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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER III.
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The first opportunity to see a Mexican city was afforded to our friends at Monterey, and they fully enjoyed it. Every walk along the streets and every drive in the city and its vicinity was full of interest, and there was little that escaped their observation. Being the most northern city of Mexico, Monterey has been much invaded by Americans during the last decade, and many citizens of the United States are established there in various lines of business.
The city has been extensively advertised as a health resort, and considerable numbers of invalids have gone there; a fair proportion of them
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 have breathed their last in Monterey or its neighborhood, but the same may be said of many other health resorts in different parts of the world. For the present, invalids would do well to think twice before going to Monterey or any other part of Mexico in the hope of recovering their health, as the accommodations for them are hardly such as they require. A Mexican hotel may do well enough for a vigorous man, but it is ill-suited to one who should be shielded from draughts, needs to sit in front of a comfortable fire, and has a dread of damp walls and similar adversities. The cooking is suited to robust stomachs rather than to delicate ones, and the attendance leaves much to be desired.
Monterey is built in a plain surrounded by mountains, and the ground on which it stands is somewhat broken or undulating in places. It has a population of about forty thousand, and is said to be increasing every year, in consequence of the impulse which the opening of the railway has given it. Our friends visited the Ojo de Agua, a great spring that opens in the centre of the city, and furnishes a copious supply of water; then they went to the Plaza Mayor, a pretty garden, with an interesting fountain in its centre; then to the Plaza de Zaragoza; and then to the cathedral, which looks upon it, and has the Church of San Francisco as a near neighbor. The church is the oldest religious edifice in the city. It is said to have been founded in 1560, and though there is some obscurity about the exact date, it is pretty certain to owe its beginning to the sixteenth
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 century. But of the old structure only the foundations remain, the present building having been erected about 1730, and it has undergone alterations at various periods since that time.
The cathedral is quite modern. It was dedicated in 1833, and at the time of its dedication had been about thirty years in process of erection. The walls are very thick, and its constructors must have possessed the gift of foresight, and had in mind its possible uses for war purposes, as it was converted into a powder-magazine at the time of General Taylor's attack in 1846. Shot and shell fell thickly around it, but the massive walls preserved it from destruction or serious injury, and saved its contents from being blown up. The original site selected for the cathedral was at the north of the city, and work was begun upon it, but the place was abandoned for the present one. A fort was erected on the abandoned site, and it was one of the chief obstacles to the capture of the city by the Americans.
Frank and Fred were especially interested in the war history of Monterey; and as soon as the inspection of the Plaza Mayor and the edifices around it had been completed, they asked to be taken to the scene of the fighting between the American and Mexican armies. Their guide took them first to the bridge of the Purisima, in the north-eastern quarter of the city, where there was a sharp battle, in which the Mexicans successfully resisted the Americans, and then to the old citadel—the fort already mentioned. It is now in a ruinous condition, and is generally spoken of as "the Black Fort."
On the way to the citadel, Doctor Bronson tested the knowledge of the youths concerning the events which made Monterey's name so well known in the United States. In reply to his questions, Frank and Fred alternated with each other in telling the following, Frank being the first to speak:
"General Taylor's army landed at Corpus Christi, in Texas, and marched from there to Matamoras, on the Rio Grande, early in 1846. Before crossing the Rio Grande they fought two battles—that of Palo Alto on the 8th of May, and the battle of Resaca de la Palma on the following day. General Taylor defeated the Mexicans in both battles, though his army was much smaller than theirs, the Mexicans having about 6000 men and the Americans 3000. After capturing Matamoras he advanced into northern Mexico. On the Rio Grande he had been joined by a reinforcement of troops, and when he came in front of Monterey he had between six and seven thousand men."
"Yes," said Fred, "the historians say he had 6645 officers and men
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 altogether, and that the Mexican army at Monterey under General Ampudia contained fully 10,000 men."
"You have evidently been studying the History of the Mexican War very carefully," the Doctor remarked, as the youths paused.
"We've tried to, certainly," responded Fred, "as we believe we ought to know what the relations have been between this country and ours, in order to understand intelligently what we see. If we study to-day the peaceful invasion of Mexico, we ought to know about the warlike one."
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Doctor Bronson nodded assent to this view, and the story of the war was resumed.
"General Taylor came in sight of Monterey on September 20th," said Frank, "and immediately rode forward till he was within range of one of the forts. A cannon was fired upon the group of officers that surrounded the general, and immediately the army was ordered to advance and form a camp opposite the city, but far enough away from the forts to be out of range of the cannon.
"The battle began the next morning, the 21st, the city being attacked on the west by a division commanded by General Worth, whose monument stands in front of Madison Square, in New York, and on the west
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 by the rest of the army under General Taylor. The Americans had no artillery heavier than six-pounders, while the Mexicans had their forts filled with large cannon; and they had a strong force of cavalry, while the Americans had a very small one. The forts were attacked first, and one after the other they were taken, till the only remaining one outside the city was the Bishop's Palace, as it was called, though it was really a fort, as we shall see when we get to it.
"Partly by means of a cannon that was dragged up a hill which commanded the Bishop's Palace, and partly by an attack of the infantry, the place was captured, and our flag was over all the heights that overlooked the city. It had taken two days to accomplish this, and a great many of our soldiers had fallen, but the army had no idea of giving up the attack; and when they had possession of the heights, they felt as sure of the victory as though it was already won.
"On the morning of the 23d of September, the third day of the battle, a fire was opened on the city from the Bishop's Palace on the west, and from two forts on the east, and at the same time the troops on each side of the city began to force their way inside towards the Gran Plaza, in the centre. The Mexicans fought desperately, and swept the streets with such a fire of musketry that our men had to take shelter in the houses and cut their way from house to house towards the Gran Plaza. It was slow work, and when night came the troops had still two blocks to cut through before getting to the plaza. They were getting ready for work early the next morning when a flag of truce came from General Ampudia, and the city was surrendered."
"What was the loss of the Americans in the battle?" queried Doctor Bronson, as Frank paused.
"They lost 158 killed, and 368 wounded," answered Fred, "and the Mexican loss was said to be fully one thousand."
"And to what was the disparity of the losses attributed?"
"It was thought," said Fred, "at least so I read in the account published at that time, that the Western and South-western men who fought under General Taylor were better marksmen than the Mexicans. The Texas riflemen in particular were famous for their skill in shooting, and their weapons were better than those of their enemies."
"You've made a very good short history of the capture of Monterey," said the Doctor, "and must write it down for the benefit of your friends at home."
The youths followed this bit of practical advice, and we are permitted to publish their story.
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By the time the talk about the war was ended the party had reached the citadel, which they visited with interest, and then proceeded to the Bishop's Palace, now occupied as a military barrack, and in a bad state of repair. While they stood looking down upon the city and the grassy and bushy slope of the hill, Frank recited the following piece of verse, which was written by Charles Fenno Hoffman shortly after the stirring events commemorated in the lines:
"We were not many—we who stood
Before the iron sleet that day;
Yet many a gallant spirit would
Give half his years, if he but could
Have been with us at Monterey.
"Now here, now there, the shot it hailed
In deadly drifts of fiery spray;
Yet not a single soldier quailed
When wounded comrades round them wailed
Their dying shouts at Monterey.
"And on, still on, our columns kept,
Through walls of flame, its withering way;
Where fell the dead, the living stept,
Still charging on the guns that swept
The slippery streets of Monterey.
"The foe himself recoiled aghast
When, striking where he strongest lay.
We swooped his flanking batteries past,
And, braving full their murderous blast,
Stormed home the towers of Monterey.
"Our banners on those turrets wave,
And there our evening bugles play,
Where orange-boughs above their grave
Keep green the memory of the brave
Who fought and fell at Monterey.
"We were not many—we who pressed
Beside the brave who fell that day;
But who of us hath not confessed
He'd rather share their warrior rest
Than not have been at Monterey?"
"There is one thing we must mention in our account of the battle," said Fred, as they were returning from the Bishop's Palace to the city.
"What is that?" Frank asked.
"Why, we must say that there was a young officer here named U. S. Grant; he was a second lieutenant of the Fourth Infantry, and was one of
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 those who charged up the side of the hill to the Bishop's Palace. He afterwards became General Grant, whom all the world knows of, and whose name will be remembered in America for all time."
"I didn't think of that when I was talking about the battle," Frank answered, "but I remember it all now. And I have read in one of the books on Mexico that he was offered promotion for his conduct in the battle, but declined it because another man was promoted at the same time. In declining the offer he said, 'If Lieutenant —— deserves promotion I do not.'"
"And there's another thing that needs explanation," continued the youth, "and that is the uniform of the officers and soldiers of our army in the pictures of the battles in Mexico. It is quite unlike the uniform worn in the Civil War fifteen years later, and now in use."
"I will explain that," said the Doctor, and he did so in these words:
"After peace had been declared and our army returned from Mexico, the War Department realized that there were certain features of the uniform
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 and equipment of the men that might be changed to advantage. No action was taken in the matter until Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War, between 1853 and 1857; and I will here remark that Jefferson Davis commanded a regiment of Mississippi Volunteers during the Mexican War, and fought in this very battle of Monterey we have just been talking about. Well, Mr. Davis sent a circular letter to the officers of the army, stating that changes were contemplated, and asking for suggestions from them, and the inducement was held out that those who suggested changes which were adopted would be liberally compensated.
"One of the circulars was received by Lieut. George H. Derby, who afterwards obtained considerable literary reputation as 'John Phenix.' Derby was a born humorist, and generally saw the ludicrous side of a subject before anything else. In a short time after receiving the circular he sent a variety of suggestions to the Department which were very funny, to say the least.
"He designed a hat which, in addition to covering the head, could be used as a camp-kettle, a water-bucket, and a feed-bag for a horse, and with the design for the article, which was to be made of sheet-iron, there was a picture representing it applied to each of its proposed uses.
"Instead of the shoulder cross-belts, he proposed that the soldier should have a leather belt around his waist, and to this belt should be attached a stout hook with a shank six inches long, and the point of the hook standing outward from the man's back. On this hook the soldier could hang his knapsack or equipments when on the march. He could be harnessed by means of it so as to drag a wagon or a cannon; and in an assault on a fortress he could be made to drag a scaling-ladder up the walls by means of this hook. Derby also proposed that the officers should be provided with poles like rake-handles, ten or twelve feet long, with rings at one end, and if a soldier should try to run away in battle he could be dragged back to duty by means of the hook.
"Derby was skilful with the pencil, and he sent a sketch of a battle-field in which the various uses of the hook were depicted. To say that Jefferson Davis was angry when he read the letter is to put the case mildly; he turned red and blue with rage, and took the document to a cabinet meeting that was being held on the afternoon of the day he received Derby's communication. The members of the cabinet laughed over the suggestions and pictures, and when Davis declared he would have Derby cashiered for disrespect to the Secretary of War, they advised him to say nothing. 'If the story gets out,' said one of them, 'you'll be the laughingstock of the country from one end to the other, and will never hear the
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 end of it. And, besides, there's some originality about the man, and he may yet send something that will be really useful.'
"Mr. Davis cooled down, and the story didn't come out until years afterwards. The result of the recommendations of various officers of the army was that the old 'bellows-top' cap disappeared, and so did other features of the soldier's uniform and equipment. That is why the picture of the battle of Monterey is so unlike that of any of the battles of the Civil War, so far as the uniforms of officers and men are concerned."
The youths had a hearty laugh over the story of Lieutenant Derby's suggestions. Frank thought they were too good to be lost, and he decided to write them down at the first opportunity.
On their return to the city the party visited the Alameda, which forms
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 a very pretty promenade and is well shaded with trees, though Frank thought it appeared in rather a neglected condition. Then they drove to the hot springs at Topo Chico, about three miles out from the city in a northerly direction, and indulged in the luxury of a hot bath in natural water. The manager of the establishment said that the baths had a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and possessed a high reputation for curing nervous, rheumatic, and other diseases. The arrangements for bathing were formerly very poor, but a new bath-house was erected in 1887, and resulted in a great increase of patronage.
Of course a visit was paid to the market-place, and the novelties of the spot received due attention. The most interesting features were the fruit and flower markets. Doctor Bronson told the youths that the Indians of Mexico had a passionate fondness for flowers long before the arrival of their Spanish conquerors, and it continues to the present time. There was a fine display of flowers, and the prices were so low that Frank and Fred regretted that they did not know some fair ones to whom they could send baskets and bouquets. Determined to do something by way of patronizing the flower-sellers, they bought a quantity of flowers and sent them to a hospital which their guide pointed out. "They may serve to cheer some poor invalid," said Frank, "and the market is so attractive that I want to encourage the trade."
The semi-tropical character of Monterey was shown by the fruits, which seemed to comprise the principal products of two zones, the tropical
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 and the temperate. There were all the fruits named in the last chapter as growing in the region near Lampasas, together with three or four others. Monterey is situated 1800 feet above the level of the sea, so that it is cooler than other places in the same latitude but at a lower elevation. Some of the fruits sold in the market of the city were not grown in the immediate neighborhood, but in the lower regions to the eastward.
Fred called Frank's attention to the bird-sellers with their wares in large wooden cages, evidently of home construction. The canary seems to have spread pretty well over the world; his singing powers have made him welcome everywhere he goes, and our young friends were not at all surprised to find him in the market of Monterey. Several other varieties of singing-birds were displayed, and the prices which were asked for them seemed very low; but the Doctor whispered to the youths that if they bought anything in the market they should not offer more than a quarter of what was demanded, and gradually advance their figures to a half or possibly three-fourths. In a country where time is of no value everybody who has anything to sell expects to haggle about the price.
Some of the pottery in the market was so good that the boys consulted Doctor Bronson as to the advisability of sending home a few specimens
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 of it. The Doctor checked their enthusiasm by reminding them that they were just then at the beginning of their journey, and it would be prudent to delay purchases until reaching the capital. A few jars and pots were selected and bargained for, more by way of practice in the language and customs than for any other purpose, and they were left with an American merchant, who undertook to ship them to New York. They were all of Indian workmanship, the best having come, so the dealer said, from Guadalajara. Mexican pottery deserves a higher rank among ceramics than it has hitherto enjoyed, and some of the handiwork of the descendants of the Aztecs would be worthy of admiration in any collection.
There were scores and scores of patient mules standing with drooping ears and waiting for their burdens to be removed. They were laden with everything that an inhabitant of Monterey could want to buy—milk, vegetables, fruits, fuel, hides, sugar, beans, wheat, iron-work, in fact anything and everything that has a place in a market. Donkeys are the beasts of burden at Monterey, and almost in the same category belong the cargadores, or porters, who are licensed and numbered exactly like cabs or drays in an American city. These men are identical with the Turkish hamals; they carry heavy burdens with apparent ease, and it is no uncommon sight to see one of them slowly creeping along with a piano, an iron safe, or a barrel of wine on his back, or a lighter burden on his head in the same way that the negro carries it. A gentleman who was stopping at the hotel said he had known a cargador to transport a safe weighing six hundred pounds without any apparent suffering a distance of half a mile without stopping to rest.
But the donkeys and cargadores do not have a monopoly of the local carrying trade, as there are great numbers of carts drawn by oxen, that have come in from the country with loads of produce seeking a market. These carts are of rude construction, and their axles are rarely, if ever,
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 greased. They creak and groan in a manner that falls unpleasantly on the ear and often suggests that the vehicles are animated beings suffering beneath their burdens and endeavoring to make their grief known. And this reminds us of something which Fred remarked to Frank when the
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 latter was wondering how the Mexicans could endure such a continued complaint of the axles of their carts.
"I've been thinking of the same thing," was the reply, "especially as the Mexicans are opprobriously termed 'greasers' by the people of Texas and the South-west generally. It's a sort of lucus à non lucendo, that appellation of greaser, at least so far as their cart-axles are concerned."
After seeing the market, they strolled along some of the narrow streets, which appeared gloomy enough, with their long stretches of masonry, broken only here and there with a grated window or a balcony which seemed to be a part of a prison, so heavily was it barred with iron. Some of the larger and finer buildings have handsome windows, whose design was evidently brought from Old Spain, and in turn obtained from the Moors. Our friends were invited to a house which had formerly belonged to one of the wealthy Spanish residents, but is now the property of an American merchant. Fred thus describes it:
"Like all the better class of houses in Monterey, this one is built in the form of a hollow square. This style of architecture was brought from Spain by the conquerors of the country, and it reminded us of houses in Damascus and other cities of the Oriental world. The square encloses a patio, or court-yard, and the rooms of the lower story open on the patio; there is a colonnade surrounding the yard, and it is freely ornamented with tropical plants and flowers, so that you seem at first glance to have entered a conservatory. Vines climb around most of the columns of the colonnade, and in the centre is a well in which hangs, not the 'old oaken bucket' made famous in song, but an equally substantial bucket of leather. The water
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 drawn from the well is cool and sweet, and from the length of the rope it is evident that the excavation goes down to a great depth. Monterey is abundantly supplied with water, and in this respect as well as in the appearance of some of the interiors of the houses, it is entitled to be called the Damascus of Mexico.
"There is one house in Monterey, the residence of Don Patricio Milmo, which has a double-arched court-yard and gallery, and is most liberally supplied with plants and flowers, among which a botanist would enjoy himself for many hours, and an ordinary mortal with no scientific knowledge need not be far behind him. There are some very pretty marbles in the neighborhood of Monterey, and they have been liberally used in the ornamentation of this and other houses. Don Patricio is a wealthy banker, and the owner of an immense area of land in Nuevo Leon, including much of the building-ground in and around Monterey."
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