Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan/Chapter 22

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It was broad daylight when we woke, without any machete cuts, and still in undisturbed possession of the town. My first thought was for the mules; they had eaten up their sacate, and had but a poor chance for more, but I sent them immediately to the river for water. They had hardly gone when a little boy ran in from the church, and told us that "la gente" were in sight. We hurried back with him, and the miserable beings on the steps, with new terrors, supposing that we were friends of the invaders, begged us to save them. Followed by three or four trembling boys, we ascended to the steeple, and saw the Cachurecos at a distance, descending the brow of a hill in single file, their muskets glittering in the sunbeams. We saw that it was not the whole of Carrera's army, but apparently only a pioneer company; but they were too many for us, and the smallness of their numbers gave them the appearance of a lawless predatory band. They had still to cross a long plain and ascend the hill on which the town was built. The bell-rope was in reach of my hand; I gave it one strong pull, and telling the boys to sound loud the alarm, hurried down. As we passed out of the church, we heard loud cries from the old women in the house of the cura; and the old men and children on the steps asked us whether they would be murdered.

The mules had not returned, and, afraid of their being intercepted in the street, I ran down a steep hill toward the river, and meeting them, hurried back to the house. While doing so I saw at the extreme end of the street a single soldier moving cautiously; and watching carefully every house, as if suspecting treachery, he advanced with a letter directed to Colonel Angoula. The captain told him that he must seek Angoula among the mountains. We inquired the name of his commanding officer, how many men he had, said that there was no one to oppose him, and forthwith surrendered the town. The man could hardly believe that it was deserted. General Figoroa did not know it; he had halted at a short distance, afraid to make the attack at night, and was then expecting immediate battle. The General himself could not have been much better pleased at avoiding it than we were. The envoy returned, and in a short time we saw at the extreme end of the street the neck of a horse protruding from the cross-street on the left. A party of cavalry armed with lances followed, formed at the head of the street, looking about them carefully as if still suspecting an ambush. In a few moments General Figoroa, mounted on a fierce little horse, without uniform, but with dark wool saddle-cloth, pistols, and basket-hilted sword, making a warlike appearance, came up, leading the van. We took off our hats as he approached our door, and he returned the salute. About 100 lancers followed him, two abreast, with red flags on the ends of their lances, and pistols in their holsters. In passing, one ferocious-looking fellow looked fiercely at us, and grasping his lance, cried "Viva Carrera!" We did not answer it immediately, and he repeated it in a tone that brought forth the response louder and more satisfactory, from the spite with which it was given; the next man repeated it, and the next; and before we were aware of our position, every lancer that passed, in a tone of voice regulated by the gentleness or the ferocity of his disposition, and sometimes with a most threatening scowl, put to us as a touchstone, "Viva Carrera."

The infantry were worse than the lancers in appearance, being mostly Indians, ragged, half-naked, with old straw hats, and barefooted, armed with muskets and machetes, and many with old-fashioned Spanish blunderbusses. They vied with each other in sharpness and ferocity, and sometimes actually levelling their pieces, cried at us, "Viva Carrera," We were taken completely unawares; there was no escape, and I believe they would have shot us down on the spot if we had refused to echo the cry. I compromised with my dignity by answering no louder than the urgency of the case required, but I never passed through a more trying ordeal. Don Saturnino had had the prudence to keep out of sight; but the captain, who had intended to campaign against these fellows, never flinched, and when the last man passed added an extra "Viva Carrera." I again felt rejoiced that the soldiers had left the town and that there had been no fight. It would have been a fearful thing to fall into the hands of such men, with their passions roused by resistance and bloodshed. Reaching the plaza, they gave a general shout of "Viva Carrera," and stacked their arms. In a few minutes a party of them came down to our house, and asked for breakfast; and when we could not give them that, they begged a medio or sixpence. By degrees others came in, until the room was full. They were really no great gainers by taking the town. They had had no breakfast, and the town was completely stripped of eatables. We inquired the news from Guatimala, and bought from them several copies of the "Parte Official" of the Supreme Government, headed "Viva la Patria! Viva el General Carrera! The enemy has been completely exterminated in his attack upon the city, which he intended to devastate. The tyrant Morazan flies terrified, leaving the plaza and streets strewed with corpses sacrificed to his criminal ambition. The principal officers associated in his staff have perished, &c. Eternal glory to the Invincible Chief General Carrera, and the valiant troops under his command." They told us that Carrera, with 3,000 men, was in full pursuit. In a little while the demand for sixpences became so frequent, that, afraid of being supposed to have mucha plata, we walked to the plaza to present ourselves to General Figoroa, and settle the terms of our surrender, or, at all events, to "define our position." We found him at the cabildo, quite at home, with a parcel of officers, white men, Mestitzoes, and mulattoes, smoking, and interrogating some old men from the church as to the movements of Colonel Angoula and the soldiers, the time of their setting out, and the direction they took. He was a young man—all the men in that country were young—about thirty-two or three, dressed in a snuff-coloured cloth roundabout jacket, and pantaloons of the same colour; and off his war-horse, and away from his assassin-like band, had very much the air of an honest man.

It was one of the worst evils of this civil war that no respect was paid to the passports of opposite parties. The captain had only his San Salvador passport, which was here worse than worthless. Don Saturnino had a variety from partisan commandants, and upon this occasion made use of one from a colonel under Ferrera. The captain introduced me by the title of Señor Ministro del Norte America, and I made myself acceptable by saying that I had been to San Salvador in search of a government, and had not been able to find any. The fact is, although I was not able to get into regular business, I was practising diplomacy on my own account all the time; and in order to define at once and clearly our relative positions, I undertook to do the honours of the town, and invited General Figoroa and all his officers to breakfest. This was a bold stroke, but Talleyrand could not have touched a nicer chord. They had not eaten anything since noon the day before, and I believe they would have evacuated their empty conquest for a good breakfast all round. They accepted my invitation with a promptness that put an end to my small stock of provisions for the road. General Figoroa confirmed the intelligence of Morazan's defeat and flight, and Carrera's pursuit, and the "invincible chief" would perhaps have been somewhat surprised at the pleasure I promised myself in meeting him. With a very few moments' interchange of opinion, we made up our minds to get out of this frontier town as soon as possible, and again to go forward. I had almost abandoned ulterior projects, and looked only to personal safety. To go back, we reasoned, would carry us into the very focus of war and danger. The San Salvador people were furious against strangers, and the Honduras troops were invading them on one side, and Carrera's hordes on the other. To remain where we were was certain exposure to attacks from both parties. By going on we should meet Carrera's troops, and if we passed them we left war behind us. We had but one risk, and that would be tested in a day. Under this belief, I told the general that we designed proceeding to Guatimala, and that it would add to our security to have his passport. It was the general's first campaign. He was then only a few days in service, having set off in a hurry to get possession of this town, and cut off Morazan's retreat. He was flattered by the request, and said that his passport would be indispensable. His aid and secretary had been clerk in an apothecary's shop in Guatimala, and therefore understood the respect due to a ministro, and said that he would make it out himself. I was all eagerness to get possession of this passport. The captain, in courtesy, said we were in no hurry. I dismissed courtesy, and said that we were in a hurry; that we must set out immediately after breakfast. I was afraid of postponements, delays, and accidents, and in spite of impediments and inconveniences, I persisted till I got the secretary down at the table, who, without any trouble, and by a mere flourish of the pen, made me "ministro plenipotentiario." The captain's name was inserted in the passport, General Figoroa signed it, and I put it in my pocket, after which I breathed more freely.

We returned to the house, and in a few minutes the general, his secretary, and two mulatto officers came over to breakfast. It was very considerate in them that they did not bring more. Our guests cared more for quantity than quality, and this was the particular in which we were most deficient. We had plenty of chocolate, a stock of bread for the road, and some eggs that were found in the house. We put on the table all that we had, and gave the general the seat of honour at the head. One of the officers preferred sitting away on a bench, and eating his eggs with his fingers. It is unpleasant for a host to be obliged to mark the quantity that his guests eat, but I must say I was agreeably disappointed. If I had been breakfasting with them instead of vice versa, I could have astonished them as much as their voracious ancestors did the Indians. The breakfast was a neat fit; there was none over, and I believe nothing short. There was but one unpleasant circumstance attending upon it, viz. General Figoroa requested us to wait an hour, until he could prepare despatches to Carrera, advising him of his occupation of Aguachapa. I was extremely anxious to get away while the game was good. Of General Figoroa and his secretary we thought favourably; but we saw that he had no control over his men, and as long as we were in the town we should be subject to their visits, inquiries, and importunities, and some difficulties might arise. At the same time, despatches to Carrera would be a great security on the road. Don Saturnino undertook to set off with the luggage, and we, glad of the opportunity of travelling without any encumbrance, charged him to push on as fast as he could, not to stop for us, and we would overtake him.

In about an hour we walked over to the plaza for the despatches, but unluckily found ourselves in a new scene of confusion. Figoroa was already in the saddle, the lancers were mounting in haste, and all running to arms. A scout had brought in word that Colonel Angoula, with the soldiers of the town, was hovering on the skirts of the mountain, and our friends were hurrying to attack them. In a moment the lancers were off on a gallop, and the ragged infantry snatched up their guns and ran after them, keeping up with the horses. The letter to Carrera was partly written, and the aide-de-camp asked us to wait, telling us that the affair would soon be over. He was left in command of about seventy or eighty men, and we sat down with him under the corridor of the quartel. He was several years younger than Figoroa, more intelligent, and seemed very amiable except on political matters, and there he was savage against the Morazan party. He was gentlemanly in his manners, but his coat was out at the elbows, and his pantaloons were torn. He said he had a new frock-coat, for which he had paid sixteen dollars, but which did not fit him, and he wished to sell it. I afterwards spoke of him to one of Morazan's officers, whom I would believe implicitly except in regard to political opponents, who told me that this same secretary stole a pair of pantaloons from him, and he had no doubt the coat was stolen from somebody else.

There was no order or discipline among the men; the soldiers lay about the quartel, joined in the conversation, or strolled through the town, as they pleased. The inhabitants had fortunately carried away everything portable: two or three times a foraging party returned with a horse or mule; and once they were all roused by an alarm that Angoula was returning upon the town in another direction. Immediately all snatched up their arms, and at least one half, without a moment's warning, took to their heels. We had a fair chance of having the town again upon our hands, but the alarm proved groundless. We could not, however, but feel uncomfortable at the facility with which our friends abandoned us, and the risk we ran of being identified with them. There were three brothers, the only lancers who did not go out with Figoroa, white men, young and athletic, the best dressed and best armed in the company, swaggering in their manner, and disposed to cultivate an acquaintance with us. They told us that they purposed going to Guatimala; but I shrank from them instinctively, eluded their questions as to when we intended to set out, and I afterwards heard that they were natives of the town, and had been compelled to leave it on account of their notorious characters as assassins. One of them, as we thought, in a mere spirit of bravado, provoked a quarrel with the aide-de-camp, strutted before the quartel, and, in the hearing of all, said that they were under no man's orders; they only joined General Figoroa to please themselves, and would do as they thought proper. In the meantime, a few of the townsmen who had nothing to lose, among them an alguazil, finding there was no massacring, had returned or emerged from their hiding-places; and we procured a guide to be ready the moment General Figoroa should return, went back to the house, and to our surprise found the widow Padilla there. She had been secreted somewhere in the neighbourhood, and had heard, by means of an old woman-servant of the general's breakfasting with us, and our intimacy with him. We inquired for her daughters' safety, but not where they were, for we had already found that we could answer inquiries better when we knew nothing.

We waited till four o'clock, and hearing nothing of General Figoroa, made up our minds that we should not get off till evening. We therefore strolled up to the extreme end of the street, where Figoroa had entered, and where stood the ruins of an old church. We sat on the foundation walls, and looked through the long and desolate street to the plaza, where were a few stacks of muskets and some soldiers. All around were mountains, and among them rose the beautiful and verdant volcano of Chingo. While sitting there, two women ran past, and, telling us that the soldiers were returning in that direction, hid themselves among the ruins. We turned down a road, and were intercepted on a little eminence, where we were obliged to stop and look down upon them as they passed. We saw that they were irritated by an unsuccessful day's work, and that they had found agua ardiente; for many of them were drunk. A drummer on horseback, and so tipsy that he could hardly sit, stopped the line to glorify General Carrera. Very soon they commenced the old touchstone, "Viva Carrera!" and one fellow, with the strap of his knapsack across his naked shoulders, again stopped the whole line, and turning round, with a ferocious expression, said, "You are counting us, are you?" We disappeared, and by another street got back to the house. We waited a moment, and, determined to get out of the town and sleep at the first hacienda on the road, left the house to go again to General Figoroa for his despatches; but before reaching it we saw new confusion in the plaza, a general remounting and rushing to arms, as soon as General Figoroa saw us, he spurred his horse down the street to meet us, and told us, in great haste, that General Morazan was approaching, and almost upon the town. He had that moment received the news, and was going out to attack him. He had no time to sign the despatches, and while he was speaking the lancers galloped past. He shook hands, bade us good-bye, hasta luego (until presently), asked us to call upon Carrera in case we did not see him again, and dashing down the line, put himself at the head of the lancers. The loot-soldiers followed in single file on a run, carrying their arms as was most convenient. In the hurry and excitement we forgot ourselves till we heard some flattering epithets, and saw two fellows shaking their muskets at us with the expression of fiends; but, hurried on by those behind, they cried out ferociously, "Estos picaros otro vez," "Those rascals again." The last of the line had hardly disappeared before we heard a volley of musketry, and in a moment fifty or sixty men left in the plaza snatched up their arms, and ran down a street opening from the plaza. Very soon a horse without a rider came clattering down the street at full speed; three others followed, and in five minutes we saw thirty or forty horsemen, with our friend Figoroa at their head, dash across the street, all running for their lives; but in a few moments they rallied and returned. We walked toward the church, to ascend the steeple, when a sharp volley of musketry rolled up the street on that side, and before we got back into the house there was firing along the whole length of the street. We knew that a chance shot might kill a non combatant, and secured the doors and windows; but finally, as the firing was sharp, and the balls went beyond us, and struck the houses on the opposite side, with an old servant-woman (what had become of the widow I do not know), we retired into a small room on the courtyard, with delightful walls, and a door three inches thick, and bullet-proof, shutting which, and in utter darkness, we listened valiantly. Here we considered ourselves out of harm's way, but we had serious apprehensions for the result. The spirit on both sides was to kill; giving quarter was not thought of. Morazan's party was probably small, but they would not be taken without a desperate fight; and from the sharpness of the firing, and the time occupied, there was probably a sanguinary affair. Our quondam friends, roused by bloodshed, wounds, and loss of companions, without any one to control them, would be very likely to connect "those rascals" with the arrival of Morazan. I will not say that we wished they might all be killed, but we did wish that their bad blood might be let out, and that was almost the same thing. In fact, I did most earnestly hope never to see their faces again. I preferred being taken by any roving band in the country rather than by them, and never felt more relieved than when we heard the sound of a bugle. It was the Morazan blast of victory; and, though sounding fiercely the well-known notes of "degollar, degollar," "cut-throaty cut-throat," it was music to our ears. Very soon we heard the tramp of cavalry, and leaving our hiding-place, returned to the sala, and heard a cry of "Viva la Federacion!" This was a cheering sound. It was now dark. We opened the door an inch or two, but a lancer riding by struck it open with his lance, and asked for water. We gave him a large calabash, which another took from his hands. We threw open the door, and kept two large calabashes on the silt; and the soldiers, as they passed, took a hasty draught. Asking a question of each, we learned that it was General Morazan himself, with the survivors of his expedition against Guatimala. Our house was well known; many of the officers inquired for the family, and an aid-de-camp gave notice to the servant-woman that Morazan himself intended stopping there. The soldiers marched into the plaza, stacked their arms, and shouted "Viva Morazan!" In the morning the shout was, "Viva Carrera!" None cried "Viva la Patria!"

There was no end to our troubles. In the morning we surrendered to one party, and in the evening were captured out of their hands by another; probably before daylight Carrera would be upon us. There was only one comfort: the fellows who had broken our rest the night before, and scared the inhabitants from their homes, were now looking out for lodgings in the mountains themselves. I felt sorry for Figoroa and his aid, and on abstract principles, for the killed. As for the rest, I cared but little what became of them.

In a few moments a party of officers came down to our house. For six days they had been in constant flight through an enemy's country, changing their direction to avoid pursuit, and only stopping to rest their horses. Entering under the excitement of a successful skirmish, they struck me as the finest set of men I had seen in the country. Figoroa had come upon them so suddenly, that General Morazan, who rode at the head of his men, had two bullets pass by his head before he could draw his pistol, and he had a narrower escape than in the whole of his bloody battle in Guatimala. Colonel Calbañas, a small, quiet, gentlemanly man, the commander of the troops massacred in Honduras, struck the first blow, broke his sword over a lancer, and, wresting the lance out of its owner's hands, ran it through his body, but was wounded himself in the hand. A tall, gay, rattling young man, who was wiping warm blood from off his sword, and drying it on his pocket-handkerchief mourned that he had failed in cutting off their retreat; and a quiet middle-aged man, wiping his forehead, drawled out that if their horses had not been so tired they would have killed every man. Even they talked only of killing; taking prisoners was never thought of. The verb matar, to kill, with its inflexions, was so continually ringing in my ears that it made me nervous. In a few minutes the widow Padilla, who, I am inclined to believe, was secreted somewhere in the neighbourhood, knowing of General Morazan's approach, rushed in, crying wildly for her sons. All answered that the eldest was with them; all knew her, and one after another put his right arm respectfully over her shoulder and embraced her; but the young man who was wiping his sword drove it into its scabbard, and, catching her up in his arms, lifted her off the floor and whirled her about the room. The poor old lady, half laughing and half crying, told him he was as bad as ever, and continued asking for her sons. At this moment a man about forty, whom I had noticed before as the only one without arms, with a long beard, pale and haggard, entered from the court-yard. The old lady screamed, rushed toward him, and fell on his neck, and for some moments rested her head upon his shoulder. This was the one who had been imprisoned by Carrera. General Morazan had forced his way into the plaza, broken open the prisons, and liberated the inmates; and when he was driven out, this son made his escape. But where was her younger and dearer son? The young man answered that he had escaped and was safe. The old lady looked at him with distrust, and, calling him by his Christian name, told him he was deceiving her; but he persisted and swore that he had escaped; he himself had given him a fresh horse; he was seen outside the barrier, was probably concealed somewhere, and would soon make his appearance. The other officers had no positive knowledge. One had seen him at such a time, and another at such a time during the battle; and all agreed that the young man ought to know best, for their posts were near each other; and he, young, ardent, and reckless, the dearest friend of her son, and loving her as a mother, told me afterward that she should have one night's comfort, and that she would know the truth soon enough; but the brother, narrowly escaped from death himself, and who looked as if smiles had been for ever driven from his face, told me he had no doubt his mother's darling was killed.[1] During these scenes the captain and I were not unnoticed. The captain found among the officers several whom he had become acquainted with at the port, and he learned that others had made their last campaign. In the first excitement of meeting them, he determined to turn back and follow their broken fortunes; but, luckily for me, those trunks had gone on. He felt that he had a narrow escape. Among those who had accompanied General Morazan were the former secretary of state and war, and all the principal officers, civil and military, of the shattered general government. They had heard of my arrival in the country. I had been expected at San Salvador, was known to them all by reputation, and very soon personally; particularly I became acquainted with Colonel Saravia, a young man about twenty-eight, handsome, brave, and accomplished in mind and manners, with an enthusiastic attachment for General Morazan, from whom, in referring to one affair in the attack on Guatimala, with tears almost starting from his eyes, he said, Providence seemed to turn the bullets away. I had often heard of this gentleman in Guatimala, and his case shows the unhappy rending of private and social ties produced by these civil wars. His father was banished by the Liberal party eight years before, and was then a general in the Carlist service in Spain. His mother and three sisters lived in Guatimala, and I had visited at their house perhaps oftener than at any other in that city. They lived near the plaza, and while Morazan had possession of it, the colonel had run home to see them; and in the midst of a distracted meeting, rendered more poignant by the circumstance of his being joined in an attack upon his native city, he was called away to go into action; his horse was shot under him, he was wounded, and escaped with the wreck of the army. His mother and sisters knew nothing of his fate. He said, what I was sure was but too true, that they would have dreadful apprehensions about him, and begged me, immediately on my arrival at Guatimala, to visit them and inform them of his safety.

In the meantime. General Morazan, apprehensive of a surprise from Carrera during the night, sent word that he should sleep in the plaza; and escorted by Colonel Saravia, I went to pay my respects to him. From the time of his entry I felt perfectly secure, and never had a moment of apprehension from unruly soldiers. For the first time I saw something like discipline. A sentinel was pacing the street leading from the plaza, to prevent the soldiers straggling into the town; but the poor fellows seemed to have no disposition for straggling. The town was stripped of everything; even the poor horses had no food. Some were gathered at the window of the cabildo, each in his turn holding up his hat for a portion of hard corn bread; some were sitting around fires, eating this miserable fare; but most were stretched on the ground, already asleep. It was the first night they had lain down except in an enemy's country.

General Morazan, with several officers, was standing in the corridor of the cabildo; a large fire was burning before the door, and a table stood against the wall, with a candle and chocolate-cups upon it. He was about forty-five years old, five feet ten inches high, thin, with a black moustache and week's beard, and wore a military frock-coat, buttoned up to the throat, and sword. His hat was off, and the expression of his face mild and intelligent. Though still young, for ten years he had been the first man in the country, and eight, President of the Republic. He had risen and had sustained himself by military skill and personal bravery; always led his forces himself; had been in innumerable battles, and often wounded, but never beaten. A year before, the people of Guatimala, of both parties, had implored him to come to their relief, as the only man who could save them from Carrera and destruction. At that moment he added another to the countless instances of the fickleness of popular favour. After the expiration of his term he had been elected chief of the state of San Salvador, which office he had resigned, and then acted as commander-in-chief under the Federal Government. Denounced personally, and the Federation under which he served disavowed, he had marched against Guatimala with 1,400 men, and forced his way into the plaza; forty of his oldest officers and his eldest son were shot down by his side; and cutting his way through masses of human flesh, with about 450 men then in the plaza, made his escape. I was presented to him by Colonel Saravia. From the best information I could acquire, and from the enthusiasm with which I had heard him spoken of by his officers, and, in feet, by every one else in his own State, I had conceived almost a feeling of admiration for General Morazan, and my interest in him was increased by his misfortunes. I was really at a loss how to address, him; and while my mind was full of his ill-fated expedition, his first, question was if his family had arrived in Costa Rica, or if I had heard anything of them. I did not tell him, what I then thought, that his calamities would follow all who were connected with him, and probably that his wife and daughters would not be permitted an asylum in that state; but it spoke volumes that, at such a moment, with the wreck of his followers before him, and the memory of his murdered companions fresh in his mind, in the overthrow of all his hopes and fortunes, his heart turned to his domestic relations. He expressed his sorrow for the condition in which I saw his unhappy country; regretted that my visit was at such a most unfortunate moment; spoke of Mr. De Witt, and the relations of that country with ours, and his regret that our treaty had not been renewed, and that it could not be done now; but these things were not in my mind. Feeling that he must have more important business, I remained but a short time, and returned to the house.

The moon had risen, and I was now extremely anxious to set out, but our plans were entirely deranged. The guide whom we had engaged to conduct us to the Rio Paz was missing, and no other could be found; in fact not a man could be induced, either by promises or threats, to leave the town that night from fear of falling in with the routed troops. Several of the officers took chocolate with us, and at the head of the table sat a priest with a sword by his side. I had breakfasted men who would have been happy to cut their throats, and they were now hiding among the mountains or riding for life. If Carrera came, my new friends would be scattered. They all withdrew early, to sleep under arms in the plaza, and we were left with the widow and her son. A distressing scene followed, of inquiries and forebodings by the widow for her younger son, which the elder could only get rid of by pleading excessive fatigue, and begging to be permitted to go to sleep. It was rather singular, but it had not occurred to us before to inquire about the dead and wounded in the skirmish. There were none of the latter; all who fell were lanced, and the dead were left on the ground. He was in the rear of the Morazan party; the fire was scattering; but on the line by which he entered the town he counted eighteen bodies.


  1. I have lately learned that he escaped, and is now safe with his mother in Aguachapa.