Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars/22
When the Spaniards came to Bogota, the capital of the country was a large Indian village. It is now a large city, its population being estimated at over 80,000. The head of the Catholic Church in Colombia resides there. The President and his cabinet are there, and once in two years Congress assembles there.
There are few cities I know of that are more elegant and luxurious than Bogota. Wealthy men from all parts of Colombia make it their home, and England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United States have their legations there. The city is well built, of adobe and brick, as well as of stone. There are many houses of two stories, and some few of three. Within, they have every modern improvement, - gas, water, electric bells, telephones, etc. The streets are paved, and the sidewalks are flagged. When I left, the electric light was replacing gas and kerosene. The institutions of learning are numerous and excellent. The chief of these is the Catholic College of the Priesthood. These young ecclesiastics occasionally passed my house in columns of twos. I was struck by their attention to personal neatness. They were in exact uniform, with broad hats, long black gowns, and low shoes with shining buckles, and manifested by their appearance their belief in the maxim "Cleanliness is next to godliness."
The clergy of Bogota are men of ability and dignity. The good Archbishop Paul died just before I left there. He was a man worthy of the love of all his people. A vast concourse followed him to his grave, and as the imposing procession moved along the streets, the people in their homes wept for him. Around his grave the voice of sect was silent, and all men mourned the good man gone from them to his eternal rest.
The medical college at Bogota is well conducted, and the graduates are a high class of gentlemen. There are usually five battalions of troops in the city: one of artillery and four of infantry. They were well equipped in all respects. Armed with breech loading rifles, uniformed in blue coats and scarlet trousers, with belts well filled with cartridges, they were always ready for action. Their discipline is exact. I never saw one of them drunk. Many of them are young boys not five feet high. In one of the fiercest battles of the late revolution, these little fellows fought with great stubbornness, 4000 of them withstanding all day the assaults of 7000 government troops; and when at sunset a truce was called and peace was made, 800 dead were buried on the field, the loss in killed and wounded aggregating 4000 men. The guns of the artillery were light pieces, mountain howitzers, gatling, etc., and were all drawn by the men. The generals were fine looking fellows of high social standing and influence. Their uniforms were gorgeous, and they were well mounted, but when they moved off at a pace the dignity of the occasion was lost in the eyes of a cavalryman trained in our school. There is a military academy there, organized by Lieutenant Lemly of the Third United States Artillery.
The people of Bogota are very kindly and courteous, and no woman I have ever seen surpassed these in the grace and dignity of their manners or in the purity of their lives. They are devoted wives, mothers, and Christians. If Colombia does not increase her population by immigration, she has a sure dependence in her home production. One noble matron of Antiochia, who was married at thirteen, contributed seven daughters and thirty sons to the population of her State. They were all living when I last saw them.
It is remarkable that a country so surpassingly rich should continue in this age so secluded and undeveloped. With a sea coast of vast extent on her eastern and western shores, she has harbors and bays of absolute safety, and the healthfulness of her seaports is at least equal to our own. Yet we have no trade there, and except for the Pacific Mail Line, we have no American steamers plying thither. The English, German, and French do most of the transportation. Mr. Wheeler states that thirty two steamers visit Colombia every month, of which fifteen are British and only three American.
The social life of Bogota is very attractive; the dinners and balls are sumptuous and elegant. At one of the latter I saw several hundred ladies and gentlemen, and many of the dresses were from Worth. The races are always largely attended by the ladies. A military band of music is on the ground, and a battalion of troops lines both sides of the track for half the quarter stretch, to prevent accident. There were sixty coaches occupied by families, which were all made to keep in line at a safe distance from the track. Several hundred gentlemen, well mounted, galloped at pleasure about the field; but the racing was very poor, both horses and riders being untrained.
We had good shooting in Colombia. On one occasion I was invited to the hospitable hacienda of Mr. Urdanata, to shoot ducks. His house is one of the finest on the plain. He and his wife speak English perfectly, as do many of the well bred Colombians. Not long before our visit, they had entertained over one hundred guests for three days in their home. There were several handsome parlors, and the usual sitting room contained a small library. In this room I counted twenty five guns of various sorts. My host bought his shotguns in England, and his rifles in the United States. In the presses of that room were stores of ammunition sufficient to blow up the whole establishment. Urdanata's especial gun weighs about fifteen pounds, and is calibre No. 8. The charge is six drachms of powder and three ounces of shot, and it sounds over the water like a small cannon. I repeatedly saw him kill a duck at two hundred yards' distance. While we were with him, we usually bagged one hundred and twenty five ducks daily, and he always got more than all the rest of the party together. On a hunt made after we left him, he told me he bagged seven hundred ducks in six days. I thought our Colt guns shot much better than his Lancasters. On the water it was easy to compare ranges.
My intercourse with the government was always of the most agreeable character. President Holguin is a gentleman of the most affable and attractive manner, and a man of eloquence and ability. His appearance is very pleasing and graceful, especially on horseback. In my long intercourse with him and the Minister of Foreign Relations, Dr. Restrepo, I rarely proposed any measure of common interest to the United States and Colombia which was not acceded to, unless the claim was for money, when I was invariably postponed or denied; for they have no more money than they need themselves.
The emerald mines near Bogota are the finest and probably the only natural emerald mines now worked in the world. Not far from them is a vast salt mine. Both of these enterprises are the property of the government, and yield good revenue. There are also large iron and coal mines nearby, and a foundry employing six hundred hands. Gold mines are numerous in many parts of the country, and most of these are owned by English capitalists. The aggregate yield of gold is only $6,000,000 annually. There are also silver, copper, and lead; and lately quicksilver has been discovered. Very unwisely, the government exacts a heavy tax on all mining machines brought into the country.
The important question now is, Why have we not trade with this most beautiful and fruitful of all the regions of the earth? And what can be done to promote our commercial relations? The Spanish language, with which for many reasons we should be familiar, is rarely taught in our schools. There is not a school that I know of south of the Mason Dixon's line in which Spanish is taught. Most of us have spent eight or ten years of our boyhood in learning Latin and Greek, and to what end?
This Colombian trade must be worked up by commercial travellers who can speak Spanish well. American merchants should have sample-rooms in Bogota and other large towns. Taxes should be adjusted to encourage commercial intercourse between the countries. The packing of goods for the Colombian trade is peculiar. Flour for that trade is sent out in bags coated inside with a paste of their own contents. Yorkshire hams are protected by water tight and air tight cloths, and kept for a long time sweet and good. Dress patterns and dry goods must be of a certain length, no more and no less, and every pack should weigh one hundred and twenty five pounds, or half a cargo. There are many other practical details essential to this trade, as the commercial traveller will learn. A railroad from the Magdalena to the Plain of Bogota is of vast importance, and will pay well. The mail facilities are few and very insufficient. Sixty days are needed to send a letter and receive an answer, and a large part of the business of the Legislation is crowded into one or two days. Being of an active temperament, I occupied much of my leisure time in excursions throughout the country, posting myself as to the people, productions, etc., and going up and down the Andes many times by the different routes to the Magdalena.
One day Mr. Vaughan came up from the Magdalena in his dog-cart. The road was new, and his was the first vehicle that had passed over it, but the grading was uniform, and a good horse could trot up or down it. Vaughan and I messed together in Bogota for about two months. When he first arrived, he invited me to go back with him in his dog-cart, down this Cambao road to his country home. I promptly accepted his invitation, and he was never satisfied after that until he had me safely landed as his guest in his comfortable establishment. The down trip was much more dangerous than the up. The road, for the greater part of its length, was six feet four inches wide, and several times we left our wheel tracks over the brink of the mountain down which we might have rolled over two thousand feet. We had in harness a great clay-bank brute with white legs, who was as big a fool as Sam Patch, and would have jumped with him down the falls of the Niagara. Just as we began to descend the mountain, a peacock paraded himself in front of us, and elevating his tail lifted up his voice in that terrible cry which is so characteristic of that bird. At the first note our clay-bank spun around and darted at full speed up the mountain, until he met our pack train coming calmly down behind us. Vaughan was then able to stop him and turn him back. Fortunately, the road just there was broad and good, or we should all gone to Sam Patch.
That evening we halted for the night at a large spring of fine water in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains ten or twelve thousand feet high. Many of them were dotted with farms and pastures extending to their very summits. There were several adobe houses clustered together near the spring, and we rented one of them for the night. The family moved out with all their belongings, swept up the rooms, and we took possession. Swinging our hammocks, we took our dinner of cold fowl, tongue, etc., lighted our cigars, and made ourselves easy for the night. About ten o'clock a row broke out among the peons outside, of whom there were about twenty of both sexes, who were clamoring and fighting. The blows and imprecations fell fast and furious, and the fray grew more violent, until Vaughan sprang out of his hammock and took his pistol, saying, "I must put a stop to that." He spoke Spanish well. I couldn't speak much Spanish, but I could shoot. So I took my pistol and followed Vaughan, with a vague idea of doing whatever he might tell me. Just at this moment the police arrived, and quieted the combatants, by carrying off one of them who had been on the ground for some time. We then retired to sleep well until morning, when we paid our rent of five cents, and moved on.
We reached the river at Cambao that evening before sunset. The river is about four hundred yards wide there, deep and rapid, so we were ferried over in large canoes, our horses swimming by their sides, and landed quite safely and easily on the other shore, where we spent the night very comfortably. During the night a vampire sucked my horse, leaving a small mark upon his neck, from which a drop or two of blood had oozed. We mounted our dog-cart at daylight, and drove ten miles over a level road to the fine establishment of Santuario.
Vaughan had excited my interest the night before by his account of a tiger that had roamed the woods through which we passed. Perhaps his vivid narrative may account for the urgency with which I insisted on going further that night. Near the roadside, he pointed out the tiger-trap, some ten yards away. We were very comfortable at Santuario, where my son joined us, and we spent several days very pleasantly. The young men killed some pheasants, pigeons, quail, and a couple of the pretty little deer of the plains. The mountain-sides and pastures were all burning, but we saw no snakes. From Santuario we drove over to the town of Ambulema, where are the cigar factory and fine residence of Mr. Vaughan. This was the largest establishment I was in while in the country, and was perhaps the handsomest house. The parlors, bedrooms, library, and billiard rooms were all paved with marble. The china and silverware bear the name of the estate, and the excellent table is supplied with wines, sauces, and canned luxuries from London. An ice-machine gave us ice.
Here I waited several days for an up-river boat, on which I went up to Giradot. The river was very low, and at some of the rapids the whole crew went overboard with a hawser, which they fastened to a tree on the bank, and then proceeded to warp the boat up the rapids. As there were only two feet of water, this was very slow work, but we reached Giradot the second day by noon, and General H. E. Morgan, an old Virginian, was waiting on this shore to take me to his hospitable and comfortable home, where I passed the night. Next morning he ordered a train to be ready by eight o'clock and accompanied me to the terminus of the railroad, now at Las Juntas, at the foot of the mountains, where he detailed a bright Lieutenant Gomez, his aide-de-camp, who speaks English, to escort me to Bogota.
This is the most pleasant of all the mountain roads. There are several little towns on it, where good quarters can be had, and beautiful brawling streams cross and run along it; and, except for a short distance, it is a practicable for wagons, and affords the best route for a railroad. Several reconnaissance's have been made, but the government and the contractors have never yet come to terms so definite as to lead to this great result. We found comfortable lodgings in the little town of Annapoyma, and by midday next day I was met by my friend and Secretary of Legation, Mr. Boschell, with a coach, and by eventide was back in my own quarters. I do not believe that any dog-cart has been down the Cambao road since. It was a trip of great interest and some excitement to us, especially to Vaughan, who felt responsible for me, and never drew an easy breath while I was in the cart with him.
General Henry Morgan (CSA), now Enrique Morgan, was a native of Morefield Valley, Virginia. His family is well known and esteemed in that region. When sixteen years old, he enlisted in Stonewall Jackson's corps, and served in it throughout the war between the States. On the surrender of Lee, he went away from Virginia to seek his fortunes in some country where he would feel freer than in his own native land. From California he went down to Colombia, where he soon found employment. He liked the country and the people, and became a citizen of it. He served his adopted land with distinction in three revolutions, won the grade of general, and is now commander-in-chief of all the engineer troops, five battalions, of the Colombian Army. His courage and fidelity have won for him the confidence and love of the people.
The ladies of Bogota wear black upon the streets, with mantillas, often of costly black lace, on their heads instead of bonnets. Only occasionally are the latter worn by some one who has been in the United States or Europe. Many of them have small and beautiful feet and hands. They are usually of the brunette type, and have very gentle and winning manners.
There is a large asylum for foundlings, that of St. Vincent de Paul. It is in excellent discipline and organization, under the care of the sisters of the church. The Lady Superior and her second in command accompanied us in our visit to the various departments of the building, and seemed much pleased with my commendation of their good work, as with the small donation which I left as a climax to my praise. I said on leaving, "There is no such institution as this in all my country." They replied, "Mil gracias, Senor"; when I added, "Because we Protestants are too good to need such an one." At which preposterous statement these ancient virgins shook their ample sides with convulsions of incredulous laughter. All of the children are of mothers of the lower classes, to whom the institution is so great a boon as to be considered by some people a very doubtful factor in the cause of morality.
My own home in Bogota was as comfortable as was possible when so far away from my nearest kindred. It was presided over by the lovely wife of my Secretary of Legation, and these good friends, more than any others, contributed to the happiness of my stay. The business of the Legation was conducted in such a manner as to receive the cordial approval of our government, repeatedly expressed, and when the result of the presidential election was known, the Secretary of Foreign Relations called at the American Legation to inform me that measures had been taken by his government to urge the government of the United States that no change should be made in the personnel of that legation. Surprised and gratified as I was by a tribute so unusual, I cherished but little hope of its influence upon the result.
The party axe fell promptly, and when I met my successor, Mr. John T. Abbot, of New Hampshire, I felt that in this case no injury could ensue to the public weal. He is a gentleman of high ability, self-reliant, courageous, and generous. My removal caused him genuine regret, and he and his gentle family showed their warm interest and sympathy, and he accompanied me in person on my lonely journey from Bogota to Honda, an arduous six days' mule-ride for him, because he could not bear to see me go alone and friendless then.