Translation:The White Terror in Texas/c1

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The White Terror in Texas and my escape  (1862)  by Jean-Charles Houzeau, translated from French by Wikisource

Austin (Texas), 20 September 1861

My dear Van Bemmel,

In keeping with my commitment to the Revue Trimestrielle, I sent you on 25 April 1861 and on the following 25 July, two Correspondances d’Amérique that perhaps have not reached you.[1] I then lost all hope of having my feeble voice be heard from the other side of the Atlantic.

You do know in what isolation the Southwestern U.S. states have immersed themselves since the beginning of the war. The postal service no longer crosses the border of the Confederate States. A strict blockade forbids us completely the way by sea. Our land routes, marked only by the passage of caravans and their carts, are of distressing length and difficulty. Texas alone offers a larger territory than France, but without pavement, canals, and almost without railways. The letters take a month or more to arrive from New Orleans. As for the newspapers, the mail has ceased to carry them. I have seen pay the weight of gold for some Mexican sheets, some six weeks old, brought ​​by travelers. A rigorous state of siege hangs over the local press, and has left standing none but the panegyrists of the powers in place. Travel has become dangerous, because of the audacity of the Indians and the general disorganization. Secret committees, established by the plantation owners in all the counties are searching for suspects, and see abolitionist propaganda agents everywhere, to whom they reserve no better lot than that of, as they say, "pull the rope".

The country being exclusively agricultural, like all slaver countries, a host of industrial items are starting to lack. The Legal Gazette[2] was discontinued, because there is no more paper in Austin to print it. Fabrics, clothing, leather, and all the exotic products, such as coffee, oils, grocery stores are exhausted. We burn rendered lard in our lamps, we replace our bed sheets with buffalo hides. In short, we live of our own resources, as in a besieged city, deprived of all trade and verbal communication with the outside world.

But these material inconveniences would not even deserve a mention, were not the government of the planters taking advantage, in order to slander us, of our isolation and of our impossibility to make ourselves heard. On the one hand, they present to the world our silence as approval of their actions, are relying on an alleged unanimity of feelings and opinions, which is but the result of a reign of terror. On the other hand, the government, knowing of our isolation from the world and our being deprived of any means of decrying it, shouts out that all the civilized nations of the earth have become indifferent to the plight of slaves. They tell us that the Wilberforces and Broughams are dead, that Europe has proclaimed the worship of Mammon, that material interests have erased all but the last traces of the civilizing idea. We are told that intelligence, selflessness, humanity, are no longer being honored now, that manufacturers and their workers need affordable cotton, at long-term credit, and that they would also unite to stone, in full public square, those who would dare proclaim today in their manufacturing cities the principles that "All men are children of the same father who is God; men and women, nobles and slaves are also the angels of God; men and women are all brothers and sisters, therefore love your neighbor as yourself, and the divine law above all."

In this situation, not only was I forced to give up writing to you regularly, but it was even impossible for me to have good knowledge and appreciate the events of the war. My horizon did not stretch beyond what was happening before my eyes. But what I've seen will suffice to give an idea of the society of the planters at the peak of their pretentions and their expectations.

In charge of some geological exploration, I left my home in southern Texas, in mid-April, and for ten weeks, traveled the pristine countryside in the last inhabited areas of the frontier,[3] heading up north to the coalfields of the upper Brazos river. This area has very few slaving farms. But down the Brazos and Colorado, corn and cotton plantations appear in abundance. It is not, however, that the climate is unhealthy for white people, nor that free workers are in short supply in the countryside, since on the Brazos a large number of German settlers employ themselves at picking their richer neighbors' cotton, side by side with the slaves.

Most of the planters whom I met had become, in a few months, of a harshness and an arrogance difficult to imagine. Freed from all restraint, either moral or political; freed from the pressure exercised by the Northern states; glorious to have struck down the local opposition, the masters knew but one thing in the world: to make money. It was a sudden outburst of greed, the more formidable in its effects that it had been contained for long. It was a sort of rage to make money from one's fellow men, women, and children. A society whose ruling class is exclusively dominated by this passion has no solid elements for lasting. This ephemeral triumph of lust for gold is no less than a stain in history and a disgrace for humanity.

No doubt that there are, among the the planters, exceptions. The old established families, and in which the slaves were passed from father to son, have kept almost all the old patriarchal system. They saw with dread the attempt to bring down the blacks and enslave poor whites; they deplore the recent ban imposed on the master to never release any slave; the split of the southern states never had their approval but with a low voice. But for an old plantation, for a large farm of one or two hundred slaves, there are fifty small farms of ten or twenty. There you will find the nouveau riche masters in control, drunk on wealth and power that they find in the possession of man by man.

Facts will better make known the development of this inhuman despotism. Trasimon Landry, a planter of French origin, was flattering himself that the trafficking would soon resume. "It matters little to me, said he, that a negro last only three years; in the meantime his labour will have covered his cost." Accordingly, this barbarian master demanded from his blacks sixteen hours of forced labour. He rang the bell at three in the morning; he whipped the supervisor when the supervisor did not sufficiently whip the blacks. Those would receive their meals in the field, while at work, and were barely allowed a break. The master forced the plowman to respond to nature's call in the furrow, lest he lost, stepping aside, precious time. The work lasted until ten o'clock at night, and many slaves, exhausted, dropping to the ground next to their pick, took to the fields their sleep for the night without returning to their shed.

I have seen whip sick slaves, pregnant women. I saw, in a plantation of Guadalupe, a mulatto fall unconscious under the lash, and remain for long between life and death. The reason for this cruel treatment? He was driving on the road to Braunfels the carriage of the mistress of the house. A rider, sent by the planter, caught up with the carriage, and told the lady that her friends had arrived and that her husband was waiting. "We're only two steps away from the city, said the lady, I'll do my shopping first, and come back right afterward." The furious planter beat the driver in a horrible way, because he had followed instructions from the lady instead of returning on the spot as per his own orders.

But the next episode, which I select among many others, will measure the cup of bitterness from which the slave class partake. By chance I found myself, on the Colorado, in a large cotton plantation owned by a German immigrant named Von Lenz. Apart of forty slaves, some darker-skinned than others, assigned to physical work, there were two young people in the house, so mixed-blooded that everyone saw them as white people. Amanda and William, just at the bloom of youth, were raised among the family of the planter. To their natural gifts of character, they added acquired talent that made them valuable on the farm: one day they would have made ​​good stewards. They lived happy, devoted to their masters whom they considered their parents, observing toward their companions the principles of Christian charity. A tender sentiment bound them together, and the time had come when would be celebrated their union.

But the business of Von Lenz, who was a gambler, found itself a little disturbed. Yielding to the impulse of the moment, the farmer had advertised in the local newspapers two young slaves to let. "It was, said the text, girls of fifteen to twenty years of age, fully aware of the cooking and cleaning, well bred, multilingual, and of a prepossessing appearance." This renting of slaves has become one of the gold mines of the planters, and one can easily imagine that the younger women and the most pale are most sought after. The scandals of the auction room and of its exhibitions are superseded by those of renting by the month, week, or for the night.

The day of my visit to Von Lenz, a butcher in the area, B… of Smithville, arrived early in the morning in a light carriage, drawn by two spirited horses; without even taking the time to unhitch, he had requested on the spot an interview. He was one of those ordinary men, to whom nerve holds as merit, and whose thinking stops where benefit comes to an end. He offered to rent one of the young slaves. The women had just returned from the cottonfield; Amanda was presiding over their lunch. The butcher scanned, with an expert eye, all those in the hall; his gaze halted on the young white one. The planter soon yielded to the liberality of the offer made ​​to him, and announcing that Amanda was leased, he ordered her to prepare for departure.

This event struck the poor slave of a sudden manner. It was abruptly cutting short all her habits of childhood and its affectionate girl dreams. Caught all at once by surprise, regret, fear, she began to cry.

— Master, Master, she said, sobbing without first understanding the full extent of her misfortune, I am leased! What have I done to you? Did I not serve with loyalty and devotion? Is there a slave in your home as early as I? Are there many as bright or as industrious? Whatever you bid me, I do my best. I love this farm, I love my masters, and I cannot bring myself to leave."

— "Amanda, interrupted the planter sternly, obey."

I saw the poor girl slump, and hide her face in her hands. "No, I cannot bring myself to leave, she cried. I was born here, I grew up here, I have my friends and my acquaintances. If I made some mistake, punish me, my master, punish me without sending me away. If you require more work, I will try to satisfy you and I will go to the limit of my strength, until I fall exhausted before the task you will set. Instruct; impose me the trouble, but for heaven's sake! do not send me away with a stranger.

"Ah! if Miss Emilie were here, she added with a poignant regret, I would tell her my sufferings, and she would intercede for me. She is so good! She is my age. As children, we played together, and how many times the grand orange tree alley witnessed our struggles at the hoop! Young girls, our occupations were the same, and our tastes would bring us closer every day. The last time she came from boarding school, she took my hands and kissed me as usual. "Amanda, she told me, when I get married, you will come with me, my father has promised me; we will not be separated." I will go with Miss; she is more educated than me, but I have as much heart for love."

While recalling the scenes of her childhood, invoking all the memories that related her to her masters and to this dear home, the girl exhausted herself in prayer and supplications. Soon she lost the awareness of what was happening around her. Her regrets so vivid, her moving pleas referring to the ties that one would willingly have called family bonds, were of no effect on the planter. At his command, an old negress wrapped in a chest all that belonged to the rented slave. Two men took Amanda in their arms and hoisted her into the carriage. I've never seen truer despair nor more heartbreaking. At times the girl would begin to struggle against her oppressors, and her face brightened of the fire of a holy anger: the soul of the free was rebelling against this criminal usurpation. Then, her physical strength exhausted, the voice ceased uttering cries of reproach; a complete reaction, an absolute exhaustion, seized the victim, who came out of this temporary crisis to implore heaven, her masters, her friends, all the witnesses of this horrible scene, and to demand her former chains in preference to those of the stranger and of disgrace.

In the struggle, her hair had spread across her face bathed in tears; her blouse was partially undone. This disorder caused the butcher glances of delight and lust. He sat with a sort of brutal joy beside his weeping companion, and firmly lashed his horses.

Despite the efforts of the master, this distressing scene threw an air of sadness on the plantation. I took advantage of the concerns of all to slip away, along with two little negroes who were on their way to water the livestock. True children of the tropics, these black boys walked bare legs and bare feet, dressed of just a loose shirt of white calico. Despite their being quite absorbed in their games, despite the natural carelessness of their race, they could not help but also share the sorrow of the young girl who had just been removed. "Poor Amanda, said the smaller one to his companion, is the butcher going to kill her?" — "No, said the other, but he'll whip her day and night."

The sheep were grazing in a meadow at some distance. On the way to the trough, behind a bunch of old oaks, several of which had fallen of decay and were blocking the road, I soon made ​​out the figure of William. The young man seemed entirely absorbed by a whispered conversation with a stranger whose chair, or light carriage, was half hidden from sight among the bushes.

Approaching, I recognized this stranger, the Reverend Jasper,[4] whom I had seen in Austin with a mutual friend. His character, his dedication, his courage, had always inspired respect for his person. To his Christian charity, to the gentle virtues of Minister of the Gospel, this missionary combines a fiery soul. He belongs to the brave army of Methodist preachers, who constantly travel the country. Tireless in their efforts, roaming up hill and down dale; camping for months in the virgin prairie, braving the scorching sun of summer and the north winds of winter, living on little, paid only voluntary subscriptions, often belated — these elite priests go everywhere to help up the weak, relieve suffering, and to rescue the oppressed. They believe in their hearts that there are duties of humanity, and fulfill them. Planters have already hanged some of these missionaries, but failed to deter them.

As soon as Rev. Jasper recognized me, he shook my hand, and without hesitation as without preamble: "Heaven sent you, he said. If ever escape is excusable and justified, it is that of Amanda. You just came in time, you will have her ride on the pillion." I then learned from the Methodist minister all the details of the plan, whose main author was risking his life. Time was precious, and the evening was the time set for carrying it out. The missionary set off in his chair, and I followed on horseback.

We traveled to town, which we did not reach before nightfall. B… resided at some distance from the agglomeration. His home, surrounded by a rather large garden, was preceded by three other cottages in a row. The opposite side of the road showed only the virgin prairie, continuing out of sight over the valleys and hills, and only frequented by cattle.

Before we had reached the fourth house, plaintive cries struck our ears. We soon recognized the voice of a woman, distraught, tearful, exposed to barbaric treatment from an employer. The twilight that still reigned allowed us to see a slave attached to one of the posts of the gallery. The butcher, with a strong arm wielding a thick leather strap, was striking the victim on the back and loins, with a sort of wild pleasure. This slave was Amanda.

— "Master, she exclaimed, mercy, mercy! I've not offended you. I'll do what you will order me; I will be alert, I will be thorough. I will keep your household, I will milk your cows, I will not take any rest, but do not ask me more.

"On the farm where I was born, she added with a bitter regret expression — as the butcher, perhaps tired of hitting, stopped, to consider the girl — on the farm where I was born, I have never been asked but to do my job. I was the companion of Miss Emily; she confided to me all her thoughts; she would have me share all her feelings. It was she who taught me to read, and who fed my heart with the precepts of religion. She is a Christian, she is pious; aren't her duties also mine?"

Pleading or proud, Amanda was finding in her new master but a fierce soul and an unbending will. In vain she tried to reach to him, to interest him in her misfortune. To no avail she invoked the reasons of justice, or at least those of humanity. She was frightened, she said, of the results of an early motherhood, of which so and so, whom she quoted by name, had perished.

— "I am your master, rudely interrupted the butcher, I leased you, I have paid your owner for you, and now is not the time to escape."

— "Master, still added the girl, clasping her hands, I will settle everything in your house, I will watch over all, I will be dedicated to you. You will see that you can rely on the vigilance and selflessness of Amanda. You are alone, often absent: you will find when you return cleanliness, order and elegance. Your cattle stray or languish for lack of care, I will be diligent to monitor them. Your almost abandoned garden is full of weeds: I will rise before daybreak, in the moonlight, to cut them off. Comfort and prosperity will reign in your home. Ask me my arms, my sweat, my work, but that's all I can give you."

"Come on, said the butcher impatiently, raising his belt, if this correction is not enough for you, tomorrow, for a dollar, the sheriff will give for you a better one on your naked flesh, in the courtyard of the prison. You want to resist, and yet you know that it's the law.[5]"

— "I don't know that it's the law, Amanda replied with perfect candor. That is not as Miss Emily taught me. She would not allow you to put your hands on her, as you did on me."

— "But Miss Emily is not a slave like you", replied the butcher, chuckling.

— "Does this make me have less honor?" quickly replied the girl, with a movement of sublime indignation.

And dropping her head in her hands, she broke out into tears.

And so the butcher slowly untied her from the post to which she was attached; he studied her again very carefully, and went without a word inside the house.

This loud scene had not gone unnoticed by the nearby residents. But isn't the brutal supremacy of the master over the slave now customary? It is the law, it is usual; who would think of intervening? Does it not happen to us in Europe to pass by a house where the head of the family castigates his wife or children? "That's the butcher punishing his slave", said nonchalantly a big boy of eighteen or twenty years of age, after having listened for a moment, while returning to his home. He saw in that but the law of the ruler.

Rev. Jasper was of a different opinion. He held that every human being is to be free, and that it is a crime to disgrace a woman, irrespective of the arbitrary condition assigned to her by the law of the strongest. He jumped out of the carriage and promptly going round the wattle, he was soon behind the wooden cabin who served as a kitchen, in which the poor slave had entered. He called Amanda softly. Unknown to the girl, having no title to his trust other than a present sent by William, he had to offer her salvation through escape - an escape that the candid slave still regarded as a criminal act, as an insurmountable difficulty for a woman; fleeing, a new thought, terrible, to which he had no time to bring her by degrees. I will not relate that conversation, of which I was not a witness. The narrative the missionary later told me, would always be below its reality. It was, in the soul of Amanda, an inner struggle, which resulted in burning wordson the one hand the attachment to those who had brought her up, the fear to disobey them or hurt them, and on the other hand the fright of her new situation, her delicacy as a woman, the affectionate memory of William. It was an emotional struggle, terrible, between acquired feelings and ideas instilled by nature. Minutes seemed like hours. I had brought my horse at fifty metres of the wattle, where I stood motionless in the saddle,my left foot clear of its stirrup. I expected at any moment to see the light of firing pistols, to hear the screams of the dying. Suddenly the slender form of a woman, agile as a Diana, leapt over the fence, I felt the saddle tilt abruptly, a nervous and tense arm grabbed me at the neck, and my horse started galloping in the virgin prairie.

I brought Amanda to the meeting of the blacks. Eight or ten slaves, one of whom was William, left that night.

In addition to the first aid they had received from the Reverend Jasper, I had committed to facilitate their travel to some distance from their plantations. I came very close to being prevented as early as the next day. While crossing a hamlet named Mac Govan's, consisting of four or five houses, I found all in turmoil in the area. A troop of mounted rangers, that is, of farmers and sons of farmers, armed for the protection of their property of slaves, had arrested a traveling merchant. They had taken him off his car. The inhabitants of the hamlet had come out with their rifles, and already an ominous rope was hanging off the first branches of an old pecan tree under which they had dragged, rather than led, the stranger.

— "You were in Smithville yesterday", shouted a voice.

— "No, citizens, no, replied the traveler, I was not in Smithville yesterday, and I've never been there. I am not coming from there, I'm headed there. I would have got there today, if you had not stopped me."

— "You are the Methodist preacher who's made slaves escape."

— "I am not a Methodist preacher, nor minister of any sect or religion. I sell my lace, my corsets, my cosmetics;my clients are of the ladies of the plantations, I do not tamper with negroes[6]."

— "So that's it, shouted a middle-aged man who had just arrived at a gallop, it's that yesterday, despite the law, you gave some brandy to one of my blacks."

— "My carriage had broken. Your negro, returning from the livestock, helped me fix it. He was hot; he saw me drinking from a flask and asked me to put his lips. I was weak enough to consent."

— "He should be fined for that!" shouted several voices.

— "A fine is not enough, said a very young man, who spoke with an unsuitable assurance for his age, and whom I heard referred to by the name of Anthony. The traveler was in Smithville yesterday; it was he who asked for the butcher's house."

— "I keep telling you, on the basis of the most solemn oaths, that yesterday I was eight leagues from here, up the river. I visited several plantations, their inhabitants could attest."

"Did you not go to Von Lenz's property?"

— "Yes sir, I went there, and I sold them some ribbon."

— "He went to Von Lenz's, he admits, shouted several voices all at once; it's him, he is the preacher, the man who gives weapons to the runaways."

— "I have no other weapons, said the merchant, than those which I use to defend myself."

Two men had already run to the carriage, and they brought back two revolvers. — "Two pistols for his defense! two pistols, said the crowd, this is suspect."

— "And this newspaper?" Anthony continued, who seemed to assign himself the role of chief accuser.

— "This paper is the Knoxville American. I'm from Tennessee, I live in Knoxville; this is an old newspaper which I used to wrap a package."

— "Listen, friends, said the young planter, listen to the maxims of this inflammatory leaf, “Tennessee, whatever we do, will stand for the Union. The secret intrigues of a few ambitious, who want to destroy the non-slaver and remain sole masters of the political field, in order to trample the multitude under their feet, these will be foiled.” You heard, gentlemen; they describe as ambition your sacred desire of independence; you are told to hold good for the Union, this union that we have broken. He is a propagandist, an emissary, it was he who organized the escape of last night. And what fate deserves he who has just deprived you of your property, by deception and trick?"

— "Let's hang him!" said several voices, with anger.

— "Hang him indeed, continued the accuser. If he is not the instigator of the crime, at the very least he extends his sympathies to the criminals. Let's hang him like a damned black republican puppy…"

— "Fellow citizens, the traveler paused again, with pale face and haggard eyes, I beg you, do not judge on a few deceptive appearances. My state, Tennessee, is also a slaver state. I spent all my life among the planters, and I've always respected their rights. I never tamper in the affairs of negroes. My business is legitimate and serious. I challenge you to find someone who saw me yesterday in Smithville. Chance alone led me down this road in a moment of defiance. I protest my innocence in the name of all that is sacred to you."

I realized at that moment, what is terrible in the situation of a stranger, taken, at the corner of a wood, by irritated country folk who are both judges and accusers. I heard the merchant, following the American expression, "pleading for his life". This made me think of our calls of à la lanterne[7] and of the vengeances of our revolutions. But there was, in this scene, nothing that excuse the errors of our great popular uprisings. There was neither the participation of the tumultuous multitude, nor the memories of a long oppression, nor the impact of a deadly struggle, nor the sight of the victims and their bloodstained clothes. No, it was profit alone, bare profit, which, in a group of some twenty wealthy men, excited, without vigour, passion and cruelty.

The reader, to appreciate the danger that threatened the peddler, must visualize the isolation of the scene. The hamlets are distant from one another by several leagues. The news of what took place in one often takes several days to reach the other. The few inhabitants take part together to a similar act of vengeance, and all have an interest in veiling its details. Judges are distant and indifferent; the police is non-existant. Civil servants also are devoted body and soul to serving the rich. They would justify the homicide rather than pursue its actors. Let us recall the spectacle, under the French Second Bourbon Restoration, of the excesses of the Trestaillons and of the White Terror, and these excesses are transported in a country hardly populated, in the solitudes, removed, so to speak, from the world.

Back to my meeting of the previous day, I measured the extent of the dangers the Reverend Jasper exposed himself daily. I could not help but to honor his dedication, his selflessness, his courage. Being careful not to jeopardize him, I tried to exonerate the merchant.

— "I too was as at Von Lenz's yesterday, I said loudly, stepping forward, and I was able to see the gentleman coming from up the river. In the evening, I could see, for quite some time, his carriage ahead of mine in the meadow, headed toward the Black Creek. It is not possible that he have gone all the way to Smithville."

— "I did not set foot, I swear to you, fellow citizens, shouted once more the accused, taking courage. Take me into the city, confront me with the locals: you will see if I am deceiving you."

— "We do not have time to run to Smithville for a poor devil of a hawker, said with an air of grandeur a tall slender gentleman who wore a scarf, a saber and a lone star[8]. It is enough, my friends, he continued, turning to the small group assembled, it is sufficient that the identity of the traveler not be proven. He is a dangerous man, a Unionist, that's obvious. But that he participated in the escape of runaways, and whether he is the Methodist preacher who has been seen yesterday in Smithville, we are not sure. Are you quite decided, he continued, turning to the merchant, are you decided, if we let you go, to leave Texas on the spot and by the shortest route, with no roundabout way, without speaking to either a black nor to a white person?"

— "Very well, said the traveler, who felt relieved of a terrible burden."

— "Are you willing to sign a forfeit of ten thousand dollars, much more than you have, the speaker says by resuming a tone of contempt, for paying ten thousand dollars if you ever set foot in the state again?"

— "I agree, I'll sign, replied the merchant."

— "In addition, further added the speaker, we retain as compensation for the time we lost, your horse, your car, and your junk. All will be sold Monday, to the highest bidder, for the benefit of the fund of my company."

— "Right! right! the young people laughed, throwing mocking glances at the poor merchant. That's the way, Captain Keen", the voices kept saying.

— "Now, pay attention, my boys, further continued the captain. On with catching the runaways! Providence, I hope, has good luck in store for us; there are good catches to make: the band is bold, and those of it are worth good money. Do not kill unnecessarily, but fifty lashes, removing good strips of meat from the ribs, will be a valuable example for the next."

The riders parted. Those who belonged to the expedition took to the mountains, while the inhabitants of the neighboring plantations calmly returned home. I saw the poor merchant walk away slowly, thoughtful and sad, disgusted probably in his soul of such injustice, and become an abolitionist if he was not before. What thoughts must have caused, indeed, despotism and the rigors of slave masters! and what kind of social order that could not survive one hour without this violence and terror!

I had promised to assist the runaway slaves, and in the hope of meeting them, I cut through the most deserted and wildest parts of the countryside. I arrived one evening at the edge of a small rugged river, which flows between limestone rocks, resembling ruined castles and dismantled citadels. This white belt of rock walls has earned the stream the name of Rio Blanco. I was hoping to cross the plateau faster by ascending to the source of the river. Oak forests, of a dark color, which contrasted with the bright edge of the water, seemed to continue at any distance. It was therefore not without astonishment, nor without some kind of pleasure that I came across, at the head of water of the Blanco river, an isolated farm, the remotest oasis of the county.

I found, at the settler's, milk, fruits, and the first comfort which no home ever lacks. I made use of his kind hospitality. He had been established in those mountains for five years, surrounded only by his family, growing some corn, and busy in the care of his flock. I spent the evening with his household, and the sky threatening us with a storm, I agreed to sleep under his roof.

It was a little after midnight. The rain drove with violence and the storm had definitely started, when we heard a loud noise in the entrance room. Dogs were throwing half muffled barks. The heavy steps of several men resounded on the pine wood floor. — "Some bread, gentleman, bread! cried several voices; we will pay, but we are starving and we have no time to lose."

One can easily imagine that this sudden burst in the middle of the night, in the isolation of this countryside, first threw a stir among the family of the settler. This one got up on the spot, and without even taking the time to dress, lit the elegant lantern that is adorned in the Far West of the name of lamp.

In the midst of our large common bedroom, divided by curtains in huge alcoves, stood eight men, armed with revolvers and knives. All ages, all degrees of color, all races of Africa, all types of physical or moral development were represented in this small band. As to attest that there is no man who remains insensitive to the freedom and exercise of his natural rights, one found among the fugitives specimens of so-called inferior races: negroes of skin mixed with yellow, with woolly and highly frizzy hair, a flattish nose, and pendulous lips.

These were the runaways who had just entered the ranch. I immediately recognized William. His clothes, despite the difficulties of the run, still retained traces of some sophistication and it was easy to see that he had been brought up in the interior of the house. His companions looked like a bunch of devils. I examined carefully the group before my eyes; I was looking for Amanda… when lightning suddenly shining through the outer darkness, allowed me to distinguish in the courtyard, beneath the window, the shape of a motionless horse and that of a woman who was wrapped against heavy weather.

The leader of the band renewed his requests with a resolute tone, and by glinting his weapons.

— "What to do? " said the settler, who feared that I denounce him to the planters. He did not have slaves, his personal interests were not in question; by himself, he would not have made difficulty of giving in to the demands of the blacks. Moreover, without being philanthropist or abolitionist, all he was noticing at this time the usefulness of gaining the favors of the dangerous guests. Who knows? Perhaps he would gladly take a revenge, with a secret pleasure, of the terror which the masters posed to the country. But the presence of a witness threw him into a painful perplexity.

— "Is it possible to refuse such an insistant request ?" I offered, to put him at ease.

Thereupon, the settler delivered without further hesitation the requested staples. Each black man was equipped with a large bag or a piece of cotton, each one tied in there the objects that were assigned to him in the sharing, and loaded this wallet on his back with a stick.

As soon as it was day, my host told his eldest son to go down the river and carry to the planter who serves as constable, his statement of justification. This young man was about to saddle up, when a troop of horsemen appeared in front of the house. These were the Rangers of Captain Keen in pursuit of the negro deserters.

— "Have you seen the runaways in your area?" the commander hollered from afar.

The farmer, at these words penetrated by an obvious fear, and pressing with emphasis on the situation of force majeure in which he had found himself, began a rambling account of the events of the previous night. He stretched himself in protestations of dedication to the established order, declared himself in favor of the secession of the Southern States, and pleaded the perpetuity of slavery, an institution which he proclaimed, following the motto of the masters, a true blessing for his country.

The rangers, not allowing themselves to be entirely fooled by this act of platitude, were satisfied with the spirit of submission of my host. They questioned him amicably, with the simple desire of more specific information. In receiving from his mouth the description of a dark mulatto, "That's Father's negro!" exclaimed the young Anthony, the accuser of the peddler. "We bought him in Galveston for two thousand dollars. The rascal has never served us well. A thousand times my father ordered me to give him the leathers, which I made sure to season with pepper or salt.[9] Recently, he'd fallen into religion and had established himself a Methodist preacher. On Sundays, after I'd given moral instruction to the negroes of the plantation, he began to teach catechism to his comrades, and the black rascals liked his ignorant speeches better than the rhetoric that I've studied in college. If we get to catch him, I put him out of commission for at least six months."

— "What about the woman, someone asked the settler, is she still with them?"

— "I did not see any woman", said this one in perfect good faith.

— "That's a shame; that was your business, Anthony, added the same rider, addressing the young man who had just spoken. You've been wanting to raise some whites for quite some time."

— "Yes, said Anthony, we wish to raise some whites at home. We have just one beautiful mulatto, a pretty woman, well built, but she is sterile. My father and I now despair of seeing her bear child.[10]"

These last words, of which I softened the rawness in translation, were pronounced with the ease and composure that the young man would have used for talking about his mares or his cows. And yet he was not inaccessible to generous feelings; he was capable of warm and devoted friendships, and I heard him talk about his mother warmly.

Who would have not caught himself regretting, at that moment, the fatal error of education, which leads this youth in a revolting and cruel way? In view of these alerts rangers, vigorous, passionate, — endowed with all the resources of war and industry: education, money, choice horses, accurate weapons — who would not have deplored the use which they were making of their strength and of their superiority? Social classes yield, just like individuals, to the influence of a monomania. Fair, enlightened, reasonable on everything else, they throw themselves in a strange bias when you tackle the dangerous subject. All their principles of fairness, religion, morality, are reversed in the blink of an eye. The common ideas of human rights, virtue, conscience, no longer apply to the object of this singular hallucination. And, an even more inexplicable phenomenon! even those who indulge in this moral monomania have a mind so accurate on everything else, their judgment so healthy and so sound, that they never fail to grasp, in others, the slightest trace of some other mental weakness.

The horsemen, without stopping longer than was necessary, took the road indicated by the settler. One of them, walking in front, was following closely, on the ground and in the trampled grass, the tracks of the deserters. Although my direction was different, I was able to see for long those rangers, walking behind their expert guide. At intervals they stopped, made a few detours, returning on their steps, but I could conclude from their movements and their paces that each time they finished by finding the lost trail. The ground, wet by the storm, had kept the traces of the night.

In the end, I went down a ravine, where I lost sight of the riders. I remained attentive to the slightest noise throughout the day and several times I imagined hearing a distant shooting engagement. But by placing the ear to the ground, I caught nothing in particular. Hope came back to me. The negroes had taken to the river, they were not ignorant that they would be followed, that they had to erase their footsteps. The Rio Blanco has little water, and flows on a solid bed. The fugitives will have walked in the water for a few hours, and the rangers, losing their traces, will have been unable to discover the place where they will have exited.

I never learned besides that this troop of runaways had been arrested. Amanda and William must be free, right now, anywhere in the territory of Mexico. I went back to San Antonio, and after a month of rest, I left, at the beginning of August for a second geological field expedition, which was to take me to the Rio Pecos.

But I had hardly gone fifty leagues that I was called back abruptly. The political state of the country was getting more serious each day; trade was devastated by the blockade, and any kind of business was suspended. I once again returned to my little house in the countryside. The Indians, bolder still, were plundering farms, the Union flag in hand. From all sides, there was talk of murders, arson, depredations; and the settlers of the frontier were requesting in vain, of the Confederate government, the occupation of formerly kept forts by the troops of the United States.

However, they eventually sent us a few volunteers. But what protection to expect from them? An Alsatian, a father, a good man, well thought of in his county, resided in the vicinity of Fort Clarke [sic]. His unionist opinions were known. An artillery detachment, under the command of Captain Teel[11] and Lieutenant Braden, both of San Antonio, arrived to keep a garrison at the fort. No sooner were they settled, these chance officers came to the farm with some of their worthy subordinates. They called the Alsatian at the wattles, offered him a drink from a bottle of brandy, and while the unsuspecting immigrant brought his lips to this chalice of perfidy, the officers and soldiers stunned him with the butt end of their axes. Then, dragging him by the hair under the eyes of his family in tears, they hung the corpse to a tree in the garden. I do justice to the strong claims of the French consular agent, Mr. H. Guilbeau,[12] but neither he nor his government have yet been able to obtain anything.[13]

In September, one of my neighbors saw abduct from his pastures (ranges) a herd of horses of great value. He immediately organized a pursuit of the reds, which, pushed promptly and properly conducted, should lead to the recovery of the animals. His despair moved me, his cries: "My horses! my horses! "Persistently repeated, determined me to accompany his small expedition. As the primary concerned party, the stripped settler, Mr. Harris, had instituted himself commander, which title was ratified with one common voice! In his company we were seven men, well armed, supplied with staples, but very unequally mounted.

By dusk, we saw for the first time some Indians. They were three men on foot, who, as soon as they had recognized us, began to flee to the other side of a ravine. Fire! Fire! shouted the commander. It was clear that the poor reds thought only of running away as their legs would. Fire nevertheless! fire on the fugitives, for fear of being deemed a coward! I pointed to the stars of the Big Dipper, which had began to appear in the sky, and each apparently did some astronomy, because there was no blood spilled there.

After this evening skirmish, we had to spend the night under arms. "My horses. my horses!" Harris kept repeating. Our solemn start at daybreak had a belligerent appearance; the Americans believed themselves invincible. Soon we were all surprised to see, at gun range, the Indian camp. They had with them their tents, their wives of war,[14] and the stolen horses. The captain of the seven men was posing as a Marshal Bugeaud attacking the Smala of Abd al-Kadir. I do not know if he had meditated a battle in two flanks, but it was a battle of simpletons. The charge we gave was worthy of Don Quixote. The dobbins were of very unequal strength, two riders ran in front, three came behind, and three at the back. The Indians stood firm, they greeted us with their war cry, which is impossible to write down, and greeted with gunfire the isolated attackers. There were people around me on the ground, injured horses that rolled on themselves. Yet I emptied my revolver to the last bullet, then looking up I saw Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. I was left with turning back, without any more ado, just like all the others. The men who had lost their horses had jumped on the crupper of those who had kept theirs. The retreat, as inept as the attack, was carried out in two separate bands, but thank God, the Indians did not move. We gave one of those runs called "or let the rider die," running or death. We went eight miles without looking back. In the final tally, Captain Harris and another of our companions were killed, three were wounded, and all hope was lost recover the herd.

A few days later, I learned of the massacre of the courrier from California and of all the escort along with him, at Cook's Spring. The trunk now stopped at Camp Hudson, beyond El Paso: we were cut off from Santa Fe and San Francisco. The residents of my valley, after having tried to abandon some of the houses, in order to group themselves in the other ones that they turned into blockhouses, began to watch their situation as hopeless. In consensus, a definitive exodus was decided.

We are done: we must go, leaving homes, livestock, countryside, beloved hills; we must return to the wild that comes from the wild, leave these fields where three times we entrusted corn to the soil, leaving this place where we were the first settlers. Over there, I have tasted so many new emotions; and there, I've spent free time in the untouched wilderness and the great scenes that animate it. Every hill, every valley brought back memories. I went back to see the land where I pitched my tent in 1859, when I had arrived as the first inhabitant of the county. I picked the flowers that decorated my flowerbeds. I silently bid farewell to my pets, loyal companions of my solitude, raised mostly by myself.

I took away with me only the most necessary items. I was forced to abandon on the shelves the publications of New York, which I had regularly received under the authority of the Union. With regret, I gave up packing my collection of rocks and fossils of the secondary and tertiary terrains, which comprised specimens collected from the Brazos to the Rio Grande. The weight of those items was disproportionate to my means of transportation.

A feeling of deep sadness gripped my heart when, after putting my bags in my car, I gave the fatal starting lash, leaving these fields that I would not see again. I was deeply humiliated by the defeat of civilization and of its works. I joined in silence the departing caravan. It was a long, slow convoy of ox-carts, cluttered with furniture, cooking pots, farm implements, and — as an introduction — women and children. Here and there appeared a light carriage, laden with any more delicate chests, containing, to all appearance, valuables, and guarded with the same zeal than the tabernacle of the Hebrews.

The men are armed to the teeth. Women cry at the top of their carts. Everyone goes headlong, and all are probably never to return. Sad reward for our efforts and our courage! Just like at the death of the great Saladin, the herald can shout: "Here is all that remains of so many conquests."

What follows is a touching panorama, of broad brush strokes, of which the impresario, armed with his baton, needs to explain to the public the principal subjects: — We are crossing the valleys of San Miguel and of the Atascosa. Up above this small steep cliff, the cottage that hides in the middle of the cedar trees was the grocery store of the county. You can still read on the sign this inscription which looks like a challenge to the desert: Groceries!!! The three exclamation marks are (or at least were) there. — Here is the pretty Romeo stream — flat, with sandbanks — and its small Mexican hamlet. Señora Marta, the señorita Guadalupe, Señora Rosalia, the señorita Concepcion, wearing their dresses of bright cotton — and shirtless — are engaged in lovely manual needleworks, sitting… do you have any idea? — you'll never guess — sitting in the river to enjoy the cool water. — Here is the Post Oaks Farm, where you will see the girl child who got scalped: a bald head, red, the veins of which stand out as an embossing. But physical pain is nothing compared to the price of moral ailment. The poor child sees nothing but ghosts, warriors, knives, poisoned arrows; she spurs her horse, she cries for her mother and her pitied mother cares for her. — This massive live oak cross, colorless, marks the recent burial of the shepherd. The ewes had returned in the evening without their master; people searched for a long time in the pristine countryside. The familiar voice of a dog signaled the location of the corpse, which bore no less than thirteen wounds. Good old Fanny had licked the cuts so thoroughly that there was not a drop of blood on the ground; she still often howls near the pit where she saw her master dropped, of which the soft soil bears the circular imprint of his body.

I passed through San Antonio, the aspect of which had changed dramatically. Most stores, once animated, crowded with buyers and cluttered with merchandise, had closed. A paper currency, depreciated by half, squandered foolishly as well as boundlessly, had removed from circulation all the coins. There was no talk but of the project of a mass uprising, which was to call indiscriminately, under the flags of the South, every man capable of bearing arms. I arrived in Austin. Some friends pointed out to me the weakness of the scientific body in the high command of the secessionist army. Said they: "A member of a European Academy who has worked on the geodesy of his homeland would only need to wish to be included, with important epaulettes, among the confederate geographical engineers. Wouldn't the requisition, to which you will be submitted as a resident, although a foreigner, be a sufficient excuse to serve, in a special situation, a cause that you do not fully endorse?" — "I will cut off my right hand, I replied, before serving this cause. Let the requisitioning come: you can hunt me down as a refractory, or make me prisoner, but soldier for the planters… never."

  1. Only the first of these correspondences reached its destination. It was published in the Revue Trimestrielle of July 1, 1861.
  2. Translator's note: The original French text has "le Bulletin des Lois"; the real name of the original publication remains to be retrieved.
  3. Edge of the Indian territory.
  4. This name is a pseudonym or nom de guerre. I will make known later the true name of this courageous missionary, who is still in Texas, exposed to the wrath and vengeance of the planters.
  5. The rights of the master are transmitted along with the herd.
  6. To "tamper with negroes" is a crime punishable by law.
  7. Translator's note: "To the lamp post!" See "À la lanterne" on Wikipedia.
  8. A single star, distinct sign of the secessionists.
  9. Mean masters like to rub the wounds produced by the whip with pepper, salt, or scalding ashes.
  10. "Father and me could not get her with child."
  11. Translator's note: That would be Trevanion Theodore Teel, see his entry at the Texas State Historical Association's web site.
  12. Translator's note: San Antonio had a pro tem mayor in 1841, named Francis Guilbeau; this may be totally unrelated.
  13. As of late, Teel got a promotion.
  14. The Indian has a special woman to go to war, a woman whose tastes are belligerent, and who does not fear the smell of gunpowder.