling between the Indian operatives and laborers and the other nationalities, is also reported as strongly manifesting itself in jealousies and prejudices."
Note,—The extent to which the condition of labor in some, and probably a great, part of Mexico approximates to involuntary servitude is illustrated by the following extracts from recent United States "Consular Reports":
"In the State of Chiapas, Southern Mexico, 'laborers are divided into two classes, free and debtor. The first receive twenty-five cents per day, with rations, or thirty-eight to fifty cents without. The debtor class are those who receive in advance a sum sufficient to pay their former proprietor, which sum frequently reaches five hundred dollars or more.' When a laborer of the second, or debtor class, is dissatisfied, he obtains from the proprietor of the estate where he is situated 'a statement more or less as follows:
"'A. B., laborer [married, widower, or single], seeks employment (accommodation) at (of) farm-work for the sum of———dollars, which he owes me, as per account made to his satisfaction. The person who wishes may contract with him, first paying the above sum, for which effect a term of eight days is given.'
"With this document the bearer seeks a new master, and, after the debt has been paid, a new contract is made before judicial authority for one or more years. The laborer agrees to give his services to the labors of the fields on all days except feast-days. The proprietor agrees to pay the salary, supply the stipulated allowances, and make necessary advances in money, clothing, and tools. This contract is not always made with the above formalities. Sometimes the account is simply receipted as paid by the new master, the laborer being subject to the customs of the country, and at liberty to leave when he shall wish to and can obtain a new master to pay him out The wife of the laborer, except when otherwise stipulated, is obliged to give her services in work suitable to her sex. . . .
"This system is very inconvenient for the proprietors. There is an immediate necessity of spending at least eight thousand dollars to obtain a supply of forty laborers, and it is often impossible to immediately obtain this number. Hence the custom, only agreeable to those born in the locality, to go on gathering one by one, until, after many years, they have sufficient hands to work a first-class property, which is enlarged as the number of laborers is increased. By this means a large sum has been invested in persons who offer no other security than their personal labor, and the proprietor finds himself obliged to exercise great vigilance, organizing the holding in such way as to make the servant feel that his liberty of action is restrained. The only way he has to get out of such a condition is to flee, leaving everything dear to him, including his family. . . .
"Another inconvenience experienced, not less grave, is caused by death of the laborers.
"And in spite of all this, no proprietor of this locality will accept any laborer born here who does not have a debt against him. What are the causes which have created this custom or necessity? The most important causes are the scarcity of laborers, the natural indolence of the indigenous Indian race, and, most important of all, the fertility of the soil. Whether from the excessive heat of the sun or from other causes, there exists among inhabitants of intertropical America a marked disposition to inaction. This is aided by the fertility of the soil and the ease with which sufficient may be obtained to satisfy the few necessities of those who are happy if they have enough for the day. It is therefore natural that man should live thus here; that there should be no spirit of enterprise: and that agriculture, the source of riches, should remain stationary for want of labor.
"Many proprietors work vainly trying to increase their holdings, but the great scarcity of hands prevents; and this, too, in spite of the nearness of populous towns. The poor people in these refuse to work even when offered increased wages, being satisfied to remain as they are. The Indian inhabitant contracts a debt in some store kept by Europeans or their descendants. The goods are of little or no intrinsic value, but they please his eye, or serve to fulfill promises made to a titular saint on condition that he suffer from no pest, or have good crops, or satisfy his vices. When the time of payment arrives he can not make it, and he goes to a proprietor, who pays the debt and takes his labor on the hacienda. He is thus made a debtor laborer, and only for this thinks himself obliged to labor. Once reduced to this condition the debt is increased by the advances which he needs, and which are more than he earns, and his intelligence is not sufficient to understand business matters.
"In the municipality of Tuxtla Gutierrez ’wages are from twenty-five to thirty-one cents for day-laborers, and the conditions under which contracts are made are as follows: The individual presents himself before the new master or patron with whom he wishes to obtain a position with a paper indicating the sum he owes the one whom he has just left, and the one who employs him pays the debt which the paper indicates, and they agree, upon the time he has to serve and the wage he shall receive. The latter is generally two dollars and a half per month, giving him a ration of corn, frijole and salt, or four dollars without the ration; in both cases the necessary tools are furnished him. The ration consists of six almudes (six and a half quarts each) of corn, half an almud of frijole, and one pound of salt. When the individual leaves the situation a paper containing his account is given him, so that the one who employs him may return the sum he owes.’
"In the department of Jonuta ’field hands’ are reported as 'under a sort of bondage, constituted by a debt of from three hundred to five hundred dollars, or even more, which each servant owes; and, by the law which governs these contracts and permits the forced confinement of the servant, he who for just cause wishes to change his master shall have three days' time, for each one hundred dollars he owes, given him to find one who will pay his indebtedness.'"
"As a rule" says Mr. Strother, "none of the working-classes of Mexico have any idea of present economy, or of providing for the future. The lives of most of them seem to be occupied in obtaining food and amusement for the passing hour, without either hope or desire for a better future. As the strongest proof of this improvidence on the part of the city mechanic and laborer, is the constant demand for money in advance—from the mechanic, under the pretext of getting materials to enable him to fill some order, and from the laborer, to get something to eat before he begins work."
On each estate, or hacienda, there are buildings, or collections of buildings, typical of the country, borrowed originally, so far as the idea was concerned, in part undoubtedly from Old Spain, and in part prompted by the necessities for defense from attack under which the country has been occupied and settled, which are also called haciendas; the term being apparently used indifferently to designate both a large landed estate, as well as the buildings, which, like the old feudal castles, represent the ownership and the center of operations on the estate. They are usually huge rectangular structures—walls or buildings—of stone or adobe, intended often to serve the purpose, if needs be, of actual fortresses, and completely inclosing an inner square or court-yard, the entrance to which is through one or more massive gates, which, when closed at night, are rarely opened until morning. The entire structure, or the enceinte is sometimes also surrounded by a moat, while the angles of the walls and the gateways are protected by projecting turrets pierced for musketry—defensive precautions which the experience of former times with bands of highwaymen or hungry revolutionists fully justified, and which in remote parts of the country even yet continue.
Within the court, upon one side, built up against an exterior wall, is usually a series of adobe structures—low, windowless, single apartments—where the peons and their families, with their dogs and pigs, live; while upon the other sides are larger structures for the use or residence of the owner and his family, or the superintendent of the estate, with generally also a chapel and accommodations for the priest, places for the storage of produce and the keeping of animals, and one or more apartments entirely destitute of furniture or of any means of lighting or ventilation save through the entrance or doorway from the courtyard, which are devoted to the reception of such travelers as may demand and receive hospitality to the extent of shelter from the night, or protection from out-side marauders. Such places hardly deserve the name of inns, but either these poor accomodations, or camping-out, is the traveler's only alternative. They put one in mind of the caravansaries of the East, or better, of the inns or posadas of Spain, which Don Quixote and his attendant, Sancho Panza, frequented, with the court-yard then, as now, all ready for tossing Sancho in a blanket in presence of the whole population. In some cases the hacienda is an irregular pile of adobe buildings without symmetry, order, or convenience; and in others, where the estate is large and the laborers numerous (as is often the case), the most important buildings only are inclosed within the wall—the peons, whose poverty is generally a sufficient safe-guard against robbery, living outside in adobe or cane huts, and constituting a scattered village community.
The owners of these large Mexican estates, who are generally men of wealth and education, rarely live upon them, but make their homes in the city of Mexico or in; Europe, and intrust the management, of their property to a superintendent, who, like the owner, considers himself a gentleman, and whose chief business is to keep the peons in debt, or, what is substantially the same thing, in slavery. Whatever work is done is performed by the peons—in whose veins Indian blood predominates—in their own way and in their own time. They have but few tools, and, except possibly some contrivances for raising water, nothing worthy the name of machinery. Without being bred to any mechanical profession, the peons make and repair nearly every implement or tool that is used upon the estate, and this, too, without the use of a forge or of iron, not even of bolts and nails. The explanation of such an apparently marvelous result is to be found in a single word, or rather material—rawhide—with which the peon feels himself qualified to meet almost any constructive emergency, from the framing of a house to the making of a loom, the mending of a gun, or the repair of a broken leg; and yet, even under these circumstances, the great Mexican estates, owing to their exemption from taxation and the cheapness of labor, are said to be profitable, and, in cases where a fair supply of water is obtainable, to even return large incomes to their absentee owners.
As agriculture can not be prosecuted on the plateau of Mexico without irrigation, the chief expense of each hacienda or cultivated district consists in providing and maintaining a water-supply, which is not infrequently obtained through a most extensive and costly system of canals, ponds, and dams, whereby the water that falls during the limited rainy period is stored up and distributed during the dry season; and what the great proprietor accomplishes through a great expenditure of money the Indian communities effect at the present day, as they have from time immemorial, through associated, patient, and long-continued labor.
In no truly Mexican house of high or low degree, from the adobe hut of the peasant to the great stone edifice in the capital said to have been erected by the Emperor Iturbide, and now an hotel,are there any arrangements for warming or, in the American sense, for cooking; and in the entire city of Mexico, with an estimated population of from two hundred and twenty-five to three hundred thousand, chimneys, fireplaces, and stoves are so rare that it is commonly said that there are none. This latter statement is, however, not strictly correct; yet it approximates so closely to the truth, that but for provision for warm baths, there is probably no exception to it in any of the larger hotels of the city where foreigners most do congregate. All the cooking in Mexico is done over charcoal, or embers fanned to a glow; and fans made of rushes, for this special purpose, are a constant commodity of the market. The use of bellows is unknown, and the employment of the lungs and breath involves too much effort. Apart from the capital and some of the larger cities, Mexico is notably deficient in hotels or inns for the accommodation of travelers, and in a majority of the smaller towns there are no such places. And why should there be? The natives rarely go anywhere, and consequently do not expect anybody to come to them.
Large, costly, and often elegant stone edifices—public and private—are not wanting in the principal towns and cities of Mexico; but all, save those of very recent construction, have the characteristic Saracenic or Moorish architecture of Southern Spain—namely, a rectangular structure with rooms opening on to interior piazzas, and a more or less spacious court-yard, which is often fancifully paved and ornamented with fountains and shrubbery; while the exterior, with its gate-furnished arch-ways and narrow and iron-grated windows, suggests the idea of a desire for jealous seclusion on the part of the inmates, or fear of possible outside attack and disturbance. Wooden buildings are almost unknown in Mexico, and in all interiors wood is rarely used where stone, tiles, and iron are possible applications. Consequently, and, in view of the scarcity of water, most fortunately, there are few fires in Mexico: nothing akin to a fire department outside of the city of Mexico, and but little opportunity for insurance companies or the business of insurance agents. As a general rule, the buildings of Mexico, exclusive of the huts, in which the masses of the people live, are not over one story in height, flat-roofed, and have neither cellars nor garrets; and in buildings of more than one story the upper floor is always preferred as a dwelling, and thus in the cities commands the highest rent. There do not, moreover, seem to be any aristocratic streets or quarters in the cities of Mexico; but rich and poor distribute themselves indiscriminately, and not unfrequently live under the same roof.
- A Mexican merchant, writing recently from Juguila, State of Oaxaca, on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico, says: "Although this State has figured in a worthy manner in the New Orleans Exposition, it is just to say, because it is the truth, that the greater part of the objects which went from the southern coast, destined for New Orleans, were carried by hand by Indians. … It is a pity that a region so extensive and so fertile should remain so uncultivated, so unknown, and almost entirely inhabited by semi-savage Indians, who, to plant an almud (six and a half quarts) of corn, destroy forests of lumber worth more than three thousand dollars. The country has scarcely two inhabitants to a square kilometre, and these semi-civilized natives, but of a pacific and honest nature. The national and neighborhood highways do not merit the name. The principal road from Oaxaca to Costa Chica is a bridle-path, and in some parts of the district of Villa Alvarez it is so narrow that last year, when I, being sick, had to be carried on a bed to Oaxaca, the servants who carried me had to abandon it and cross through the woods, as two men abreast could not walk in it. If the national roads are thus, one can imagine what the neighborhood roads might be. …"—"United States Consular Reports," 1885.
- The letter of Minister Foster, discussing the commercial relations of the two republics, and from which the above is an extract, gave great offense to the Mexican people; and, in addition to numerous newspaper criticisms, was regarded as of such importance by the Government, that an extended official reply (325 quarto pages) was made to it (in 1880) by the Mexican Secretary of Finance. It was claimed therein that, while the report of Minister Foster "contains many exact data and estimates worthy of attention, it is unfortunately marred by conceptions and deductions which are entirely without foundation," and "that it is the duty of the Government of Mexico to vindicate the country, clearing away the dark coloring under which the report in question presents it." In further illustration of the character and strength of this rejoinder on the part of the Mexican Government, the following is a summary of the answers to the specific points made by Mr. Foster, in that part of his report above quoted: Thus, in regard to the statement that passenger-trains on the Vera Cruz Railroad were escorted by soldiers, it was said: "The fact is true, but nowise worthy of censure; for, on the contrary, it is the best proof of the care with which the Government endeavors to give guarantees to travelers. Even in the most civilized countries the police forces watch over the security of the roads, and the way of doing it makes little matter, whether it be by escort or stationed forces, for in both cases it indicates a sad necessity, to wit, that of sheltering individuals from the attack of evildoers, who exist not only in Mexico, but in every part of the world." Again, the fact of excessive rates of exchange between the interior cities and towns of Mexico was explained by saying that it is not due to the insecurity of the roads, but rather "to the difficulty of communication, occasioned principally by long distances, bad roads, and the lack of conveniences"; and also by "the circumstance that exchange takes place in one sense only—that is to say, to place in Mexico funds that are outside of the capital." And the report thus further sharply continues: "For every crime against life or property occurring in Mexico, a greater number of similar cases that have taken place in the United States could be cited; and this is not strange, for, in proportion as the population of the country is larger, it appears that its criminal record must be larger also. Moreover, horrible crimes have been committed in the United States, some of which have not even passed through the imagination of the wickedest man in Mexico; such as the robbery of the remains of the philanthropic capitalist, A. T. Stewart, in order to get a ransom for them."
- It is not to be understood that there are no forests in Mexico. A large part of the low and comparatively narrow and tropical coast belt is densely wooded; and there are also valuable forest-growths on the borders of Guatemala and in the Sierra regions of Northern Mexico. But the single fact that wood (mainly mesquite) for fuel on the plateau of Mexico commands from twelve to fifteen dollars per cord, is sufficient evidence of its great scarcity.
- "United States Consular Reports" on "Leather and Shoe Industries in Foreign Countries," Washington, 1885.
- Hon. David H. Strother ("Porte Crayon"), of Virginia, late and for several years consul-general of the United States in Mexico, a gentleman who had large opportunities for studying the country, and a rare faculty of digesting and properly presenting the results of his observations.
- This edifice was not erected by the emperor of that name, as is currently reported; but by a wealthy Mexican citizen for the accommodation of his family—a wife or two, some concubines, and upward of sixty children!
- Some of the recently improved and newer parts of the city of Mexico, lying remote from the center, are an exception to this rule, and are being built up with a handsome class of houses, while the adjacent streets are broad and well paved.