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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER VII.
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Satisfied with a day at Aguas Calientes, the party took the south-bound trains and did not stop until reaching Silao, after a run of 130 miles. An hour or more after leaving Aguas Calientes, they crossed the barranca, or cañon, through which the Encarnacion River flows; the bridge by which they crossed it is built of iron, and is more than 700 feet long. It is fully 150 feet above the water, and the view as one looks downward from the centre of the bridge is apt to cause dizziness to a nervous traveller.
"Perhaps you don't know what a barranca is," wrote Frank, in his next letter to his mother. "Well, it's a deep channel which the water has worn in its steady flow for thousands of years through the earth or soft rock. The channel of Niagara River from the falls to Lewiston may be called a barranca, and so may any similar cutting made by a stream, whether large or small. Some of the Mexican barrancas are 2000 feet wide, and 1000 or 1500 feet deep; their sides are almost precipitous, and every year the waters wear a deeper way through the rock or earth.
"Did you ever walk through a field, and come suddenly upon a ditch or brook that was not visible a few yards away? Well, that's the case with some of these barrancas. You come upon one without being aware that you are near it; you may be galloping along enjoying the fresh air and the pleasure of a ride, when all at once your horse stops, and as you draw the reins you find yourself on the edge of a precipice, looking down hundreds of feet, perhaps, to the turbid stream struggling along its course. On
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 the other side of the barranca the country is level again, and you could gallop on without trouble but for the yawning chasm that stands in your way.
"The barrancas are crossed by descending to the stream along a sloping road built with great ingenuity and at much expense; the stream is passed by an ordinary bridge, and the high ground is reached again along another sloping road. Barrancas have long been a serious obstacle to the construction of wagon-roads in Mexico, and in recent years they have taxed the ingenuity of railway engineers who sought to pass them."
The first important city on the route was Lagos, which has a population of 25,000 or thereabouts, and is devoted to manufacturing; farther on is Leon, which is four times as large, and five or six times more important,
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 as it is the principal manufacturing city of the republic, and was founded about 1550. Formerly there was a great fair held at Leon annually for the sale of goods; it was similar to the great fairs of Europe before the invention of the railway, but has dwindled in importance as the railways have come in, and will probably be abandoned before many years.
"What do they make at Leon?" one may ask. For answer, Fred or Frank will tell you that they make pretty nearly every kind of article that finds a market in Mexico and can be fashioned by Mexican hands. There are numerous tanneries there, and the leather which they produce is made into boots, saddles, harnesses, leggings, and other things into whose composition leather enters. There are factories for the manufacture of cotton and woollen cloth, serapes, rebozos, and the like; there are large shops where hats are made of every Mexican style and kind, and sent to all parts of the republic; and there are soap factories, iron founderies, cutlery establishments, tool-shops, and so on through a long and possibly tiresome list. And it is safe to say that a popular vote of the inhabitants of Leon would show an overwhelming majority in favor of a protective
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 tariff. Leonites are firm believers in protection to home industries, and look frowningly on any movement to supplant their goods with those of foreign make.
About seven o'clock in the evening the train reached Silao, whence there is a branch fifteen miles long to Guanajuato, or rather to Marfil, its suburb. It was nearly nine o'clock when they reached the hotel at Guanajuato; there was not much to be seen in the evening, and so the time was passed mostly at the hotel, and devoted to a consideration of the history of the place. The youths found that the site of Guanajuato (pronounced Gwan-a-what-o) was given by one of the early viceroys to Don Rodrigo Vasquez, who was one of the conquerors who came with Cortez; the gift was a reward for Don Rodrigo's services in assisting to add this valuable possession to the crown of Spain. According to tradition, the discovery of silver was made here by accident some time in 1548, and it immediately brought a crowd of adventurers in search of fortunes. For a long time Guanajuato was one of the most productive silver districts of Mexico; but since the Spanish domination ended, the product has greatly diminished; the yield at present is about $6,000,000 annually, and there are said to be something like 2000 mining claims in the district.
The most famous mine of Guanajuato is that of San
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 José de Valenciano, and it is said to have yielded in the days of its prosperity about $800,000,000 worth of silver. When Humboldt visited it at the beginning of this century he estimated that it produced one-fifth of the silver in the world. It was "in bonanza," as the miners say, for about forty years after it was opened, and paid enormous dividends to its owners in spite of the heavy taxes exacted by the Government. From ten to twenty thousand people were employed in and around the Valenciano mine when it was in full operation. The galleries, chambers, and drifts of the mine are said to be more extensive than all the streets of the city, and the great tiro, or central shaft, is nearly 2000 feet deep. All the lower part of the mine is now filled with water, and it cannot be removed except at a cost so great that nobody is willing to undertake it. The veta madre, or "mother-vein," on which the mine is located is pierced by several other mines, and many persons believe that Guanajuato has "seen its best days."
Doctor Bronson arranged for his party to visit one of the mines where the process of working could be seen; his application to the administrador, or director, of the mine that they wished to see was courteously
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 received, and the desired permission granted at once. Fred will tell the story of the excursion.
"While waiting for the pass from the administrador," said Fred, "we took a look at the city, which has a population variously placed at from fifty to seventy thousand, mostly dependent on the mines for their support. The city stands in a ravine, and reminded us of Zacatecas. All the world over, mining towns are almost always in mountain ravines or valleys, and Guanajuato is no exception to the rule.
"The streets are narrow, and badly paved with cobble-stones, and locomotion with carriages is not at all easy. The little stream that flows through the city is formed into three reservoirs at the upper end of the ravine, one above the other. When the upper reservoir is filled, the water overflows into the next below, and that in turn fills the lower one. From the water thus collected the city and the mills below it are supplied. When the rainy season begins, the floodgates are open, and the waters rush in a torrent through the ravine and wash it thoroughly. This is the only washing it gets until another year comes around; and you will understand from this that Guanajuato is a very 'smelly' city, and has a large death-rate. There isn't water enough for a good, healthy system of sewerage; but this does not trouble the Mexicans very much.
"In every Mexican town or city we have visited thus far, we have seen women at the plaza and fountains and encountered troops of donkeys carrying water. Water-carriers have no occupation here, as the liquid is supplied through pipes, just as in New York or any other American city. The concession to establish water-works was given to an enterprising citizen, Señor Rocha, and he made a good deal of money by the operation. He built walks and seats all around the reservoirs, and thus gave the inhabitants an agreeable paseo, or promenade.
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"Our guide showed us the Castillo del Grenaditas, which is an immense building like a fortress, and now used as a carcel, or prison. It was built in the early part of this century as a storehouse for grain for public use in times of scarcity; its walls are several feet thick, and it has a large court-yard in the centre. It was a place of refuge for the Spaniards when Hidalgo made his pronunciamento in 1810 and set up a revolution. Several hundred Spaniards fled to the Castillo and shut themselves in. They made a vigorous defence, and the attacking force was steadily repelled. Hidalgo tried many times to reach the gates, but every time his men attempted it they were shot down.
"At last an Indian, carrying a flat stone on his back as a shield against the Spanish bullets, reached the gates and set them on fire. The stone which he used in this exploit was shown to us, at least one that purported to be the identical shield. The besiegers rushed in through the gates, and the castle fell. A year or so afterwards Hidalgo was captured and executed in Chihuahua. His head and the heads of three of his companions were brought here and hung on hooks at the four corners of the building. They were taken down and buried with high honors in 1823, but the hooks are still in position; the one on which Hidalgo's head was placed was pointed out to us.
"At almost every step along the streets we were accosted by men who had all sorts of articles for sale. Shoes, clothing, spurs, cutlery, rebozos, serapes, and similar things were offered, and the prices seemed very low; but we were told not to offer more than half what was asked for anything, and unless we really needed it we had better be careful about offering anything at all.
"We were cautioned to be watchful of our pockets, as there are expert thieves in the city who could steal anything for which they set out. We saw some grindstones in one of the shops, and asked our guide why they were chained to the wall and the chains fastened with padlocks. He said it
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