Our Sister Republic/Chapter 8

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WE left Guanajuato at 4 a. m., Monday, Nov. 8th, without a guard, and preceeded by postilions running on foot, and carrying torches, drove at a gallop down the long arroyo, between the fortress-like haciendas of the suburbs and Marfil, and out into the open country below the mountains. When day-break came we were crossing a broad "sand-river," near a little town. Many women were carrying water in jars upon their shoulders from shallow wells scooped out of the sand in the bed of the stream, which is not a stream at all, save during the floods of the rainy season.

We had the choice of the "Empressa General de Diligencias" teams at every station, and as the road was excellent went along at a glorious pace. This was the best part of Mexico, which we had yet seen. The plain is broad and extremely fertile, and generally pretty well cultivated. We saw many fields of corn which would be called No. 1, and something over, in Illinois, and broad belts of wheat already well up and brilliantly green. The farms or ranches are of immense size, separated only by pillars of masonry, some fifteen feet in height, to mark the boundaries, and each hacienda or head farm-house is a fortress in itself, surrounded by a small village, occupied by the former peons, but now enfranchised laborers. High walls with stout gates surround most of these great haciendas, and on the roofs of some we noticed breastworks of adobe, with loop-holes for musketry, carried up above the battlements. These tell the story of the times of civil war and brigandage so happily passing away I trust, from Mexico forever. One of these great haciendas, if resolutely defended by its occupant and his retainers, could only be taken by means of artillery. The villages are all surrounded by square lots, each containing half-an-acre to two-and-a-half acres, fenced with the organo cactus, and each cultivated by a separate family.

At 12 o'clock m., we were in the ancient city of Salamanca, the penal capital of Guanajuato, having meantime passed through the old market-town of Irapuato, which has some five thousand inhabitants, and two very old churches with elaborately carved stone fronts, now in a dilapidated condition. The State-Prison at Salamanca is located in what was once a convent, which had a church attached, and thieves and desperadoes come to work where nuns had droned away their lives in pious idleness. The convicts, five hundred in number, are engaged in various kinds of labor, as at Guadalajara, and in spite of the clamor raised by the Church party and press, about the despoiling of the Lord, and desecration of the property by substituting a penal colony for a nunnery, the buildings are being improved and extended, and it is evident that the property will never again be used as a place of religious seclusion.

The Government of Mexico seems to be thoroughly aware of the necessity of maintaining its attitude towards the church in all firmness, and the indignant protest of Bishop or priest, and the anathemas of the Church herself, are treated with equal contempt. A few days since, the remains of the patriot General Doblado, were exhumed at Guanajuato, and laid in state in the College building in great pomp, before being taken to Mexico to be interred in the Pantheon, as the Nation's honored dead. He had aided in carrying out the orders for the secularization of the real estate of the Church, and of course was excommunicated. The Church refused to allow his remains to lie in the Cathedral or any of the minor Church buildings, but the people attended the ceremonies all the same, and the funeral cortege, as it moved through the streets on its way to Mexico, presented a spectacle impressive and suggestive to the last degree.

There was not much else to see in Salamanca, and we drove on towards Celaya, through a valley at least twenty miles broad, and almost an unbroken corn-field. In one field we counted thirty-four ploughs drawn by oxen, at work at once, and in another, quite as many. We saw many orange-orchards around the little villages, and at one hacienda a very extensive olive plantation in full bearing. The soil is in many places six to ten feet in depth, clear black loam like that of the prairies, and exceedingly rich.

It is singular how little wild game you see here. After leaving Santa Anna Acatlan, near Seyula for the south-west of Guadalajara, we saw nothing in that line save a few sand-hill cranes, pied cranes, and two species of doves—the common "mourning dove" or "turtle dove" of the West, and a little fellow with mottled silver-gray plumage, and pink and yellow under the wings like a "yellow-hammer"—a very pretty creature. It is true that the inhabitants can occasionally indulge in a snap-shot or two at a brigand band, but this must be a poor substitute, after all, for the manly sports of the field, such as we enjoy in most parts of the United States.

We reached Celaya soon after noon. This city contains at this time not more than nineteen thousand inhabitants, and, yet, has twelve churches, four of which are immense. We visited several, of these, in succession, and found them much alike; and all built of solid stone and in magnificent proportions.

In one of them I saw a case containing three hundred and sixty-five relics of Saints and Martyrs, pieces of the true Cross, the Manger in which Christ was born, the column at which he was scourged, the Holy Sepulchre, etc., etc., if there has been no mistake in the record, and I have no reason to suppose that there has been any.

While coming out from one of the churches we heard a steam-whistle sound, for the first time in Mexico, and went to a large woolen-factory from which the whistle was calling to the workmen. This establishment employs six hundred men and women and young boys, and supports half the town. The wool used is all of the coarse, common article, costing twelve cents, per pound, raised in the country, and all the dyewoods come from the vicinity of Guadalajara. The master-dyer gets seventy dollars per week, and the common hands from two dollars for the boys, to three and four dollars for the women and men. Most of the employes are men, and among them are thirty officers of the Imperial Army of the late General Mejia, who appear to find woolen-spinning and weaving a better paying business than fighting, in the nineteenth century, in the vain effort to found new empires when old ones are crumbling and tottering to their fall. During the war in the United States the factory made immense profits; cargo after cargo of coarse woolen goods being smuggled into the Southern Confederacy and sold. Only one cargo worth sixty thousand dollars, was seized and confiscated, and the owner could well afford the loss. The goods made are common serapes, worth two to five dollars each, blankets, and stout, striped cassimeres of all colors, of which last, a pattern for a pair of pantaloons is sold at two or three dollars. The machinery is from the United States. The building and machinery cost four hundred thousand dollars, and the business employs an active capital of five hundred thousand more, and is very profitable. The principal owner, Señor Carosse, is a native of the Basque Provinces, and one of the richest men in Mexico. He came here without a dollar thirty years ago, and now counts his wealth by thousands.

The City of Celaya is now supplied with pure water, of blood heat, from an artesian well four hundred feet in depth, sunk at his own expense by Col. Saria. This well throws out ten jets, of one inch each, and the water is free to all. I can testify that a bath in it is among the luxuries of the world. For his liberality and public spirit in this matter, Col. Saria was thanked by a resolution of the State Congress of Guanajuato, signed by every member. Opposite the enclosure in which this magnificent well is situated, in the center of a handsome plaza with orange trees in full bearing and a thousand beautiful flowers, is a large fountain, and a tall and exceedingly graceful column, surmounted with the arms of Mexico, boldly sculptured and painted in the proper colors. This was erected in the year 1822, in commemoration of Mexican Independence.

Twenty-four miles from Celaya, is a town called Salvatierra, which is said to be the most prosperous one in Mexico. There is unlimited water-power in that place. In the district of Guanajuato, within a circuit of fifteen miles, there is estimated to be, at this time, forty million dollars worth of silver ore, which will yield twenty-five dollars to the ton; but owing to the expense of reducing it there, it will not pay for working at all, and is now lying valueless on the surface of the ground.

A railroad of about one hundred miles, through a wonderfully rich valley, offering no engineering obstacles of any moment, would connect the two cities, and enable the builder to bag $20,000,000 in profits on this ore already out; to say nothing of the future. With water power unlimited, and American stamp-mills, enormous profits could be made by working this ore. The Jaurez Administration will grant no more franchises, for railroads to be hawked about by speculators; but if anybody in the United States, or Europe, desires to build a railroad in good faith, here is a chance to do it, and win fame and fortune. The people are extremely anxious to have some one take hold of the enterprise.

We left Celaya early on the 10th of December, and drove at a rattling pace, over a road which was then being re-turnpiked and placed in perfect repair, a distance of about twelve leagues, or thirty English miles, to Queretaro. Our road took us through a broad and beautiful valley, filled with little towns—nobody thinks of living alone in this country, but all the people crowd into towns for self-protection—and covered with ripe corn and green wheat-fields.

One of these haciendas which we passed was beautiful, indeed. The rancho contains some fifty thousand acres. It is in the highest state of cultivation, and is valued by its owner, Justo L. Carresse, at $300,000 in gold. His wheat crop from this rancho, and a smaller one which we passed, is worth annually, fifty thousand dollars, and he also produces twenty thousand sacks of Indian corn of fine quality.

The laborers get only twenty-five or thirty- seven and a half cents per day, own no land, have no vested interest anywhere, and are half-clad in ragged cotton goods, and eat calabossas and tortillas and frijoles the year round. Were they born to be merely hewers of wood and drawers of water to the end of time? Is that all which is in store for them? What Spanish despotism, peon slavery, and religious superstition begun, poverty and civil war have perpetuated; and they are still but little advanced beyond the old state of slavery. They stand, hat in hand, in the blazing sun, so long as you are addressing them, and appear, on all occasions, to be thoroughly respectful, orderly, patient, and good dispositioned, though their poverty is something painful to behold. There is money enough sunk in the twelve great churches of Celaya—three would hold all the population—to build railroads through all this great valley, and decent houses for every family, and clothe and educate every child in the State; and these poor, patient, people and their ancestors paid it all.

Some day, not far distant, will, I hope, see these people becoming small land-owners, and fully informed of the rights with which the Republic has invested them; and it will be well, for all, if they acquire the knowledge gradually, instead of being taught it, and errors with it, suddenly, by some loud-mouthed demagogue, who may incite them into inaugurating a new reign of disorder and terror.

In justice to the Republic and State authorities, I must say, that they do all in their power to educate the youth, and ameliorate the condition of the people; but while the million poor are so very, very poor, and the few rich are so very, very rich; commerce depressed, public improvements few, and the Government impoverished by foreign and domestic war, and its long struggle with the church, progress is necessarily very slow indeed: nevertheless there is progress. A better time will come; but will it be in our day and generation?

We met and passed many country people, going to market, with great wicker baskets of camotes, fruit, sweet-potatoes, etc., etc., on their backs, and many of them were braiding palm-leaf hats as they trotted rapidly along, bending beneath their heavy burdens, in the full blaze of the tropical sun. It is useless to say that these people are idle and dissolute from nature, and will not work. They will work all the year round if the work is offered them, and fairly kiss the hand that gives it to them. A railroad across the Continent, by the route we followed from Manzanillo, would put an end, forever, to revolutions and civil wars—I think the end is almost reached already—enrich the whole country and the road-owners at the same time, and confer on humanity a boon, greater than all the bequests of the philanthropic Peabody.

Some fifteen miles from Celaya, we entered the State of Querataro, the towers of that historic city looming up grandly in the distance across the plain. Our road led through a wide avenue lined with immense pepper trees in full green foliage, contrasting vividly with the brilliant red berries which loaded down every bough.

All was quiet and peaceful as a New England Sabbath in the olden time. But three years since, this same tree-embowered road presented a far different scene. The usurping "Emperor" and his foreign mercenaries and domestic traitors, brought to bay, at last, and rendered desperate by the hopelessness of their position were making a sortie, for the purpose of cutting their way out towards Morelia and the Pacific Coast, when they saw, streaming down through the wide avenue, the victorious "Army of the West," under Ramon Corona, from Sinaloa, who, with wild yells rushed directly into the thickest of the fight, and closed the last avenue of escape to them forever.