Our Sister Republic/Chapter 6
FROM GUADALAJARA TO GUANAJUATO.
WE left Guadalajara at 10:30 a. m., Tuesday, Oct. 26th, in the customary style—a large guard of the regular cavalry of the Mexican Army in advance, and another following in the rear. Our vehicle was a capital thorough-brace coach, sent out from the City of Mexico for our especial use, drawn by eight fine mules, and driven by George Elmore, a veteran stage-driver, who is said to be the best in Mexico. Elmore was born about forty-five years ago, at No. 187 Broadway, New-York, but has lost, in outward appearance, all indications of his nationality. When addressed in English, however, his hearty "You bet!" betrays his Californian education at once.
Gov. Cuervo, Señor Don Juan Ignacio Matute, Señor Don Luis Rendon, and Señor Cañedo, accompanied us as far on the way as the old, half-ruined suburban town of San Pedro, and there took leave of us in the most affectionate manner.
Col. Lomeli, Commander of the Guard of Jalisco, came also to bid us adieu, and told us that on the previous evening his men had shot, and mortally wounded, another robber, just outside the gates of the city on the road over which we had lately passed, and that the poor wretch was then dying. He also informed us that the confirmation of the sentence of death upon two robbers then in prison at Guadalajara had arrived, and that they would be shot immediately. Mr. Seward had been appealed to by their father, to intercede for them at the city of Mexico, but they were in their graves long before we reached Guanajuato. They deserved no sympathy.
We took leave of our old friends, who had accompanied us all the way from Manzanillo, with much regret, and shall not soon forget their kindness and constant care for our welfare. Henceforth, we were under the care of Señor Don Luis G. Bossero, the special commissioner sent out from the City of Mexico to meet us at Guadalajara and escort us to the capital. He is a large, fine-looking gentleman, exceedingly courteous and polite in his manners, and speaks English with just enough foreign accent to make his droll stories more amusing and enjoyable.
Our baggage was loaded upon a cart drawn by four mules, abreast, which were managed by about a dozen retainers and servants of different degrees. Our road, all day for thirty miles, led us over a broken, hilly country, something like Central New York in appearance, and almost entirely devoted to cattle raising. The few small villages through which we passed were all inhabited by very poor people, of Indian descent, and the country generally seemed to be in keeping. The whole country is underlaid with ancient and partially decomposed lava, and the roads, though hard enough at the bottom, were fearfully rough. Our baggage-cart was repeatedly stalled or overturned, and one of the mules had his leg broken, and was turned out to die by the roadside.
A few miles out from Guadalajara, we crossed the Rio Grande de Santiago, the outlet of Lake Chapala, upon a stone bridge of some nineteen arches. This bridge is one of the remarkable structures erected by the old Spaniards, and looks as if it might stand for many centuries more. At either end of the bridge are statues of the king and queen of Spain who were reigning when the bridge was erected, but so worn and defaced by time as to be unrecognizable. The stone tablets on which the records of the erection and other facts about the bridge were engraved, have all been plastered over with cement to deface and destroy them, for some reason not apparent. The only date I could decipher was 1718, and that appeared to refer to a repair instead of the erection of the structure. No one living in the vicinity could give us any data concerning it.
The falls of this river, a few miles below where we crossed, are said to compare, not unfavorably, with those of Niagara, but we did not see them.
We staid at Zapotlanejo, a curious old town of four or five thousand inhabitants, on our first night out from Guadalajara. A deputation of the citizens, on horseback, met us outside the town, and escorted us in. They are very poor, but wonderfully hospitable people. The houses have in many cases barricades upon the roofs, reminders of the former revolutions and invasions; and the remarkable number of fair-haired and fair-skinned children to be seen on the streets, tell the same story. A fine band welcomed us, the citizens made speeches in the evening, and were answered by Mr. Seward; and a concert by native Mexicans, all excellent players, the harper being blind, closed the evening's entertainment. The town has a fine old church, at present under repair, and stands in a small but fertile valley, surrounded by cane, corn, and rice fields. We left Zapotlanejo on the morning of Oct. 27th, to ride thirty-two miles to Tepotitlan, a town of from five to eight thousand people. Our roads had been bad enough in all conscience before, but they grew worse and worse as we advanced, and the night rains grew heavier. This day's travel was the hardest we had yet experienced.
Nine miles beyond Zapotlanejo we crossed the Bridge of Calderon, a stone structure, spanning a deep but narrow arroyo. It was here that the Padre Hidalgo, the Washington of Mexico, with eighty thousand men, all Indians, armed with bows and arrows, and a few wooden cannon which burst at the first fire, attacked the Spaniards, in January 1811. The Spaniards were not a tenth as strong, numerically, but they were well armed, and all the desperate valor and enthusiasm of the Indians went for naught. The poor fellows rushed up to the Spanish cannons and pushed their hats into them to prevent their going off. So little did they know of the use and power of artillery. They were mowed down by thousands, and broke and fled at last in utter rout, leaving Hidalgo to make his way to Chihuahua, where he was betrayed into the hands of his enemies, sent to Guanajuato, tried, condemned, and executed.
The soil in this vicinity is a dark red earth, which resembles that of the gold belt of the Sierra Nevada, and is tenacious to the last degree when wet up by the rains, and worked into brick material by the wheels of vehicles. We passed during this day, a poor little village at which the butcher Rojas captured eighty men—all the able-bodied male population of the vicinity—and murdered them all in cold blood, some years since.
One of the most fearful brutes who ever infested the roads of Jalisco, was Simon Gutierrez, whose band was exterminated by the State troops in the Spring of 1869.
THE TERROR OF JALISCO
Gutierrez took refuge in the city of Guadalajara, and when his hiding place was discovered, (beneath a floor,) jumped into the middle of the troops, with a revolver, and fought until they riddled him. His body was propped up in a chair and exhibited three days in front of the prison on the Plaza, as shown in the picture, and crowds went to see it and make sure that the terror of Jalisco, for so many years, was dead, indeed, at last.
The poor people, all along the road, eke out a miserable living by selling a few small fruits, frijoles, tortillas, etc. etc., to travelers. I found one old fellow sitting on a stone by the roadside, miles from any habitation, with about a half-bushel of the nasty, little fruit resembling our northern "mandrake," or May-apple, called the guava—pronounced "guayava"—from which the guava jelly of commerce is made. I asked him how much he would take for his whole establishment, stock in trade, basket, plates, and all. After a nice calculation, he decided that it was worth all together fully twenty-five cents, I paid him the money and made him distribute the fruit among the escort which just then came up; there was about enough to give them all the cholic for a week.
THE GRATEFUL GUAVA MERCHANT
Suddenly, an idea, suggested by my reckless liberality, struck him with great force.
Was I not the grande hombre from the Estados Unidos del Norte? I had not the heart to deny it; then he fell on his knees, kissed my hand, and said that he had heard of me often, and now thanked God that he had been permitted to live to see me face to face. I had intended to break the plates and basket, and "bust up" the shop; but his devotion saved him, and I gave them back to him and made him a friend of the Americans for life. It is pleasant to do good at so small an expense.
On our second night out from Guadalajara, we staid at Tepotitlan. It was 9 o'clock in the evening when we entered this ancient town, escorted by the citizens with torches, while bells rang a tremendous peal, and a brass band played the national airs. We had a good dinner at the house of the curate of the town, and though our baggage did not arrive until two in the morning, we were provided with good beds and comfortable quarters, furnished by these kind-hearted people. The city contains from five to six thousand people and four churches. They repair the churches, and let everything else go to ruin. The people are mostly farmers, in a small way, and very poor. This year their crops were nearly an utter failure, and they appeared down-hearted.
We found here an American physician, Dr. John Rush, nephew of the famous Philadelphia physician of that name, and R. E. Armstrong, a resident of San Francisco, traveling with his family for their health. Dr. Rush served as surgeon in the 1st West Tennessee (colored) Volunteers, during the Rebellion, under Gen. Thomas. The town has its plaza, with public fountains in the center, and all towns in this country have. The streets, once well paved, are going to ruin.
Next morning, we drove until the middle of the day, over a poor, open, hilly, and mostly barren and uncultivated country, and then came in sight of the quaint, old city of Jalos, far below us in a tree-embowered valley.
This is a well-built little city of six thousand inhabitants, standing in a narrow cañada, wholly hidden until you come upon the brow of the hill from which we first saw it. It has a magnificent old church, in fine repair, and many beautiful private residences, painted outside and inside in brilliant fresco. How the people all live I cannot imagine. As we entered the city the bells were ringing a joyous peal, and a band playing as usual. A fine house had been prepared for us upon the plaza, but as we did not propose to remain over night, we drove on, and lunched privately at the residence of a friend of Señor Bossero. As we passed through the streets a large party of school-boys met us, and at a sign from one of their number, all went down on their knees, on the cobbles, holding their hats in their hands.
The people, as we advanced eastward, became more white, and blue eyes and fair hair were not uncommon. The number of women was vastly in excess of the men, and, of course, lawful marriage is out of the question with the great number of the poor girls of the towns. They are human, and, as they cannot marry, is it a wonder that they sin? Nearly every girl among the lower orders, from fourteen years old upward, whom we saw as we passed along, had a child in her arms. I never saw so little corn, and so many children to the acre.
That night, we staid at Venta de Los Pagarros, twenty-four miles from Tepotitlan. Señor Perez, the owner of this great hacienda, which is twenty miles long, and has forty thousand head of stock upon it, has owned the property two years. He bought it when nobody else dared occupy it on account of the robbers. His house is literally a fortress, impregnable to all but heavy artillery. He organized his neighbors at once into a military corps, and commenced a war of extermination against the robbers. In an hour, he can rally two hundred well-armed men, and as soon as a band is heard of, they start for them, hunt them down, and shoot them all like dogs, making no prisoners. In this way he has restored peace to the neighborhood,
VENTA DE LOS PAGARROS.
and is building up a town around him, already. He and his band have killed about eighty robbers within two years.
From this point the country grows still more broken, being cut up with deep arroyos, cañons and barrancas. The mountains in the distance are nearly all bare of timber, save a few mesquite trees, and the country has the general appearance of Western Texas along the southern edge of the great Llano Estacado. We were now ascending all the time, and had reached an altitude of about six thousand feet above the sea. We had left, the orange, palm, banana, and other fruits, and all the flowers of the tropics behind us, and were upon the Great Central Plateau of Mexico. The scenery is mostly tame, and the country poor, and comparatively uninteresting.
Just as a heavy shower came upon us, we met the deputation of mounted citizens from San Juan de Los Lagos or "St. John of the Lakes," and dashing down a long, winding, well-paved grade, into a deep cañada, and over a high, well-built stone bridge, entered that substantial-looking city. A splendid house was provided for the company, and, as usual, we found that the family, having placed it at our disposal, had left it entirely themselves.
The District Judge, a young man, apparently of twenty-five years, who has the power of life and death over forty thousand people —there is no jury system here, and no appeal in criminal cases, though sentence of death passed by him must be confirmed by the Supreme Court of Mexico before it is finally executed— with the Political Prefect, and others, was in attendance to welcome Mr. Seward, and to see that the party wanted nothing. They told us that they had shot many robbers of late, but that there were still a number of very skillful ones in the vicinity.
Here and at Jalos, for the first time, we saw fences made on the simplest possible plan, from the great organo cactus. This cactus is eight-sided, and shoots up straight as an arrow, from ten to twenty-five feet in height, and five to eight inches in thickness. They cut the cactus into sections of the right length, stick the cut end into a trench, cover the dirt around it to the depth of a foot, and the fence is made. The pieces are set as closely together as possible, and, as they take root and grow for centuries, the fence improves with age, instead of going to decay like other fences. The nopal or prickly pear grows to perfection here, and the aloe or century plant, as well, or better, than in the tierra caliente. The town stands in a deep cañada, and a few inferior orange trees grow in the court-yards on the sunny side. Wheat grows well in this vicinity, and the flour, too, is excellent, almost equal to that of California, and much superior to that of the Atlantic States.
CHURCH OF SAN JUAN.
Looking up from the plaza, I gazed in silent admiration at the magnificent cathedral finished within one week of one hundred years before—they were making the most extensive preparations for celebrating the centennial anniversary—and the finest I had seen in Mexico, not even excepting that of Guadalajara. Its two graceful towers, wrought and carved with elaborate richness, to the very summit, from the beautiful pink lava rock of which the whole structure is built, are each two hundred and ten feet in height, and the main building is two hundred and ten feet long. The grand dome is covered with brilliant tiles in mosaic, and the vaulted roof, of solid masonry, is at least seventy-five feet above the floor. In the basement, I descended eight wide stone steps, all cut from a single piece of stone, and in the sacristy saw the tomb of the projector of the cathedral, who died four years before its completion, and numerous magnificent and valuable old paintings. One is a picture of the Virgin, which performs miracles daily. Around this picture are hundreds of votive offerings, in the shape of others, illustrating the miracles performed by the Virgin in behalf of the persons offering them. Some of these were ludicrous in the extreme.
Entering the main building, I saw graceful columns in pale green and gold, supporting the fretted arched roof in the same colors, a magnificent altar in marble and silver, a chapel with a shrine of silver, and countless pictures and images, and decorations of barbaric richness. The rich notes of a superb organ resounded through the building, priests in gorgeous vestments mumbled the morning services, and incense filled the air. Gold and silver, satin and gilding, met the eye on every side, and the scene at first glance was one of bewildering beauty.
But I looked around me and saw men and women, barefooted and in rags, come creeping over the wet flagging of the wide yard, and down the long aisle upon their knees, some of them carrying lighted candles to offer at the shrine in fulfillment of vows made when the assistance of the Virgin was greatly needed, or groveling on the flagging at the doors; and I glanced from the sleek priests, who take in sixty thousand dollars per annum from votive offerings, to the poor wretches who toil for it and give it, and I went out with more of bitterness than satisfaction in my heart.
At the door I saw a conspicuously posted list of the names of those who had during the month offered wax-candles at the shrine. Four-fifths of those who offered these candles and paid the price, had tortillas plain, or an ear of boiled corn for their dinner, dirty rags for clothing, and the earth for a bed. God be thanked, the last great temple of any faith has been built on earth from the sweaty and blood of the toiling millions, and these things shall not be for all time.
From San Juan de los Lagos we proceeded, on the 30th of October, to Lagos, thirty-six miles eastward toward Guanajuato, arriving at 5 p. m. Here we had intended to remain all night and go on at sunrise; but of the three carts conveying our bedding and extra luggage, only one got through before morning, the others being out all night in a driving rain, and stuck fast, in the mud and darkness. This delayed us so that we were compelled to pass the day in the handsome house which the citizens, who met us in carriages outside the city, had placed at the disposal of the party.
The city of Lagos has a population of all hues and ages, estimated at eighteen thousand, and of course supports half a dozen churches, whose bells keep up an incessant ding-donging from morning to night. The finest of these is the Parochial Church, an immense structure, larger even than the cathedral at San Juan de los Lagos, built on the same plan, and only second to it in costliness and elegance. It was founded in 1784, and the spires of cut stone, like those at San Juan, are as yet only two-thirds finished; they are still at work upon them. The interior is exquisitely beautiful, with pale blue and gold ceilings, carvings and statuary, tiled floor, and vaulted fretwork roof. The congregation, assembled at the early morning mass, are even more ragged and devout than that at San Juan; hardly a single representative of the richer and better educated classes being present.
The specialty of this church is its Saint. I forget his name, but the record posted on the walls shows that he was a Roman soldier who suffered martyrdom for his faith (Christian, of course, though that is not stated,) in Rome, so the record affirms. His body was found by miracle, A. D., 901, preserved as if he were but just defunct, and he was canonized as a saint.
From Rome the body was carried to Spain, and from thence brought to Lagos and placed on the altar with the Bishop's own hands eighty years ago. The body is inclosed in a magnificent casket about five feet long, by three broad, and four high, with sides of glass, and corners and top of richly gilded metal. As a special favor to Mr. Seward, the doors before the casket, as it stands in the wall, were opened, and we went up and looked into it, while hundreds of awe-stricken worshipers knelt and crossed themselves in silent adoration.
From a close inspection of this remarkably well-preserved specimen, I am able to draw the following conclusions: First, that the ancient Roman soldiers were about four feet, eight or nine inches in height—not over five feet—allowing a fair margin for shrinkage; second, that they had no beard, and their faces were as delicate as that of a girl; third, that they had wax teeth, finger and toe-nails, and cuticle on hands, face, and shins, and wore gilt pasteboard tunics, and coats of mail, silk stockings, and fancy bootees. I respect every man's religion, and mean no disrespect for this illustrious deceased as a saint, but as a soldier I cannot refrain from the remark, that if he was in life a fair specimen of the Roman troops, I would back the National Guard, Capt. Ben Pratt, of San Francisco, or the MacMahon Guard, Gen. Cazneau, of the same place, to give odds and knock the starch out of the entire phalanx. Of course such men could as bravely die for their faith as if they weighed three hundred pounds, and measured six feet two inches in their stocking-feet, each; nevertheless, I am no longer surprised at the overthrow of Rome by the Goths and Vandals, since I have seen what kind of fighting stock they had.
One thing is apparent in these churches of Central Mexico, at the first glance, viz,: that the people who come there to worship are in earnest, and not hypocrites or doubters. They accept the whole faith as it is taught them, without hesitation or mental reservation, and never seek to evade its responsibilities, or hide the fact of their faith when in the presence of unbelievers. For that I honor them above many of my own countrymen and countrywomen.
Sunday is the great market-day in Lagos, and no sooner is morning service over than the two plazas and the streets between them swarm with buyers and sellers. Venders of peanuts, peppers, yams, vegetables, bread, tortillas, and fruits of all descriptions, raise enormous umbrellas, in shape exactly like those of the Chinese, covered with matting, and ten or twelve feet across, upon stout poles, spread out their little stocks on the pavement, and hour after hour cry their wares, announcing in a loud voice how much of any given thing they sell for a claquo or quartilla, a cent or three cents. Earthenware, charcoal, sugar, salt, and other goods are sold in one plaza, dry goods in another, and beef in little shops on a street between the two. Men with piles of rebosas on their shoulders, walk up and down among the crowd, and others, with brilliant-hued serapes and ponchos, hang their goods against the walls, while young girls and old women, nearly all with infants at their breasts, sit on the curb-stones and sell hot soups, etc., from jars, for half a cent a bowl.
We left Lagos Nov. 1, for a thirty-six mile ride to Leon, being led to expect a fine ride and easy trip. To cut off three or four blocks, the driver avoided the fine, new bridge and drove directly into the river, which came up to the body of the stage and was quite rapid and broad. The mules, suspicious of the security of the bottom, baulked in the middle of the stream, and not all the lashing by a half-dozen volunteer cockeros and postilions, and curses and blasphemy enough to sink a ship, would start them a foot. We were taken off in boats, and no sooner were we landed than we saw the pig-headed mules start up of their own free will and walk majestically ashore. Perhaps their hides did not suffer for that freak.
Then we entered a broad alameda lined with immense trees of the variety known farther north as the California pepper tree, but here as the Peruvian, which has drooping limbs and foliage, giving it the graceful appearance of the weeping willow, and is at this season covered with long clusters of bright red berries which inclose the pungent black pepper grains. This alameda is flanked by ditches inclosing cultivated fields, which are higher than the road. Of course we found it a river of mud and water, and almost impassable.
We had not gone a mile before we found our three luggage cars which had started before daylight all down in the mud and unloaded. Pleasant prospect indeed! After more than three miles of floundering in the mud, running along the embankments, and climbing in and out of the stage, we reached higher ground at noon, and went on more comfortably, over an open, rolling country wholly devoted to stock raising, until we reached the boundary of the State of Jalisco, and entered the State of Guanajuato, nine miles from Leon.
Just at this point, we saw a body of troops moving along the road in advance of us. When they discovered us, they made off at full speed and disappeared. A mile further on, I saw some of them peeping at us from behind a stone wall, and we subsequently learned that in order to give an appearance of perfect safety, to the road—our regular escort left us at Lagos, and returned to Guadalajara—they had been instructed to keep out of our sight entirely, and we were to travel through the State of Guanajuato without any apparent escort.
Seven miles from Leon we came out upon the summit of a range of broken hills, and looked down into a lovely valley, highly cultivated, filled with fields of green, growing grain, and tall ripe maize, and dotted here and there with rich and beautiful, white-walled haciendas.
Entering the city, we found, for the first time in our journey, no deputation with carriages waiting to receive the party, and drove directly to the magnificent house just finished and beautifully furnished for the occasion—fronting on the grand plaza—which had been prepared for us. The Prefecto Politico of Leon, Col. Rosado, and a deputation of the ayuntamiento, called at once to say that they had not received the telegram announcing the departure of Mr. Seward from Lagos, and that we had arrived many hours sooner than expected, which accounted for the apparent neglect to send out carriages to meet the coach.
This city, during the war, under the wise administration of Gen. Doblado who tolerated all classes who obeyed the laws, irrespective of Republican or Imperialist tendencies, gained largely in population, and is now one of the most prosperous, or least unprosperous towns in the country. The population of the city proper is eighty-two thousand, or two thousand more than that of Guadalajara, and the smaller towns in the suburbs swell the population of the municipality to one hundred thousand or more. There are very few rich families, most of the people being tradesmen, boot-makers, saddlers, hat-makers, rebosa and serape weavers, workers in metal, etc., etc. There are many pure white families, and the average complexion of the population is much lighter than in the towns nearer the Pacific coast.
The country around has been much afflicted with robbers, but Col. Rosado, acting vigorously in conjunction with other State and Federal authorities, is fast thinning them out. Only a month or two since he discovered the existence of a band of seventy of these gentry in a cave near the road to Guanajuato, telegraphed to the three principal towns in the vicinity, organized a simultaneous attack upon them, and captured them all at a blow. He took his share of the captives to Leon, and tried and shot them; but those taken to some of the other towns were, after some ceremony, set free, probably to resume the practice of their profession.
The town appears very orderly, and is well and compactly built. It has some old convent buildings, now converted into free schools, and one immense church, and several minor ones. I was disappointed in these churches. The largest has beautiful colored glass memorial windows, the pictures being of the highest grade of merit, and many rich paintings, but otherwise it does not equal that at San Juan de los Lagos, and the others are comparatively poor affairs, very old, and not in the best of repair.
Apropos of churches, I must relate an incident which recently occurred here. Two robbers had been arrested by the authorities, and they—the robbers—threw themselves upon the protection of the new saint of the place, for whose canonization sixty thousand dollars in coin, wrung from the hard and stinted earnings of the laboring poor had just been forwarded by the Bishop of Leon to Rome, who, probably from a fellow-feeling, and possibly old association, so interested himself in their behalf, that the hearts of the authorities were moved and they were discharged without trial. The priests at once seized upon this fact as a miracle, and played for all there was on the board. They issued a pamphlet or tract, setting forth the details of the miracle, and rudely illustrated for the edification of the faithful. But, alas, they had crowed before they were fairly out of the woods, and the result was discouraging. Col. Rosado, who is an educated man, and appears to have a prejudice against saints and highway robbers being allowed to work together, immediately re-arrested the two robbers, tried, convicted, and shot them, thus spoiling the miracle, and causing the impression to go abroad in the community that even sixty thousand dollar saints will not always do to gamble on.
When we entered Leon, the Feast of All-Saints was in full blast. The plaza is large and very beautiful, being surrounded by a handsome iron railing, flanked with tall, heavy-foliaged fresno trees, and paved with little cobbles in a beautiful mosaic, filled with beautiful flowers, and has a very large and elegant fountain in the center. The municipal palace, the handsomest building of the kind, exteriorly, which we had seen in Mexico, and other public buildings, and rows of stores with broad-arched portals, front this plaza. During the feast the broad sidewalk around the plaza is wholly given up to the sale of articles peculiar to the occasion. It is the custom of the country to distribute bon-bons, confectionery made into every conceivable form in imitation of birds, beasts, fishes, men, angels, devils, &c., &c., richly gilded and elaborately ornamented, among all one's friends, and especially among the children. Around the entire plaza was a row of stalls constructed of light matting and cloth, tastefully decorated with colored curtains and flowers, devoted exclusively to the sale of this confectionery and dulces, and attended by women old and young. Beyond the sidewalk was another row of stalls devoted to the sale of wax-candles of all lengths from six inches to six feet for offerings at the church altars.
When evening set in, the crowd which surged around the plaza became so dense that it was almost impossible to pass through it, and when the lamps were lighted, and the military band' played its most inspiring airs, the scene, as we looked down upon it from the balcony of our house, was the most animated and brilliant we had ever seen in Mexico. At about 9½ p. m. the common and partly-dressed people began to thin out, and the richer and more pretentious came in to make their purchases, sit on the benches, or promenade up and down. In company with Mr. Burgess, an American photographer resident here, Mr. Fitch and myself walked around in the crowd for some time. The booth-keepers cried their wares—fair women, old men and women, and children in rags or tastefully dressed, walked up and down, young men in broad sombreros and gorgeous serapes lounged around in groups, beggars, blind, ragged, filthy, and hideous, groveled on the pavement of the street and yelled forth their wants, and incessantly discoursed on the blessedness of giving in charity; while the church bells sent forth their clangor until the whole air was filled with a surging ocean of sound.
We were lost in the crowd, and admiration of the scene. Just then a party of tall young men, hustled us, and I, having had doubt, from the start, of the safety of money and valuables, which to a considerable extent I carried on my person, got on the outside. Unsuspecting Mr. Fitch, conscious of his own rectitude, and suspecting no one else, kept on a few seconds, and then suddenly discovered that the pocket in the skirt of his coat behind had been cut out, and he was minus a handkerchief, two pair of old kid gloves, and a pocket guide to Spanish conversation, which, if it proves as great a curse to the thief as it had been to the owner, will have a tendency to cause him to abstain from stealing for the remainder of his life. Our party adjourned at once to the house, determined to retire for the night in the best order possible.
Next morning I went out alone, and found the churches, as usual, filled with devout worshipers—even the pavement outside was covered with kneeling devotees. At one of them the janitor was just passing around a deep copper plate, in which he had collected about a quart of claquos and quartillas; there was not a single silver or gold coin in the lot. As he looked significantly at me, I dropped an American dime into the plate. Looking back a few minutes later, I saw him standing by the corner of the church, outside, biting the dime, and regarding me with evident suspicion. He undoubtedly thought that I had been palming counterfeit coin on the Church. I do not allow any man to misinterpret my motives, and henceforth I give nothing but copper.
The city of Leon is compactly built, and in all the central part of the town the inhabitants cultivate flowers in the patios or court-yards, and more especially upon terraces and on the roofs of their houses. From the observatory upon our house I looked down upon the city, and saw one vast garden of brilliant flowers, thus cultivated in tall urns of fancifully fashioned earthenware. Such, on a larger scale, were the famous "Hanging Gardens" of Nineveh. The custom is a pleasant one, and greatly contributes to the enjoyment of life in a crowded city. Leon has about the climate of San Francisco at this season—the first of November—and the average temperature here is said to be from sixty to eighty degrees all the year round. The finest tropical fruits do not flourish here, but Oranges, and some other fruits, such as are cultivated with success in the vicinity of Los Angelos, California, grow in great luxuriance.
As I have previously stated, we had left our military escort behind at Lagos, in the State of Jalisco, Señor Bossero having been assured by telegraph that the road was perfectly secure. Eighteen miles from Leon we stopped to change mules, and Mr. Seward, Mr. Fitch, and Mr. Burgess, who had accompanied us from Leon, were walking a mile or thereabouts in advance, not suspecting any danger, while I rode forward upon a saddle-horse loaned me by Mr. Burgess. The stage had been delayed by our first upset, which had no more serious consequences than the landing of Mr. Seward's colored servant in a nice, healthy nopal, or prickly-pear plant, the spines of which will stay with him long after his return to the United States, and we were some fifteen or twenty minutes behind time.
Just then we saw a detachment of Mexican cavalry, some twenty-five in number, coming toward us. When they saw the party they ranged themselves in double line to salute. We had almost reached them when one of their number, who had been scouting along in a corn-field, some distance from the road, raised a shout, and in an instant the whole party dashed off into the corn at full gallop, unslinging their carbines ready for action as they went. I rode after them, anxious to find out the cause of this sudden stampede, and saw one of them rise up like a circus-rider and stand upright on his saddle. He descried something in another direction, and with a yell, the squad changed its course and dashed off with redoubled speed. A few minutes later I saw a party of men in dark clothing, running over a high ridge a mile away beyond a ravine, making for a timbered mountain in the south-west, and in five minutes more the white caps of the troops could be seen darting in and out among the mesquite trees in close pursuit.
We watched them until they disappeared in the distance, and then rode on, saying little, but each "thinking a heap." Had the stage not been delayed by the upset, or had the soldiers arrived fifteen minutes later—well, I will not pursue the subject further, as it is unprofitable; but if we did not have a narrow escape from falling into the hands of the party of high-toned gentlemen who were laying for us in that corn-field, I am a sinner. I am always grateful for hospitalities, but in this case, am more than willing to take the will for the deed. As I saw the flying bandito and the pursuing troops disappear, I, for the first time, fully appreciated the force of the quotation:
"Tis distance lends enchantment to the view."
All day we were in sight of the range of treeless mountains, on the summit of which are situated the famous mines of La Luz, which occupy a position not unlike that of those on the the top of Treasure Hill, at Treasure City, in the White Pine district, Nevada. We could see vast piles of quartz, probably low grade ores, upon the mountain side. These ores, hundreds of thousands of tons in amount, cannot now be worked to advantage, owing to the heavy taxes on bullion, and to the cost of beneficiating them; but in time they will yield a vast amount of treasure under more favorable circumstances. The mountains in which the silver mines of Guanajuato are situated, resemble those in which the famous Comstock Lead of Nevada is found, and the situation of the City of Guanajuato is not unlike that of Virginia City, and Gold Hill, the elevation being not less than five or six thousand feet, apparently, above the level of the sea.
On our road to Siloa, and when still some miles from the town, we saw a party of laborers from some of the little hamlets which dot the country around, carrying a sick and dying man in a litter to the town that he might receive spiritual consolation in his last moments. They were all evidently of the humbler class, but neatly and cleanly dressed, and the delicate care with which they bore their dying companion along the rough and toilsome road was touching to observe. The day was very hot, and the labor of carrying the heavy litter by no means a trilling one; but each quietly took his place and assisted to bear the burden when his turn came without a word, and while a part were sustaining the load upon their shoulders, the others fanned the sufferer or held water to his parched and feverish lips. Probably each man in the party had lost a day's labor which he was ill able to spare, and contributed something from his scanty means besides, towards defraying the expenses of making the last hours of their friend and companion as comfortable as possible.
This kindness and consideration for the sick and unfortunate is characteristic of the people of Mexico, and notably so of the humbler classes. The poorest family in the land, will share its last meal with the sick or the stranger, and when there is not a mouthful of food in the house—as is too often the case—will still give you "a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus," and some kind words of regret and apology for not being able to do more.
Passing through the dilapidated old town of Salado, or Siloa (pronounced Salow,) where we saw a church bearing an inscription which shows that it was erected in 1739, when New York contained fifteen thousand people, we entered the foot-hills of the mountains of Guanajuato.