Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 25

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give him $200,000. The haciendado said it had belonged to his family since the time of Cortes, and he had not the least desire to sell, besides it was at the very least worth $2,000,000. Immediately all sorts of evil fell upon the unhappy owner. His horses were shot, his cattle, water, and even family poisoned. At last, when hope was crushed, Gonzales accidentally reappeared, and told the heart-broken man that he would give him $10,000 for this place. The hacienda was immediately his, but the former owner is still looking for his money. The strange part is that Gonzales has not suffered the afflictions visited upon the former owner.

President Diaz has two years from next December to serve, that is, providing a revolution does not cut his term short. The people will not say much about his going out, as one just as bad will replace him. They always know one year in advance who the president is to be, and even at the present date it lies between Diaz's father-in-law, Romerio Rubio, or Mier Teran, Governor of Oaxaca, both of whom belong to the ring. Diaz fears a revolution, and is afraid of losing his life. It is said he hastened his removal to Chapultepec because they threatened to blow up his house on Calle de Cadena, No. 8, with dynamite. Last January a party of Revolutionists laid plans to overthrow the Diaz Government, but one fellow got into a controversy with a Diaz party while riding on the Pasio, and so they came to blows, the news got abroad and armies paraded through the streets of Mexico until the poor little body of "righters" were overawed by the demonstration. Gonzales is sixty-five years old. He gets along nicely as Governor of Guanajuato, having no duties and being looked up to as a king by the people. When he comes to Mexico for a few days they prepare expensive receptions for his return. They are his humble subjects, and he is satisfied to be king of that state.

 

 

CHAPTER XXV.

 

MEXICAN SOLDIERS AND THE RURALES.

 

El Mexicano thinks it would be one of the pleasantest, as well as one of the easiest, things in the world to whip the "Gringoes," while the latter, with their heads a little swelled, perhaps, imagine otherwise, and scoff at the idea of the "Greasers" winning even one battle in the event of war. Be that as it may, solid, unvarnished facts will prove to the most headstrong that the advantage is mostly on the other side.

The standing army in Mexico is said to number forty thousand men, but is believed to be more. Every little village of a few hundred people has its army, and every day that army is being increased; the officers range from those who have gained experience and fame on the battlefield to the young ones reared and trained in military colleges; they are mostly all of what is considered the highest class of people in Mexico.

The rank and file are mostly half-breeds or Indians, who are not by any means volunteers. They are nearly all convicts. When a man is convicted of some misdemeanor he is enlisted in the regular army, separated from his home, and to serve the rest of his natural life. This life is not a bed of roses—there is no bed at all, and out of a medio (6¼ cents) a day, he has to furnish his food and comforts. The dress uniform is made of coarse woolen goods, with yellow stripes on the sleeves; and the undress uniform, which is worn constantly except on review days, is but white muslin, pants, waist and cap.

Some of the Indians are stolen and put in the army, and they immediately resign themselves to their fate, for there is no more escape for them than there is from death.

The wives of these poor fellows are very faithful, and very often follow the regiment from one place to another; they live on what nature grows for them and what they can beg or steal; the men are called in Spanish "soldados," and the women, because they cling to their husbands, "soldadas." It looks very pitiful to see a poor Indian woman with a babe tied to her back and one clinging to her skirts, dusty, hungry and footsore, traveling for miles through the hot sun with the regiments.

These soldados are wonderfully hardy; they can travel for a week through the hot sun, with nothing to drink and but a spoonful of boiled beans and one tortillia—a small flat cake—for two days' rations, sleep on the ground at night, and be as fresh for service as a well-kept mule. Fight! well those who imagine it such an easy thing to whip them should stand off and witness some of their feats first; they love their country, and consider life well lost in defense of it; they are ignorant, it is true, but seem the more courageous for it. When told to fight, they go at it with as much vigor as a bull dog after a cat; they don't know why they are fighting, or for what, but it is their rule and custom to obey, not to reason why. If you would stop one soldier in the midst of his fighting and ask: "Why are you fighting?" he would answer in the characteristic words of his people, "Quien sabe?"

If a man is silly enough to try to escape from this bondage he is immediately shot, or if he disobeys orders they have time but to punish him with death. A short time before leaving Mexico some guards at the prison tried to desert, and immediately every regiment was notified to be on the lookout, and others were sent out to recapture them, and as soon as found they were shot. The soldiers have an herb named marijuana, which they roll into small cigaros and smoke. It produces intoxication which lasts for five days, and for that period they are in paradise. It has no ill after-effects, yet the use is forbidden by law. It is commonly used among prisoners. One cigaro is made, and the prisoners all sitting in a ring partake of it. The smoker takes a draw and blows the smoke into the mouth of the nearest man, he likewise gives it to another, and so on around the circle. One cigaro will intoxicate the whole lot for the length of five days.

The Mexican officers are unpleasantly sarcastic, or rather they have a custom that is the extreme of irony. It is known as la ley fuga (the law of escape). They will tell you they are going to take a prisoner, or soldier, as the case may be, out to the suburbs to give him a chance to escape. It sounds very pleasant to the stranger. They will, for example, politely ask the railway conductor to stop the train in some quiet place, as they want to let a prisoner escape. The American conductor finds his heart warming within him for these generous officers, and quickly and gladly obeys. The train is stopped, they all get off, and the officers form in a single line, with guns raised to the shoulders. The prisoner is placed before them and told to Vamos. He gives one glance into their unchanging faces, the surrounding land, and then starts. That moment he falls to the earth riddled with a dozen bullets, and the executioners re-enter the train and are speeding fast away, almost before the echo of this fatal volley died away. They cannot waste time putting his body beneath the ground, but before long some Indians, traveling that way, find it. He is one of them, and their turn may be next, so they lay him in a hastily-dug hole, erect a wooden cross at the end, murmur a prayer, and leave him to return to that from which he sprung. This is the merciful "law of escape" practiced daily in Mexico.

Once every year to commemorate the victory over the French on the 5th of May, 1862, the president reviews all the troops. They flock to the city from mountain, valley, town, and city, clad in holiday attire. Then only one realizes their strength, as they march before the palace where the president is seated on the balcony. The finest looking men in the whole 40,000 are the rurales. They number 6000 and are larger men than Mexicans usually are.

These rurales are a band of outlaws who came forward with their chief and aided Diaz during the war. When it was over Diaz recognized their power, and was so afraid of them that he offered them a place in the army, with their chief as general, and they are to-day not only the best paid, but—speaking of their fighting ability—the best men in Mexico. In the first place they are large and powerful and known over the entire country, mountain, town, and valley, as thoroughly as we know our A, B, C. They fear nothing on earth, or out of it, and will fight on the least provocation. They would rather fight than eat, and have a great aversion to exhibiting themselves, as they demonstrated on the 5th of May last, when only 800 could be persuaded to participate.

They have their own bands and a number of buglers. Every man owns his horse, which must in color match that of the rest of the regiment. Their uniform is yellow buckskin, elaborately embroidered with silver and gold, upon the pants and on the back, front and sleeves of the short cutaway jacket. Their wide sombrero is the same color, finished with the same embroidery and a

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