Richard Harding Davis.

Three gringos in Venezuela and Central America online

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demned them and their blue-prints and transits
to a place where all nature was beautiful and
only civilized man was discontented.

We lay at Barrios until late at night, wander-
ing round the deserted decks, or watching the
sharks sliding through the phosphorus and the
lights burning in the huts along the shore.
At midnight we weighed anchor, and in the
morning steamed into Puerto Cortez, the chief
port of Spanish Honduras, where the first part
of our journey ended, and where we exchanged
the ship's deck for the Mexican saddle, and
hardtack for tortillas.


years ago, while I was passing
through Texas, I asked a young man
in the smoking-car if he happened to
know where I could find the United
States troops, who were at that time riding some-
where along the borders of Texas and Mexico,
and engaged in suppressing the so-called Garza

The young man did not show that he was
either amused or surprised at the abruptness of
the question, but answered me promptly, as a
matter of course, and with minute detail. " You
want to go to San Antonio," he said, " and take
the train to Laredo, on the Mexican boundary,
and then change to the freight that leaves once
a day to Corpus Christi, and get off at Pena sta-
tion. Pena is only a water-tank, but you can
hire a horse there and ride to the San Rosario
Ranch. Captain Hardie is at Rosario with Troop
G, Third Cavalry. They call him the Riding


Captain, and if any one can show you all there
is to see in this Garza outfit, he can."

The locomotive whistle sounded at that mo-
ment, the train bumped itself into a full stop at
a station, and the young man rose. " Good-
day," he said, smiling pleasantly; "I get off

He was such an authoritative young man, and
he had spoken in so explicit a manner, that I did
as he had directed ; and if the story that fol-
lowed was not interesting, the fault was mine,
and not that of my chance adviser.

A few months ago I was dining alone in Del-
monico's, when the same young man passed out
through the room, and stopped on his way be-
side my table.

" Do you remember me ?" he said. " I met
you once in a smoking-car in Texas. Well,
I've got a story now that's better than any you'll
find lying around here in New York. You want
to go to a little bay called Puerto Cortez, on the
eastern coast of Honduras, in Central America,
and look over the exiled Louisiana State Lottery
there. It used to be the biggest gambling con-
cern in the world, but now it's been banished to
a single house on a mud-bank covered with palm-
trees, and from there it reaches out all over the
United States, and sucks in thousands and thou-
sands of victims like a great octopus. You want


to go there and write a story about it. Good-
night," he added ; then he nodded again, with a
smile, and walked across the room and disap-
peared into Broadway.

When a man that you have met once in a
smoking-car interrupts you between courses to
suggest that you are wasting your time in New
York, and that you ought to go to a coral reef in
Central America and write a story of an outlawed
lottery, it naturally interests you, even if it does
not spoil your dinner. It interested me, at least,
so much that I went back to my rooms at once,
and tried to find Puerto Cortez on the map ; and
later, when the cold weather set in, and the grass-
plots in Madison Square turned into piled-up
islands of snow, surrounded by seas of slippery
asphalt, I remembered the palm-trees, and went
South to investigate the exiled lottery. That is
how this chapter and this book came to be

Every one who goes to any theatre in the
United States may have read among the adver-
tisements on the programme an oddly worded
one which begins, " Conrad ! Conrad ! Conrad !"
and which goes on to say that

"In accepting the Presidency of the Honduras Na-
tional Lottery Company (Louisiana State Lottery Com-
pany) I shall not surrender the Presidency of the Gulf
Coast Ice and Manufacturing Company, of Bay St. Louis,


"Therefore address all proposals for supplies, ma-
chinery, etc., as well as all business communications, to
" PAUL CONRAD, Puerto Cortez, Honduras,
" Care Central America Express,


" FLORIDA, U. S. A."

You have probably read this advertisement
often, and enjoyed the na'ive manner in which Mr.
Conrad asks for correspondence on different sub-
jects, especially on that relating to " all business
communications," and how at the same time he
has so described his whereabouts that no letters
so addressed would ever reach his far-away home
in Puerto Cortez, but would be promptly stopped
at Tampa, as he means that they should.

After my anonymous friend had told me of
Puerto Cortez, I read of it on the programme
with a keener interest, and Puerto Cortez became
to me a harbor of much mysterious moment, of
a certain dark significance, and of possible ad-
venture. I remembered all that the lottery had
been before the days of its banishment, and all
that it had dared to be when, as a corporation
legally chartered by the State of Louisiana, it
had put its chain and collar upon legislatures
and senators, judges and editors, when it had
silenced the voice of the church and the pulpit
by great gifts of money to charities and hospi-
tals, so giving out in a lump sum with one hand
what it had taken from the people in dollars and


half-dollars, five hundred and six hundred fold,
with the other. I remembered when its trade-
mark, in open-faced type, " La. S. L.," was as
familiar in every newspaper in the United States
as were the names of the papers themselves,
when it had not been excommunicated by the
postmaster-general, and it had not to hide its real
purpose under a carefully worded paragraph in
theatrical programmes or on "dodgers" or hand-
bills that had an existence of a moment before
they were swept out into the street, and which,
as they were not sent through mails, were not
worthy the notice of the federal government.

It was not so very long ago that it requires any
effort to remember it. It is only a few years
since the lottery held its drawings freely and
with much pomp and circumstance in the Charles
Theatre, and Generals Beauregard and Early pre-
sided at these ceremonies, selling the names they
had made glorious in a lost cause to help a cause
which was, for the lottery people at least, dis-
tinctly a winning one. For in those days the
state lottery cleared above all expenses seven
million dollars a year, and Generals Beauregard
and Early drew incomes from it much larger
than the government paid to the judges of the
Supreme Court and the members of the cabinet
who finally declared against the company and
drove it into exile.

There had been many efforts made to kill it


in the past, and the state lottery was called
"the national disgrace " and " the modern slav-
ery,' and Louisiana was spoken of as a blot on
the map of our country, as was Utah when
polygamy flourished within her boundaries and
defied the laws of the federal government. The
final rally against the lottery occurred in 1890,
when the lease of the company expired, and
the directors applied to the legislature for a
renewal. At that time it was paying out but
very little and taking in fabulous sums; how
much it really made will probably never be told,
but its gains were probably no more exaggerated
by its enemies than was the amount of its ex-
penses by the company itself. Its outlay for ad-
vertising, for instance, which must have been one
of its chief expenses, was only forty thousand
dollars a year, which is a little more than a firm
of. soap manufacturers pay for their advertising
for the same length of time ; and it is rather dis-
couraging to remember that for a share of this
bribe every newspaper in the city of New Orleans
and in the State of Louisiana, with a few notable
exceptions, became an organ of the lottery, and
said nothing concerning it but what was good.
To this sum may be added the salaries of its
officers, the money paid out in prizes, the cost
of printing and mailing the tickets, and the sum
of forty thousand dollars paid annually to the
State of Louisiana. This tribute was considered


as quite sufficient when the lottery was first start-
ed, and while it struggled for ten years to make a
living; but in 1890, when its continued existence
was threatened, the company found it could very
well afford to offer the state not forty thousand,
but a million dollars a year, which gives a faint
idea of what its net earnings must have been. As
a matter of fact, in those palmy times when there
were daily drawings, the lottery received on some
days as many as eighteen to twenty thousand
letters, with orders for tickets enclosed which
averaged five dollars a letter.

It was Postmaster -general Wanamaker who
put a stop to all this by refusing to allow any
printed matter concerning the lottery to pass
outside of the State of Louisiana, which decis-
ion, when it came, proved to be the order of ex-
ile to the greatest gambling concern of modern

The lottery, of course, fought this decision in
the courts, and the case was appealed to the Su-
preme Court of the United States, and was up-
held, and from that time no letter addressed to
the lottery in this country, or known to contain
matter referring to the lottery, and no news-
paper advertising it, can pass through the mails.
This ruling was known before the vote on the
renewal of the lease came up in the Legislature
of Louisiana, and the lottery people say that,
knowing that they could not, under these new


restrictions, afford to pay the sum of one million
dollars a year, they ceased their efforts to pass
the bill granting a renewal of their lease, and let
it go without a fight. This may or may not be
true, but in any event the bill did not pass, and
the greatest lottery of all times was without a
place in which to spin its wheel, without a charter
or a home, and was cut off from the most obvi-
ous means of communication with its hundreds
of thousands of supporters. But though it was
excommunicated, outlawed, and exiled, it was
not beaten ; it still retained agents all over the
country, and it still held its customers, who were
only waiting to throw their money into its lap,
and still hoping that the next drawing would
bring the grand prize.

For some long time the lottery was driven
about from pillar to post, and knocked eagerly
here and there for admittance, seeking a home
and resting-place. It was not at first successful.
The first rebuff came from Mexico, where it had
proposed to move its plant, but the Mexican
government was greedy, and wanted too large a
sum for itself, or, what is more likely, did not
want so well-organized a rival to threaten the
earnings of its own national lottery. Then the
republics of Colombia and Nicaragua were each
tempted with the honor of giving a name to the
new company, but each declined that distinction,
and so it finally came begging to Honduras, the



least advanced of all of the Central American
republics, and the most heavily burdened with

Honduras agreed to receive the exile, and to
give it her name and protection for the sum of


twenty thousand dollars a year and twenty per
cent, of its gross earnings. It would seem that
this to a country that has not paid the interest


on her national debt for twelve years was a very
advantageous bargain ; but as four presidents
and as many revolutions and governments have
appeared and disappeared in the two years in
which the lottery people have received their
charter in Honduras, the benefit of the arrange-
ment to them has not been an obvious one,
and it was not until two years ago that the first
drawing of the lottery was held at Puerto Cortez.
The company celebrated this occasion with a
pitiful imitation of its former pomp and cere-
mony, and there was much feasting and speech-
making, and a special train was run from the in-
terior to bring important natives to the ceremo-
nies. But the train fell off the track four times,
and was just a day late in consequence. The
young man who had charge of the train told me
this, and he also added that he did not believe
in lotteries.

During these two years, when representatives
of the company were taking rides of nine days
each to the capital to overcome the objections of
the new presidents who had sprung into office
while these same representatives had been mak-
ing their return trip to the coast, others were
seeking a foothold for the company in the United
States. The need of this was obvious and im-
perative. The necessity which had been forced
upon them of holding the drawings out of this
country, and of giving up the old name and


trade-mark, was serious enough, though it had
been partially overcome. It did not matter
where they spun their wheel ; but if the com-
pany expected to live, there must be some place
where it could receive its mail and distribute its
tickets other than the hot little Honduranian
port, locked against all comers by quarantine for
six months of the year, and only to be reached
during the other six by a mail that arrives once
every eight days.

The lottery could not entirely overcome this
difficulty, of course, but through the aid of the
express companies of this country it was able to
effect a substitute, and through this cumbersome
and expensive method of transportation its man-
agers endeavored to carry on the business which
in the days when the post-office helped them
had brought them in twenty thousand letters in
twenty-four hours. They selected for their base
of operations in the United States the port of
Tampa, in the State of Florida that refuge of
prize-fighters and home of unhappy Englishmen
who have invested in the swamp-lands there, un-
der the delusion that they were buying town sites
and orange plantations, and which masquerades
as a winter resort with a thermometer that not
infrequently falls below freezing. So Tampa be-
came their home ; and though the legislature of
that state proved incorruptible, so the lottery
people themselves tell me, there was at least an


understanding, between them and those in au-
thority that the express company was not to be
disturbed, and that no other lottery was to have
a footing in Florida for many years to come.

If Puerto Cortez proved interesting when it
was only a name on a theatre programme, you
may understand to what importance it grew
when it could not be found on the map of any
steamship company in New York, and when no
paper of that city advertised dates of sailing to
that port. For the first time Low's Exchange
failed me and asked for time, and the ubiquitous
Cook & Sons threw up their hands, and offered
in desperation and as a substitute a comfortable
trip to upper Kurmah or to Mozambique, pro-
testing that Central America was beyond even
their finding out. Even the Maritime Exchange
confessed to a much more intimate knowledge
of the west coast of China than of the little
group of republics which lies only a three or
four days' journey from the city of New Orleans.
So I was forced to haunt the shipping-offices of
Howling Green for days together, and convinced
myself while so engaged that that is the only
way properly to pursue the study of geography,
and I advise every one to try it, and submit the
idea respectfully to instructors of youth. For
you will find that by the time you have in-
terviewed fifty shipping-clerks, and learned from
them where they can set you down and pick you


up and exchange you to a fruit-vessel or coast-
ing steamer, you will have obtained an idea of
foreign ports and distances which can never be
gathered from flat maps or little revolving globes.
I finally discovered that there was a line running
from New York and another from New Orleans,
the fastest steamer of which latter line, as I
learned afterwards, was subsidized by the lottery
people. They use it every month to take their
representatives and clerks to Puerto Cortez, when,
after they have held the monthly drawing, they
steam back again to New Orleans or Tampa,
carrying with them the list of winning numbers
and the prizes.

It was in the boat of this latter line that we
finally awoke one morning to find her anchored
in the harbor of Puerto Cortez.

The harbor is a very large one and a very safe
one. It is encircled by mountains on the sea-
side, and by almost impenetrable swamps and
jungles on the other. Close around the waters
of the bay are bunches and rows of the cocoanut
palm, and a village of mud huts covered with
thatch. There is also a tin custom-house, which
includes the railroad-office and a comandancia,
and this and the jail or barracks of rotting white-
washed boards, and the half-dozen houses of one
story belonging to consuls and shipping agents,
are the only other frame buildings in the place
save one. That is a large mansion with broad


verandas, painted in colors, and set in a carefully
designed garden of rare plants and manaca palms.
Two poles are planted in the garden, one flying
the blue-and-white flag of Honduras, the other
with the stripes and stars of the United States.
This is the home of the exiled lottery. It is the
most pretentious building and the cleanest in
the whole republic of Honduras, from the Carib-
bean Sea to the Pacific slope.

I confess that I was foolish enough to regard
this house of magnificent exterior, as I viewed it
from the wharf, as seriously as a general observes
the ramparts and defences of the enemy before
making his advance. I had taken a nine days'
journey with the single purpose of seeing and
getting at the truth concerning this particular
building, and whether I was now to be viewed
with suspicion and treated as an intruder, whether
my object would be guessed at once and I should
be forced to wait on the beach for the next
steamer, or whether I would be received with
kindness which came from ignorance of my
intentions, I could not tell. And while I con-
sidered, a black Jamaica negro decided my move-
ments for me. There was a hotel, he answered,
doubtfully, but he thought it would be better,
if Mr. Barross would let me in, to try for a room
in the Lottery Building.

" Mr. Barross sometimes takes boarders," he
said, "and the Lottery Building is a fine house,


sir finest house this side Mexico city." He
added, encouragingly, that he spoke English
" very good," and that he had been in London.

Sitting on the wide porch of the Lottery Build-
ing was a dark-faced, distinguished-looking little
man, a Creole apparently, with white hair and
white goatee. He rose and bowed as I came up
through the garden and inquired of him if he
was the manager of the lottery, Mr. Barross, and
if he could give me food and shelter. The gen-
tleman answered that he was Mr. Barross, and
that he could and would do as I asked, and
appealed with hospitable warmth to a tall, hand-
some woman, with beautiful white hair, to sup-
port him in his invitation. Mrs. Barross assent-
ed kindly, and directed her servants to place a
rocking-chair in the shade, and requested me to
be seated in it ; luncheon, she assured'me, would
be ready in a half-hour, and she hoped that the
voyage south had been a pleasant one.

And so within five minutes after arriving in
the mysterious harbor of Puerto Cortez I found
myself at home under the roof of the outlawed
lottery, and being particularly well treated by
its representative, and feeling particularly un-
comfortable in consequence. I was heartily
sorry that I had not gone to the hotel. And so,
after I had been in my room, I took pains to
ascertain exactly what my position in the house
might be, and whether or not, apart from the


courtesy of Mr. Barross and his wife, for which
no one could make return, I was on the same
free footing that I would have been in a hotel.
I was assured that I was regarded as a transient
boarder, and that I was a patron rather than a
guest ; but as I did not yet feel at ease, I took
courage, and explained to Mr. Barross that I
was not a coffee-planter or a capitalist looking
for a concession from the government, but that I
was in Honduras to write of what I found there.
Mr. Barross answered that he knew already why
I was there from the New Orleans papers which
had arrived in the boat with me, and seemed
rather pleased than otherwise to have me about
the house. This set my mind at rest, and though
it may not possibly be of the least interest to
the reader, it is of great importance to me that
the same reader should understand that all which
I write here of the lottery was told to me by
the lottery people themselves, with the full
knowledge that I was going to publish it. And
later, when I had the pleasure of meeting Mr.
Duprez, the late editor of the States, in New
( Means, and then in Tegucigalpa, as representa-
tive of the lottery, I warned him in the presence
of several of our friends to be careful, as I would
probably make use of all he told me. To which
he agreed, and continued answering questions
for the rest of the evening. I may also add that
I have taken care to verify the figures used here,


for the reason that the lottery people are at such
an obvious disadvantage in not being allowed
by law to reply to what is said of them, nor to
correct any mistake in any statements that may
be made to their disadvantage.

I had never visited a hotel or a country-house
as curious as the one presided over by Mr. Bar-
ross. It was entirely original in its decoration,
unique in its sources of entertainment, and its
business office, unlike most business offices, pos-
sessed a peculiar fascination. The stationery for
the use of the patrons, arid on which I wrote to
innocent friends in the North, bore the letter-
head of the Honduras Lottery Company ; the
pictures on the walls were framed groups of lot-
tery tickets purchased in the past by Mr. Bar-
ross, which had not drawn prizes ; and the safe
in which the guest might place his valuables con-
tained a large canvas-bag sealed with red wax,
and holding in prizes for the next drawing sev-
enty-five thousand dollars.

Wherever you turned were evidences of the
peculiar business that was being carried on un-
der the roof that sheltered you, and outside in
the garden stood another building, containing
the printing-presses on which the lists of win-
ning numbers were struck off before they were
distributed broadcast about the world. But of
more interest than all else was the long, sunshiny,
empty room running the full length of the house,


in which, on a platform at one end, were two
immense wheels, one of glass and brass, and as
transparent as a bowl of goldfish, and the other
closely draped in a heavy canvas hood laced and
strapped around it, and holding sealed and locked
within its great bowels one hundred thousand
paper tickets in one hundred thousand rubber
tubes. In this atmosphere and with these sur-
roundings my host and hostess lived their life of
quiet conventional comfort a life full of the
lesser interests of every day, and lighted for others
by their most gracious and kindly courtesy and
hospitable good-will. When I sat at their table
I was always conscious of the great wheels, show-
ing through the open door from the room be-
yond like skeletons in a closet ; but it was not
so with my host, whose chief concern might be
that our glasses should be filled, nor with my
hostess, who presided at the head of the table
which means more than sitting there with that
dignity and charm which is peculiar to a South-
ern woman, and which made dining with her an
affair of state, and not one of appetite.

I had come to see the working of a great gam-
bling scheme, and I had anticipated that there
might be some difficulty put in the way of my
doing so; but if the lottery plant had been a
cider-press in an orchard I could not have been
more welcome to examine and to study it and
to take it to pieces. It was not so much that

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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisThree gringos in Venezuela and Central America → online text (page 2 of 11)