Our Sister Republic/Chapter 7
GUANAJUATO, AND BENEATH IT.
FROM a height three miles from the City of Guanajuato, just as the sun was sinking behind the mountains in the west, we looked down on what appeared to be three separate towns situated in a deep ravine or canon. The tall spires of the Cathedral of Guanajuato, glowing like gold in the red sunlight, were the conspicuous feature of the main and central city. Entering the canon, we rode for two miles along the narrow bed of a tortuous little stream, whose waters, having done duty in all the silver reduction or beneficiating haciendas of the district, were clogged and thick with the residuum of the pulverized quartz which they were bearing away into the valley.
The town of Marfil, which is wholly supported by the beneficiating works which constitute its sole industry, lines the banks of this stream on either side, and the different haciendas, each of which is surrounded by a high wall, and capable of being defended against attack by a strong force, give it the appearance of one vast fortress. The houses are all hidden by the walls, which come down to the bed of the stream, and we hardly saw a human being in all this ride.
Passing, at last, an ancient tower, of a quaint pattern, constructed by the, Spaniards for raising water, looking like a relic of the days of the Crusaders, we arrived at the lower portion of the city of Guanajuato, and found a delegation of officers waiting, with carriages, to escort Mr. Seward to the magnificent new house, completely furnished throughout, which had been prepared for the reception of the party. The keys were handed to him as soon as we had entered, and the committee then, considerately, bid us goodnight, and left us to dine and retire to rest.
Guanajuato impressed us with an idea of permanence and comparative prosperity rather unusual in this part of the country, in spite of its greatly reduced population, its languishing industries, and its suburban mining towns deserted and tumbling into ruins. It has many beautiful private residences, which cannot be excelled in comfort, extent, and elegance, in any part of the United States, and many still wealthy and aristocratic families of pure, or nearly pure, Castilian descent. The city, proper, runs along on the steep hill-sides on either side of a very narrow and tortuous ravine or canon over a mile in length; and the streets are narrow, crooked, and very steep. There are only two streets at the bottom of the cañon which admit of a carriage being driven over them at any speed, although all of them are most beautifully paved with small cobbles, generally in mosaic. The houses on the back streets, of course, rise above each other in successive terraces, like stairs, and each, in turn, affords a fine view of the back-yards and private portions of the residences next below.
At the upper end of the canon, Señor Rocha, one of the oldest residents of Guanajuato, a few years since, built three large dams of solid masonry, beautifully constructed and tastefully ornamented, to collect the waters of the little stream which trickles down there from the mountain side; and from the reservoirs thus created, the people of the entire city, and mills below are supplied. At the commencement of the rainy season, in June, the flood-gates are opened, and the pent up waters which have been accumulating for a year, are allowed to flow out in a rushing river, which surges through the cañon, and washes everything clean, before it; the reservoirs are then cleansed and repaired. Here for the first time in Mexico, we missed the women at the plaza fountains, and the donkey driving water-carriers, and drew fresh water from the hydrants.
THE RESERVOIRS AND PROMENADE.
Señor Rocha has a concession for the supplying of the city with water for twenty years, and will be able to repay himself for his vast outlay. He has also built terraced promenades and seats all around the reservoirs, and thus furnished Guanajuato with one of the great requisites of a Mexican city, a place of social public resort for its population at evening and morning; he has fine natural taste, and has made the peculiar architecture best fitted for this country and climate, a thorough study; and whenever he sees a man about to build a house of any pretension, he at once offers to superintend its entire construction, free of charge.
Above the city, not far from the reservoirs, is a peculiar, high mountain, crowned with a curious perpendicular rock, which, from its fancied resemblance to the outlines of a giant buffalo, has been christened "El Buffa." From this mountain is procured, in unlimited quantities, a species of lined, and beautifully variegated sandstone, of all the colors of the rainbow—blue, pale green, and chocolate predominating. The sandstone cuts readily, has a fine grain, and is the best material for private residences and public buildings imaginable. With this, and in this way, Señor Rocha has lined the sides of the cañon all the way up to the reservoirs, with residences of the most beautiful style. Graceful pillars in long colonnades, arched portals, and corridors and patos decorated with all the flowers of this prolific climate, are seen by the delighted traveler on every side. Surely, this fine, old, Mexican gentleman is a public benefactor in the largest sense of the term.
For three centuries, Guanajuato furnished the world with an almost uninterrupted stream of silver, and in spite of wars and dissensions, crude and primitive systems of mining and reduction, oppressive taxes and general mismanagement, her mines of incredible wealth still pour out millions annually.
Early in the present century, Humboldt visited this city, and described the mines of the district more fully and scientifically than I am capable of doing; his description will still hold good in the main, and I refer the reader to it. I was told, that the mine owners—as is somewhat customary in all countries and all ages—imposed upon him in many particulars—and that the figures which he gave, are not to be trusted; but for reasons, which can only be guessed, I find that it is still impossible to obtain any more exact data concerning the yield of particular mines, even at this day. The records are usually imperfect at best, and there is a natural desire not to allow the public a full insight into the workings and value of particular mines. If a mine is paying well, it is always popularly supposed that it is really paying much better than reported; and if not paying at all, it is probably for sale, and the best possible showing is made.
In 1852, the annual yield of the mines of this district was estimated at nine million dollars, of which one-tenth was gold and the remainder silver. It is now only a little more than four million dollars; but with peace, and a judicious investment of capital, it could be doubled, or even trebled, very speedily. The population meantime has fallen off probably fifty per cent, and the city now contains only forty-five or fifty thousand people at the outside estimate.
General Florencio Antillon, Governor of Guanajuato, to whom I am indebted for many courtesies, furnished me with some interesting statistics. From them I learned that the present population of the state is seven hundred and twenty-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-eight. This is, in proportion to its size, the most densely populated state of the Republic. There are six hundred prisoners in the state-prison, at Salamanca, or one hundred and fifty less than in the California state-prison, with a population fifty per cent, greater. The state forces, under pay, consist of one battalion of the line of four hundred and seventy-nine men, and four squadrons of mounted gendarmes— in all nine hundred and eighty-eight men. These belong to the National Guard, and are always on duty on the road or in the Municipalities. There are also four hundred members of the National Guard not on active duty and pay, and three hundred and ninety-four more doing duty at intervals, and liable to be called out at a moment's notice. The guard of the Department of Guanajuato, is now being armed with Henry rifles from the United States, but the others still have the old English Tower, and the Springfield muskets of 1860-63.
There are two hundred and eight students in the free college. The free schools cost ninety-four thousand dollars per annum, and are well attended. They have day and evening schools connected with the primary department for boys and girls separately, and High Schools intermediate between them and the colleges. The old debt of the state, January 1st, 1868, was fifty eight thousand eight hundred and three dollars and ten cents. The income of the state in 1868, from all sources, was seven hundred and fifty-nine thousand one hundred and seventy-two dollars and nineteen cents, and the expenses, seven hundred and forty-eight thousand thirty-six dollars and fifty-five cents.
The condition of the state, in spite of the depression of its leading interest, silver mining, seems to be comparatively good, and its credit well maintained.
A substantial, well macadamized, carriage-road is now being built from Queretaro to Leon, running entirely through the State of Guanajuato, from South-east to North-west, under the direction of Gilberto Torres, a native Mexican Engineer, formerly in the United States Coast Survey, on the California Coast. This road is to be 216 miles long, and will cost the incredibly small sum of $316 per mile, including the erection of several substantial stone bridges already completed.
Governor Antillon, who is a man of splendid personal appearance, tall, handsome and intelligent, was a commander in the Republican army during the war. His reputation as an executive officer is excellent, and the State is said to be one of the best governed in Mexico. He is vigorously shooting the "road-agents
GENERAL FLORENCIO ANTILLON.
or highwaymen, and already the roads in all parts of the State are comparatively safe for travelers, and will soon be quite so. If the duties on the production of silver could be reduced fifty per cent, on what they now are, the quantity would very largely increase, and the State and Federal Governments would both be largely benefited by it. The climate, generally, throughout the State is about that of Southern California, and as healthy as the climate of any part of the United States.
We visited the Mint of Guanajuato, said to be the best in the Republic, and the only one which is worked by steam. Its machinery is on the English plan, and English made, and the mint is run, under contract, by an English company. The Treasurer of the mint, Señor Don Juan B. Castelazo, an intelligent and highly educated Mexican, who speaks English well, showed us through the establishment. From him we learned that the annual coinage of the mint is $4,000,000, of which $500,000 is gold and the remainder silver. The old silver coinage was dollars, half-dollars, quarters, reals, (12 1-2 cts.) medios, (6 1-4 cts.) and quartillas, (3 1-8 cts.) and this is the common currency of the country, though the old copper or brass claquos and quartillas still circulate extensively. The Governor has now prepared dies for a new half-dollar similar to the American, and ten and five cent pieces of our pattern. These coins, are already being struck off, but are not yet put in circulation. By the courtesy of Mr. Frederic Meyer, I obtained the first of these new half-dollars coined at the Guanajuato Mint; and for American gold, I obtained a handful of the smaller coins to take home as curiosities to my friends. The gold coined is in onzas or sixteen-dollar pieces, corresponding to the Spanish doubloon. Gold dollars will be coined hereafter, and the old silver, 12 1-2 cents, 6 1-4 cents, and 3 1-8 cents coinage, wil lbe abandoned. In other words, the American decimal system has finally been adopted for all the mints in Mexico.
Señor Castelazo gave me the following list of the taxes which silver producers in Mexico now pay: State tax, three and one-eighth per ct.; melting and assay of bars, one-half of one per ct.; coinage and Government tax, four and three-eighths per ct.; total eight per cent. If the coin is exported—as it generally is—it pays an additional export duty of eight per cent, or sixteen per cent, all told. This is a reduction of at least seven percent. on the old rates; but farther reductions must be made before the silver interest can become again thoroughly prosperous.
One of the greatest objects of interest in Guanajuato, is the ancient Castillo del Grenaditas, a square, two story, stone structure of immense size, flat roof of stone slabs, cemented water-tight, and walls from five to ten feet in thickness, built early in the last century, and originally intended to be used as a granary in which to store surplus corn for the public protection against seasons of scarcity. There is a large court-yard in the center of the structure, surrounded with cornices and graceful pillars.
When Hidalgo, after his pronunciamento with eleven men at Dolores in the State of Guanajuato, in 1810, arrived here, the whole Indian and native-born Spanish-American population flocked to his banner. They were hardly armed at all, but were brave and determined. The Spaniards, two thousand strong, fled into this Castle of Grenaditas, and defended themselves through a long siege, with obstinate courage and determination. The patriots sought in vain to carry the place, as the Spaniards were constantly on the watch, and gave them no opportunity to approach the gates. At night, the Spaniards burned great torches, and by their light, shot all who came within reach.
At last, an Indian placed a great flat stone upon his back, and thus shielded from the bullets which the Spaniards rained down upon it, crawled up to the gates and burned them down. The stone which he used as armor, is still shown. The besiegers followed up their advantage, and, after a part of the garrison had perished from suffocation, carried the castle. It is said that not a Spaniard escaped.
In the following year, when Hidalgo, defeated at the Bridge of Calderon, fled to Chihuahua, and was betrayed,
CASTLE OF GRENADITAS.
tried, and shot, his head and those of his three companions, were brought here, and placed on four hooks still projecting from the four corners of the building near the roof; and there they remained until 1823, when the successful revolutionists took them down, and buried them, with the honors due to the memory of the first martyrs of Mexican Liberty.
Visiting this Castle, alone, I found it occupied as a Carcel or municipal prison, Police Judges' offices, etc., etc. The troops of the State, all of Indian blood, but fine, stout, hardy, and well-disciplined men, stand guard at this prison, and among the prisoners were many white men, descendants of those who suspended the heads of Hidalgo and his companions, on the hooks. A young man, who informed me that he was one of the three judges of the minor criminal court, politely showed me through the building. There were about three hundred men and boys, and thirty, six women in the Carcel. They were in apartments containing from twelve to twenty-five each, all opening on the great court-yard, and light and well ventilated. They were working at boot and shoe making, hatmaking, weaving serapes and coarse blankets, making tallow candles, etc., etc., or attending school. The white blood appeared to predominate among the prisoners, all of whom looked cheerful, clean, well-fed, and comfortable.
All kinds of manufactured goods are hawked about the city on men's shoulders, and you must be careful how you look at anything, or you will be surrounded in a moment with anxious sellers. I asked the price of a pair of blue-steel spurs handsomely inlaid with sterling silver.
"Six dollars, Señor but what will you be pleased to give?"
The same spurs, in California, would bring at least twenty dollars, and I have seen not much finer ones sold at fifty dollars.
I looked at some rebosas, merely to ascertain the price, and was offered good ones for three dollars, and finer ones for six dollars. Remarking, by way of getting rid of the dealer, that they were not fine enough, as my family wore only silk—Heaven forgive me!—I left, and an hour later the dealer was waiting for me at the door of our house, with a dozen costly silk ones in boxes, for my inspection. I gave him fifty cents for his trouble, not feeling able to buy, and he went off protesting that I was a Republican Prince and a Cabellero grande.
I wanted a pair of boots and could find none in the shops to fit me. Seeing a boot-peddler in the crowd I called him up, and looked at a pair with short legs faced with buff, and soles fancifully shaped and fastened with small metalic nails; they were made at Leon, he told me.
"Too small; I wear number eight!"
He passed his hand carefully over my foot and without another question thanked me, bowed low, and hurried off. When I got back to the house and entered my room, a servant brought me a pair the exact counterpart of those I had looked at, except in size, saying that the owner was in the ante-room. I tried them on, and found them the nicest fit I had ever seen; if they had been made for me in New York they would not have fitted me half so well.
"How much?" I asked of the servant.
"Four dollars Señor!"
"Tell him I will give him three dollars and a half!"
He came back in a minute: "Esta bien, Señor!" He would have taken three dollars, had I offered it, but they were cheap at twice or three times the money, according to our American ideas. How he found out who I was and where to find me, is a mystery I am unable to explain.
The scenes in the market-place or plaza of Guanajuato are beyond description. The poor people of this great mining district cannot afford to waste anything, and they literally eat up an entire animal "from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail." All the meat not sold fresh is dried, and sold in that shape. You see men and women squatted on the ground before a pile of sheep and goats heads and necks, dried with, the horns on, and the hair or wool still adhering to them in patches, and notice, not without a rising of the gorge, that the poor customers crowd around, and after haggling for one of them, purchase it for perhaps a cent or two, and walk off, gnawing at it as a dog would gnaw at his bone. Boiled pumpkins or calobassas are also among the staple articles of food among these poor people, and the principal article of their diet is a kind of gruel or soup made from ground corn; and they think themselves vastly fortunate if they can add to this a dried goats-head, sheeps-neck, or the nose or tail of a bullock on Sunday. How they can live and work as they do on such a diet Heaven only knows.
As a rule the people of the lower order are not dishonest, but there are many petty thieves among them. To show how far they will go in the stealing line I will mention a single fact. In a hardware store on the plaza, I noticed several grindstones fastened to the wall by chains, passed through the hole in the center, and padlocks; on inquiry, I learned that this was done to prevent their being stolen and carried off bodily by men who did not even know the use of them, but would take them in preference to almost anything else on which they could lay their hands, because they were heavier, and as they supposed, consequently more valuable.
The priests have given the authorities much trouble, but appear now to have become pretty thoroughly humbled. This was once one of their strongholds, and it would hardly have been believed by a visitor twenty years ago, that at this time the holy fathers would be forbidden by law to walk the streets of Guanajuato in their clerical robes and broad hats; but such is the case. About the time we were there, some of them, becoming over-confident, ventured to disobey the law, and appeared in their black robes on the streets. Thereupon, General Antillon issued an order requiring the police to arrest all such offenders, and gave notice that they would be punished with a fine of five hundred dollars, and thirty days in the chain-gang, with double the penalty for each repetition of the offence. Next day there was not a black gown or shovel-hat to be seen in the streets of Guanajuato: and this was the city in which the Church condemned the Padre Hidalgo to death.
Education is by no means neglected or despised by the people of Guanajuato at this time. While there, we attended the annual examination and distribution of prizes at the State College. Governor Antillon presided and distributed the premiums. The College has nearly three hundred students, and is, partly, self-sustaining. It appears to be well managed, and a model institution in its way. The graduating class, with few exceptions, were in full dress black suits, with white kid gloves; but I noticed with not a little pleasure, that some of the highest prizes were carried off by young men of almost unmixed Indian blood, in clean but coarse leather pantaloons and roundabout jackets, who were, apparently, treated with as much consideration by the faculty and their fellow-students as any one there. There was an abundance of exceedingly fine operatic music, some superior declamations, and when all the prizes, consisting of elegantly bound books of practical value—not merely parlor ornaments—and diplomas had been distributed, the hall, which was beautifully decorated, was cleared and an array of brilliant loveliness, such as I have seldom if ever seen elsewhere, was soon mingling with the student-throng in the mazy dances of this land of music and of flowers. As we were to leave for Celaya at 4 o'clock next morning, I was reluctantly compelled to leave the ball-room and return home to get some sleep, and so missed the conclusion of the festivities.
The reduction works, or beneficiating haciendas of Guanajuato and Marfil are worthy of especial attention. One of the best establishments of this character in the district, that of Mr. Parkman—an American long resident in Mexico—was visited by our party who spent some hours in inspecting it. The "mill" or crushing apparatus, is run partly by steam, and partly by water power. It is rude and primitive to the last degree. The stamps work on wooden shafts, and the quartz must be constantly shoveled under them by hand, as there is no provision for self-feeding as with us. There are twenty-nine arastras worked by mule-power to reduce the crushed quartz to pulp. All the rock is "dry crushed," and the process is slow and clumsy in the extreme. But the "amalgamation," as we term it, or "beneficiating," as it is termed here, is the most interesting part of the work. We finish the whole operation in a day, but lose on an average twenty-five to forty per cent, of the silver. In White Pine, where the ores are chlorides and oxides, they lose only four to eight per cent—or a little less than is lost here. The cost of fuel is eight dollars per cord, and steam machinery could be run—if it were not for the difficulty of making repairs—for less than it costs in Washoe, as labor is cheaper; but in beneficiating they would probably lose as much as they saved on the crushing, if the American system of reduction and amalgamation was fully adopted here.
Mr. Parkman's tortas are an improvement. He has seven of them, each sixty feet in diameter, and holding one hundred and twelve tons of pulp. The mules—only two in number—travel around the outside, and draw a shaft which works on a pinion in the center, on which there is a pair of heavy wagon wheels, which, by an adjustable scale, are made to run in a smaller or larger circle, thus working over all the pulp in time. As the pulp works outward toward the side of the torta, it is shoveled back towards the center, by hand, and is thus well mixed. The time required in beneficiating is twenty-five days in Mr. Parkman's hacienda, and the work is always well done. The ore is not of a very refractory character, being mainly pure black and bronze sulphites, and the patio process appears to save more of the silver than any other. I am told that there are occasionally small deposits of chlorides found here, but that by the patio process none of it is saved.
The great mine of San José de Valenciano, which is said to have produced in its day eight hundred million dollars, was not visited by Mr. Seward, but I had the good fortune to see it.
This mine is situated on the mountain, high above the city on the North-east, and occupies a large and rich portion of the Veta Madre or "Mother Vein," of Guanajuato. It was discovered immediately after the conquest by the Spaniards, and for many years was a wonder of wonders. For forty years in succession it was " in bonanza" paying enormous dividends to its owners; and when Humboldt visited it, he estimated that it then produced one-fifth of all the silver in the world. It passed after his time into the hands of the "Anglo Mexican Company," which commenced with a capital of five million pounds sterling, (say $25,000,000 in American coin,) with a board of directors sitting in London, who sent out officers of the army and navy who had never seen a mine in their lives, to superintend its workings at fabulous salaries, erected an immense engine, and run it at constant disadvantage and loss; and finally, after sinking in this and other mines, nearly their original capital, learned wisdom from experience, and changed the programme. They employed a competent director, Mr. Charles Furber, working some other mines here at a profit, and in time their stock would have been once more in demand, but a fearful tragedy which I shall presently relate, put an end to all operations again, for a time, at least.
Accompanied by Messrs. Anthony Burgess, Thomas Abrams, Frederick Meyer, Smith, and Dr. Harris, all American residents, who with Governor Antillon, and Alfred Jeanotat had been unceasing in their attentions to us, I started out to visit this famous mine at day-break, Thursday, November 4th. Mounted on the beautifully fleet and easy riding horses of the country—which have an artificial gait, trotting with the hind legs and galloping with the fore legs at the same time—with revolvers at our waists, and swords hung at the pommel of the saddle and run through under the stirrup-strap so as to be held under the left knee of the rider—when will our American cavalry learn this neat trick and dispense with the knocking and rattling sabres hung at the belt and always a nuisance?—we started off, at sunrise, up the winding streets and alleys, and over the rugged hillsides to the mine and town around it.
At the crossing of a deep, dry arroyo we crossed over a bridge, which bore an inscription, "For more than three centuries the people of Guanajuato crossed here without a bridge. Behold progress!" In another part of our journey we passed a bridge on which there was this inscription: "This bridge was built here, etc., etc.;" as it is of solid stone, I don't wonder at its having been built there instead of having been built somewhere else, and sent there ready made by express.
An immense church with an elaborately carved and sculptured front, worn and defaced by the storms and convulsions of centuries, but still with unshaken walls of massive stone, stands in the center of a town, which must once have contained from ten to twenty thousand people, all dependent on the working of the great Valenciano mine. The church is unfrequented, save by a few squalid and destitute devotees; the town is in ruins; and desolation reigns sole mistress of the scene. We galloped through the deserted streets, and entered the gate-way of the enclosure out of which have been borne, in times past, enough mule-loads of treasure to sink the largest ship now afloat on the seas. Little boys received our horses, and walked them up and down, while we went through the vast enclosures, where men and animals by thousands, once toiled and suffered, but where now the grass grows and silence reigns.
The extent of these works above ground cannot be adequately described. They cover acres on acres of ground, and cost millions of dollars. All around, you see walls from three to eight feet in thickness and solid as the rocks of the mountains, radiating in every direction. There are many shafts sunk deep into the bowels of the earth, each with its separate enclosure and outworks, and the chambers and drifts underground, now filled with water, measure miles in extent. At the main shaft the works resemble a vast fortress, and are on a scale of extent unprecedented in the history of mining in America. The mule-yard surrounded by a high wall, with mangers of cut stone running all around it, must contain, at least, three or four acres of ground, and all the other enclosures and out-buildings are on a proportionate scale.
The extent of the works under ground cannot be seen at this time, as they are filled with water; but it is affirmed by engineers, that the galleries, chambers, and drifts, are longer in the aggregate than all the streets of the city of Guanajuato, and incredible as the statement looks it is probably correct. We went to the mouth of the "tiro general" or great perpendicular shaft, out of which so many millions of tons of ore have been hoisted in years gone by, and laying down upon our faces, looked into the yawning depths below. This shaft is the largest on the American Continent, and nothing in the mining line to be seen in the United States, will bear a comparison with it. It is 687 varas deep,—say 1939 1-4 feet of our measurement—thirty-six feet wide, and eight-sided. The walls of this shaft are exactly perpendicular, and for the protection of the work, men below, laid up in cement, as smooth as the ceiling of an ordinary dwelling-house in the United States. The water now comes up to within 125 varas or about 344 feet of the surface of the ground. We dropped stones into the abyss, and when they struck the water the report and echoes which followed, lasted fifteen seconds, and were perfectly deafening. We then fired a pistol down the tiro, and the report which came back to us was like that of a twenty-four pounder cannon, causing our ears to ring for hours thereafter.
The enclosure around the great tiro is circular and of immense extent. Radiating from the tiro to the outer wall, like the sections of an opened fan, are eight subenclosures corresponding to the eight sides of the tiro: in each of these enclosures stood, formerly, a great upright drum wheel, or winze, called a malacate, on which were the cables which hauled up and let down the buckets filled with water and ore, or men and supplies. The rope was always winding up on one end and down on the other end of the malacate when it was in motion. These eight great malacates were all worked by mule power for centuries, but the English company introduced an immense hoisting engine to do the work. The engine was found to require more feed than the mules, and so was put out of use and the mules substituted again. There is another, but smaller tiro lower down the hill. Humboldt estimated that it would require a tunnel seven or eight miles in length to drain this immense mine; but it seems to me that a much shorter one would do the work effectually; and the chance of striking "feeders" or "blind veins" of ore in the course of the work sufficient to pay the whole or a considerable portion of the cost of its construction, would, apparently, justify the adoption of the plan, by a company having an adequate capital. As the mine now stands, it is estimated, that it would require two million dollars, in coin, to put the requisite machinery on the ground, drain the mine by pumping, and commence work. It is generally believed that countless millions of treasure yet remain in this mine, and will some day be exhausted.
In the chapel near the tiro, we saw the votive offerings and pictures presented by grateful miners in commemoration of some miraculous escape from death. One of these was a rude painting representing a miner falling into the great tiro, and being miraculously caught and stayed in mid-air by the Virgin, as he pronounced her name. If any man will convince me that a human being ever fell into that shaft, and escaped with a whole bone in his body, I will swallow all the stories you may tell me about ancient and modern miracles henceforth, without a doubt or question. We saw a number of men sorting over and sifting a great pile of waste ores, the accumulation of years, and this was all the work going on at this great mine when we were there. On every wall, and over every gate-way was the sign of the cross, and ruin and desolation overshadowed all.
Near the church we saw a cross, erected on the spot where a man was waylaid and murdered by bandits only a few months before. Near this, and on the direct road to Guanajuato, a priest was stopped only a short time before our visit, "put up" and "gone through," by the bandits who took every dollar he had, kicked him, and told him to travel. After they had let him go he felt in his pockets, and finding a rial which they had overlooked, called them back, and with a grim humor said to them, "Here my poor friends, there is still 12 1-2 cents coming to you!" They took the money, and kicked him again for joking under such serious circumstances.
I have alluded to the new Superintendent of the English Company, Mr. John Furber, who was in charge of these works when we were there. He was a fine, intelligent young man, for whom we all conceived a great liking. A long and useful life appeared to be before him. On Sunday, the 19th of December, a month after we saw him he left his brother's house at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, accompanied by a servant, to return to his residence at Marfil, distant about a league. After passing the Cerro Trozado, he was attacked a little in advance of the junction of the old and new roads to Marfil, by four men on horseback, supposed to have been plagiaros, belonging to the band of the notorious Juan Duran. A struggle took place in which Mr. Furber was wounded by a pistol-shot in the stomach, after which he was carried off, along with the servant (who was blindfolded) in the direction of the hacienda of Burburron, and, after many turnings and windings, the party crossed the high road to Siloa, (not many miles from where we saw the supposed robbers being chased by the soldiers,) and the river Santa Anna, and entered on the territory of the hacienda of Santa Teresa. At this place the unfortunate gentleman was hung up to a tree, whether dead or alive will probably never be known, and the servant, after having been stripped, was set at liberty and returned to his late master's residence with the news of his murder.
The authorities at once dispatched a party to bring in the body, which was found suspended to a tree without coat or waistcoat, with a paper affixed to the braces, on which was written in ink, the following: "This has befallen me because I did not give five thousand dollars."
In justice to the "gentleman of the road" in Mexico, I must say that as a rule they are the most polite people on earth, and even in taking a man's money and watch, do it with a certain courtesy and grace that makes the operation comparatively easy to bear on the part of the victim. They always apologize for the act, regretting that necessity compels them to do it, and in parting with the traveler, devoutly commend him to the protecting care of Divine Providence. When not too sharply pressed by the Government, the different gangs in any one state usually have a sort of business connection, and, if you desire it, the leader of the first band into whose hands you fall will very courteously, write out a pass for you to take along to save you from further molestation. I have one of these passes in my possession. It was given by the leader of a band in the State of Guerraro, to a friend of mine, who was " put up " in the most approved manner. He went through the party in the highest style of the art; and then, sitting on his horse, wrote with a pencil on a slip of paper, on the pommel of his saddle, a pass as follows:
"Dear Gomez: This party has been done according to our regulations. Please let them pass without molestation. Manuel."
The gentleman who received the pass then said:
"But, my dear sir, you have not left me a dollar to buy meals on the road!"
The brigand replied, "Pardon Señor? How much do you require?"
"Well, about five dollars will take me to Acapulco, I think!" said my friend. The brigand chieftain, thereupon, not only gave him back that amount but added to it a nice porte-monnaie which he had just taken, with others of the same sort, from a German peddler, saying that he would find it useful to prevent his losing the small change out of his pocket while sleeping at night. He then told the party that near a certain barranca they would be stopped by the band who had control of that end of the road, to the leader of which this pass was directed. In due time they met the other band, presented the pass, and not only were allowed to proceed without molestation, but were actually furnished with a fresh horse to replace a lame one which had given out on the road, no "boot" being demanded. It is true that the horse, probably, did not cost the bandits anything, and they could afford to be liberal; still, it was an act of courtesy on their part, for which the party felt duly grateful. I have a prejudice against being robbed by anybody, but if I must be robbed, let it be by a Mexican robber, by all means.
The business of kidnaping or carrying off travelers into the mountains and holding them for ransom, and murdering them if the amount demanded is not forthcoming, now so active in Mexico, is of modern origin and a foreign innovation. A few years since the Mexican Government paid a large sum for the importation of an Italian Colony of two hundred men, who were to introduce the culture of silk, and stimulate industry in many branches new to Mexico. These two hundred Italians each brought a hand-organ with them, and took to the business of grinding out "mooshic" on the streets, at once. When that lead was worked out they took to other occupations. Some of them had formerly been in the brigand business in their dear, native land; and finding, much to their astonishment, that the trick of kidnaping or plagiaring had not been brought into general practice in Mexico, proceeded to introduce it in all its purity at once. They soon made the roads of Mexico as unsafe as those of any part of Italy; and by the practice of frugality and economy, and strict attention to business, were in a little time enabled to sell out their "stock and good will" to native artists, who now carry on the trade in all its branches at the old stands. The penalty for carrying on this business is death by shooting, and the Juarez Administration, whenever it is backed up with a will by the local authorities, execute it with a relentless vigor which promises to end the practice, or depopulate the country in the end. This is the popular version of the origin of the practice of plagiaring, but I cannot vouch for its being correct in all its details. It is quite certain however that it is not a native institution, and it is a fact, that all the bands engaged in it have more or less of the natives of Southern Europe among them as leading spirits. Of the remnants of Maximilian's army, dispersed widely through the land, there are very few of any nationality, now engaged in an honest occupation. Some are plain robbers on the highway; some merely petty thieves in the cities; and many are plagiaros. Those not in either of the above branches of trade are quite likely to be in sympathy with, if not actually engaged in the various pronunciamentos. There are a few Turcos, some Frenchmen, and now and then a Belgian or Austrian, once soldiers, following some honest trade, and unmolested and respected in the principal cities; but the bulk of the foreign mercenaries brought over by Maximilian, were thieves and ex-convicts in their own land, and it is not surprising that they fall back into their old occupation, when set free in a new country. The road from Manzanillo to Mexico, via Colima, Guadalajara, Guanajuato and Queretaro, is but little traveled by foreigners visiting the country, and the few who do go over it, generally carry no valuables and ride in the stage, trusting to luck to get through without being robbed, or in any event losing but little. The rural guards keep the road in tolerable safety for the diligencias, and by law the owners of property in the immediate vicinity of a point where a robbery has been committed are pecuniarily responsible to the victims for damages, though few suits of recovery are brought, I imagine. On the road from Acapulco to the the city of Mexico, travelers always secure a guard of six to twenty macheteros and usually pass through the worst districts in safety.
On our return to the city, we passed within sight of the second great mine of the district of Guanajuato, "El Reyes," situated, like the Valenciano, on a hill, with a large town around it, but we did not have time to visit it.
After dinner we went to the Serrano mine, which is being worked at a profit at this time. This is situated in the hill below the Buffa at the upper end of the city. Five hundred men, women, and children are employed at this mine, getting out the ore, breaking it up, and sorting, it. The men generally work in small gangs for a share of the sales of the ore they take out. The amount of silver mined weekly is about five thousand dollars, and the expenses one thousand dollars, leaving a net profit of four thousand dollars.
The great tiro is about 950 feet, in depth. A horizontal tunnel penetrates the hill from a level with the hacienda, cutting the tiro or perpendicular shaft at four hundred feet from the surface. This tunnel may be about fifteen hundred feet in length. A railroad track runs through it, and lying down in the cars we were carried in to the edge of the tiro. This tiro is thirty feet in diameter, and six-sided, laid up in cement like that at the Valenciano. The necessity for this is seen in the fact that a rock, weighing many tons, was displaced from a station near the bottom of the shaft, a few days previous to our visit, and falling upon the miners beneath, killed and maimed a large number of them.
Standing here, four hundred feet below the surface of the earth, and six hundred feet above the bottom of the shaft, with a patch of pale blue sky far above us, and inky darkness almost palpable to the touch around us and filling all the depths below, we witnessed the most wonderful scene on which we gazed in Mexico, Men were sent up to the top of the tiro at the surface of the ground, and told to discharge rockets down it. This they did; and the hissing and explosions of the fiery messengers caused the most deafening echoes and re-echoes, while the sides of the shaft, dripping with ooze and slime, were revealed with startling distinctness by the momentary glare.
But this was nothing to what followed: balls of the fibre of the maguey or aloe plant, three feet in diameter and steeped in pine pitch, or resin, were swung out over the mouth of the shaft and set on fire. When the first was in full blaze it was detached and allowed to fall into the abyss. Like a great comet, with body of molten metal and long tail of flame, rushing on a doomed planet, the monster projectile came down from the dizzy height above us, and passing the mouth of the tunnel in which we stood, with a roar more deafening than the loudest thunder, went bounding and crashing into the depths below, illuminating everything for a moment with its blinding, lurid glare, followed by a darkness and silence more profound than before. As soon as the tremendous echoes which were awakened by the first had died away, a second was sent down, and others followed in quick succession.
Most of our party were unable to control their nerves sufficiently to enable them to approach the edge, and look up and down the tiro, holding by ropes to prevent them from becoming dizzy, and falling headlong into the depths; but those who could do so, beheld a scene, the awful sublimity and grandeur of which beggars all the powers of language.
The remainder of the party now left, and I, in company with the superintendent, clothing myself in a miner's suit to keep off the water and mud, descended to the bottom of the mine, one thousand feet and more from the surface. We went down ladder after ladder, along gallery after gallery, through chambers like great churches in size, and others in which we could not stand erect, down steps cut in the rock and so slippery, with dripping water and soft clay, as to compel us to use an iron-shod staff to support ourselves, and through many a winding turning, until we stood at the bottom of the tiro, wet through with perspiration, and trembling with exhaustion.
At the bottom of the tiro is a great pond of water, the reservoir into which all the drainings of the mine are gathered, and the buckets on the great cables worked by the Malacates at the surface, were constantly coming and going between it and the end of the tunnel, six hundred feet above. These buckets will hold three to four hogsheads of water, and are made of raw-hide in the form of an ordinary Mexican water-jar. An iron ring distends the mouth of the bucket, and when the vessel descends, the wet hide flattening down allows the water to rush in, and as the lifting commences, it falls back into its original form, filled to the brim with the dirty fluid. When the bucket reaches the level of the tunnel, it is hauled into the opening, and as the cable is slackened up it flattens down again, and the water escaping over the rim, runs off down the side of the tunnel.
But there are still lower depths. We went down nearly two hundred feet more, and at the bottom of the last level found men at work taking out ore. The dripping of the water at this point is very considerable, and two plans are made use of to get rid of it. A part of the water is carried up to the reservoir, in pig-skins, on the backs of naked and sweating Indians; and a part—the larger part—is pumped up to that point by hand. The pumps are mere straight logs, thirty feet long, with a bore of three inches, and a piston and bucket, pulled and pushed back and forth by two stalwart Indians, sitting on either side, working by main strength without even a lever purchase to help them along. There are stations or reservoirs at the end of each pump, and all must be kept going continually night and day. The Indian pumpers sit down to their work upon the wet rock, and are as naked as when born; the great heat and want of ventilation, at this depth, rendering clothing, if they had it, a superfluity. They get fifty cents each per day, and work twelve hours at a shift. In all my mining experience, I have never seen such a waste of power and such thoroughly primitive appliances for mining.
I went through many of the galleries and drifts, and examined the vein carefully. The main vein is five to twelve feet wide, quite irregular, and runs in a generally south-western and north-eastern direction, dipping to the south-westward as it descends. It carries metal in a very unequal degree, in different portions, and though presenting rich specimens and bunches of almost pure silver in spots, is not generally very rich.
A HUMAN TARANTULA.
In one chamber I saw a number of mules and horses feeding a thousand feet below the surface.
These poor creatures are let down in slings from the surface, through the tiro, and never go out again alive.
They turned their glazing eyes upon us, with evident pain, as we passed with lighted torches, and appeared to regard us with mournful interest, as in some way connected with the world above, of which they still retained some dim recollection, but which they were never to look upon again. In another chamber I saw women and children cooking food for their husbands and parents; they appeared to live here altogether, probably returning to the light of day only at long intervals. Utterly worn out, at last, we climbed our way back to the tunnel, emerging into daylight just as the sun was setting, swallowed a liberal allowance of brandy to protect ourselves against taking cold, mounted our horses and galloped back to the city.
The weekly sale of ores at the several mines is called the "rescata". One at the Serrano I attended. The ore is placed on the ground, each miner's work in a separate lot, and the buyers sample it before the sale. It is sold in the lump, by guess, not by weight, the buyer taking his chances on the amount. The auctioneer stands silent, under an umbrella, while the miners who have a small interest in the sales over and above their wages, volubly shout the praises of the lot in turn. As each lot is put up, the buyers, singly, whisper their bids in the ear of the auctioneer, and when all have bid, he announces who bid the highest; the other bids are not named. The chance for collusion seem to me to be very great. Some lots brought as high as five hundred dollars, and the aggregate sales exceeded six thousand five hundred dollars, at this rescata. This ended our sight-seeing in Guanajuato.