Richard Harding Davis.

Three gringos in Venezuela and Central America online

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plished. Even to-day a fast steamer cannot
reach Callao from Panama under seven days,
and yet Bolivar made the same distance and on
foot, starting from the South Atlantic, and con-
tinuing on across the continent to the Pacific side,
and then on down the coast into Peru, living on
his way upon roots and berries, sleeping on the
ground wrapped in a blanket, riding on mule-
back or climbing the steep trail on foot, and free-
ing on his way Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador,
Bolivia, and finally Peru, the home of the Incas.
The history of this campaign is one too glori-
ous and rich in incident and color to be crowded
into a few pages, and the character of its chief
actor too varied, and his rise and fall too dra-
matic, to be dismissed, as it must be here, in a
few paragraphs. But every American who loves
a hero and who loves a lover and Bolivar was
very much of both, and perhaps too much of the
latter should read the life of this young man
who freed a country rich in brave men, who
made some of these who were much his senior
in years his lieutenants, and who, after risking
his life upon many battle-fields and escaping
several attempts at assassination, died at last
deserted except by a few friends, and with a
heart broken by the ingratitude of the people
he had led out of captivity.


It is difficult to find out, even in his own
country, why the Venezuelans, after heaping
Bolivar with honors and elevating him to the
place of a god, should have turned against him,
and driven him into exile at Santa Marta. Some
will tell you that he tried to make himself dicta-
tor over the countries which he had freed ; others
say that it was because he had refused to be a
dictator that the popular feeling went against
him, and that when the people in the madness
of their new-found freedom cried, "Thou hast
rid us of kings; be thou king," he showed them
their folly, and sought his old home, and died
there before the reaction came, which was to
sweep him back once more and forever into the
place of the popular hero of South America.

It was sixteen years after his death that a
hero-worshipping friend was brave enough to
commission an artist to design a statue to his
rnemory. On the neck of this statue the artist
hung the representation of a miniature in the
shape of a medallion, which had been given to
Bolivar by the family of Washington. On the
reverse was a lock of Washington's hair and the
inscription, " This portrait of the founder of
liberty in North America is presented by his
adopted son to him who has acquired equal
glory in South America."

Some one asked why the artist had stripped
from the breast of Bolivar all of the other



medals and stars that had been given him by
different countries in the hour of his triumph,
and the artist answered that he had done as his
patron and the friend of Bolivar thought would
best please his hero. And ever after that it was
decreed that every bust or statue or engraving
of the Liberator should show him with this
portrait of Washington hanging by a ribbon
about his neck ; and so you will see in the
National Portrait Gallery that while the coats
of his lieutenants glitter with orders and cross-
es, Bolivar's bears this medal only. It was his
greatest pride, and he considered it his chief
glory. And the manner of its bestowal was
curiously appropriate. In 1824 General Lafay-
ette returned to this country as the guest of
the nation, and a banquet was given to him by
Congress, at which the memory of Washington
and the deeds of his French lieutenant were
honored again and again. It was while the
enthusiasm and rejoicings of this celebration
were at their height that Henry Clay rose in
his place and asked the six hundred Americans
before him to remember that while they were
enjoying the benefits of free institutions founded
by the bravery and patriotism of their fore-
fathers, their cousins and neighbors in the south-
ern continent were struggling to obtain that same

" No nation, no generous Lafayette," he cried,



"has come to their aid; alone and without help
they have sustained their glorious cause, trusting
to its justice, and with the assistance only of

their bravery, their deserts, and their Andes
and one man, Simon Bolivar, the Washington of
South America."

And you can imagine the six hundred Ameri-
cans jumping to their feet and cheering the


name of the young soldier, and the French
marquis eagerly asking that he might be the one
to send him some token of their sympathy and
admiration. Lafayette forwarded the portrait
of Washington to Bolivar, who valued it so
highly that the people who loved him valued
the man he worshipped ; and to-day you will see
in Caracas streets and squares and houses named
after Washington, and portraits of Washington
crossing the Delaware, and Washington on horse-
back, and Washington at Mount Vernon, hang-
ing in almost every shop and cafe in the capital.
And the next time you ride in Central Park you
might turn your bicycle, or tell the man on the
box to turn the horses, into that little curtain of
trees, and around the hill where the odd-looking
statue stands, and see if you cannot feel some
sort of sympathy and pay some tribute to this
young man who loved like a hero, and who
fought like a hero, with the fierceness of the
tropical sun above him, and whose inspiration
was the calm, grave parent of your own country.

Bolivar's country is the republic of South
America that stands nearest to New York, and
when people come to know more concerning it,
I am sure they will take to visiting it and its
capital, the " Paris of South America," in the
winter months, as they now go to southern Eu-
rope or to the Mediterranean.

There are many reasons for their doing so.


In the first place, it can be reached in less than
six days, and it is the only part of South Amer-
ica to which one can go without first crossing
the Isthmus of Panama and then taking a long
trip down the western coast, or sailing for nearly
a month along the eastern coast ; and it is a
wonderfully beautiful country, and its cities of
Caracas and Valencia are typical of the best
South -American cities. When you have seen
them you have an intelligent idea of what the
others are like ; and when you read about rev-
olutions in Rio Janeiro, or Valparaiso, or Buenos
Ayres, you will have in your mind's eye the
background for all of these dramatic uprisings,
and you will feel superior to other people who
do not know that the republic of Venezuela is
larger than France, Spain, and Portugal together,
and that the inhabitants of this great territory
are less in number than those of New York city.
La Guayra is the chief seaport of Venezuela.
It lies at the edge of a chain of great mountains,
where they come down to wet their feet in the
ocean, and Caracas, the capital, is stowed away
three thousand feet higher up behind these
mountains, and could only be bombarded in
time of war by shells that would rise like rockets
and drop on the other side of the mountains,
and so cover a distance quite nine miles away
from the vessel that fired them. Above La
Guayra, on the hill, is a little fortress which was



once the residence of the Spanish governor
when Venezuela was a colony of Spain. It is of
interest now chiefly because Charles Kingsley
describes it in Westward Ho ! as the fortress in
which the Rose of Devon was imprisoned. Past
this fortress, and up over the mountains to the
capital, are a mule -trail and an ancient wagon-
road and a modern railway.

It is a very remarkable railroad ; its tracks cling
to the perpendicular surface of the mountain like
the tiny tendrils of a vine on a stone-wall, and
the trains creep and crawl along the edge of its
precipices, or twist themselves into the shape of
a horseshoe magnet, so that the engineer on the
locomotive can look directly across a bottomless
chasm into the windows of the last car. The
view from this train, while it pants and puffs on
its way to the capital, is the most beautiful com-
bination of sea and plain and mountain that I
have ever seen. There are higher mountains and
more beautiful^ perhaps, but they run into a
brown prairie or into a green plain ; and there
are as beautiful views of the ocean, only you have
to see them from the level of the ocean itself, or
from a chalk-cliff with the downs behind you and
the white sand at your feet. But nowhere else
in the world have I seen such magnificent and
noble mountains running into so beautiful and
green a plain, and beyond that the great blue
stretches of the sea. When you look down from


the car -platform you see first, stretching three
thousand feet below you, the great green ribs of
the mountain and its valleys and waterways lead-
ing into a plain covered with thousands and thou-
sands of royal palms, set so far apart that you
can distinguish every broad leaf and the full
length of the white trunk. Among these are the
red-roofed and yellow villages, and beyond them
again the white line of breakers disappearing and
reappearing against the blue as though some one
were wiping out a chalk -line and drawing it in
again, and then the great ocean weltering in the
heat and stretching as far as the eye can see, and
touching a sky so like it in color that the two are
joined in a curtain of blue on which the ships
seem to lie flat, like painted pictures on a wall.
You pass through clouds on your way up that
leave the trees and rocks along the track damp
and shining as after a heavy dew, and at some
places you can peer through them from the steps
of the car down a straight fall of three thousand
feet. When you have climbed to the top of the
mountain, you see below you on the other side
the beautiful valley in which lies the city of Cara-
cas, cut up evenly by well-kept streets, and diversi-
fied by the towers of churches and public build-
ings and open plazas, with the white houses and
gardens of the coffee -planters lying beyond the
city at the base of the mountains.

Venezuela, after our experiences of Central


America, was like a return to civilization after
months on the alkali plains of Texas. We found
Caracas to be a Spanish-American city of the first
class, with a suggestion of the boulevards, and
Venezuela a country that possessed a history of
her own, and an Academy of wise men and ar-
tists, and a Pantheon for her heroes. I suppose
we should have known that this was so before we
visited Venezuela ; but as we did not, we felt as
though we were discovering a new country for
ourselves. It was interesting to find statues of
men of whom none of us had ever heard, and
who were distinguished for something else than
military successes, men who had made discoveries
in science and medicine, and who had written
learned books ; to find the latest devices for
comfort of a civilized community, and with them
the records of a fierce struggle for independence,
a long period of disorganization, where the
Church had the master-hand, and then a rapid
advance in the habits and customs of enlight-
ened nations. There are the most curious com-
binations and contrasts, showing on one side a
pride of country and an eagerness to emulate
the customs of stable governments, and on the
other evidences of the Southern hot-blooded tem-
perament and dislike of restraint.

On the corner of the principal plaza stands the
cathedral, with a tower. Ten soldiers took ref-
uge in this tower four years ago, during the last


revolution, and they made so determined a fight
from that point of vantage that in order to dis-
lodge them it was found necessary to build a fire
in the tower and smoke them out with the fumes
of sulphur. These ten soldiers were the last to
make a stand within the city, and when they fell,
from the top of the tower, smothered to death,
the revolution was at an end. This incident of
warfare is of value when you contrast the thing
done with its environment, and know that next
to the cathedral -tower are confectionery -shops
such as you find on Regent Street or upper
Broadway, that electric lights surround the ca-
thedral, and that tram-cars run past it on rails
sunk below the surface of the roadway and over
a better street than any to be found in New York

Even without acquaintances among the people
of the capital there are enough public show-places
in Caracas to entertain a stranger for a fortnight.
It is pleasure enough to walk the long, narrow
streets under brilliantly colored awnings, between
high one and two story houses, painted in blues
and pinks and greens, and with overhanging red-
tiled roofs and projecting iron balconies and open
iron - barred windows, through which you gain
glimpses beyond of cool interiors and beautiful
courts and gardens filled with odd-looking plants
around a splashing fountain.

The ladies of Caracas seem to spend much of


their time sitting at these windows, and are al-
ways there in the late afternoons, when they
dress themselves and arrange their hair for the
evening, and put a little powder on their faces,
and take their places in the cushioned window-
seats as though they were in their box at the op-
era. And though they are within a few inches
of the passers-by on the pavement, they can look
through them and past them, and are as oblivious
of their presence as though they were invisible.
In the streets are strings of mules carrying bags
of coffee or buried beneath bales of fodder, and
jostled by open fiacres, with magnificent coach-
men on the box-seat in top-boots and gold
trimmings to their hats and coats, and many sol-
diers, on foot and mounted, hurrying along at a
quick step in companies, or strolling leisurely
alone. They wear blue uniforms with scarlet
trousers and facings, and the president's body-
guard are in white duck and high black boots,
and are mounted on magnificent horses.

There are three great buildings in Caracas
the Federal Palace, the Opera-house, and the Pan-
theon, which was formerly a church, and which
has been changed into a receiving-vault and a me-
morial for the great men of the country. Here,
after three journeys, the bones of Bolivar now
rest. The most interesting of these buildings is
the Federal Palace. It is formed around a great
square filled with flowers and fountains, and lit


with swinging electric lights. It is the handsom-
est building in Caracas, and within its four sides
are the chambers of the upper and lower branch-
es of the legislature, the offices of the different
departments of state, and the reception-hall of
the president, in which is the National Portrait
Gallery. The palace is light and unsubstantial-
looking, like a canvas palace in a theatre, and
suggests the casino at a French watering-place.
It is painted in imitation of stone, and the stat-
ues are either of plaster- of- paris or of wood,
painted white to represent marble. But the the-
atrical effect is in keeping with the colored walls
and open fronts of the other buildings of the city,
and is not out of place in this city of such dra-
matic incidents.

The portraits in the state-room of the palace
immortalize the features of fierce-looking, dark-
faced generals, with old-fashioned high-standing
collars of gold-braid, and green uniforms. Strange
and unfamiliar names are printed beneath these
portraits, and appear again painted in gold let-
ters on a roll of honor which hangs from the ceil-
ing, and which faces a list of the famous battles
for independence. High on this roll of honor
are the names " General O'Leary " and " Colo-
nel Fergurson," and among the portraits are the
faces of two blue-eyed, red-haired young men,
with fair skin and broad chests and shoulders,
one wearing the close - clipped whiskers of the



last of the Georges, and the other the long Dun-
dreary whiskers of the Crimean wars. Whether
the Irish general and the English colonel gave
their swords for the sake of the cause of inde-
pendence or fought for the love of fighting, I do


not know, but they won the love of the Spanish-
Americans by the service they rendered, no mat-
ter what their motives may have been for serving.
Many people tell you proudly that they are de-
scended from " O'Leari," and the names of the
two foreigners are as conspicuous on pedestals
and tablets of honor as are their smiling blue


eyes and red cheeks among the thin - visaged,
dark-skinned faces of their brothers-in-arms.
. At one end of the room is an immense paint-
ing of a battle, and the other is blocked by as
large a picture showing Bolivar dictating to mem-
bers of Congress, who have apparently ridden out
into the field to meet him, and are holding an
impromptu session beneath the palm leaves of
an Indian hut. The dome of the chamber,
which latter is two hundred feet in length, is
covered with an immense panorama, excellently
well done, showing the last of the battles of the
Venezuelans against the Spaniards, in which the
figures are life-size and the action most spirited,
and the effect of color distinctly decorative.
These paintings in the National Gallery would
lead you to suppose that there was nothing but
battles in the history of Venezuela, and that her
great men were all soldiers, but the talent of the
artists who have painted these scenes and the
actors in them corrects the idea. Among these
artists are Arturo Michelena, who has exhibited
at the World's Fair, and frequently at the French
Salon, from which institution he has received a
prize, M. Tovar y Tovar, A. Herrea Toro, and
Cristobal Rojas.

It was that "Illustrious American, Guzman
Blanco," one of the numerous presidents of Ven-
ezuela, and probably the best known, who was
responsible for most of the public buildings of

' A


the capital. These were originally either con-
vents or monasteries, which he converted, after
his war with the Church, into the Federal Pal-
ace, the Opera-house, and a university. Each of
these structures covers so much valuable ground,
and is situated so advantageously in the very
heart of the city, that one gets a very good idea
of how powerful the Church element must have
been before Guzman overthrew it.

He was a peculiar man, apparently, and pos-
sessed of much force and of a progressive spirit,
combined with an overmastering vanity. The
city was at its gayest under his regime, and he
encouraged the arts and sciences by creating va-
rious bodies of learned men, by furnishing the
nucleus for a national museum, by subsidizing
the Opera-house, and by granting concessions
to foreign companies which were of quite too
generous a nature to hold good, and which now
greatly encumber and embarrass his successors.
But while he was president, and before he
went to live in luxurious exile on the Avenue
Kleber, which seems to be the resting-place of
all South American presidents, he did much to
make the country prosperous and its capital at-
tractive, and he was determined that the people
should know that he was the individual who ac-
complished these things. With this object he
had fifteen statues erected to himself in different
parts of the city, and more tablets than one can


count. Each statue bore an inscription telling
that it was erected to that " Illustrious Ameri-
can, Guzman Blanco," and every new bridge and
road and public building bore a label to say that
it was Guzman Blanco who was responsible for
its existence. The idea of a man erecting stat-
ues to himself struck the South-American mind
as extremely humorous, and one night all the
statues were sawed off at the ankles, and to-day
there is not one to be seen, and only raw places
in the walls to show where the memorial tablets
hung. But you cannot wipe out history by pull-
ing down columns or effacing inscriptions, and
Guzman Blanco undoubtedly did do much for
his country, even though at the same time he
was doing a great deal for Guzman Blanco.

Guzman was followed in rapid succession by
three or four other presidents and dictators, who
filled their pockets with millions and then fled
the country, only waiting until their money was
first safely out of it. Then General Crespo, who
had started his revolution with seven men, final-
ly overthrew the government's forces, and was
elected president, and has remained in office
ever since. To set forth with seven followers to
make yourself president of a country as large as
France, Portugal, and Spain together requires a
great deal of confidence and courage. General
Crespo is a fighter, and possesses both. It was
either he or one of his generals the story is told


of both who, when he wanted arms for his
cowboys, bade them take off their shirts and
grease their bodies and rush through the camp of
the enemy in search of them. He told them to
hold their left hands out as they ran, and when-
ever their fingers slipped on a greased body they
were to pass it by, but when they touched a man
wearing a shirt they were to cut him down with
their machetes. In this fashion three hundred
of his plainsmen routed two thousand of the reg-
ular troops, and captured all of their rifles and
ammunition. The idea that when you want
arms the enemy is the best person from whom
to take them is excellent logic, and that charge
of the half -naked men, armed only with their
knives, through the sleeping camp is Homeric
in its magnificence.

Crespo is more at home when fighting in the
field than in the council-chamber of the Yellow
House, which is the White House of the repub-
lic ; but that may be because he prefers fight-
ing to governing, and a man generally does best
what he likes best to do. He is as simple in his
habits to-day as when he was on the march with
his seven revolutionists, and goes to bed at eight
in the evening, and is deep in public business by
four the next morning; many an unhappy min-
ister has been called to an audience at sunrise.
The president neither smokes nor drinks ; he is
grave and dignified, with that dignity which enor-


mous size gives, and his greatest pleasure is to
take a holiday and visit his ranch, where he watch-
es the round-up of his cattle and gallops over his
thousands of acres. He is the idol of the cow-
boys, and has a body-guard composed of some of
the men of this class. I suppose they are very
much like our own cowboys, but the citizens of
the capital look upon them as the Parisians re-
garded Napoleon's Mamelukes, and tell you in
perfect sincerity that when they charge at night
their eyes flash fire in a truly terrifying manner.
I saw the president but once, and then but
for a few moments. He was at the Yellow
House and holding a public reception, to which
every one was admitted with a freedom that be-
tokened absolute democracy. When my turn
came he talked awhile through Colonel Bird,
our consul, but there was no chance for me to
gain any idea of him except that he was very
polite, as are all Venezuelans, and very large.
They tell a story of him which illustrates his
character. He was riding past the university
when a group of students hooted and jeered at
him, not because of his politics, but because of
his origin. A policeman standing by, aroused to
indignation by this insult to the president, fired
his revolver into the crowd. Crespo at once
ordered the man's arrest for shooting at a citi-
zen with no sufficient provocation, and rode on
his way without even giving a glance at his tor-


mentors. The incident seemed to show that he
was too big a man to allow the law to be broken
even in his own defence, or, at least, big enough
not to mind the taunts of ill-bred children.

The boys of the university are taken very se-
riously by the people of Caracas, as are all boys
in that country, where a child is listened to, if
he be a male child, with as much grave polite-

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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisThree gringos in Venezuela and Central America → online text (page 10 of 11)