Our Sister Republic/Chapter 22
THE LAST WE SAW OF MEXICO.
To complete the work, I asked permission to copy, verbatim, the farewell letters written by Mr. Seward as we were preparing to go on board the steamer at Vera Cruz, to the President and the leading members of his Cabinet, Mrs. Juarez, and the Commissioner, Señor Bossero, who was sent out to Guadalajara by the Mexican Government, to meet the party, and provide for our comfort and enjoyment on our journey through the Republic.
THOUGH we had still to touch at a distant Mexican port—that of Sisal in Yucatan,—at Vera Cruz, our long trans-continental trip through tropical Mexico, was practically over. The story of that journey is told, but its results and consequences—serious or otherwise for the Republic of Mexico and the Juarez Administration—remain to be developed in the future. So much idle speculation as to the object and purport of this visit of Mr. Seward to the Republic of Mexico, has been indulged in by the people and press of both nations, and so many efforts made to give it a false political significance and importance, that I have thought it best to put on record all the speeches and letters made and written by Mr. Seward in Mexico, that the world might see for itself, just what actually passed between him and the citizens and officials of Mexico.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
At 4 p. m. on Tuesday, January 11th., 1870, we were all on board the Cleopatra, and she was steaming out of the harbor of Vera Cruz, past the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa, and the great coral reefs beyond it, into the Gulf of Mexico. At sunset, all on board subject to seasickness, were down with it; the writer among the number, of course. All next day we were out of sight of land with a rough sea. The morning of the 13th dawning clear and beautiful, revealed to us the low sandy shores of Yucatan along the southern horizon, and at noon we came to anchor off Sisal, in the open roadstead which serves for a harbor, save in case of a norther blowing, when there is no harbor at all.
The sea being rough Mr. Seward decided not to go on shore, though he was strongly tempted to do so and spend the next twenty days in visiting the ancient Spanish city of Merida, the mysterious ruins of Palenque, the logwood forests of Campeche, and other points of interest on the peninsula. Worn out with seasickness, and feverish from miasma breathed at Vera Cruz, I determined to go ashore, and put off in a small boat with Mr. and Mrs. Brennan and others, to spend the night on the land. We were no sooner on shore than a committee called to learn what Mr. Seward's intentions were, and tender him the hospitalities of Sisal and of Yucatan, if he would land and accept them. Being told that he had decided not to land, they telegraphed at once to Merida to inform the Governor, and tendered me the use of the house provided for him in Sisal, for the little party who had come with me.
Sisal has not much to see of special interest. The houses are all palm leaf- thatched, with thick stone walls, rude, old-fashioned wooden doors, and glassless windows. The authorities showed us every possible attention, and we inspected what there was to be seen, with interest. The old castle or "Castillo,"—erected three centuries ago by the Spaniards,—is garrisoned by a company of regular troops of the Army of Mexico.
Yucatan is not the most devotedly loyal State of the Republic, and the Government is obliged to keep a strong force there to protect its interests, and guard against pronunciamentoes and revolutions. The wild Indians of the interior are also troublesome, being supplied with arms and ammunition—as the inhabitants of Merida justly complain — by the English traders and authorities in Honduras, and the contemptible "Kingdom of Mosquitia," whose orang-outang king is "the very good friend and ally of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, etc., etc." Then, more than half of the—so called—civilized Indians of Yucatan, do not submit to be governed by the Federal or State authorities: so that the peninsular can hardly be called a first class, quiet place to live in. Nevertheless, the roads are good, the country is improving, and the State has more to show in the way of exports—the product of her soil—than any other in the Republic.
The annual receipts of the Custom-House at Sisal, amount to four hundred thousand dollars, and the export of hemp—the best article of the kind now produced in the world—amounted in 1869 to eighteen thousand bales of four hundred pounds each. This hemp is mainly raised around Merida, and the industry—which is a new one—is fast extending, and bringing prosperity and happiness to the State. Sisal has a population of all colors, ages, sexes and conditions, of one thousand, all told. A great swamp and laguna extends miles up into the interior, in the rear of the town, and the place is not specially noted for its salubrity.
Mr. Brennan and my old San Francisco friend, Lever,—who was a captain in the Volunteers during our civil war, and afterwards a member of the famous "American Legion of Honor," and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Mexican Army,—now U. S. Mail Agent on the Cleopatra, went out on the laguna shooting ducks, ibises, flamingoes and—Heaven knows what not,—and had a glorious time, returning well laden with spoils,—all of which were spoiled by the heat of the weather, next morning.
Groves of tall, graceful cocoa-palms, and rank luxuriant cane-brakes, give a peculiar tropical charm to the place as seen from the harbor. We saw but one carriage in the place. It was a private coach, with wheels and bed as heavy as that of one of our great lumber wagons, and had a little inclosed cab-like structure, for two persons, perched high up on leathern springs in the centre. It was drawn by three little mules harnessed all abreast, one in the shafts, and one on each side; it will be long ere I shall look upon its like again.
That night we all went to the Sisal theatre. It is a funny affair. The stage was under a palm leaf-thatched shed, open on one side, and the scenery was permanently fixed, admitting of no changing. The audience sat in a large open yard, with the starry Heavens above them for a roof, and a grove of cocoa palm trees in full verdure for a back ground. It is doubtless the tallest theatre in the world at this time, the best ventilated, and the safest in case of a fire or an earthquake.
What the play was I could not find out. The company was composed of amateurs, and the performance for the benefit of some charity which I hope deserved it. The theatre was filled to repletion, the mosquitoes occupying all the space not required by the audience of some five hundred people. The principal actor was the Prefecto Politico of the town, a fine, fleshy, old gentleman, who, despite the loss of one eye, played his part right well. I made his acquaintance, and found him a true gentleman, and very pleasant company indeed. Admission dos rials, and un rial extra for a chair—total, thirty-seven and one half cents. The scene was novel and interesting, and I shall not soon forget that evening's entertainment at the theatre, by the side of the restless, moaning sea, on the wild, lone shore of Yucatan.
That evening a party of officials and leading citizens left Merida, on receipt of the telegram announcing Mr. Seward's arrival, and come down to the coast before midnight, having galloped their horses all the way. At ten a. m. Friday, January 14th., I returned on board the Cleopatra, with the Collector of the Port of Sisal, the Captain of the Port, the 2nd Captain of the Port, the Prefecto Politico and other local officers, the American Consul at Merida, Señor Perucho, the Secretary of the Governor of Yucatan, Señor Rivos, an old and highly intelligent merchant of Merida, and others and the last official presentation and reception of Mr. Seward in Mexico took place.
After an hours conversation on political subjects, the Secretary handed Mr. Seward a letter of which the following is a translation:
The Governor of the State of Yucatan,
To the illustrious American, William H, Seward.
The party then took leave of Mr. Seward in the most affectionate manner, and his visit to Mexico was ended. That evening our steamer sailed away for Havana, and as the sun went down in the west I sat on the deck smoking my last cigarrito, wrapped in smoke and thought, and saw the palm-fringed shore of Mexico slowly sink down in the horizon and fade away from sight. From sight, but not from memory! Beautiful, unfortunate Mexico; in all my after years, what visions of thee and thine will haunt me day and night!
Again shall I see the gay flotilla moving up the Laguna de Cayutlan, the wooded hills and tropical valley of La Calera; Colima—the beloved of the sun—with her gardens, ruins, and palm groves, and her great smoking volcano for a back ground, will be before me. Again shall I see the gallant cavalcade and the flashing arms of the Guard of Jalisco, filing through the great Barranca de Beltran, or moving by torchlight over the hills of San Marcos. I shall see the full, round moon rise over beautiful Guadalajara, and hear the soft love song and notes of the light guitar, or watch the beauties of Mexico's cities floating through the voluptuous mazes of the danza. Again I shall see the blaze, and listen to the roar of the fire-balls, as they come crashing down into the dark depths of the earth, in the mines of Guanajuato. Again shall I tread your bloodstained battle fields, on which the problem of free government in America was decided; again stand by the little mound of stones and the three black crosses which mark an epoch in the world's history, amid the waving corn-fields at the foot of the lone Cerro de Las Campanas. Again, and yet again, shall I tread the deserted halls of Chapultepec, and look down on the fair valley and city of Mexico, and up to mighty Popocatapetl crowned with eternal snow. Again shall I stand where Cortez fought and Guatamozin lost and died. Still shall I see brown Dolores at the casement standing, and Juanita with the flashing eyes, ride past in her stately carriage on the paseo. I shall listen to the wild music of the trumpet and the kettle-drum in Colima, and the wilder notes of the Aztec band at the foot of the pyramid of Cholula, or stand in breathless silence absorbed in the fiery eloquence which pours like a flood from the lips of Ignacio Altamarino in the Palace of Mexico.
Again shall I descend the defiles of the Cumbres and dash at full speed through the Pass of Chiquihuite, and walk through the damp and dismal dungeons of the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa. Your flower-embowered and blood-stained shores have faded from my sight, but all these things, and a thousand other memories—bright and beautiful in the main, though occasionally tinged with sorrow and with sadness—are mine, and only death can rob me of them.
Land of history, romance, flowers, poetry, and song; land of dark and fearful deeds, violence, wrong and a terrible past; land with a present mixed and clouded, in which
"Men must die, and women must weep,"
to atone for the sins of those who came before them; land with a bright and glorious future, in which all your people,—educated and disenthralled of prejudice and bigotry—shall in truth be "sovereign, free and independent," and white-winged peace and prosperity shall walk hand in hand through all your borders, God bless thee! Adios!