In Northern Mexico
( Originally Published 1912 )
THAT part of Mexico which extends southward for three or four hundred miles from the border of the United States has very little resemblance to the semi-tropical regions still farther south or to the "hot lands" along the coast. It is largely a vast plateau, with great plains devoted to grazing purposes and providing pasturage for hundreds of thousands of cattle. It is in the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango that the greatest estates in the country are situated, one multi-millionaire in Chihuahua having a vast property of seventeen million acres. The traveller can roam for days, crossing mountains, valleys and plains without leaving this princely domain. On some of these estates there are private railways, with railway stations and numerous villages. In this region are great ranches, employing hundreds of cowboys and presenting phases of life fully as picturesque as the once famous American wild West.
As my visit to Mexico was now drawing to a close, and I had thus far confined my travels to southern Mexico, I decided to return to New York by train, and on the way through the great central plateau to stop at one or two points and see something of the country. With this object in view, I left Tampico one morning bound for San Luis Potosi, about two hundred and fifty miles distant. The branch of the Mexican Central Railway which connects the two cities is noted for its scenic attractions, the views along the way rivalling those on the Mexican Railway between Vera Cruz and the capital.
Leaving the coast and running westward, the line crosses a series of great sloping plains, extending for nearly a hundred miles, which are well adapted for grazing purposes. They are covered with a coarse, luxuriant grass known as Para, which is ever green and is a great fattener of cattle. Numerous streams are crossed, for the country is unusually well watered. Coffee, oranges, bananas, limes, ginger and other tropical fruits and plants grow luxuriantly throughout this region, and the climate is delightful.
Mounting upwards from the foot-hills, the line reaches the mountains and eventually attains an altitude of over six thousand feet; the scenery is superb, especially in the so-called Abre de Caballeros. Here the train runs along the side of a lofty mountain beneath the shadow of great cliffs which tower far above, while below is a deep, rocky canon. From a neighboring mountainside leaps a marvellous and beautifully colored waterfall, pouring down in one cascade after another until there are a score or more, some over a hundred feet in height and one fully three hundred feet, making together a chain of nearly a mile in length. All around are towering mountain peaks. The combined effects of water, land and sky are wonderfully grand.
Farther on from this point there are more wonderful views and magnificent distances as the line curves, turns and twists upwards among the mountains : at one point, six curves of the track are in sight, while twelve hundred feet below are the luxuriant tropical valleys, with here and there bright green fields of sugar-cane and fruits. The line winds along a shelf hewn in the side of the almost perpendicular cliffs, around curves, through a succession of tunnels, then through the wild San Ysidro Valley, the mountainsides of which are densely wooded. It then emerges on the sloping plain of the table-land where, at an altitude of 6116 feet, is situated the city of San Luis Potosi.
Twenty years ago this old town, which was founded in 1566, was but little known to the outside world; but since the advent of the railways it has become a thriving commercial place. Situated in a fertile valley, it is surrounded by mountains rich in mineral wealth, especially silver and copper, the San Pedro mines near the city being among the most productive in Mexico. The city, in fact, derives its name from its supposed resemblance to Potosi in Peru, a famous silver-mining place. It is a bright, clean, attractive town, with handsome streets which vividly recall those of Seville, and abounds in fine old churches, rich in native decorative art. Among the public buildings are the library and museum, the mint and the state capitol, San Luis Potosi being the chief city of the State of the same name. With good hotels and theatres, public baths and lines of electric cars, the city shows every sign of progress, and has attracted a large number of foreigners who have settled there to engage in business. It is distinguished by a general appearance of neatness, which is largely due to a local law compelling the citizens to keep their dwellings in presentable condition, and prevents their becoming careless. During my stay in the city, I visited one or two of the large factories there, the machinery of which is operated by electrical power, one of these establishments, which is devoted to the manufacture of ready-made clothing, having all the latest appliances. In the workrooms the cutting, sewing, pressing and even the attaching of buttons is all done by machines driven by electrical power.
The country around San Luis 'Potosi is wonderfully productive, and this has done much to increase the city's prosperity. On the great haciendas throughout the State are grown a variety of crops, including wheat, barley, sugarcane, cotton and tobacco; there are also a large number of ranches, the country being exceptionally well adapted for cattle.
From this flourishing district I made a journey of one hundred and fifty miles on the Mexican Central Railway to the picturesque old town of Aguas Calientes or Hot Springs, a popular health resort. It is a quaint, sleepy place, with a population of thirty-eight thousand, and is situated at an altitude of six thousand feet, the climate being delightful. There are several good hotels in the town, which are generally well filled, as visitors flock to the springs from all parts of Mexico. In cases of rheumatism and similar diseases the waters of Aguas Calientes are said to effect remarkable cures. At the springs the old bath-houses have been strangely named after the apostles, the figure of one of the sacred twelve being placed over each door, with figures indicating the temperature of the water within. The town is famed for its pottery, the Aguas. Calientes ware; and sarapes are manufactured there in great quantities. Until recently the town was also noted for its drawn-work, which was the principal occupation of the feminine population, the finest linen being drawn in the most beautiful and complicated designs. One beautiful drawn-work costume, which was made in the town and intended for exhibition, took nine years to complete, three hundred expert needlewomen being employed on it. It is without seams, of exquisite design, and is valued at $2000. Drawn-work, however, will soon be a thing of the past in Aguas Calientes, as the women now find work in factories or other occupations which yield better wages. At the present time a great deal of imitation drawn-work is actually imported from Germany and sold to unsuspecting tourists as the work of native needlewomen. Even the gorgeous Mexican sarapes, I was told, are not all manufactured in Aguas Calientes by patient Indian workmen, but many of them, sad to relate, are " made in Germany."
From Aguas Calientes the Mexican Central Railway runs northward through the states of Durango and Chihuahua to El Paso in Texas, a large, enterprising town which has become an important railway centre. From there California can be reached by direct train via New Mexico and Arizona. There are also connecting lines there which take the traveller to other parts of the United States.
Some remarkable developments are being made in this northern part of Mexico; and the rapidity with which the whole country is being transformed is only realized when one has actually been there. Lying so close to the United States, northern Mexico has naturally attracted large numbers of Americans who are settling there and engaging in mining, farming and various other branches of business. New mines are being constantly opened, factories are springing up and railways are being extended in all directions. This rush of progress has had a noticeable effect on the old cities of the north, notably Durango, Chihuahua and Zacatecas, which are being rapidly modernized. Each of these cities has from thirty to forty thousand inhabitants, and all of them are built in the same substantial manner, with large business houses and fine public buildings. Before the railways came they were sleepy, out-of-the-world places, seldom heard of; to-day, like San Luis Potosi and other towns, they have shaken off their lethargy, suddenly be-come busy places and are steadily increasing in size and importance.
Zacatecas is one of the most important silver-mining centres in Mexico; since the metal was first mined there, in 1546, the mines have produced an amount estimated at over $700,000,000. The present annual output is about $3,000,000.
Durango might be called the Pittsburg of Mexico, as it is the centre of an important iron industry. The smoky atmosphere and dingy back streets of Pittsburg, however, are happily non-existent, for Durango is a picturesque city, with fine, clear, mountain air. Near the city is a mountain of iron ore, averaging from seventy-five to ninety per cent of pure metal, almost solid iron ! A cavalier in Cortes' time, one Senor Mercado, heard a wonderful story of a mountain of silver, and visited the present site of Durango, where it was supposed to be. To his intense disgust he found nothing but iron. His memory has been perpetuated by the name of the mountain, which is called Cerro Mercado. In the neighborhood there are a few silver mines, but iron is king. Durango, by the way, is over seven hundred miles from Mexico City, which gives some idea of the magnificent distances of Mexico.
One of the most important railway enterprises which has been carried out in northern Mexico is the building of the Kansas City, Mexican and Orient Railway, which is now approaching completion. This railway, which is the first direct line to cross the frontier between the United States and Mexico, will extend from Kansas City to the Bay of Topolobampo on the Mexican Pacific coast, a distance of 1659 miles. It runs through the states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa, opening up a magnificent country of immense area, rich in mineral and agricultural resources, and offering tempting inducements to settlers with small capital. Topolobampo is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, having a great resemblance to the famous Bay of Rio Janeiro. The railway will connect there with steamers for the Orient, several lines having arranged to make the port a place of call; and in a few years this place, which has been named Port Stillwell, will become one of the busiest towns on the coast. Mr. Arthur E. Stillwell, who conceived the idea of this wonderful railway, has carried it out with remarkable energy, having enlisted in the enterprise a large amount of British, French and American capital.
Agriculture is making great progress in the northern states of Mexico, irrigation having been introduced very extensively, with wonderful results. To encourage this system of agriculture, the Mexican government has recently appropriated $10,000,000 to assist the owners of irrigated lands in making further improvements. The import duties on agricultural implements, cattle for breeding purposes, etc., will also be removed for a term of years for their benefit, while the export duties on the products of irrigated lands will also be taken off. Mexican lands, except those along the coast, are largely dependent upon irrigation, and by this system millions of acres of land heretofore unproductive are now producing enormous crops. Wherever irrigation is introduced, the seemingly worthless soil at once becomes wonderfully fertile.
Cotton growing is also an important industry in this part of the country, and a number of mills are in successful operation. Great quantities of wheat are grown in Chihuahua, the crop averaging about 1,500,000 bushels a year. Sheep farming is about to be undertaken in this State by an English company, which has recently purchased a tract of land fifty miles square. This is to be stocked with sheep from Australia, and by breeding and interbreeding with the best native stock, it is believed that a breed of sheep can be developed in Mexico which will equal any in the world. Several Australian sheep experts have been engaged for this great ranch. Sheep farming in Mexico has thus far been conducted in a very haphazard way, and the country has never been regarded as suitable for this industry. The work of the English company is therefore being watched with a great deal of interest.
In the extreme northwest of Mexico, beyond Durango and Chihuahua, is the rich agricultural and mining State of Sonora, which borders the Pacific Ocean. It is the second largest State in the Republic, but for some years it has continued in a condition of panic-stricken stagnation owing to the Yaqui Indians, who to the number of about five thousand have been carrying on a campaign of revenge against the whites. Mines are shut down and industries neglected, while the haciendas are fortified, and no white dare venture far from the towns or cuartels, the points where the troops are concentrated. Some idea may be formed of the interests involved in this struggle by the fact that at the banks of Guaymas and other Sonora towns there are securities representing over $50,000,000 of American capital which has been sunk in the Yaqui district of Sonora and is now, for the time at least, dead money.
There seems to be some doubt as to whether the Yaquis are the bloodthirsty savages their would-be Mexican masters like to paint them, or whether, in the language of Senor de Zayas Enriques, a well-known Mexican who has espoused their cause, they are a race of heroes. Probably the truth is somewhere between the two views. Of their bravery there can be no doubt. Wonderful stories are told of it. One Yaqui chief pursued by rurales — the Mexican country soldiers — from the vantage post of a rock, picked off his enemies one by one, till, surrounded, he had to face a mounted officer who rode at him with uplifted sabre. He parried the blow with his knife, and vaulting on the horse's back, pinioned the arms of the officer and spurred the horse to a precipice near. There the horse balked, but the Yaqui plunged his knife into its flank and the animal, with its two riders — the Yaqui crying out in triumph, the officer with terror — were hurled to death on the rocks below.
So much for their bravery. As for their savagery, it is a fact that they have waylaid many harmless persons — Americans, for the most part — and killed them all, including women and children. There are also many cases of alleged brutality against them. Some of their own tribe, unwilling to take up arms against the Mexicans, were treated, so it is reported, in a way so horrible that the Yaquis must, if it be true, forfeit everyone's sympathy. The soles of their feet were cut off, their eyes gouged out, and they were dragged out into a waterless prairie and left to die. From such atrocities it might be supposed that the Yaquis are like the Apaches and other bloodthirsty North American redskins of former times, wearing feathers and painting their faces. The Yaquis, however, while somewhat darker, are not unlike the other Mexican Indians ; they have always been an agricultural people, and to-day most of them dress in the ordinary peon costume. When left to themselves, they till their little farms and are quiet and industrious. Most of them speak Spanish as well as the Yaqui dialect.
The story of Yaqui discontent dates back to the Conquest. At that time the tribe numbered, it is related, three hundred thousand. They never submitted to Cortes, and thereafter a guerilla warfare existed in Sonora, broken by more serious uprisings, such as those in 1735 and 1825. In 1832 they successfully opposed any Mexican interference with their tribal rights, and until 1848 were left in supreme control of their lands round the Yaqui River. In that year war broke out again, lasting until 1897, when a truce was called and a treaty finally concluded. But in less than a year, owing, it is said, to the wrongful diversion of an irrigation stream by a Mexican landowner, the Yaquis flew to arms, and now hold the district by a system of terrorism. The country is covered with brush from ten to fifteen feet high, through which are trails known only to the Indians. They are all good shots, and while they never ride, can cover on foot as much as seventy-five miles a day. So keen is their system of scouting that the clumsy, ill-drilled Mexican soldiers, recruited mostly from the jails, have no chance; and in hand-to-hand fighting the government troops have so far always come off second best.
An almost incredible condition of affairs exists at the present time as the result of the Yaqui warfare. Bands of these bloodthirsty natives are constantly prowling about the country and making attacks where least expected. An instance of this occurred two or three years ago at the little town of Toledo, when the mayor gave a modest banquet, the entertainment being held on the flat roof of his house, according to the custom in that warm country. The roof, being illuminated, offered an easy mark for some Yaquis who happened to be lurking in the mountain overlooking the town. In the midst of the festivities bullets suddenly rained among the guests, killing four persons, including the mayor's wife and daughter. Several of the survivors were wounded as they hastily retreated. Similar outrages have occurred elsewhere. Even at Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, a beautiful and progressive city, it is unsafe to venture many miles away. Not long ago, it is said, a party of Americans, while motoring near the town, were fired upon by some Yaquis concealed in the bush, and barely escaped with their lives. Hermosillo is in the centre of a rich mining region, and in the mountains near the town are a number of mines of gold, silver and copper. The soil in this part of the country is wonderfully fertile, great quantities of oranges, wheat, maize, cotton, sugar-cane and tobacco being grown. Mining and agriculture, however, have been seriously retarded by the constant dread of the Yaquis.
Short shrift is usually given to the Yaqui marauders when caught red-handed by the Mexican soldiers. Without the semblance of a trial, a dozen or more will sometimes be stood in a line and shot down ; sometimes they are hanged to trees, and their bodies left dangling by the roadside as a warning to their surviving comrades. Deportations of large numbers of inoffensive Yaquis to the swamps of Yucatan are also being carried out ; and the Mexican government continues to wage a merciless war of extermination.
It was almost the end of March when I returned to San Luis Potosi to resume my journey northwards, my destination being the city of Monterey, two hundred and nine miles distant. The Mexican National Railway by which I travelled runs some comfortable trains direct to St. Louis, via Monterey and Laredo, the distance being about 1553 miles and the journey occupying a little over four days. The train which I took, one morning, the Mexico City-St. Louis Express, had left the capital the day before, and was composed exclusively of Pullman cars.
From the railway the country is not seen at its best, but for some miles beyond San Luis Potosi the line runs through a succession of fields and gardens planted with semitropical fruits and vegetables kept green by irrigation. In this fertile region there is a great estate through which the railway passes, and a brief view is obtained of the picturesque hacienda building of white stone, which looks like a walled fortress, surrounded with tropical gardens, bright with flowers. Near by two white church towers peep above a little village belonging to the estate, which is owned by the Frias family and is one of the finest in Mexico. Over a thousand people are employed on it. For nearly seventy miles the train ran through the great rolling plain, strewn with cactus and occasionally relieved by long stretches of cultivated land, and then reached the town of Catorce. Near the railway station at this place there is a stone monument inscribed, "Tropic of Cancer," the country south of the monument being within that zone. Passing this imaginary line brought no perceptible difference in the weather, which continued as warm as ever, with the usual amount of dust in the air. Catorce is Spanish for " fourteen," the town taking its name from a band of fourteen desperados who in ancient times had a fortress there, and levied tribute on the inhabitants of the surrounding country. From San Luis Potosi there is a gradual descent from the table-land, and at Catorce the line leaving the plains winds between the mountains, still continuing the descent.
The next important town is Saltillo, the capital of the State of Coahuila. Near it was fought the battle of Buena Vista between the Mexicans and the Americans in February, 1847, when the Mexican army was totally defeated. It is a favorite resort for well-to-do Mexicans, and during July and August life there has been described by a local American scribe as "a veritable whirl of parties, balls, concerts and burro excursions." Standing high up in the mountains at an altitude of 5249 feet, the town has one of the finest summer climates in Mexico. Saltillo is not only a health resort, but it has become an important manufacturing place, several large smelters, rubber factories and flour mills having been started there. It has some fine streets, good shops, and a magnificent club-house which contains the largest ballroom in Mexico.
From Saltillo southwards there is a succession of barren, sun-baked mountains, rocky canons and arid valleys, dotted with cactus, but almost destitute of trees, though occasion-ally there is a green, irrigated patch of vegetation. It is a desolate country; for miles and miles scarcely a town or village is passed. Occasionally at small stations there are a few adobe huts where blanketed peons and some lean goats are visible, but otherwise' there is little sign of life.
It is a melancholy country, and is rather depressing to the spirits. It seemed to have had an especially bad effect on two Americans who took seats near me in the smoking compartment, whither I had adjourned to try the efficacy of a good cigar in warding off the blues. They were strangers, but soon struck up an acquaintance. One of them, a dark, plump, rather Jewish-looking young man, with smoothly shaven face, had every appearance of being a "drummer." His companion was a long, lean, angular Westerner, evidently a farmer, with a scrubby gray beard which he stroked ruminatingly with one hand, while in the other he held a big, black, unlighted cigar, which he chewed vigorously from time to time.
"Well, sir," remarked the drummer, "we shall soon be seeing the last of Mexico, and getting back again into God's country. Well, I rather reckon they'll never see yours truly in Mexico again for the rest of his natural life." "You ain't done well, then," observed the Westerner. "Well?" retorted the other. "Why, I've hardly got the backbone to face my people in Chicago. I haven't even covered my expense account." "What's your line, partner?" asked the lean man, with some show of interest. "I'm travelling for a soap house," replied the drummer, with a deep groan.
The farmer gave a vindictive bite to the end of his cigar. "Well, well," he remarked, after a short silence, "I reckon we're both in the same boat, neighbor, when it comes to losing money." Here, to my horror, he actually produced a small piece of silver ore from his pocket. Surely, thought I, this cannot be another "man with a scheme." Is there no escaping them? But as I listened I heard a very different story from that which I expected. "Well, sir," continued the rural tourist, "that little chunk of metal cost me a pretty pile of money. I got it about two years ago from a fellow that came from down Guanajuato way and was a-visiting in our district. He talked me into putting up two thousand good American dollars to work a hole in the hills somewhere, that he swore was chock full of silver. We was both a-going to be millionaires in a few months. Well, I ain't never seen one cent back. Finally, I got tired o' waiting, and came down to Guanajuato to see if anything was coming out o' that hole." "What did you find in it ? " asked the drummer. " Wal," dryly replied the man from the West, "I jest found that there wasn't even a hole. I've been a-trying ever since to lay my hands on that silver king; and, by gum, if I ever meet him, he won't work no more holes nor any more skin games neither.
With this the two travellers relapsed into silence; both of them had painful memories of Mexico. How often during my travels had I encountered the "man with the scheme," but how little had I imagined that I should ever gaze upon one of his victims.
Later in the day, after winding for miles between the barren mountains, the train at last reached the large and important city of Monterey, situated in a beautiful valley at an altitude of fifteen hundred feet, and having a much bet-ter than many places farther south. Outside the station was the now familiar street-car with its two mules, still undisplaced by electrical traction, and the usual number of coches. One of the latter took me to a hotel in the middle of the town, which is nearly a mile from the railway, passing along some dusty roads lined with shed-like dwellings of tinted stucco, which give a stranger a very unfavorable first impression of the city. From this unattractive highway there was a sudden transition into the town itself, where there were good, substantial business buildings in the somewhat narrow streets, some smart shops and here and there a fine old Spanish church.
Monterey has a population of over sixty thousand, and being so close to the. United States is becoming rapidly Americanized. Large numbers of Americans are living in and around the city, and a great deal of American and Canadian capital has been invested there. In strolling about the streets, I noticed signs of Americanization every-where, the stores, for instance, having their announcements in English as well as Spanish; and at some of the street corners boys were selling a bright, well-edited American daily newspaper, the Monterey News. The city is the capital of the State of Nuevo Leon, and was founded in 1560. Of late years it has become an important manufacturing place; there are large iron mines not far distant, and half a dozen large smelters are in operation, where lead and silver are extracted from other ores. On the outskirts of the city are several big breweries, which manufacture the popular Monterey lager beer. As an offset to the beer, the city also does a large business in mineral water, which comes from the Topo Chico springs a few miles out; this has a great medicinal reputation and is sold all over the country.
Monterey is famous for having been the scene of an important battle in our war with Mexico in 1846, when, after a desperate, stubbornly disputed conflict lasting several days, General Taylor defeated a large force of Mexicans under General Ampudia. The old palace of the bishops of Monterey, now a picturesque ruin, standing on a hill near the town, was fortified by the Mexicans, and was the scene of fierce fighting. During the assault of the city the contest raged in the streets, the Mexican soldiers occupying the houses and shooting down the Americans from the windows and roofs.
While I was in the city, I accepted an invitation to ac-company an American friend on a visit to one of the large ranches in the State of Coahuila, in which part of the country some of the largest Mexican estates are situated. Some of the ranches there have an area of two or three hundred miles and are over seventy miles wide. Much of the country is an undulating plain, with a sandy soil, covered with scrubby bushes, coarse grass and cactus.
A hot, dusty railway journey, which consumed the greater part of a day, took us to a small wayside station, where a peon awaited us with two horses. A ride of several miles brought us to the ranch. We spent the night at the ranch house, a small building of stuccoed adobe, which served as the headquarters of the manager of the estate. Early the next morning, after a good breakfast prepared by the Mexican cook, we again mounted our horses, and guided by one of the cowboys, an American, we rode about fifteen miles across the plain to a camp where a round-up was to take place.
Once a year every ranch has its round-up, when the cattle are collected and the unmarked yearlings or calves of a year old are branded, the work usually taking about a fortnight. During this interval the cowboys scour the range, gathering the bunches of cattle together and driving them towards one central point, where there is a huge stockade or corral. Towards the end of the drive there are oftentimes exciting scenes, many of the wilder animals galloping off and being brought back after a long chase. Occasionally a bull turns and charges on one of the cowboys, but although a horse is sometimes killed, the rider usually escapes. At night, too, a herd will sometimes stampede through fright and run for miles, some of the animals being killed in the mad flight.
On the way to the camp I chatted with our companion, the cowboy, a picturesque-looking fellow who wore a big straw sombrero, a blue shirt, a bright red handkerchief about his neck, while his legs were encased in skin-tight leather trousers, a protection against the thorns which abound in the low scrub. Around his waist was a well-filled cartridge belt holding a big revolver. It was a glorious morning, with a clear blue sky overhead and a mild though invigorating breeze was blowing over the great plain, which stretched for miles to a sky-line of rugged mountains.
"This is a great country," I remarked, but our cow-puncher was vigorously chewing a piece of plug tobacco and did not reply immediately. He then remarked : "Good enough for them, that likes it, but I prefer God's country for mine."
"You would rather be back in Texas," I observed. "That's about it, Colonel," was the reply, "there's no for-tune for a ranch hand in this part of the world." He then went on to tell me that, like many another young American, he had drifted down into Mexico in search of adventure, had got stranded, and had been obliged to take the first thing that offered in the shape of work. Cowboys on Mexican ranches, so he informed me, were supplied with a horse and saddle, paid five dollars a month and provided with food and lodging. In Texas he had earned about thirty dollars a month and his board. He was now practically a prisoner, as it was hard to save money, and Texas was a long way off. It was therefore not surprising that he sighed for God's country. Aside from his scanty wages, however, he found no fault with the work, having always done hard manual labor. I gathered from him that it was different with a good many young Americans of the better class, and quite a few young Englishmen who became stranded in Mexico and found themselves in the same position that he was in. "These tenderfeet come down here," he remarked, "expecting to find a sort of Wild West Show. Perhaps it's all very funny at first, but that soon wears off, and they find that ranching is a pretty hard life. We start work before sun-up and keep going until dark, and when a fellow has been riding miles over the range, chasing cattle all day, all he feels fit for at night is to eat his grub and turn in."
When we arrived at the camp, a large herd of cattle had just been driven into the corral by a party of cowboys or vaqueros, most of them swarthy Mexicans, with much shouting and yelling, the place being enveloped in clouds of dust. On holidays and other special occasions some of these vaqueros appear in gorgeous trappings on which all their savings are spent. Their jackets, sombreros and saddle blankets are heavily laced with gold tinsel, and they wear high boots and leather accoutrements of the finest quality. Wonderful feats of horsemanship and lassoing are exhibited by some of them.
After the cattle had been corralled, the calves or yearlings were separated from the herd and driven into a smaller enclosure, where several men were stationed with long branding-irons bearing the mark of the ranch. These were made almost red-hot in a blazing fire. One after another the yearlings were dexterously lassoed, thrown down and then held by two of the vaqueros, sometimes only after a hard struggle. The branding iron was immediately applied, burning off the hair and leaving the imprint on the skin. A peculiar clip was also given to the ear of each animal, which enables the ownership to be proved whenever they get mixed with herds belonging to another ranch. It took nearly all day to brand the yearlings in the corral; they were then turned loose with the rest of the herd, which was allowed to return to its feeding-grounds. The same process is repeated until all the cattle have been rounded up and branded.
If it were not for its monotony, there would be much worse modes of life than that on a Coahuila ranch. The country is wonderfully healthy, the climate resembling that of the southern part of the United States, but without the extremes of heat and cold which are experienced there. In the winter months the weather is quite bracing, and warm clothing is essential, especially when a "norther" swoops down through the country. I was there early in April, at which time the weather is almost perfection.
Since the great prairie lands of the United States, which once supported immense herds of cattle, have almost disappeared, the Mexican ranches have begun to attract much more attention, and a large amount of American capital is being invested in them. As feeding grounds for cattle, the Mexican ranges do not compare with the prairies, such, for instance, as formerly existed in. Texas and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Instead of the long, luscious prairie grass on which the American herds fattened, the Mexican cattle have to browse on coarse grass, weeds and even cactus, which they devour in spite of the prickles. In times of drought, when water and fodder are scarce, the peons sometimes gather quantities of prickly pear and partially burn off the sharp spikes, the broad, fiat leaves, which are very juicy, being ravenously eaten by the cattle. Owing to the poor grazing which the Mexican ranges afford, it is estimated that about fifteen acres is required to support each animal, so that about one hundred and fifty thousand acres is needed for ten thousand head of cattle. This serves to ex-plain the reason for the enormous extent of the great ranches.
Next to the question of food, the supply of water is of supreme importance in a country where streams are scarce and there is a long dry season. On most ranches the bulk of the water-supply is obtained from wells, the water being raised by means of windmills. It is oftentimes a long distance from the feeding grounds to the water, and in times of drought large numbers of cattle perish.
The native Mexican cattle have much the same look as the Spanish breeds, with long, wide, curving horns, but are not of much value as meat-producers. They cost about $5 each. Of foreign cattle the Swiss and Holland breeds seem to thrive best on the Mexican ranges, and these are being successfully crossed with the native stock,
On the ranch which we visited there were over a thou-sand head of horses, most of them small, bony, wiry animals, which hardly fetch $3 in the market. There was, however, some fine-looking stock, the result of crossing the native English and French breeds. On some of the ranches from ten to twenty thousand horses find pasturage, and for breeding purposes are divided into bunches of fifty or more, according to their color, browns, roans, grays, etc., so as to secure uniformity in the stock. After being kept together for some time, these bunches never become mixed with each other, but when roaming over the range each keeps to itself.
In addition to cattle and horses, goats are popular species of live stock on Mexican ranches, herds of five and ten thou-sand being quite common. Goats are very profitable, as a rule, requiring very little attention, and thriving on the poorest pasturage. Goats' flesh is much eaten by the poorer classes in Mexico, and there is always a good market for the skins.
We passed a pleasant night at the camp, where sleeping quarters were provided in two or three large tents. Out in the open, fires were kindled by the Mexican cooks, who, with the aid of sundry pans and skillets prepared a very appetizing supper for the hungry ranchmen. There was fried beef, pork and beans, freshly baked hardtack and coffee. Later in the evening, in honor of our visit, a flask of rye whiskey was produced from some place of concealment, and a homceopathic quantity subtracted by each of us.
As we sat round the fire enjoying a smoke, the scene was delightfully picturesque. Above, in the clearest of skies, was the bright moon and a blaze of stars, which lighted the great plain stretching for miles to the westward. One of a party of Mexicans who were squatting together a short distance away produced an old mandolin, and to the accompaniment of this his companions joined in singing one of those plaintive Spanish songs which seem to strangely harmonize with the life of Mexico. Stirred into activity by this burst of song, some coyotes or prairie wolves not far off set up a dismal howling, to which some of the dogs in the camp replied in wonderful imitation. In this part of the country there are not only coyotes but lynx, puma, and cinnamon bears, affording excellent sport for those who are handy with a rifle.
During the evening I entered into conversation with the ranch foreman, a very intelligent Mexican, who had been employed on one of the great ranches of northern Mexico, much larger in extent than the average American county. I had some curiosity to learn how these great estates are managed. He informed me that this particular estate was divided into farms of from one thousand to twenty-five hundred acres each, a foreman being placed in charge of each farm and managing it independently. Machinery, tools, horses, mules, wagons and money for the peons was furnished to each foreman. At certain parts of the estate there were general stores where the peons could obtain their food, clothing and other requisites on credit. Most of them remained in debt to the stores, and never saw any of the money representing their wages. In some cases an entire village would be in this condition of indebtedness. On this estate there were three thousand peons, who, with their families, made a total population of ten thousand.
Although the country seems very barren when viewed from the railway, and the ranges seem to afford very scanty subsistence for the cattle, Coahuila is nevertheless one of the richest agricultural States in Mexico. The soil in many places is wonderfully fertile, yielding large crops of wheat, cotton, sugar-cane and maize. Grapes are now being grown to some extent, and an excellent quality of wine has been produced, superior in some respects to that of California. There are also great orchards of such fruits as apples, pears and quince. As Coahuila is just below the boundary of the United States, and railway connections are steadily improving, it offers many attractions to settlers. Large numbers of Americans with capital are coming into this part of Mexico. One of the Coahuila towns, Torreon, which was until recently a small Indian village, has now a large American population and has been transformed into a thriving, busy place, with substantial buildings of brick and stone, equipped with electric light, telephones and other modern accessories.
My visit to this interesting State was a fitting close to my Mexican travels. Here, as in other parts of the Republic, I found the same development of resources in progress, the same inrush of new methods, the awakening of the people and the steady Americanization of the land. Here, too, I found that touch of the picturesque which makes Mexico, with all her faults, so fascinating to the stranger within her gates; for the deep blue, cloudless sky, the vast herds of cattle and the galloping vaqueros are things to be remembered for many a day:
The next morning I rode with my companion back to the railway, and a few hours later was again on the train returning to Monterey, with its busy streets and hum of life. Two days afterwards I boarded the St. Louis express once more and resumed my journey northwards.
It is 166 miles from Monterey to Nuevo Laredo on the Rio Grande River, which divides Mexico from the United States. The scenery for half the distance continues of the same arid description, dry valleys, with cactus and scrubby vegetation, and low, barren, sun-baked hills. Then comes a wide plain, stretching to the horizon, a desolate region, with the same scrubby bushes and dry, yellow grass. Travellers coming from the North get a very bad impression of the country in the dry season. I have heard- people who have been in Texas and have gone down a few miles over the border into Mexico, denouncing the country as a perfect desert. They have simply seen a few leagues of these barren plains and sun-baked hills and call that "seeing Mexico."
At the little station of Nuevo Laredo I bade farewell, with many regrets, to old Mexico. There was a halt of a few minutes here and a cursory examination of baggage. It appeared that some serious robberies had recently occurred in the capital, and the police, thinking that the thieves might be attempting to leave the country with their plunder, had ordered a search to be made for suspicious persons and baggage at Vera Cruz and Tampico and at all railway stations along the American border. I exchanged a few words with the polite old customs officer, who, with his bronzed, bearded face and military bearing, might have stepped from a canvas by Velasquez. As I got on the train, which was already moving, he lifted his hat, and with graceful courtesy said, "Adios, senor, vaya usted con Dios."
The sun was slowly sinking over the reddish hills of Mexico as our train steamed over the long steel bridge spanning the wide, shallow Rio Grande River, to the bustling town of Laredo, Texas. Looking backwards, I could see the little station, with its group of drowsy peons loafing outside, while above it the red, white and green flag of Mexico floated idly in the evening breeze. Back there, beyond the miles of barren mountains and plains were the everlasting hills tipped with snow, overlooking many a quaint old town, with its ancient churches and its sunny plazas bright with a wealth of flowers, where a kindly though slowly progressing people were still living the life of the past. Back there, at least, the picturesque still survived; but was it to be soon obliterated by the prosaic American invasion?
As if in answer to this question, a sharp, businesslike voice greeted my ear. "All the latest books and papers—San Antonio Express, St. Louis and Chicago papers. Here's all of 'em." We had reached the American side of the-river, and a hustling news-vendor had boarded the train with a fresh supply of literature. At the same moment another brisk voice broke in with, " Laredo ; all passengers out for customs examination. Please step lively." Some local celebration happened to be in progress, and the station was decorated with masses of American flags. Just as I left the train, a brass band blared forth " Hail, Columbia," and a crowd of enthusiastic citizens rent the air with ear-piercing cheers.
Here was Laredo, the outpost of the United States, with -its energy, its push, and its inspiring patriotism; and there, across that wide, shallow river was Mexico, the old, the romantic, the picturesque, slowly but surely awakening" into new life through the oncoming host of American invaders.