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Tramping Through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras by Harry A. Franck

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Being the Random Notes of an Incurable Vagabond

By Harry A. Franck

Author Of
"A Vagabond Journey Around The World,"
"Zone Policeman 88,"

Illustrated With Photographs By The Author

To The Mexican Peon With Sincerest Wishes For His Ultimate Emancipation


This simple story of a journey southward grew up of itself. Planning a
comprehensive exploration of South America, I concluded to reach that
continent by some less monotonous route than the steamship's track; and
herewith is presented the unadorned narrative of what I saw on the
way,--the day-by-day experiences in rambling over bad roads and into
worse lodging-places that infallibly befall all who venture afield south
of the Rio Grande. The present account joins up with that of five months
on the Canal Zone, already published, clearing the stage for a larger
forthcoming volume on South America giving the concrete results of four
unbroken years of Latin-American travel.

Harry A. Franck.
New York, May, 1916.













A street of Puebla, Mexico, and the Soledad Church.

The first glimpse of Mexico. Looking across the Rio Grande at Laredo.

A corner of Monterey from my hotel window.

A peon restaurant in the market-place of San Luís Potosí.

A market woman of San Luís Potosí.

Some sold potatoes no larger than nuts.

A policeman and an arriero.

The former home, in Dolores Hidalgo, of the Mexican "Father of his

Rancho del Capulín, where I ended the first day of tramping in Mexico.

View of the city of Guanajuato.

Fellow-roadsters in Mexico.

Some of the pigeon-holes of Guanajuato's cemetery.

A _pulque_ street-stand and one of its clients.

Prisoners washing in the patio of the former "Alóndiga".

Drilling with compressed-air drills in a mine "heading".

As each car passed I snatched a sample of its ore.

Working a "heading" by hand.

Peon miners being searched for stolen ore as they leave the mine.

Bricks of gold and silver ready for shipment. Each is worth something
like $1250.

In a natural amphitheater of Guanajuato the American miners of the
region gather on Sundays for a game of baseball.

Some of the peons under my charge about to leave the mine.

The easiest way to carry a knapsack--on a peon's back.

The ore thieves of Peregrina being led away to prison.

One of Mexico's countless "armies".

Vendors of strawberries at the station of Irapuato.

The wall of Guadalajara penitentiary against which prisoners are shot.

The liver-shaking stagecoach from Atequisa to Chapala.

Lake Chapala from the estate of Ribero Castellanos.

The head farmer of the estate under an aged fig-tree.

A Mexican village.

Making glazed floor tiles on a Mexican estate.

Vast seas of Indian corn stretch to pine-clad hills, while around them
are guard-shacks at frequent intervals.

Interior of a Mexican hut at cooking time.

Fall plowing near Patzcuaro.

Modern transportation along the ancient highway from Tzintzuntzan, the
former Tarascan capital.

In the church of ancient Tzintzuntzan is a "Descent from the Cross"
ascribed to Titian.

Indians waiting outside the door of the priest's house in Tzintzuntzan.

A corner of Morelia, capital of Michoacán, and its ancient aqueduct.

The spot and hour in which Maximilian was shot, with the chapel since
erected by Austria.

The market of Tlaxcala, the ancient inhabitants of which aided Cortez in
the conquest of Mexico.

A _rural_ of the state of Tlaxcala on guard before a barracks.

A part of Puebla, looking toward the peak of Orizaba.

Popocatepetl and the artificial hill of Cholula on which the Aztecs had
a famous temple, overthrown by Cortez.

A typical Mexican of the lowlands of Tehuantepec.

A typical Mexican boy of the highlands.

Looking down on Maltrata as the train begins its descent.

A residence of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

On the banks of the Coatzacoalcos, Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Women of Tehuantepec in the market-place.

On the hillside above Tehuantepec are dwellings partly dug out of the

A rear-view of the remarkable head-dress of the women of Tehuantepec,
and one of their decorated bowls.

A woman of northern Guatemala.

A station of the "Pan-American" south of Tehuantepec.

An Indian boy of Guatemala on his way home from market.

Three "gringoes" on the tramp from the Mexican boundary to the railway
of Guatemala.

Inside the race-track at Guatemala City is a relief map of the entire

One of the jungle-hidden ruins of Quiraguá.

The last house in Guatemala, near the boundary of Honduras.

A woman shelling corn for my first meal in Honduras.

A vista of Honduras from a hillside, to which I climbed after losing the

A resident of Santa Rosa, victim of the hook-worm.

The chief monument of the ruins of Copán.

I topped a ridge and caught sight at last of Santa Rosa, first town of
any size in Honduras.

Soldiers of Santa Rosa eating in the market-place.

Christmas dinner on the road in Honduras.

Several times I met the families of soldiers tramping northward with all
their possessions.

A fellow-roadster behind one of my cigars.

An arriero carrying a bundle of Santa Rosa cigars on his own back as he
drives his similarly laden animals.

The great military force of Esperanza compelled to draw up and face my

The prisoners in their chains form an interested audience across the

Honduras, the Land of Great Depths.

A corner of Tegucigalpa.

The "West Pointers" of Honduras in their barracks, a part of the
national palace.

View of Tegucigalpa from the top of Picacho.

Repairing the highway from Tegucigalpa to the Coast.

A family of Honduras.

Approaching Sabana Grande, the first night's stop on the tramp to the

A beef just butchered and hung out in the sun.

A dwelling on the hot lands of the Coast, and its scantily clad

Along the Pasoreal River.

The mozo pauses for a drink on the trail.

One way of transporting merchandise from the coast to Tegucigalpa.

The other way of bringing goods up to the capital.

The garrison of Amapala.

Marooned "gringoes" waiting with what patience possible at the "Hotel
Morazán," Amapala.

Unloading cattle in the harbor of Amapala.

The steamer arrives at last that is to carry us south to Panama.

We lose no time in being rowed out to her.


The Author's Itinerary



You are really in Mexico before you get there. Laredo is a
purely--though not pure--Mexican town with a slight American
tinge. Scores of dull-skinned men wander listlessly about trying to sell
sticks of candy and the like from boards carried on their heads. There
are not a dozen shops where the clerks speak even good pidgin English,
most signs are in Spanish, the lists of voters on the walls are chiefly
of Iberian origin, the very county officers from sheriff down--or
up--are names the average American could not pronounce, and the
saunterer in the streets may pass hours without hearing a word of
English. Even the post-office employees speak Spanish by preference and
I could not do the simplest business without resorting to that tongue.
I am fond of Spanish, but I do not relish being forced to use it in my
own country.

On Laredo's rare breeze rides enough dust to build a new world. Every
street is inches deep in it, everything in town, including the minds of
the inhabitants, is covered with it. As to heat--"Cincinnati Slim" put
it in a nutshell even as we wandered in from the cattleyards where the
freight train had dropped us in the small hours: "If ever hell gets full
this'll do fine for an annex."

Luckily my window in the ruin that masqueraded as a hotel faced such
wind as existed. The only person I saw in that institution during
twenty-four hours there was a little Mexican boy with a hand-broom,
which he evidently carried as an ornament or a sign of office. It seemed
a pity not to let Mexico have the dust-laden, sweltering place if they
want it so badly.

I had not intended to lug into Mexico such a load as I did. But it was a
Jewish holiday, and the pawnshops were closed. As I passed the lodge on
the north end of the bridge over the languid, brown Rio Grande it was a
genuine American voice that snapped: "Heh! A nickel!"

Just beyond, but thirty-six minutes earlier, the Mexican official
stopped me with far more courtesy, and peered down into the corners of
my battered "telescope" without disturbing the contents.

"Monterey?" he asked.

"Sí, señor."

"No revólver?" he queried suspiciously.

"No, señor," I answered, keeping the coat on my arm unostentatiously
over my hip pocket. It wasn't a revolver; it was an automatic.

The man who baedekerized Mexico says Nuevo Laredo is not the place to
judge that country. I was glad to hear it. Its imitation of a
street-car, eight feet long, was manned by two tawny children without
uniforms, nor any great amount of substitute for them, who smoked
cigarettes incessantly as we crawled dustily through the baked-mud
hamlet to the decrepit shed that announced itself the station of the
National Railways of Mexico. It was closed, of course. I waited an hour
or more before two officials resplendent in uniforms drifted in to take
up the waiting where I had left off. But it was a real train that pulled
in toward three, from far-off St. Louis, even if it had hooked on behind
a second-class car with long wooden benches.

For an hour we rambled across just such land as southern Texas, endless
flat sand scattered with chaparral, mesquite, and cactus; nowhere a sign
of life, but for fences of one or two barb-wires on crooked sticks--not
even bird life. The wind, strong and incessant as at sea, sounded as
mournful through the thorny mesquite bushes as in our Northern winters,
even though here it brought relief rather than suffering. The sunshine
was unbrokenly glorious.

Benches of stained wood in two-inch strips ran the entire length of our
car, made in Indiana. In the center were ten double back-to-back seats
of the same material. The conductor was American, but as in Texas he
seemed to have little to do except to keep the train moving. The
auditor, brakeman, and train-boy were Mexicans, in similar uniforms, but
of thinner physique and more brown of color. The former spoke fluent
English. The engineer was American and the fireman a Negro.

Far ahead, on either side, hazy high mountains appeared, as at sea. By
the time we halted at Lampazos, fine serrated ranges stood not far
distant on either hand. From the east came a never-ceasing wind,
stronger than that of the train, laden with a fine sand that crept in
everywhere. Mexican costumes had appeared at the very edge of the
border; now there were even a few police under enormous hats, with tight
trousers and short jackets showing a huge revolver at the hip. Toward
evening things grew somewhat greener. A tree six to twelve feet high,
without branches, or sometimes with several trunk-like ones, growing
larger from bottom to top and ending in a bristling bunch of leaves,
became common. The mountains on both sides showed fantastic peaks and
ridges, changing often in aspect; some, thousands of feet high with flat
tableland tops, others in strange forms the imagination could animate
into all manner of creatures.

A goatherd, wild, tawny, bearded, dressed in sun-faded sheepskin, was
seen now and then tending his flock of little white goats in the sand
and cactus. This was said to be the rainy season in northern Mexico.
What must it be in the dry?

Toward five the sun set long before sunset, so high was the mountain
wall on our right. The sand-storm had died down, and the sand gave way
to rocks. The moon, almost full, already smiled down upon us over the
wall on the left. We continued along the plain between the ranges, which
later receded into the distance, as if retiring for the night. Flat,
mud-colored, Palestinian adobe huts stood here and there in the
moonlight among patches of a sort of palm bush.

Monterey proved quite a city. Yet how the ways of the Spaniard appeared
even here! Close as it is to the United States, with many American
residents and much "americanizado," according to the Mexican, the city
is in architecture, arrangement, customs, just what it would be a
hundred miles from Madrid; almost every little detail of life is that of
Spain, with scarcely enough difference to suggest another country, to
say nothing of another hemisphere. England brings to her colonies some
of her home customs, but not an iota of what Spain does to the lands she
has conquered. The hiding of wealth behind a miserable facade is almost
as universal in Mexico of the twentieth century as in Morocco of the
fourth. The narrow streets of Monterey have totally inadequate sidewalks
on which two pedestrians pass, if at all, with the rubbing of
shoulders. Outwardly the long vista of bare house fronts that toe them
on either side are dreary and poor, every window barred as those of a
prison. Yet in them sat well-dressed señoritas waiting for the lovers
who "play the bear" to late hours of the night, and over their shoulders
the passerby caught many a glimpse of richly furnished rooms and flowery
patios beyond.

The river Catalina was drier than even the Manzanares, its rocky bed,
wide enough to hold the upper Connecticut, entirely taken up by mule and
donkey paths and set with the cloth booths of fruit sellers. As one
moves south it grows cooler, and Monterey, fifteen hundred feet above
sea-level, was not so weighty in its heat as Laredo and southern
Texas. But, on the other hand, being surrounded on most sides by
mountains, it had less breeze, and the coatless freedom of Texas was
here looked down upon. During the hours about noonday the sun seemed to
strike physically on the head and back whoever stepped out into it, and
the smallest fleck of white cloud gave great and instant relief. From
ten to four, more or less, the city was strangely quiet, as if more than
half asleep, or away on a vacation, and over it hung that indefinable
scent peculiar to Arab and Spanish countries. Compared with Spain,
however, its night life and movement was slight.

Convicts in perpendicularly striped blue and white pajamas worked in the
streets. That is, they moved once every twenty minutes or so, usually
to roll a cigarette. They were without shackles, but several guards in
brown uniforms and broad felt hats, armed with thick-set muskets, their
chests criss-crossed with belts of long rifle cartridges, lolled in the
shade of every near-by street corner. The prisoners laughed and chatted
like men perfectly contented with their lot, and moved about with great
freedom. One came a block to ask me the time, and loafed there some
fifteen minutes before returning to his "labor."

Mexico is strikingly faithful to its native dress. Barely across the
Rio Grande the traveler sees at once hundreds of costumes which in any
American city would draw on all the boy population as surely as the
Piper of Hamelin. First and foremost comes always the enormous hat,
commonly of thick felt with decorative tape, the crown at least a foot
high, the brim surely three feet in diameter even when turned up
sufficient to hold a half gallon of water. That of the peon is of
straw; he too wears the skintight trousers, and goes barefoot but for a
flat leather sandal held by a thong between the big toe and the rest. In
details and color every dress was as varied and individual as the shades
of complexion.

My hotel room had a fine outlook to summer-blue mountains, but was
blessed with neither mirror, towel, nor water. I descended to the
alleyway between "dining-room" and barnyard, where I had seen the
general washbasin, but found the landlady seated on the kitchen floor
shelling into it peas for our _almuerzo_. This and the evening
_comida_ were always identically the same. A cheerful but
slatternly Indian woman set before me a thin soup containing a piece of
squash and a square of boiled beef, and eight hot corn tortillas of the
size and shape of our pancakes, or _gkebis_, the Arab bread, which
it outdid in toughness and total absence of taste. Next followed a
plate of rice with peppers, a plate of tripe less tough than it should
have been, and a plate of brown beans which was known by the name of
_chile con carne_, but in which I never succeeded in finding
anything carnal. Every meal ended with a cup of the blackest coffee.

Out at the end of calle B a well-worn rocky path leads up to a ruined
chapel on the summit of a hill, the famous Obispado from which the city
was shelled and taken by the Americans in 1847. Below, Monterey lies
flat, with many low trees peering above the whitish houses, all set in a
perfectly level plain giving a great sense of roominess, as if it could
easily hold ten such cities. At the foot of the hill, some three hundred
feet high, is an unoccupied space. Then the city begins, leisurely at
first, with few houses and many gardens and trees, thickening farther
on. All about are mountains. The Silla (Saddle), a sharp rugged height
backing the city on the right, has a notch in it much like the seat of a
Texas saddle; to the far left are fantastic sharp peaks, and across the
plain a ragged range perhaps fifteen miles distant shuts off the view.
Behind the chapel stand Los Dientes, a teeth or saw-like range
resembling that behind Leceo in Italy. Only a young beggar and his
female mate occupied the ruined chapel, built, like the town, of whitish
stone that is soft when dug but hardens upon exposure to the air. They
cooked on the littered floor of one of the dozen rooms, and all the
walls of the chamber under the great dome were set with pegs for birds,
absent now, but which had carpeted the floor with proof of their
frequent presence.

At five the sun set over the city, so high is the Dientes range, but for
some time still threw a soft light on the farther plain and hills.
Compared with our own land there is something profoundly peaceful in
this climate and surroundings. Now the sunshine slipped up off the
farther ranges, showing only on the light band of clouds high above the
farther horizon, and a pale-faced moon began to brighten, heralding a
brilliant evening.

Fertile plains of corn stretched south of the city, but already dry, and
soon giving way to mesquite and dust again. Mountains never ceased, and
lay fantastically heaped up on every side. We rose ever higher, though
the train kept a moderate speed. At one station the bleating of a great
truckload of kids, their legs tied, heaped one above the other, was
startlingly like the crying of babies. We steamed upward through a
narrow pass, the mountains crowding closer on either hand and seeming to
grow lower as we rose higher among them. The landscape became less
arid, half green, with little or no cactus, and the breeze cooled
steadily. Saltillo at last, five thousand feet up, was above the reach
of oppressive summer and for perhaps the first time since leaving
Chicago I did not suffer from the heat. It was almost a pleasure to
splash through the little puddles in its poorly paved streets. Its
plazas were completely roofed with trees, the view down any of its
streets was enticing, and the little cubes of houses were painted all
possible colors without any color scheme whatever. Here I saw the first
_pulquerías_, much like cheap saloons in appearance, with swinging
doors, sometimes a pool table, and a bartender of the customary
I-tell-yer-I'm-tough physiognomy. Huge earthen jars of the fermented
cactus juice stood behind the bar, much like milk in appearance, and was
served in glazed pots, size to order. In Mexico _pulquería_ stands
for saloon and _peluquería_ for barber-shop, resulting now and then
in sad mistakes by wandering Yankees innocent of Spanish.

There were a hundred adult passengers by actual count, to say nothing of
babies and unassorted bundles, in the second-class car that carried me
on south into the night. Every type of Mexican was represented, from
white, soft, city-bred specimens to sturdy countrymen so brown as to be
almost black. A few men were in "European" garb. Most of them were
dressed _á la peón_, very tight trousers fitting like long
leggings, collarless shirts of all known colors, a gay _faja_ or
cloth belt, sometimes a coat--always stopping at the waist. Then last,
but never least, the marvelous hat. Two peons trying to get through the
same door at once was a sight not soon to be forgotten. There were felt
and straw hats of every possible grade and every shade and color except
red, wound with a rich band about the crown and another around the
brim. Those of straw were of every imaginable weave, some of rattan,
like baskets or veranda furniture. The Mexican male seems to be able to
endure sameness of costume below it, but unless his hat is individual,
life is a drab blank to him. With his hat off the peon loses seven
eights of his impressiveness. The women, with only a black sort of thin
shawl over their heads, were eminently inconspicuous in the forest of
hatted men.

Mournfully out of the black drizzling night about the station came the
dismal wails of hawkers at their little stands dim-lighted by pale
lanterns; "_Anda pulque!_" Within the car was more politeness--or
perhaps, more exactly, more unconscious consideration for others--than
north of the Rio Grande. There were many women among us, yet all the
night through there was not a suggestion of indecency or
annoyance. Indian blood largely predominated, hardy, muscular,
bright-eyed fellows, yet in conduct all were _caballeros_. Near me
sat a family of three. The father, perhaps twenty, was strikingly
handsome in his burnished copper skin, his heavy black hair, four or
five inches long, hanging down in "bangs" below his hat. The mother was
even younger, yet the child was already some two years old, the
chubbiest, brightest-eyed bundle of humanity imaginable. In their fight
for a seat the man shouted to the wife to hand him the child. He caught
it by one hand and swung it high over two seats and across the car, yet
it never ceased smiling. The care this untutored fellow took to give
wife and child as much comfort as possible was superior to that many a
"civilized" man would have shown all night under the same
circumstances. Splendid teeth were universal among the peons. There was
no chewing of tobacco, but much spitting by both sexes. A delicate,
child-like young woman drew out a bottle and swallowed whole glassfuls
of what I took to be milk, until the scent of pulque, the native
beverage, suddenly reached my nostrils.

The fat brown auditor addressed señora, the peon's wife, with the
highest respect, even if he insisted on doing his duty to the extent of
pushing aside the skirts of the women to peer under the long wooden
bench for passengers. A dispute soon arose. Fare was demanded of a
ragged peon for the child of three under his arm. The peon shook his
head, smiling. The auditor's voice grew louder. Still the father smiled
silently. The ticket collector stepped back into the first-class car and
returned with the train guard, a boyish-looking fellow in peon garb from
hat to legging trousers, with a brilliant red tie, two belts of enormous
cartridges about his waist, in his hand a short ugly rifle, and a
harmless smile on his face. There was something fascinating about the
stocky little fellow with his half-embarrassed grin. One felt that of
himself he would do no man hurt, yet that a curt order would cause him
to send one of those long steel-jacketed bullets through a man and into
the mountain side beyond. Luckily he got no such orders. The auditor
pointed out the malefactor, who lost no time in paying the child's

This all-night trip must be done sooner or later by all who enter Mexico
by way of Laredo, for the St. Louis-Mexico City Limited with its
sleeping-car behind and a few scattered Americans in first-class is the
only one that covers this section. Residents of Vanegas, for example,
who wish to travel south must be at the station at three in the morning.

Most of the night the train toiled painfully upward. As a man scorns to
set out after a hearty meal with a lunch under his arm, so in the
swelter of Texas I had felt it foolish to be lugging a bundle of heavy
clothing. By midnight I began to credit myself with foresight. The
windows were closed, yet the land of yesterday seemed far behind
indeed. I wrapped my heavy coat about me. Toward four we crossed the
Tropic of Cancer into the Torrid Zone, without a jolt, and I dug out my
gray sweater and regretted I had abandoned the old blue one in an empty
box-car. Twice I think I drowsed four minutes with head and elbow on my
bundle, but except for two or three women who jack-knifed on the long
bench no one found room to lie down during the long night.

From daylight on I stood in the vestibule and watched the drab landscape
hurry steadily past. No mountains were in sight now because we were on
top of them. Yet no one would have suspected from the appearance of the
country that we were considerably more than a mile above sea-level. The
flat land looked not greatly different from that of the day before. The
cactus was higher; some of the "organ" variety, many of the "Spanish
bayonet" species, lance-like stalks eight to ten feet high. The rest was
bare ground with scattered mesquite bushes. Had I not known the altitude
I might have attributed the slight light-headedness to a sleepless

Certainly a hundred ragged _cargadores_, hotel runners, and boys
eager to carry my bundle attacked me during my escape from the station
of San Luis Potosi at seven, and there were easily that many carriages
waiting, without a dozen to take them. The writer of Mexico's Baedeker
speaks of the city as well-to-do. Either it has vastly changed in a few
years or he wrote it up by absent treatment. Hardly a town of India
exceeds it in picturesque poverty. Such a surging of pauperous humanity,
dirt, and uncomplaining misery I had never before seen in the Western
Hemisphere. Plainly the name "republic" is no cure for man's ills. The
chief center was the swarming market. Picture a dense mob of several
thousand men and boys, gaunt, weather-beaten, their tight trousers
collections of rents and patchwork in many colors, sandals of a soft
piece of leather showing a foot cracked, blackened, tough as a hoof, as
incrusted with filth as a dead foot picked up on a garbage heap, the
toes always squirting with mud, the feet not merely never washed but the
sandal never removed until it wears off and drops of its self. Above
this a collarless shirt, blouse or short jacket, ragged, patched, of
many faded colors, yet still showing half the body. Then a dull,
uncomplaining, take-things-as-they-come face, unwashed, never
shaved--the pure Indian grows a sort of dark down on his cheeks and the
point of the chin, the half-breeds a slight beard--all topped by the
enormous hat, never missing, though often full of holes, black with
dirt, weather-beaten beyond expression.

Then there were fully as many women and girls, even less fortunate, for
they had not even sandals, but splashed along barefoot among the small
cold cobblestones. Their dress seemed gleaned from a rag-heap and their
heads were bare, their black hair combed or plastered flat. Children of
both sexes were exact miniatures of their elders. All these wretches
were here to sell. Yet what was for sale could easily have been tended
by twenty persons. Instead, every man, woman, and child had his own
stand, or bit of cloth or cobblestone on which to spread a few scanty,
bedraggled wares. Such a mass of silly, useless, pathetic articles, toy
jars, old bottles, anything that could be found in all the dump-heaps of
Christendom. The covered market housed only a very small percentage of
the whole. There was a constant, multicolored going and coming, with
many laden asses and miserable, gaunt creatures bent nearly double under
enormous loads on head or shoulders. Every radiating narrow mud-dripping
street for a quarter-mile was covered in all but the slight passageway
in the center with these displays. Bedraggled women sat on the cobbles
with aprons spread out and on them little piles of six nuts each, sold
at a centavo. There were peanuts, narrow strips of cocoanut, plantains,
bananas short and fat, sickly little apples, dwarf peaches, small wild
grapes, oranges green in color, potatoes often no larger than marbles,
as if the possessor could not wait until they grew up before digging
them; cactus leaves, the spines shaved off, cut up into tiny squares to
serve as food; bundles of larger cactus spines brought in by hobbling
old women or on dismal asses and sold as fuel, _aguacates_, known
to us as "alligator pears" and tasting to the uninitiated like
axle-grease; pomegranates, pecans, cheeses flat and white, every species
of basket and earthen jar from two-inch size up, turnips, some cut in
two for those who could not afford a whole one; onions, flat slabs of
brown, muddy-looking soap, rice, every species of _frijole_, or
bean, shelled corn for tortillas, tomatoes--_tomate coloradito_,
though many were tiny and green as if also prematurely gathered--peppers
red and green, green-corn with most of the kernels blue, lettuce,
radishes, cucumbers, carrots, cabbages, melons of every size except
large, string-beans, six-inch cones of the muddiest of sugar, the first
rough product of the crushers wound in swamp grass and which prospective
purchasers handled over and over, testing them now and then by biting
off a small corner, though there was no apparent difference; sausages
with links of marble size, everything in the way of meat, tossed about
in the dirt, swarming with flies, handled, smelled, cut into tiny bits
for purchasers; even strips of intestines, the jaw-bone of a sheep with
barely the smell of meat on it; all had value to this gaunt community,
nothing was too green, or old, or rotten to be offered for
sale. Chickens with legs tied lay on the ground or were carried about
from day to day until purchasers of such expensive luxuries
appeared. There were many men with a little glass box full of squares of
sweets like "fudge," selling at a half-cent each; every possible odd and
end of the shops was there; old women humped over their meager wares,
smoking cigarettes, offered for sale the scraps of calico left over from
the cutting of a gown, six-inch triangles of no fathomable use to
purchasers. There were entire blocks selling only long strips of leather
for the making of sandals. Many a vendor had all the earmarks of
leprosy. There were easily five thousand of them, besides another market
on the other side of the town, for this poverty-stricken city of some
fifty thousand inhabitants. The swarming stretched a half mile away in
many a radiating street, and scores whose entire stock could not be
worth fifteen cents sat all day without selling more than half of it. An
old woman stopped to pick up four grains of corn and greedily tucked
them away in the rags that covered her emaciated frame. Now and then a
better-dressed _potosino_ passed, making purchases, a peon, male or
female, slinking along behind with a basket; for it is a horrible breach
of etiquette for a ten-dollar-a-month Mexican to be publicly seen
carrying anything.

One wondered why there was not general suicide in such a community of
unmitigated misery. Why did they not spring upon me and snatch the purse
I displayed or die in the attempt? How did they resist eating up their
own wares? It seemed strange that these sunken-chested, hobbling, halt,
shuffling, shivering, starved creatures should still fight on for
life. Why did they not suddenly rise and sack the city? No wonder those
are ripe for revolution whose condition cannot be made worse.

Policemen in sandals and dark-blue shoddy cap and cloak looked little
less miserable than the peons. All about the covered market were peon
restaurants, a ragged strip of canvas as roof, under it an ancient
wooden table and two benches. Unwashed Indian women cooked in several
open earthen bowls the favorite Mexican dishes,--_frijoles_ (a stew
of brown beans), chile con carne, rice, stews of stray scraps of meat
and the leavings of the butcher-shops. These were dished up in brown
glazed jars and eaten with strips of tortilla folded between the
fingers, as the Arab eats with _gkebis_. Indeed there were many
things reminiscent of the markets and streets of Damascus, more customs
similar to those of the Moor than the Spaniard could have brought over,
and the brown, wrinkled old women much resembled those of Palestine,
though their noses were flatter and their features heavier.

Yet it was a good-natured crowd. In all my wandering in it I heard not
an unpleasant word, not a jest at my expense, almost no evidence of
anti-foreign feeling, which seems not indigenous to the peon, but
implanted in him by those of ulterior motives. Nor did they once ask
alms or attempt to push misery forward. The least charitable would be
strongly tempted to succor any one of the throng individually, but here
a hundred dollars in American money divided into Mexican centavos would
hardly go round. Here and there were pulquerías full of besotted,
shouting men--and who would not drink to drown such misery?

There was not a male of any species but had his colored blanket, red,
purple, Indian-yellow, generally with two black stripes, the poorer with
a strip of old carpet. These they wound about their bodies, folding them
across the chest, the arms hugged together inside in such a way as to
bring a corner across the mouth and nose, leaving their pipe-stem legs
below, and wandered thus dismally about in the frequent spurts of cold
rain. Now and then a lowest of the low passed in the cast-off remnants
of "European" clothes, which were evidently considered far inferior to
peon garb, however bedraggled. Bare or sandaled feet seemed impervious
to cold, again like the Arab, as was also this fear of the raw air and
half covering of the face that gave a Mohammedan touch, especially to
the women. To me the atmosphere was no different than late October in
the States. The peons evidently never shaved, though there were many
miserable little barber-shops. On the farther outskirts of the hawkers
were long rows of shanties, shacks made of everything under the sun,
flattened tin cans, scraps of rubbish, two sticks holding up a couple of
ragged bags under which huddled old women with scraps of cactus and
bundles of tiny fagots.

Scattered through the throng were several "readers." One half-Indian
woman I passed many times was reading incessantly, with the speed of a
Frenchman, from printed strips of cheap colored paper which she offered
for sale at a cent each. They were political in nature, often in verse,
insulting in treatment, and mixed with a crass obscenity at which the
dismal multitude laughed bestially. Three musicians, one with a rude
harp, a boy striking a triangle steel, sang mournful dirges similar to
those of Andalusia. The peons listened to both music and reading
motionless, with expressionless faces, with never a "move on" from the
policeman, who seemed the least obstrusive of mortals.

San Luís Potosí has many large rich churches, misery and pseudo-religion
being common joint-legacies of Spanish rule. Small chance these
creatures would have of feeling at home in a place so different from
their earthly surroundings as the Christian heaven. The thump of church
bells, some with the voice of battered old tin pans, broke out
frequently. Now and then one of these dregs of humanity crept into
church for a nap, but the huge edifices showed no other sign of
usefulness. On the whole there was little appearance of "religion." A
few women were seen in the churches, a book-seller sold no novels and
little literature but "mucho de religión," but the great majority gave
no outward sign of belonging to any faith. Priests were not often seen
in the streets. Mexican law forbids them to wear a distinctive costume,
hence they dressed in black derbies, Episcopal neckbands, and black
capes to the ankles. Not distinctive indeed! No one could have guessed
what they were! One might have fancied them prize-fighters on the way
from training quarters to bathroom.

There is comparative splendor also in San Luís, as one may see by peeps
into the lighted houses at night, but it is shut in tight as if fearful
of the poor breaking in. As in so many Spanish countries, wealth shrinks
out of sight and misery openly parades itself.

Out across the railroad, where hundreds of ragged boys were riding
freight cars back and forth in front of the station, the land lay flat
as a table, some cactus here and there, but apparently fertile, with
neither sod to break nor clearing necessary. Yet nowhere, even on the
edge of the starving city, was there a sign of cultivation. We of the
North were perhaps more kind to the Indian in killing him off.



Heavy weather still hung over the land to the southward. Indian corn,
dry and shriveled, was sometimes shocked as in the States. The first
field of maguey appeared, planted in long rows, barely a foot high, but
due in a year or two to produce pulque, the Mexican scourge, because of
its cheapness, stupefying the poorer classes. When fresh, it is said to
be beneficial in kidney troubles and other ailments, but soon becomes
over-fermented in the pulquerías of the cities and more harmful than a
stronger liquor.

Within the car was an American of fifty, thin and drawn, with huddled
shoulders, who had been beaten by rebel forces in Zacatecas and robbed
of his worldly wealth of $13,000 hidden in vain in his socks. Numbers of
United States box-cars jolted across the country end to end with
Mexican; the "B. & O." behind the "Norte de Méjico," the "N. Y. C.,"
followed by the "Central Mejicano." Long broad stretches of plain, with
cactus and mesquite, spread to low mountains blue with cold morning
mist, all but their base hung with fog. Beyond Jesús María, which is a
sample of the station names, peons lived in bedraggled tents along the
way, and the corn was even drier. The world seemed threatening to dry up
entirely. At Cartagena there began veritable forests of cactus trees,
and a wild scrub resembling the olive. Thousands of _tunas_, the
red fruit of the cactus, dotted the ground along the way. The sun
sizzled its way through the heavy sky as we climbed the flank of a rocky
range, the vast half-forested plain to the east sinking lower and lower
as we rose. Then came broken country with many muddy streams. It was
the altitude perhaps that caused the patent feeling of exhilaration, as
much as the near prospect of taking again to the open road.

As the "garrotero" ("twister," or "choker" as the brakeman is called in
Mexico) announced Dolores Hidalgo, I slipped four cartridges into my
automatic. The roadways of Mexico offered unknown possibilities. A
six-foot street-car drawn--when at all--by mules, stood at the station,
but I struck off across the rolling country by a footpath that probably
led to the invisible town. A half-mile lay behind me before I met the
first man. He was riding an ass, but when I gave him "Buenos días," he
replied with a whining: "Una limosnita! A little alms, for the love of
God." He wore a rosary about his neck and a huge cross on his
chest. When I ignored his plea he rode on mumbling. The savage bellow of
a bull not far off suggested a new possible danger on the road in this
unfenced and almost treeless country. More men passed on asses, mules,
and horses, but none afoot. Finally over the brown rise appeared Dolores
Hidalgo; two enormous churches and an otherwise small town in a
tree-touched valley. The central plaza, with many trees and hedges
trimmed in the form of animals, had in its center the statue of the
priest Hidalgo y Costilla, the "father of Mexican independence." A block
away, packed with pictures and wreathes and with much of the old
furniture as he left it, was the house in which he had lived before he
started the activities that ended in the loss of his head.

Well fortified at the excellent hotel, I struck out past the patriot
priest's house over an arched bridge into the open country. As in any
unknown land, the beginning of tramping was not without a certain mild
misgiving. The "road" was only a trail and soon lost itself. A boy
speaking good Spanish walked a long mile to set me right, and valued his
services at a _centavo_. A half-cent seemed to be the fixed fee for
anything among these country people. A peon carrying a load of
deep-green alfalfa demanded as much for the privilege of photographing
him when he was "not dressed up." He showed no sign whatever of
gratitude when I doubled it and added a cigarette.

The bright sun had now turned the day to early June. The so-called road
was a well-trodden sandy path between high cactus hedges over rolling
country. An hour out, the last look back on Dolores Hidalgo showed also
mile upon mile of rolling plain to far, far blue sierras, all in all
perhaps a hundred square miles visible. There were many travelers,
chiefly on foot and carrying bundles on their heads. The greeting of
these was "Adiós," while the better-to-do class on horse or mule back
used the customary "Buenas tardes!" Thirst grew, but though the country
was broken, with many wash-outs cutting deep across the trail, the
streams were all muddy. Now and then a tuna on the cactus hedges was
red ripe enough to be worth picking and, though full of seeds, was at
least wet. It was harder to handle than a porcupine, and commonly left
the fingers full of spines. Two men passed, offering _dulces_, a
species of native candy, for sale. I declined. "Muy bien, give us a
cigarette." I declined again, being low in stock. "Very well, adiós,
señor," they replied in the apathetic way of their race, as if it were
quite as satisfactory to them to get nothing as what they asked.

The Rancho del Capulin, where night overtook me, was a hamlet of eight
or ten houses, some mere stacks of thatch, out of the smoky doorway of
which, three feet high, peered the half-naked inmates; others of adobe,
large bricks of mud and chopped straw, which could be picked to pieces
with the fingers.

From one of the kennels a woman called out to know if I would eat. I
asked if she could give lodging also and she referred me to her husband
inside. I stopped to peer in through the doorway and he answered there
was not room enough as it was, which was evident to the slowest-witted,
for the family of six or eight of all ages, more or less dressed, lying
and squatted about the earth floor dipping their fingers into bowls of
steaming food, left not a square foot unoccupied. He advised me to go
"beg license" of the "señora" of the house farther on, a low adobe
building with wooden doors.

"There is nothing but the place opposite," she answered.

This was a sort of mud cave, man-made and door-less, the uneven earth
floor covered with excrement, human and otherwise. I returned to peer
into the mat-roofed yard with piles of corn-stalks and un-threshed
beans, and met the man of the house just arriving with his labor-worn
burros. He was a sinewy peasant of about fifty, dressed like all country
peons in shirt and tight trousers of thinnest white cotton, showing his
brown skin here and there. As he hesitated to give me answer, the wife
made frantic signs to him from behind the door, of which the cracks were
inches wide. He caught the hint and replied to my request for lodging:

"Only if you pay me three centavos."

Such exorbitance! The regulation price was perhaps one. But I yielded,
for it was raining, and entered, to sit down on a heap of unthreshed
beans. The woman brought me a mat three feet long, evidently destined
to be my bed. I was really in the family barnyard, with no end walls,
chickens overhead and the burros beyond. The rain took to dripping
through the mat roof, and as I turned back toward the first hut for the
promised frijoles and tortillas the woman called to me to say she also
could furnish me supper.

The main room of the house was about ten by ten, with mud walls five
feet high, a pitched roof of some sort of grass with several holes in
it. In the center of the room was a fireplace three feet high and four
square, with several steaming glazed pots over a fire of _encinal_
fagots. The walls were black with soot of the smoke that partly wandered
out of an irregular hole in the farther end of the room. The
eight-year-old son of the family was eating corn-stalks with great
gusto, tearing off the rind with his teeth and chewing the stalk as
others do sugar-cane. I handed him a loaf of potosino bread and he
answered a perfunctory "Gracias," but neither he nor any of the family
showed any evidence of gratitude as he wolfed it. The man complained
that all the corn had dried up for lack of rain. The woman set before me
a bowl of "sopita," with tortillas, white cheese, and boiled whole
peppers. A penniless peon traveler begged a cigarette and half my
morning loaf, and went out into the night and rain to sleep in the
"chapel," as the mud cave across the way was called. There several
travelers had settled down for the night. A girl of seventeen or so
splashed across from it to beg "a jar of water for a poor prostitute,"
apparently announcing her calling merely as a curious bit of

The family took at last to eating and kept it up a full hour, meanwhile
discussing me thoroughly. Like most untutored races, they fancied I
could not understand their ordinary tones. When they wished to address
me they merely spoke louder. It is remarkable how Spain has imposed her
language on even these wild, illiterate Indians as England has not even
upon her colonies. As the rain continued to pour, I was to sleep in the
kitchen. Drunken peons were shouting outside and the family seemed much
frightened, keeping absolute silence. The four by two door with its
six-inch cracks was blocked with a heavy pole, the family retired to the
other room, and I stretched out in the darkness on the unsteady wooden
bench, a foot wide, my head on my knapsack. I was soon glad of having a
sweater, but that failed to cover my legs, and I slept virtually not at
all through a night at least four months long, punctuated by much
howling of dogs.

It was still pitch dark when the "senora" entered, to spend a long time
getting a fire started with wet fagots. Then she began making
_atole_. Taking shelled corn from an earthen jar, she sprinkled it
in the hallow of a stone and crushed it with much labor. This was put
into water, strained through a sieve, then thrown into a kettle of
boiling water. It was much toil for little food. Already she had labored
a full hour. I asked for coffee, and she answered she had none but would
buy some when the "store" opened. It grew broad daylight before this
happened and I accepted atole. It was hot, but as tasteless as might be
the water from boiled corn-stalks. There had been much discussion,
supposedly unknown to me, the night before as to how much they dared
charge me. The bill was finally set at twelve centavos (six cents),
eight for supper, three for lodging, and one for breakfast. It was
evidently highly exorbitant, for the family expressed to each other
their astonishment that I paid it without protest.

At the very outset there was a knee-deep river to cross, then miles of a
"gumbo" mud that stuck like bad habits. My feet at times weighed twenty
pounds each. Wild rocky hillsides alternated with breathless
climbs. Many cattle were scattered far and wide over the mountains, but
there was no cultivation. I passed an occasional _rancho_,
villages of six or seven adobe or thatch huts, with sometimes a ruined
brick chapel. Flowers bloomed thickly, morning glories, geraniums,
masses of a dark purple blossom. The "road" was either a mud-hole or a
sharp path of jagged rolling stones in a barren, rocky, tumbled
country. Eleven found me entering another rancho in a wild valley. My
attempts to buy food were several times answered with, "Más arribita"--
"A little higher up." I came at last to the "restaurant." It was a
cobble-stone hut hung on a sharp hillside, with a hole two feet square
opening on the road. Two men in gay sarapes, with guns and belts of huge
cartridges, reached it at the same time, and we squatted together on the
ground at an angle of the wall below the window and ate with much
exchange of banter the food poked out to us. The two had come that
morning from Guanajuato, whither I was bound, and were headed for
Dolores. It was the first time I had any certain information as to the
distance before me, which had been variously reported at from five to
forty leagues. We ate two bowls of frijoles each, and many tortillas and
chiles. One of the men paid the entire bill of twenty-seven centavos,
but accepted ten from me under protest.

Beyond was a great climb along a stony, small stream up into a blackish,
rocky range. The sun shone splendidly, also hotly. Apparently there was
no danger to travelers even in these wild parts. The peons I met were
astonishingly incurious, barely appearing to notice my existence. Some
addressed me as "jefe" (chief), suggesting the existence of mines in the
vicinity. If I drew them into conversation they answered merely in
monosyllables: "Sí, señor." "No, jefe." Not a word of Indian dialect
had I heard since entering the country. Two hours above the restaurant a
vast prospect of winding, tumbled, rocky valley and mountain piled upon
mountain beyond opened out. From the summit, surely nine thousand feet
up, began the rocky descent to the town of Santa Rosa, broken by short
climbs and troublesome with rocks. I overtook many donkeys loaded with
crates of cactus fruit, railroad ties, and the like, and finally at
three came out in sight of the famous mining city of Guanajuato.

It would take the pen of a master to paint the blue labyrinth of
mountains heaped up on all sides and beyond the long, winding city in
the narrow gorge far below, up out of which came with each puff of wind
the muffled sound of stamp-mills and smelters. As I sat, the howling of
three drunken peons drifted up from the road below. When they reached
me, one of them, past forty, thrust his unwashed, pulque-perfumed face
into mine and demanded a cigarette. When I declined, he continued to beg
in a threatening manner. Meanwhile the drunkest of the three, a youth of
perhaps seventeen, large and muscular, an evil gleam in his eye, edged
his way up to me with one arm behind him and added his demands to that
of the other. I suddenly pulled the hidden hand into sight and found in
it a sharp broken piece of rock weighing some ten pounds. Having
knocked this out of his grasp, I laid my automatic across my knees and
the more sober pair dragged the belligerent youth on up the mountain

For an hour the way wound down by steep, horribly cobbled descents, then
between mud and stone huts, and finally down a more level and wider
cobbled street along which were the rails of a mule tramway. The narrow
city wound for miles along the bottom of a deep gully, gay everywhere
with perennial flowers. The main avenue ran like a stream along the
bottom, and he who lost himself in the stair-like side streets had only
to follow downward to find it again as surely as a tributary its main
river. Masses of rocky mountains were piled up on all sides.

The climate of Guanajuato is unsurpassed. Brilliant sunshine flooded
days like our early June, in which one must hurry to sweat in the noon
time, while two blankets made comfortable covering at night. This is
true of not only one season but the year around, during which the
thermometer does not vary ten degrees. July is coldest and a fireplace
not uncomfortable in the evening. An American resident who went home to
one of the States bordering on Canada for his vacation sat wiping the
sweat out of his eyes there, when one of his untraveled countrymen

"You must feel very much at home in this heat after nine years in

Whereupon the sufferer arose in disgust, packed his bag, and sped south
to mosquitoless coolness.

The evening air is indescribable; all nature's changes of striking
beauty; and the setting sun throwing its last rays on the Bufa, the
salient points of that and the other peaks purple with light, with the
valleys in deep shadow, is a sight worth tramping far to see.

I drifted down along the gully next morning, following the main street,
which changed direction every few yards, "paved" with three-inch
cobbles, the sidewalks two feet wide, leaving one pedestrian to jump off
it each time two met. A diminutive streetcar drawn by mules with
jingling bells passed now and then. Peons swarmed here also, but there
was by no means the abject poverty of San Luis Potosi, and Americans
seemed in considerable favor, as their mines in the vicinity give the
town its livelihood. I was seeking the famous old "Alóndiga," but the
policeman I asked began looking at the names of the shops along the way
as if he fancied it some tobacco booth. I tried again by designating it
as "la cárcel." He still shook his head sadly. But when I described it
as the place where Father Hidalgo's head hung on a hook for thirteen
years, a great light broke suddenly upon him and he at once abandoned
his beat and led me several blocks, refusing to be shaken off. What I
first took for extreme courtesy, however, turned out to be merely the
quest of tips, an activity in which the police of most Mexican cities
are scarcely outdone by the waiters along Broadway.

The ancient building was outwardly plain and nearly square, more massive
than the rest of the city. High up on each of its corners under the
rusted hooks were the names of the four early opponents of Spanish rule
whose heads had once hung there. Inside the corridor stood the statue of
the peon who is said to have reached and fired the building under cover
of the huge slab of stone on his back. When I had waited a while in the
anteroom, the _jefe político_, the supreme commander of the city
appointed by the governor of the State, appeared, the entire roomful of
officials and visitors dropping their cigarettes and rising to greet him
with bared heads. He gave me permission to enter, and the
_presidente_, a podgy second jailor, took me in charge as the iron
door opened to let me in. The walls once red with the blood of Spaniards
slaughtered by the forces of the priest of Dolores had lost that tint in
the century since passed, and were smeared with nothing more startling
than a certain lack of cleanliness. The immense, three-story, stone
building of colonial days enclosed a vast patio in which prisoners
seemed to enjoy complete freedom, lying about the yard in the brilliant
sunshine, playing cards, or washing themselves and their scanty clothing
in the huge stone fountain in the center. The so-called cells in which
they were shut up in groups during the night were large chambers that
once housed the colonial government. By day many of them work at weaving
hats, baskets, brushes, and the like, to sell for their own benefit,
thus being able to order food from outside and avoid the mess brought in
barrels at two and seven of each afternoon for those dependent on
government rations. Now and then a wife or feminine friend of one of
the prisoners appeared at the grating with a basket of food. Several of
the inmates were called one by one to the crack of an iron door in the
wall to hear the sentence the judge had chosen to impose upon them in
the quiet of his own home; for public jury trial is not customary in
Spanish America.

In the fine gallery around the patio, in the second-story, we were
joined by an American from Colorado, charged with killing a Mexican, but
who seemed little worried with his present condition or doubtful of his
ultimate release. From the flat roof, large enough for a school
playground, there spread out a splendid view of all the city and its
surrounding mountains. There were, all told, some five hundred
prisoners. A room opening on the patio served as a school for convicts,
where a man well advanced in years, bewhiskered and of a decidedly
pedagogical cast of countenance in spite of his part Indian blood, sat
on his back, peering dreamily through his glasses at the seventy or more
pupils, chiefly between the ages of fifteen and twenty, who drowsed
before him.

There is a no less fine view from the hill behind, on which sits the
Panteon, or city cemetery. It is a rectangular place enclosing perhaps
three acres, and, as all Guanajuato has been buried here for centuries,
considerably crowded. For this reason and from inherited Spanish custom,
bodies are seldom buried, but are pigeonholed away in the deep niches
two feet square into what from the outside looks to be merely the
enclosing wall. Here, in more exact order than prevails in life, the
dead of Guanajuato are filed in series, each designated by a
number. Series six was new and not yet half occupied. A funeral ends by
thrusting the coffin into its appointed pigeonhole, which the Indian
employees brick up and face with cement, in which while still soft the
name of the defunct and other information is commonly rudely scratched
with a stick, often with amateur spelling. Here and there is one in
English:--"My Father's Servant--H. B." Some have marble headpieces with
engraved names, and perhaps a third of the niches bear the information
"En Perpetuidad," indicating that the rent has been paid up until
judgment day. The majority of the corpses, however, are dragged out
after one to five years and dumped in the common bone-yard, as in all
Spanish-speaking countries. The Indian attendants were even then opening
several in an older series and tossing skulls and bones about amid
facetious banter. The lower four rows can be reached readily, but not a
few suffer the pain of being "skied," where only those who chance to
glance upward will notice them.

There were some graves in the ground, evidently of the poorer Indian
classes. Several had been newly dug, unearthing former occupants, and a
grinning skull sat awry on a heap of earth amid a few thigh bones and
scattered ribs, all trodden under sandaled foot-prints. In one hole lay
the thick black hair of what had once been a peon, as intact as any
actor's wig. There is some property in the soil of Guanajuato's Panteón
that preserves bodies buried in the ground without coffins, so that its
"mummies" have become famous. The director attended me in person and,
crossing the enclosure, opened a door in the ground near the fourth
series of niches, where we descended a little circular iron
stairway. This opened on a high vaulted corridor, six feet wide and
thirty long. Along this, behind glass doors, stood some hundred more or
less complete bodies shrouded in sheets. They retained, or had been
arranged, in the same form they had presented in life--peon carriers
bent as if still under a heavy burden, old market women in the act of
haggling, _arrieros_ plodding behind their imaginary burros. Some
had their mouths wide open, as if they had been buried alive and had
died shouting for release. One fellow stood leaning against a support,
like a man joking with an elbow on the bar, a glass between his fingers,
in the act of laughing uproariously. Several babies had been placed
upright here and there between the elders. Most of the corpses wore old
dilapidated shoes. In the farther end of the corridor were stacked
thighbones and skulls surely sufficient to fill two box-cars, all facing
to the front. I asked how many deaths the collection represented, and
the director shrugged his shoulders with an indifferent "Quién sabe?" He
who would understand the Mexican, descendant of the Aztecs, must not
overlook a certain apathetic indifference to death, and a playful manner
with its remains.

Once on earth again, I gave the director a handful of coppers and
descended to the town, motley now with market-day. The place swarmed
with color; ragged, unwashed males and females squatted on the narrow
sidewalks with fruit, sweets, gay blankets and clothing, cast-off shoes
and garments, piles of new sandals, spread out in the street before
them. Amid the babel of street cries the most persistent was
"Agua-miel!"--"Honey water," as the juice of the maguey is called during
the twelve hours before fermentation sets in. From twelve to thirty-six
hours after its drawing it is intoxicating; from then on, only fit to be
thrown away. But the sour stench from each pulquería and many a passing
peon proved a forced longevity. Several lay drunk in the streets, but
passers-by stepped over or around them with the air of those who do as
they hope to be done by. Laughter was rare, the great majority being
exceedingly somber in manner. Even their songs are gloomy wails,
recalling the Arabs. A few children played at "bull-fight," and here and
there two or three, thanks to the American influence, were engaged in
what they fancied was baseball. But for the most part they were not
playful. The young of both Indians and donkeys are trained early for the
life before them. The shaggy little ass-colts follow their mothers over
the cobbled streets and along mountain trails from birth, and the peon
children, wearing the same huge hat, gay sarape, and tight breeches as
their fathers, or the identical garb of the mothers, carry their share
of the family burden almost from infancy. Everything of whatever size or
shape was carried on the backs or heads of Indians with a supporting
strap across the forehead. A peon passed bearing on his head the corpse
of a baby in an open wooden coffin, scattered with flowers. Trunks of
full size are transported in this way to all parts of the mountain town,
and the Indian who carries the heaviest of them to a mine ten miles away
and two thousand feet above the city over the rockiest trails considers
himself well paid at thirty cents. Six peons dog-trotted by from the
municipal slaughter-house with a steer on their backs: four carried a
quarter each; one the head and skin; and the last, heart, stomach, and
intestines. Horseshoers worked in the open streets, using whatever shoes
they had on hand without adjustment, paring down the hoofs of the animal
to fit them. Here and there a policeman on his beat was languidly
occupied in making brushes, like the prisoners of the Alóndiga, and two
I saw whiling away the time making lace! Several of them tagged my
footsteps, eager for some errand. One feels no great sense of security
in a country whose boyish, uneducated, and ragged guardians of order
cringe around like beggar boys hoping for a copper.

Saturday is beggar's day, when those who seek alms more or less
surreptitiously during the week are permitted to pass in procession
along the shops, many of which disburse on this day a fixed sum, as high
as twenty dollars, in copper centavos. Now and then the mule-cars bowled
over a laden ass, which sat up calmly on its haunches, front feet in the
air, until the obstruction passed. All those of Indian blood were
notable for their strong white teeth, not one of which they seem ever to
lose. In the church a bit higher up several bedraggled women and
pulque-besotted peons knelt before a disgusting representation of the
Crucifixion. The figure had real hair, beard, eyebrows, and even
eyelashes, with several mortal wounds, barked knees and shins, half the
body smeared with red paint as blood, all in all fit only for the
morgue. Farther on, drowsed the post-office, noted like all south of the
Rio Grande for its unreliability. Unregistered packages seldom arrive at
their destination, groceries sent from the States to American residents
are at least half eaten en route. A man of the North unacquainted with
the ways of Mexico sent unregistered a Christmas present of a dozen
pairs of silk socks. The addressee inquired for them daily for
weeks. Finally he wrote for a detailed description of the hectic lost
property, and had no difficulty in recognizing at least two pairs as the
beak-nosed officials hitched up their trousers to tell him again nothing
whatever had come for him. Not long before my arrival a Mexican
mail-car had been wrecked, and between the ceiling and the outer wall
were found over forty thousand letters postal clerks had opened and
thrown there.

I drifted into an "Escuela Gratuita para Niños." The heavy, barn-like
door gave entrance to a cobbled corridor, opening on a long schoolroom
with two rows of hard wooden benches on which were seated a half hundred
little peons aged seven to ten, all raggedly dressed in the identical
garb, sandals and all, of their fathers in the streets, their huge straw
hats covering one of the walls. The _maestro_, a small,
down-trodden-looking Mexican, rushed to the door to bring me down to the
front and provide me with a chair. The school had been founded some six
months before by a woman of wealth, and offered free instruction to the
sons of peons. But the Indians as always were suspicious, and for the
most part refused to allow their children to be taught the "witchcraft"
of the white man. The teacher asked what class I cared to hear and then
himself hastily suggested "cuentitas." The boys were quick at figures,
at least in the examples the maestro chose to give them, but he declined
to show them off in writing or spelling. Several read aloud, in that
mumbled and half-pronounced manner common to Mexico, the only
requirement appearing to be speed. Then came a class in "Historia
Santa," that is, various of the larger boys arose to spout at full
gallop and the distinct enunciation of an "El" train, the biblical
account of the creation of the world, the legends of Adam and Eve, Cain
and Abel, and Noah's travels with a menagerie, all learned by rote. The
entire school then arose and bowed me out.

A visit to a mixed school, presided over by carelessly dressed maidens
of uncertain age and the all-knowing glance of those who feel the world
and all its knowledge lies concentrated in the hollow of their hands,
showed a quite similar method of instruction. On the wall hung a great
lithograph depicting in all its dreadful details the alleged horrors of
"alcoolismo." Even the teachers rattled off their questions with an
atrocious, half-enunciated pronunciation, and he must have been a
Spanish scholar indeed who could have caught more than the gist of the
recited answers. This indistinctness of enunciation and the Catholic
system of learning by rote instead of permitting the development of
individual power to think were as marked even in the _colegio_,
corresponding roughly to our high schools. Even there the professor
never commanded, "More distinctly!" but he frequently cried, "Faster!"

On the wall of this higher institution was a stern set of rules, among
which some of the most important were:

"Students must not smoke in the presence of professors," though this was
but mildly observed, for when I entered the study room with the director
and his assistant, all of us smoking, the boys, averaging fifteen years
of age, merely held their lighted cigarettes half out of sight behind
them until we passed. Another rule read: "Any student frequenting a
tavern, café chantant, or house of ill-fame may be expelled." He might
run that risk in most schools, but none but the Latinized races would
announce the fact in plain words on the bulletin-boards. The director
complained that the recent revolutions had set the school far back, as
each government left it to the next to provide for such secondary



A classmate of my boyhood was superintendent of the group of mines round
about Guanajuato. From among them we chose "Pingüico" for my temporary
employment. The ride to it, 8200 feet above the sea, up along and out of
the gully in which Guanajuato is built, and by steep rocky trails
sometimes beside sheer mountain walls, opens out many a marvelous vista;
but none to compare with that from the office veranda of the mine
itself. Two thousand feet below lies a plain of Mexico's great
table-land, stretching forty miles or more across to where it is shut
off by an endless range of mountains, backed by chain after blue chain,
each cutting the sky-line in more jagged, fantastic fashion than the
rest, the farther far beyond Guadalajara and surely more than a hundred
miles distant, where Mexico falls away into the Pacific. On the left
rises deep-blue into the sky the almost perfect flattened cone of a lone
mountain. Brilliant yet not hot sunshine illuminated even the far
horizon, and little cloud-shadows crawled here and there across the
landscape. The rainy season had left on the plain below many shallow
lakes that reflected the sun like immense mirrors. From the veranda it
seemed quite flat, though in reality by no means so, and one could all
but count the windows of Silao, Irapuato, and other towns; the second,
though more than twenty miles away, still in the back foreground of the
picture. Thread-like, brown trails wound away over the plain and up
into the mountains, here and there dotted by travelers crawling ant-like
along them a few inches an hour. Take the most perfect day of late May
or early June in our North, brush off the clouds, make the air many
times fresher and clearer, add October nights, and multiply the sum
total by 365, and it is more easily understood why Americans who settle
in the Guanajuato region so frequently remain there.

The room I shared with a mine boss was of chilly stone walls and floor,
large and square, with a rug, two beds, and the bare necessities. The
mine mess, run by a Chinaman, furnished meals much like those of a
25-cent restaurant in Texas, at the rate of $5 a week. No Mexican was
permitted to eat with the Americans, not even with the "rough-necks."
When the whistle blew at seven next morning, some forty peons, who had
straggled one by one in the dawn to huddle up together in their red
sarapes among the rocks of the drab hillside, marched past the
timekeeper, turning over their blankets at a check counter, and with
their lunches, of the size of the round tortilla at the bottom and four
to six inches high, in their handkerchiefs, climbed into the six-foot,
iron ore-bucket until it was completely roofed with their immense straw
hats. Near by those of the second night-shift, homeward bound, halted,
to stand one by one on a wooden block with outstretched arms to be
carefully searched for stolen ore by a tried and trusted fellow-peon. A
pocketful of "high-grade" might be worth several dollars. The American
"jefe" sat in the hoisthouse, writing out requisitions for candles,
dynamite, and kindred supplies for the "jefecitos," or straw bosses, of
the hundred or more peons still lined up before the shaft. With the last
batch of these in the bucket, we white men stepped upon the platform
below it and dropped suddenly into the black depths of the earth, with
now and then a stone easily capable of cracking a skull bounding swiftly
with a hollow sound past us back and forth across the shaft.

Not infrequently in the days to come some accident to the hoist-engine
above left us to stand an hour or more packed tightly together in our
suspended four-foot space in unmitigated darkness. For this and other
reasons no peon was ever permitted to ride on the platform with an
American. Twelve hundred feet down we stepped out into a winding, rock
gallery nearly six feet wide and high, where fourteen natives were
loading rock and mud into iron dump-cars and pushing them to a near-by
chute. Even at this depth flies were thick. A facetious boss asserted
they hatched on the peons. My task here was to "sacar muestras"--"take
samples," as it was called in English. From each car as it passed I
snatched a handful of mud and small broken rock and thrust it into a
sack that later went to the assay office to show what grade of ore the
vein was producing.

Once an hour I descended to a hole far beneath by a rope ladder, life
depending on a spike driven in the rock above and a secure handhold, for
the handful of "pay dirt" two peons were grubbing down out of a lower
_veta_, a long narrow alleyway of soft earth and small stones that
stretched away into the interior of the mountain between solid walls of
rock. No inexperienced man would have supposed this mud worth more than
any other. But silver does not come out of the earth in minted dollars.

In the mine the peons wore their hats, a considerable protection against
falling rocks, but were otherwise naked but for their sandals and a
narrow strip of once white cloth between their legs, held by a string
around the waist. Some were well-built, though all were small, and in
the concentrated patch of light the play of their muscles through the
light-brown skins was fascinating. Working thus naked seemed so much
more dangerous; the human form appeared so much more feeble and soft,
delving unclothed in the fathomless, rocky earth. Many a man was marked
here and there with long deep scars. It was noticeable how character,
habits, dissipation, which show so plainly in the face, left but little
sign on the rest of the body, which remained for the most part smooth
and unwrinkled.

The peons were more than careless. All day long dynamite was tossed
carelessly back and forth about me. A man broke up three or four sticks
of it at a time, wrapped them in paper, and beat the mass into the form
of a ball on a rock at my feet. Miners grow so accustomed to this that
they note it, if at all, with complete indifference, often working and
serenely smoking seated on several hundred pounds of explosives. One
peon of forty in this gang had lost his entire left arm in a recent
explosion, yet he handled the dangerous stuff as carelessly as ever.
Several others were mutilated in lesser degrees. They depend on charms
and prayers to their favorite saint rather than on their own
precautions. Every few minutes the day through came the cry: "'Stá
pegado!" that sent us skurrying a few feet away until a dull, deafening
explosion brought down a new section of the vein. Not long before, there
had been a cave-in just beyond where we were working, and the several
men imprisoned there had not been rescued, so that now and then a skull
and portions of skeleton came down with the rock. The peons had first
balked at this, but the superintendent had told them the bones were
merely strange shapes of ore, ordered them to break up the skulls and
throw them in with the rest, and threatened to discharge and blackball
any man who talked of the matter.

By law a Mexican injured in the mine could not be treated on the spot,
but must be first carried to Guanajuato--often dying on the way--to be
examined by the police and then brought back to the mine hospital. Small
hurts were of slight importance to the peons. During my first hour
below, a muddy rock fell down the front of a laborer, scraping the skin
off his nose, deeply scratching his chest and thighs, and causing his
toes to bleed, but he merely swore a few round oaths and continued his
work. The hospital doctors asserted that the peon has not more than one
fourth the physical sensitiveness of civilized persons. Many a one
allowed a finger to be amputated without a word, and as chloroform is
expensive the surgeon often replaced it with a long draught of
_mescal_ or _tequila_, the native whiskies.

Outwardly the peons were very deferential to white men. I could rarely
get a sentence from them, though they chattered much among themselves,
with a constant sprinkling of obscenity. They had a complete language of
whistles by which they warned each other of an approaching "jefe,"
exchanged varied information, and even entered into discussion of the
alleged characteristics of their superiors in their very presence
without being understood by the uninitiated. Frequently, too, amid the
rumble of the "veta madre" pouring down her treasures, some former
Broadway favorite that had found its way gradually to the theater of
Guanajuato sounded weirdly through the gallery, as it was whistled by
some naked peon behind a loaded car. A man speaking only the pure
Castilian would have had some difficulty in understanding many of the
mine terms. Many Indian words had crept into the common language, such
as "chiquihuite" for basket.

Some seventy-five cars passed me during the morning. Under supervision
the peons worked at moderately good speed; indeed, they compared rather
favorably with the rough American laborers with whom I had recently
toiled in railroad gangs, in a stone-quarry of Oklahoma, and the
cotton-fields of Texas. The endurance of these fellows living on corn
and beans is remarkable; they were as superior to the Oriental coolie as
their wages to the latter's eight or ten cents a day. In this case, as
the world over, the workmen earned about what he was paid, or rather
succeeded in keeping his capacity down to the wages paid him. Many
galleries of the mine were "worked on contract," and almost all gangs
had their self-chosen leader. A peon with a bit more standing in the
community than his fellows, wearing something or other to suggest his
authority and higher place in the world--such perhaps as the pink shirt
the haughty "jefecito" beside me sported--appeared with twelve or more
men ready for work and was given a section and paid enough to give his
men from fifty to eighty cents a day each and have something over a
dollar left for himself. Miners' wages vary much throughout Mexico, from
twelve dollars a month to two a day in places no insuperable distances
apart. Conditions also differ greatly, according to my experienced
compatriots. The striking and booting of the workmen, common in some
mines, was never permitted in "Pingüico." In Pachuca, for example, this
was said to be the universal practice; while in the mines of Chihuahua
it would have been as dangerous as to do the same thing to a stick of
dynamite. Here the peon's manner was little short of obsequious
outwardly, yet one had the feeling that in crowds they were capable of
making trouble and those who had fallen upon "gringoes" in the region
had despatched their victims thoroughly, leaving them mutilated and
robbed even of their clothing. The charming part of it all was one could
never know which of these slinking fellows was a bandit by avocation and
saving up his unvented anger for the boss who ordered him about at his

It felt pleasant, indeed, to bask in the sun a half hour after dinner
before descending again. Toward five I tied and tagged the sacks of
samples and followed them, on peon backs, to the shaft and to the world
above with its hot and cold shower-bath, and the Chinaman's promise,
thanks to the proximity of Irapuato, of "stlaybelly pie." Though the
American force numbered several of those fruitless individuals that
drift in and out of all mining communities, it was on the whole of
rather high caliber. Besides "Sully the Pug," a mere human animal, hairy
and muscular as a bear, and two "Texicans," as those born in the States
of some Mexican blood and generally a touch of foreign accent are
called, there were two engineers who lived with their "chinitas," or
illiterate _mestizo_ Mexican wives and broods of peon children down
in the valley below the dump-heap. Caste lines were not lacking even
among the Americans in the "camp," as these call Guanajuato and its
mining environs. More than one complained that those who married Mexican
girls of unsullied character and even education were rated "squaw-men"
and more or less ostracized by their fellow countrymen, and especially
country-women, while the man who "picked up an old rounder from the
States" was looked upon as an equal. The speech of all Mexico is
slovenly from the Castilian point of view. Still more so was that of
both the peon and the Americans, who copied the untutored tongue of the
former, often ignorant of its faults, and generally not in the least
anxious to improve, nor indeed to get any other advantage from the
country except the gold and silver they could dig out of it. Laborers
and bosses commonly used "pierra" for piedra; "sa' pa' fuera" for to
leave the mine, "croquesí" for I believe so, commonly ignorant even of
the fact that this is not a single word. In the mess-hall were heard
strange mixtures of the two languages, as when a man rising to answer
some call shouted over his shoulder: "Juan, deja mi pie alone!" Thanks
to much peon intercourse, almost all the Americans had an unconsciously
patronizing air even to their fellows, as many a pedagogue comes to
address all the world in the tone of the schoolroom. The Mexican, like
the Spaniard, never laughs at the most atrocious attempts at his tongue
by foreigners, and even the peons were often extremely quick-witted in
catching the idea from a few mispronounced words. "The man with the
hair----," I said one day, in describing a workman I wished summoned;
and not for the moment recalling the Castilian for curly, I twirled my
fingers in the air.

"Chino!" cried at least a half-dozen peons in the same breath.

Small wonder the Mexican considers the "gringo" rude. An American boss
would send a peon to fetch his key or cigarettes, or on some equally
important errand; the workman would run all the way up hill and down
again in the rarified air, removing his hat as he handed over the
desired article, and the average man from the States would not so much
as grunt his thanks.

The engineers on whom our lives depended as often as we descended into
or mounted from the mine, had concocted and posted in the engine-room
the following "ten commandments":

"Notice To Visitors And Others

"Article 1. Be seated on the platform. It is too large for the engineer

"Art. 2. Spit on the floor. We like to clean up after you.

"Art. 3. Talk to the engineer while he is running. There is no
responsibility to his job.

"Art. 4. If the engineer does not know his business, please tell him. He
will appreciate it.

"Art. 5. Ask him as many questions as you like. He is paid to answer

"Art. 6. Please handle all the bright work. We have nothing to do but
clean it.

"Art. 7. Don't spit on the ceiling. We have lost the ladder.

"Art. 8. Should the engineer look angry don't pay any attention to
him. He is harmless.

"Art. 9. If you have no cigarettes take his. They grow in his garden.

"Art. 10. If he is not entertaining, report him to the superintendent
and he will be fired at once."

On the second day the scene of my operations was changed to the eighth
level, a hundred feet below that of the first. It was a long gallery
winding away through the mountain, and connecting a mile beyond with
another shaft opening on another hill, so that the heavy air was
tempered by a constant mild breeze.

Side shafts, just large enough for the ore-cars to pass, pierced far
back into the mountain at frequent intervals. Back in these it was
furnace hot. From them the day-gang took out 115 car-loads, though the
chute was blocked now and then by huge rocks that must be "shot" by a
small charge of dynamite stuck on them, a new way of "shooting the
chutes" that was like striking the ear-drums with a club.

The peons placed in each gallery either a cross or a lithograph of the
Virgin in a shrine made of a dynamite-box, and kept at least one candle
always burning before it. In the morning it was a common sight to see
several appear with a bunch of fresh-picked flowers to set up before the
image. Most of the men wore a rosary or charm about the neck, which they
did not remove even when working naked, and all crossed themselves each
time they entered the mine. Not a few chanted prayers while the cage was
descending. As often as they passed the gallery-shrine, they left off
for an instant the vilest oaths, in which several boys from twelve to
fourteen excelled, to snatch off their hats to the Virgin, then
instantly took up their cursing again. Whenever I left the mine they
begged the half-candle I had left, and set it up with the rest. Yet they
had none of the touchiness of the Hindu about their superstitions, and
showed no resentment whatever even when a "gringo" stopped to light his
cigarette at their improvised "altars."

Trusted miners hired to search the others for stolen ore as they leave
the shaft were sometimes waylaid on the journey home and beaten almost
or quite to death. Once given a position of authority, they were harsher
with their own kind than were the white men. The scarred and seared old
"Pingüico" searcher, who stood at his block three times each twenty-four
hours, had already killed three men who thus attacked him. Under no
provocation whatever would the peons fight underground, but lay for
their enemies only outside. A shift-boss in a neighboring mine remained
seven weeks below, having his food sent down to him, and continued to
work daily with miners who had sworn to kill him once they caught him on
earth. One of our engineers had long been accustomed at another mine to
hand his revolver to the searcher when the shift appeared and to arm
himself with a heavy club. One day the searcher gave the superintendent
a "tip," and when the hundred or more were lined up they were suddenly
commanded to take off their _huarachas_. A gasp of dismay sounded,
but all hastily snatched off their sandals and something like a bushel
of high-grade ore in thin strips lay scattered on the ground. But a few
mornings later the searcher was found dead half way between the mine and
his home.

Some of the mines round about Guanajuato were in a most chaotic state,
especially those of individual ownership. The equipment was often so
poor that fatal accidents were common, deaths even resulting from rocks
falling down the shafts. Among our engineers was one who had recently
come from a mine where during two weeks' employment he pulled out from
one to four corpses daily, until "it got so monotonous" he resigned. In
that same mine it was customary to lock in each shift until the
relieving one arrived, and many worked four or five shifts, thirty-two
to forty hours without a moment of rest, swallowing a bit of food now
and then with a sledge in one hand. "High-graders," as ore-thieves are
called, were numerous. The near-by "Sirena" mine was reputed to have in
its personnel more men who lived by stealing ore than honest
workmen. There ran the story of a new boss in a mine so near ours that
we could hear its blasting from our eighth level, long dull thuds that
seemed to run through the mountain like a shudder through a human body,
who was making his first underground inspection when his light suddenly
went out and he felt the cold barrel of a revolver against his temple. A
peon voice sounded in the darkness close to his ear:

"No te muevas, hijo de----, si quieres vivir!"

Another light was struck and he made out some twenty peons, each with a
sack of "high-grade," and was warned to take his leave on the
double-quick and not to look around on penalty of a worse fate than that
of Lot's wife.

Bandit gangs were known to live in out-of-the-way corners of several
mines, bringing their blankets and tortillas with them and making a
business of stealing ore. Not even the most experienced mining engineer
could more quickly recognize "pay dirt" than the peon population of
Guanajuato vicinity.

Though he is obsequious enough under ordinary circumstances, the mine
peon often has a deep-rooted hatred of the American, which vents itself
chiefly in cold silence, unless opportunity makes some more effective
way possible. Next on his black-list comes the Spaniard, who is reputed
a heartless usurer who long enjoyed protection under Diaz. Third,
perhaps, come the priests, though these are endured as a necessary evil,
as we endure a bad government. The padre of Calderón drifted up to the
mine one day to pay his respects and drink the mine health in good
Scotch whisky. Gradually he brought the conversation around to the
question of disobedience among the peons, and summed up his advice to
the Americans in a vehement explosion:

"Fine them! Fine them often, and much!

"Of course," he added, as he prepared to leave, "you know that by the
laws of Mexico and the _Santa Iglesia_ all such fines go to the

Intercourse between the mine officials and native authorities was almost
always sure to make it worth while to linger in the vicinity. My
disrespectful fellow countrymen were much given to mixing with the most
courteous Spanish forms of speech asides in English which it was well
the pompous native officials did not understand. I reached the office
one day to find the chief of police just arrived to collect for his
services in guarding the money brought out on pay-day.

"Ah, senor mio," cried the superintendent, "Y como esta usted? La
familia buena? Y los hijos--I'll slip the old geaser his six bones and
let him be on his way--Oh, sí, señor. Cómo no? Con muchísimo gusto--and
there goes six of our good bucks and four bits and--Pues adiós, muy
señor mio! Vaya bien!--If only you break your worthless old neck on the
way home--Adiós pues!"

After the shower-bath it was as much worth while to stroll up over the
ridge back of the camp and watch the night settle down over this
upper-story world. Only on the coast of Cochinchina have I seen sunsets
to equal those in this altitude. Each one was different. To-night it
stretched entirely across the saw-toothed summits of the western hills
in a narrow, pinkish-red streak; to-morrow the play of colors on
mountains and clouds, shot blood-red, fading to saffron yellow, growing
an ever-thicker gray down to the horizon, with the unrivaled blue of the
sky overhead, all shifting and changing with every moment, would be
hopelessly beyond the power of words. Often rain was falling in a spot
or two far to the west, and there the clouds were jet black. In one
place well above the horizon was perhaps a brilliant pinkish patch of
reflected sun, and everything else an immensity of clouded sky running
from Confederate gray above to a blackish-blue that blended with range
upon range to the uttermost distance.

There was always a peculiar stillness over all the scene. Groups of
sandaled mine peons wound noiselessly away, a few rods apart, along
undulating trails, the red of their sarapes and the yellow of their
immense hats giving the predominating hue. In the vast landscape was
much green, though more gray of outcropping rocks. Here and there a
lonely telegraph wire struck off dubiously across the rugged
country. Rocks as large as houses hung on the great hillsides, ready to
roll down and destroy at the slightest movement of the earth, like
playthings left by careless giant children. Along some rocky path far
down in the nearer valley a small horse of the patient Mexican breed,
under its picturesque, huge-hatted rider, galloped sure-footed up and
down steep faces of rock. Cargadores bent half double, with a rope
across their brows, came straining upward to the mine. Bands of peons
released from their underground labors paused here and there on the way
home to wager cigarettes on which could toss a stone nearest the next
mud puddle. Flocks of goats wandered in the growing dusk about swift
stony mountain flanks. Farther away was a rocky ridge beaten with
narrow, bare, crisscross trails, and beyond, the old Valenciana mine on
the flanks of the jagged range shutting off Dolores Hidalgo, appearing
so near in this clear air of the heights that it seemed a man could
throw a stone there; yet down in the valley between lay all Guanajuato,
the invisible, and none might know how many bandits were sleeping out
the day in their lurking-places among the wild, broken valleys and
gorges the view embraced. Down in its rock-tumbled valley spread the
scattered town of Calderón, and the knell of its tinny old church bells
came drifting up across the divide on the sturdy evening breeze, tinged
with cold, that seemed to bring the night with it, so silently and
coolly did it settle down. The immense plain and farther mountains
remained almost visible in the starlight, in the middle distance the
lamps of Silao, and near the center of the half-seen picture those of
Irapuato, while far away a faint glow in the sky marked the location of
the city of Leon.

Excitement burst upon the mess-table one night. Rival politicians were
to contend the following Sunday for the governorship of the State, and
the "liberal" candidate had assured the peons that he would treble their
wages and force the company to give them full pay during illness, and
that those who voted for his rival were really casting ballots for "los
gringos" who had stolen away their mines. All this was, of course, pure
campaign bunco; as a matter of fact the lowest wages in all the mines of
Mexico were in those belonging to the then "liberal" President of the
republic, and accident pay would have caused these insensible fellows to
drop rocks on themselves to enjoy its benefits. For several mornings
threatening political posters had appeared on the walls of the company
buildings. But this time word came that "liberal" posters had been stuck
up in the galleries of the mine itself. The boss sprang to his feet, and
without even sending for his revolver went down into the earth. An hour
or more later he reappeared with the remnants of the posters. Though
the mine was populated with peons and there was not then another
American below ground, they watched him tear down the sheets without
other movement than to cringe about him, each begging not to be believed
guilty. Later a peon was charged with the deed and forever forbidden to
work in the mines of the company. The superintendent threatened to
discharge any employee who voted for the "liberal" candidate, and,
though he could not of course know who did, their dread of punishment no
doubt kept many from voting at all.

Work in the mine never ceased. Even as we fell asleep the engine close
at hand panted constantly, the mild clangor of the blacksmith-shop
continued unbroken, cars of rock were dumped every few minutes under the
swarming stars, the mine pulse beat unchanging, and far down beneath our
beds hundreds of naked peons were still tearing incessantly at the rocky
entrails of the earth.

Though the mine throbbed on, I set off one sunny Sunday morning to walk
to town and the weekly ball game. It was just warm enough for a summer
coat, a breeze blew as at sea, an occasional telephone pole was singing
as with contentment with life in this perfect climate. Groups of
brownish-gray donkeys with loads on their backs passed me or crawled
along far-away trails, followed by men in tight white trousers, their
striped and gay-colored sarapes about their bodies and their huge hats
atop. Over all was a Sunday stillness, broken only by the occasional
bark of a distant dog or a cockcrow that was almost musical as it was
borne by on the wind. Everywhere were mountains piled into the
sky. Valenciana, where so many Spaniards, long since gone to whatever
reward awaited them, waxed rich and built a church now golden brown with
age, sat on its slope across the valley, down in which no one would have
guessed huddled a city of some 60,000 inhabitants. Much nearer and a
bit below drowsed the old town of Calderón, home of many of our peons, a
bright red blanket hung over a stone wall giving a splash of brilliancy
to the vast stretch of grayish, dull-brown, and thirsty green. The road
wound slowly down and ever down, until the gullies grew warmer as the
rising mountains cut off the breeze and left the sun in undisputed
command. Along the way were flowers uncountable, chiefly large, white,
lily-like blossoms growing on a bush, then thick patches of
orange-yellow. Horsemen, Mexicans on burros, peon men, women, and
children afoot were legion. There were no Americans, though I passed
one huge Negro with a great black beard who gave me "Good morning" from
his horse in the tone of a man who had not met an equal before in some
time. At length appeared the emerald-green patch of the upper Presa,
with its statue of Hidalgo, and the café-au-lait pond that stores the
city's water, and over the parapet of which hung _guanajuatenses_
watching with wonder the rowboat of the American hospital doctor, the
only water craft the great majority of them have ever seen.

A natural amphitheater encloses the ball-ground in which were gathered
the wives of Americans, in snowy white, to watch a game between teams
made up chiefly of "gringoes" of the mines, my one-time classmate still
at short-stop, as in our schoolboy days, thanks to which no doubt
Guanajuato held the baseball championship of Mexico. Like the English
officials of India, the Americans in high places here were noticeable
for their youth, and, at least here on the ball-ground, for their
democracy, known to all by their boyhood nicknames, yet held almost in
reverence by the Mexican youths that filled in the less important
positions. At the club after the game the champion Mexican player
discoursed on the certainty of ultimate American intervention and
expressed his own attitude with:

"Let it come, for I am not a politician but a baseball player."

It was election day, and I passed several doorways, among them that of
the company stable, in which a half-dozen old fossils in their most
solemn black garb crouched dreamily over wooden tables with registers,
papers, and ink bottles before them. Now and then a frightened peon
slunk up hat in hand to find whether they wished him to vote, and how,
or to see if perhaps he had not voted already--by absent treatment. The
manager of one of the mines had come into the office of the jefe
pólitico of his district the night before and found the ballots already
made out for the "liberal" candidate. He tore them up and sent his own
men to watch the election, with the result that there was a strong
majority in that precinct in favor of the candidate more pleasing to the
mine owners. The pulquerias and saloons of the peons had been closed,
but not the clubs and resorts of the white men. In one of these I sat
with the boss, watching him play a game of stud poker. A dissipated
young American, who smoked a cigar and a cigarette at the same time, was
most in evidence, a half Comanche Indian of an utterly impassive
countenance did the dealing, and fortunes went up and down amid the
incessant rattle of chips far into the morning. At three the boss broke
away, nine dollars to the good, while the proprietor of the place ended
with an enormous heap of chips in front of him; another American, making
out to him a check for $90, and calling for his horse, rode back to his
mine to earn it--the shoes of the horse clanking on the cobbles in the
silence of the night and passing now and then a policeman's lantern set
in the middle of the street, while that official huddled in his white
uniform in a dark corner, ostensibly keeping guard.

On another such a day I turned back about dusk up the gorge on the
return to the mine. The upper park where the band had played earlier was
now completely deserted. The road was nearly five miles long; the trail,
sheer up the wild tumble of mountains before me, little more than
two. This was vaguely reputed dangerous, but I was not inclined to take
the rumor seriously.

Black night fell. Soon I came upon the vanguard of the day-shift from
"Pingüico," straggling down the face of the mountain, shouting and
whistling to each other in their peculiar language. Some carried torches
that flashed along the mountain wall above me and threw long quaint
shadows of the tight-trousered legs. The grade was more than forty-five
degrees, with much slipping and sliding on unseen rocks. Two or three
groups had passed when one of the men recognized me and with a "Buenas
noches, jefe!" insisted on giving me the torch he carried, a mine candle
with a cloth wrapped around it as a protection in the strong wind. I had
soon to cast this away, as it not only threatened to burn my hand but
left the eyes unable to pierce the surrounding wall of darkness. In the
silence of the night there came to mind the assertion of by no means our
most timorous engineer, that he never passed over this trail after dark
without carrying his revolver cocked in his hand. My fellow countrymen
of the region all wore huge "six-shooters" with a large belt of
cartridges always in sight, less for use than the salutary effect of
having them visible, in itself a real protection. Conditions in Mexico
had led me to go armed for the first time in my travels; or more
exactly, to carry one of the "vest pocket automatics" so much in
vogue--on advertising pages--in that season. My experienced fellow
Americans refused to regard this weapon seriously. One had made the
very fitting suggestion that each bullet should bear a tag with the
devise, "You're shot!" An aged "roughneck" of a half-century of Mexican
residence had put it succinctly: "Yer travel scheme's all right; but
I'll be ---- ---- if I like the gat you carry." However, such as it was,
I drew it now and held it ready for whatever it might be called upon to

A half hour of heavy climbing brought me to the summit, with a strong
cool breeze and a splendid view of the spreading lights of Guanajuato in
the narrow winding gully far below. The trail wound round a peak and
reached the first scattered huts of Calderón just as a number of shots
sounded not far away. These increased until all the dogs for miles
around took up the hue and cry. The shots multiplied, with much shouting
and uproar, soon sounding on both sides and ahead and behind me, while
the whistling language shrilled from every gully and hillside. Evidently
drunken peons were harmlessly celebrating their Sunday holiday, but the
shots sounded none the less weirdly out of the black night as I stumbled
on over the rocky, tumbled country, for the only smooth way thereabouts
was the Milky Way faintly seen overhead. Gradually the shooting and
shouting drifted behind me and died out as I surmounted the last knoll
and descended to bed. It was only at breakfast next morning that I
learned I had serenely strolled through a pitched battle between bandits
that haunted the recesses of the mountains about Calderón and the town
which, led by its jefe político, had finally won the bout with four
outlaw corpses to its credit. It was my luck not to have even a
bullet-hole through my cap to prove the story. There were often two or
three such battles a week in the vicinity.

That morning I was given a new job. The boss led the way, candle in
hand, a half mile back through the bowels of the mountain, winding with
the swinging of the former ore vein. This alone was enough to get
hopelessly lost in, even without its many blind-alley branches. Now and
then we came upon another shaft-opening that seemed a bottomless hole a
few feet in diameter in the solid rock, from far down which came up the
falsetto voices and the stinking sweat of peons, and the rap, rap of
heavy hammers on iron rock-bars. But we had only started. Far back in
the gallery we took another hoist and descended some two hundred feet
more, then wound off again through the mountain by more labyrinthian
burrowings in the rock, winding, undulating passages, often so low we
must crawl on hands and knees, with no other light than the flickering
candles half-showing shadowy forms of naked, copper-colored beings; the
shadows giving them often fiendish faces and movements, until we could
easily imagine ourselves in the realms of Dante's imagination. In time
we came to a ladder leading upward into a narrow dark hole, and when the
ladder ended we climbed on our bellies some forty feet higher up a ledge
of rock to another "heading." Along this we made our way another
hundred yards or more to where a dozen naked peons were operating
compressed-air drills, then wormed our way like snakes over the
resultant debris to the present end of the passage, where more peons
were drilling by hand, one man holding a bar of iron a few feet long
which another was striking with a five-pound sledge that luckily never
missed its mark. This was indeed working in Mexico. It would have been
difficult to get farther into it; and a man could not but dully wonder
if he would ever get out again.

We were evidently very close to the infernal regions. Here, indeed,
would have been a splendid setting for an orthodox hell. Peons whose
only garment was the size of a postcard, some even with their hats off,
glistened all over their brown bodies as under a shower-bath. In five
minutes I had sweated completely through my garments, in ten I could
wring water out of my jacket; drops fell regularly at about half-second
intervals from the end of my nose and chin. The dripping sweat formed
puddles beneath the toilers, the air was so scarce and second-hand every
breath was a deep gasp; nowhere a sign of exit, as if we had been walled
up in this narrow, low-ceiled, jagged-rock passageway for all time.

My work here was to take samples from the "roof." A grinning peon who
called himself "Bruno Básques" (Vásquez) followed me about, holding his
hat under the hammer with which I chipped bits of rock from above, back
and forth across the top of the tunnel, every few feet. The ore ran very
high in grade here, the vein being some six feet of whitish rocky
substance between sheer walls of ordinary rock. It struck one most
forcibly, this strange inquisitiveness of man that had caused him to
prowl around inside the earth like a mole, looking for a peculiar kind
of soil or stone which no one at first sight could have guessed was of
any particular value. The peons, smeared all over with the drippings of
candle-grease, worked steadily for all the heat and stuffiness. Indeed,
one could not but wonder at the amount of energy they sold for a day's
wages; though of course their industry was partly due to my "gringo"
presence. We addressed them as inferiors, in the "tu" form and with the
generic title "hombre," or, more exactly, in the case of most of the
American bosses, "húm-bray." The white man who said "please" to them, or
even showed thanks in any way, such as giving them a cigarette, lost
caste in their eyes as surely as with a butler one might attempt to
treat as a man. I tried it on Bruno, and he almost instantly changed
from obsequiousness to near-insolence. When I had put him in his place
again, he said he was glad I spoke Spanish, for so many "jefes" had
pulled his hair and ears and slapped him in the face because he did not
understand their "strange talk." He did not mention this in any spirit
of complaint, but merely as a curious fact and one of the many
visitations fate sees fit to send those of her children unluckily born
peons. His jet black hair was so thick that small stones not only did
not hurt his head as they fell from under my hammer, but remained buried
in his thatch, so that nearly as many samples were taken from this as
from the roof of the passage.

Thus the sweat-dripping days passed, without a hint of what might be
going on in the world far above, amid the roar and pounding of air and
hand-drills, the noisy falling of masses of rock as these broke it
loose, the constant ringing of shovels, the rumble of iron ore-cars on
their thread-like rails, cries of "'stá pegado!" quickly followed by the
stunning, ear-splitting dynamite blast, screams of "No vás echar!" as
some one passed beneath an opening above, of "Ahora sí!" when he was out
of danger; the shrill warning whistling of the peons echoing back and
forth through the galleries and labyrinthian side tunnels, as the crunch
of shoes along the track announced the approach of some boss; the
shouting of the peons "throwing" a loaded car along the track through
the heavy smoke-laden air, so thick with the smell of powder and thin
with oxygen that even experienced bosses developed raging headaches, and
the Beau Brummel secretary of the company fell down once with dizziness
and went to bed after the weekly inspection.

When the first day was done I carried the ten sacks of samples--via
Bruno's shoulders--through the labyrinth of corridors and shafts to be
loaded on a car and pushed to the main shaft, where blew a veritable
sea-breeze that gave those coming from the red-hot pockets a splendid
chance for catching cold which few overlooked. In the _bodega_, or
underground office, I changed my dripping garments for dry ones, but
waited long for the broken-down motor to lift me again finally to pure
air. In the days that followed I was advanced to the rank of car-boss in
this same level, and found enough to do and more in keeping the tricky
car-men moving. A favorite ruse was to tip over a car on its way to the
chute and to grunt and groan over it for a half-hour pretending to lift
it back on the rails; or to tuck away far back in some abandoned "lead"
the cars we needed, until I went on tours of investigation and ferreted
them out.

During the last days of October I drew my car-boss wages and set out to
follow the ore after it left the mine. From the underground chutes it
was drawn up to the surface in the iron buckets, dumped on "gridleys"
(screens made of railroad rails separated a like width) after weighing,
broken up and the worthless rock thrown out on the "dump," a great
artificial hill overhanging the valley below and threatening to bury the
little native houses huddled down in it. A toy Baldwin locomotive
dragged the ore trains around the hill to the noisy stamp-mill spreading
through another valley, with a village of adobe huts overgrown with
masses of purple flowers and at the bottom a plain of white sand waste
from which the "values" had been extracted. The last samples I had taken
assayed nine pounds of silver and 23 grams of gold to the ton. The
carloads were dumped into bins at the top of the mill.

The nature of the country had been taken advantage of in the building,
which hung twelve stories high on the steep hillside, making gravitation
the chief means of transportation during the refining process. Rocks
were screened into one receptacle and broken up by hand. The finer stuff
went direct to the stamps. Stones of ordinary size were spread by
machinery on a broad leather belt that passed three peon women, who
picked out and tossed away the oreless stones. Their movements were
leisurely, but they were sharp-eyed and very few worthless bits got by
the three of them. A story below, the picked material went under
deafening stamps weighing tons and striking several blows a second,
while water was turned in to soften the material. This finally ran down
another story in liquid form into huge cylinders where it was rolled and
rolled again and at last flowed on, smelling like mortar or wet lime,
onto platforms of zinc constantly shaking as with the ague and with
water steadily flowing over them. Workmen about the last and most
concentrated of these were locked in rooms made of chicken-wire. Below,
the stuff flowed into enormous vats, like giants' washtubs, and was
stirred and watered here for several days until the "values" had settled
and were drawn off at the bottom. There were three stories, or some
thirty, of these immense vats. The completed process left these full of
white sand which a pair of peons spent several days shoveling out and
carrying down into the valley.

The "values" were next run down into smaller vats and treated with zinc
shavings, precipitating a 50 per cent. pure metal, black in color, which
was put into melting-pots in a padlocked room overseen by an
American. Here it was cast in large brick molds, these being knocked off
and the metal left to slack, after which it was melted again and finally
turned into gray-black blocks of the size and form of a paving-brick, 85
per cent. pure, about as heavy as the average lady would care to lift,
and worth something like $1250 each. Two or four of these were tied on
the back of a donkey and a train of them driven under guard to the town
office, whence they were shipped to Mexico City, and finally made into
those elusive things called coins, or sundry articles for the
vainglorious, shipped abroad or stolen by revolutionists. On this same
ground the old colonial Spaniards used to spread the ore in a cobbled
patio, treat it with mercury, and drive mules round and round in it for

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