Our Sister Republic/Chapter 2
IT was 2 o'clock in the morning,on Monday, October 11th, when we entered Colima. We swallowed a hasty lunch, and retired to bed just as the watchmen, whom we had noticed sitting along the sidewalk, with muskets in their hands, and great oil-fed lanterns by their sides, blew all their whistles, and, as with one voice, drawled out the hour, "3 o'clock in the morning, and all quiet," (in Spanish,) a proceeding totally unnecessary, as the Cathedral and different church bells all strike the hours, and in fact give the cue to the watchmen, none of whom have anything like a time-piece of their own. It seemed as if we had just closed our eyes in welcome sleep, when the air was filled with shrill and piercing music, the sharp rattle of the kettle-drum, and the blare of trumpets.
Awake in an instant, I listened in doubt, and for some minutes I tried vainly, to decide where I was and to what I listened. The music was such as enlivened the march of Cortez and Pizarro, and their companions, when they came to spread desolation and the religion of the cross, through peaceful and unoffending lands, but the air must have been centuries older: if it resembled anything originating since the flood, it was "The White Cockade."
I looked down at the bed, with its crimson and fringed counterpane and gilt canopy, and from that to the walls, painted in pale blue, and frescoed, and the cream-colored ceiling, with cross-beams of a soft, chocolate color, and then went to the iron-latticed window and looked down on a neatly-paved court, around which the house was built, and the great staircase with its wealth of brilliant-hued tropical flowers and climbing delicate-foliaged plants, and its Moorish dome painted in fresco. Where was I? Opening the door of my bedroom, I looked into the grand saloon, about sixty or seventy feet square, with its walls and ceiling painted like those just described, its glazed tile floor, double rows of Moorish arches and pillars supporting the roof, and chandeliers suspended with iron chains from the ceiling, and the long table with its crimson damask covering, and at last the truth of the situation flashed upon me. I was not in the Alhambra at Grenada, in 1469—I might have been, for everything was as thoroughly Moorish—but in Colima, in October, 1869.
"Is it a revolution?" I asked of the obsequious servant in white, who came at once to attend upon me. "Oh no, Señor; only the troops changing guard at the State Prison on the Plaza!"
Going out on the balcony, I looked across the way, and saw the band in front of the prison and the white-clad soldiers—all of Indian blood—with red plumes in their hats, and Springfield muskets of the year 1862 in their hands, going through the form of guard mounting. I saw those muskets in San Francisco, during the late war with France, if I mistake not. The ruinous old cathedral, dating far back into the 1600 and something, adjoins the prison, and all around the Plaza runs a row of shops, for the most part but one story high. All the buildings are of brick, with immensely thick walls, iron-latticed windows, and heavy wooden doors with curious antique iron locks, and flat, red-tiled roofs. Beyond the buildings, in all directions, towered the feathery cocoa palms and giant-leaved banana trees—or plants—of the rich gardens of Colima. Still back of them were the green, wooded mountains which surround this lovely Valley of Colima, with the great "Volcan de Colima," with a crown of dark smoke hanging over its crater, towering above all else, in the north-east. It was a scene worth half a life to look upon but once.
On the street the scene was less beautiful, but very picturesque and peculiar; not a carriage in sight. Little asses, loaded with green corn fodder, or carrying frames, in which were set on either side two large red earthen water jars, trotted along the long, straight, narrow streets. Men in broad hats and light Summer costume of white cotton or linen, trotted along on small, but spirited and richly saddled horses, and the common men and women of the country, on foot, filled the streets and sidewalks. All the marketing, except on Sunday when the great market is held, is done at an early hour, before the heat becomes annoying, and at sunrise the scene on the streets of Colima and all other Mexican towns, is most interesting. In the middle of the day the streets are almost deserted, and toward evening the visiting and fashionable promenading commences.
The principle dry goods and fancy stores are situated in the large buildings, with the portals fronting on the plazas, and the sidewalks are, during a considerably portion of the day, given up to small traders, who spread their little stock of cheap jewelry, slippers, watches, cigaritos, knives, swords, and a thousand minor articles such as are usually found in a "notion store" at "Cheap John's" in the United States, on mats, and squat beside them on the pavement. The main market is held in an open square, where the more common articles of coarse food, green corn, fruit, etc., and the light, strong, red earthen ware of the country are exposed for sale in the morning. Colima has 35,000 or 40,000 inhabitants, and at morning or evening they are all on the streets. As our party passed along, people always civilly made room, and the better class generally bowed politely. In passing the prison, the guard invariably presented arms to me, and I found after a time, this was all owing to the fact that I wore a vest of blue cloth, with brass buttons bearing the coat of arms of the State of California, and for my own convenience I was forced to change it, and by donning a plain white vest retire to private life.
They make the change here, when you buy anything at a store, down to the smallest fraction of a cent; there is nothing like the Californian contempt for the odd bit in Mexico. Being in want of a pair of light pantaloons, I learned to my surprise that there was no ready-made clothing store in Colima, and a tailor was sent for at once to wait upon me. My order and measure taken down, the "artist" departed, and at night returned with the garment finished. "How much?" He at once rendered me a bill for cloth, buttons, thread, labor, etc., amounting to seven dollars and twelve and one-half cents, and he would neither take seven dollars, nor seven dollars and twenty-five cents, but must have the exact change. The barber, boot-maker, shoemaker, and other tradesmen wait on you in the same manner, and exact the same minute change. The servants receive $5 to $8 per month, in extreme cases $10, and are exceedingly respectful and attentive. They come at the clapping of the hands instead of the bell-call, as with us, and always stand bare-headed when addressed, even though the rain be pouring, or the sun scorching hot.
At the invitation of Señor Huarte, the party one evening rode out to the suburbs, and went through his private garden, one of many such in the vicinity. The grounds, enclosed with a high stone wall in front, and a stake and pole fence elsewhere, probably comprise, all told, about ten acres. Trees and plants fill the whole inclosure, the paths only excepted, and the variety and richness of the fruit and foliage are beyond description. Tall cocoa palms, covered with fruit, tower high in air in all parts of the grounds, and the bananas, of which there are four varieties, fill in beneath as an undergrowth, though fifteen to twenty feet in height. Then there are red-berried coffee trees, with bright green leaves; aguacates, or alligator pears; zapotes; cacao, or the chocolate tree; oranges, lemons, peaches, sweet lemons, limes, mangoes, cheremoyas, pineapples, citrons, and an almost endless variety of minor tropical fruits. It would require the space of a full page to name them all. Of flowers, there are many, large and brillianthued, but generally devoid of pleasant odor. It was curious to see the common "lady's-slipper" of the North, here cultivated beside the gaudy flowers of the tropics, and regarded as something very rare and choice. Of creeping plants, there are hundreds. One of these has foliage like the cypress tree, as delicate as lace, and beautiful red blossoms.
In the corner of the garden stands a large brick house with a wide brick-paved verandah: this is the lounging place. Adjoining is a brick- walled tank, thirty-five feet long and fifteen broad, filled with water kept fresh by constant running; this is the proprietor's bathing place. It is shaded by the palm trees and banana plants, and the coolness makes it a delightful resort at morning and evening in this fervid climate. There is no "fruit season" here; it is fruit all the year around. The cocoanut is never eaten here as with us. The nuts are picked when just two-thirds grown and while the fluid inside is as clear and limpid as the finest spring water. This is called "Agua de Cocoa" and is a favorite and very healthy and palatable beverage. The Indian servants who attend to the garden, had many of the cocoanuts already prepared with one end chipped off with a machete, to allow the water to be turned out as from a jug, and as we took seats in the verandah they served it around in large glasses. When the water is turned out there remains a white mucilaginous substance like thin custard, which is scraped out and eaten with a slip of the green husk for a spoon. It is highly flavored but not agreeable to the uninitiated.
From these gardens, fruit is sold to all who desire it. Cocoanuts are sold for twenty-five cents per dozen at retail, bananas for twelve and a half to fifteen cents a bunch of one hundred or more, and other fruit in proportion. One hundred square yards of ground in bananas, will afford sustenance for an entire family the year round; why then should people kill themselves with hard work? Señor Huarte paid $2,000 for the garden, and expended $2,000 more in building the house and bath, or $4,000 in all. He thinks that the income from this garden may be two per cent per month on the money invested, but as he has no guard upon the Indian servants he cannot tell how much they receive, and is probably cheated out of four-fifths of the actual proceeds of the sales.
Señor Canedo, who has traveled in the United States, and has some excellent practical ideas, coupled with a degree of patriotism which led him to fight valiantly against the French, coming out of the war with numerous honorable wounds, accompanied us, and gave us much valuable information in regard to the country and its products. He told us that the coffee we saw was of the finest variety grown in Colima. This coffee readily finds sale at home, and except as a curiosity, is seldom sent abroad. The choicest berries picked out by hand, sell at the fancy price of one dollar and twenty-five cents in coin, and the ordinary berries, really quite as good for family use, at twenty-five cents. If he could be sure of getting even twenty cents per pound net, in San Francisco, he would undertake to furnish any amount in a few years. The berry is round and white, and the flavor equal if not actually superior to that of Mocha. Only about 40,000 or 50,000 pounds are produced in Colima annually, but the amount could be increased indefinitely. Cocoa-nut oil, produced from the small round cocoa-nut, called "Cochita" about the size of a hickory-nut, not the ordinary cocoa-nut, is also produced in considerable quantity. At Manzanillo it is worth about seventeen dollars, coin, per barrel.
Of tropical fruit, Colima—the State at large—is able to raise unlimited amounts, and with good roads to Manzanillo, and a foreign market, an immense trade might soon be built up. Cacao—pronounced ka-kow, not cocoa—or the chocolate bean is produced all over the Tierra Caliente of Mexico, and its product could be increased indefinitely. The chocolate made from this, in Mexican style, is the most delicious warm drink I have ever tasted. It is no more like the coarse compound made and sold under that name in the United States and Europe, than champagne is like lager-beer. If our people knew how to prepare it in the manner in which it come upon the table in Mexico, I think that it would supersede coffee and tea to a very great extent.
There is a bright yellow wood called "linoloe" growing all over these mountains, which, for cabinet-work, the lining of bureau-drawers, etc., would be invaluable. It is similar in color to the California laurel, but somewhat softer, and exceedingly fragrant, the odor being like that of the nutmeg and moss-rose combined, and where it is desired to keep furs or other articles free from moths, it has no equal. A delightfully fragrant oil for toilet purposes, superior to sandal-wood oil, is obtained from the berry which the tree produces. Samples of this were shown me at the extensive drug store of Mr. Augustus Morrill, the American Consul in the city. This article ought to become of commercial importance. There are other equally valuable woods in abundance here. Nature has done more for Colima, and man less, than for any other country on earth I think.
The people of Colima had heard of the hospitalities showered upon Mr. Seward in California, and the other Pacific States and Territories of the "United States of the North," and they were determined not to be behind hand for a moment; to do them justice I must here admit, in spite of my pride as a Californian, that they were very far ahead. Upon Mr. Seward's arrival, the officials called at once and offered the hospitalities of the city and State, as Señor Huarte did those of his house.
We had hardly time to finish breakfast on the morning after our arrival, when two elegantly-dressed gentlemen, Señors Firmin Gonzalez Castro, and Francisco Santa Cruz, were introduced; they informed Mr. Seward that they came in behalf of the officers Aduana Maritima and the Governor and people of Colima, to invite the party to attend a ball and banquet at the palace, on the evening of the 12th of October, to be given in honor of his visit. The address being duly translated, Mr. Seward replied as follows:
When evening came, the party entered the carriages in attendance at 10 o'clock, and were driven to the palace. Arriving there, all were surprised beyond measure at the oriental magnificence of the decorations and preparations for the occasion. Outside, the building, which is of pure Moorish style, was one blaze of light A crowd of the common people standing in respectful silence blocked the way, and were kept back from the portal by the bayonets of a company of regular troops, under command of Capt. Reyes. The sidewalks on either side were lined with rows of feathery palm-leaves fastened upright and decorated with lamps, and the whole front of the building was similarly decorated. Entering the portal, the soldiers presenting arms as we passed, we found a numerous and brilliant company in attendance, and arranged near the door to allow the party to pass through into the main saloon.
The scene presented as the party entered was brilliant, and wonderfully beautiful. The main hall is in the form of a square, surrounded by wide corridors, separated by pillars and Moorish arches, with wide galleries corresponding above. The floors were covered with cloth, and sprinkled with gilt paper-clippings. The pillars, the arches, the walls, and the ceilings were loaded with the richest vegetation of the tropics; palm-leaves in all their varieties; the rich, cream-colored blossoms of the cocoa, looking like gigantic heads of wheat done in wax-work, the green fruit and flowers of the banana, and all the indescribable wealth of the tropical flora, in variety and brilliance beyond description. Mr. Seward exclaimed, "It is a tropical forest", with an oriental illumination." Rich Chinese lamps and glasses, filled with perfume and brilliant colored cocoa oil, with burning tapers, were on all sides.
The roof was hidden by a canopy of green, white and red gauze, and all around the hall were the flags of Mexico and the United States side by side. At one end of the hall, "Don Benito Juarez, Salvator de la Patria," looked down in grim silence from the canvas, and at the other, a handsome portrait of Mr. Seward, painted within two days by a native artist, was enwreathed with laurel and the flags of the two Republics. Around the corridor hung the portraits of Gen. Ramon Corona, commander of the Army of the West, and his compatriots, and the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence. On one side of the gallery was the illuminated legend "Al. H. W. H. Seward," formed from glasses of red, green, and blue cocoa-nut oil, with tapers hanging against a bank of tropical verdure. The committee of arrangements must have expended a very large sum in the preparations, and all to the best advantage. Better taste was never exhibited in any ball-room in America.
Introductions, over, the band seated in an alcove struck up a lively air and the dance commenced, Gov. Cueva leading off with Mrs. Frederick Seward, and Mr. F. Seward with the beautiful and accomplished wife of Mr. Oetling, the Consul of the North German Confederation, the most perfect type of the pure Spanish beauty I had seen thus far in Mexico. The ladies, wore little jewelry, but were dressed richly and in excellent taste, and the gentlemen were all in black, with white vests and white kid gloves.
After midnight the banquet was served in the gallery; the tables which were loaded with every fruit, fowl and vegetable of this wonderfully prolific tropical clime, and with flowers and wines ad libitum, extended entirely around the gallery. After the substantials of the feast were disposed of, Acting Gov. Cueva arose and addressed the assembled guests and Mr. Seward in the following language, as nearly as I am able to translate it:
When he concluded his address, the company applauded loudly, by the clapping of hands and a "hurrah" a la Americano, in special compliment to the guests. Don Firmin Gonzales Castro, and Don Francisco E Trejo, followed in short but fervent addresses, in similar spirit, and Mr. Seward then arose and addressed the audience, amid profound silence, as follows:
When Mr. Seward ceased speaking, the applause was hearty and enthusiastic, and the last shade of doubt and distrust that seemed to have been lingering in the public mind as to the motives of his visit, appeared to have vanished. The banquet over, the party again returned to the ball-room, and the dancing re-commenced. The German merchants of Colima mingled with the dark-eyed beauties of the country, side by side with the American guests, and an era of good feeling and brotherly regard seemed to have been inaugurated. At 4 a.m., a grand "fandango," by dancers and musicians specially sent for, was given. The dance is not unlike the can-can in its voluptuous abandon, and though curious, I do not recommend its adoption by the sons and daughters of my native land. At day-break the first grand party given in Mexico in honor of the distinguished American visitor broke up. It was a magnificent success.
On the following morning, at 7 o'clock, a few friends, and myself—kindly accompanied by W. H. Broadbent and Mr. John Bulkley, late Superintendent of the San Cuyatano Cotton Mills—started off on horses sent for our use by Señor Luis Rendon and Consul Morrill, to visit the cotton mills of Colima. A two mile ride through the narrow, straight streets of Colima, and out along the woods overhung with the garden verdure of this land of fruit and flowers, along the banks of the Rio de Colima, brought us to the San Cuyatano mill. This establishment, like everything here, surrounds a wide court-yard, each building being but one story in height, of brick, and tile-roofed. The motive power is furnished by a huge overshot wheel, forty-two feet in diameter, which runs two thousand spindles, and the mill employs two hundred and fifty men and women when in operation.
It is now idle, owing to the overstock of domestic cottons, and the high price of the raw material. It has large quarters, consisting of long rows of tenements, each with a front and rear room, and a verandah and small back yard, which, when the mills are running, are rented to the families of the operatives at one dollar and fifty cents per month; not a high rent. The women, all young and clean, and some quite pretty, were sitting around in the verandahs doing some small work, and on our passing, all arose and greeted us with a pleasant smile, and "Buenas dias, Señors!"
We went on to the Armonia Mill, which is of similar character, and now running. It has one thousand spindles, and employs eighty operatives. Then we went to the Atrevida Mill, which has twenty-five looms and eight hundred spindles, and employs eighty people. The machinery of the Atrevida and San Cuyatano is from Fall River—"Estados Unidos Del Norte"—and that of the Armonia from England. The Armonia was built in 1845, and paid from thirty thousand to forty thousand dollars per annum dividends until 1864, when the business fell off in consequence of the civil war. The cloth is all of coarse sheetings or muslin, known here as manta, and sells at six dollars and twenty-five cents per piece of thirty-two varas (a vara is two and three-fourths feet, English) for the best, which weighs eleven pounds per piece. The second quality, weighing nine pounds, sells for five dollars and twenty-five cents per piece. The women get two and one-half rials—thirty-one and one-fourth cents—per piece for weaving the cloth, and the other operatives thirty-seven and a half cents per day, they boarding themselves. The cotton costs thirty-four cents per pound cleaned, at present, and two dollars and twenty-five cents per arroba of twenty-five pounds unginned.
The present cotton product of the State of Colima is two million, five hundred thousand pounds, and there are many thousands of acres of uncultivated land available for cotton raising if required. The women work faithfully and quietly, but with downcast and generally hopeless look. They are of all colors from red to white, a mild lemon color being the leading and fashionable hue. I have been told that a number of these girls recently went to California to better their condition, and that their letters from San Francisco, to their friends in Colima, have created a general desire among their sister operatives to follow in their footsteps, and seek a home in the Golden State.
From the roofs of the mills we looked down on gardens filled with tropical fruits, oranges, bananas, cocoa-nuts, coffee, vanilla, and a thousand, to us, rare things, growing in rank and neglected luxuriance, then mounted our animals, and galloped back along ruined bridges and shattered walls, in part the effect of the cannon-balls rained upon Miramon's forces by the Liberal artillery under Col. George M. Green, when Juarez was advancing on Guadalajara from the West; in part to the contest between the French and Liberals, when the latter were defeated and the city taken, and in part the effect of a great flood in 1864, and were soon at the door of Señor Huarte's hospitable casa. At the invitation of Gov. Cueva, who is acting Governor in place of Gov. Ramon de la Vega, the latter having been absent for a long time on leave from President Juarez, I visited the public schools in Colima, in which he takes a very commendable interest. I found them well attended, and the pupils exceedingly well-behaved and intelligent. The schools are free to all, and seem to be appreciated. This is an evidence of actual progress in Mexico, very pleasant to witness, and must convince the most skeptical that the world does move, even here.
From the schools we went to the State Prison, the Prefect of the State or municipality, Don Sebastian Fajerdo, kindly accompanying us and showing us all the points of interest. The prison is guarded by the garrison of Colima, comprising one hundred regular troops, and is used in part as a jail or calaboose, as well as a State Prison. It is of great age, and exceedingly defective in construction, so far as ventilation is concerned. Each ward is separated by an open-work iron door, of great strength, from the next, and one is locked before the second is unlocked on every occasion. I found one hundred and fifty-seven prisoners all told. Of these, half were common drunkards, or perpetrators of light offenses, sentenced to chain-gang duty for a brief time. Many of the others have the word "perpetua" entered opposite their names; and one poor, cowering wretch in irons, was pointed out as under sentence of death for a horrible and cruel murder. Gov. Cueva, who seems to be a thoroughly mild, kind-hearted, and merciful man, explained to me that he had not yet signed the death-warrant, and he disliked to do so always, putting it off as long as possible, and then ordering the shooting to take place at day-break as quietly and privately as possible, it being his opinion that such exhibitions had no good effect on the public mind.
After a conviction for a capital offense, the transcript of the records of the trial, evidence, etc., must be sent to Mexico to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. If that tribunal decides that the trial has been fair, and the finding is according to law and the evidence, then an order for the execution of the sentence is sent back, the Governor must sign the death-warrant within a given number of days, and the shooting must take place within twenty-four hours thereafter.
Pardons can only be issued by the Legislature (Congresso) of the State. The records appeared regularly and neatly kept, and the prisoners as well and humanely treated as possible with the present prison accommodations. Each prisoner had a mat to sleep and sit upon, but other furniture there was none, and in some of the wards the air, for the want of proper ventilation, was very oppressive. All were naked to the waist, or nearly all, and with the single exception of one demoralized Swiss—probably one of Maximilian's mercenaries—in for stealing, of native birth and Indian blood. The precautions against revolt or escape would be considered extraordinary in any other country. Nearly all are engaged in braiding fine palm-leaf hats, worth about two dollars each, or making fancy worsted work baskets, etc., which they are allowed to have sold for their private account. As we entered each room the prisoners arose and bowed respectfully, at a nod from the turnkey, and remained standing until we left. If Gov. Vega, or acting Gov. Cueva, had the means at command, they would soon have a better prison erected, and change the entire system to that of New-York which they highly approve.
At 2 p.m., of our last day in Colima, the party repaired to an old Spanish church to assist at the christening of the two youngest children of Consul Morrill. Mr. Seward, the elder, acted with Mr. Buckley as godfathers for one, and Mr. Fred Seward, wife, and Mr. Buckley, as godfathers and godmother for the other The ceremony was soon over, and as we reached the portal, there came a rush of men, woman and children of the poorer class to receive bright, clean rials called "bolos" as mementoes of the christening. The term comes from the response of the godfather during the ceremony "Yo bolo!" (I consent!) It is the custom for each of the godfathers and godmothers to give every person present a bolo, and it took about a quart to go around. Then, at the residence of Senor Huarte, trays tilled with these pieces —twelve and a-half cents each—punched and adorned with red, green and white ribbons, were brought out, and were presented by the "Compadres," to each of the army of servants and children in the place. It is an odd and peculiar custom.
Having been left out in the cold, as it were, personally at the christening, I got even by distributing some dollars worth of American dimes among the highly appreciative audience, on behalf of the next candidate for ordinance, whether it should be a girl or boy, Mr. Buckley kindly promising to act as my proxy at the ceremony, as a few thousand miles, more or less, would be pretty certain to intervene between us before that interesting event could take place.
On the afternon of Wednesday the 13th of October Colonel Sabas Lomeli, commander of the State Guard of Jalisco, a richly dressed, and fine, soldierly-looking officer, with one hundred cavalry, detailed by the Governor of Jalisco to act as an escort to Mr. Seward and party, as far as Guadalajara, arrived from that city, and immediately presented himself, with his aids, for orders. Colima, the beloved of the Sun, had won all our hearts, and it was with not a little regret, that we made preparations for departure next morning, at day-break. Colima! Colima! shall I ever look upon you again?