Mexico and its Religion
by Robert A. Wilson
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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five, by


In the Clerk's Office for the Southern District of New York.




Are Respectfully Dedicated.


The custom of mingling together historical events with the incidents of travel, of amusement with instruction, is rather a Spanish than American practice; and in adopting it, I must crave the indulgence of those of my readers who read only for instruction, as well as of those who read only for amusement.

The evidence that I have adduced to prove that the yellow fever is not an American, but an African disease, imported in slave-ships, and periodically renewed from those cargoes of human rottenness and putrefaction, I hope will be duly considered.

The picture of inner convent life, and the inimitable gambling scene in the convent of San Francis, I have not dared to present on my own responsibility, nor even that of the old English black-letter edition of Friar Thomas, but I have reproduced it from the expurgated Spanish edition, which has passed the censors, and must therefore be considered official.

I have presumed to follow the great Las Casas, who called all the historians of the Conquest of Mexico liars; and though his labored refutation of their fictions has disappeared, yet, fortunately, the natural evidences of their untruth still remain. Having before me the surveys and the levels of our own engineers, I have presumed to doubt that water ever ran up hill, that navigable canals were ever fed by "back water," that pyramids (teocalli) could rest on a foundation of soft earth, that a canal twelve feet broad by twelve feet deep, mostly below the water level, was ever dug by Indians with their rude implements, that gardens ever floated in mud, or that brigantines ever sailed in a salt marsh, or even that 100,000 men ever entered the mud-built city of Mexico by a narrow causeway in the morning, and after fighting all day returned by the same path at night to their camp, or that so large a besieging army as 150,000 men could be supported in a salt-marsh valley, surrounded by high mountains.

In answer to the question why such fables have so long passed for history, I have the ready answer, that the Inquisition controlled every printing-office in Spain and her colonies, and its censors took good care that nothing should be printed against the fair fame of so good a Christian as Cortez, who had painted upon his banner an image of the Immaculate Virgin, and had bestowed upon her a large portion of his robbery; who had gratified the national taste for holy wars by writing one of the finest of Spanish romances of history; who had induced the Emperor to overlook his crime of levying war without a royal license by the bestowal of rich presents and rich provinces; so that, by the favor of the Emperor and the favor of the Inquisition, a filibustero, whose atrocities surpassed those of every other on record, has come down to us as a Christian hero.

The innumerable little things about their Indian mounds force the conviction on the experienced eye of an American traveler that the Aztecs were a horde of North American savages, who had precipitated themselves first upon the table-land, and afterward, like the Goths from the table-lands of Spain, extended their conquests over the expiring civilization of the coast country; and this idea is confirmed by the fact that the magnificent Toltec monuments of a remote antiquity, discovered in the tropical forests, were apparently unknown to the Aztecs. The conquest of Mexico, like our conquest of California, was in itself a small affair; but both being immediately followed by extensive discoveries of the precious metals, Mexico rose as rapidly into opulence as San Francisco has in our day.

The evidence that I have presented of the inexhaustible supplies of silver in Northern Mexico, near the route of our proposed Pacific Railroad, may be interesting to legislators. These masses of silver lie as undisturbed by their present owners as did the Mexican discoveries of gold in California before the American conquest, from the inertness of the local population, and the want of facilities of communication with the city of Mexico.

The notion that the Mormons are destined to overrun Mexico is, of course, only an inference drawn from the exact parallel that exists between the circumstances under which this delusion has arisen and propagated itself and the history of Mohammedanism from its rise until it overran the degenerated Christians of the Eastern empire.

From want of space, I have been obliged to omit much valuable original matter procured for me by officers of government at the palace of Mexico, to whom, for the kind attention that I have upon all occasions received from them, I heartily return my most sincere thanks.


Rochester, September 1st, 1855.



Arrival at Vera Cruz.—Its appearance from the Steamer.—Getting Ashore.—Within the City.—Throwing Stones at an Image.—Antiquity of Vera Cruz.—Its Commerce.—The great Norther of 1852.—A little Steamer rides out the Tempest.—The Vomito, or Yellow Fever.—Ravages of the Vomito.—The Vomito brought from Africa in Slave-ships.—A curious old Book.—Our Monk arrives at Vera Cruz, and what befalls him there.—Life in a Convent.—A nice young Prior.—Our Monk finds himself in another World 15


An historical Sketch.—Truth seldom spoken of Santa Anna.—Santa Anna's early Life.—Causes of the Revolution.—The Virgin Mary's Approval of King Ferdinand.—The Inquisition imprisons the Vice-King.—Santa Anna enters the King's Army.—The plan of Iguala.—The War of the two Virgins.—Santa Anna pronounces for Independence 30


Incidents of Travel.—The Great Road to the Interior.—Mexican Diligences.—The Priest was the first Passenger robbed.—The National Bridge.—A Conducta of Silver.—Our Monk visits Old Vera Cruz.—They grant to the Indians forty Years of Indulgence in return for their Hospitality.—The Artist among Robbers.—Mexican Scholars in the United States.—Encerro 39


Jalapa.—The extraordinary Beauty and Fertility of this Spot.—Jalap, Sarsaparilla, Myrtle, Vanilla, Cochineal, and Wood of Tobasco.—The charming Situation of Jalapa.—Its Flowers and its Fruits.—Magnificent Views.—The tradition that Jalapa was Paradise.—A speck of War.—The Marriage of a Heretic.—A gambling Scene in a Convent 52


The War of the Secret Political Societies of Mexico.—The Scotch and the York Free-Masons.—Anti-Masons.—Rival Classes compose Scotch Lodges.—The Yorkinos.—Men desert from the Scotch to the York Lodges.—Law to suppress Secret Societies.—The Escoces, or Scotch Masons, take up arms.—The Battle.—Their total Defeat 68


Mexico becomes an Empire.—Santa Anna deposes the Emperor.—He proclaims a Republic.—He pronounces against the Election of Pedraza, the second President.—His Situation in the Convent at Oajaca.—He captures the Spanish Armada.—And is made General of Division 73


In the Stage and out of the Stage.—Still climbing.—A moment's View of all the Kingdoms of the World.—Again in Obscurity.—The Maguey, or Century Plant.—The many uses of the Maguey.—The intoxicating juice of the Maguey.—Pulque.—Immense Consumption of Pulque.—City of Perote.—Castle of San Carlos de Perote.—Starlight upon the Table-land.—Tequisquita.—"The Bad Land."—A very old Beggar.—Arrive at Puebla 79


Pueblo.—The Miracle of the Angels.—A City of Priests.—Marianna in Bronze.—The Vega of Puebla.—First View of the Pyramid of Cholula.—Modern Additions to it.—The View from its Top.—Quetzalcoatl.—Cholula and Tlascala.—Cholula without the Poetry.—Indian Relics 88


A Ride to Popocatapetl.—The Village of Atlizco.—The old Man of Atlizco and the Inquisition.—A novel Mode of Escape.—An avenging Ghost.—The Vice-King Ravillagigedo.—The Court of the Vice-King and the Inquisition.—Ascent of Popocatapetl.—How a Party perished by Night.—The Crater and the House in it.—Descent into the Crater.—The Interior.—The Workmen in the Volcano.—The View from Popocatapetl.—The first White that climbed Popocatapetl.—The Story of Corchado.—Corchado converts the Volcano into a Sulphur-mine 101


Texas.—Battle of Madina.—First Introduction of Americans into Texas.—Usurpation of Bustamente.—Texas owed no Allegiance to the Usurper.—The good Faith of the United States in the Acquisition of Louisiana and Texas.—Santa Anna pronounces against Bustamente.—Santa Anna in Texas.—A Mexican's Denunciation of the Texan War.—His Idea of our Revolution.—He complains of our grasping Spirit.—The right of the United States to occupy unsettled Territory.—A few more Pronunciamientos of Santa Anna.—The Adventures of Santa Anna to the present Date. 113


From Puebla to Mexico.—The Dread of Robbers.—The Escort.—Tlascala.—The Exaggerations of Cortez and Bernal Diaz.—The Truth about Tlascala.—The Advantages of Tlascala to Cortez.—Who was Bernal Diaz.—Who wrote his History.—First View of Mexico. 122


Acapulco.—The Advantages of a Western Voyage to India.—The great annual Fair of Acapulco.—The Village and Harbor of Acapulco.—The War of Santa Anna and Alvarez.—The Retreat.—Traveling alone and unarmed.—The Peregrino Pass.—Quiricua and Cretinism.—Chilpanzingo.—An ill-clad Judge.—Iguala.—Alpayaca.—Cuarnavaca. 132


California.—Pearl Fisheries.—Missions.—Indian Marriages.—Villages.—Precious Metals.—The Conquest of California compared with that of Mexico.—Upper California under the Spaniards.—Mexican Conquest of California in 1825.—The March.—The Conquest.—California under the Mexicans.—American Conquest.—Sinews of foreign Wars.—A Protestant and religious War.—Early Settlers compared.—Mexico in the Heyday of Prosperity.—Rich Costume of the Women.—Superstitious Worship.—When I first saw California.—Lawyers without Laws.—A primitive Court.—A Territorial Judge in San Francisco.—Mistaken Philanthropy.—Mexican Side of the Picture.—Great Alms.—City of Mexico overwhelmed by a Water-spout.—The Superiority of Californians. 142


First Sight of the Valley of Mexico.—A Venice in a mountain Valley.—An Emperor waiting his Murderers.—Cortez mowing down unarmed Indians.—A new kind of Piety.—Capture of an Emperor.—Torturing an Emperor to Death.—The Children paying the Penalty of their Fathers' Crimes.—The Aztecs and other Indians.—The Difference is in the Historians.—The Superstitions of the Indians.—The Valley of Mexico.—An American Survey of the Valley.—A topographical View.—The Ponds Chalco, Xochimulco, and Tezcuco were never Lakes. 167


The Two Valleys.—The lake with a leaky Bottom.—The Water could not have been higher.—Nor could the Lagunas or Ponds have been much deeper.—The Brigantines only flat-bottomed Boats.—The Causeway Canals fix the size of the Brigantines.—The Street Canals.—Stagnant Water unfit for Canals.—The probable Dimensions of the City Canals.—Difficulties of disproving a Fiction.—A Dike or Levee.—The Canal of Huehuetoca.—The Map of Cortez.—Wise Provision of Providence.—The Fiction about the numerous Cities in and about the Lake 176


The Chinampas or Water Gardens.—Laws of Nature not set aside.—Mud will not float.—The present Chinampas.—They never could have been floating Gardens.—Relations of the Chinampas to the ancient State of the Lake in the Valley 186


The gambling Festival of San Augustine.—Suppressed by Government.—The Losses of the Saint by the Suppression of Gambling.—How Travelers live in the Interior.—A Visit to the Palace 192


Visit to Contreras and San Angel.—The End of a brave Soldier.—A Place of Skulls.—A New England Dinner.—An Adventure with Robbers—doubtful.—Reasons for revisiting Mexico.—The Battle at the Mountain of Crosses.—A peculiar Variety of the Cactus.—Three Men gibbeted for robbing a Bishop.—A Court upon Horseback.—The retreat of Cortez to Otumba.—A venerable Cypress Grove.—Unexpectedly comfortable Quarters.—An English Dinner at Tezcuco.—Pleasures unknown to the Kings of Tezcuco.—Relics of Tezcuco.—The Appearance of the Virgin Mary at Tezcuco.—The Causeways of Mexico 196


The Streets of Tacuba.—The Spaniards and the Indian Women.—The Retreat of Cortez.—The Aqueducts of Mexico.—The English and American Burying-grounds.—The Protestant President.—The rival Virgins.—An Image out of Favor.—The Aztecs and the Spaniards 208


The Paseo at Evening.—Ride to Chapultepec.—The old Cypresses of Chapultepec.—The Capture of Chapultepec.—Molina del Rey.—Tacubaya.—Don Manuel Escandon.—The Tobacco Monopoly.—The Palace of Escandon.—The "Desierto."—Hermits.—Monks in the Conflict with Satan.—Our Lady of Carmel 219


Walk to Guadalupe.—Our Embassador kneeling to the Host.—An Embassador with, and one without Lace.—First sight of Santa Anna.—Indian Dance in Church.—Juan Diego not Saint Thomas.—The Miracle proved at Rome.—The Story of Juan Diego.—The holy Well of Guadalupe.—The Temple of the Virgin.—Public Worship interdicted by the Archbishop.—Refuses to revoke his Interdict.—He fled to Guadalupe and took Sanctuary.—Refused to leave the Altar.—The Arrest at the Altar 229


The old Indian City of Mexico.—The Mosques.—Probable Extent of Civilization.—Aztecs acquired Arts of the Toltecs.—Toltec Civilization, ancient and original.—The Pyramid of Papantla.—The Plunder of Civilization.—Mexico as described by Cortez.—Montezuma's Court.—The eight Months that Cortez held Montezuma.—What happened for the next ten Months.—The Siege of Mexico by Cortez.—Aztecs conquered by Famine and Thirst.—Heroes on Paper and Victories without Bloodshed.—Cortez and Morgan 242


The new City of Mexico.—The Discoveries of Gold.—Ruins at Mexico.—The Monks, and what Cortez gained by his Piety.—The City of Mexico again rebuilt.—The City under Ravillagigedo.—The National Palace.—The Cathedral.—A whole Museum turned Saints.—All kneel together.—The San Carlos Academy of Arts.—Reign of Carlos III.—The Mineria 259


The National Museum.—Marianna and Cortez.—The small Value of this Collection.—The Botanic Garden.—The Market of Santa Anna.—The Acordada Prison.—The unfortunate Prisoner.—The Causes of that Night of Terror.—The Sacking of the City.—The Parian.—The Causes of the Ruin of the Parian.—Change in the Standard of Color.—The Ashes of Cortez 271


The Priests gainers by the Independence.—Improved Condition of the Peons.—Mexican Mechanics.—The Oppression they suffer.—Low state of the Mechanic Arts.—The Story of the Portress.—Charity of the Poor.—The Whites not superior to Meztizos.—License and Woman's Rights at Mexico.—The probable Future of Mexico.—Mormonism impending over Mexico.—Mormonism and Mohammedanism 280


The Plaza of the Inquisition.—The two Modes of human Sacrifice, the Aztec and the Spanish.—Threefold Power of the Inquisition.—Visit to the House of the Inquisition.—The Prison and Place of Torture.—The Story of William Lamport.—The little and the big Auto da Fe.—The Inquisition the real Government.—Ruin of Spanish Nationality.—The political Uses of theInquisition.—Political Causes of the Bigotry of Philip II.—His eldest Son dies mysteriously.—The Dominion of Priests continues tillthe French Invasion 292


Miracles and Earthquakes.—The Saints in Times of Ignorance.—The Eruption of Jorullo.—The Curse of the Capuchins.—The Consequences of the Curse.—The unfulfilled Curse.—The Population of the Republic.—Depopulation from 1810 to 1840.—The Mixture of Whites and Indians not prolific.—The pure Indians.—The Meztizos.—The White Population.—Negroes and Zambos.—The Jew and the Law of Generation.—The same Law applies to Cattle.—It governs the Generation of Plants.—Intemperance and Generation.—Meztizo Plants short-lived.—Mexico can not be resuscitated.—She can not recover her Northern Provinces 304


The Church of Mexico.—Its present Condition and Power.—The Number of the "Religios."—The Wealth of the Church.—The Money-power of the Church.—The Power of Assassination.—Educating the People robs the Priest.—Making and adoring Images.—The Progress downward 319


Causes that have diminished the Religios—The Provincials and Superiors of Convents.—The perfect Organization.—The Monks.—San Franciscans.—Dominicans.—Carmelites.—The well-reputed Orders.—The Jesuits.—The Nuns.—How Novices are procured.—Contrasted with a Quaker Prison.—The poor deluded Nun.—A good old Quaker Woman not a Saint.—Protestantism felt in Mexico 330


The Necessity of large Capitals in Mexico.—The Finances and Revenue.—The impoverished Creditors of the State.—Princely Wealth of Individuals 348


Visit to Pachuca and Real del Monte.—Otumba and Tulanzingo.—The grand Canal of Huehuetoca.—The Silver Mines of Pachuca.—Hakal Silver Mines.—Real del Monte Mines.—The Anglo-Mexican Mining Fever.—My Equipment to descend a Mine.—The great Steam-pump.—Descending the great Shaft.—Galleries and Veins of Ore.—Among the Miners one thousand Feet under Ground.—The Barrel Process of refining Silver.—Another refining Establishment 352


A Visit to the Refining-mills.—The Falls and basaltic Columns of Regla.—How a Title is acquired to Silver Mines.—The Story of Peter Terreros, Count of Regla.—The most successful of Miners.—Silver obtained by fusing the Ore.—Silver "benefited" upon the Patio.—The Tester of the Patio.—The chemical Processes employed.—The Heirs of the Count of Regla.—The Ruin caused by Civil War.—The History of the English Company 362


Toluca.—Queretaro, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas.—Fresnillo.—"Romancing."—A lucky Priest.—San Luis Potosi.—The Valenciana at Guanajuato.—Under-mining.—A Name of Blasphemy.—The Los Rayas.—Immense Sums taken from Los Rayas.—Warlike Indians in Zacatecas. 372


Sonora and Sonora Land Speculators seeking Annexation.—Sonora and its Attractions.—The Abundance and Purity of Silver in Sonora.—Silver found in large Masses.—The Jesus Maria, Refugio, and Eulalia Mines.—A Creation of Silver at Arizpa.—The Pacific Railroad.—Sonora now valueless for want of personal Security.—The Hopes of replenishing the Spanish Finances from Sonora blasted by War.—Report of the Mineria.—Sonora.—Chihuahua 382


A. Mineria Report on the Mineral Riches of Sonora 391

B. Report on the Mineral Riches of Chihuahua 398

C. Report on the Mineral Riches of Coahuila 400

D. Report on the Mineral Riches of Lower California 402

E. The Remains of Cortez 405



Arrival at Vera Cruz.—Its appearance from the Steamer.—Getting Ashore.—Within the City.—Throwing Stones at an Image.—Antiquity of Vera Cruz.—Its Commerce.—The great Norther of 1852.—A little Steamer rides out the Tempest.—The Vomito, or Yellow Fever.—Ravages of the Vomito.—The Vomito brought from Africa in Slave-ships.—A curious old Book.—Our Monk arrives at Vera Cruz, and what befalls him there.—Life in a Convent.—A nice young Prior.—Our Monk finds himself in another World.

It was a stormy evening in the month of November, 1853, when the noble steamship Texas cast anchor in the open roadstead of Vera Cruz, under the lee of the low island on which stands the famous fortress of San Juan de Ulua. Hard by lay a British vessel ready to steam out into the teeth of the storm, as soon as the officers should receive from us a budget of newspapers. We were too late to obtain a permit to land that evening, so that we lay tossing at our anchors all night, and until the sun and the shore-boats appeared together on the morning following.


The finest view of Vera Cruz is from the harbor; and the best time to look upon it is when a bright sun, just risen above a watery horizon, is reflected back from the antiquated domes and houses, which are visible above the old massive city wall.

Soon we were in one of the canoes alongside, and were quickly transported to the mole, on which we landed, among bales of cotton and bundles of freight that encumbered it. The iron gate of the city was now opened, and we passed through it, mixed up in the crowd of bare-footed "cargadores" or porters, who were carrying upon their backs bales of cotton, and depositing them in various piles in front of the custom-house. How quietly and quickly these cargadores do their work! and what great power of muscle they have acquired by long application at this laborious calling!

What a contrast does this city present to New Orleans, which we had left only four days before! Instead of the noise and bustle of a commercial emporium, all here is as quiet and as cleanly as a church-yard. Even the chiming of bells for the dying and the dead, which so incessantly disturbs the living by night and day in the season of the "vomito" or yellow fever, is no longer heard, for it is the healthy season—the season of "Northers." The only noise is the little bells upon the necks of the donkeys, that are carrying about kegs of water for family use. The chain-gang have completed their morning task of cleansing the streets and gutters, and as they are led away to their breakfast, a clank now and then of their chain reminds the traveler that crime has been as busy here as in more bustling cities. Morning mass is over, and bonnetless women of low and high degree are returning to their homes; some wearing mantillas of satin, black and shining as their raven hair, which are pinned by a jeweled pin upon the top of their heads; others, more modern in their tastes, sport India shawls; while the common class still cling to the "rebosa," which they so ingeniously twirl around their heads and chests as to include in its narrow folds their arms, and all above the waist except the face. Priests appear in black gowns, and fur hats with such ample brims that they lap and are fastened together upon the top of their heads. The armed patrol, in dirty cotton uniforms, and soldiers in broadcloth, are returning from morning muster; for in this hot climate the burden of the day's duties is discharged before breakfast. Under the arches (portales), and in the open market-place, men and women are driving a brisk trade, in the most quiet way, in meats, and vegetables, and huxter's wares. Nature has denied to the butcher of hot climates the privilege of salting meat, but he makes amends for this defect by cutting his tough beef into strips, which he rubs over with salt, and offers to sell to you by the yard. Vera Cruz is now as venerable a looking town as when I was here before, although the houses, and the plastered walls, and tops of the stone churches seem to have had a new coating of Spanish white within a few months. But the malaria from the swamps in the time of the vomito, or the salt atmosphere driven upon it by the Northers, soon replaces the familiar dingy hue. The battered face of the stone image, at the side of the deserted church, has received a few more bruises since I was last here; for the marriageable young misses still most religiously believe that a stone thrown by a fair hand that shall hit the image full in the face, will obtain for the thrower a husband, and an advantageous settlement for life. This is a small city, or the poor image could not have endured this kind of bruising for two hundred years.

The first Spaniard that landed here was Grijalva,[1] in 1518, in a trading expedition fitted out by Valasquez, Governor of Cuba. He was so successful in his traffic with the natives, as to obtain, in exchange for a few trinkets, $14,000 worth of gold dust. His success so encouraged Valasquez, that he fitted out a much larger expedition the following year, the command of which he gave to Hernando Cortez, of whom we shall have occasion to speak more at large hereafter. Cortez, at first, landed on the island of Ulua, in front of the site of the present city. But when he commenced his conquest he transported his boats to the mouth of the river Antigua, where he founded his intended city, a little way below the place where the national bridge now stands, and gave it the name of the Rich City of the True Cross (Villa Rica de Vera Cruz); and there it was where he destroyed his little vessels. Ninety years after the conquest of Mexico, the Marquis De Monterey removed the port back to Ulua, and founded the present city of Vera Cruz. It was at first built of wood, but having been several times burned down, it was at length built of its present material—a porous stone full of animal remains, obtained from the bottom of the harbor. This stone, when laid in and covered over with cement, forms a very durable building-material. The castle, which stands upon the island of Ulua, is now fast going to decay.


As a fortification it is no longer of great value,[2] although it is computed that more than $16,000,000 was expended in its erection. In fact, its only present practical advantage is derived from the light-house which stands upon one of its towers.

This town, although it has been the terror of seafaring men for the last three hundred years, has, for a like period of time, enjoyed an enviable commerce. Nearly three-fourths of all the silver that has been shipped to Europe from America during that long period has been sent from this port, besides the other productions of the country, such as cochineal, vanilla, wood of Tobasco, sarsaparilla, and jalap. To all this we must add that all the trade of Spain with Japan, China, and the Philipine Islands, was carried across Mexico from Acapulco, on the Pacific, to be shipped from Vera Cruz to Spain. During the long period we have named, this was the only port on the Atlantic side where foreign commerce was allowed; and this was restricted to Spain alone, and to a single fleet of merchant ships that came and went annually, until about fifty years before the Mexican independence, when free commerce was allowed with all the Spanish world. From a history of the commerce of Vera Cruz, just published at Mexico, I find that its annual average did not vary greatly from $12,000,000 importations against $18,000,000 exportations. The extra $6,000,000 being about the annual average of the royal revenue derived from New Spain, as this country was then called. Silver constituted the bulk of this $18,000,000, both in weight and in value. During the last fifty years of Spanish dominion, this commerce, extended, as we have said, to all Spanish possessions, was monopolized by a company of merchants styled the Consulado of Vera Cruz. Under the management of this company it averaged as high as $22,000,000. The revolution broke up this monopoly, and almost annihilated the commerce of this port, but it rapidly revived after the Spaniards were driven out of the castle, and from this time it has gone on increasing, until now it amounts to $26,000,000; the imports and exports being equal, as there is now no King's revenue. This commerce is now carried on principally with the United States, since the establishment of a line of steamers to New Orleans. The most important article of importation is raw cotton, for the supply of the great manufactories in the interior of Mexico. The silver goes principally to England, and is drawn again in favor of the cotton purchaser. There is also a large import trade in agricultural implements, steam-machinery for the sugar-mills and the silver mines, besides heavy importation of silks and wines from France and Spain. With this hasty notice we are compelled to quit a subject which is the theme of a most interesting volume.


The first time I saw Vera Cruz was during the great Norther of 1852. I was then returning homeward from the city of Mexico. A fierce Norther was blowing, and the harbor was filled with shipping that could not bear up against such a tornado. I stood among the anxious multitude, watching the symptoms of the rising storm. We looked intently at the heavens as they gathered blackness, and saw far off toward the horizon the clouds and the waves mingling together into one great vaporous mass. Now and then we were tantalized by brief intervals of bright skies; but they were again quickly overcast and shrouded in by more intense darkness, while the temperature fell to a degree of chilliness unusual in this latitude. The howling of the wind was terrific. Where we stood we were near enough to see, or at least to catch glimpses of what was taking place on board the shipping. All extra anchors that could be got out were soon thrown into the sea. But to little purpose; for a coral bottom is but a poor holding-ground in a Norther. One after another the vessels began to drag toward the shore; and even the castle itself seemed at times as though it would be torn from its rocky foundations and dashed upon the town, so violent was the tempest. The terror of those on land was hardly describable as they saw the shipping dragging around toward apparent destruction to both vessels and crews. Now and then a vessel held a little by some new obstacle that the anchor had caught hold of, but soon the resistance gave way, and then it moved on again, approaching the shore, whither all now were tending, except a few that occupied a good holding-ground in the lee of the castle and island. All did not drag at once, or drag together; but one by one their power of endurance gave out, and one by one they came dragging on, when they had no longer any help, and little hope, if the storm continued. "It can not last long," the spectators would mutter, rather in hope than expectation, for the only chance for the safety of the vessels was in the lulling of the tempest. Yet it did continue against the constant predictions of all, and momentarily increased in violence. Hope seemed to give way to despair as vessel after vessel approached the land; and as they were dashed into pieces men held their breath, while the hardy seamen were struggling in the waves toward the beach. One staunch vessel, without cargo, was carried broadside on, and her crew leaped out of her, and ran off in safety. Many single shipwrecks have caused greater destruction of property, and immensely greater loss of life; but here was the individual struggle of each separate mariner, made in the very sight of those who could render no assistance, but must stand idle spectators. Here strong swimmers were rendered powerless by the tempest, and were perishing from exhaustion in vain efforts to swim ashore.

From this scene of disaster we turned to look back upon a more equal contest going on between two of the elements: a small steamer—a little crazy thing, it seemed, almost ready to be blown to pieces; but it was gallantly facing the tempest, and riding out bravely against the combined force of wind and waves. But she mounted the waves, one after another, without any difficulty, though held by but a single anchor, as the strain on her cable was eased away by the action of her paddle-wheels, which were kept in motion by an engine of the smallest class ever put into a river boat. This was said to be the most violent Norther that had visited Vera Cruz in a century. It destroyed sixteen vessels, and caused the loss of thirteen lives; and yet so small an amount of steam-power was fully able to bear up against the dreaded fury of a Norther, and to insure the safety of the vessel.


Vera Cruz, like almost every other Spanish American seaport town, has its traditional tales of the horrors committed by the buccaneers, or filibusters. The history of the buccaneers, their origin, their fearful exploits of blood, the terror that their name even now inspires in the minds of all Spanish Americans, are too well known to demand a repetition here, though we may give the substance of their story, by saying that they had their origin in a laudable effort to avenge the gross wrongs inflicted by the Spaniards upon the honest traders of other nations, while trafficking with the native inhabitants of America, within the region which the Pope, as the representative of the Almighty, had bestowed upon the King of Spain, to conquer and subdue for the benefit of the Church. Elizabeth of England raised the question of the validity of the title of the King of Spain derived from so questionable a source, and insisted that he had no rights in America beyond those acquired by discovery, followed up by possession. But the King of Spain was too good a Catholic to have his right called in question, and when a heretic ship was caught among the West Indies, the avarice of priests and officials, and their holy horror at the approach of heresy to these regions, were exhibited in their dealings with the cargo and the unhappy crew. The inhuman treatment that the Spaniards inflicted upon honest traders aroused men to reprisals; and all ships venturing into these seas went fully armed. Private war was the natural consequence of Spanish cruelty and injustice; and the superior prowess of the Dutch and English soon made sad havoc with the plunder which the Spaniards had wrung from the natives for a hundred years and more.

The filibusters finally degenerated into pirates and robbers, and the treasure ships ("galleons") of Spain, and the towns upon her American coasts, were the victims of their depredations. The fury of the buccaneers was mainly directed against the monks, and when they sacked a town, they never failed to pay an especial visitation to the convents. When Vera Cruz was sacked they showed their contempt for the clergy by compelling the monks and nuns to carry the plunder of the town to their private boats; thereby grieving these "holy men" most of all, if we may believe the old chronicles, because they could have no share in the rich plunder loaded upon their own backs.

The second day after our arrival in Vera Cruz a fellow-passenger, who had been sick all the voyage, died of the yellow fever, which he had contracted at New Orleans, or on the Mississippi; which was probably the first time that a person ever died in Vera Cruz of vomito that had been contracted in the United States.


This is a fitting place to speak of this disease and of its ravages, which we witnessed before leaving New Orleans. It was the time for the frosts to make their appearance when I left New York, and with the expectation of seeing the ground covered with this antidote to the fever, crowds were returning from the north, though the marks of the pestilence were still visible along our route. It had followed the main stream of travel far northward, and now, as we ventured upon its track, it seemed like traversing the valley of the shadow of death. Terror had committed greater ravages than the pestilence; the villages and cities on our route were half deserted; stagnation was visible in all commercial places; and when we reached New Orleans this strange state of things was doubly intensified: it looked more like a city of the dead, or a city depopulated, than the emporium of the Mississippi valley. A stranger might have supposed that a great funeral service had just been performed, in which all of the inhabitants remaining in town had acted the part of mourners. The city itself had been so thoroughly cleansed, that it might challenge comparison with one of the most cleanly villages of Holland, while its footways seemed almost too pure to be trod upon. Nothing appears half so gloomy as such a place when deserted of its principal inhabitants.

This disease was unknown in America until the opening of the African slave-trade. It is an African disease, intensified and aggravated by the rottenness and filthy habits of the human cargoes that brought it to America. It was entirely unknown at Vera Cruz until brought there in the slave-ship of 1699.[3] In like manner it was carried to all the West India islands. When the negro insurrection in San Domingo drove the white population into exile, the disease was carried by the immigrants to all the cities of the United States, and even to the most healthy localities in the interior of Massachusetts. Old people still remember when New York was so completely deserted that its principal streets were boarded up, and watchmen went their rounds of silent streets by day as well as by night. The fever of the present year can be traced directly to this accursed traffic. Slaves had been smuggled into Rio Janeiro, who brought the disease in its most virulent form from Africa. In that city it was carrying its hundreds to the grave, when a vessel cleared for New Orleans, having the disease on board. This vessel disseminated it in the upper wards of the city, while at the same time there arrived from Cuba another vessel which, from a like cause, had caught the vomito at Havana, and from this second vessel the disease was disseminated in the lower wards of New Orleans. It was the meeting of these two independent currents of the fever in the centre of the city, on Canal Street, that caused that fatal day on which three hundred victims went to their long homes. Such were the fruits of this offspring of an inhuman trade in a single city, in a single day.


I learn from the preface of a book in the Spanish language, which I purchased at Mexico, entitled "The Voyages of Thomas Page," that a Dominican monk of that name, the brother of the Royalist Governor of Oxford under Charles I., was smuggled into Mexico by his Dominican brethren, against the King's order, which prohibited the entry of Englishmen into that country. As a missionary monk he resided in Mexico, or New Spain, as it was then called, eighteen years. On his return to England he published an account of the country which he visited, under the title of "A Survey of the West Indies." This being the first and last book ever written by a resident of New Spain that had not been submitted to the most rigid censorship by the Inquisition, it produced so profound a sensation, that, by order of the great Colbert, French Minister of State, it was expurgated and translated into French by an Irish Catholic of the name of O'Neil. From this expurgated French edition the Spanish copy now before me was translated. From this Spanish edition I had made the several translations that are found in this, and the following chapters. I have since found a black letter copy of the original, printed at London, in 1677; but I have concluded to use the translations, as furnishing a more official character to the picture therein drawn of the grossly immoral state of the clergy, and of the religious orders. As it is from actual observation, and has the sanction of the censorship, it must be of more value to my readers than any account of personal observations that I might write. This is my apology for copying the most interesting portions of a long forgotten book.

"When we came to land," says our author, "we saw all the inhabitants of the city (Vera Cruz) had congregated in the Plaza (public square) to receive us. The communities of monks were also there, each one preceded by a large crucifix. The Dominicans, the San Franciscans, the Mercedarios, and the Jesuits, in order to conduct the Virey (the Viceroy) of Mexico as far as the Cathedral. The Jesuits and friars from the ships leaped upon the shore more expeditiously than did the Virey, the Marquis Seralvo, and his wife. Many of them (the monks) on stepping on shore kissed it, considering that it was a holy cause that brought them here—the conversion of the Indians, who had before adored and sacrificed to demons; others kneeled down and gave thanks to the Virgin Mary and other saints of their devotion, and then all the monks hastened to incorporate themselves with their respective orders in the place in which they severally stood. The procession, as soon as formed, directed itself to the Cathedral, where the consecrated wafer[4] was exposed upon the high altar, and to which all kneeled as they entered.... The services ended, the Virey was conducted to his lodgings by the first Alcalde, the magistrates of the town, and judges, who had descended from the capitol to receive him, besides the soldiers of the garrison and the ships. Those of the religious orders who had just arrived were conducted to their respective convents, crosses, as before, being carried at the head of each community. Friar John presented (us) his missionaries to the Prior of the Convent of San Domingo, who received us kindly, and directed sweetmeats to be given to us, and also there was given to each of us a cup of that Indian beverage which the Indians call chocolate.

"This first little act of kindness was only a prelude to a greater one. That is to say, it was the introduction to a sumptuous dinner, composed of flesh and fish of every description, in which there was no lack of turkeys and capons. All set out with the intent of manifesting to us the abundance of the country, and not for the purpose of worldly ostentation.


"The Prior of Vera Cruz was neither old nor severe, as the men selected to govern communities of youthful religious are accustomed to be. On the contrary, he was in the flower of his age, and had all the manner of a joyful and diverting youth. His fathership, as they told us, had acquired the priory by means of a gift of a thousand ducats, which he had sent to the Father Provincial. After dinner he invited some of us to visit his cell, and there it was we came to know the levity of his life. It exhibited little of the appearance of a life of penance and self-mortification. We expected to find in the habitation of a prelate of such an establishment a most magnificent library, which would furnish an index of his learning and of his taste for letters. But we saw nothing more than a dozen old books lying in a corner, and covered with dust and cobwebs, as if they had hid themselves for shame at the neglect with which the treasures they contained had been treated, and that a guitar should be preferred to them.

"The cell of the Prior was richly tapestried and adorned with feathers of birds of Michoacan; the walls were hung with various pictures of merit; rich rugs of silk covered the tables; porcelain of China filled the cupboards and sideboards; and there were vases and bowls containing preserved fruits and most delicate sweetmeats. Our enthusiastic companions did not fail to be scandalized at such an exhibition, which they looked upon as a manifestation of worldly vanity, so foreign to the poverty of a begging friar. But those among us that had sailed from Spain with the intent of living at their ease, and of enjoying the pleasures which riches would produce, exulted at the sight of such great opulence, and they desired to establish themselves in a country where they could so quickly win fortunes so secure and abundant.[5] The holy Prior talked to us only of his ancestry, of his good parts, of the influence which he had with the Father Provincial, of the love which the principal ladies and the wives of the richest merchants manifested to him, of his beautiful voice, of his consummate skill in music. In fact, that we might not doubt him in this last particular, he took the guitar and sung a sonnet which he had composed to a certain Amaryllis. This was a new scandal to our newly-arrived religious, which afflicted some of them to see such libertinage in a prelate, who ought, on the contrary, to have set an example of penance and self-mortification, and should shine like a mirror in his conduct and words.

"When we had satiated our ears with the delicacy of music, our eyes with the beauty of such rich stuffs of cotton, of silk, and of feathers, then our reverend Prior directed us to take from his dispensaries a prodigious quantity of every species of dainties to allure the taste or satisfy the appetite. Truly we seemed in another world, by being transported from Europe to America. Our senses had been changed from what they had been the night and day before, while listening to the hoarse sounds of the mariners, when the abyss of the sea was at our feet, and when we drank fetid water, and inhaled the stench of pitch. In the Prior's cell of the Convent of Vera Cruz, we listened to a melodious voice accompanied with an harmonious instrument, we saw treasures and riches, we ate exquisite confectioneries, we breathed amber and musk, with which he had perfumed his sirups and conserves. O, that delicious Prior!"

[1] Apuntes Historicos de Vera Cruz, p. 102.

[2] Esterior Comercio de Mexico. M. M. Lerdo de Tegido. Mexico, 1853.

[3] Apuntes Historicos de Vera Cruz, p. 129.

[4] Called, in the Spanish translation, "The most holy Sacrament;" but in the English original, "The bread God."

[5] These missionary monks were on their way to Manilla and the Spanish East Indies by the road across Mexico.


An historical Sketch.—Truth seldom spoken of Santa Anna.—Santa Anna's early Life.—Causes of the Revolution.—The Virgin Mary's Approval of King Ferdinand.—The Inquisition imprisons the Vice-King.—Santa Anna enters the King's Army.—The plan of Iguala.—The War of the two Virgins.—Santa Anna pronounces for Independence.

Before commencing our journey to the interior, we must break the thread of our narrative by a brief biographical sketch: for this town is the birth-place, and here began the public career of that man whose life has become the history of his country. With him the Mexican Republic began, and with him it has been terminated. In 1822 he was first to proclaim a Republic in the Plaza of Vera Cruz; and when I stood in the Plaza of the city of Mexico, in the winter of 1854, I heard him proclaimed absolute ruler of a state which had already ceased to be a Republic. This was not the first time that he had been raised to absolute authority in Mexico, but the third time that this had occurred in his checkered career—a career that resembles more the vicissitudes in the life of a hero of Spanish romance than the memoirs of a living politician.


Santa Anna is a man of whom the truth has seldom been spoken; for no man can raise himself from a humble position to be the embodiment of all the powers of the state without creating a host of enemies; nor can a man be long in possession of absolute authority without raising up a tribe of flatterers. To the one, he is every thing that is shocking to humanity; while to the other he is the perfection of all the moral qualities. This scurrilous manner in which all political discussions are carried on in Mexico, has always furnished a ready apology for the suppression of liberty of speech, and for the enforcement of the Mexican law of ostracism in turn by every party in power.

As we Americans have nothing to hope from his friendship, and nothing to fear from the displeasure of Santa Anna, we are able to take a correct view of his character from the records, and to affirm that he is neither a saint, as represented by one party, nor a monster, as represented by the other; and as greatness is a comparative term, and goodness is often used in a comparative sense, we may also add that he is the first of Mexican statesmen, and as good as the best of his rivals. He has suffered unnumbered and overwhelming defeats, which have so exhibited his recuperative talents as to attract the admiration of foreigners. Other aspirants have risen to popular favor, and then fallen, one after the other, and have disappeared. But Santa Anna's falls have ever been a prelude to his rising again to a greater elevation; and there is no point of elevation to which he has risen from which he has not been ignominiously hurled. He is a politician whose course reminds us of a skillful swimmer in the breakers; half the time he rides the waves and half the time he is submerged, yet never sinks so deep but that he rises again to the surface. When Santa Anna is in authority the fickle multitude cry out against him, and when he is in exile no suffering innocent can compare with him; and the books that at such times sell best in Mexico are those that vindicate his past career. Of such a man something must be said, and to render that something intelligible, a brief account of the social and political changes of his times must be rendered.

Santa Anna was born at Vera Cruz, in the year 1796, in the most prosperous era of the colonial government of the vice-kingdom of New Spain, while Ravillagigedo was Virey. The new and liberal code, regulating mines and mining, was yielding its legitimate fruits in the immensely increased production of silver and gold, while the newly-granted privilege of unrestricted trade with Spain and her other colonies was followed by considerable shipments of grain from the table-lands of Mexico to the West India Islands. The profound peace that had reigned uninterruptedly for two hundred and seventy-five years was still unbroken. Not a word of disloyalty was breathed; while the Inquisition of Mexico watched with the utmost care for the least appearance of rebellion against God or the king. Such was the religious and political stagnation at the time Santa Anna was born; and so it continued for the first twelve years of his life. But his youth was not to be passed in a period of national repose.


It was the year 1808 that the news arrived in Mexico of the imprisonment of Charles IV. and Ferdinand VII., the dotard and simpleton who then disputed the Spanish throne, and who had rendered themselves the laughing stock of all Europe by going, each one in person, to advocate his side of a family quarrel before a common enemy, the French Emperor, by whom both had thus been caught like mice in a cage, and compelled to abdicate. At this news a feeling of indignation ran through the vice-kingdom, while all Europe laughed at the strange combination of knave and fool exhibited in the characters of the two Spanish kings. The people of New Spain saw in them only the guardians of the Church in the power of the infidels, and at once forgot the unnatural crimes of their two kings. They thought only of their piety, and with joy the news was carried throughout New Spain, that one of their previous kings had consecrated his imprisonment to embroidering a petticoat for the Virgin Mary; and when this announcement was followed by another, a little more apocryphal, that the most holy image had, by a nod, signified her acceptance of the present, there could no longer be a doubt of his title of Most Catholic King, which might from that time onward be interpreted Most Catholic Mantua-maker. The world might now laugh at him, and hold him up to ridicule. All its ridicule mattered nothing to the Mexicans. It made no difference to them. To revere the king and render him a blind obedience was at all times a part of their religion. Whether either of the two were fit to be kings was not a question for the people to determine; and if the Virgin Mary had not nodded her approval, the solution of this question of competency would still be reserved for the tribunals of God and the Inquisition. It was sufficient for the people to know that both father and son had been compelled to abdicate, and that they no longer were kings of Spain, and that the brother of the French Emperor occupied the vacant throne, which the Inquisition had associated, in their superstition, with the throne of God itself. God and the king were inseparable words in the mouth of a citizen of New Spain, and he that dared to separate them was thought worthy of Inquisitorial fires. They owed the same reverence which the Aztecs rendered to their emperor before the conquest.

Next to God and the king was the vice-king. Yet they had seen their beloved viceroy, Iturrigaray, deposed by a conspiracy of Spanish shop-keepers, which had organized itself in that focus of Mexican trade, the Parian. All this was bewildering to the nation. All New Spain was astonished to see a power sufficiently potent to arrest the vice-king emanate from such a quarter. And not only had they witnessed this, but they had also seen this same officer, whose person was so sacred in their eyes, cast into the prison of the Inquisition among "heretics, and accursed of God, and despised of Christian men," because he had not discriminated in favor of the Spanish-born in his appeal to the patriotism of the people.

Before they had escaped from this bewildering of all their ideas of government, they were suddenly called upon to take sides in a war of races that had sprung up in determining the question, who constituted the people, among the divers races that composed the population of Mexico? The Cortes of Spain had just proclaimed the sovereignty of the people. But who were the people? The solution of this question excited one of the most cruel and envenomed wars on record. The handful of whites who had been born in Spain, and who enjoyed a monopoly of the lucrative offices in Church and in State, as well as a monopoly in trade, claimed it as their exclusive privilege to be considered the people, and they it was who imprisoned the vice-king, because he appeared to have more enlarged views than themselves. The Creoles, as those of pure white blood born in America are called, who were excluded from all places of honor or profit, held the balance of power, and it was doubtful for a long time to which side the Creole soldiers would incline. But they were not long in suspense; for when fired upon by an undisciplined rabble, rather than an army, of Indians, they returned the fire, and there, in sight of the city of Mexico, settled the character of a contest which was, from that time forward, to shake the whole social organization of the vice-kingdom—in which plantations were destroyed, and villages and cities sacked and burned, and the most unheard-of cruelties practiced by one party or the other on the defenseless, until the final triumph of the Creole, or white troops, in the time of the viceroy, Apaduer, over the insurgents, composed chiefly of Indians and those of mixed blood.


While this war was raging in all its fury, Santa Anna arrived at an age to choose an occupation for life; and with the ardor of youth he entered the king's service as a Creole officer, a cadet in the Fijo de Vera Cruz. In this fratricidal war he soon distinguished himself by that activity in the performance of the duties of a subaltern which, in more mature years, distinguished him as a leader and a politician. He was at that time in the unhappy dilemma of every man born in Spanish America; he was compelled to choose between two evils—either to join the king's cause, and fight for the Spaniards who oppressed his country, or to run the hazard of seeing re-enacted in Mexico the bloody tragedy of San Domingo, if the colored races should conquer in a contest with the Spaniards. A few Creoles had chosen the side of the insurgents; but they were few; as the Spanish cause could not have been sustained for a day, if it had not been for the want of confidence in the leaders of the insurrection. But it was not in contests with his own countrymen that Santa Anna first won distinction; it was in a battle with the filibustering invaders while yet Mexico was a colony of Spain: it was in the bloody battle of the river Madina, in Texas, where an army of three thousand men (according to Mexican accounts), on their way to join the Mexican insurgents, were totally routed by Aridondo.

The zeal which Santa Anna continually exhibited in almost daily contests with guerillas outside of the walls of Vera Cruz, so long as the contest was confined to a war of races, soon won him distinction. But now he is called to play the part of a military politician; for when the news arrived in Mexico of the new constitutional revolution of 1820 in Spain itself, all the higher classes of society in the vice-kingdom were in terror. Ten years of bloodshed and civil disorder had been the fruits to Mexico of the first revolution of Spain—an insurrection that had not been effectually put down until Spain herself had returned to despotism, and now the newly-restored peace was threatened with a more bloody insurrection than the former, unless there was an entire separation of the two countries. Experience had fully demonstrated that the Spanish colonial system was compatible only with Spanish despotism. All native-born races desired to be free from the political disorders consequent upon the military revolutions of Spain herself. In this desire they were joined by that class who then ruled over the consciences of all men in Mexico, the clergy; for that powerful body preferred to sacrifice the allegiance they owed to the king, from whom they had received their preferments, rather than run the risk of losing their privileges.


That which was the thought of all Mexicans capable of thinking, was not long in receiving a definite shape and form. The pronunciamiento of Colonel Iturbide, at the city of Iguala, on the 24th of February 1821, united all the conflicting elements of Mexican society; for all could agree upon a plan that proposed a separation from Spain, while it gave guarantees to property, to the army, and to the church. Men who had been educated under the fatherly care of the Inquisition, had no idea of religious toleration; toleration for heresy was no part of their creed; nor had their long civil wars produced that alienation from the priesthood which had arisen from this cause in the other Spanish American states. One reason for this was that the first insurrection was headed by the parish priest, Hidalgo; and because the most prominent leaders in it were priests; while the watchword of the insurgents was, "Viva Our Lady of Guadalupe!" who is the patron saint of the colored races of Mexico. The insurrection of Iguala was entirely distinct in its character from the popular insurrection of 1810; for that was an insurrection of the oppressed races against the despotism that was grinding them in the dust. It was a peasant war; but the cry of Iguala rose from the soldiers of the government. It was the first of that long list of military insurrections that have afflicted Mexico. It was an insurrection of the Creole supporters of the government, and rendered the government powerless at once. Colonel Iturbide had distinguished himself, as a Creole soldier, by his courage, and by the cruelty which he exercised toward the first insurgents.

When an officer in the service of the king in the first insurrection obtained a victory, he went to make his offering, not at the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but at the shrine of the Virgin of Remedies, so that as long as the Spanish cause prospered, the shrine of Guadalupe remained in obscurity; but as soon, however, as Iturbide and the Creoles deserted the cause of the king and joined the national standard, the Lady of Guadalupe was made the national patroness, and the order of Guadalupe was established as the first and only order of the empire, while Our Lady of Remedies sank into obscurity. This gave occasion to an unbelieving Mexican to remark that the revolution was a war between the Blessed Virgins, and that she of Guadalupe had triumphed over her that had taken shelter in the plant.

As soon as the tidings of the plan of Iguala reached Vera Cruz, Santa Anna hastened to give in his adhesion to the cause now truly national, which guaranteed equal rights to all under the united leadership of Iturbide and of General Guerrero, the only remaining Creole leader of the first insurrection still in arms. On the 18th day of March, 1821, he was the first to proclaim the plan of Iguala in the Plaza of Vera Cruz. This promptness of Santa Anna in proclaiming the independence determined many who were hesitating in dread of a bombardment from Spanish forces in the Castle of San Juan de Ulua; and this important step it was which first brought him prominently into notice. As a consequence of this political movement, Santa Anna was appointed second in command in Vera Cruz.


Incidents of Travel.—The Great Road to the Interior.—Mexican Diligences.—The Priest was the first Passenger robbed.—The National Bridge.—A Conducta of Silver.—Our Monk visits Old Vera Cruz.—They grant to the Indians Forty Years of Indulgence in return for their Hospitality.—The Artist among Robbers.—Mexican Scholars in the United States.—Encerro.

A railroad eleven miles in length, crossing the morass, connects Vera Cruz with the great National Road to the table-land of the interior. The coach in which the journey to Mexico is made is placed on a railroad track and pushed on before a crazy locomotive, while behind the engine is a long line of freight wagons. At every cow-path that crossed our track stood a flagman waving his little red flag to the train as it passed, apparently in burlesque imitation of a regular road.


The famous National Bridge carries the National Road over the river Antigua, at the mouth of which, a little way below, Cortez built his Vera Cruz (Villa Rica de Vera Cruz), and where he caused his vessels to be sunk before commencing his expedition to the interior. Little has ever been known in our country of that magnificent whole, of which this and other bridges of solid masonry are but parts. The National Road of Mexico was conceived and executed by a company of merchants known as the Consulado of Vera Cruz. It is about ninety miles in length, and cost $3,000,000. From Vera Cruz it runs northward, often within sight of the Gulf, till it nearly reaches the Cerro Gordo, where it turns inland, and passing upward through that celebrated gorge to Jalapa, a distance of sixty miles from Vera Cruz, and at an elevation of 4264 feet above the sea; thence, for the remaining thirty miles, it is carried over the famous mountain, Perote, to the great table-land of Mexico. It is a work of extraordinary character for the period in which it was built, and the method of its construction; and reminds the traveler of a Roman road of antiquity, though no Roman road ever passed over a mountain 10,000 feet in height. The ruin into which it has fallen in many places during the last thirty years of civil war, serves to keep up the illusion, though it falls far short of those ancient roads in the material of which it is constructed, being of small rough stones, covered over with a durable cement.

The system of stage-coaches between Vera Cruz and Mexico is as nearly perfect as any system of traveling dependent on weather can be. Comfortable hotels are established at convenient distances along the road; and if the passenger desires it, he can have endorsed upon his ticket a permission to tarry upon the road as long as he may desire. Six, and sometimes eight horses drag the coach along at a hazardous speed. Twice, out of three times that I have passed over this road, I have been overturned. Once, while riding on the top, a heavy iron axle broke like a pipe-stem, throwing me off upon the rough stones, with the additional misfortune of having a heavy Frenchman fall upon me. But no bones were broken, and I still live to tell the story.

The neighborhood of the National Bridge is a favorite haunt of the knights of the road. Though very pious in their way, they have no scruples in relieving any priest who may fall into their hands of such worldly possessions as he happens to have about him. In fact, they seem to take a special delight in plundering these holy men, giving them the precedence in relieving their wants. Out of respect to the cloth, they omit the ceremony of searching, to which the other passengers are subjected; nor do they compel him to lie down like the others. But with mock solemnity a robber approaches the sacred personage, and dropping on one knee, presents his hat for alms, which the priest understands to be a reverential mode of demanding all the valuables that he carries about him: his reverence having been disposed of, the women are searched; afterward the men, one by one, are ordered to rise up to undergo a like ceremony; and, lastly, the baggage is ransacked, and then all are suffered to go on their way in peace, if no shots have been fired from the stage. In former times the robbers used to divide their plunder with the Virgin Mary, but now things are altered; the robber takes all, and even visits the churches occasionally, not to worship, but for plunder. If two or three priests take passage in a single coach, people shake their heads and say, "That coach will certainly be robbed;" and so it often happens.

The stage ordinarily passes this bridge in the night, when there is no opportunity to look at the magnificent scenery around. I saw it once by daylight; and long shall I remember the impression produced. I lingered about the spot to the last moment that "Jim," or as he is here called "San Diego," the driver, would permit. We reluctantly took our places in the coach, and when the hostler let slip the rope that held the heads of the leaders, our eight wild horses dashed off at a furious rate over a roughly paved road, to the no small disturbance of the reflections which such a spot awakens.

We tried to think of the stirring events that had here so often taken place in times of civil war, when Gomez practiced such cruelties in the name of liberty; when robberies and murders were committed here in broad daylight; when the frowning battery that crowns the cliff, stopped the passage of armies. But it was of no use to try to think; the wheels would strike fire upon the boulders lying in the road, tumbling us about until all romance and recollection were pounded out of us.

Gladly we halted at Plan del Rio to take a little chocolate and look at the ruins of a stone bridge blown up by gunpowder, while new horses were being brought out to drag us up the Cerro Gordo pass.

Here we met a small body of soldiers conducting eight freight wagons that carried loads of coined silver, and were drawn by twelve horses each, on their way to the coast—a common sight to the people of these parts, as was evident from the indifference with which they regarded such cargoes of money; yet it was calculated to make an American stare, though he had been accustomed to look upon treasures of California in her palmiest days. But a few millions in silver make a most imposing show.


Our monk, on his journey to this point, had kept along the shore, crossing the Antigua near its mouth, visiting old Vera Cruz. He thus describes what he there saw:

"The first Indians whom we encountered in our journey were at old Vera Cruz, which is on the sea-shore, where, as we have already said, the Spaniards first designed to establish themselves on undertaking the conquest of the country, but which they had to abandon on account of the little protection it afforded against the north winds. Here we began to note the power which the clergy and friars have among the poor Indians; how they rule them, and the respect and veneration which are paid them. The Prior of Vera Cruz having written, the morning of our departure, advertising them of the day of our arrival, he commanded them to come and receive us, and to serve us during our transit through their territory. The poor Indians obeyed with the greatest promptitude the orders of the Prior, and at a league from their village twenty of their principal men encountered us upon horseback, and handed a wreath of flowers to each one of us. Then they set out on their return in front of our caravan, and at a bow-shot distance, and in this manner we proceeded until we came up with others on foot, with trumpets and flutes, which were played very agreeably before our whole cavalcade. Those who had come out were the employees of the churches and the chiefs of the fraternities, all of whom presented us a garland of flowers. Then followed others—the priests' assistants, acolitos, and the young people of the choir, who went singing a Te Deum laudamus, until we arrived at the market-place. There is always a Plaza in the midst of the village, and here it was adorned by two great and most beautiful elms: between these there had been constructed an immense arbor, in which was a table covered with jars and dishes of conserves, and other kinds of sweetmeats and biscuits for eating with the chocolate. While they were preparing the chocolate, heating the water, and adding the sugar, the principal Indians and the authorities of the village came and knelt down, and kissed our hands, and gave us their address, saying that our arrival was a happy event for their country, and that they gave us a thousand thanks because we had left our native country, our parents, and our firesides, in order to go to regions so remote to labor for the salvation of souls; and that they honored us as gods upon earth, and as the apostles or Jesus Christ; and they said so many, many things, that only the chocolate put an end to their eloquence. We remained an hour, and manifested our gratification for the demonstration of affection and bounty with which they had favored us, assuring them that there was not any thing in the world more dear to us than their salvation, and that to procure it we had not feared to expose ourselves to all the perils with which we were threatened by sea and land; nor even the barbarous cruelty of other Indians who did not know the true God, in whose service we had resolved to sacrifice even life.

"With this we departed from them, making gifts to the chiefs of rosaries, medals, little metal crosses, 'the Lamb of God' (Agnus Dei), relics which we brought from Spain; and we conceded to each one forty years of indulgence, in virtue of the powers which we had received from the Pope for distributing them, where, when, and to whom we pleased. On our going out from the shade of the arbor for mounting our mules, we saw the market-place full of men and women on their knees, almost adoring us, and asking us to give them our blessing. We raised the hand on passing, and gave it to them by making the sign of the cross. The submission of the poor Indians, and the vanity excited by a reception so ceremonious, and with such public homage, turned the heads of our young friars, who began to believe themselves superior to the bishops of Europe; and even our illustrious superiors were not far from pride, but exhibited excessive haughtiness, now that they had seen their vanity flattered with such great acclamations in their sight as were lavished upon us that day, although we were only some simple friars. The flutes and the trumpets began to resound again at the head of our procession, and the chiefs of the people accompanied us as far as half a league, and afterward they retired to their homes."

Slowly has the stage been moving up the pass. The rattle of the wheels has ceased, the sun has made his appearance, and the awakened passengers are disposed to listen to tales of wild adventures. The loquacious are ready with an abundant supply. The best of these is the tale of "The Artist among the Robbers."


"Four years ago," began the artist who made some sketches for this work, "while I was making a pedestrian journey over this road, I seated myself, weak and hungry, upon a stone by the roadside, not a little tired of life and evil fortune. The remains of the yellow fever were still upon me, and only a single dollar burdened my pocket; for I did not learn, until too late, how poor a place for an artist from abroad is this country, where the San Carlos is creating the native article by scores. I had not sat long in my gloomy mood before I had company enough; for as I looked up I saw, trooping down the side of the hill, a band of men, who I thought would soon put an end to my troubles. I took the thing coolly, for I cared little for the result; and had I cared, there was no helping it now. So I patiently waited their arrival. To the questions of the only one who could talk English I answered briefly, as I supposed they would soon end my troubles. When I told him that I cared little if he did kill me, the whole party laughed uproariously. The leader now came up, and having searched me, found my story to be true. I then drew an outline of a picture with my pencil, and gave it to him. This so pleased him that he wrote me a memorandum, and with verbal directions as to the way I was to go if I wished for lodgings for the night, he bade me adieu, and the party disappeared up the side of the woody hill, and I set out on my journey."

The leagues were very long, but the landmarks were unmistakable; and without difficulty the artist reached the house and presented his paper to the old woman that appeared at the door. This paper procured him a good supper, and comfortable quarters for the night; for his fine open countenance and yellow hair seemed to have touched the heart of this old Mexican matron—a class of persons, by-the-way, who are the kindest mortals in the world. The good cheer disposed of, he gathered up his feet upon his mat for the night, and slept as men do who have nothing to fear from robbers. When in the morning he awoke, he found the old dame astir, preparing for him an early breakfast, which was of a quality unexpected in so unpretending a mansion. When breakfast was prepared, and after he had finished eating it, the old woman made him understand by signs that he was to go into the adjoining room and there replenish his dilapidated wardrobe. She supplied him with a new suit from head to heel, and then urged him to tie around his waist a small sheep's entrail filled with brandy, according to the custom of Mexican Indians. Thus had our transient friend had his inner and outer man supplied in this out-of-the-way hut, at the robbers' charges, after which, being shown the direction in which to reach the Jalapa road, he bade the kind old matron adios, and traveled on to Encerro with a lighter heart than he had borne the day before.


At Encerro we left four of our fellow-passengers. They were the son and three daughters of the widow who kept the inn. They had been through a full course of studies in one of the Roman Catholic boarding-schools in the United States, and were now returned, having fully mastered the English language—the great desideratum of the Spanish-American people, and one of the sources from which the Catholic schools and colleges in the United States derive their support.

What a beautiful spot is Encerro, the country residence of Santa Anna! It may not be as productive as his estate of Manga de Clavo, in the hot country, near Vera Cruz; but it is more salubrious and delightful. In the civil wars he had often made a stand here, and had learned to appreciate the beauty of the spot long before he was rich enough to make the purchase—for the pay received by officers of the highest rank in Mexico, is not sufficient to enable them to accumulate a fortune till far advanced in life. Politicians in Mexico, as in all other countries, are not unwilling to hazard their private fortunes in their political contests, and though the estates of the unsuccessful parties are not confiscated in a revolution, one reason may be that they are not ordinarily of great value.

The stage-coach has been forgotten in story-telling while slowly climbing up the pass, but as soon as we had overcome this impediment we started off again upon an unrepaired road, at our former neck-breaking speed, which we kept up until we reached Encerro, where for a little way we had an earthen road. Yet it was only a short breathing before we were upon the rough stones again. We had been gradually passing through different strata of atmosphere in our journey upward, the changes in the character of the vegetation kept pace with the change of the climate.

"Whose is that estate inclosed by such an antiquated looking stone wall?" I inquired, of a fellow-traveler.

"That belongs to Don Isidoro; and it extends some thirty leagues," was the reply. "You see that ridge of hills. That is its northern boundary. This wall separates it from the estate of Santa Anna. In fact it is surrounded by a continuous and substantial stone-wall, sufficient to keep in cattle. This spot of land sufficiently large for a county, with a soil the richest in the world, and a climate like that of Jalapa, is given up to be a range for thousands of cattle."


We must hasten to our journey's end, which, for the present, is Jalapa. While here, we can sum up the story of our eighteen hours' ride. From Vera Cruz we passed through a tropical marsh, presenting a striking contrast to what we had witnessed about that town. In place of being surrounded by hot, shifting hillocks of sand, we were in the midst of tropical vegetation. Trees not only bore their own natural burdens, but were borne down with creepers, vines, and parasitic plants; forming one strange mass of foliage of very many distinct kinds matted together and mingled into one. Plantations of vanilla, of coffee, of cocoa, or of sugar-cane, nowhere approached our road; nor were the cocoa-nut, the banana, and the plantain, so familiar in all tropical climates, often visible. Upon the whole route there were little evidences of labor, except those furnished by the road itself. It was all wilderness. Yet the graceful features of the creepers, hanging from branch to branch of the sycamores, and the shady arbors formed by their dense foliage, looked as though a gardener's hand could be traced in so much regularity; yet it was only Nature's own gardening, where the wild birds might build their nests, and breed, and sing without fear of disturbance. How often have I dismounted, while riding along such a forest, by the side of some running brook, and while my horse was feeding I have almost fallen asleep under the soothing influence which such an atmosphere produces upon a traveler, heated by fast riding under a vertical sun. It is one of those happy sensations that can not well be described, nor can it be appreciated by those who have not experienced it. Poets have exhausted their power in painting the beauties of scenes where all the senses are satiated with enjoyment. Yet this voluptuous gratification is soon alloyed by the evils that remind us that Paradise is not to be found upon this earth. Here is seen the whole animal kingdom busily laboring for the destruction of its kind. Reptiles prey upon each other; parasitic plants fix themselves upon trees and suck up the sap of their existence; and man, while he enjoys to a surfeit these bounties of nature, must watch narrowly against the venom and the poison that comes to mar his pleasure, and teach him the wholesome lesson that true happiness is only found in Heaven. We are now at our journey's end.


Jalapa.—The extraordinary Beauty and Fertility of this Spot.—Jalap, Sarsaparilla, Myrtle, Vanilla, Cochineal, and Wood of Tobasco.—The charming Situation of Jalapa.—Its Flowers and its Fruits.—Magnificent Views.—The tradition that Jalapa was Paradise.—A speck of War.—The Marriage of a Heretic.—A gambling Scene in a Convent.

Byron's lines, in the opening of "The Bride of Abydos" are gorgeous enough:

"Know ye the land of the cedar and vine, Where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine; Where the light wings of Zephyr, oppress'd with perfume, Wax faint o'er the gardens of Gull in their bloom; Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit, And the voice of the nightingale never is mute."

But the poet would have given them a still more luxuriant coloring had he ever ascended the table-land of the tropics, and visited Jalapa, the spot which the natives insist was the site of the original Paradise. Paradise, jalapa, and myrtle, sound well enough together, and do not clash with the native tradition in relation to this delightful spot.


We were now more than four thousand feet above the sea, on an extensive plateau, half-way up the mountain. The beautiful convolvulus jalapa does not flourish here, but is brought from the Indian villages of Colipa and Maqautla, situated in the valleys that run among the hills. The myrtle, whose grain is the spice of Tobasco, is produced in the forests by the river Boriderus; the smilax, whose root is the true sarsaparilla, grows deep down in the humid and umbrageous ravines of the Cordilleras; and cocoa comes from Acayucan. From the ever-green forests of Papantla and Nautla comes the epidendrum vanilla, whose odoriferous fruit is used as a perfume. Thus these characteristic productions of the country come from the mysterious valleys of the neighboring mountain, where, nearly a thousand years before any of the present generation was born, flourished an unknown race of men as civilized as were the people of Palmyra or of Egypt, as vast ruins in the forests of Misantla and Papantla clearly indicate: a race unknown to the degenerate Indians, who now wander about the ruined edifices and isolated pyramids of these cities, lost in the forest, as they are to us. A thousand years have passed away—their history has perished forever. The old books say that the delicate little scarlet insect, cochineal, was once a product of this district, and Jalapa was its proper market, and the mart of all the other peculiar productions of the neighboring region, because it was the town on the high land nearest to the sea-port.

Jalapa early became an important position to which foreign goods were brought to be exchanged for silver and gold, jalap, sarsaparilla, vanilla, spice of Tobasco, cocoa, cochineal, and woods of various colors.

It is the beauty of the place itself, and the unsurpassed magnificence of its mountain-scenery, that throws such a charm around Jalapa. The transparency of its atmosphere makes the snow-crowned Orizaba and Perote, in the coast range of mountains, appear close at hand, with their dense forests of perpetual foliage, moistened incessantly by the clouds driven upon them from the ocean. High up in the region of perpetual moisture, Jalapa has a soil intensely luxuriant, and is beyond the reach of those parasitic plants of the low lands, that fix themselves upon other plants and trees, and eat out their very life, as the malarias do that of the human being. Roses of the most choice varieties grow spontaneously by the roadside, or creep over the walls. Nature, the parent of architects, has here shaped all her trees upon the most exquisite models. The very twig planted in a hedge, if left to itself, grows up into a tree which gracefully inclines its head like a weeping willow; while a mammoth white bell, or trumpet flower, hangs pendent from the extremity of every limb, each flower larger and more beautiful than our favorite house lily, and giving forth a richer odor than the rose. From the exquisite delicacy and richness of the fruit which this plant (the chirimoya) bears, and the danger arising from eating of it too freely, it is not unfrequently called the tree of the forbidden fruit; sometimes also it is called the custard plant.


Among the pleasing sights which we beheld was an orange orchard, in which I did not see a single tree that was not delicately and gracefully formed. In this profusion of nature I saw our own favorite flowers. A tiny crimson rose was creeping about in every place, while the large pink rose, which grew so rank, was clinging to an old wall and in full blossom; and many other varieties of crimson, white, yellow, and scarlet roses grow here without care; the morning-glory and honey-suckle are wild flowers here; the sweet-william, the lady-slipper, and all the flowers that we cultivate in summer, appear here to be spontaneous productions of nature. Even that sweetest and most beautiful of flowers, the passion-flower, with its mystical cross and five protruding seeds, was running over a frame, and yielding a profusion of blossoms, and a fruit—the granada—which almost equals in richness and delicacy the fruit of the chirimoya. But all the natural wonders of this town are not yet enumerated; for the fruits as well as the flowers of every climate flourish in Jalapa. There are strawberries, of the largest size, growing beside a coffee-tree the tree being filled with coffee-berries. Peach-trees were in full blossom in November, beside apricots and chirimoyas, while potatoes flourish among the bulbous productions of a tropical climate. The people of the town take a pride in its natural beauty; and there are no filthy alleys, no squalid poverty, or uncleanly hovels. Every house appears to be of stone; the walls neatly whitewashed, and bordered with pink, red, blue, green, or yellow; and the streets are fashioned to suit the grounds, without regard to checker-board regularity.

I stood in an upper story of the house of a Mr. Todd, on the opposite side of the little stream that runs in front of the town, and looked out from that favored position. The sun had just escaped from the folds of an imprisoning cloud, and was shining full upon the beautiful town and hill. The unabsorbed moisture on the leaves gave them an additional lustre. The green peering up every where amidst the whitened walls; the graceful form of the trees, where their outline could be traced; the curiously shaped roofs of the old stone churches, with buttresses and towers; the college of San Francisco, a curiously fashioned pile of buildings, standing out above all others; the hill behind the town, the lofty mountain of Perote, on its left flank, on whose top the sky seemed to rest—all combined to give credibility to that which has been said of the beauty of Jalapa by an old Spanish author—that Jalapa was "a piece of heaven let down to earth." This figure was afterward applied to Naples, and the remark was added—"See Naples, and die." But the Jalapanos say, "See Jalapa, and pray for immortality, that you may enjoy it forever." It is the boast of the Indian, that "Jalapa is Paradise."

One is almost tempted to agree with them; for here grow all plants that are pleasant to the eye, or good for food. Adam and Eve were not placed in the garden to plant and to sow, but to prune and dress the plants that grew of themselves. Here grow an abundance of broad-leaved plants, and for thread there is the fibre of the maguey, or century plant; while the thorns of the cactus are the needles used among the natives; so that all the materials were at ready hand for making their garments, as soon as our first parents had their eyes opened—by taking Jalap, I suppose—and so discovering that they were naked. It is a curious conceit, that the sin of Adam, in introducing a parasite into Eden, entailed a curse on this medicinal plant, which from that day, the story goes, has for very shame hid its face by day, and only by night opened its pretty scarlet flowers, which close again as the morning light appears.

In favor of the notion that Jalapa was the ancient Paradise, the argument is, that Paradise must have been in the tropics, in a region elevated far above the baleful heat and malaria of the low lands, in a climate where plants could grow to the utmost perfection. And there is no such place in the world except Jalapa. Here, too, when the daily shower, which is requisite to bring all vegetable nature to perfection, rendered garments of wool necessary to protect humanity from rheumatism, nature had provided the needles and thread needed to fashion them. So that, taken all together, this Indian theory is more probable than many of the unnumbered traditions of this country, where traditions and miracles appear to grow as spontaneously as wild flowers.

In such a spot as this, where all the powers of nature seem to have combined to form an earthly Paradise, and where the surrounding mountain-scenery is unsurpassed on the earth's surface, we might look for enlarged notions of the power, the majesty, and wisdom of that God who created it all. But images, like dolls, tricked out in the tawdry finery, are the objects which this people adore, and to whom they attribute more miraculous powers than were ever ascribed to the gods of their heathen ancestors. Humboldt says, "This people have changed their ceremonies, but not their religious dogmas."[6]


But let us take a look at the interior of this town. It is a little disturbed now, as there was a revolution yesterday—a revolution and a counter-revolution in fact, all in one day.

The Governor and Legislature of the State of Vera Cruz, which meets in this place, were taken prisoners in the forenoon, for imposing a tax upon the retail trade; but in the afternoon their friends rallied, and the Governor and Legislature were released, and the rebels driven from the town. In this double battle one man, at least, lost his life, for the funeral took place as we entered. War is a terrible calamity at any time; but when it is carried to that foolish extent of shedding blood, it becomes an intolerable evil, and prudent men show their wisdom by running from it: at least they did so at Jalapa.

Jalapa, it may be here remarked, is built on the site of an old Indian village, which was one of the first to enter into alliance with Cortez. For the benefit of the original inhabitants, that Franciscan Convent was built by the conqueror. It is now converted into a college. Its steeple is worth a visit, and well rewards the labor of climbing; for from it another view, even more splendid than that I have described, is to be obtained. From this point the snow-covered Orizaba is added to the already imposing prospect; both it and Perote, with the intervening mountain and valleys, can all be embraced at a single glance. The position of the valleys, which produce the different plants that have been enumerated, are here pointed out; and from this spot, they show the place where the mountain has been pierced in search of the precious metals, while a little way off is the road to the extensive copper-mines.

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