Our Sister Republic/Chapter 18
PUEBLA, TLAXCALA AND CHOLULA.
ON the 18th of December, the Seward party were, at last, in readiness for departure from the Capital, and at 10 o'clock a. m., were all on board the special train, including Maximilian's—now President Juarez's—private car, which had been placed at Mr. Seward's disposal by Joseph H. Gibbs Esq., resident director of the Vera Cruz and Mexican Railway.
The house on Alfaro and Arco de San Agustine streets, had been crowded with friends until a late hour on the night previous, and our leave-takings were therefore mainly over. Only a few of the most intimate acquaintances of the different members of the party, accompanied us to the depot, to say "good-bye" again. A small detachment of the crack regiment of Mexico, the Zapadores, under command of a war-scarred veteran, Captain Ramirez, whose coat was covered with decorations for meritorious services, was sent along as an escort of honor, by the Government.
General Mejia, Minister of War, Señor Don Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, Minister of State, and Señor Don Matias Romero, Minister of Hacienda, accompanied the party to the first station out of the city. Some of the ladies of the families of Señor Romero and President Juarez, went along to the Ometusco station where we met the return train, and Colonel Geo. M. Green, and Señor Don Antonio Mancillas, Deputy to Congress from the State of Zacatecas, with his beautiful young wife, accompanied the party all the way to Puebla.
The railway from Mexico to Puebla—about one hundred and sixteen miles, English,—is a first class one in every respect, and a part of the route was made at the rate of forty-five miles per hour. In the "Chief of Traffic,"Mr. Geo. Gliddon, who has control of the running of all the trains, and accompanied the party, I recognized an old friend, whom I had known in the south before the late "little onpleasantness" sent one of us to the other side of the continent, and the other into the ranks of the rebel army. The engineers were also Americans, and know their business. The engine and cars were of American manufacture, though the road was built, and is owned and run by an English company.
The road runs out from the city in a north-eastern direction, past the famous old church of Guadaloupe, and along the shores of Lake Tezcoco; then makes a long detour, and runs south-eastwardly to Puebla, through an open valley country skirted by high mountains all the way. The distance by wagon-road is only twenty-four or twenty-seven Spanish leagues, but the railway, in order to avoid the heavy grades, takes the longer circuitous route. For the first fifty miles the country is comparatively dry and poor, and the road runs through an almost uninterrupted aloe or maguey field, that plant requiring no cultivation, and paying better than any other crop on such ground. Though the plant yields material for rope, cordage, cloth, thatch for houses, etc., etc., it is used, almost exclusively, for the manufacture of the mildly inebriating swill called pulque, which forms a staple drink of the lower classes of the people. When the blossom stalk starts out, it is cut off, and the center of the plant is hollowed out so as to form a deep cup. In this reservoir the sap collects, and once in twenty-four hours the Indians, with long calabashes, with holes in each end, go around to gather it. They thrust one end of the calabash into the sap, and applying the other to the mouth, suck the sweet fluid up until the calabash is filled, then let it run into the pig-skins, in which it is carried to market. A little of the old pulque, already fermented, is added to the fresh juice, and the skins being exposed in the sun for a few days the fluid is ready for drinking. None for me, thank you! We saw them gathering the sap all along the road. The amount of pulque consumed in Mexico is almost beyond belief.
"Wall stranger, what's a bar'l o' whiskey in a fam'ly o' eleven children, an' no cow?" was the indignant reply of the Wabash Valley Hoosier, to an inquirer after useless knowledge, named Fitch, some years since. The same idea prevails with regard to pulque, among the poorer Mexicans. Special trains are run over the road to carry pulque to the capital, and still, by far the greater portion is brought in upon the backs of men, mules and donkeys.
Some twenty or twenty-five miles from the city we passed the first pyramids, known as those of San Juan Tehuacan, which stand about a fourth of a mile from the railway, up towards the hills. There are two large ones, each apparently three hundred to four hundred feet in height, and well defined in their angles after the lapse of so many centuries. They were built from adobes, and then covered over with earth, and sodded, to protect them from the rains and sun. A zigzag path leads up to the summit of the finest one, on which there is a cross. The fine old church of San Juan Tehuacan stands near the pyramids, and there are little villages and hamlets all around. There are several smaller pyramids in the plain, but they appear to have been only begun and never finished. It is said that the largest of the pyramids of Tehuacan was opened by orders of Maximilian, and found to contain abundant evidences of great antiquity and many Aztec relics, but nothing of much intrinsic value. Soon after passing the pyramids, we went through the great battle field of Otumba, where Cortez, with his regular Spanish soldiers, and Tlaxcalan allies fought, and, after the most desperate struggle, routed, one hundred thousand Mexicans. There is a current tradition, to the effect that Otumba owes its name to an exclamation of Cortez after the battle. As he looked at the piles of the dead on the field, and bitterly counted the thinned ranks of his army, he exclaimed:
"O tumba de mi soldados!" (O tomb of my soldiers!)
The story may be safely regarded as on a par, in point of reliability, with those which pretend to give the origin of the names of Ohio, Iowa, Alabama, etc. There are only adobe-walled hamlets, patches of corn, and wide fields of aloe plants, to-day, on the ground where the fate of Mexico was decided nearly three centuries and-a-half ago. Not even a monument marks the spot, and if there were no railway station there, the traveler would pass it without being aware that he was upon grandly historic ground.
At Ometusco, eighteen leagues from Mexico, we met the up-train bound for the capital, and took leave of the families of the President, Señor Romero, and Mr. Nelson. At Apam, half-way between Mexico and Puebla, we breakfasted as well as we could have done at any railroad station in the United States.
At this point the country begins to change. Between Mexico and Apam the country resembles Lower California to a considerable degree; but from Apam to Puebla it has more the appearance of the foot-hills of the Sierra Nevada, in the gold belt of California, though the red soil of the latter is lacking. The aloe fields now begin to give place to corn fields, and the country is productive, and densely populated.
We were now in the ancient State of Tlaxcala, in a plain situated among the grandest mountains of our continent. On one side Popocatapetl lifts his grand head, white with the snow of countless ages, and turbaned with white, fleecy vapors which cling, lovingly, around it, far into the deep, blue, cloudless sky. Next him stands his royal sister, "La Muger en Blanco" ("The woman in white,") and opposite stands the "Malinchi," named after Cortez's Indian mistress, a mighty mountain, but not snow-crowned, covered with deep green pine forests, up to within four or five thousand feet of its summit, and surrounded, with almost numberless villages, each with its white church, and rich, wide corn-fields.
The number of these hamlets, with large churches, is astonishing. It is said that there are no less than fifty-eight of them in the district known as the Malinchi, in the immediate vicinity of the mountain, and the entire country for hundreds of miles around is equally blessed. In spite of all this, the region has a villainous reputation as the favorite haunt of robbers and kidnappers. and the population was supposed, by many, to be in that dissatisfied condition which would make it readily available for carrying out a pronunciamento, by any ambitious and unscrupulous chief who has the money or influence to fairly start it.
Right before us, standing out bold and clear, and sharp in all its outlines, against the sunlit sky of Mexico, white and cold and peerlessly beautiful, stood the monarch of the land of the Aztecs—Orizaba. I have looked at the picture in wonder and delight for hours, but yet can find no words with which to describe the scene, and the emotions which follow the realization of the dream of a life-time.
Twenty-one miles from Puebla, after passing the iron smelting works, we stopped a moment at the old Indian town of Santa Anna, the station at which passengers disembark for the old city of Tlaxcala, and then went on with accelerated speed over the descending grade to Puebla.
We entered this old city of wealth, fashion, bigotry and revolutions, at 5 o'clock p. m., and the Governor and suite having met and congratulated Mr. Seward, the party went directly to the palace of the Bishop of Puebla, a structure almost as solid and massive as the pyramids, covering an entire block or square, and superbly furnished and decorated with gems of art. Each room is a house in itself, so grand are its proportions, and the palace is, altogether, equal to a small town. It faces the great cathedral of Puebla, the largest and richest religious edifice on the American continent, infinitely superior to even the great cathedral of Mexico, and, in fact, one of the wonders of the world.
After dinner I went out with some friends to walk in the Plaza, and saw the full, round moon rise up from behind the mountains, flooding the whole grand landscape with such a light as can only be seen, in perfection in the pure, dry atmosphere of Mexico, and throwing over the city of Puebla, with its ninety-seven churches, its ruined walls, its beautiful plazas, its green alamedas, and its hundred objects of historic interest, a beauty and a glory indescribable. Such a moonlight scene one witnesses nowhere outside the tropics, and rarely even there.
We entered Puebla on Saturday evening, and not caring to intrude upon the worshipers in the great cathedral on Sunday morning, concluded to defer our visit to that leading object of interest until another time. We therefore accepted the invitation of Mr. Adolfo Blumenkorn, an American citizen long resident here, to ride out through the suburbs, and see the ruin and desolation wrought by the late terrible war of which Puebla was the center. We went first to the old church of San Zavier, which was fortified by the Mexicans on the arrival of the French, and withstood the first attack. The streets leading to it all show evidences of the desperate struggle which here took place. All the buildings, for many blocks, are in ruins, or pitted with cannon-ball and bullet marks, and earth-works and temporary defenses, now in ruins, are seen in all directions.
After the defeat of the French by the Mexicans under General Zaragoza, on the Cinco de Mayo outside the city, they received re-enforcements, and having learned caution from sad experience, advanced on a different line, and in a more guarded manner, on the city. The new state-prison, which was almost finished when the war commenced, stands adjoining the great, old church of San Zavier, on the side fartherest from the city, and of course in direct range of the batteries of the French, which were mounted upon a small hill some half mile further out. The state prison and church were held by the Mexicans until the walls were perforated everywhere by balls, and the flying stones, knocked down at every volley from the French batteries, made the position no longer tenable. They then retreated into the plaza, nearer the heart of the city, where they threw up entrenchments. The French immediately took up their position in the church and state-prison, but that night the Mexicans opened upon them, and sent four hundred cannon balls through the two structures before morning, and the French, after a loss of some five hundred men, found the buildings too hot to hold them. Both buildings are now so riddled and shattered as to be untenable and worthless, and it is the general opinion that it will be cheaper to pull down the walls of the state-prison and rebuild from the foundation, than to attempt to repair it.
When the Mexicans saw that the fall of Puebla was unavoidable, they blew up and wholly, or partially, destroyed a large number of churches around the outskirts of the city, to prevent their being used as defences by the French, when it should be their turn to become the besiegers, and that of the French to be the besieged. The wisdom of this action was demonstrated when General Porfiero Diaz, who had made the brilliant campaign of Tehuantepec and Oaxaca, sweeping everything before him like a hurricane, arrived before Puebla while Maximilian was being besieged at Queretaro, by Escobedo. Marquez, with the imperial troops, had advanced from the city of Mexico to Apizaco, only one day's march from Puebla, to relieve the garrison and meet Diaz, when the latter determined on the desperate but brilliant movement which decided the contest at a blow. At three o'clock in the morning he ordered a general assault by all his forces upon the city, which had not been besieged for an hour, and his victorious, but almost exhausted and worn out army responding with enthusiasm, one of the most determined and desperate conflicts of our time followed.
Dividing his force into thirteen columns, and charging directly into the city from all points at once against a murderous fire from every house-top, earth-work and commanding position, he carried the place at the first assault with a loss of eleven hundred and seventy-six men, killing or capturing the entire Imperialist force with all its supplies, artillery, and munitions of war, and compelling Marquez to fall back on the capital in all haste, and put it in a condition to withstand a siege by the Republican forces, until the fall of Queretaro, the Empire and Maximilian rendered further resistance hopeless.
From the church of San Zavier we rode out to see the battle field of the Cinco de Mayo, already famous in song and story. It has been so often described that I will not go into details. Coming back we saw more of ruin resulting from war, than we had previously noticed in Mexico. The destruction of life and property by this infamous war must have been enormous, and I doubt if Puebla will ever fully recover from it. The population of the city cannot now exceed eighty thousand; it is doubtful if there is more than sixty thousand or seventy thousand, and after all the destruction, there is still one great church for every one thousand men, women, and children in the city. There are various manufactories in and around the city, and the country in the vicinity being very productive, there is considerable trade, especially since the completion of the railroad to Mexico in September last, but the city cannot be said to be in a very prosperous condition, nevertheless.
We heard less here than in the city of Mexico concerning the pronunciamento against the Government in the Sierra, in the State of Puebla. The general opinion at Puebla was that the movement had not any head, and that the various bands were small in numbers, and acting without concert or definite plan. But on the other hand, it was said that a deputation had been sent to Oaxaca to consult with the famous military chieftain, Porfiero Diaz, and ask him to take command, promising him the support of the disaffected in every part of the country, and a general and preconcerted rising against the Juarez Government. Their success would be a greater disaster to Mexico than the French invasion. If Mexico is to exist, as an independent nation, she must have peace, and the inauguration of another general civil war would be the death knell of the Republic.
We saw troops marched through the streets, and found General Alatorre absent in the mountains with some three thousand men, operating against the bands of guerillas which were making all the trouble, but could learn nothing more definite. There had been no fighting since the Sixth Battalion was surprised and routed at Xochipulco, on the 29th of November, for the reason that the guerillas were too active and cautious to be caught, or risk an engagement without great advantages on their side, and the character of the mountain country is such, as to make a successful campaign against them almost impossible. About sixty of the men of the battalion, wounded at Xochipulco, were there in the hospital under surgical treatment.
We made good use of our time while at Puebla, and in its vicinity. No part of our trip was more replete with interest, and we enjoyed it to the utmost. On the 19th we left Puebla, by railway, to visit the capital of the ancient Republic of Tlaxcala, renowned in the history of Spanish conquest for the part its people took in fixing the chain of the conquerors, upon the neck of Mexico. How the Mexicans, hearing of the arrival of Cortez at Vera Cruz, asked permission of their hereditary enemies, the Tlaxcalans, to be allowed to send commissioners through their territory, to see Cortez and find out what called him to the country; how the crafty Tlaxcalans consented, and then agreed to pilot them on their way, but secretly dispatched emissaries in advance to make a treaty with Cortez—which they did—and joined hands with the invaders against the Mexicans, whose costly presents to Cortez had excited his cupidity, and confirmed his determination to conquer their country, has all been told by historians, over and over, and I will therefore confine myself to what I saw and heard, on this old historic ground, in the last, bright, sunny days of the good year 1869.
From Puebla to the station of Santa Anna, by railway, is only twenty-one miles, English, and with a special train we made it in less than forty minutes; in Cortez' time it must have taken considerably longer. The old Indian town of Santa Anna, is half in ruins, but there is still a little life left there. We saw an immense enclosure of timber, in the form of an amphitheater, which they were erecting for a "plaza de toros" where thousands of people doubtless nocked from all the surrounding country, about New Years, to indulge in and gloat over the brutalities of the bull-fight.
Entering carriages, sent for us by the Governor of Tlaxcala, to ride some three or four miles down to the ancient city, we met, a little distance down the road, a train of pack-Indians, coming in from the mountains with lumber, with which to complete the amphitheater. Each Indian carried on his back, suspended from his head by a leathern strap across his forehead, a pitch-pine beam, twenty feet long, ten inches wide, and six inches thick. The weight of each of these beams, according to the lowest estimate made by members of our party, was four hundred pounds—I think it more probable that they would weigh five hundred pounds—and the load for a mule is only three hundred pounds; yet these sturdy fellows earned them off at a dog-trot, talking good-naturedly as they went, and had probably brought them fifteen or twenty miles that day. Could our gymnasts do this?
Half an hour's ride over a dusty and heavy road, all out of repair, brought us to the ancient city, which, in its prime, occupied the heights on both sides of a narrow valley for many miles; at least, so Cortez said. There were four great chiefs of the Republic of Tlaxcala, and each dwelt in a grand palace on these heights. The Spaniards built churches on the site of each; and we have now only the ruinous old churches, and the doubtful statements of fishy, old historians, in evidence of their once having existed. The old town along the heights at the base of the Cerro Blanco, or White Hills, has nearly all disappeared, and the loose and gravelly soil has been so washed by the rains of centuries, as to make it impossible to trace with any certainty, its original outlines. There are still, any number of old churches, scattered here and there all over the wide landscape; but where the one hundred thousand people, who inhabit the little State of Tlaxcala, live, is more than I could see.
The present town, which is mostly Spanish-built, is situated on the flat between the heights, and may contain five thousand people, I should say at a venture. It has many buildings unquestionably dating back to the days of Cortez, and is a place no intelligent traveler in Mexico can afford to omit visiting.
The Governor of Tlaxcala, an intelligent gentleman, apparently of pure Indian blood, with his staff of officials, welcomed Mr. Seward, and escorted the party to the State Palace, an unpretending Old building, in which the Congress or Legislature meets. This building, poor and plain as it is, contains priceless treasures for the antiquarian and student of history.
In the hall of Congress, I noticed portraits, rudely painted in oil, of the four Chiefs of the Republic of Tlaxcala after they had been converted to Christianity. Each has the prefix "Señor Don" before his name, and a Christian name before his unpronunciable Indian surname. They are in full, Indian costume, and by the side of each is his coat of arms. From the mouth of each issues the words he pronounced at his baptism. One says "Viva Jesus!" another Viva Maria!" another "Viva Jose!" and the last "Viva Joachin!" In costume and general appearance they would pass for Navajo or Mojave chiefs of the present day, and I have no doubt, that they were about on par with them in intelligence and civilization.
In the next room we saw the identical royal banner of Spain, which Cortez unfolded before the eyes of the astonished and delighted Tlaxcalan emissaries at San Juan de Ulloa, and which, after the conquest of Mexico; he presented to the city of Tlaxcala in acknowledgement of the eminent services rendered by the Tlaxcalans, in overthrowing the old Aztec Empire. Though three hundred and forty years have passed away since it was unfurled on the shore of Mexico, it' is almost perfect to-day. It is some nine or ten feet long, and six broad "and swallow tailed" in pattern. The material is rich, heavy, silk brocade, originally of a light "maroon" or possibly "ashes of roses" color, and not badly faded. The cords and tassels and the points of the banner are a little frayed and worn, but not badly so. The Shield with the royal coat of arms, the two castles, and two lions rampant, is embroidered in red, on yellow silk, and sewed upon the upper right hand corner of the, banner. The iron open-work spear-head with the monogram of the sovereigns of Spain in the center, once gilded, and the broken staff on which the banner was carried, are still with it. Vast sums have been offered for this old banner to be carried back to Spain, but the city of Tlaxcala has steadily refused to part with it at any price.
Then we were shown numerous old banners, including those of the ancient city and Republic of Tlaxcala before the Spanish conquest, very rude and very curious, and numberless manuscripts of great age and interest. One of these old illuminated manuscripts, is an authenticated translation of the original Indian document, ordering, on behalf of the Republic of Tlaxcala, eighty thousand picked men, to march with Cortez against Mexico. This was translated by the order of Cortez himself. Other documents beautifully illuminated, signed "Yo el Rey" (I the King,) and of the time of the Conquest, are there in abundance, with hundreds of later date, hardly less interesting. We could have spent days in looking over these curious old records of the dead and now almost forgotten past, but had only an hour or two at our command.
Among the curiosities in this room, is the war-drum of the Tlaxcalans, a curiously carved and hollowed log of dark, hard wood, like rose-wood, some thirty inches in length and six or eight in thickness, of which a full description and good illustration is given by Prescott. Two lips left on the upper surface, have play enough to give off sharp musical notes when struck by the hand, or with a stick, and the instrument, in the hand of a first-class professor of Tlaxcalan music, would doubtless be made to produce as inspiring strains as the old Scotch bagpipes, though I think one of our modern military bands in full play would discourage him.
One old document is particularly illustrative of the character of the pious people who spread religion and desolation through the land of the Aztecs. It recites, that after the conquest, a sub-tribe of the Tlaxcalans used to bring in large quanties of gold-dust from some placer in the vicinity, the locality of which they refused to disclose. They gave enough of this gold to the Church to make and pay for the crown of the Virgin of Guadaloupe at Mexico, which cost eighty thousand dollars. The Spaniards, excited by the sight of this wealth, took some of the Indians, tied them up in the plaza in front of the hall in which we read the records, and whipped them most unmercifully to compel them to reveal the locality of the mine. The Indians bore the torture in grim silence, and next day twenty thousand of them, including all who knew the secret, left for Guatamala, and the locality of the placer remains undiscovered to this day.
The same thing is now going on in a district between Puebla and Tuxpan. The Indians are bringing in, from time to time, quantities of gold dust, for sale, at a small town near which has been recently discovered the ruins of an ancient city. They also brought in a box of stones which have been pronounced diamonds of the first water, by the jewelers of Mexico, but refused to tell where the gold and stones came from. It is suspected that they came from the ruins, and a party of my personal friends are now being fitted out in the city of Mexico, to go and make a thorough exploration of the locality.
The Virgin of Guadaloupe has a rival in this locality, in the Virgin who has a church on the hill above the city of Tlaxcala. It is said that the Bishop of Tlaxcala being pursued at night, by his enemies and the enemies of the Faith, saw the Virgin among the limbs of a pine-tree, and just at the moment of his direst extremity, the trunk of the tree flew open, and shutting again like the trap-door in a pantomime, enclosed him within it. The enemy ran past without discovering his whereabouts, or, what is more singular, noticing the luminous Virgin roosting in the tree overhead, and the tree, opening again, let him out in safety. Of course this miracle could not be kept secret, and the church which was erected on the spot, rivals that of Guadaloupe in sanctity and attraction for the Indians of Tlaxcala and its vicinity. I think it is but right that it should do so under all the circumstances.
We went with the Governor to the ancient church of Tlaxcala, which was commenced in 1529, and is, unquestionably, the oldest structure devoted to the worship of God on the North American continent. It is in excellent preservation, but was never very rich in ornamentation, falling far behind many others we had seen in obscure parts of the country. The paintings too are poor and if it were not for its history there would be little to attract a visitor. But there we saw the pulpit which bears an inscription showing that it was the first erected in "New Spain," and from whence the gospel of the Cross was first preached to the natives of the New World.
Then we saw the great baptismal font, hollowed from a single block of lava, in which were baptised the four Chiefs of the Republic of Tlaxcala, and the General in command of the armies before the advance upon the City of Mexico. There are many old paintings of no artistic merit, representing martyrdoms and persecutions of the saints in all forms. Those old saints must have had a very rough time of it from all accounts and after seeing what they had to suffer, I am thankful enough that an all-wise Providence never designed me for one. I don't think I could fill the position with any degree of credit to all parties concerned. One picture represents the Pope in a triumphal car drawn by four fat and healthy horses, each led by a fat and healthy angel, riding over the bodies of the "Reformers," and dragging behind him in chains and disgrace, Luther and Calvin. Rather rough, this on the reformers, but it is their business, not mine, and if they can stand it, I can. The ceiling under the roof of this old church is a marvel of beauty. It is of cedar colored by time to the hue of mahogany, wrought with exquisite skill, gilded in places, and varnished. Tradition says that this work was done by the angels in the night, and that when the Bishop came at morning to begin it, he found to his astonishment that they had completed the church and left him nothing more to do. All over the country the same or similar work was done on the churches, the angels in most cases doing as much at night as the workmen did during the day, and so the structure was half mortal and half immortal in its origin. In this case they did the ceiling entire, and it stands unharmed by time in all its perfect beauty to this hour. If I were a doubter or scoffer—which I am not—I might be tempted to suggest that the miracle would have been more conclusive and effective, if the angels had come down in broad daylight, and performed the work in sight of the people; but my faith enables me to see that their doing it after dark, in silence, and without even a candle or lantern to attract the attention of the public, makes the miracle all the more wonderful, and the work more glorious. The job was done, that is certain, for there is the delicate fretted ceiling, as perfect to-day as it was three hundred and forty years ago, and I for one, find it cheaper and easier to believe at once, than to waste time in raising doubts and discussing questions which profit a man nothing.
After we left the church, a party of irreverent people from California, who came down by a train from Mexico, visited it, and carrying a basket of champagne up to the belfrey, proceeded to drink it and ring the bells in our honor, as we drove off for Santa Anna again.
Among the decorations of this primitive church, are several effigies and pictures of Christ, of a character so utterly revolting as to fairly make one sick. It is alleged in explanation, that the Indians required very vivid illustrations, to excite their imagination and fix religious impressions in their minds. These ought to fetch them. In one chapel there is a full-sized effigy of Christ upon the cross. His head is covered with an enormous shock wig of brown-red hair, the eyes, mouth, and nose discharging blood, wounds and bruises on every limb and feature, and the agony and pallor of the dying struggle so fearfully counterfeited as to produce, in my mind at least, a sense of loathing and nausea almost uncontrollable. I would as soon think of going to a slaughter-house to worship the All-Merciful God who created the Heaven and the Earth, and made man in his own image and a little lower than the Angels, as to that chamber of horrors, in the first Christian church erected on the American Continent.
There are some old skulls lying about the church, and the Californians put two of them into the shawl which Mr. Gliddon was carrying. He did not discover the trick for some time, and when he did so he restored them to their place with the quiet remark, that as the superintendent of trains on the railway, he had been carrying so many "dead-heads" of late, that he did not notice the presence of one or two, more or less, unless his attention was specialy drawn to them. We got back to Santa Anna at 6 p. m., and returned to Puebla to dinner. On the 20th of December, our party re-enforced by a number of friends from the capital, started in carriages for Cholula, to visit the pyramid of which nearly every school-boy has seen a picture in his geography. A ride of two leagues over a rough and dusty road, through an open country, brought us to the ancient city, said to have once contained four hundred thousand people. It is situated in an open plain, with the grand circle of great mountains, Popocatapetl, El Muger en Blanco, Malinchi, Orizaba and the lesser peaks in the distance. It must have suffered fearfully from the Spanish conquerors, and has been steadily declining in importance to the present day, being now but a mere fragment of its former self.
The people are nearly all of unmixed Indian blood, hardy, industrious, and peculiarly respectful and well-behaved. They cultivate a wide area of fertile valley land, in a manner reminding one of the Chinese, and supply the City of Puebla, almost exclusively, with market vegetables.
After the party entered the Valley of Mexico, the appearance of Mr. Seward seldom produced any remarkable demonstrations of enthusiasm among the common people, and we had no reason to expect any different reception at Cholula, in view of the apathy manifested at Puebla, so near at hand. But we were destined to witness a display, as novel and curious as it was unexpected.
The whole country abounds with old churches, all of which have chimes of fine-toned bells still remaining in their towers, though the greater portion of them have but a limited number of worshipers within their walls at any time in these latter and degenerate days. As we neared Cholula the people were seen running through the fields towards the town, and the bells commenced ringing from every tower in the city and its suburbs. The number of bells which thus at once sent forth their voices in welcome to the stranger, could hardly have been less than one hundred, and the ringers worked as if life and death depended on their exertions.
When the procession reached the Plaza, two fine brass-bands—all the musicians being natives of Cholula—struck up their liveliest airs, the Prefecto Politico and the Ayuntemento of the town came forward to welcome Mr. Seward, and the party, dismounting from the carriages, marched to the town-hall, the entire population, men, women, and children, with eager curiosity depicted on their features, following, or running by their side. In the hall, behind the desk of the Prefecto, was a full-length portrait of the Virgin of Guadaloupe, and on the desk lay two silver maces with globes at the end surmounted with the eagle and nopal of Mexico. These emblems of authority are not unlike in appearance to the mace represented in the picture of Cromwell disbanding the Long Parliament, when he exclaims, "take away that fool's bauble!"
The Prefecto made a warm and sensible speech in behalf of the people and Ayuntemento of Cholula, welcoming Mr. Seward and his friends to the hospitalities of the ancient city, and alluding in warm terms to the services rendered to the cause of Mexican independence, through him, by the Government and people of the United States; to which Mr. Seward replied:
CHOLULA, AND THE ANCIENT PYRAMID.
the strict high church party, as is the Marseillaise to Napoleon III. The tall form of Mr. Nelson, the United States Minister, towered above the crowd behind; by his side walked General Slaughter—late of the Confederate army—or of the late Confederate army—and after them came a crowd of Californians whose devotion to the cause of liberty is undoubted, but whose religious convictions of any kind, never deprived them of their capacity for imbibing champagne, nor kept them awake at night. A thousand curious natives followed, and seemed to heartily enjoy the entertainment.
After a half-hour spent in viewing the old church, the party started to ascend the great pyramid, which stands on the outskirts of the town, but five minutes' walk from the church. All the world knows at this day all that anybody knows, of the history of this pyramid. That it dates back to the days when the people of Egypt were erecting the pyramids which still form the land-marks in the Valley of the Nile, cannot be doubted, and that it upheld a heathen temple, and was drenched with the blood of thousands on thousands of the human race, offered up as sacrifices to savage gods, is, unfortunately, too well authenticated. The pictures I have seen of the pyramid give no clear idea of it, as they represent the sides and angles of the terraces, as too sharp and well defined. I think, that at no time since the conquest has the pyramid presented an appearance much different from what it does at present.
One of the gentlemen in attendance on the Governor told me that the pyramid covered a space equal to a little more than forty-three acres at the base, and that its height was one hundred and seventy-nine feet, English, or thereabouts. I should, at a venture, have estimated the size of the base at less than half that stated, and the height at nearly double the figures given, but presume that accurate measurements must have been made at some time, and its real dimensions are probably known. The lower terrace is quite perfect, but the upper ones have become so washed by the rains and disturbed by the great trees which have taken root in the soil, that they are traceable, with certainty, only in a few places. A winding or zig-zag pathway, some thirty feet in width, and paved with lava, leads up to the summit of the pyramid. The old Spanish Zealots erected a Christian Church on the ruins of the ancient heathen temple, and that, too, becoming dilapidated and untenable with the lapse of years, was pulled down, and a new and very tasteful chapel, erected altogether by the labor of native Indian craftsmen, is now being finished, and will soon be dedicated to the service of the Christian's God. With the vanity of the human race, this pyramid has been selected, also, for a burial place, and we saw several new graves on the upper terrace, in the soil which has been soaked, time and time again, with the blood of human sacrifices.
Two immense cedar trees, which must have been standing on the summit in the days of Cortez, were cut down, or hopelessly mutilated by the workmen engaged in erecting the new chapel, and our party carried off numerous samples of the wood as souvenirs of their visit.
It has been the commonly accepted theory of the origin of the Pyramid of Cholula, that it was built as a temple and place for human sacrifice, altogether by the hand of man; but while standing on its summit, and looking on the grand landscape which surrounds it, a new theory suggested itself to me. The pyramids in the Valley of the Nile stand out bold and grand, the great central figures in the scene,—undwarfed by comparison with any great mountains in the vicinity. We can understand how men could seek to erect in such a locality, an enduring monument to their power and greatness. But here, in full view of Orizaba and Popocatapetl, the mightiest work of man is but a mole-hill hardly worthy of a moments notice, and even the egotism of the most barbaric nature must stand rebuked in the presence of these perfect works of the Almighty hand. I do not believe that there was ever a race on earth so vain as to erect such a monument in such a locality; and furthermore, there was no necessity for such an expenditure of time and labor as the erection of such a pile of adobe, in the Plain of Cholula, as this pyramid, if wholly artificial, would have called for. Scattered through all the valleys of Central Mexico, are detached hills, composed of washed gravel and earth, equal or superior in size to this pyramid. You can see a number of them from the point where we stood.
It seems to me quite probable that one of these hills stood here where the Cholulans built their city; and that in order to fit it for use as a temple, they merely cut away the sides, and terraced it into its pyramidal form. The angles and faces of the terraces thus formed, must be protected from the effects of the storms, which would soon wash down the entire mound, and so they faced it over with adobes, laid up with care and intermixed with lava, which soon became a solid, concrete mass, as we see it to day. The adobes and layers of lava are perfect at many points, but in other places, where the storms of thousands of years have told most strongly, they seem to have disappeared, and I thought I could recognize the original formation of the hill beneath.
A little way off from the main pyramid is a smaller one, less regular in its outline, which is supposed by many—without any good reason that I can discover—to have been originally a part of the greatest structure; and a little farther away, an oblong pile of earth, with perfectly precipitous sides, resembling in shape a wagon load of hay or straw. Both these are evidently artificial. There are no excavations in any direction for many miles around the great pyramid, from whence the vast amount of material for building it could have been taken, and the finely cultivated fields which, cut by regular streets, radiate from the pyramid in all directions, indicate that the soil and surface of the ground in the vicinity, have never been disturbed. May it not be that the Cholulans, simply cut away the sides of the original hill as I have suggested, and with the earth thus removed, formed the smaller pyramid and lesser irregular pile near by? I do not care enough for any theory on any subject, to defend this one if it is ever attacked; but it seems to me to be a rational one under all the circumstances.
Members of the Ayuntamento accompanied us to the pyramid, a servant carrying before them the silver-headed canes which serve as badges of their office. After seeing all there was to be seen on the pyramid we descended, and returning to the Prefect's house partook of an elegant collation. Toasts were given and responded to freely, and in the midst of the festivities, in marched a band, of the ancient Aztec class. The music produced by the three pieces, an Indian flute, kettle-drum, and a drum shaped like a flour barrel, and made like it of thin pieces of wood, hooped, with one end resting on the ground, bore a startling resemblance to that which you may hear any night in the Chinese theatres in San Francisco, being pitched at the same high key, and the air being almost identical with the "Song of the Jasmin Flower," which is the favorite, through all the central Flowery Empire.
The dark-hued, sandaled, and white-robed musicians played on through all stages of the entertainments, with faces as impassive as those of so many bronze statues. Only once did I see a look of startled interest for a moment steal over their faces. It was when the Prefecto gave the health of the President of the United States, and the health of President Juarez being given in response, the Americans gave three rousing cheers, and the Californians, springing to their feet, made the air of the sleepy, old town, ring with the wild yell of "the tiger." The look I had noticed faded from their faces as it came in an instant, and the music, so wild, and strange and weird, went on as before. When Colonel Green plied them with champagne, and whistled to them "Jordon am a hard road to travel," they took up the air, and played it with the same cold, quiet manner as they had played those of their native land; and when paid and dismissed, they marched away in grave, respectful silence, without a word or action to indicate whether they were pleased or displeased with the days—to them—novel proceedings.
Mr. Seward was presented with a certificate of honorary membership of the Ayuntamento, or Common Council of Cholula, and with wishes of success and a pleasant reunion with old friends among the home scenes of our native land, the kind people of Cholula bid us good-bye, and in the gloaming of the evening we rode back to Puebla.
OUR AZTEC MUSICIANS AT CHOLULA.
I shall attempt no elaborate description of the Cathedral of Puebla, for several good and sufficient reasons. One is, that no description could give the reader any adequate idea of the vast proportions, great wealth, and exceeding beauty and grandeur of this wonderful temple of the Christian faith, and another is, that so many descriptions have been attempted and resulted in failures, that I have no ambition to follow in the old, beaten track, knowing that I cannot command the language adequate for success.
The Seward party visited the cathedral, and saw all its wonders, from the grand choir, which outside is one mass of gilding and burnished precious metal, and inside a curious mosaic of beautiful woods inlaid with wonderful skill, the great altar, which is built of variegated marbles, alabaster, and other beautiful stones from the State of Puebla, and gold and silver by the cart-load, the great pillars of bluish-grey granite, supporting arches of the same material which uphold the immense weight of the solid stone roof, and the fourteen stations of the cross—each a marvel in itself—to the skeletons of the saints and martyrs, covered with wax and so artistically wrought into the semblance of fresh human forms as to cheat the eye completely, dressed in robes of great richness, and shodden with golden sandals set with gems, which lie in state, each in its own great casket, all around the building. Even the tomb of the Bishops was thrown open and inspected.
The mighty pillars were covered from their capitals down to the pavement, with crimson silk plush, edged and embroidered with gold, in preparation for the grand Christmas festivities, and the whole church was being cleaned and prepared for the occasion. The last time the metal work—then nearly all gold and silver—in this cathedral was cleaned, the work cost four thousand dollars in coin, though done at the least possible expense.
Much of the riches of this old cathedral have disappeared within a few years, it is said, but the eye of the stranger looks in vain for any trace of the hand of the despoiler, save where once hung near the main entrance, the great chandelier, which Miramon took down and melted up, to pay his troops for fighting the battles of the church against the Republicans. He got forty thousand dollars out of this chandelier, and the curses of all the pious Catholics of Mexico, who were quite willing he should fight for the church, but wished him to make the enemy—not the church—pay the cost, and denounced the act as one of sacrilege, sure to bring down destruction on its author. What the value of the gold, silver, and precious stones in the cathedral at present may be, I have no idea, and no one can do more than make a random guess at it. I was greatly disappointed in the cathedral of Mexico, which is much dilapidated, dusty, and tarnished throughout, and fell far short of my ideal, formed from descriptions I had read of it; but the cathedral of Puebla far surpassed my expectations.
We visited many other churches, the old college of the Jesuits, and the library—now secularized and thrown open to the public—which contains twenty-four thousand four hundred volumes, mostly of great age, and valuable only to the antiquarian; the school of design; the Glass Factory of Puebla, which is among the most extensive and complete works of the kind on the continent; the hills and fortifications of Loreto and Guadaloupe, from which the French army, forty thousand strong, was repulsed in the attack of the Cinco de Mayo, and many other objects of interest in and around Puebla.
Among the places visited was the Public Hospital of San Pedro, an excellent institution, clean, neat, and admirably managed, containing one hundred and sixty-three patients, of which fifty were women. While there, a printed slip was handed around with the following inscription:
"The American and Mexican Union are Sisters. Therefore the Asylums of the sick of Puebla, present their respects to the Hon. Mr. Seward as one of their Brothers. Hospital gral de San Pedro Diciembre 21 de 1869."
The manifestations in honor of Mr. Seward closed with a dinner to forty gentlemen, mostly Mexicans. given by His Excellency, the Governor of Puebla, Señor Don Ignacio Romero y Vargas. At the banquet Mr. Seward excused himself from making any lengthy speech in answer to the toasts in his honor, on the ground that he had already said enough to fully convey his ideas of matters and things in Mexico since he landed at Manzanillo, and did not care to impress his own countrymen with the idea that he was becoming unduly garrulous and loquacious. He said of Mexico:
"The season of her calamities is ended; Mexico is still youthful, ambitious, hopeful. She possesses all the material and moral elements of national greatness. All that her people want is rest and peace, for five years, ten years, twenty years or fifty years; the longer the better; and she may now assume the way that leads to prosperity and power among the nations. For this reason, when at Vera Cruz I shall be bidding adieu to Mexico, I shall wrest the inscription, "Requiescat in pace" from its customary application to the dead, and use it with all the inspiration of hope, affection, and gratitude, as an invocation of a blessing upon the living, "Mexico Requiescat in Pace!"
The stupid ignorance of the numerous seekers after the treasure supposed to have been buried in the United States by that famous Captain, whose "name was Robert Kidd, when I sailed, when I sailed," and the Californian expeditionists in search of the pirate treasure buried on Cocos Island, has its parallel in that of the buried treasure hunters of Mexico to-day. All over the country the impression prevails, that the Jesuits, when suddenly expelled from Mexico by the Spanish Government, buried, or otherwise concealed millions of dollars worth of treasure, gold and silver statues, church plate, jewels, etc., etc., and millions have been expended and are still being expended, in search of the precious deposits.
Mr. Adolpho Blumenkron is one of the most inveterate of these treasure seekers. As we rode out of the city, we were shown several old convent and church structures of great extent, now secularized, which he has purchased, and mined under and burrowed about, like a ferret, in search of the treasure of the Fathers, but always with the same total want of success. He told us, how on one occasion he found the vault in which were buried some of the old church dignitaries of Cortez's time, and looking down into it, was gladdened by the sight of two mummies each with a golden crown upon his head. He was into that vault in no time, with the help of Providence and a crowbar, and bore the glittering crowns out to the light of day. Fancy his feelings, when with trembling hands he applied a file to the gaudy baubles, and found them to be a base cheat, a sham, bilk, delusion, fraud, and rascally imposition! Would you believe it? those crowns were made of tin or some other base metal, and gilded, and if the holy fathers ever had any others—save the final crown of glory—they were not buried in them, for reasons best known to themselves or their servants.
It is believed that there were twelve statues of the Apostles of life size, made wholly from silver and gold, in the Jesuit College, and that the fathers—having received a secret intimation of the intention of the Government—buried them somewhere thereabouts, and the search for them is not yet abandoned.
In the City of Mexico, an apparently better founded search is going on. It is well known that when Guatamozin was finally defeated by the Spaniards, the immense treasures which he was supposed to possess could not be found; and that the pious conquerors roasted him at a tree still standing at Chapultepec, to make him reveal their place of concealment.
"This is not a bed of roses," is said to have been his quiet remark as they grilled him, but he never let up, and the secret—if there was any—died with him. Now, they have what purports to be the will of Guatamozin, in the Aztec language, setting forth the secret of the deposit, alleging that it was in the ground near where the last fight took place on the outskirts of the City of Mexico, and providing that his descendants should never reveal it nor search for the treasure until the power of the Spanish should be broken, and even then, that no Spaniard should ever be allowed to profit by it. Now, when the power of Spain on the continent of America is broken, and the Church she founded in Mexico, in blood and outrage, has lost, or is fast losing its hold on the people, a descendant of Guatamozin produces the will, and directs the search for the long buried treasure. I found that Col. Enrique Mejia and other ripe scholars in whose judgment I would implicitly rely, believed the will to be genuine, and that the treasure was really buried in the vicinity of the spot where the search is now being made, though they think the chances of the search being successful, after the lapse of centuries and the changes which have taken place in the locality, as extremely problematical, to say the least, and they do not take stock in the enterprise.
We had heard much of the religious bigotry and fanatical hatred of foreigners—especially Americans— manifested by the Pueblanos, before our arrival, and the late religious riot had led us to believe many of the statements to be true. But to whatever extent this feeling may exist among the lower and more ignorant class, it was never manifested by word or deed, toward Mr. Seward or any member of his party. We were lodged and sumptuously fed during our stay, in the "Obispado" or Palace of the Bishop of Puebla, and nothing could be more kind and respectful than the demeanor of all classes toward Mr. Seward and his friends. I was all over the city by day and night, alone, wearing the undress uniform of an officer of the American National Guard, which left no chance for my nationality being mistaken, and always met the most kindly treatment. I was informed that the Government had given orders to General Alatorre and Governor Romero, to protect the Protestant congregation in Puebla in their right of public worship of God according to their own conscience, at any cost and under any circumstances, and that the Catholic clergy, though naturally opposed to the innovation on their customs, exercised through more than three centuries without dispute, were heard to rebuke, strongly, any disposition to resort to force and violence in opposing the spread of the—as they must of course regard them—heretical doctrines and practices.
When we left, all was quiet in Puebla, and unless the Government troops meet with some severe reverse in the campaign against the guerilla bands in the Sierra, the Protestant element in Puebla is not likely to be again disturbed, or in any way maltreated, unless itself guilty of some act of wholly unjustifiable imprudence.