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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER I.
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"I've news for you, Frank!"
"Well, what is it?"
"We're going to Mexico next week," answered Fred; "at any rate, that is uncle's plan, and he will tell us all about it this evening."
"The news is good news," was the reply; "for Mexico is one of the countries that just now I want very much to see. We have heard a great deal about it since the railway was completed to the capital; and then, you know, the Mexicans are our neighbors."
"That is true," said Fred; "here we've been going all over the rest of the world, and haven't yet called on our neighbors, and next-door neighbors too. But we're not alone in
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 this, as it is probable that for every inhabitant of the Northern States who has visited Mexico, a hundred have been across the Atlantic."
This conversation occurred between Frank Bassett and Fred Bronson shortly after returning from their tour among the islands of the Pacific Ocean and through New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia. The accounts of their journeys have appeared in several volumes, with which our readers are or should be familiar.[1]
The youths waited with some impatience until evening, when they were to hear from Doctor Bronson the details of the proposed trip. In the mean time they devoted themselves to their Spanish grammars and dictionaries, which they had not seen for months, owing to their occupation with other matters. And we may here add that until their departure and while they were on the road, every moment that could be applied to the study of the language of the country whither they were bound was industriously employed. By the time they crossed the border they were able to speak Spanish very well, and had very little need of interpreters.
"We shall go to Mexico by rail," said the Doctor, "and return by sea; at any rate, that is my plan at present, but circumstances may change it. It is my intention to visit the principal cities and other places of interest, and also to give some attention to the antiquities of the country and of Central America; exactly what places we shall see I cannot say at this moment, nor how long we shall be absent."
"What shall we need in the way of baggage?" one of the youths asked.
"About what you need for a long journey north and south in the United States," was the reply. "You will need clothing for hot weather as well as for cold. We shall find it quite chilly in certain parts of the tierra fria, or highlands, and warm enough in the tierra caliente, or lowlands along the coast. You must have outer and under clothing adapted to warm and cool climates, and your ulsters may be placed for convenience in the same bundle with your linen dusters. Have a good supply of under-clothing, as the facilities for laundry-work are not the best, even in the large cities; but do not load yourselves with anything not absolutely necessary, as the Mexican railways allow only thirty-three pounds of baggage to a local passenger, and the charges for extra weight are high. Passengers with through tickets from the United States are entitled to one hundred and fifty pounds of baggage free.
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"Of course," continued the Doctor, "you will want some books on Mexico, partly for historical research and partly for description. There is an excellent guide-book which was written by Mr. Janvier, and there is another by Mr. Conkling; get them both, and also 'Old Mexico and her Lost Provinces,' by Mr. Bishop, 'Mexico of To-day,' by Mr. Griffin, and 'Our Next-door Neighbor,' by Bishop Haven. Don't forget Charnay's 'Ancient Cities of the New World,' and Prescott's 'Conquest of Mexico.' You can read the latter book before we go; it is inconveniently large for travelling purposes, and so we will leave it behind us, as we can easily find it in the City of Mexico, in case we wish to refer to it again. Abbott's 'Life of Hernando Cortez' is a more portable work, and will serve to refresh your memory concerning what you read in Prescott's volumes."
The conversation lasted an hour or more, and by the time it ended the boys almost felt that they were already in the land of the Aztecs. Their dreams through the night were of ancient temples and modern palaces, Aztec and Spanish warriors, snowy mountains and palm-covered plains, mines of silver and other metals, fortresses, cathedrals, haciendas and hovels, and of many races and tribes of men that dwell in the land they were about to see. Fred declared in the morning that he had dreamed of Montezuma and Maximilian walking arm in arm, and Frank professed to have had a similar vision concerning Cortez and General Scott.
For the next few days the youths had no spare time on their hands, and when the start was made for the proposed journey they were well prepared for it both mentally and materially. They had followed Doctor
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 Bronson's directions as to their outfit of clothing and other things, had procured the books which he named, and, as we have already seen, had made a vigorous overhauling of their Spanish grammars and phrase-books.
From New York there are several routes westward, as our readers are pretty well aware, and the youths were a little puzzled to know which one would be chosen. The mystery was solved by the Doctor on the day before their departure. He announced that they would go to St. Louis by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and from there to the frontier of Mexico by the Missouri Pacific and Southern Pacific lines. "And now," said he, "I
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 will leave you to choose the route to the capital city, and you need not decide until we reach St. Louis."
The Doctor's suggestion compelled a study of the maps and a careful reading of the guide-books and other literature pertaining to the journey. The result of their study may be summed up as follows from an entry which Frank made in his note-book:
"The first railway which was opened from the United States to the City of Mexico was the Mexican Central, which runs from El Paso, Texas, or rather from Paso del Norte, Mexico, which is opposite to El Paso, on the other side of the Rio Grande. Its length is 1224 miles, and it was completed March 8, 1884, at the station of Fresnillo, 750 miles from Paso
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 del Norte, the line having been built from both ends at the same time. Three years and six months were required for its construction, and the line is said to have cost more than thirty-two millions of dollars; eight miles of track were laid during the last day of the work before the two ends of the line were brought together; and considering all the disadvantages of the enterprise, it reflects great credit upon those who managed it.
"For more than four years the Mexican Central was the only all-rail route for travellers from the United States to the City of Mexico, and it had a practical monopoly of business. In 1888 two other lines were opened; or perhaps we might say, another line and half of a third. These are the Mexican National Railway, from Laredo, Texas, to Mexico City, a distance of 825 miles, and the International Railway, from Piedras Negras, Mexico, opposite Eagle Pass, Texas, to a point on the Mexican Central, about half-way between El Paso and Mexico. The International is the one which we call half a line, as it makes a new route into Mexico, and from all we can learn a very good one too.
"The Central is a standard-gauge road, four feet eight and one-half inches wide, while the National is a narrow-gauge line, three feet between the rails; the advantage of the National line is that it is much shorter than the Central, as I will proceed to show.
"From St. Louis to Mexico City, by way of Laredo, the distance is 1823 miles, while by the Central line it is 2584 miles; there is thus a saving of 761 miles, or about thirty hours in time. But the Central will take us through five or six interesting cities, while the National only goes near Monterey, San Luis Potosi, and Toluca.
"Fred and I have decided to ask uncle to go by neither one route nor the other, but to travel by both of them, and the International line in addition; and this is the way we propose to do it:
"We'll go from St. Louis to Laredo because of the saving of time and distance, and then we'll go to Monterey, which is an interesting city, by the National Railway. After we've done Monterey we'll go farther on, to Saltillo, and there we can cross over to Jaral, about forty miles, and find ourselves on the main line of the International Railway. There the train will pick us up and carry us to Torreon, on the Mexican Central Railway, and from there we can continue to the capital, seeing the best part of the Central line, or rather of the country through which it runs. The northern part of the route of the Central is said to be dreary and uninteresting, and so we shall be able to avoid it by the plan we have made."
The scheme was duly unfolded to the Doctor, who promptly gave his approval and commended the youths for the careful study they had made
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 of the railway system of northern Mexico. "Later on," said he, "we will consider the subject of railways in other parts of Mexico, and I'm sure you will be able to make some interesting notes about it for your friends at home. Mexico was for a long time very backward in railway enterprises, but in the past few years she has gone ahead very rapidly. Ten years ago there were not five hundred miles of railway in the country; now there are nearly, if not quite, five thousand miles, and in ten years from this time there will be double that number. The Mexico of to-day is very different from the Mexico of a quarter of a century ago."
Our friends stopped a day in St. Louis, and another at San Antonio, Texas, partly for sight-seeing purposes and partly for rest. At the former city the great bridge over the Mississippi excited the wonder and admiration of the youths, who heard with much interest the story of its construction and the difficulties which the engineers encountered in laying the foundations. At San Antonio they had their first glimpse of Mexican life, as the city is quite Mexican in character, and at one time was almost wholly so. Doctor Bronson told them that about one-third of the inhabitants are of Mexican origin, and they could easily believe it as they saw the Mexican features all about them on the streets, and heard the Spanish language quite as often as any other.
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The object of greatest interest to them was the Alamo, the old fort which, in 1836, the Texans, who were fighting for independence, so heroically but unsuccessfully defended. They were disappointed to find that there is not much remaining of the fort, which originally consisted of an oblong enclosure, about an acre in extent, with walls three feet thick, and eight or ten feet high. "There were 144 men in the Alamo, and they were besieged by 4000 Mexican troops under General Santa Anna," said a gentleman who accompanied them to the spot. "The Mexicans had artillery, and the Texans had none, and against such odds it was hopeless to resist. Santa Anna sent a summons for them to surrender, and throw themselves upon Mexican mercy, but they refused to do so, and defied him and his army."
As he paused a moment, Fred asked why they refused to surrender when the odds were so much against them.
"They knew what Mexican mercy was," said the gentleman. "It was illustrated not long afterwards at Goliad, where Colonel Fannin surrendered with 412 men as prisoners of war. They were promised to be released under the rules of war, and one Sunday morning, when they were singing 'Home, sweet home,' they were marched out and massacred, every man of them. The slaughter lasted from six till eight, and then the bodies of the slain were burned by orders of the general. It is proper to say that the Mexican officers were generally disgusted with the terrible business, but they were obliged to obey the orders of Santa Anna, or be themselves
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 shot down. His policy was one of extermination, and he could have said on his death-bed that he left no enemies behind him, as he had killed them all.
"Well," continued their informant, "the siege of the Alamo began on the 23d of February, 1836, and lasted for thirteen days. Over 200 shells were thrown into the fort in the first twenty-four hours, but not a man was injured by them, while the Texan sharp-shooters picked off a great number of the Mexicans. Santa Anna made several assaults, but was driven back each time, and it is believed that he lost fully 1500 men in the siege. On the morning of the 6th of March a final assault was made, and the fort was captured; every man was killed in the fighting excepting
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 six who surrendered, and among the six was the famous Col. David Crockett. Santa Anna ordered all of them to be cut to pieces, and Crockett fell with a dozen sword-wounds after his own weapons had been given up. Colonel Travis, who commanded the fort, was also killed, and so was Colonel Bowie, who was ill in bed at the time, and was shot where he lay. He was the inventor of the bowie-knife, which has been famous through the West and South-west for a good many years. Only three persons were spared from death, a woman, a child, and a servant."
"How long was that before the battle of San Jacinto?" one of the youths asked.
"Less than seven weeks," was the reply, "and never was there a more complete victory than at that battle. Gen. Sam Houston retreated slowly, and was followed by the Mexican army. He burned a bridge behind his enemies, and suddenly attacking them on the afternoon of April 21st, he killed half their number and captured nearly all the rest. The war-cry of the Texans was 'Remember the Alamo! remember Goliad!' and maddened by the recollection of the cruelties of the Mexicans, they fought like tigers, and carried everything before them. Santa Anna, disguised as a soldier, was captured the next day; Houston had hard work to save him from the fury of the Texans, but he was saved, and lived to fight again ten years later. But the battle of San Jacinto ended the war, and made Texas independent of Mexico."
A ride of a hundred and fifty miles to the south-west from San Antonio brought our friends to Laredo, on the banks of the Rio Grande, the dividing line between the United States and Mexico. The ride was through a thinly settled country, devoted principally to grazing, and there were few objects of interest along the route. The time was varied with looking from the windows of the car, with the perusal of books, and by conversation concerning the Texan war for independence, to which the thoughts of the party had naturally turned through their visit to the Alamo at San Antonio.
"Texas was a province of Mexico," said the Doctor, "in the early part of the present century, the Spaniards having established missions and stations there at the same time that the French established missions and military posts in Louisiana. The territorial boundaries between France and Spain were never very clearly defined; the two countries were in a constant quarrel about their rights, and when we purchased the Louisiana territory from France we inherited the dispute about the boundaries. Adventurers from various parts of the United States poured into the country, and the population was more American than Mexican; there were many
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 respectable men among the American settlers, but there was also a considerable proportion of what might be called 'a bad lot.'"
"I have read somewhere," said Frank, "a couplet which is said to have been composed by a resident of the country fifty years ago, and to have given the State its name.
"'When every other land rejects us,
This is the land that freely takes us.'"
 "G. T. T."
"And I," said Fred, "have read somewhere that when a man ran away to cheat his creditors, or for any more serious reason, it was commonly said that he had 'gone to Texas.' When the sheriffs looked for somebody whom they wished to arrest and were unable to find him, they indorsed the warrant with the initial letters 'G. T. T.' before returning it to the authorities who issued it. Sometimes an absconding debtor saved his friends the trouble of looking for him by leaving on his door a card bearing these interesting letters."
"Undoubtedly," continued the Doctor, "there was a rough population in Texas in those days, but the men composing it were not deficient in bravery, and they had the spirit of independence in the fullest degree. While the United States and Mexico were disputing about the boundaries, the Texans set up a claim for independence, and the war which was ended by the battle of San Jacinto was like our Revolutionary War a hundred and more years ago. After Texas had secured her independence, she set up a government of her own; she had a president and all the other officials pertaining to a republic, and was recognized by England, France, and other European countries. This did not last long, as her finances fell into a deplorable condition, and the preponderance of Americans among the population naturally led to a movement for annexation to the United States. Annexation was followed by war with Mexico, and it grew out of the old dispute about the boundaries. Mexico claimed all land west of the Nueces River, while Texas claimed to own as far west as the Rio Grande. Each
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 country believed it was right, and our war with Mexico resulted in the defeat of the Mexican armies, the occupation of their capital, and the establishment of the right of the United States to all territory east of the Rio Grande."
"Texas is therefore one of the lost provinces of Mexico," said Frank.
"Yes," was the reply; "it is one of them, and a very large one, as it has an area of nearly three hundred thousand square miles, and is a country of great future possibilities. But Texas was by no means the greatest of the losses of Mexico by the war, as California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico were taken by us as compensation for our trouble, and you know what they are to-day. About the time that the treaty of peace was signed and the cession of territory made, gold was discovered in California, and the wonderful wealth of the Pacific coast and the Rocky Mountain region was rapidly developed. Look on the map in Mr. Bishop's book and see what Mexico was before and after the war."
The boys made a careful inspection of the map, and as it will be interesting to their friends at home, we here reproduce it.
"The Mexicans were severely punished for their cruelty to the Texans,"
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 said Fred, "and were probably sorry for their butcheries at Goliad and the Alamo when they sat down to think of the war and how it turned out.
"The responsibility for those butcheries rests rather upon General Santa Anna than on the officers and soldiers who executed his orders. He started out in a war of extermination, and there is abundant evidence that his officers loathed the work they had to perform. One of them, writing from Goliad at the time of the massacre of Colonel Fannin and his men, said, 'This day, Palm Sunday, has been to me a day of heart-felt sorrow. What an awful scene did the field present when the prisoners were executed and fell in heaps, and what spectator could view it without horror!' It has been said that the feeble resistance that Santa Anna's men made at the battle of San Jacinto was in consequence of the willingness of officers
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 and soldiers to be captured so that the terrible war could come to an end."
"Texas is now a very prosperous State," continued the Doctor; "the value of its taxable property is nearly seven hundred millions of dollars, and some authorities say it is more, and it has seven millions of cattle, ten millions of sheep, and horses and mules in proportion. By the census of 1880 it had a population of more than one and a half millions, and it is probable that 1890 will give it more than two millions. Its area would make five States as large as New York, thirty-three as large as Massachusetts, and two hundred and twelve of the size of Rhode Island. That it has changed greatly from the days before the annexation, and is favorable to peace and good order, is shown by its liberal appropriation for schools, its laws relative to the sale of intoxicating drinks, the fines it imposes for carrying pistols and bowie-knives, and its penalties for using them."
There was further conversation about the south-west and its peculiarities, when the train reached the frontier and attention was turned to Mexico and the new land that they were about to visit.

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