Noble L. (Noble Lovely) Prentis.

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night blackness is the almost universal heritage of the women.
You may walk the Alameda for a mile and never see a tress of
brown or gold, or any hue save the blackest of all blacks. There
is every variety of complexion, though there seems to be a gen-
eral sameness of feature. There are girls as brown as Arabs, and
girls whose faces seem like faintly-clouded ivory, and these last
are blessed with features such as one sees on cameos. The fault
and it is a general one is a lack of expression. The face, at
church, on the plaza, on the Alameda, everywhere, is the same.
The large, dark eyes seem watching the world go by, too indiffer-
ent to kindle with a smile or sparkle with a tear.

The children under four years old are almost universally
plump and pretty. I have seen in front of the poorest adobe
huts in Chihuahua, little half-clad girls playing, whose beauty
would make them the pride of any Northern household; but
meagerness and age come early, and with age, among the poorer
classes, comes hideousness.

With this last word comes the recollection of the beggars of
Chihuahua, and yet there is nothing very hideous about them.
When it is one's business to be miserable it is in order to look as
miserable as possible, and this the Mexican beggar does. He is
wrapped up in an absolute overcoat of woe. I liked him much
better than the truculent, bullying, stand-and-deliver beggar of
our country. There is a melancholy music in his voice, and he
is such a Christian, withal. He asks assistance in the name of
our blessed Lady of Guadaloupe, with the remark that were that
blessed personage on earth, she herself would help him, but as


she is gone he is obliged to ask help of the passing gentleman,
whose life may God spare to illimitable years. I saw a miser-
able-looking old man take the proffered handful of copper, raise
the money to his lips and kiss it; then lift his eyes heavenward
and murmur a benediction on the giver. It was all acting,
probably, but it was beautifully done. The well-to-do people are
kind to the beggars. Saturday is the regular beggars' day, and
many of the business houses make regular provision, not of
money, but of food for them. I presume it is from religious sen-
timent, or that sentiment hardened into custom.

Gentlemen, ladies, soldiers, countrymen, beggars, and divers
other persons have been noticed, and we will speak of the streets
the scenery, so to speak.

There is a noticeable absence of life and stir, but this is more
in appearance than reality. It takes a stranger some time to
learn that the houses face in, and not out. The court, or placita,
is the center of household life, and of that you can catch only a
glimpse from the walk. In Chihuahua the placitas are full of
flowering plants, in the universal earthen jars, and moreover are
the homes of countless mocking-birds in gayly-painted wicker
cages. Going along in the afternoon on the shady side of the
street, one hears flowing out of the street door, half ajar, a rip-
pling flood of melody from the cages among the figs and olean-
ders. It makes you think of Keats's nightingale, "singing of
summer in full-throated ease."

When you go to the post office in Chihuahua, you go into a
placita full of birds and flowers, and come around into a small
room where there are two or three clerks. It seems like a pri-
vate office. The clerk looks over a pile of undelivered letters,
and gives you your own. It is very home-like, but unbusiness-like,
and will all be changed soon.

There is little rumbling of wheels in the paved streets. There
are stages, omnibuses and pleasure carriages, but not the crowd
of farm wagons one sees in Kansas. Instead, there are certain
streets devoted to the awfullest-looking carts, with wheels of solid
wood, drawn by droves of oxen or herds of mules. They hitch
the beasts on four abreast until the load starts. Everything on


these carts, whatever the load may be, is done up in a yucca mat-
ting, or in rawhide. Otherwise the rough roads would jolt it to de-
struction. There are droves of burros loaded with wood, adobe^f
and stones for the public building. The milkman goes his rounds
on a burro. The cans are suspended in a wicker basket on either
side, and the milkman sits away aft on the animal's back piazza.
The burro is the great factor in business life in Mexico. If he
should use his ears for wings and fly away, the country would be
paralyzed. He is miserably clubbed, and his feed is an illusion,
but I am inclined to think he likes it. A burro transplanted to
Kansas to live on full rations, and with nothing to do but carry
round-legged children about, ought to feel himself in heaven, but
if you look at him you will see homesickness in his countenance.
He is longing for somebody to hit him with a rock and swear at
him in Spanish.

Signs are not as numerous as with us, but as we have the " Dew
Drop In" saloon, and the English have the "Bull and Mouth"
tavern, so the Mexican indulges in the barber shop of " Progress"
and the grocery store of " The Sun of May." Most charming was
the candor of a juice vender near the plaza, whose sign announced
the "Little Hell " saloon. Governor St. John would have thought
this everlastingly appropriate.

Such are a few of the sights of Chihuahua; little things, it is
true, but things that attract the attention of a stranger and linger
in his memory. Much more might be said in the same vein, par-
ticularly in regard to the big two-days fiesta and its sights and

Saying nothing of its commercial importance, in the days when
the great tide of travel sets into Mexico, Chihuahua will be an
interesting town to visitors from the North, in the same way that
Chester is to Americans in England, because it is the first old
foreign city reached. For that reason I half hope the old place
will not be utterly " done over " by the " march of improvement."
I am sure I shall not forget a word of it. The great church with
its noisy bells, the plaza, the Alameda, the stores where all the
goods seemed red or yellow, the liquor shops with splendid shelves
filled with bottles of colored water, the soldiers, the porters with


their big loads, the women with their water jars, the children with
their bare brown shoulders and their Spanish prattle all these
I shall remember probably when I have forgotten many more use-
ful and worthy things; and^so^for the present, a truce to further


THEY said we must eat dinner at twelve sharp, and be at
the stage office at one o'clock, if we would leave Chihuahua that
Wednesday afternoon, but I had from two o'clock till three to
lounge in the stage office, a large and lofty apartment looking
out on the white glaring street on one side, and into the flower-
full and shady placita on the other. All the Mexicans of Chi-
huahua were enjoying their siesta at that hour, but it is not God's
will that an American shall sleep in the daytime. So I looked
at the pictures of Lincoln and Washington and Juarez, on the
wall, and at a little card which announced to the friends of the
family that the " legitimate child " of So-and-so had been born
and baptized on the dates given. There were some Spanish
books on a shelf, school books and others, but they were nearly
all translations from the French. From France to Spain and
Spain to Mexico is a long ways round.

At last the six mules were brought around and hitched to the
old Concord stage, (I expect there is a line of these old Concord
coaches running over the Mountains of the Moon,) and by de-
grees we got started. When we got all our passengers there
were seven inside a gentleman, two ladies and a little boy, going
back to Massachusetts; my friend Matfield (whom may Heaven
preserve), the writer, and a young man from Durango, a well-
dressed, pleasant fellow of twenty-five or thereabouts. He was
quite fair; and Matfield said he belonged to a family of Spanish
or Mexican Israelites. He was dressed after the American fash-
ion, and at home I should have taken him for a commercial
traveler; but he was on his way to see his first locomotive and
take his first ride on a railroad train. He was the most mercu-
rial and excitable Mexican I had seen, and his cries and exclama-



tioDs when the stage went over a bad place excited great
amusement among his fellow-passengers, who, being Americans,
did not care whether they got their necks broken or not, so that
the stage got through on time.

At Sacramento we changed mules, and a little Mexican girl
brought us water to drink. At the ranche of Sauz we stopped,
after the moon had risen, for supper. I have spoken of the fort-
like appearance of these ranches in a previous letter. The in-
terior we found less gloomy than we expected. The large room
where we took supper was brilliantly lighted with candles,
(kerosene has not yet begun its work of destruction here,) and
the table was set by the lady of Sauz herself. She was a widowed
sister of Gov. Terassas, and as she bustled about the table, she
reminded me in look and manner of hundreds of elderly house-
wives I have seen in Vermont. Woodman said she looked like
his grandmother in Massachusetts. The supper was an excellent
one, the table being set on the American plan, as the old lady
understood it, but we had the native Mexican coffee, black and

While the time passed I went into the kitchen and watched a
woman make tortillas, a thin corn cake flattened out with the
hands and dried through on a griddle. It was dry and tasteless ;
it was like chewing a piece of the St. Louis Republican.

In the dim moonlight we jogged along from the ranche of
Sauz to that of Encinillas. In these lone night-wrapped Mexi-
can plains, we talked about the drama and music, and the young
Bostonian sang in a very pleasant voice, "There was a warrior
bold," whereat our friend from Durango summoned with one
tremendous effort his stock of English, clapped his hands and
bravely cried: "Ver-r-r-ah good." Then there was drowsy
silence until we reached Encinillas, which is a little town com-
posed of the people who take care of the thousands of cattle on
the plains about. There was a long delay, but that was ex-
pected, and when the appointed hour came we resumed our journey.
In the United States we should have gone directly to the end
of the track, but as it was, we passed it and went along the lake
to a squalid little hamlet called Ojo-Laguna. Here we remained


until dawn whitened the east, and then Ojo-Laguna, or the quad-
rupedal portion of it, woke up. The sweet burro who sings
tenor woke from his slumber in the corral the veteran who sings
basso pro/undo, and various sopranos and contraltos joined in the
strain, which floated across the waters of the lake and echoed in
the distant mountains ; Mexican curs, fierce and savage, yelped
as if their hearts would break ; dismal " early village cocks "
tuned their asthmatic pipes; and pigs, reddest and thinnest of
the porcine tribe, contributed their dulcet squeals. "Matins"
at Ojo-Laguna will long be remembered.

Fortunately we moved off before sunrise, and so in stillness
saw it come. We were in a valley, or what seemed to have been
the bed of an ancient lake. The mountains seemed to shut it
in. The mountain-chain on the east cast its shadow on the
plain as clearly as the disk on the moon when it is in eclipse;
beyond, the mountains to the west were being lit up, one by one,
by the caudles of the morning. Peak, and pinnacle, and rocky
wall and deep gorge and shadowy canon, received each in its
turn its light, now purple, now rosy red, now golden, till the
work was done; the daily miracle was finished, and it was broad
and open day.

By nine o'clock we were flying, at first-class passenger train
time, for El Paso. The conductor was Al. Duagan, of Atchison,
the first passenger conductor on the Mexican Central. Mr. D. in-
quired after the Atchison people, and remarked incidentally that
he was personally cognizant of the circumstances attending the
decease of our late lamented townsman, Mr. "Dutch Bill.'' If
I correctly remember, this was Mr. Duagan's account of the
disastrous affair:

"You see Bill, he turned up in Gunnison, as a 'sure thing'
man. Well, the marshal and the police they was tryin' to hold
the town down, and after awhile they ruther got the edge on the
rustlers, and Bill and his pard flew. After that, about four
miles from town, I see Bill one day in a corral, and pretty soon
a man come along on horseback, and asked where he was, and
in a few minutes I heard a shootin', and when I got there they'd
got him. They'd bored a hole through his kidneys."


El Paso, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, were reached early in
the afternoon, and the next evening travel was resumed north-
ward on the good old A. T. & S. F. The evening ride up the
road was pleasanter than the morning ride down had been, and
I would beseech my countrymen and countrywomen, journeying
at evening along the road, to take a look at Las Cruces. Back
of the town rises, like the curtain of a theater, those cliffs whose
fluted columned sides and pointed pinnacles of varying heights,
have given to the range the name of the Organ mountains; at
their foot jut, like the edge of the stage, the mesa; and then in
the near foreground is the little town by the river's brim, Las
Cruces. There are vineyards, acres on acres; there seemed to
be great spreading apple trees, such as my grandfather planted
in Vermont; there were great tufted cottonwoods, almost hiding
the roofs of the town. Across the railroad ran the cause of all
this the high-banked acequia, fringed with rushes.

Certainly no man of sense or observation can travel in these
countries without acknowledging the value of irrigation. New
Mexico and much of Old Mexico would be uninhabitable without
it. I have seen wonderful growth here on red and stony ground
that a Kansas farmer would pronounce worthless. It is impossi-
ble to doubt now the basis of reason underlying the Garden City
experiment in Kansas, undertaken under far more favorable cir-
cumstances than can exist in New Mexico or Colorado, as far as
the water supply and the quality of the soil are concerned. But
while I throw up the sponge on the general issue, I still have my
doubts as to the results, and for this reason : Irrigation,, at best,
is undertaken in connection with small farming and gardening,
both of which are an abomination in the eyes of the average
Western farmer. He is a man of vast ideas, who cannot be
induced to contemplate small matters. He wants a section or
nothing. At Garden City I was shown a piece of ground half
the size of an Atchison town lot, on which $300 worth of onions
had been raised. But your average farmer I am speaking of
from Illinois, Iowa and the big corn States had sooner lose money
on 640 acres of wheat than to make money on an acre of onions.
Gardening of any sort, no matter how profitable, is " running a


truck patch" with him, and he will have none of it. Irrigation,
too, is a work that is done with one's hands and feet. The water
must be let into the little beds at a proper time with a hoe. There
is no machine, nor can there be, to do that sort of work, and the
wide-out, boundless and preeminently extensive Western farmer
will not get down to that variety of manual labor. If it were
possible to invent a four-horse, endless apron, side-draft irrigator,
adorned with red paint and a chattel mortgage, which would irri-
gate forty acres a day, then I might have hope that the idea of
irrigation would be seized upon by our agricultural fellow-citizens
of Kansas. At present I have no such confidence. The patient
and industrious Germans, who form a large majority of the market
gardeners around every American city, may take hold of irrigation
and make a success of it. I would advise even them to employ
Mexicans, who can be secured in Colorado. There is no use in try-
ing to tell what might be made of the banks of the Arkansas were
they cultivated as are the banks of the Rio Grande. A Las
Cruces every few miles, where there are now bare, sunburnt ham-
lets that stick up like a sore thumb, would be a refreshing sight
indeed. The upper Arkansas Valley might be the garden, the
orchard, of Colorado, and even Old Mexico, now about to pour
out such riches as Cortez never dreamed of.

But we have stopped a long time at Las Cruces, and must
get on.

As stated in a former letter, I have had a desire to see before
leaving this country a sure-enough mine. " Blossom Rock," and
"indications," and " prospect holes," did not satisfy me. What
was wanted was a sight of silver ore, of silver itself coming out
of the ground in quantities at the present time.

After considerable inquiry I came to the conclusion that the
best place to visit was the Lake Valley mines, located at the
little town of Daly, Dona Ana county, New Mexico. I had
also a melancholy interest in the locality from the fact that my
poor friend, Lieutenant George Smith, of the Ninth Cavalry,
was killed by the Indians not far from the place.

I left the north-bound train at Rincon, stayed there till morn-
ing, and then took the down-train for Nutt station, twenty-one


miles from Rincon, and twelve from the mines. A stage
took me over the open prairie rising to the foot-hills of the Black
Range, in the very edge of which the mines are located. We
climbed no rocks, passed through no canons. It was easier than
driving from Atchison to Nortonville. There is a little triangu-
lar opening in the smooth hills, which are dotted with soap-
weed, and here is the new stamp mill and the office of the super-
intendent, and the hotel and the several shops and stores that
make up the little town of Daly; and on the lower edge of one
of the hills, three hundred yards from the stamp mill, were the
mines. Had I not known to the contrary, I should have sup-
posed that they were getting out the dark sandstone, such as you
find along the Solomon valley at Minneapolis; or perhaps I
might have taken it for iron ore. It was in reality silver ore.
They were digging and blasting it out, just as they do the Sixth-
street bluff at Atchison, with the difference that when a blast
went off it lifted from $3,000 to $6,000 into the air. I had no
letters of introduction, and the bare statement of my occupation
in life relieved any suspicion that I wished to purchase a mine
or mines. In the absence of Mr. D. H. Jackson, the superin-
tendent, Mr. Gibson, the book-keeper, went about with me. The
lower edge of the hillside was cut up with trenches and holes.
Along the trenches was piled up the ore. The ore could not
have been put back into the trenches again. Limestone bulk-
heads had been built up, and on these was ore regularly corded up
as if for measurement. The finest ore had been sorted over and
put in sacks. I was told that a chunk of this XXX, which I
would carelessly have thrown at a dog, was worth from $3 to $5.
There it was, dug from the surface to a depth of six or eight
feet, cords on cords of it, running from hundreds to thousands of
dollars to the ton. It was dug as easily and cheaply as so much
limestone, cheaper than coal, and yet it was silver.

Mr. Gibson went back to his books, and I went down to the
stamp mill and talked to Mr. Town, the builder. He looked
like Colonel Towne, of the Fort Scott & Gulf, and may have
been a relative of that wonderful mechanical family. The mill,
to be in operation about June 15, cost $100,000. Every stick in


it came from Puget's Sound, 1,600 miles by water and 1,300 miles
by rail. One piece of timber contained 1,100 feet of lumber.
The mill was a twenty- stamp, running two sets of stamps, etc.,
so as to work two different lots of ore at the same time. Mr.
Town explained the amalgamation process as I had heard it at
Socorro, but giving many details, however, which would not in-
terest the reader. I was, however, more interested in Mr. Town
than anything else. He had been working about mines for thirty
years, and his hands were bitten to pieces by quicksilver. I never
realized before what a colossal business this gold and silver min-
ing is. He chalked out on the floor the great porphyry ledge on
which the Comstock is located. He told me how many millions
had been taken out of this mine, and here, right alongside, mil-
lions of dollars had been sunk in the rock, and not an ounce of
ore had been found. He told me of the enormous cost of it. At
one mine a cylinder weighing twenty-six tons had been dragged up
over a railroad constructed for the purpose. Building the pyra-
mids was a child's play compared with it. He told me that this
twenty-stamp mill at Daly, though so large, was but an aver-
age; that there was a mill in the Black Hills that ran one hun-
dred stamps. Then he told me of men working 3,600 feet
under ground ; of places so hot that a man ran through them as
through a prairie fire ; where a drop of water falling on the skin
blistered it. Ah, this silver quarter that we toss to the butcher
or to the baker: how much thought and energy and skill and
labor and suffering it takes to wring it from the earth !

After dinner, Mr. Jackson having returned, we visited the un-
derground works. By this time quite a party had collected. In
one new-comer I recognized a transient Topeka acquaintance of
years ago. He had been living for years in Georgetown, and
knew all about mines. We went down into the " Bridal Cham-
ber." It is perhaps fifty feet from the surface, and shut off from
the shaft by a door. Eight or ten men can stand in the excava-
tion. A candle held to the walls reveals millions of shining par-
ticles. It looks like a mass of earth, half-decayed sandstone, and
here and there masses of ore that can be cut with a knife. This
last is horn silver. From this place specimens have been assayed


running $29,000 to the ton. All around is ore that will run
$10,000 to the ton. A ton can be broken down with four or five
blows with a pick. A man could scrape up a fortune with his
bare hands.

We went through galleries, and looked at piles of ore until we
were tired. Then we went to the office and looked at a little brick
weighing eight and a half ounces, taken from two pounds of ore.

This is all. I am no mining expert, and have no interest in
the ups and downs of mines, but I will venture the statement
that last Saturday I saw the richest silver mine in the United
States. There are four mining companies with claims at Daly
the Sierra Grande, the Sierra Bella, the Sierra Rica, and the Sierra


As a man may live in ignorance of the real nature and charac-
ter of his own wife and children, so we of the United States have
long been in darkness concerning everything pertaining to Mex-
ico and the Mexicans. It is quite certain that more books about
Mexico have been published in France than in the United States,
and in a commercial point of view the influence of France and
England has been vastly greater than that of our country. In
the markets of Chihuahua to-day French and English goods are
sold under our very noses goods which we claim to manufac-
ture cheaper and better than anybody else. I saw at El Paso del
Norte, not only foreign rails being laid down, but cross-pieces and
insulators for telegraph poles imported from England.

To the average ill-informed American, a Mexican is a "Greaser,"
a low-bred, infamous creature, without manners or morals; lazy,
cowardly, treacherous and ignorant. The men have been uni-
formly represented as without honor, and the women without
virtue. Mexico has been represented as an utterly priest-ridden
country, and not in any sense a Christian country. Bishop Haven
was fond of saying that the human sacrifices of the Aztecs gave
way to the " religion of Cortez," and that the Christian religion
was unknown in Mexico until it was introduced by some soldiers
of the American army under Gen. Scott.

I suppose it is possible for an American to live twenty-five
years in Mexico and retain all these prejudices. Judge King-
man, in his lecture "Across the Continent on a Buckboard,"
spoke of the style of American who lives in New Mexico for
twenty-five or thirty years, absorbs all the native vices in addi-
tion to those he imported with him, but to the last declares that

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Online LibraryNoble L. (Noble Lovely) PrentisSouth-western letters → online text (page 9 of 11)