Our Sister Republic/Chapter 1
HON. WILLIAM H. SEWARD. TRAVELING IN MEXICO.
A GALA TRIP THROUGH MEXICO.
FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO COLIMA.
GLORIOUSLY beautiful was that bright morning of the 30th day of September, 1869, when I reluctantly left the darkened chamber in which lay the mortal remains of a brave man, and true champion of freedom, my friend of many years, Señor Don Jose A. Godoy. the Consul of Mexico, who had fallen dead while attending the last reception of Mr. Seward on the evening previous, and bidding farewell to his stricken family, hurried on board the Pacific Mail Steamship Co's magnificent steamer Golden City, which was lying at her berth in San Francisco, with steam up, ready to bear us away to the tropics.
Blue and clear was the sky above us, calm and mirror like the surface of the broad Bay of San Francisco, soft as velvet in all their outlines, the brown, grey, and mauve-tinted mountains which surround it, when seen through the purple haze of Autumn which enveloped city and village, hill, mountain, island, fortress, and inland sea, alike in its tender and loving embrace. When I come again from beyond the snowy mountains, and the shores of another ocean, a change will have come over all the fair scene, and hill and valley, mountain and plain, will rejoice in the verdure and flowers of the spring-time. "Good-Bye!" "Good-Bye!" "Good-Bye!" The last friendly hand is shaken, the last affectionate embrace is given, and the plank hauled in, the crash of the great gun on the forward deck startles the echoes of all the hills around the bay, the great steamer moves slowly away from the wharf, swings around with the tide in the harbor, and gliding swiftly past the city front, the shipping from many
ports, Alcatraz, Point San Jose, Fort Point, and the Presidio de San Francisco, passes through the Golden Gate, and heads out into the blue, illimitable Pacific.
The sea is calm, and the sky is clear; and everything promises a quiet, pleasant voyage. Capt. Lapidge, is an old and thorough seaman, Purser Mattoon understands making everybody comfortable, and is disposed to do it in an off-hand, unobtrusive way, and Dr. Miller, U. S. A. is on hand to attend to all who need his professional services; so that all our wants, and all contingencies are provided for. From one end of the steamer to the other, everything goes on like clock-work,—no noise, no loud talking, no confusion; Chinese sailors spread the awnings which are to shelter the passengers from the sun of the tropics, and Chinese waiters, clean, quiet, and orderly, with their list-soled slippers, move quietly about the cabin and state-rooms, keeping everything in order, and seeing that no wants of the passengers are left unattended to. On the whole, I think it must be conceded that John is the "coming man," and take him all in all, he is a pretty good fellow;" it is well for us that no worse man is to come in his place.
On the afternoon of the second day—Friday—we were passing the islands off the Santa Barbara Coast, having made two hundred and thirty-five miles during the first twenty-four hours. On Saturday we were out of sight of land all day, and the register showed a progress of two hundred and twenty-two miles for the last twenty-four hours. On Sunday afternoon we came in sight of the large barren island of Cerros, and its outlying rocks and lesser islands, and the whole of the afternoon and evening skirted along the treeless, red mountain shores of Mexican Lower California. No living thing was to be seen on these verdureless mountains. Sitting back far enough from the rail to hide the blue stretch of water, you might fancy yourself upon the Colorado or Mojave Desert, without any serious stretch of the imagination; the same saffron-hued horizon, pale blue sky, red, brown, and yellow, jagged, naked mountains; the same eternal silence of utter desolation. "Mother," said a little prattling child upon the steamer, "mother, do anybody live in that land?" "No my darling, I hope not," was the earnest reply. God is merciful, and I trust she was right. Sunday service at sea, of the Episcopal Church, was read by Capt. Lapidge, the few cabin passengers all joining in the responses, and then we went out on deck to watch the changes in the dreary, barren shore. A single little sail came in sight, and passed near enough for us to see that the craft was a sloop, of perhaps, twenty tons burthen, flying no flag, and carrying some half dozen dark-hued men—Italians, or other southern Europeans—who made no signals, and evidently did not care to court attention to the business in which they were engaged, whatever that might be; there is a little smuggling carried on, even, upon this barren coast.
Monday morning found us plowing through a glassy sea, with no land, no sail, no bird in sight; only the great, glaring sun in the unclouded sky, and the deep, blue, glittering sea below. At 2 p.m. we were in sight of land once more—as desolate and uninhabited as the last. Had any one told us that day, that the noble steamer which was bearing us so safely and swiftly over the sea, would in less than six months more be lying an utter wreck on that terrible shore, with what increased interest would we have gazed on both! Passing Santa Margarita Island and Magdalena Bay, at sunset we were well toward Cape St. Lucas, or within one hundred miles thereof. At 5 p.m. we were a thousand miles from home.
At 8 p.m. a light was seen before us; then blue and red signal lights were sent up, and answered, and soon, out of the darkness emerged the great hull of the steamship Montana. Both steamers stopped, boats were sent off to exchange the latest papers from either side of the continent and carry letters and messages for the dear ones far away. Then a stream of flame shot far out across the waters from either steamer's deck, the loud roar of the signal guns filled the startled air, and the two great black masses moved away swiftly into the darkness again, and each was lost to the sight of those on board the other.
I know of no scene which one may witness in all one's life, more full of unwritten poetry, unenacted romance, more dreamily suggestive of "what might have been," than this meeting and parting of two great steamers on the pathless sea. Who were they, who crowded the decks and wonderingly watched us as we watched them? In what mysterious way were their lives linked with ours? Were there any there who might have loved us, any we might have loved? What stories of love and hatred, and all the thousand emotions which distract the human mind, and affect for good or ill a human life, were spoiled, when the thousand souls which those two steamers bore, came thus near together, almost within touching distance, as it were, and then parted again, and for the most part forever? Had we met and mingled, how the whole story Of this life, or that, might have been affected, and changed it may be for all time. There is food for conjecture and speculation without end in all this, but it is only vague unsatisfying speculation after all, and the questions suggested to each of us, must remain unanswered to all, forever.
Daybreak on Tuesday, October 5th, found us passing Cape St. Lucas, and within the tropics. Still the same dreary, barren, mountain shore; not a sign of human life have we seen while skirting along the Lower California coast for nearly a thousand miles; not a tree, not; a flower, not a blade of grass, no living thing of any kind—only rocks and sand and loneliness, eternal silence and utter desolation. All the settlements—and they are few at best—are on the inner or Gulf side of the peninsula, and completely hidden from the passing vessel. The sun poured down all day from an unclouded sky, and no breeze ruffled, the face of the ocean, which was smooth as a mirror, save where, at regular intervals, the long, heavy ground swells came rolling in from the south-westward, and pitched and tossed about the great steamer like an egg-shell.
The poet says:
"There is no crowd however slight
But one cockney is there."
We had ours. He stood looking over the rail, eye-glass in place, watching the tumbling of two great monster blackfish, which rose and disappeared like porpoises. "Aw! what kind of a whale might that be?" he demanded. The venerable looking McElroy, who represents the U. S. Custom-House Department on board, promptly replied, "That, my dear friend, is the Castor oil whale," a broad, genial smile of true benevolence spreading far and wide over his fine open countenance. "Haw, yes; that's what I thought. We have hoceans on 'em in the Hinglish Channel!" was the prompt return of the true son of old Albion.
As the day died out and the sun went down in a blaze of glory, all hands assembled on deck to witness a sunset in the tropics. We often hear the remark, "That sky is unnatural; it is far too gaudy!" as we stand in some art gallery in the cold North before a picture in which the artist has faithfully labored to depict the glories of a tropical sunset. The paint sufficiently brilliant to do justice to the scene before us that evening has yet to be made. A smooth blue sea for a base, a soft blue sky above; along the western horizon a row of solid purple clouds standing up like jagged volcanic rocks from the bosom of the ocean, for which, indeed, they would have been unhesitatingly taken but for the constant alteration in their outlines.
Every moment they
"Suffered a sea change
Into something new and strange."
A sea-lion, a land-lion, a sphynx, a castle, a walled city, a mighty volcano, an Orizaba or a Shasta, grew each in turn, before our wondering eyes. Soon the whole long line was cut off from its base, as if by a knife, and lifted high into air, and from the bosom of the sea rose up another, almost a duplicate of the first. Then the intervening sky, from brilliant orange, took on the hue of the inner surface of the sea-shell, deepened into the brightest vermilion, which glowed like a flame, and seemed to give off light and heat of its own, filling all the air. As the shadow of evening fell, the horizon grew by contrast brighter and brighter, the clouds became inky black, while the vermilion sky spread out like a valley between the two great Sierras—mountains of iron in a land of fire. We stood like the wondering denizens of another planet in the hour of this earth's last agony, and saw "the elements dissolve with fervent heat," and mountains undermined go crashing down into the hungry sea of flame. Then the black curtain of night fell over all, and, almost in the twinkling of an eye, that strange, wild, weird, enchanting scene, passed like a dream away. Wednesday morning found us crossing the mouth of the Gulf of California, or the Mar de Cortez, as the Spaniards termed it, rain pouring down, the sea rough, and many on board sick, the writer among the number. Accursed be the memory of the man who found the ocean first! At 2 p. m., we passed Cape Corrientes, and when night came down with an almost impenetrable pall of darkness on the heaving waste of waters, we were within seventy-five miles of the entrance of the Bay of Manzanillo.
Slowly the great steamer crept along the rock-bound, dangerous coast, feeling her way cautiously as she went, and at 2 o'clock on Thursday morning, almost a week from our leaving San Francisco, we felt that we were once more in smooth water, and the loud report of the steamer's gun conveyed to us the glad tidings that we had entered the harbor of Manzanillo, and finished that portion of our journey comprised in the voyage down the Pacific. The Custom-House officials, Governor Cuerva and staff, and other officers and citizens, came on board at once to receive Mr. Seward, congratulated him on his arrival, and tendered him in behalf of the Republic and its citizens, the hospitalities of the country.
At day-break our baggage was sent ashore and passed at once, unopened, through the Custom House, and the party were then conveyed to the beach in boats carried through the surf to the shore on men's backs to the solid land. "We stood at last on the soil of Mexico, saw the steamer sail away through the storm and disappear in the distance, then turned our faces eastward and looked about upon the strange land to which we had come, and the strange scenes and strange faces which surrounded us. Nothing can be more thoroughly tropical and attractive in its appearance than Manzanillo as seen from the harbor at this season of the year. A bay, five miles across and nearly round with an entrance half as wide
BEACH AND HOUSES AT MANZANILLO.
as the bay on the southern side, surrounded by high conical hills, covered with dense foliaged trees, and bright and flowering shrubs, forms the harbor, one of the finest in the world for its size. The town itself is not much to speak of. Half-a-dozen long one-story houses with thick adobe walls, white-washed, with large court-yards, and surrounded by outhouses, all with broad verandahs, are used as general store-houses, offices and dwellings, by the proprietors of the American and European importing houses, while they have their principal places of business at Colima, Guadalajara, and other cities in the interior. A dozen or two tule thatched huts or jacals inhabited by natives, and scattered irregularly along the beach and on the hills above, constitute, with the barn-like Custom-House, or "aduana maritima" the remainder of the town, the whole being a mere embarcadero or depot, for the trade of the interior.
The Americans and Europeans, dress and live much as they do at home in their own countries, and appear to enjoy life pretty well, "considering." Society must of course be limited and select. The natives live a la Mejicana, wear a costume consisting of a white cotton shirt and drawers, and broad-brimmed sombrero. Those in good circumstances add a poncho, or Mexican woolen blanket of fine texture, and those who are out of luck content themselves with a shirt or pair of drawers alone: if particularly unblessed by fortune they contrive to get along without either, a sombrero and breech-clout of coarse cotton answering every purpose tolerably well. They are excellent boatmen, and generally willing to work, if employment is offered, at very moderate wages. The women dress as lightly as the men, and are in nowise charry of their personal charms. The people greeted our party with cordiality, but manifested little curiosity.
The Governor and his friends were all dressed in European costume, and though generally ignorant of our language contrived to anticipate every want, and show all possible hospitality. The merchants took possession of our party, furnished us with beds, and spread hospitable tables for us. Capital cigars and cigarritos we found here in abundance, and extremely cheap. Thirty-two bunches of cigarritos, each containing thirty-six, are sold for one dollar, or about two per cent, of their retail price in New York or San Francisco. Let it rain! Matches, and all similar trifles made in the country, sell at correspondingly low prices, and imported goods are generally lower than in the United States, the duty being' about the same, and rates nominal.
From Manzanillo to Colima, about ninety miles, there is no wagon-road though one could be easily built. Just back of the first range of hills, behind the town, there is a fresh-water lake, thirty miles in length, which would float a small steamer. By this lake, people are carried by native canoes toward Colima for its entire length, and from its farther end there is a tolerable wagon-road most of the way to that city.
The Government some time ago commenced to cut a canal, a fourth of a mile in length, through the hill back of the town, to connect the lake with the harbor, and make it possible for small steamers to pass through, thus opening up the country to commerce. The work was about half finished and then suspended for want of funds, about thirty thousand dollars having been expended. One hundred Chinamen working at one dollar per day, would finish the work in sixty days at most. The merchants seem to be doing well. They say that the duties are collected regularly and fairly now, the old custom of knocking off half or two-thirds of the amount on a full cargo, to the ruin of the smaller importers, having been abolished by the Juarez administration. They have not been subjected to "forced loans" since the mushroom "Empire" collapsed, the last squeeze having been made in January, 1866, by the French, when they levied $300,000 on the City of Colima, a town of 20,000 to 30,000 people, but were forced to decamp by the arrival of the Liberal army under Gen. Ramon Corona, when only $100,000 had been collected. There are still many French families residing in the country, and considering the provocations which the Mexicans have suffered, they are remarkably well treated everywhere.
The verdure on the hills is magnificent, and wonderfully soothing to the eye grown wearied with the sight of the bare, red hills of Lower California, and blinking under the rays of the fierce sun of the tropics. All the freighting between vessels and the shore, is done by lighters; there is only one miserable old rickety disused wharf, and everything has to be carried through the surf to the dry land on men's backs. The bay swarms with sharks, and the lake with alligators. Two years ago a sudden freshet drove the alligators out of the lake into the bay, and a fight, long, bloody, and terrible to witness, took place between them and the sharks. The inhabitants looked on with calm indifference—it was none of their funeral anyhow—and finally saw the alligators "cleaned out bag and baggage" by the sharks. This fact is well attested by numerous eye-witnesses still living here. On the beach is found the machinery for a large sugar-mill, imported six years ago at a cost of $30,000, and now lying rusting away in the sand. The want of a wagon-road, and the then disturbed condition of the country, prevented its reaching the plantation for which it was intended, near Guadalajara, and may now be left there for as many years to come, before the owners will take a new start and get it up into the interior, and put it in operation. The forests all around abound with game, quail, deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, partridges of two varieties, &c., &c. It is a paradise for a hunter, and the waters of the bay abound with fish of all kinds.
The rain came pouring down in torrents for two days in succession, so that leaving for Colima was out of the question. Meantime we had nothing to do but go around and see the sights, such as they are. The beautiful white coffee of Colima, which is superior to the best Mocha, and sells here for a little less than thirty-three cents per pound, was carefully examined. Then the delicate-flavored and almost pure white-sugar of Jalisco, which sells at ten cents per pound, was duly sampled and pronounced excellent and cheap. Tropical fruits, oranges, lemons, limes, sweet lemons, pomegranates, melons, bananas, and various others, nuts, etc., are abundant and cheap. In the court-yard of one of our hosts, Mr. Dieckman, we found trees loaded with oranges and zapotes, and at the lower end of the town, a cocoa palm tree, covered with nuts of all sizes.
We found cigars equal to a fair Havana, made a Tepic, selling for two dollars per one hundred, neatly put up in boxes. The temptation to smuggle a few of them into San Francisco, if we had been going that way, would have been almost irresistible. Half a million of silver dollars came down here from Guadalajara, in September, by one train or conducta, and were sent to San Francisco by the Golden City, which steamer brought them immediately back, on the way to New York or Europe, via Panama. They were on board when we came down the coast. Even the poorest people appear to have some small change, and there is far more money in the country, apparently, than our people, who form their opinion from letters written for publication abroad by European correspondents residing here, generally suppose.
A few years ago a vessel was loading Mexican dollars in the harbor of Manzanillo, when a box or two fell overboard, and the divers failed to recover them. The boxes at last rotted and went to pieces, and since that, from time to time, the waves during great storms wash the dollars ashore. When we arrived the waves had been immense, and the shore all along the front of the town, was lined with the poorer natives, hunting for the precious pesos. As these men earn their living by hunting, and loading and unloading vessels, having perhaps two or three days work in a month, a dollar is quite a fortune to them, and the finding of two or three is an event of their lives. The dollars are stained to an inky blackness by long immersion in the sea-water, but are still worth their face, and no discount is charged on them by the merchants, who get them all in the end. The people are small eaters in this hot climate, and beef is ten cents per pound, and beans fifteen cents, while fish can be obtained for the taking from the water, and fruit costs next to nothing; so that every time a native finds one of these dollars, he has secured the means of a comfortable living for a month, and may consider himself a gentleman for that' time if he is of economical habits, and not given to gambling.
We heard much apparently well grounded complaint about the management of postal matters in this part of the Republic. The Government charges twenty-five cents on each letter, but, singularly enough, while there are no Government mails between here and the interior, there is a Post-Office, and the postage is rigidly exacted. Thus a merchant makes up his correspondence and takes his letters to the Post-Office, where he pays twenty-five cents on each. There are stamps provided for by law, but none are for sale here, and the letters receive no mark from the Postmaster to show that the postage has been paid. Then the merchant dispatches a mail carrier to Colima, and pays him ten dollars for carrying the same batch of letters on which he has just paid the Government twenty-five cents each. At Colima the letters are delivered to the Post-Office, and twenty-five cents each collected again for simply passing them out over the counter, as there is nothing to show that they have paid the legal dues. Letters come from Mazatlan by steamers, prepaid, and twenty-five cents each is collected on them on their arrival here. Then they are sent to Colima as stated, and pay again before starting, and also on their arrival there, or three times in all. Letters from San Francisco, by steamer, for persons here, must be delivered to the Postmaster by the purser on his arrival, and twenty-five cents each is charged at once before they can go into the hands of the persons to whom they are directed. If the entire postal system of the country was thus managed, the Post-Office Department ought to be a paying institution, but I was told that the abuses complained of are exceptional and local, and that the Federal Government does not reap the benefit of the imposition. However, the tax is a heavy one on the merchants. I was told that one house having a depot here and a large store at Colima, paid last year $6,000 in postage and courier charges.
Despite the incessant rains, our time in Manzanillo passed not unpleasantly away, we were elegantly lodged, and fed, and cared for kindly every way. Gov. Cueva, Señor Rendon, the Administrador of Customs, and Mr. Morrill, the American Consul from Colima, all of whom had come down from Colima to meet Mr. Seward, staid with us until the storm at last cleared away on the night of the 8th of October, and we made ready for departure.
Gov. Cueva is a tall, dark, finely-formed, and intelligent young man. He is a physician by profession, but has been "acting Governor" for some years, and appears to be quite popular. He has taken a great interest in the establishment of free schools in Colima and other towns in the State, and a decided advance has been made within the last two years in general education. He appears to be fully aware of the importance of public improvements and the development of the great natural resources of the country. This little State of Colima—The smallest, or one of the smallest in the Union—contains a population of sixty thousand, of which three-fifths are pure Indian blood, and two-thirds of the remainder have but little European blood, a few only being of pure Castilian descent. Singularly enough, this Indian element appears to be the most liberty-loving and progressive portion of the population, and foreigners generally concede that it is less corruptible and changeable than the pure European. Whatever may be its faults, bull-dog tenacity, courage, and love of country are among its virtues and most hopeful characteristics. It has capacities which, developed by education, may yet prove the salvation of this beautiful country.
Señor Luis Rendon, a small, spare, sharp-featured, dark-hued man, appears to be a thorough gentleman. He has effected great reforms in the Custom House and is called a "a square man" by the importing merchants who,
|SEÑOR LUIS RENDON|
however, dislike him because he exacts full and complete obedience to the law, which has put a stop to the old system of reductions on imports, in favor of the great merchants, to the ruin of the small ones. Under his administration, Manzanillo, from yielding five hundred thousand dollars per annum in revenue to the Federal Government, has come to yield $1,500,000. and all without a single wagon-road into the interior in any direction. When roads already commenced are finished, a wharf built, and some other improvements made, this place will grow into a thriving port, and have a grand commerce.
Give Mexico ten years of uninterrupted peace, and Manzanillo, with its natural advantages and the expediture of a small sum for improvements, would become an important seaport. The town is somewhat unhealthy because the lake gets low and breeds fever and ague during the dry season, but the Europeans and Americans appear to suffer but little, while the natives, being poorly housed and exposed to all sorts of weather, are sick half of the time. We saw many of them lying around under the verandah, apparently half dead with ague. Everything here comes down from the interior on mule-back, and it takes six days for a train to make the ninety miles from Colima to Manzanillo. Some time this will be all different. Already, a telegraph line is in operation from the City of Mexico to this place, and Mr. Seward was met by congratulatory dispatches direct from President Juarez and Cabinet. Stage-coaches and steamboats will come next, and then railroads and a higher civilization.
After two days' waiting at Manzanillo the rain suddenly ceased, and a clear sunset gave promise of fine weather to follow. At day-break on the 9th of October, all Manzanillo was astir, and our party prepared to leave for Colima. By arrangement, the entire company, "bag and baggage," was to be transported by boats up the Laguna de Cayutlan thirty miles, then across the divide of three leagues, between the end of the lake and the Rio Maria, in Concord coaches sent down by Don Juan Firmin Huarte, the hospitable proprietor of the immense estate formerly known as "Los Chinos," now as "La Calera," and thence over the river and the succeeding three leagues to that place, as could be best arranged under the circumstances.
As the party left the house and walked out through the straggling, crooked street, lined with low, thatched huts half of which were flooded from the rains and vacated by the owners, the people stood hats in hands all along the way, to give Mr. Seward a kindly parting salutation. All was bustle and confusion at the landing. Men were wading back and forth in the muddy water, carrying packages, or altering and arranging the boats. Five light, strong boats, each painted white, red and green—the national colors of Mexico—had been provided. Two boats carried the "Seward Party," Gov. Cueva and Señor Rendon; a third the promiscuous escort, and the fourth and fifth were loaded down with our luggage, provisions, etc., etc. Despite the many delays all the party was safely on board the boats just after sunrise. The air was still and the sky clear, and in a short time the heat became almost insupportable. Then, little black-eyed Mexican boys, spry and agile as cats, crept around each boat hanging out gaily striped awnings, and rich colored blankets, to shield us from the blazing rays of the tropic sun, and we lay down in the boats, at full length, and watched with a wondering interest, the shifting of the glorious panorama before us. The great mountain chain, which forms a semi-circle around the inland side of the Laguna de Cayutlan, is clothed in magnificent vegetation, from the waters edge to its summit; all the wealth of the tropics is lavished on the picture. The long lines of palm trees on the heights, cutting sharply against the blue sky, seem to have been set there by some cunning hand, to make it perfect in all its artistic details.
The Laguna de Cayutlan runs nearly east and west for thirty miles, parallel with and but a short distance from the sea, and at this season is from four to ten feet in depth, and one to six miles wide. It would float a steamer the year round.
Within the charmed circle in which we floated, all was peaceful and still; there was hardly breeze enough to puff out the sails which our boatmen spread to lighten their labors, and the surface of the Lacuna was like glass, while at the same time we could hear the hollow booming of the ocean waves, and the dull incessant roar of the surf, breaking on the beach just beyond the line of palm-trees, which bounded the view upon the south.
Our rowers, five in each boat, nearly naked, or entirely so, worked well. I never saw better rowers. They appeared to be all of pure Indian blood—the working element of the country. Their oars all struck the water at once, and they sent the boats through the water at a high speed. Had they been selected instead of the Harvard crew, to row against the Oxfords, I would have staked my money on the American side, if I chanced to have any to risk.
On our arrival at Manzanillo from the steamer, at the house of Mr. Bartling, who most hospitably entertained our party during our stay, we were provided with six excellent camp bedsteads, with beautiful gilded frames and canopies, lace mosquito bars, and lace-covered pillows, rich crimson counterpanes, and fine soft matresses complete in every detail. While going up the lake we noticed, among the baggage, six neatly wrapped packages covered with matting and securely corded, and learned with surprise that each contained one of these beds packed for transportation, and that they had been purchased expressly for us at Colima, and were to be transported for our especial use from one side of Mexico to the other.
At one point we landed on the rocky shore of the Laguna, and gathered beautiful wild flowers, but the chaparral was so matted together with tangled vines and parasitic and climbing plants, that we could not travel ten rods in any direction, and after vainly endeavoring to get a shot at the flocks of gaudy parrots which filled the larger trees, we returned to the Laguna and were carried pick-a-back, to the boats again. The alligators, who fill the Laguna, are very cautious and shy, and it was only now and then that one would show the point of his dark snout above the surface. A volley of ill-directed pistol balls would send him down in an instant every time. On the whole I don't think the alligator crop of Cayutlan, will be to any serious extent the smaller next season, on account of our visit.
When we had gone about twelve miles up the lake, the flotilla came to a halt opposite a beautiful rocky island covered with giant cacti. All the boats came together, and in a few minutes the entire party was engaged in discussing, with keen relish, a bountiful lunch. When the repast was finished, Gov. Cueva proposed, as a sentiment, "Welcome to our distinguished guest; peace, and a better understanding, and more perfect friendly relation between the people and Government of the great Republic of the United States, and the people and Government of the Republic of Mexico." The toast was drank with the honors, and duly responded to, and the flotilla again moved up the Laguna.
At 2 p. m., we reached the landing at the eastern end of the lake, and found two light, Concord spring coaches, sent down from the interior for our use, and a multitude of attendants waiting to receive us. They had a full pack-train of mules ready to carry the baggage up to Colima, but the piles on piles of plunder which came on shore from our boats until the whole beach was strewn with it, startled them not a little, and made some of the mules drop their ears in utter dejection. The mules in common use all over the country are the smallest I have ever seen. Some of them do not weigh, more than two hundred pounds, and it is a large sized one which will weigh three hundred and fifty or four-hundred pounds: but like the little horses of the country, they are "lightning" when it comes to traveling or pulling.
Three leagues—about seven and a half or at most eight English miles—across a flat sandy country, entirely covered with impenetrable thickets of small thorny shrubs, trees of the acacia species, cacti, creeping plants, and climbing vines, over a road heavy with the rains, and poor at best, brought us to the Rio de Santa Maria, a small stream in ordinary times, but now a tremendous torrent, thick with mud. It looked wholly impassable. On the opposite shore there is a village of palm-thatched bamboo huts, inhabited, with one exception, by families of the civilized and Christian Indians of the country—once peons, but now all enfranchised. The rocky banks were lined with dark-skinned men in loose, white cotton drawers and shirts, immense broad-brimmed hats, and with rawhide sandals on their feet. We signaled the boats on the opposite shore, and a party of the natives immediately put off into the raging torrent, some wading as far as possible and pulling the boat by main strength, others handling the paddles.
It looked like certain death, to attempt the passage of the torrent in those little boats, but we could not stay there for it to fall, and cross we must, or drown in the attempt. I essayed the passage first, and though we went bounding up and down like an india rubber ball, and took water several times, we made the riffle in safety, and soon after, Mr. Seward and the entire party were across, and proceeded to the house of the great landholder of the vicinity, Don Ignacio Largos. His house is of bamboo or cane, like the others, and has a mud floor, but everything is as clean and neat as the parlor of the most thrifty New England housewife, and his young wife—a comely woman of the Spanish blood and type—made us at home at once.
Don Ignacio, a man of about seventy years, but stout, and well preserved, with hardly a gray hair in his head, came in to inform Mr. Seward, that the stream was too high to allow of the passage of the stages, but that during the night it would subside. They would then put the wheels of one side of the stage in one boat, and those of the other side in a second, and so row the cumbersome vehicles across. Meantime, he and all he had was "at His Excellency's service." He had two coaches in tolerable repair, which he was ready to hitch up to convey us on three leagues more to the "Hacienda Calera," the residence of Don Juan Firmin Huarte, where we were to pass the night. The old gentleman told us that he had about four thousand five hundred acres of the best sugar, cotton, and Indian corn land in America, and, he did not know exactly how many, though quite a number of square miles of good pasture lands in this rancho, which he would sell me [some one had wickedly represented me as the rich man the of the party] for $8,000 in gold. He had a few thousand cattle, all good stock, though diminutive, which he would also dispose of cheap. There might be 2,000 or 10,000, but he would not be particular about a few hundred head any way. He wanted to move upon a larger rancho somewhere up in the interior. I agreed to think it over until I came back, and give him my answer then. I trust that he will not get tired out, and die waiting to hear from me.
Dinner, consisting of a variety of meats, vegetables, fruits, sweetmeats, and wines, was placed on the table, and I take occasion to say that a cleaner, better cooked, and better served dinner could not be obtained at any hotel in the United States, though there was not a sign of a stove, carpet, or even floor about the premises.
At sunset, we saw our baggage train of pack mules arrive on the other shore, and the boats commence to take it over. We started at night-fall for La Calera, three leagues further on, and were whirled along over the heavy road at good speed, by the smart little mules furnished us by Don Ignacio. Up to this point the country, except for the densely wooded mountains in the background, might have been mistaken for the Bayou Teche country in Louisiana, though the vegetation was more abundant, and the soil richer and softer—a fine country for cultivation. Now, we crossed the; Llano de San Bartolo, a more open country, with occasional Indian villages. On this plain, the Spaniards were defeated with great loss, and driven back to their ships, in the time of the conquest by Cortez; but a second battle resulted in their favor, and the Indian power in Colima was forever broken. Passing in the moonlight an immense hacienda, with solid stone walls on all sides, now partially deserted, we arrived at La Calera at 10 o'clock, and were warmly welcomed.
When we arose at day-break on Sunday and walked out upon the broad verandah, which surrounds the great house at the hacienda of Don Juan Firmin Huarte, the scene before us was entrancingly beautiful. The estate occupies a broad valley, through which runs a small river, and is surrounded on all sides by mountains as high as the highest peaks of the Coast Range of California These mountains are covered from base to summit with low timber, as thick as it can stand on the ground, and all covered with a brilliant green foliage, save where the beautiful primavera, which bears great loads of white, red, pink, and blue blossoms, gives variety to the scene. This wood is all crooked, and mainly worthless for building purposes, though the amount of fuel on an acre is enormous The valley itself is one grand garden, run to wild. In one place, rows of tall graceful cocoa palm-trees, loaded with fruit in all stages of growth, lift their feathery heads in air, and call up visions of the gardens of Damascus. Then wide fields of sugar-cane, ripe, and ready for cutting, then corn-fields, where the corn is equal in size to that of Illinois, rice-fields, and great patches of banana plants, fifteen or twenty feet in height, each leaf being of the size of a counterpane on a double bed at home.
Turning our eyes from this scene to that more immediately at hand, we saw life in the tropics in all its lazy luxuriousness. Upon this grand hacienda, which is exactly as large as the District of Columbia, reside three hundred to four hundred natives of pure, or nearly pure, Indian blood, who are employed as laborers in the fields and around the mills. The men receive thirty-seven and-a-half cents per day, and board themselves. They are not very cheap laborers even at that price. For their accommodation, a meat-market is kept under a large open shed in front of the "casa grande." This market is supplied with beef from cattle killed during the night—we had been disturbed in our sleep by the bellowing of the poor beasts—and the market was in full operation when we saw it at day-break. The women by dozens, tall, slender, and dark, dressed in light-colored cotton gowns, without hoops, and bare-footed, with black rebosas wrapped around their shoulders and heads, half hiding their faces, were buying the day's supply of meat for the family, while the men lounged about in every variety of dilapidated garments, smoking cigarritos. A few wore brilliant-hued serapes closely wrapped around them, or thrown with negligent grace over one shoulder. This hacienda has the name of being very unhealthy, and many of the men appeared ill from malarious diseases. The meat was cut in irregular pieces with rude knives and axes, and sold at from six and a half, to ten cents per pound. Each purchaser took but a small piece, about enough for a "square meal" for three persons in a cold climate. The fat was being tried out for candles in a large kettle in front of the market, and the offal was lying in a corner. Swarms of long-nosed wolfish-looking dogs hung around, snapping up every scrap of meat left within reach, or thrown to them.
Beyond the market stands an immense half-finished sugar-house, and all around the place was scattered machinery therefor, hardly two pieces, belonging together, being within hearing distance of each other. The walls were of brick made on the place and poorly laid in cement. The roof is to be of tiles, but it is not yet finished. A vat for water, intended to hold at least two million gallons, built of brick and cemented, is built along-side. The three great boilers for this mill were being towed through the Laguna of Cayutlan—having been closed and cemented water-tight to insure their floating—as we came up on the previous day. The mill cannot be finished in less than six months, and meantime a superb crop of cane goes to waste. Opposite the sugar-mill is a huge building containing a rice mill, saw-mill, &c. The sugar machinery and distilling apparatus are from Hamburg, the steam-engines and boilers from England, and the rice and saw-mills from Boston and San Francisco. Everything consumed on the place is raised on it. Between the two mills is an enormous ditch or race for carrying the water to a great turbine wheel which is to run some of the machinery and assist in irrigation. The grounds all around are filled with carts and other agricultural implements, exposed to sun and rain, and a great part of the work done on the buildings and ditch, &c., has been wasted, because not half done,—a set of incompetent theoretical European engineers, having botched everything from the start. The proprietor, Señor Huarte, now sees how he has been imposed upon, and when we were there, was endeavoring to secure the services of a clear-headed practical American, then at Colima, to take charge of the work and carry it on to completion. He has already expended $200,000 on improvements on his estate and from appearances, it will cost fully half as much more before he will derive an income from it. The fields are rudely fenced with round poles, and cultivated in a very primitive manner with clumsy agricultural implements. When in full operation with proper management, the estate ought to pay interest on a million dollars.
Señor Huarte is a native of old Spain, short, dark, rotund, polished in manner, courteous and hospitable, and fond of doing everything on a princely scale. His grand house is at Colima, where his children reside—he is a widower—and this is only his country residence. During our stay, he entertained us on a scale of magnificence which puts the hospitalities showered on our visitors to California completely to shame. His kitchen swarms with domestics, male and female, and at his table, course after course of meats, fowls, vegetables and fruits follow each other with rapidity, for hours at a time, and are washed down with wines from every grape growing country from Ay and Malaga, to Sonoma. When we arose on Sunday morning we, found a fat, round-bellied, jolly-looking priest, in black, sitting in the door-way, while his assistants were hanging a bright, large-patterned chintz curtain up along the wall under the lower verandah, and preparing for mass. Donning his rich embroidered white satin robes, he opened the service. The native women and children came stealing quietly in, and knelt on the pavement, in the great walled area by themselves, while the men in lesser numbers came in, and knelt or sat carelessly about in the verandah. The priest read his prayers in an inaudible voice in Latin, then, seated in a chair, read indifferently a very good, sound, practical, moral sermon in Spanish, then concluded the services "with bell and candle," and then proceeded to pack up his traps. I observed that Señor Huarte stood by as "patron" during the services, but the congregation, consisting of perhaps one hundred, all told, contained no other men of intelligence or education. Gov. Cueva, Señor Rendon, and the other educated men who were with the Seward party, regarded the priest and his proceedings with apparent indifference. When the service was over the priest packed up his things, mounted his little mule, took his umbrella in his hand, and galloped away to hold service somewhere else. His figure as he galloped off was so strikingly Spanish and picturesque that it might answer for an illustration of Gil Blas or one of Cervantes works.
All that morning mounted men were galloping back and forth, receiving orders from Señor Huarte, hat in hand, or detailing: the latest news from the river. At 2 p. m. the stages arrived, and the baggage, which had come up meantime, was packed and started off. Having done the honors of his country house to the party Señor Huarte announced his intention of accompanying us to Colima, and acting the host there. As we left La Calera, the party consisted of Mr. Seward, Fred Seward and wife, Abijah Fitch, Señor Don Francisco, Javier Cueva, Governor of Colima, Senor Francisco Gomez Palencia, his Secretary, who is also "Diputado Suplente al Congreso de la Union" from Colima, Señor Damiar Garcia, "Capitan de buque y Director Politico de Manzanillo" Señor don Luis Rendon. "Administrador del Aduana Maritima del Departamento de Colima;" Señor Jacinto Cañedo, "Oficial 2º de la Aduana Maritima del Manzanillo;" Dr. Augustus Morrill, Consul of the United Sates at Colima, the writer, and about fifty followers of all classes, not forgetting to mention Mr. Seward's colored servant, John Butler, who condescendingly taught our language to the Mexican servitors down stairs, while Mr. Fitch did the same to our host above. If "Pigeon-English" did not break out as an epidemic at La Calera immediately after our departure. I can only account for the fact by assigning it to a special interposition of an All-Merciful Providence, in behalf of an afflicted people.
To each coach, four little mules were harnessed abreast at the lead, and two a trifle larger at the wheel. Half a dozen men held the six mules until ready to run, then we "cast off;" the "cochero yelled," the "postillion" cursed, and cracked his whip, and we went off like a railroad train. When we came to a particularly heavy place in the road the cochero hissed, "ist, i-s-a-h, i-i-i-s-s-s-t-a-a-a!" and shouted, "Aha, ha-ha-ha-ha, ha, h-a-a-a-a!" incessantly, while the postillion lashed the poor little panting mules furiously, and occasionally jumped off and varied the performance by stoning them, then jumping back to the seat while the coach was in full motion. These postillions carry matting sacks holding about half a peck, which they fill with stones about the size of a hen's egg, and keep in reserve for emergencies. If the team balks, or is stalled for a moment, they will send a steady stream of these stones through the air, hitting each mule on the head in turn, with the accuracy of a Western sharp-shooter.
Some places which those little mules took our heavy coaches through, hardly seemed passable, but they did it. The old simile of the "rat running off with a hay-stack" loses all point when applied to these little Colima mules, but it is death on the rats, nevertheless. Four "police of the road," mounted on little agile horses, with costly saddles and rich trappings, each man carrying a
|SEÑOR HUARTE'S HOUSE AT COLIMA.|
machete, or straight, short sword, Henry rifle, and a Colt's revolver of the finest pattern, rode in advance, and four fine, tall, intelligent-looking men of the the Custom-House Guard, still more splendidly equipped and armed, rode behind us. One of these last men was about twenty-five years of age, of olive complexion, classic features, six feet three inches in height, and slim and straight as a young palm tree. I never saw a finer rider—all these men ride like Centaurs—or a handsomer man. His belt buckle was of finely wrought silver, and his pistol holster and pistol, marvels of rich ornamentation in the same metal.
At Tecolapa, twelve miles from La Calera, we saw long rows of Indian women going to the well with water-jars poised on their shoulders, exactly as has been done in Palestine from the days of Jacob and Rebecca to our own day.
It is thirty-six miles from La Calera to Colima. The Government is spending a large sum in grading a wagon-road over the mountains from Colima to the sea, and the thirty miles nearest Colima are finished. But the storm had torn it up fearfully, and in many places it was almost impassable. Rain came on, and when the moon went down behind the mountains, the darkness added to the difficulty of the trip, and we went on at a snail's pace. We changed teams three times in the thirty-six miles, but it was 2 o'clock in the morning before we emerged from the long "Via de Colima" upon the well-paved streets of that fine old city, and our coach, with a rattle and uproar which awakened all the sleeping watch-men, rolled up to the door of the truly palatial mansion of Señor Huarte.