Zebulon Montgomery Pike.

Exploratory travels through the western territories of North America : comprising a voyage from St. Louis, on the Mississippi, to the source of that river, and a journey through the interior of Louisiana, and the north-eastern provinces of New Spain online

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Online LibraryZebulon Montgomery PikeExploratory travels through the western territories of North America : comprising a voyage from St. Louis, on the Mississippi, to the source of that river, and a journey through the interior of Louisiana, and the north-eastern provinces of New Spain → online text (page 33 of 39)
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the latter, they have eradicated from their breasts every sentiment of virtue,
or of ambition, to pursue the acquirements which would make them amiable
companions, instructive mothers, or respectable members of society. Their
whole souls, with a few exceptions, like the Turkish ladies, are taken up
in music, dress, and the little blandishments of voluptuous dissipation.
Finding that the men only require these as objects of gratification to the
sensual passions, they have lost every idea of the feast of reason and the
flow of soul which arise from the intercourse of two refined and virtuous
minds, whose inmost thoughts are open to the inspection and admiration
of each other, and whose refinements of sentiment heighten the pleasures
of every gratification.

The beggars of the City of Mexico alone are estimated at sixty thou-
sand souls, what must be the number through the whole kingdom ? And
what reason can it be owing to, that, in a country superior to any in the
world for riches in gold and silver, producing all the necessaries of life,,
and most of its luxuries, there should be such a vast proportion of the
inhabitants in want of bread and clothing ? It can only be accounted for
by the tyranny of the government, and the luxuries of the rich : the
government striving by all the local restrictions possible to be invented,
without absolutely driving the people to desperation, to keep Spanish
America dependent on Europe.

Trade, Commerce, Manufactures, and Revenue. — The trade and com-
merce of New Spain are carried on with Europe and the United States
by the port of Vera Cruz solely, and with the East Indies and South
America by Acapulco, and even then under such restrictions of produc-
tions, manufactures, and time, as to render it almost of no consequence as


to the general prosperity of the country. Were all the numerous bays
and harbours of the Gulph of Mexico and California opened to the trade of
the world, and a general licence given to the cultivation of all the productions
which the country is capable of yielding, with freedom of exportation and
importation, with proper duties on foreign goods, the country would imme-
diately become rich and powerful, a proper stimulus would be held out to
the poor to labour, when certain of finding a quick and ready sale for the
productions of their plantations or manufactories. The country abounds
in iron ore, yet all the iron and steel, and articles of manufactures are
obliged to be brought from Europe, the manufacturing or working of iron
being strictly prohibited. This occasions the necessary utensils of hus-
bandry, arms, and tools, to be enormously high, and forms a great check to
agriculture, improvements in manufactures, and military skill. The works
of the Mexicans in gold, silver, and painting, shew them naturally to have
a genius, which, with cultivation and improvement, might rival the greatest
masters of either ancient or modern schools. Their dispositions and
habits are peculiarly calculated for sedentary employments, and I have no
doubt, if proper establishments were made, they would soon rival, if not
surpass, the most extensive woollen, cotton or silk manufactures of Europe.
Their climate is adapted for raising the finest cotton in the world, and their
sheep possess all the fineness of wool for which they are so celebrated in
Spain. Besides this they have immense quantities of raw materials, which
they, have on hand, wool selling for a mere song, and, in fact, they scarcely
take the half from the fleece of the sheep for the. coarse manufactories of
the country, and for making beds.

I cannot presume to state the revenues of the country,but am credibly
informed that the mint coins per annum at least fifty millions of dollars in
silver, and fourteen millions of dollars in gold, the one-fifth of which amounts
to twelve millions eight hundred thousand. The duties on foreign goods,
and the amount paid by the purchasers of monopoly, may make four mill-
ions more, which would make the annual revenue sixteen millions eight hun-
dred thousand. The civil list of the kingdom amounts to five hundred and
eighty thousand. The military, seven millions one hundred and eighty-
nine thousand two hundred, making, with the civil list, seven millions seven
hundred and sixty thousand two hundred, which deducted from sixteen
millions eight hundred thousand, leaves a clear revenue for the King from his


Mexican dominions of nine millions thirty thousand eight hundred. The
clergy are not included in this estimate, as they receive their revenues
through their own proper channel, and although the best paid officers in
the government cost the King nothing in a direct way, yet the dreadful
manner in which they oppress and impoverish his subjects would render it
better policy to abolish their impositions and pay them a direct salary out
of the public treasury.

The European troops are some of the choicest regiments from Spain,
consequently we may put them on the supposition that they are well dis-
ciplined and officered by men of honour and science. The regular troops
of the kingdom, who are in the Vice-Royalty, acting from the stimulus of
ambition and envy, are supposed to be equal to their brethren from
Europe. The militia with the regular officers are likewise good troops,
but are not held in such high estimation as the other corps. These three
corps, forming a body of twenty-three thousand two hundred and eighty-
eight men, may be called the regular force of the kingdom, as the militia
of one hundred and thirty-nine thousand five hundred, would in my esti-
mation be of no more consequence against the regular troops of any civil-
ized power, than the ancient aborigines of the country were against the
army of Cortes. The particular observations which follow, must be con-
sidered as applying to the troops of the internal provinces, unless specified
to the contrary. The appearance of the Spanish troops is certainly (at a
distance) ^ la militaire. Their lances are fixed to the side of the saddle
under the left thigh, and slant about five feet above the horse; on the right
the carabine is slung in a case to the front of the saddle (or pummel)
crossways, the breech to the right hand, and on each side of the saddle
behind the rider is a pistol ; below the breech of the carabine is slung the
shield, which is made of sole leather trebled, sewed together with thongs,
with a band on the inside, to slip the left arm through ; those of the pri-
vates are round, and about two feet in diameter. The officers and non-
commissioned officers have them of an oval form, bending on both sides,
in order to permit the arrow to glance, and they have in general the arms
of Spain with Don Carlos the fourth, gilt on the outside, with various
other devices, which add much to the elegance of their appearance on
horseback, but are only calculated to be of service against savages, who
have no fire-arms. Th.e dragoons of the Vice-Royalty do not make use




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of the lance or shield, but are armed, equipped, and clothed after the mod-
ern manner, as are also the dragoons of the eastern provinces. When
they recently expected to be opposed by the American troops, they were
deprived of their lance and shield, and received the straight cutlass, in their

Their dress is a short blue coat, with a red cape and cuff without
facings, leather or blue cotton velvet small clothes and waistcoat ; the
small clothes always open at the knees : the wrapping boot with the jack
boot, and permanent spurs over it ; a broad-brimmed high-crowned wool
hat with a ribbon round it of various colours, generally received as a pres-
ent from some female, which they wear as a badge of favour of the fair
sex, and a mark of their gallantry.

Their horses are small and slender limbed, but very agile, and are
capable of enduring great fatigue. The equipments of the horses are, to
our ideas, awkward, but I believe them superior to the English, and they
have the advantage over us, as to the skill of the rider as well as the quality
of the horse, as their bridles have a strong curb which gives them so great
a mechanical force that I believe it almost practicable with it to break the
jaw of the horse. The saddle is made after the Persian model, with a high
projecting pummel, or, as anciently termed, bow, and is likewise raised
behind; this is merely the tree. It is then covered by two or three coats
of carved leather, and embroidered workmanship, some with gold and
silver in a very superb manner. The stirrups are of wood closed in front,
carved generally in the figure of a lion's head or some other beast ; they
are very heavy, and to us present a very clumsy appearance. The horse-
man seated on his horse has a small bag tied behind him, his blankets
either under him or lying with his cloak between his body and the bow,
which makes him at his ease. Thus mounted it is impossible for the most
vicious animals to dismount them. They will catch another horse, when
both are running nearly at full speed, with a noose and hair rope, with
which they will soon choak down the beast they are pursuing. In short,
they are probably the most expert horsemen in the world.

At each port is a store, called the King's, where it was the original
intention of the government that the soldiers should be supplied with pro-
visions, clothing, arms, &c., at a cheap rate; but it being a post generally
given to some young officer to make his fortune, they are subject to great


impositions. When a dragoon joins the service he receives from the
King five horses and two mules, and this number he is always obliged to
keep good from his own pocket ; but when he is discharged, the horses
and mules receive the discharge mark, and become his private property.
They engage for five or ten years, at the option of the soldier. But in the
bounty there is a very material difference. It is extremely easy to keep
up the corps, as a private dragoon considers himself upon an equality with
most of the citizens, and infinitely superior to the lower class ; and it is
not unfrequent to see men of considerable fortune marrying the daughters
of sergeants and corporals.

The pay of the troops of New Spain varies with the locality, but may
be averaged in the internal provinces as follows :

A colonel, four thousand five hundred dollars per annum ; lieutenant-
colonel, four thousand ; major, three thousand ; captain, two thousand
four hundred ; first lieutenant, one thousand five hundred ; second lieu-
tenant, one thousand ; ensign, eight hundred ; sergeant, three hundred
and fifty; corporal, three hundred ; private, two hundred and eighty-eight.
With this pay they find their own clothes, provisions, arms, accoutre-
ments, &c., after the first equipments.

Corporal punishment is contrary to the Spanish ordinances ; they
punish by imprisonment, putting in the stocks, and death ; but as a
remarkable instance of the discipline and regularity of conduct of the
provincial troops, I may mention, that although marching with them, and
doing duty as it were for nearly four months, I never saw a man receive a
blow ; or put under confinement for one hour. How impossible would it
be to regulate the turbulent dispositions of the Americans with such treat-
ment? In making the foregoing remark, I do not include officers, for I
saw more rigourous treatment exercised towards some of them than ever
was practised in our army.

The discipline of their troops is very different from ours : as to tactics,
or military manoeuvres, they are not held in much estimation ; for during
the whole of the time I was in the country, I never saw a corps of troops
exercising as dragoons, but frequently marching by platoons, sections, &c.,
in garrison, where they serve as infantry, with their carabines. In these
manoeuvres they were also very deficient. On a march, a detachment of
cavalry generally encamp in a circle. They relieve their guards at night.


and as soon as they halt the new guard is formed on foot, with their cara-
bines, and then march before the Commandant's tent, where the command-
ing officer of the guard cries the invocation of the Holy Virgin three
times. The commanding officer replies, it is well. They then retire and
mount their horses, and are told off, some to act as guard of the horses, as
cavalry ; others as guard of the camp, as infantry. The old guards are
then paraded and relieved, and the new sentinels take post. The sentinels
are singing half their time, and it is no uncommon thing for them to quit
their post to come to the fire, go for water, &c. In fact, after the officer
is in bed, frequently the whole guard comes in ; yet I never knew any man
punished for these breaches of military duty.

Their mode of attack is by squadrons on the different flanks of their
enemies, but without regularity or concert, shouting, hallooing, and firing
their carabines, after which, if they think themselves equal to the enemy,
they charge with a pistol and then the lance. But from my observations
on their discipline, I have no hesitation in declaring that I would not be
afraid to march over a plain with five hundred infantry, and a proportion-
ate allowance of horse artillery of the United States army, in the presence
of five thousand of these dragoons. Yet, I do not presume to say, that an
army with that inferiority of numbers would do to oppose them, for they
would cut off your supplies, and harass your march and camp night and
day, to such a degree as to oblige you in the end to surrender to them
without ever having come to action ; but if the event depended on one
engagement, it would terminate with glory to the American arms. The
conclusion must not however be drawn, that I infer from this they are
deficient in physical firmness more than other nations, for we see the
savages, five hundred of whom would on a plain fly before fifty bayonets,
on other occasions brave danger and death in its most horrid shapes, with
an undaunted fortitude never surpassed by the most disciplined and hardy
veterans. But it arises solely from the want of discipline and confidence
in each other, as is always the case with undisciplined corps ; unless stimu-
lated by the god-like sentiment of love of country, which these poor fellows
know nothing of.

The travelling food of the dragoons in New Mexico, consists of a very
excellent species of wheat biscuit, and shaved meat well dried, with a vast
quantity of red pepper, of which they make bouilli and then pour it on


their broken biscuit, when it becomes soft and excellent eating. Farther
south they use great quantities of parched corn meal and sugar, as practised
by our hunters, each dragoon having a small bag. They thus live, when
on command, on an allowance which our troops would conceive little
better than starving, never except at night attempting to eat any thing
like a meal, but biting a piece of biscuit, or drinking some parched meal
and sugar, with water during the day.

From the physical as well as moral properties of the inhabitants of
New Spain, I do believe they are capable of being made the best troops
in the world, possessing sobriety, enterprise, great physical force, docility,
and a conception equally quick and penetrating.

The modes of promotion in the internal provinces are singular, but
probably productive of good effects. Should a vacancy of first lieutenant
offer in a company, the captain commanding nominates, with the senior
second lieutenant (who by seniority would fill the vacancy) two other
lieutenants to the General, giving his comments on the three. The General
selects two, for nomination to the court, from whom is selected the fortunate
candidate, whose commission is made out and forwarded. As the letters
of nomination are always kept secret, it is impossible for the young officers
to say who is to blame, should they be disappointed, and the fortunate is
in a direct way to thank the King only for the ultimate decision. The
method is the same with the superior grades to the colonel.

The King of Spain's ordinances for the government of his army are
generally founded on justice and a high sense of honour : I could not
procure a set from any of the officers to take to my quarters, consequently
my observations on them were extremely cursory. They provide that no
old soldier shall ever be discharged the service unless for infamous crimes.
When a man has served with reputation for fifteen years and continues,
his pay is augmented, twenty years he receives another augmentation ;
twenty-seven years he receives the brevet rank and pay of an ensign, and
thirty-two those of a lieutenant, &c. These circumstances are a great
stimulus, although not one in a thousand arrive at the third period, when
they are permitted to retire from the service with full pay and emoluments.
All sons of captains, or of grades superior, are entitled to enter the King's
school as cadets, at the age of twelve years. The property of an officer or
soldier, who is killed on the field of battle, or dies of his wounds, is not


liable to be taken for debt, and is secured, as well as the King's pension,
to the relatives of the deceased.

Court martials for the trial of a commissioned officer must be formed
of general officers ; but this clause subjects the officers of the provinces to
a great species of tyranny, for the Commanding-General has taken upon
himself to punish for all offences not capital, consequently according to
his own judgment and prejudices, and from which there is only an
appeal to the King. Difficult indeed, must it be for the complaints of
a subaltern to reach the ears of His Majesty through the numerous
crowds of sycophants who surround him, one half of whom are probably
in league with the oppressor. This practice likewise deprives an officer
of the most sacred of all rights, the being tried by his peers, for should
he be sent to Mexico or Europe for trial, it is possible he may not be
able to take half the testimony which is necessary to his complete

There is another principle defined by the ordinances which has
often been the cause of disputes in the service of the United States, viz.:
The commandant of a post in the Spanish service, if barely a captain,
receives no orders from a general, should one arrive at his post, unless that
general should be superior in authority to the person who posted him; for,
says the ordinance, he is responsible to the King alone for his post. This
principle, according to my ideas, is very injurious to the interest of any
country that adopts it. We will say for example that a post of great
importance, containing immense military stores, is likely to fall into the
hands of the enemy ; a superior officer to the commandant receives the
information, and repairs to the post, and orders him immediately to
evacuate it. The commandant feeling himself only responsible to the
authority who placed him in that position, refuses to obey, and the
magazines and place are lost! The principle is likewise subversive of
the very foundation of military subordination and discipline, whereby an
inferior should in all cases obey a superior, who alone should be responsible
for the effect arising from the execution of his orders. It will readily be
believed that in thus advocating implicit obedience to the orders of a
superior, I do not suppose the highest improbabilities, or impossibilities,
such as a command from him to turn your arms against the constituted
authority of your country, or to be an engine of his tyranny, or the pander


of his vices ; these are cases wherein a man's reason alone must direct him,
and are not and cannot be subject to any human rule whatever.

Religion. — Its forms are topics with which I am very imperfectly
acquainted, but, having made- some enquiries and observations on the sub-
ject, I will freely communicate them, fearful, at the same time, that I may
lay myself, open to the severe criticism of persons who have in any degree
applied themselves to the study of theology or the ritual of the Catholic

The Kingdom of New Spain is divided into four archbishopricks, viz.:
Mexico, Guadalaxara, Durango, and St. Luis Potosi ; under these again
are the subbishopricks, deacons, curates, &c., each of whom is subject and
accountable to his immediate chiefs for the districts committed to his charg-e,
and the whole are again subject to the ordinances of the high court of
inquisition, held at the capital of Mexico ; whence are fulminated the edicts
of censure against the heresies and impious doctrines of the modern phi-
losophy, both as to politics and religion. I am credibly informed that the
influence of that tribunal is greater in His Catholic Majesty's Mexican domin-
ions than in any Catholic country in Europe, or perhaps in the world. A
few years since- they condemned a man to the flames for asserting and
maintaining some doctrine which they deemed heretical ; and also a Jew
who was imprudent enough to take the image of Christ from the cross and
put it under the sill of his door, saying privately, he would make the dogs
walk over their God. This court likewise examines and condemns all books
of a modern sentiment, either as to religion or politics, and excommunicates
any one in whose hands they may be found. I recollect to have seen one
of its decrees published in the Mexican Gazette, condemning a number of
books as heretical and contrary to the sacred principles of the Holy Catholic
Church, and the peace and durability of the government of His Catholic
Majesty. Amongst these were mentioned Helvetius on Man, J. J. Rous-
seau's Works, Voltaire's, Mirabeau's, and a number of others of that
description, and even at so great a distance as Chihuahua an officer dared
not take Pope's Essay on Man to his quarters, but used to come to mine
to read it.

The salaries of the archbishops are superior to those of any officers in
the kingdom, that of the Bishop of Mexico being estimated at one hun-
dred and fifty thousand dollars per annum,while the Vice-Roy has but eighty


thousand, and fifty thousand allowed for his table, falling short of the
Bishop twenty thousand dollars. These incomes are raised entirely from
the people, who pay no tax to the King, but give one-tenth of their yearly
income to the clergy, besides the fees of confessions, bulls, burials, baptisms,
marriages, and a thousand other impositions, which the corruption of priest-
craft has introduced, and have been kept up by the superstition and ignor-
ance of the people. Notwithstanding all this, the inferior clergy, who do
all the slavery of the office, are liberal and well informed men. I scarcely
saw one who was not in favour of a change of government. They being
generally Creoles by birth, and always kept in subordinate grades, without
the least shadow of a probability of rising to the superior dignities of the
Church, their minds have been soured to such a degree that I am confident
in asserting they will lead the van whenever the standard of independence
is raised in the country.

Politics. — It has often been a subject of discussion with politicians,
in what manner a mother country should treat her distant and pow-

Online LibraryZebulon Montgomery PikeExploratory travels through the western territories of North America : comprising a voyage from St. Louis, on the Mississippi, to the source of that river, and a journey through the interior of Louisiana, and the north-eastern provinces of New Spain → online text (page 33 of 39)