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THE OLD AQUEDUCT IN QUERETABO
OLD MOTHER MEXIOO
With Illustrations by
LOUIS H. BUYL
JBorfon and New York
HOUGHTON MEPFLIN COMPANY
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THIS HOOK OR I' ARTS THKRKOK IN ANY VORM
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I. OLD MOTHER MEXICO 1
BE. QUICKSAND 13
III. A MEXICAN ROOSEVELT 23
IV. THE FIGHTING YAQUI 34
V. WE FIND A PLAYMATE 43
VI. THE GRINGO INVASION 52
VII. THE HACIENDA COUNTRY 63
VIII. THE OLDEST CITY IN AMERICA 72
IX. UN GRAN CABALLERO 81
X. A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH 88
XI. A PRAYER BY A ROADSIDE 96
XII. AN OLD PIRATE PORT 106
XIII. IN OLD TEPIC 115
XIV. WHERE THE WEST BEGAN 124
XV. BANDITS AND BULLS ISO
XVI. AN OLD AZTEC TOWN 138
XVII. THE BARRANCAS 146
XVIII. A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 154
XIX. NOTES FROM MY GUADALAJARA DIARY 172
XX. THE TOWN or THE POTTERS 177
XXI. A MEXICAN EASTER 186
XXII. THE LAKE COUNTRY 193
XXIII. THEY CAME BEFORE THE AZTECS 204
XXIV. SPOTLESS TOWN 211
XXV. THE MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAINS 218
XXVI. YE OF SIMPLE FAITH 225
XXVII. THE BEAUTIFUL CITY 233
XXVIII. CHAPULTEPEC 244
XXIX. HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 254
XXX. IN WHICH WE SAY GOOD-BYE 269
THE OLD AQUEDUCT IN QUERETARO Frontispiece
CHURCH OF SAN MIGUEL HORCASITAS 26
A GATE IN THE HACIENDA COUNTRY 66
WASHING WOMEN IN CULIACAN 78
THE * STREET OF THE HIGH WAVES/ MAZATLAN 88
THE PLAZA OF TEPIC 118
THROUGH THE BARRANCAS BY AUTOMOBILE WITH THE
HELP OF SOLDIERS AND OXEN 148
IN TONALA, THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS 178
MORELIA, THE SPOTLESS TOWN 212
OLD MOTHER MEXICO
OLD MOTHER MEXICO
MEXICO is the mother of our West. She gave us our earliest
heroes. The historic shrines of the Mexican West Coast
are also our historic shrines.
It is often said that the West began in the rough little
frontier towns in the valleys of the Mississippi Council
Bluffs and Kansas City from which the first covered
wagons started on the long trek across the country of the
buffalo and the Indians.
The story of the West really began in a sleepy little sun-
drenched town on the West Coast of Mexico two hundred
years before the Indians looked down from their signal
peaks to see the first covered wagons jolting along in the
buffalo trails. The West began with a gay young Spanish
cavalier who was searching for seven fabled cities where
the houses were built with walls of gold. Young Coronado
didn't find the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola but he
discovered the West.
The eastern part of the United States was pioneered by
the Pilgrim Fathers who were seeking to escape from per-
secution in Europe. They were followed by sober-minded
folk, seeking investments, homes, and opportunities.
The West was settled by adventurers who were looking
for the end of the rainbow. They were always led on by
g OLD MOTHER MEXICO
the will-o'-the-wisp of high adventure. There is nothing
for which people will dare so much or suffer so horribly as
the pursuit of a romantic dream.
One dismal rain-soaked day in March, 1930, 1 set out
from California with a party of engineers in a cavalcade of
automobiles. They were to map a highway down the West
Coast of Mexico. I was on the way to discover the places
where our West began; to find the forgotten heroes of this
dramatic chapter of our history. Wild storms were sweep-
ing over the jagged peaks of the Sierra Madres when we
arrived at Nogales. We had to put our five little cars
equipped for camping in a garage and wait for a week
for the rain to wear itself out.
Meanwhile I found Nogales interesting. For untold
centuries it has been the gateway to our great Southwest.
It has been soaked with blood and decorated with lurid
adventure. Nestling in a pass of the mysterious desert
mountains, it has seen strange prehistoric people naked
ape-like savages shiiffling through on their way to the
warm lush lands of the South. It has seen the coming of
Spanish knights and their men-at-arms with their big bell-
muzzled guns and their seven-ply deerskin armor; pro-
spectors searching for gold pioneers in covered wagons.
Its rock-walled cations have echoed to the yells of cruel
Apaches who swooped down from the hills killing,
There can be little doubt that Nogales lies along the
route of the 'first people'... the mother race. They must
have come this way because there was no other way. So I
imagine that the first man who walked through this moun-
tain gateway was Ug. I call him Ug because I am sure that
he had a name that sounded like a grunt.
OLD MOTHER MEXICO S
He was a dirty savage who lived in the desolate wastes
of Siberia. He must have been a daring soul and one
filled with curiosity. He squatted on his heels on a Siberian
rock and wondered what was in that dim blue line of
mountains he could see as he looked across the cold Arctic
waters to the storm-swept shores of Alaska. He had to
find out or 'bust!' His curiosity was just eating him up!
It is possible that there was at that time a causeway of
rock that he crossed. I think he came in a boat. He made
a boat out of the trunk of a tree or maybe of the skins of
wild animals and fought his way across the wild waters
to the shores of North America. The other wild people sat
around and wondered what had become of Ug until they
couldn't stand it any longer. They had to go and find out.
I doubt if there was any great general trek. No general
migration. At least at first. I think one or two daring souls
followed Ug; then a few families slipped across on a calm
day, and so on.
America was started.
They landed in Alaska and found it very cold; so they
turned south and wandered on and on for thousands of
years. Ug died, but his children went on. So it may be
that Ug's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson's
great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson was the first
to see Nogales. At that, I fear I have left out a large collec-
tion of great-great-grandsons. It was a period of thou-
sands of years. Nobody knows how many thousands.
Anyhow, Ug's remote descendants wandered down
through what is now Oregon and California on until
they came to Mexico. By the time they had come into the
sunlit valleys of Mexico and the thick jungles of Central
America, they had become wise and cultured and did
4 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
not feed so many fleas. They built great empires and
I have found their footsteps. In Coachella Valley in
California is a mute record of one of their age-old tragedies.
Making their way south, they stopped for breathing spells
that probably lasted for centuries. One of these breathing
spells was in Coachella Valley -now one of the great
winter resorts of the world, where the celebrities come to
boil out at Palm Springs.
You can see their story written on a great rock headland
on the border between Riverside and Imperial Counties.
They were probably living in a fertile valley and were per-
haps learning to raise crops, when the sea suddenly began
rushing in upon them... a mighty flood like the flood of
Noah in the Bible. They saw destruction coming and
carved into the rock thousands of frantic prayers, begging
their heathen gods to save them.
But the heathen gods did not save them. The waters
came in and probably destroyed them. You can see where
the wild surf lashed the rock sixty or seventy feet above
the place where they carved their prayers. The sea stayed
there for a long time. Scientists estimate that the waters
buried those pitiful prayers for twenty-five thousand
years. Then fie sea went out again, leaving their rock
carvings again on the floor of the desert. It is the earliest
recorded tragedy of the Wild West.
At the other end of the valley - not far from the winter
colony where the movie stars and other famous people
have their desert homes is another mark of another
tragedy. The same lashing sea which destroyed one pre-
historic people when it rushed in, destroyed another pre-
historic people when it went away. On the side of a desert
OLD MOTHER MEXICO 5
hill near the present town of Indio is a series of fish-traps
circles of rock with a little gateway to let in the unwary
fish. There are seven series of these fish-traps sagging
down the hill, showing how the fishers had to build new
traps as the waters began to recede. The last trap is almost
on the floor of the desert. There are of course various
theories of various scientists as to these rock markings,
some flatly contradicting this explanation.
As Ug shuffled along through Nogales, some of his peo-
ple must have dropped out of the procession and stayed
behind to become the Apaches. Most of the early tragedies
of the West both before and after the covered wagons
came have been Apache tragedies.
This was always their country. For various reasons, too
long to explain here, I am convinced that the Apaches and
their cousins the Navajos were the last people to come
across from Siberia. To this day the mark of the Mongol is
plainly written upon them in their speech, their cus-
toms, and their appearance.
It is always with a feeling of incensed resentment that I
hear French criminals from the slums of Paris spoken of as
'Apaches/ Our Apaches of the Southwest were cruel and
merciless. They defended their country from white in-
vaders with the ferocity of wild wolves. But they were
and are a remarkable people. White men who have
lived among them admire them for their sense of honor, for
their courage, and for their brains. The agent who now
rules them in the name of our Uncle Sam says that not
even the Sioux or the Cheyenne were as high a type of
men. Major Frederick Burnham, who is the most famous
scout of modern times, tells me that the Apache was the
greatest fighting man the finest natural soldier who
6 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
ever lived in any land or at any period of history. He
could go days on end without food or water. He could run
alongside a horse until the horse dropped dead from
exhaustion. Encumbered with women and children, an
Apache tribe has been known to travel seventy-five miles
in a single night. In a country where a white man starved
for food and sank down, crazed with thirst, his tongue
hanging, black and swollen from his mouth, the Apache
lived high. He knew the secrets of the desert. The barrel
cactus gave him water. He found food in many desert
plants. Also his liquor.
The Apache was a past-master of military strategy.
Our West-Pointers were ignorant children in his hands.
During our fiercest war against the Apaches we had five
thousand of our finest regular troops in the field for years.
The Apaches under Geronimo numbered never more than
thirty-eight many of whom were young boys. But our
soldiers never could cope with them until they hired a
rival band of Apaches to fight them at so much per day's
work. Even then old Geronimo was never beaten. He
finally quit because he got tired of fighting. Fine irony
that the other Apaches always sniffed with scorn at Ger-
onimo because he was not really a war chief only a
medicine-man sort of soapbox orator.
My Apache friends tell me that the white man was al-
ways easy to beat because he did not understand the laws
of mind over matter. The explanation they gave me was
so difficult to understand that I had to hang on by the
handles not to sink clear under. Suffice it to say that the
throb-throb of the Apache war drum is there to establish
a rhythm which produces certain psychic conditions which
are not taught at West Point.
OLD MOTHER MEXICO 7
I have often asked my Apache friends how it was that
their old warriors could have been so tiger cruel and yet so
courageous. They gave me a typical Apache answer. 'We
used to tie our captives to the stake and start to burn
them. When the fire began to leap up around them, we
watched their faces. If they did not show fear, we turned
them loose and let them go. If their faces showed fear, we
knew they were just trash, and trash ought to be burned.*
At the same time, there are many elements in the process
of being held head down over a fire that singes your hair
off and parches your face that do not contribute to com-
plete sang-froid or mental equanimity. There were not
many who did not show symptoms of nervousness.
You can see that the Spanish knights and explorers who
came wandering up from the West Coast of Mexico, look-
ing for gold cities, had their hands pretty full in the matter
The charm of exploring this old gateway to the West is
that it remains in many essentials as it was in the past.
Nogales is, in reality, twins. A chicken-wire fence sepa-
rates a modern up-to-date American border town from
changeless, mysterious Mexico. On the Mexican side,
Nogales is colorful and picturesque old men in cotton
pants walking along sidewalks carrying little tables on
their heads. The tables are covered with candy dulces
made of cactus and protected by netting to keep off
the flies. It is a sort of gluggy paste and tastes something
like Turkish candy. Mexican women selling tortillas
and enchiladas cooked on tin stoves in the gutters, light
streaming into the pungent chile-scented darkness from
saloon doors; soldiers, lovely slim-legged girls in shabby
mourning (in Mexico one wears mourning for distant rela-
8 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
lives) ; American cabarets; tourists buying post-cards; the
soft strum of guitars; meandering burros; the hoot and
rush of motor cars. The streets used to be lined with beg-
gars. Of late years, however, the town has been cleaned
up by progressive Mexican officials. Good for progress,
but bad for romance. I miss the old women who held out
their withered brown hands for alms and murmured sadly,
*God will reward you, senor.' Once in a while in Mexican
Nogales you see a man of the mountains, strayed in from ,
fastnesses that few men dare to explore. We saw one
strange-looking fellow. He was in rags and tatters, with
long unkempt hair and a beard straggling over his face.
He wore an old-fashioned cloak that might have been
worn in the Middle Ages by Don Quixote.
A proof of the strength of the British Empire is that
Providence allows the English to pronounce Don Quixote
that musical Don Kee-hoe-tay as though it were
Quicks-ot and still does not sink the British Islands
into the sea as punishment. Spanish is the loveliest and
most murdered of all languages. The sweetest sound I
know in any language is the name Juan; not Wah-n, but
Juan breathed hike a little caress. The rhyme of Lord
Byron's "Don Juan' proves that he called the name
'Jew-Ann.' Any poet who can write a deathless romance
about anyone named Jew-Ann must have a high-powered
imagination or a defective ear-pan or both. Probably
One of the historic places in Nogales is an old cave.
It is bored in under a hill that has been pelted and torn
by bullets and shell-fire. Once the cave was a prison and
it must have been a very cold one. Now it is a cafe* where
you eat venison from the hills and marvelous fish foods
OLD MOTHER MEXICO 9
from the Gulf of California. As you eat, street musicians
come wandering in. One is a wan young man with a
bullet scar on his cheek. He carries a time-stained violin.
The 'cello-player is a sad-eyed old man in shabby clothes.
A fat boy plays a huge guitar upon whose stained wood is
painted a rose. The fat boy keeps nodding off to sleep,
but by some miracle never misses a note.
The barkeeper feels a host's responsibility for our enter-
tainment. Wiping a glass, he gestures, with both the glass
and the towel in his eagerness to tell the musicians to
play the lovely Estrellita for us. He joins in when they
play Cielito Lindo, and comes around from the bar to
urge them to play Amapola del Camino for los Americanos.
He says it is a so-lovely little song about a little flower
that grows by the roadside.
We were sorry to leave Nogales as our little caravan
passed through the gate in the chicken-wire fence. We
were always sorry to leave every town that we saw.
Mexico is a land of sweetness and charm as well as
tragedy and tears. It grips your heart.
The astonishing thing about Mexico is the cinema-like
suddenness of the changes. You roll along a town street
in Nogales the cabaret roadhouse, the placid-looking
brewery, a battalion of troops drilling by the roadside.
As though someone had shifted the scenery, you are in the
heart of a foreign country. Half-ruined long adobes that
look like abandoned barracks, quaint little ranches, a
burro standing in philosophical meditation, perhaps a cow
or a couple of goats, huts made half of stone and half of
adobe, corrals built sometimes of stone, sometimes of the
wands of ocotillo cactus growing in a close network. We
pass one forlorn little ranch that crowds in toward the
10 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
road. At one end of the corral is a tiny tower of stone and
adobe to keep the grain safe from the wood rats. The
Mexican Indians had silos centuries before our farmers
ever heard of them.
As we roll along the road, the ceaseless life of Mexico
flows by. Two or three fierce-looking cowboys ride by,
driving a bunch of half-wild long-horned cattle in from the
ranges back in the hills. The cowboys are draped with cart-
ridge belts and guns, but lift their big sombreros courte-
ously as they pass.
The Mexican cowboy is a type remote from ours. He
wears an enormous sombrero and sometimes tight leather
trousers. His spurs are as big as saucers. It is a fact not
generally known that the first cowboys in America were
Spanish soldiers who had served their time in the army
and had been discharged. They began to herd cattle at
San Diego, California. They invented the stock saddle
and the lasso and most of the cowboy paraphernalia
two hundred years before an American cowboy saw the
prairies. They evolved the cowboy saddle from the old
Moorish war-saddles they had seen in Spain.
The cow-saddle of the Mexican vaquero is quite different
from the stock saddles of our cowboys. It lies low and
flat. The pommel is as big as a dish and tilts backward
toward the rider. In some parts of Mexico the cowboys
wear the 'chaps' of our Southern cowboys hair pants.
Farther south, they have a wide leather blanket that falls
on either side of the horse's shoulders from the saddle
pommel. In rough country, the rider spreads the ends of
this blanket back over his legs and knees to protect them
from the underbrush. It is just as effective as 'chaps 1 and
not so hot.
OLD MOTHER MEXICO 11
The Mexican cow-ponies are small and tough, with
tiny hard hoofs. They are descendants of the Arab war-
horses brought over from Spain by the Spanish knights
with Cortes. They lack the strength and power of our
larger cattle-horses. As a consequence, the Mexican cow-
boy seldom rides as well as the American, but he is a better
roper. There used to be a saying on the old California
cattle ranges that a Mexican vaquero could throw a lasso
better with his feet than a Gringo with his hands. There
is and was a reason. The Mexican cattle run in
the thick chaparral and they go like scared deer. There is
neither time nor room to use the wide loops of our cow-
hands. The Mexican throws a small loop and it goes like
The endless burro trains burros loaded with wood,
burros almost hidden under huge bundles of hay, one lone
sad-looking woman driving two burros loaded with pot-
tery, burros carrying peons whose long legs almost touch
the ground on either side. We passed one tiny burro sur-
mounted by a huge cow-saddle which in turn was topped
by a very fat man with a big sombrero and a machete.
He had the portentous look of a knight of the Round
Table out on a search for adventure and achievement.
We never grew tired of looking at the burros. The burro
is the pack-horse, the express wagon, and the philosophical
friend of Mexico. It would be impossible for Mexico to
live without him. His strength is incredible. We saw
burros ambling along in uncomplaining placidity with such
enormous loads that all we could see were four little feet.
If one of our heavy draft horses could carry a load as big
in proportion to his weight, he could walk off with a house.
One day we were waiting at a railroad siding when a
12 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Mexican came along with a tiny fawn-colored burrito.
We did not know that the peon spoke English. He was
very fat. 'Do you suppose,' I said to one of the engineers,
'that this hippopotamus is going to ride on that mouse?'
The peon gave no sign that he understood. But when he
had cinched up the saddle, he said, with dignified gravity
'Come here, mouse. The hippopotamus is going to rid A
We were in barefoot land now. We were to see very few
shoes from this on. The Mexican peon wears loose white
cotton pants that he rolls up over his knees on occasion!
a long loose cotton shirt like a Russian blouse, and a huge
straw sombrero. For shoes he has sandals called guarachas,,
The Mexicans are a very appealing people. Generous,
kind. Their courtesy is unfailing. When we met them
along the road, they would take off their sombreros and
say, 'Buenos dias, sefior.' Or sometimes they would say
* Adios ' which means both ' How-do-you-do ' and * Good;
bye* to the Mexican. Once in a while we would meet one
extra polite who said, 'Vaya con Dios, sefior* (Go with
For a long time it puzzled us why they should say
'good-nights' and 'good-days' instead of 'good-night*
and 'good-day,' until we realized that 'Buenas noches* is
an abbreviation of a phrase meaning 'God give you good*
nights'... not to be stingy with the good measure.
WE had an adventure with quicksand that first day out.
Having wriggled our way through a narrow, twisty canon
heavily timbered with cottonwood and sycamore, we came
down a hill and into a broad valley. The tiny Magdalena
River swollen by rains was chattering and scolding
as it hurried over the rocks. We should have known that
trouble waited ahead when we saw two patient peons with
their teams on the far side of the river. But our foremost
car went grunting and snorting into the middle of a bed
of quicksand. There it stuck, with the river purling over
i One of the peons drove his team into the river and
hitched on to the front of the car. The team consisted
of two forlorn scrubby little broncos. They struggled
vainly. But each of the broncos had his own ideas and
they couldn't get themselves going at the same time or
in the same direction. Then the other peon hitched on
his team. He had a sad-looking bronco and a little white
mule. That mule had a way of smiling to himself over a
little joke of his own. I am afraid he did not really love his
.art. His heart was not in the business of dragging that
rear out of the quicksand. The peons shouted diabolic
scries; two or three little Mexican boys waded into the
river and tried to push on the wheels, but the car stuck.
In the end, the engineers had to rig up a block and tackle
which they made fast to a tree-stump. With that and the
14 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
help of two or three other cars, the automobile finally
came out of the quicksand with gluggy, sucking noises.
The little white mule kept smiling to himself.
As always in Mexico we found contrasts the oldest
cheek by jowl with the newest the cruelest with the
most saintly. Thus we found the historic footprints of
Mexico's noblest and Mexico's worst adventurer Father
Eusebio Kino and Pancho Villa.
The bleak, mysterious mountains of Sonora and the
deserts have produced some of the most extraordinary
men of the New World. In the days of the Spanish Con-
quest, Sonora was the far-distant frontier like our
Montana or the Dakotas of the frontier days. The strong
men ruled. So from Sonora came Father Kino, Father
Garces, Juan Bautista de Aaza, and in latter days Calles,
Pancho Villa, Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzsky. Divers types
of divers standards of morals, but men of strength and
Kosterlitzsky, born in a Russian Cossack camp, Mexican
by adoption, had organized a company of sentenced con-
victs into the famous rurales who policed northern Mexico
with a rod of iron. In the days of his power he once had a
horseback duel with Pancho Villa which did not end
until they had fired their revolvers empty and threw the
empty guns at each other. Brave old Kosterlitzsky, who
once put down a mutiny of a battalion of troops by shout-
ing orders at an imaginary regiment as he rode up to the
riotous garrison alone.
Pancho had whirled through this part of Mexico like a
Hun destroyer of the Middle Ages. We passed old adobe
barracks wrecked by his gun-fire; ranch after ranch that
he had looted. Like Captain Kidd he left innumerable
legends of buried treasure. Every few months someone
gets up an expedition in Hollywood to find the treasure-
troves of the murderous Villa. Pancho was a very peculiar
character ignorant, wise, shrewd, cruel, and sometimes
strangely just. A leader absolutely uneducated in the art
of soldiering, yet a great soldier. One minute he was
found helping the poor and needy; the next executing
someone who had offended him by a chance remark.
We passed through one little town that had suffered cruelly
at his hands. He had demanded money of the business
men. One insisted that he had no money. Pancho
promptly shot him. 'But,' protested one of his officers,
'he really had no money. I know the man well. He
hasn't two pesos to jingle against each other.' 'Sure,'
answered Pancho shrewdly. 'That's why I shot him. I
wanted to show the others that I wasn't fooling. Why
should I shoot one that really had money hidden who
could be made to tell?'
During his most disastrous campaign, Villa's army
passed across the great Cananea cattle-ranch below Naco.
Instead of resisting, the manager of the ranch rode through
the rebel lines and asked Villa frankly how many steers
he needed for his army knowing that they would be
taken anyhow. Pancho designated the number and they
were delivered all neatly butchered by the stock hands
of the ranch. Pancho pleased promised that no more
stock should be taken.
In a savage little battle that went into history as
'shots were exchanged across the line,' Pancho was badly
shot up by United States troops at Nogales. Afterward
the Federal troops of the Mexican army gave him a
terrible licking. Starving, weak, faint, and exhausted, his
16 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
defeated army went back the way it came. When they
got back to the Cananea ranch, his troops were dropping
in their tracks from hunger. Yet true to his word
he would not allow his starving men to take a single steer.
His word was good.
Near the marks of the ruin wrought by this marauder,
we found the lovely old church from which Father Kino
started many of his famous explorations. Father Kino
was one of the most heroic figures of the drama of our
early West, yet his name has been forgotten. Few east
of tie Rio Grande have ever heard of him. He discov-
ered the West.
Eusebio Kino was born in Austria. He was a scientist
and a mathematician. When about forty years old, he
became very ill. Everyone thought he would die. He
made a pledge to God that if his life were spared, he
would spend the remainder of his days doing missionary
work among the Indians of Mexico. After he was well
again, his friends wanted him to forget it and to accept
a high position as a professor of mathematics in a great
university in Europe. But he kept his word.
Father Kino came to Mexico about the year 1680. If
he had lived in our day, we should have called him a
'go-getter.' A man of furious, indomitable energy, stern,
severe a scientific, cultured, determined man in a day
of wild adventurers. He built some fifty missions in
northern Mexico and Arizona; made fifteen journeys of
exploration. More than a century before Fr&nont the
Pathfinder crossed the plains, Father Kino had ex-
plored the Southwest. And exploring was no joke in those
days. The country was infested by merciless wild Apaches
who swept down from the hills like ferocious wolves,
torturing, destroying. The desert was scarcely less dan-
gerous than the Indians. Long waterless stretches of
aching heat. Sometimes with an escort, sometimes alone,
Father Kino mapped and explored the desert. As an
explorer one of his most remarkable feats was the discovery
largely a matter of scientific deduction that Cali-
fornia was fastened to the main land. Most of the early
sea voyages were made on the theory that California was
an island; the early voyages were for the purpose of finding
the Northwest Passage around the end of it. Father
Kino ended that long-drawn-out dream.
Many legends have come down of him. It is related that
one of his exploring trips through Arizona was interrupted
by a runner who told him that the Spanish officers were
about to execute one of his faithful Indian converts.
Father Kino turned back, rode a hundred and fifty miles
as fast as his saddle mule could travel, and arrived in
time to place himself in front of the firing squad and defy
them to shoot.
One of his loveliest missions is in the old town of
San Ignacio to which we came presently. It was the first
of the rural towns we saw. Nogales is a railroad center
and port of entry. San Ignacio was a little sleepy coun-
try town with the sun beating down on adobe walls.
Nobody seemed to be doing anything. A few burros
wandered around the streets, peons squatting in the door-
ways. Here and there in the shade of a ramada, a woman
was patting tortillas. And standing over the town this
splendid old church. Many historians contend that
Father Kino is buried under its altars. In the shadows of
its walls are three'or four old brick tombs in which priests
lie buried; but the weight of facts seem to indicate that
18 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Father Kino lies under the altars of Magdalena another
No one knows the age of the old church at San Ignacio.
It was probably built about the year 1690. You can see
the influence of the Moorish conquerors of Spain in the
domes and the winding caracol stairways. We could not
understand how the workmen ever got those heavy blocks
of stone in place without modern hoisting machinery.
One of the bells in the old belfry is broken a big
chunk bitten out of the side. It may have been broken by
some early sexton who got excited over the marriage of
the beautiful village belle and put too much steam into
the ringing. I am afraid, however, it was smashed by a
bullet in some forgotten revolution. Every church in
Mexico has experienced its tragedies.
Inside the church a class of little Mexican children were
saying their lessons to a very pretty and very dignified
young senorita who had a lovely name Maria Teresa
Gallegos (pronounced Gah-yay-gos). She showed us the
old wooden images that were made long, long ago by the
Indians. One was a figure of Jesus Christ. The Indian
women had put a dress with a frilled skirt that stood
out like a ballet-dancer's upon His naked body. The
figure of the saint that we call John the Baptist, but whom
the Mexicans call San Juan Bautista, wore a baby's
dress. No doubt this lovely little garment of fine drawn-
work linen had been made by some little Indian mother
whose baby had been saved from death by her prayers.
One of the relics at San Ignacio was a very old Bible
whose leaves were yellow with age. Inside the cover were
these words written in a beautiful penmanship with old-
fashioned flourishes: 'Ay por Dios rezen un padre por
eterna descanzo de mi alma.' It means, 'For the love of
God, pray an Our Father [the name of a prayer] for the
eternal peace of my soul.' I imagine that it must have
been written there by someone whose troubles seemed to
him more than he could bear a soul worn with sorrow.
Maria Teresa smiled when I told her, and related a
little story that had been told to her by her nurse. A
man afflicted like this one of the Bible inscription had a
cross that seemed too heavy for hi to bear. One night
he had a dream only he was never convinced that it
was a dream. In the dream, Jesus Christ came to him
with deep sympathy. 'Come with me,' He said. 'If your
cross is heavier than you can carry. ' He led the sorrowing
man to a pit in which were thrown thousands of crosses
huge crosses of timbers, little crosses, middle-sized crosses.
Among the other crosses, the man saw a tiny, tiny cross.
When Jesus told him that he might choose his own cross
from the heap, he asked timidly, 'Might I take this little
tiny bit of a one? Is that asking too much, Lord?' Jesus
smiled benignly. 'That,' He said, 'is the one you are
We had luncheon that day in a very ancient town called
Santa Ana. It is a place rich with history. At one time
it was a center a trading-post for the mines. When
Mexico belonged to Spain, the King handed out tracts of
land to his favorites. On some of the lands were ledges
of gold. But the Spaniards did not claw out the ore with
the feverish haste that we always do. They didn't hurry
about anything. They figured that it had been there for
a long time and wasn't likely to run away. Anyhow, there
was another reason. When a Spanish grandee found gold
on his land, he regarded it as selfish and stingy to take
20 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
out all the gold for himself. He regarded his gold mine as a
bank account for his children and his grandchildren. He
took out only enough gold to pay his expenses.
At the tune of the revolution against Spain, the old
grandees could not believe that the imperial banners were
being lowered forever. They felt sure that some day the
rebels would be properly punished and they would come
back to rule. So they carefully closed their gold mines.
They cunningly closed the entrances to the old shafts.
For a hundred years, prospectors have been looking for
those lost Spanish mines. Sometimes they find the ore
dumps, but very seldom have they been able to find the
mines. Whatever else may be said about them, the Spanish
were clever people great engineers and architects.
We drove into Santa Ana and found a stuffy little
house back of a saloon, where we had luncheon. Among
other things the sefiora brought us a sort of stew made of
jerked beef. I had often read in old accounts how explorers
lived on 'jerky.* It is made by cutting beef into strips
and hanging it up to dry in the sun. It tastes all right, but
it involves a lot of work. It is like eating a lasso. Glad-
stone, the great English statesman, said that he always
chewed everything thirty times. Thirty chews wouldn't
have given him even a good start had he been eating
venison jerky. If the Mexican people have been raised
on jerky, I don't wonder that they never hurry. A
luncheon on jerky is a job for the afternoon. Luckily, we
also had tortillas, which are little flat corn cakes beaten
so thin by the hands of the Mexican women that they are
almost like tissue paper. Sometimes, in fact, the women
pin them up on the walls until they are needed.
Everywhere you go in Mexico you see the women slap-
ping hunks of corn dough from one hand to the other
patting the tortillas thin. Once an enterprising American
thought he would make the meals of the natives more
sanitary by inventing a machine to pat tortillas. He built
a big factory. It now stands idle. His customers com-
plained that the tortillas lacked 'el savor de mano* (the
flavor of the hand).
We drove all that night across the empty, desolate
plains of northern Mexico. At four o'clock in the morn-
ing, we rolled into the beautiful city of Hermosillo. We
knew it must be a beautiful place because the name
means 'little beautiful one.' But nothing looks beautiful
to anyone at four o'clock in the morning with a
stomach so empty it feels like a cistern.
The police force turned out to meet us. Mexican police-
men are very polite and dignified. They met us and routed
out the proprietor of a Chinese caf 6 to give us something
to eat. All Chinese cooks are workers in magic. No
matter what the hour or what the emergency, they are
never dismayed. I have seen a party of ten suddenly and
without warning descend upon a lonely vaquero camp in
the middle of a wilderness; but the Chinese cook always
had a five-course dinner ready. The Chinese cafe* pro-
prietor was unruffled, but the police were panic-stricken
because they couldn't find a taxi to take us to the restau-
rant. We insisted to their frozen horror on riding to
the caf in the police patrol wagon. They were really
agonized with shame when they shut us up in the wire
cage. The driver simply tore through the quiet streets.
He wanted to get the dreadful ordeal over as soon as
possible. I imagine that the Hermosillo police force still
gets gooseflesh at the memory of the crazy Gringos who
22 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
insisted on riding to breakfast in the 'Black Maria.'
Full of beefsteak, ham and eggs, and coffee, we fairly
staggered into bed, leaving the police sergeant telling the
hotel clerk in a hoarse whisper the terrible mortification
that had befallen the city.
A MEXICAN ROOSEVELT
IT seemed as though we had just hit our pillows when an
excited Mexican hammered on our doors and informed us
that the Governor of the great State of Sonora had come
to call on us. At the moment we were tempted to tell
the Governor of the great State of Sonora to go jump
in the lake. But we finally crawled sleepily out of bed and
pulled on our clothes.
In the end we were glad, for the Governor turned out
to be a fine fellow. He made us think of Roosevelt. Until
he got to be Governor, Francisco Elias was a cattleman
one of the great cattle barons of Mexico. He still owns
one of the largest cattle-ranches in the world. He is never
so happy as when he is in the saddle on top of a bronco
the wilder the better.
The Governor unlike many other governors I have
known did not try to be impressive. He took us to
ride in his own car and drove it himself. And when the
Governor drives, you had better hang on tight. He may
have heard the rumor that an automobile can go slower
than sixty miles an hour, but apparently never found
out by trying. The Governor's favorite remark was 'O.K.
Let's go.' And Go meant Go with him. Perhaps the best
index to the Governor's character is that all the people
call him Tancho,' which is a pet name for Francisco
just as we caU the Richard we are fond of, 'Dick.'
When it got hot, Pancho took off his coat and drove in
24 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
his shirt-sleeves. Once a workman on the road flagged
him down, as it were, and rode a few miles with us to the
place where his job called him. Several times the Governor
stopped the car and got out to show a road foreman how
to manage a new road machine lately imported from
the United States. During our long ride through Mexico
we came into intimate touch with many governors. Almost
without exception, they were remarkable men men who
would have been recognized as outstanding figures in any
country and in any kind of work. It is they who are mak-
ing the new Mexico.
Governor Tancho' drove us in his car to many interest-
ing places, two of which should be seen by every American
because they mean much to our own history.
One was an old mill at a place called Los Angeles
like our California city. This mill was very beautiful
which most mills are not. Low adobe buildings surround-
ing a great plaza; a lovely Mexican house where the mana-
ger of the mil] lived; large cool rooms with windows
peering like little tunnels through adobe walls four feet
thick. We had luncheon in a room that opened into a
patio fragrant with rose blossoms. We had many delight-
ful dishes I had known before one or two of which I
had never heard. One was tomatoes stuffed with baby
shrimps. After you have eaten that, you could well place
a silver memorial plate on your turn-turn, close it up, and
stop eating forever more, sure that you will never find
anything else as good.
The cotton-mill itself is so old that no one knows its
age. Centuries before the first white men saw Mexico,
the present city of Hermosillo was an Indian village.
The Indians who lived there were called Seris. At that
A MEXICAN ROOSEVELT 25
time the Aztecs were building a great empire in the south-
ern part of Mexico. They wished to extend their sway
and power. So they tried to make friends with other
native peoples far to the North. They had an idea of
founding something like our modern league of nations.
They sent a delegation on a long and terrible journey
across the mountains and rivers, from the South of Mexico
where the remains of the Aztec ruins can still be seen, to
the land of the Sens. They brought with them many
presents no doubt, rugs and cloaks made of feathers
woven together into cloth. The important gift they
brought as it turned out were the seeds of a plant
of which the Serfs had never heard cotton. They
showed the Seris how to plant the cotton seeds and how to
weave the cotton into cloth.
From that day to this, this old town of Los Angeles has
been a cotton mill. From time to time the crude looms
have been changed. The skilled hands of the Indian wo-
men gave way to water power with a huge wooden water
wheel that still stands there. Water power served its
day and gave way to steam which now runs the old mill,
turning out fifty thousand yards of cotton cloth a day.
Which would have surprised the old Serfs and Aztecs a
From Los Angeles we drove to another ancient town
called San Miguel Horcasitas. Here was the cradle in
which our modern West was born. It should be such a
shrine of our history as Plymouth Rock.
It was from San Miguel Horcasitas that the gallant
Captain Juan Bautista de Anza started with the first
band of settlers who ever crossed the plains to California.
This was the year of our Revolutionary War and about
26 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
sixty years before the first covered wagons of those whom
we call the pioneers and the pathfinders. De Anza crossed
the plains and founded the city of San Francisco. Most
important of all, he brought the first pioneer women, the
pioneer mothers. And with them, civilization.
Parenthetically I might remark that civilization never
sticks until the women come. The conquering flag of
civilization has always been the baby's diaper hanging on
the clothesline. What does history say? Long ago, the
Norsemen came with their wassail bowls and their fierce
two-handed swords. They breasted the storms of the
North Sea and found their way to the shores of America.
Somewhere up in the cold winds of New Brunswick
archaeologists poke around in crumbling old walls and
think that maybe perhaps who knows but what they
might be walls that the Norsemen left. The proud knights
of Spain came with war horses and their shining armor,
but they did not succeed in implanting civilization until
the women came. Daniel Boone forced his way down the
dark rivers of Tennessee, but the wild tribesmen did not
give up until the pioneer mothers followed with the
washing and the churns. Then the Indians knew they
were licked. The Apaches made short work of the strate-
gists sent out from West Point, but the women of the
lonely ranches of Arizona planted the white man's civiliza-
tion and stuck.
Of all the heroes of our West, the most picturesque, the
most gallant, chivalrous, and interesting was Juan Bautista
de Anza. There was a good deal of bunk about Fremont,
the famous pathfinder. One of the American pioneers said
of him that he was 'The pathfinder who never found any
paths; the conqueror who never won a battle, and the
CHURCH OF SAN MIGUEL HOBCASITAS
A MEXICAN ROOSEVELT 27
millionaire without any money.' But De Anza was real
In order to place him in the great drama of the West:
Francisco Vasquez Coronado, the young knight of
Spain, discovered the West in 1540.
Father Kino made his explorations and his maps and
his scientific deductions about one hundred and forty years
Ninety-seven years after Father Kino came Juan
Bautista de Anza.
Captain de Anza was a young Spanish army officer
stationed at a little presidio called Tubac. It lies north
of Nogales on the highway between Nogales and Tucson.
He was perhaps the first character of our country's history
who could rightfully be called a Western man. He was
born on the frontier of northern Mexico. His father had
been an army officer before him.
Life must have been poison dull at the little garrison
at Tubac... between Apache raids. The gay young cap-
tain's imagination called for action and adventure. There
were, however, other reasons for his expedition. Important
California had been discovered by a Portuguese sea
captain named Cabrillo in 1542. He claimed the land for
Spain from which country he was getting his board
and keep. Nothing was done of importance with the new
land until two hundred years later. A long chain of
churches was then established the missions of Cali-
fornia. On the part of the priests, this was a holy crusade
to Christianize the heathen Indians. The Spanish Govern-
ment had also another reason. Both Russia and England
were nosing around California. If Spain hoped to hold
the country, it was necessary to get people there.
8 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
After the establishment of the missions and the garrisons
put there to protect them, great difficulty was experienced
in providing them with food and other necessaries. It
meant a long and difficult voyage from Mexico in tiny
cockleshell ships and the horrors of scurvy for the
crews. Both the missions and the garrisons were always
in dread of starvation.
Captain de Anza suggested to his superior officers that
he thought he could find a way to cross the plains to
California and open a land route to Mexico. Then they
wouldn't have to bother or worry any more about the
supply ships. He offered to pay the expenses of an ex-
ploring expedition to find out. After a great deal of red
tape had been wound and unwound, he finally got per-
mission and set out from Tubac on the 8th of January,
We will not spend much time with him on this first
expedition. It was a brave and terrible journey. Out of
his garrison of fifty soldiers at Tubac, he selected twenty
seasoned veterans. As guides he had two brave priests
who had made part of the journey alone protected
only by their faith. He carefully selected one hundred and
forty tough little ponies and mules for the journey. Also
sixty-five beef cattle to be killed for food en route. Just
as he was getting ready to start, the Apaches swooped
down from the hills and ran off his best animals. He had
to make a detour back into Mexico and pick up what
animals he could from the Father Kino missions. They
were a poor lot.
Scorched by the desert heat, sometimes famished for
want of water, lost in the dreaded sand hills of the Mojave;
threatened and attacked by hostile Indians, De Anza
A MEXICAN ROOSEVELT
plodded over the terrible country which is still called
Camino de Diablo road of the Devil. In a general way,
bis route was through the modern town of Yuma; then
down into Mexico below the present town of Mexicali;
then north and through a pass of the mountains and finally
into the present city of Riverside. From there he made
bis way north and arrived in Monterey on the 18th of
Back at Tubac they had probably given him up for
lost, for there was no mail or news in that day. But just
as the sun was rising over the wild peaks of the Santa
Ritas on the morning of May 27, 1774, the sentry on watch
on the top of the Presidio walls saw long shadows moving
gaunt and grotesque on the desert floor. He called the
corporal of the guard. They watched anxiously until the
far-off tiny figures appeared in the morning light; the
first rays of the sun caught and glittered on the steel of a
Spanish sword. It was De Anza's little army coming
De Anza became famous almost overnight as the news
of his great adventure went from pueblo to pueblo
all the way to the City of Mexico, where the great viceroy
lived in a palace. From captain he was promoted to
lieutenant-colonel. When he offered to make the trip to
California again, taking with him a company of settlers,
his offer was eagerly accepted. His offer was in fact a
life-saver for the Spanish Government. What with the
aggressions of Russia and England, the Spanish King
realized that it was of vital importance to plant a city on
the great harbor that we know now as San Francisco.
And he knew that no time was to be lost on the job.
There were no settlers at Tubac. Only a garrison of
SO OLD MOTHER MEXICO
soldiers. So De Anza sent word from one pueblo to another
telling the people that he intended to organize an expedi-
tion to cross the plains to the new land of California. He
told everyone who felt like going with him to come to the
little town of San Miguel Horcasitas. He selected that
place because at that time the governor of Sonora had
his capital there. x)e Anza stipulated that he would accept
no soldiers for the expedition except married men who
would bring their families along.
They came trooping in on horseback on burros and
on foot brave, adventurous men with dark-eyed wives
and children. Those must have been days of bustle and
confusion in that sleepy little adobe town herds of
cattle bawling and rushing through the streets, vaqueros
yelling at them and flourishing their lassos, herds of pack-
horses driven in from the pasture lands, women and
children wandering around with their bundles, trying to
find a place to light, soldiers preparing their supplies,
muleteers rigging new straps on their pack-saddles, De
Anza himself giving orders from the porch of the Govern-
At half-past four on the afternoon of September 9,
1775, the expedition finally trailed out from the town.
At the head of the column rode four mounted scouts,
watching every peak and canon for signs of the dreaded
Apaches. They were all frontiersmen and veterans. Then
came De Anza with a few mounted soldiers. They carried
lances, swords, and guns. They wore a&jaor made of
seven thicknesses of deerskin. Behind them came four or
five priests, heading a mingled company of men, women,
and children, riding on horses and mules, many of the
women with little children in their arms. Soldiers marched
A MEXICAN BOOSEVELT 81
on both sides of the column to guard the women and chil-
dren. Some of these soldiers were volunteers selected by
De Anza. From his garrison at Tubac he took eight
soldiers, an officer, and a sergeant. With all the settlers
and soldiers and priests and muleteers and herders there
were two hundred and forty souls, of whom one hundred
and sixty were women and children.
Behind the settlers came the herds of loose horses,
mules, and horned cattle, stirring up clouds of dust,
bawling and lowing. There were one hundred and twenty
horses and twenty-five mules for the soldiers and their
equipment; one hundred and twenty-five horses to carry
the settlers and their baggage, three hundred and twenty
head of beef cattle. For all these De Anza had to find food
It was one of the most remarkable expeditions in human
history. In latter days, engineers have builded roads
along part of the route over which De Anza traveled,
leading all these people. Digging for the roads, they often
find mementoes of prehistoric tragedies, showing how
terrible was the journey. They find broken water-bottles
and bones, showing where some primitive traveler of a
forgotten race had accidentally broken his olla and died
of thirst a slow terrible death in the sand hills. The .
young Spanish officer must have had a stout heart to
lead this expedition.
De Anza did everything for the people he led. He rode
with the scouts with every nerve strained as he watched
for signs of the Indians. When evening came, he made
the rounds to inquire after Mrs. Gomez's headache and
asked Mrs. Lopez how her new baby's first tooth was
getting on. Eight babies were born while the expedition
32 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
was on the way. So tenderly did De Anza care for his
charges during that frightful march that not one life was
lost. One woman died just as they started, leaving her
husband to march on alone with five little children. All
the rest of the brave women endured heat and cold and
thirst and dreadful dangers. They all arrived safely at
Monterey at half-past ten on the morning of April 13, 1776.
Be Anza saw them established in the new city of San
Francisco which he founded. Then he started back to
Mexico with a few soldiers. History tells how the settlers
particularly the women followed him back along
the road for a mile or more, their eyes streaming with
tears, then* broken voices asking God to bless and protect
In alter years, these simple settlers who plodded
through the desert wastes with De Anza became the
proudest names in California. Many a lovely belle, with
eyes sparkling from under her black lace mantilla and the
little red heels of her satin shoes clicking through the
fandango, remembered a grandmother who had carried
a baby in her young arms as her mule plunged into the
wild waters of the Colorado. And in many a proud Cali-
fornia home on an hacienda where the cattle fed on a
thousand hills hung a tattered coat of deerskin armor
which Grandpa wore when he rode with De Anza.
We found the old town of San Miguel Horcasitas very
much as it must have been in De Anza's day. The old
stone church where he went to say his prayers on that
last day is there just as he saw it, with its crude beams
chipped by the axes of the Indian workmen; the old bells
that rang a farewell to De Anza still ring to call the faith-
ful to worship.
A MEXICAN ROOSEVELT 88
The day we were there, it was a Mexican holiday. The
old adobe houses were gay with bunting. The lilt of
Mexican music echoed through the sleepy old streets,
just as though they were expecting De Anza to come riding
THE FIGHTING YAQUI
Two truckloads of armed soldiers rolled out of a side street
in Guaymas and joined our expedition when we started
through the Yaqui Indian country. I haven't as yet been
able to figure out whether we should have swelled with the
consciousness of having an escort of honor, or whether we
should have broken out in gooseflesh pimples with pre-
monitions of danger. Possibly both.
For you never can tell about a Yaqui. After four
centuries of endless warfare, the Yaqui remains uncon-
quered. Queen Elizabeth was on the throne of England
when the proudest knights of Spain sallied out to conquer
the Yaquis. The last army that went into the Yaqui
country bent on conquest dropped bombs out of airplanes.
But the throb-throb-throb of the Yaqui war-drums has
never been stilled except when the Yaqui got tired of
It was two days since we had left Hermosillo. We had
motored south to Guaymas. This is an old harbor town
on the Gulf of California. Oddly enough it was once a way
station on the trip between California and Arizona.
Traveling over the old De Anza trail was an ordeal so
frightful that the pioneers took a long way around.
Freight and passengers for Arizona were embarked at
San Francisco or San Pedro; shipped around Cape San
Lucas into the Gulf of California to Guaymas; there they
were transferred to a stern-wheel paddle steamer and run
THE FIGHTING YAQUI 85
up the Colorado River to Yuma. In this way they escaped
the desert sand hills, but usually spent a large part of
their time on the river sand bars. The river steamers
waded about as often as they swam.
Guaymas is a lovely old town: one of the loveliest in
Mexico. The mirror-like blue waters of the harbor reflect
the jagged peaks that surround the town. The first time
I saw Guaymas, the time was half an hour before day-
break. Strange unearthly figures slipped out of the fog
before us. It was as though the ghosts of the past were
scurrying back to their uneasy graves a burro train
slipping along through the mist, old women with heavy
baskets on the way to the market, a squad of soldiers
passing on the way to relieve the guard, the sharp quick
orders of the sergeant coming to us out of the fog before
we could see the soldiers.
Guaymas should have plenty of ghosts to wander about
in the fog. There has been history. Great stately galleons
with painted sails used sometimes to take refuge there from
pirates. In the center of the town is a beautiful monument
erected to the memory of a battle in which the Mexican
women peon women in black rebosos, aristocratic wo-
men in lace and fine linen fought with guns by the side
of their husbands to repel the French who were trying to
capture the town.
It is one of the most famous fishing ports in the world.
Beautiful white ladylike yachts often lie in the harbor
while the millionaire sportsmen from the 'States' angle
for game fish. The warm waters of the Gulf are alive.
Enormous turtles float on the tropic waters.
We stopped at a charming old hotel with balconies
fully fifty feet wide looking down into a patio serene with
56 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
palms and flowers. A Mexican ship of war was anchored
in the moonlit harbor and the sound of the ship's bell
floated across the shimmering water to us as the hours
were tolled. From this peaceful old place we went into
the country of the Yaquis: we and our two truckloads
of little bronzed soldiers. An ironic touch was added by,
a truckload of unarmed Yaquis sandwiched in between
ourselves and our escorts. We could read this any way
we liked. The Yaquis were doing us the high honor to
escort us through their own country. But neither they nor
we could avoid observing that if the other Yaquis were
seized with an inspiration to start something, their own
people would be a conspicuous part of the target.
Not that this would have worried the Yaquis very much.
The Yaqui is one of the fiercest fighting men in the world.
He is a little fellow with tiny hands and feet. He is usually
as bashful as a little boy, but he has the heart of a fighting
wildcat. "When Yaqui mothers sing their babies to sleep,
they have a lullaby, the refrain of which is: 'El Yaqui que
sabe morir.' (The Yaqui who knows how to die.)
There have been three great fighting nations among the
North American Indians. The Sioux with their allies the
Cheyennes, the Apaches, and the Yaquis.
The Sioux made a great theatrical show of warfare. They
galloped into battle wearing gorgeous war-bonnets of
feathers; their ponies decorated on the shoulders with
scarlet and blue patches of paint; pony tails wrapped with
scarlet cloth. The warriors 'made up' for war with paint
like chorus girls. Their battles were distinguished by dash
and speed. They went into action with their ponies hitting
the turf as fast as their little hoofs could pound. These
battles were not so much a matter of killing the enemy as
THE FIGHTING YAQUI 87
of doing stunts. To win honors in battle, the warrior tried
to touch a foe with his hand or to whip him in the face with
his heavy quirt without killing him at least before he
killed him. If a warrior could do this or could take away a
weapon from a living foe, he was awarded what was called
a 'coup stick,' which was a badge of high honor and gave
him the right to wear certain feathers in his hair. It was a
good deal like a college athlete getting a 'letter* for his
sweater. The white man's method of making war by whole-
sale slaughter rather horrified them. With them it was a
matter of glory and honor and daring not of slaughter.
The Apache was, on the whole, a better fighter than the
Sioux, although the Sioux showed the highest type of mili-
tary ability. The Apache, on the other hand, was a killer,
pure and simple. The Apaches taught their boys that a
warrior should be like a coyote: a sudden shot and a naked
figure slipping out of sight behind the rocks. It was mat-
ter of great shame to an Apache if one of the foe ever saw
him during a battle. His shots came out of nowhere.
During our twenty years war against the Apaches, our
soldiers seldom saw one, but there was not a minute that
the Apaches did not see the soldiers. A signal smoke curling
up in black spirals against the sky, a spit of flame, and a
soldier falls dying to the desert. Nothing to be seen but the
heat waves rising from the silent rocks. That was Apache
warfare. They didn't dress up like the Sioux. If the Apache
had human vanity, it did not take the form of feathers and
make-up. Like Kipling's Gunga Din, a bit of twisty rag
was all the field equipment he could find. A rag tied around
his head and a breech-clout with a pair of moccasins was
the Apache's war uniform.
The Yaqui had still a different method of making war.
38 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Unlike the Sioux, he has usually been a foot soldier. He
marches into battle to the beat of a Yaqui tom-tom: a
little drum with a rawhide head. The pom-pom, pom-pom,
pom-pom of this little drum freezes your blood: it seems so
deadly and relentless. I have heard the Yaquis marching
to the attack to the beat of this drum; and I don't want to
hear it again.
As nearly as I can read the Yaqui's heart, he likes to
fight in the same way that an American likes baseball.
They seem to enjoy being shot at. In one of the recent
Mexican revolutions, a large company of Yaquis were
mobilized. They started on one side, and flopped over to
the other side when the general changed his mind. It was
all right with them. They didn't care on which side they
One day I saw my little friend Pablo, the Yaqui, in the
trenches at Naco. He was by this time on the Federal side,
but he opened his coat and showed me that he was carrying
the red badge of the rebels.
'Hey, Pablo,' I remonstrated, 'you are on the other side
Pablo smiled a funny little smile and shrugged his
shoulders. 'Well, one never knows,' he said.
When the revolution came unexpectedly to an end, Pablo
and his Yaqui friends were outraged. They refused to go
home. They said they had been invited to a fight and they
wanted to fight somebody. They felt as though they had
been invited to a party and sent home before the refresh-
In many ways the Yaqui isn't a bad sort of fellow. When
he takes a job at some of the ranches, he is always a fine
worker. His promises are solid gold. The worst you can
THE FIGHTING YAQUI 89
say of him is there is considerable of the naughty boy in his
make-up. He likes to swoop down on Mexican military
posts just as a small boy likes to throw mud pies at passing
I knew a young American sugar planter who, with his
bride, was taken captive by a band of Yaqui raiders. They
held him a prisoner for two or three weeks and he said he
had a wonderful time. They let hi go on the war trail
with them; even let him beat the tom-tom. He said, when
they started out on the war-trail, the Yaqui women and
girls shouted and cheered exactly as the co-eds cheer for
the players at a football game. He said that most of the
expeditions he saw were forays against Mexican travelers.
The Yaquis thought it a great joke to take all their clothes
and let them go. There was nothing vicious or cruel about
their little games of war-making. Sometimes, it must be
confessed, that his enthusiasm has led the Yaqui into hor-
You can also say this for the Yaqui. His wars were
forced upon him. Away back in the early days of Mexico
three or four hundred years ago the Spaniards took
all the loot they could find in the great Aztec empire to the
south. Then they wanted more. They had an idea that the
Aztecs had wonderful mines on the West Coast and sent
armies up to drive out the Indians. The driving was pretty
good until they got to the Yaquis. You must remember
that these Spanish troops were the finest soldiers in
Europe, trained under great captains and war-hardened by
terrific campaigns against the Aztecs. The Yaquis gave
them a terrible licking and beat every army sent against
them for the next four centuries. Since Mexico became a
republic its armies have been almost continuously at war
with the Yaquis.
40 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
It hasn't been all beer and skittles for the Yaqui. Time
after time the Yaquis have been all but annihilated. I have
read of campaigns in which they were so ragged and
frozen that at night they buried themselves in the earth up
to the neck, to crawl out and fight again the next day.
Badly beaten in one war, a shipload of Yaquis were loaded
for exile. They threw their women and children overboard
and leaped into the sea themselves, preferring death to
separation from their wild mountains.
At last a very shrewd President of Mexico made a treaty
with them whereby every Yaqui warrior received thirty
dollars a month just to be good. Since then the Yaquis
have behaved pretty well. But when the harvest moon
comes up over the mysterious mountains, the little Yaqui
begins to get queer feelings. His heart grows uneasy and
he tiiinlra how sweet a song the bullet sings as it whines
past his ears, or cracks from the muzzle of his own rifle.
Then he is likely to slip away from his neat little towns by
the side of the railroad where the Mexican Government
tells him to live. They miss his face at roll-call and little
fires twinkle in the dim silent canons of his mysterious
mountains and nobody has any desire to go in and try to
bring him out.
la the end he will be conquered; but by schoolbooks
rather than bullets. The Mexican Government has opened
schoolhouses in the Yaqui country. And the Yaqui chil-
dren, who are as smart as little fox terriers, are forgetting
the song about the Yaqui who knows how to die.
Nevertheless, one can never be too sure about a Yaqui.
We didn't feel too sure as we rode along highways bordered
by thick chaparral. It did not cheer us a great deal to see
the Mexican road-builders working with picks and shovels
THE FIGHTING YAQtft 41
in their hands, loaded rifles on their backs, and revolvers
dangling from their hips.
I imagine that in the days of the Roman Empire, when
the legions of the great Julius Caesar were guarding the
river Rhine against the barbarians who came out of the
dark forests, their forts must have looked just like the
Yaqui country. For about a hundred miles we traveled
through a desert lined with forts. These forts are of mud
with a little tower on top of each one. Under an awning or
thatched brush, to shield Mm from the blazing sun, a sentry
stands all day, his rifle in his hands and his eyes always
anxiously scanning the horizon; his ears always listening
for the tom-tom, tom-tom the Yaqui drums.
On one side of the railroad track are five or six neat clean
little towns, villages for the Yaquis built by the Mexican
Government. On the other side of the tracks are the forts
and the Mexican soldiers. To prevent the Yaquis stealing
up for a secret attack, the brush has been cleared off for a
long distance around each adobe fort. In some places the
Yaqui boys have used the cleared places for basket-ball
courts. Which is what I should call sarcasm.
We didn't hear the beat of the Yaqui war drums. In
fact, the Yaquis seemed to think the sight of us under
heavy guard was rather funny. They hung their heads
and made little snickering remarks to each other as they
stood around in groups in the Mexican garrison towns.
They looked as though they wanted to say: 'A lot of good
all those soldiers would do you if we took a notion.'
We drove a long way through the Yaqui country until,
at last, we came to the famous Yaqui River.
There is a saying in Mexico: 'Once you have drunk the
waters of the Yaqui River, you will always return/ And I
4 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
am not sure that this is not true. This mysterious river is a
sullen, muddy stream that winds and turns through a flat
country, willow trees clinging to the banks. The Yaquis
just to show their friendly feelings and also to earn a few
pesos helped our motor cars to cross the river on then-
ferry. No one knows how many years they have been
running it. Their ferryboat is a flat scow called a pango.
It is managed by half a dozen Yaquis with long oars. The
current is very swift, so they row upstream as far as they
can and let the pango drift down to the opposite bank.
Sometimes when the pango does not behave very well, two
or three Yaquis jump overboard into the rushing stream
and haul the boat by main strength to the bank. One of our
cars broke through the deck of the pango and it took a
whole company of Mexican soldiers to lif t it out.
Climbing the opposite bank of the river Yaqui, we found
ourselves in a different kind of country. It was as though
we had suddenly come through a curtain into a new world.
WE FIND A PLAYMATE
His name, he said, was Nicolas Pinto, but he asked me as a
special favor to call him El Nortefio (The Northerner).
It made him feel more adventurous; although it seemed to
me that he was having plenty of adventures without the
assistance of a new name. We couldn't find any such word
as 'Nortefio' in the Spanish dictionary, so I imagine that
Nicolas must have made it up. However, most of the
adventurers of the world have made their own names, so
we will have to ignore the Spanish purists and let his stand
as he made it.
Nicolas was a little Mexican boy we picked up on a
lonely road in the Mayo Indian country. He wasn't so
little at that, being tall for his age and as straight as a ram-
rod. He was sixteen years old. When we first saw him, he
was wearing everything he owned in the world which
consisted of a pair of ragged white cotton trousers, a
'hickory' shirt, and an enormous sombrero. His bare feet
were thrust into a pair of rawhide guarachas just two
pieces of cowhide with straps to hold them on.
El Nortefio was trying to walk from the south of Mexico
to the United States. He lived in a lonely little town in the
mountains back of the city of Guadalajara. For a year he
had worked at odd jobs to save money enough to come to
California of which he had heard so much. He went with-
out candy and stayed home from the circus and hoarded
44 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Guadalajara was the first big city he had ever seen. He
fell in there with a man who said he was going to the
United States. El Nortefio was delighted with the man's
suggestion that they should travel together. He thought it
was a fine idea when the man offered to take care of all of
his saved-up money so it would not get lost. One day they
started down to the railroad to begin the grand journey.
At the last moment the man sent El Nortefio on an errand
around the corner. When the boy hurried back, his friend
was gone. Also El NortefiVs money. He never saw either
El Nortefio dried his tears and started to walk two
thousand miles to the promised land.
The Mexican peon is very kind and generous. If he has
only one tortilla, he will insist that you take the bigger half
of it. These simple-hearted country people felt sorry for
the boy and helped him on his way from one pueblo to the
next. Nevertheless, El Nortefio was a very tared and very
hungry boy when we picked him up on the road. He was so
delighted at being adopted by los americanos that he forgot
all about going to the United States. He turned back south
with us. All the rest of the way through Mexico, El
Nortefio was one of our party. We all grew so fond of him
that we made up our minds to bring him back to the
United States. You shall see before this book is finished
whether we did or not.
I have met many men in many lands, but it has never
been my lot to know a finer, truer gentleman than this little
Mexican peasant boy. He was very poor, but the blood of
an ancient chivalry must have run in El Nortefio's veins.
He had the pride of an aristocrat.
One day he had done something so brave and so unselfish
WE FIND A PLAYMATE 45
that we all wanted to do something for him. One of the
engineers collected a purse of nine dollars which changed
into Mexican pesos filled a sack. This he put into El
Norteno's kp as he lay asleep in one of the automobiles.
At daylight the nextmorning, there came a tap at the door
of the leader of the party. ItwasElNorteno. In silence he
handed back the money and walked away, leaving us very
much ashamed at having done something so raw and tact-
less. He was a little cool toward us all that day.
When I got up in the morning, I always found El Nor-
tefio in the lobby of the hotel. In Spanish he would ask if I
had slept well. If I said that I had, he always replied with
grave dignity, * I thank God that he has bestowed upon you
the blessing of sleep." The only English he knew were two
words, 'Fine' and 'pencil* which he called *pin-ceel.'
Sometimes when it was very hot and the dust was choking
me and I felt in a mood for a murder, El Norteflo would
come to the door of the automobile and say: 'Fine?' He
really said 'Fi-en. J And I would just have to answer 'Fine.'
No grouch could resist that grin.
At night he slept in one of the automobiles or on the
ground wrapped up in an old ragged blanket. No matter
how cold the night or how blistering the day, El Nortefio
never uttered a word of complaint. He was game to the
backbone. The boy became an ever-present help. No one
could pick up anything or carry anything. All the rest of
the trip through Mexico, Nortefio's shapely brown hands
were always carrying our bundles and picking up what
we had dropped. He helped in more ways than politeness.
We should never have understood Mexico so well without
As we climbed up the south bank of the Bio Yaqui, we
46 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
found the band from a cavalry regiment waiting to wel-
come us into a country different from anything else we had
seen in Mexico. It fascinated El Nortefio, although it was
old stuff to us. Big gasoline tractors, irrigating ditches and
cotton gins fields of wheat and rice. It was like a big
American farm dropped into the middle of Mexico. The
northern part of Mexico, along the border, is much like
Arizona great stretches of vacant land unused for
want of water cattle-ranges, high, rugged mountains,
gashed with mining tunnels.
The Bio Yaqui, which for so many centuries was a deadly
barrier beyond which civilization might not go, has finally
been the means of bringing progress to Mexico. Some years
ago, American engineers imprisoned the wild waters of the
Yaqui and turned them into irrigation ditches to water
great tracts of farmland. These lands are in the hands of
progressive American business men and progressive
Mexicans. Foremost among these Mexicans was former
The entire lay-out of farms, irrigation ditches, and so on
is called the 'Yaqui Project/ More than a hundred and
twenty-five thousand acres have been planted in wheat,
rice, henequen, and early vegetables tomatoes, lettuce,
and so on. More than eight hundred miles of irrigation
ditches criss-cross the place, bringing in water enough to
flood the million acres they expect to plant.
When we looked at this vast modern farm project, we
realized what Mexico will be like some day. The peaceful
picturesque old adobes will give place to hideous ware-
houses of concrete and galvanized iron. The patient oxen
that we saw plowing with crooked sticks will be driven
away by the snort and grunt of the gasoline tractor. It will
WE FIND A PLAYMATE 47
not be long until the peon gives up his white cotton pants
and guarachas and blossoms out in copper-riveted overalls
and shoes. Mexico will not be the beautiful, peaceful land
of mafiana very long.
El Norteno did not share our melancholy regret that
Mexico must emerge some day from its sleepy picturesque-
ness and become a noisy, slam-bang, hurry-up, step-on-it-
kid land like all the rest of the world. El Nortefio held out
a welcoming hand to progress. We almost had to throw
him down and sit on him to keep him from trying to run
the biggest tractor in the 'Yaqui Project/ Its snort and
grunt made sweet music in his ears.
Long ago, when Montezuma, the great Aztec king, ruled
Mexico, he liked fish for breakfast. There being no fish in
the lakes near the City of Mexico that pleased him, his
breakfast had to be brought to him by runners.
At sunset every night a solemn official handed a fresh
fish to a naked runner at the seaport of Vera Cruz. The
runner grabbed the fish and lit out like a scared jack-
rabbit. He ran as fast as he could to another Indian runner
and handed him the fish. This runner ran to a third naked
man, standing all poised for a fast start. Hundreds of run-
ners kept up a relay race all night at top speed two
hundred and sixty-five miles over mountains and through
deep cafions. At breakfast, the fish was always there for
I thought of that old relay race when I saw the fast
freights standing on the sidings at Ciudad Obregon, with
steam up, ready to start, with a scream of whistles, on the
long trip over mountains and rivers and plains to Chicago
and New York, rushing lettuce and tomatoes and other
fresh vegetables so that the people at the big hotels could
48 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
have what they wanted for breakfast when their own farms
lay deep under the snow. The mighty dramas of the
world the wars, the explorations, the march of progress
have mostly been connected with the job of getting food
from one place to another. I shall have to confess that this
is an entirely unworthy thought for so big a subject; but I
never think of those silent Indian runners panting through
the night that I do not think how awful it would have been
if after all that relay race the king's cook had burned
There are two important towns in the Yaqui Project.
One was formerly called Cajeme after a famous Yaqui
chief. When President Obregon was murdered, just as he
retired from office, the name was changed to Ciudad
Obregon (See-oo-dad Obregon), which means City of
Obregon. The other town is called Navojoa (Navo-hoh-a) .
Night had fallen when we left Ciudad Obregon to go to
Navojoa, where we were to sleep. We ran the cars, one at a
time, on the pango ferryboats which carried us across the
Rio Mayo the Mayo River. It was dark night and the
headlights of the cars threw weird grotesque shadows on the
half-naked figures of the Mayo Indians up to their necks
in the swift-flowing river, struggling to tug the pangos
against the current. This river divides the ancient land of
the Mayos from the country of the Yaquis.
The Mayos are a people as mysterious as the Yaquis.
They are the only blue-eyed Indians I have ever seen.
Many scientists believe they are descendants of the ancient
Aztecs over whom the fish-eating emperor Montezuma
ruled and who were conquered by the Spanish knights in
the savage battles of the Conquest. They themselves say
that they are related to the Yaquis sort of cousins; but
WE FIND A PLAYMATE 49
scientists do not agree as to this. Many think that the
Yaquis are related to the Apaches and to the Navajos, a
fierce* independent tribe of northern Arizona who make
the blankets and the silver jewelry we all know so well.
Other scientists think that the Yaquis are related to the
Pima Indians of southern Arizona and that the Mayos are
I once asked one of my Apache friends about this. He
gave a very haughty reply. 'Well/ he said, 'the Yaqui is
kind of mixed. He is partly Apache, partly Spanish, and
partly of the blood of the Negro slaves who were brought
over by the Spanish from Africa/ He puffed at his cigar-
ette and added: 'The Apache part is good/
The Mayo isn't as full of fight as the Yaqui; at least he
doesn't regard fighting as his favorite form of outdoor
sport. But he can fight bravely and terribly. In the last
Mexican revolution, I saw a band of Mayos charging a
trench walking into a storm of bullets witib gay in-
difference as though it were a lovely party. One of the
Mayos was shot (a great many were shot, but I remember
this one especially). As the order came for them to re-
treat, the friend and buddy of this wounded Mayo would
not leave him. Under heavy fire he dragged his wounded
friend into a little cemetery where the tombstones were
pink and blue with funny little angels carved in stone. All
day long he lay behind a pink tombstone, with his body
sheltering the body of his friend. They poured bullets from
fourteen machine guns down upon him. The air fairly
buzzed and whined with bullets, but he seemed to bear a
charmed life. Every time a hand or a head showed above
the top of the trench, one of his bullets spat out death.
When night came and darkness fell, he picked up his friend,
50 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
flung him to his shoulder like a sack of grain, and staggered
out into the night. As a final farewell, his voice came out of
the dark with the worst insult you can possibly offer a
Mexican, 'Adios, you old goats!' he yelled to the soldiers
who had been shooting at him.
The Mayos are famous for making blankets. They are
very beautiful, being artistic mixtures of blue and green
and brown. They are not as stiff and unwieldy as the
Navajo blankets. The Navajos weave theirs of sheep's
wool; the Mayos use goat's hair. Many of the Mayos work
on the great farms of the Yaqui Project and are good,
faithful workers. At certain times of the year, however,
they leave the tractors and slip out into secret places in the
mountains, where they have strange heathen ceremonies
ceremonies which have come down to them from a
mysterious and distant past.
They have a strange legend about their river. They still
believe the story about the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola
for which Coronado the explorer was searching. They be-
lieve it is somewhere up in the mountains at the headwaters
of the Rio Mayo. They think it has been there for untold
ages and that the inhabitants are a very wise, almost god-
like people. When the spring rains come and the waters of
the Rio Mayo tear down in wild floods, they find floating
boards carved with outlandish inscriptions. The Mayos
believe that these markings on the boards are in the
language of a forgotten and mysterious people who are
trying to send them messages on the flood waters of the
The Mayos have great ideas of loyalty. In the last
Mexican revolution a band of Indians both Yaquis and
Mayos joined the rebel side. Their commander was a
WE BIND A PLAYMATE 51
big handsome Mayo Indian whose name was General
Yucopicio. When the revolution ended and the other
soldiers went home to their farms, General Yucopicio did
not take his Indians home. They vanished one night and
were next heard of in the wild fastnesses of the mountains.
One day, months afterward, they came trailing out of the
mountains into Navojoa. The Mexicans asked General
Yucopicio why he had done this thing. He refused to tell
them. 'I report only to my chief,' he said with dignity.
Whereupon he went all alone to the grave of President
Obregon, who had been his friend and commander, and
told hi the secret of the Indian soldiers who would not go
We stopped at a very quaint old Mexican hotel in
Navojoa. The bellboys and porters were all Mayo
Indians. At night they slept out on the stone steps of the
hotel. They didn't really lie down, but simply propped
themselves up against the door and snoozed off wrapped
in their lovely Mayo blankets. This made it difficult to get
through the door. You had to step on them or step over
them. Having seen the Mayos fighting, I thought it best
not to step on them. Who knows but that one of them
might have been the little fellow who fought all that day
against the fire of fourteen machine guns in the cemetery at
THE GKINGO INVASION
THE rich agricultural country between the Rio Yaqui and
the old Aztec city of Culiacan has begun to sprout Yankees.
All through this country you find the Mexican burro step-
ping aside to let an American tractor pass. And then he
ambles along at his own pace, refusing to be stampeded
from the seventeenth century into the twentieth.
In the lovely valley of the Rio Fuerte just across the
state line between Sinaloa and Sonora is an old town
called Los Mochis which has 'gone American/ It is in the
heart of the sugar-cane country. All the land, the sugar-
mills, the hotel, and most of the business firms are owned by
Americans. The plantations are operated with modern
American efficiency. The planters live a lif e that reminds
one of Rudyard Kipling's stories of the life of the English
in India. They have their tennis clubs, polo fields, golf
links, dances, bridge parties. It is as though they lived on
a gay island in a sad and changeless ocean called Mexico.
And, as usual in such communities, what they know about
each other's private affairs is plenty. It is interesting to
see how these outlanders have fitted themselves into Mex-
ico. The grand mansion of Los Mochis is half English, half
rural Spanish set in a lovely English garden.
Some of the most charming homes I have ever seen have
been made by American girls in Mexico. They have spread
a lovely veneer of Yankee over old houses, mostly in the
way of plumbing and comfortable chairs.
THE GRINGO INVASION 53
Mexican houses lack comfort. The old ones have heavy
elegance and no conveniences. The new ones are long on
loggias, potted palms, and stiff furniture.
The worst are the newly rich Mexicans who have 'gone
Bight in the middle of the American town is a part of Los
Mochis where the Mexican laborers live with their families
just as their people have lived for centuries same old
sandals, white cotton drawers, sombreros, and tortillas.
The one feature of American civilization for which the
Mexicans seem to have reached with eagerness is American
jazz dance music. I have never seen a Mexican town so
small that it did not have an orchestra. I never found an
orchestra that did not play 'Show Me the Way to Go
Home' - just then the popular favorite. Perhaps, how-
ever, this doesn't mean so much after all. Jazz music is so
primitive that it still smells of the African jungles.
In this spatter-work country half American and half
seventeenth-century Mexico it was interesting to see
how the two races get along. On principle the Mexican
peon feels that he ought to hate the Gringo invader; but he
never can find any particular one that he doesn't like.
Nearly every Mexican likes to work for an American boss.
The majority of Americans who go down into this district
are clever, sympathetic, likable college boys.
A very curious fact seems to be that four fifths of the
Mexican women of the better class yearn to move to Holly-
wood; but the American women like to live in Mexico. An
American girl who goes to Mexico to establish a home finds
herself a grand lady of the Middle Ages with swarms of
gentle, amiable servants. This is an old story to the
Mexican girl, who has been brought up that way. She
54 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
wants to move to Hollywood; dine in cafes at 'the next
table to Mary Pickford.
Account for this as you will, but my observation is that
the average Mexican man is sinking deeper into Mexico all
the time burrowing in with a fierce and mysterious de-
votion. The peons of Indian blood are breeding back to the
mother race. Among the intellectual classes the men are
reaching down into Mexico's heritage of spiritual mystery
and strength a heritage left by old races and forgotten
civilizations. On the other hand, the Mexican woman as
though fearful of lifting the lid of that ancient Pandora's
box is usually found with her face turned toward Holly-
wood. This may be because Los Angeles is essentially a
woman's town in every characteristic. It is the capital
city of the She World.
It follows that any account of this section of Mexico
must be a spatter-work a good deal like the country it-
self random notes of a traveler.
* Gun-packing' is as common in rural Mexico as in the
old days of our border. But not for the same reason. A
gunfight is almost unheard of I think it is a left-over
from the days of chivalry. They wear guns in the same
way that the Spanish knights wore swords. I asked one
charming young engineer on the staff of the Governor of
Sinaloa why he went about draped with artillery. He
laughed and answered, 'Es mi joya.' (It is my jewel.)
To a Mexican, it is incomprehensible that in our big
cities we allow ourselves tamely to be held up by thugs in
the street. One of the two would come home dead in
Mexico. Mexican ladies tell me that, during the early days
before the bandits were cleaned up, they always expected
THE GRINGO INVASION 55
to see a revolver laid on the seat of the limousine when they
went out in the evening.
I embarrassed the distinguished mayor of the little town
of Elota very much by feeling the outlines of the six-gun
under his coat. He came back to me, with three different
interpreters in relays, to make it clear that he wasn't a bad
man; that the revolver was his insignia of office; and that,
anyhow, he was only carrying it in order that he might
have the privilege of laying down his life in my defense.
It is said jocosely that you can detect a Mexican's social
rank by his revolver holster. Possibly there are so many
beautiful holsters because Mexico has so many generals.
Whatever the explanation may be, it remains a fact that
some of the finest examples of native arts and crafts are to
be found on pistol scabbards. The leather is beautifully
carved and sometimes handsomely embroidered in gold
and silver thread. Usually they are worn dangling from
belts filled with cartridges that have been polished until
they gleam. I have even known Mexican dandies who had
their cartridges made of solid silver. They couldn't be
fired, of course, silver being too soft a metal; but they
provided grand ornamentation.
Near the busiest part of this section of Mexico is a 'ghost
town/ An old port on the Gulf which once was famous for
turtles. It has an Indian name Agiabampo. When the
Americans built a railroad down the West Coast, some
years ago, they laid the tracks many miles east of Agia-
bampo. They left it marooned. Now it is slumbering in its
memories falling into decay leaning walls and falling
timbers. The smothering growth of the banyan trees is
creeping up upon it. The old well-sweep seemed to whisper
56 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
little echoes of the laughter of the peon women... crum-
bling walls of adobe houses...
If the glory has gone, the turtles have not. Thousands of
them float in the warm tropic waters enormous fellows
weighing two or three hundred pounds. These Mexican
Gulf waters are the greatest turtle hunting-grounds in the
world. There are times when the sea seems paved with
Sea turtles are clumsy old fellows with heads that look
fierce but are not. Their necks look like the necks of old,
old men that have been washed and shrunken in the pro-
cess. They have no teeth merely a hard jaw made for
snapping off seaweed, upon which they feed. It is this diet
that sometimes gives their flesh a tinge of green. Native
turtle fishers say they have caught giants weighing a
thousand pounds, but I have never seen one that weighed
more than three hundred to five hundred. No one knows to
what age they live : probably one hundred to three hundred
There are two common ways of catching the turtles. The
natives dive from boats and grab them by the flippers,
dragging them in over the gunwales of the boats. The
simplest way is to wait until the females come ashore to lay
their eggs, then turn them over on their backs. They have
no fight in their souls. They peer out with a sort of pained
contemplation and walk with a heavy deliberation of man-
ner that suggests an undertaker walking on a hot plate and
trying not to lose his professional manner. They don't in-
dulge in much conversation in their three hundred years.
At egg-laying time, the females have a sort of tame hiss like
that of an indolent snake. The males have a species of weak
bellow at the mating season which the young lady turtles
THE GRINGO INVASION 57
of a mere fifty or sixty years no doubt find alluring and
The books contend that the turtles cannot live very long
on land because the bottom of their shell houses is soft and
cannot properly hold up their gizzards without the support
of the sea water. However, I knew a family at Eiverside,
Calif ornia, who kept one as a pet for fifteen years and he
died amidst the mourning of an afflicted family with
gizzard still intact. He was an affectionate old chap and
would follow the family all over the garden.
In the days before fishing boats had mechanical refrigera-
tion, the crews often used to take whole deckloads of turtles
on board they turned them over on their backs and used
them as needed for food. The turtles never seemed to suffer
from these protracted periods of meditation with their feet
in the air.
We visited many great estates kingdoms of the soil;
but at Agiabampo, we had luncheon at a little country farm
the Mexican version of one of our Iowa farms. The
farmhouse was a one-story adobe, built flush to the road
iron-barred windows and a great door leading through the
house to the patio. On the porch that fronted this patio,
the lif e of the family was lived. Wooden pegs were at one
end of the porch. Upon them straddled the saddles of the
men of the family. Nearly every saddle carried a sword
the Mexican machete, lie patio was not a flower garden
as in the more elegant Mexican houses. This was a farm-
yard, with turtle meat drying in strips and shreds, the
skins of wild animals, coyotes and foxes, drying on a raw-
At this old ranch we had a chance to see a real farm
58 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
kitchen. It was in a little square adobe house in the court-
yard, away from the house. The stove was made of stone
and adobe bricks. Under each separate stove-hole was a
separate fire. If cooking three things, you have three fires.
Usually these fires are made by charcoal, of which Mexico
produces enormous quantities. As a usual thing, when an
American girl goes to Mexico to live, she gives one scornful
look at the Mexican stove and sends to the 'States' for a
shiny cook-stove. In the end the shiny cook-stove makes a
grand table upon which to pile the dishes. The American
girl invariably goes back to the Mexican stove.
The little town of Guasave was so sleepy that it looked as
though it had not stirred for three hundred years. But it
was stirred this time. The village band in white cotton
drawers and sandals was tooting its head off in our honor.
Peons in big sombreros milled and surged around our cars,
very anxious to see los americanos. A gentleman, with
heavy silver embroidery on his sombrero and an enormous
revolver hanging from his belt, scattered them and led us,
as he explained with great dignity, to the 'Municipal
The 'Municipal Palace' turned out to be a little adobe
house with a big front room. This room was adorned with
crayon portraits of the heroes of Mexico. With handsome
impartiality, the mayor had hung the portraits of the
presidents and the chiefs who had risen in revolution
against the presidents; and the revolutionists who had
risen against the revolutionists.
We all made speeches. Every time any of us rose to
speak, the village band played a thrilling little flourish
which is called 'The Diana.' I was overcome with self-
THE GRINGO INVASION 59
importance until I found out that they always play 'The
Diana' at bull-fights to celebrate the moment when the
bull comes in. Alter that I wasn't so sure that I ought to
After the speeches, we went out onto the long porch that
looked out into the patio. At one end of this porch was a
dark adobe room with a barred door. It was the town jail.
It had one occupant. He was the most forlorn-looking indi-
vidual I ever remember to have seen. His cotton pants
were torn; his sombrero was banged in on one side, and he
had lost one of his guarachas. To the obvious displeasure
of the Mexican grandees, we passed cigars and cigarettes
and money to him through the bars. One of us, with a
grand inspiration, passed him a stick of tutti-frutti chew-
ing-gum. El Nortefio, to whom gum was a new and pride-
ful accomplishment, showed him how to chew it. He
chewed it without any enthusiasm. Mournful and uncon-
vinced, he cast a dejected eye upon El Nortefio as that
young caballero showed him how to bubble. This is one of
the more delicate and intricate advances in the art of gum-
chewing. But he refused even to try to bubble. He sank
down to the floor on his heels and sadly began chewing his
cud as though gum-chewing were one more ill and sorrow
that a cruel fate had thrust upon him.
Afterward we went out to a grove of enormous banyan
trees, where they were getting ready a turtle barbecue in
our honor. One elderly peon was the barbecue champion
of the place. He dug a pit in the ground and built a fire
while two or three assistants, with bowie knives which they
unlimbered from their belts, shred the turtle meat into
flaky fragments. They finally had a great pottery bowl
60 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
brimming over. When it was finally cooked, they put it on
a long table which fairly sagged with the weight of tortillas,
chicken, and enchiladas. I wasn't so crazy about the turtle
meat. It seemed rather flat and tasteless.
One lone American had lived in the town for more than
twenty years. He was a doctor who had graduated from a
famous university. A great sorrow had come into his life.
He had come to Mexico to get away from the scenes of his
grief. For all these years he had lived in a strange land,
caring for the sick and poor. He seemed very poor himself,
for his clothes were shabby and threadbare. But he was
gentle and kind. He said he had found happiness among
these simple and kindly people who so greatly needed his
If we made a stir in the life of Guasave, we fairly stood
Guamuchil on its head with excitement. There is one little
country inn at Guamuchil. I suppose that, on its big
nights, it had two guests. You can imagine then the excite-
ment of the innkeeper when he saw our party with our
cavalcade of cars coming in one direction and the Governor
of the great State of Sinaloa coming in the other direction
with his whole staff snappy West-Point-looking young
men in natty uniforms. He came as near dashing around as
a Mexican has ever been known to dash. All the regular
parlor boarders were sent flying out in all directions to find
beds wherever they could.
A long table was spread down the middle of the patio. A
Mexican Paul Eevere was sent galloping from ranch to
ranch to pick up the members of the village orchestra.
They left their plows and hoes and came hurrying in with
their instruments. Dressed in shirt-sleeves and white
THE GRINGO INVASION 61
cotton pants, they played most of the night for us. Out of
special compliment, they tried to play American jazz
music until we sent a message asking them for Mexican
tunes. These Mexican folk-songs are charming. No one
knows who composed most of them. They were made up
by the herders, riding around the cattle at night; by little
peons as they followed the burro trains down lonely trails.
One song very popular in Mexico is Cuatro Milpas. It is
a very sad song. It tells of a farmer who came back
from fighting in a revolution to find his little farm in
ruins his four fields a wreck. The name of the song
means 'Four Fields/
These folk-songs well up from the soil. They are the
nearest that America has ever come to a native music.
Jazz is more Jewish than Negro. Negro spirituals echo
from Africa. What we call Spanish music like La
Paloma is of the music halls composed songs. The
real songs of Mexico just happened. The Mexicans are a
very lovable and warm-hearted people. They are happy
when they can make you happy. The peon musicians, in
from the fields with then* time-stained guitars and their
shabby fiddles, were happy when we applauded and de-
manded 'Mas! Mas!' which means 'More! more!'
I had a room with a bed that had been made by native
workmen. Instead of springs it had rawhide thongs criss-
crossed underneath. The room looked out through an
iron-barred window onto the sidewalk. It had no curtains.
When I went to bed that night, I had an interested audi-
ence. It seemed as though about half the town crowded
around the window dark, silent faces under big som-
breros. They watched me pull off my heavy field boots and
crawl in under the gay Mayo blanket.
62 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
The Governor looked a little tired and worn the next
morning. Finding there weren't enough to go around, he
had insisted that the Gringos have all the beds. He had
slept on a billiard table. Which I call the final height oi
THE HACIENDA COUNTRY
NICOLAS snickered when he heard some of our party talk-
ing about haciendas. This is one word that, with great
gusto, has been ushered into the English language.
Hacienda! Realtors announce haciendas with tiled
bathrooms and breakfast nooks. Which El Nortefio
thought was very funny.
An hacienda is not a house. It is an estate, more espe-
cially a great farm which is in active operation. It must be
working to be an hacienda. El Nortefio even protested
when we called cattle-ranges haciendas. The meaning of
the word implies activity doing working ... A rancho
has come to mean a farm of two thousand acres or under.
More land than that becomes an hacienda.
Until you have seen the Mexican haciendas you have not
seen Mexico. We came into the hacienda country as we
crossed the line from Sonora into Sinaloa, just south of the
old turtle town, Agiabampo. It was like slipping back into
the Middle Ages. The hacendados as the owners of ha-
ciendas are called rule like ancient barons hi their
castles. In fact, the titles of these great estates run back,
in many instances, to the Spanish Conquest. Life flows on
much as it did four hundred years ago.
I am going to tell you about two or three haciendas that
we visited. I select these because they are typical and
One was called Los Pericos, which El Nortefio told us
64 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
was because of the flocks of little green parrakeets that
squawked and screamed in the trees of its patios. The
hacendado was a charming and courteous old gentleman,
unhurried and unworried. He was embarrassed when I
asked him how many acres were in the estate. He really
didn't know. He thought there must be about a million.
The property line ran somewhere around the dim blue line
of mountains on the horizon. The peons well, he
couldn't say how many worked on the place. A whole lot
They had been there so long.
On many of the great haciendas the same peons have
lived there for long generations. It is not uncommon to find
a vaquero spurring his bronco with rowels of embossed
silver which his father and his grandfather and his grand-
father's father wore as vaqueros before him. All the peons
and their families lived together in a little village on the
estate. I think that this little farm town, with its sleepy
streets and adobe houses, made El Norteno a little home-
sick, for he had lived in just such a place in the mountains.
He was inclined to sniff a little scornfully at the town where
the peons lived at Pericos. He told me of an hacienda
which employs more than five thousand peons; so the vil-
lages are not always little.
At Pericos there is a large plaza. On one side of the open
square is a long adobe building with barred windows, the
office of the ranch and the storehouses. Many products are
raised on the estate; but mostly hemp from which our rope
and string are made. This is taken from a plant called
maguey (century plant) . The thick fat leaves have a heavy
fiber. The leaves are crushed in a mill and the heavy fiber
hung on lines to dry. Hanging on the lines, it looks exactly
as though an Indian tribe had scalped a whole Hollywood
THE HACIENDA COUNTRY 65
studio full of blonde young ladies and had hung their hair
out to dry on a clothesline. On another side of the plaza
are two one-story adobe houses for the sons of the owners
beautiful houses with patios fragrant with flowers.
The fourth side is the great casa of the Patron the
master. This house gave us a good idea of the life of the
Mexican aristocrat. It was built around a patio... with a
walled courtyard like a fortress behind it. There were
seven bedrooms furnished in old black walnut. ElNortefio
and I measured them. They were forty feet long and
twenty feet wide. The ceilings were eleven feet high. You
could have put a whole Hollywood bungalow into one. The
walls were four feet thick with little windows peeking
through the walls.
The kitchen opened on the back part of the patio. With
the homing-pigeon instinct of a hungry boy, El Nortefio
found his way into the kitchen and hurried back to beckon
me in. The kitchen had three different stoves. All were
made of stone and adobe bricks. The ceiling of the kitchen
was twenty- one feet high and the tall walls were black with
the smoke of a hundred years. There were about a dozen
cooks. Some were young girls and others were women with
children clinging to their skirts as they cooked and patted
tortillas and mixed stuffing for the enchiladas.
Mexican people eat very little beefsteak. Most of their
meat dishes are chicken or turkey or young goat. They
have one dish that is almost universal. It is called Mole de
guajolote (pronounced gwah-ho-lo-tay). It is also often
called by a Spanish name which means 'Stains-on-the-
tablecloth.' It is made of small shreds of turkey meat,
soggy wet and floating in a kind of sauce. Always at
Mexican dinners they serve sauces of chile peppers. Some
06 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
are delicious, but some are so hot that you feel like calling
out the fire department with every bite. After witnessing
with some awe the stuff that Norteno could swallow, I
decided he must be lined inside with asbestos.
Norteno opened an iron door in the kitchen wall and we
found that it opened into a Mexican oven that stood in the
back courtyard. It was made of adobe brick and looked
like an old-fashioned beehive. The Mexican housewife puts
wood into the oven; burns it until the bricks are almost
red-hot; then she rakes it out and puts in the bread or
whatever she wishes to cook. American women who have
used them tell me that these ovens are better than modern
The courtyard in which the oven stood was really a fort.
It was built for military defense. The gates were of heavy,
studded timbers. In time of danger they drove the stock
and the families inside and shut the gates against attack.
All around the edges of the courtyard were small rooms of
adobe. Some were used as quarters for the servants; others
were 'workshops where the peons made leather harness,
bridles for the horses, reatas, and so on.
At dinner I told the senora that I wished I could live in
such a lovely old place where everything was so peaceful
and quiet. 'Well,' she said, 'if you had to manage all these
servants for a while, you wouldn't like it so well.' She told
me she would like to live in Hollywood. She became quite
excited when she told me about a Hollywood bungalow she
had seen where you just touch a button and it gets
light; another, and it gets dark; another button, and the
room gets warm; another, and it gets cold.
El Norteno was politely skeptical. He didn't believe in
GATE IN THE HACIENDA COUNTRY
THE HACIENDA COUNTRY 67
We had luncheon in a long dining-room at the end of a
porch; it was furnished with ancient black walnut furniture,
huge highboys and a marvelous old carved table. One of
the guests at the luncheon was a dentist who travels from
hacienda to hacienda with his dental chair packed in a
specially made automobile. He was an American. If you
have a toothache on a Mexican hacienda, there is nothing
to do but grin and bear it until the 'tooth doctor* comes
This dentist, who was a charming fellow, told me a good
deal about the tusks of Mexico. He said that the Mexican
peasant looks as though he had perfect teeth, but this is
not always true. The reason the teeth appear so white and
so perfect is the background of his dark skin. The peasants
suffer a great deal from indigestion and this disease reflects
itself in their teeth. The fiery chile that they eat chews up
the linings of their stomachs and the mescal and tequila
that they drink stops the action of their gastric juices. The
dentist formerly had an office in one of the Mexican cities,
but left it to become a tramp dentist because he likes to
wander around among the country peons. They are a
charming and appealing people. To my not inconsiderable
surprise, he told me that, even as a town dentist, he found
the peons were always good pay. A Mexican family will go
without eating to pay the dentist or the doctor.
The infant mortality among the peons is dreadful. The
children of the poor fade away like little flowers. It is per-
haps a reflection upon the sorrow and hardships of the cruel
Hie of the peon that the death of a child is always made the
occasion of at least pretended rejoicing the little soul
that is admitted to heaven without having to endure the
sufferings of life.
68 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
A week later, I visited another hacienda, La Puga, so
regal in its proportions and its manner of life that it made
Los Pericos seem a little country farm. La Puga has be-
longed to the Aguirre family since the days of the Conquest.
It has a Spanish coat-of-arms set into the patio wall which
shows the fortification was built in 1683. There is so much
land in this estate that it baffles the imagination more
than five million acres. Mountain ranges, river valleys,
The long cool balcony of the ranch-house looks out upon
the burned-out craters of Sanguanguey and the blue peaks
of the Santiagos. Stone steps go down from this balcony
onto the cobble-stoned road leading to the corrals. Always
onto this road the master of the hacienda looks down upon
a restless stream of activity the life of the rancho: long
six-span ox-teams plodding into the compounds dragging
huge two-wheel carts loaded mountain-high with sugar-
cane or hemp fiber; vaqueros driving herds of cow-ponies,
steers that break into sudden panics and try to escape down
side roads while the vaqueros flourish their reatas and yell;
long pack-trains of burros loaded with cane and hay the
daily life of a working farm.
From the inner balcony of the house one looks down into
the patio where the intimate family life of the household
goes on; quiet servant-women in rebosos pattering along
on errands of the house; women patting tortillas at the
enormous ovens; laundry-women patting the linen at the
stone tubs which are really like overgrown horse-troughs.
It seems as though you had slipped back into the Middle
Ages when you go down to the first floor under the balcony
and see the men-at-arms on guard. Since the days of its
founding, La Puga has maintained a garrison of soldiers.
THE HACIENDA COUNTRY 69
The first soldiers who loitered around that porch were
Spanish soldiers in deerskin armor with bell-muzzled
arquebuses. The soldiers who loaf around there now have
modern Mauser rifles leaning against the walls. Just back
of the barracks-room is a dining-room for the soldiers. How
many rollicking songs have been sung there; how many
bowls of wassail drunk!
Just as the fiefs used to cluster in the protection of the
medieval castle walls, so the great house is surrounded by
the thatched houses of the peons huts of palm with the
firelight of the stone ovens sparkling against the shadows
of the dim interiors. An old, old church where the peons of
the ranch have worshiped for generations. It has an in-
definable air of serene age rich with the memories of a
lif e that has been lived, of generations who have been born
on the ranch and have died generation following genera-
tion even as the sugar-cane is cut down and grows again.
In the valleys below La Puga are haciendas even more
touched with medieval memories. Some are like Middle-
Ages castles -^ stone lookout towers slit for rifle-fire; great
studded gates opening into barricaded courtyards; beacon
lights where watch-fires flared against the blackness of the
dangers of the night. Mexico is a land of tragedy and tears,
as well as gayety and song. Around every old Mexican
building hangs the suggestion of dark memories of
battle and of death.
Built into the rear of the patio walls at La Puga are the
shops of the ranch. There are peons who do nothing but
braid rawhide into reatas; wistful-eyed, piratical-looking
men with their feet in sandals, cutting innumerable steer
hides into strips for thongs. There are others who make
saddles and bridles and hobbles for the cow-ponies. In
70 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
front of the shops is a large stone fountain where the raw-
hide is soaked as it is worked.
Much of the activity of this part of the establishment
has to do with making ox-yokes. This is an ox country.
Farther north, the oxen are nervous little creatures who
weave see-saw and struggle at the yoke. The oxen at La
Puga are serene, big cream-colored fellows.
My people have lived for nearly three hundred years on
an old farm in New England. They still use oxen, so I know
something about them. Mexican oxen are handled in an
entirely different way. In place of the heavy yoke that goes
over the necks of our Rhode Island oxen, the Mexicans fix
their yokes in what seems a cruel way. The pole of the
wagon is fastened to a straight bar of wood to which the
horns of the two oxen are tightly lashed with thongs of
rawhide. The result is that neither ox can move his head.
The whole weight of the load comes on his forehead.
American engineers who have tested it say that an ox can-
not pull as much this way as with a yoke around his neck.
The Mexicans cling to the old way through tradition.
The oxen themselves are a part of tradition. Their use
undoubtedly began with the military invasions of the West
Coast by the Conquistadores. An ox is or was an
ideal beast of burden for a marching army. When his
burden is used up, the soldiers can eat the ox. In present
conditions in Mexico, the oxen are probably more useful
than horses. They will patiently struggle to get a cart over
a muddy, thick road where a team of horses would kill
themselves plunging into the collars. The Mexicans say
they are much better than any other sort of pulling animals
on steep mountain roads.
In the old days of our frontier, there was developed a
THE HACIENDA COUNTRY 71
mule-driver whose pride was that he could urge on his team
by picturesque and colorful language. The theory, at
least, was that mules were especially sensitive to the in-
spiration that came from swear words. The Mexican uses
another method to urge his ox-team on to violent and su-
preme effort. He twists their tails. We came across one
ox-driver who induced his beasts to impossible feats of
strength by biting their tails with his teeth. To an ox there
seems to be something especially inspiring about being
bitten on the tail.
THE OLDEST CITY IN AMERICA
ONE of the two scouts reined his horse and swung his
great musket into position. A corporal spurred up his
horse to find out the cause of the disturbance. Together
the two soldiers watched two strange figures making their
way along the edge of the river. They were in tattered
rags, almost naked. They were plainly starved and fam-
ished. They were dragging themselves along in the last
stages of exhaustion. Neither to the surprise of the
Spanish soldiers was an Indian. One was a white man
with a long unkempt beard. The other was a coal-black
The corporal took them at once to the officer in com-
mand. To this officer they told one of the most amazing
stories that was ever told to anyone in the world.
It was the year 1538: the place was just north of the
present city of Culiacan, and the men were Cabeza de
Vaca and a Negro slave named Estebanico. Culiacan has
been the scene of many strange dramas, but the meeting
of the Spanish officer and the ragged wreck of a man who
held to the cavalry horse for support as he walked was the
Cabeza de Vaca is one of the greatest figures in the
history of North America. He might justly and truly be
called one of the Pilgrim Fathers of the United States. He
explained to the Spanish officer that he had been one of an
exploring expedition that had left Spain in a great ship and
THE OLDEST CITY IN AMERICA 73
had landed in Florida about where the present city of
Tampa stands. There were six hundred men in the ex-
pedition. Their purpose was to explore and claim the new
land of America for the Spanish King. They ran into hard
luck: attacked by hostile Indians; starved; perished in
floods, and died of exposure.
In the end only four were left Cabeza de Vaca and
the Negro slave who had been captured in his home in
Africa and sold to a Spanish soldier, and two others. For
nine terrible years they wandered through the country.
They kept on always walking toward the west. They knew
it was impossible to turn back. Somewhere toward the
setting sun, they knew there was a place called Mexico
and in Mexico they could find their own people.
Sometimes they lived with the Indians, whom they
succeeded in making their friends. Cabeza de Vaca was a
gentleman of good education. He knew enough about
medicine to help the sick Indians. At least he knew more
than their medicine-men with their magic incantations.
But the Indians could not help them much in return. They
were on the verge of starvation most of the time. At times
the four went together. Sometimes they made their ways
separately. Most of the time Cabeza de Vaca and the
slave Estebanico traveled together. Their suffering was
horrible ghastly. Only men with lion hearts could have
staggered on year after year nine years.
Cabeza de Vaca was the first white man ever to cross the
American continent; the first white man ever to see a
buffalo with which the prairies at that time were covered.
No doubt you will wonder as I did how such a man came
to bear a name that in Spanish means 'head of a
cow/ Oddly enough, this queer name was a mark of
74 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
honor. Many years before one of his ancestors had guided
a Spanish army through a hidden canon in Spain. In so
doing he had enabled the army to escape annihilation at
the hands of the Moors. In this canon a conspicuous ob-
ject had been the bleaching skull of a cow. So they named
the place 'E Cation de Cabeza de Vaca.' When the TCing
gave a title to the guide as reward, he remembered that
canon. That is why a brave grandee of Spain came to be
named Cabeza de Vaca head of a cow.
Cabeza de Vaca told many strange and wonderful
stories to the Spanish officer while he was recovering his
health and strength in the garrison town of Culiacan. He
told them of a legend he had heard among the Indians.
It was the legend of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola.
Had it not been for this legend, we might never have
had the West. This story inspired most of the early ex-
plorers. It was to search for these fabled cities that Coro-
nado started on the journey that resulted in the discovery
of New Mexico, Arizona, the Grand Canon, and all the
lands as far east as Xansas.
Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain, but the Negro slave
Estebanico went back to the wild country. In company
with a brave and adventurous priest, he tried to find the
cities of Cibola. They wandered all over New Mexico and
Estebanico was clubbed to death by the Indians in the
pueblo of Zufii which is still there. You can see the
rock from which the priest watched the death of the black
slave. The priest escaped and came back to Mexico to tell
the officers that he thought Zufii was one of the cities of
Cibola. The other two companions of Cabeza de Vaca
finally returned safely to Mexico.
This is but one of the dramas that have made Culiacan
THE OLDEST CITY IN AMERICA 75
Historic. It is a beautiful place. We arrived there at the
end of a long day's ride through the pathway of old revolu-
tions. Ruined haciendas, broken walls, wrecked patios,
banyan trees growing in loneliness out of adobe walls
adobe walls that once looked down upon gay fandangos
the hit of Mexican music, laughter and happiness. Some
of these old haciendas have been fought over dozens of
times during the years of battle. The cattle have gone to
fill the stomachs of marching revolutionary armies.
Sunset the blue spires of Culiacan against the tropic
sky. Culiacan is old. Incredibly and unbelievably old. It
was nearly a thousand years old when Columbus discov-
ered America. It has been a governed city since 522.
When Culiacan was founded, our British ancestors were
trying to repel the invading Viking war parties with
then* steer-horn helmets and their terrible two-handed
Other old cities have been found in the jungles of Yuca-
tan; but they are ruins memories. Culiacan has been a
city almost without interruption for fourteen hun-
dred years. If the people of Culiacan followed our pleasing
custom and hung the portraits of all the mayors in the City
Hall, Ciiliacan's first one would be shown as a half-naked
savage who gnawed his dinner off a bone.
Culiacan was started by a wandering tribe of Toltecs
coming down the coast from Alaska. They stayed about
two hundred years and wandered along to the south to
found what is now the City of Mexico. After them the
Aztecs came to Culiacan. They were more savage and
fiercer than the Toltecs. Primitive people coming from a
bitter cold climate like Alaska to a warm country nearly
always develop culture and civilization. The vitality that
76 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
has been used to keep their feet warm goes to their brain
cells. After a while the Aztecs followed the Toltecs to the
south, where they founded the great empire of Montezuma
with superb temples, its processions of priests, and its
Then the Spanish knights came from the other direction
from the south. The Spanish Conquistadores came to
Mexico looking for gold. They conquered the empire of
Montezuma, but they were a little disappointed in the loot.
They had an idea that Montezuma's gold came from the
mines on the West Coast. With almost incredible courage
and energy then 1 little armies of knights and soldiers
pushed in over cruel mountain ranges; through jungles
and across wild, turbulent rivers. They established
frontier posts as our army did against the Indians in
Dakota and Montana in the early border days. They
fought for more than a hundred years for possession of the
valleys around Culiacan. It was worth fighting for. They
realized it was the garden spot of the world.
Sinaloa the State of which Culiacan is the capital
is an enormous shelf of land running from a rampart of
high mountains to the sea. Eleven large rivers flow across
it. These mountain streams come tearing down in the
spring flood, carrying great quantities of sflt As a result
Sinaloa is covered with a thick carpet of soft, rich soil.
The headwaters of these rivers drop over mountain cliffs
in swift, sparkling cascades. Some day these waters will
be put to work making electricity to drive the machinery
of a new industrial Mexico.
Modern Culiacan is one of the gayest, liveliest, merriest
cities in all Mexico. Two broad rivers come together just
above the town. Around these rivers much of the social
THE OLDEST CITY IN AMERICA 77
life of the peons transpires. The peon women do their
washing on the banks of the stream. Washday which
is nearly every day is quite a gala affair. The women
build a little rough shelter of leafy boughs called a
ramada at the edge of the stream. This protects them
from the sun as they do the family laundry. They have no
Dashboards. They clean the clothes by slapping them with
little wooden paddles on the wet rocks. In the morning
you will see scores of these laundry ramadas lining the
river-banks. The women have a grand time gossiping and
laughing and talking. At their work, they wear long, loose
gowns like our Mother Hubbards. After they have finished
the washing and hung the clothes out to dry on the ra-
madas or on bushes, they nearly always go in swimming in
their Mother Hubbards. You see them afterward drying
their long black hair as they wait for the clothes to dry
which isn't very long in that hot dry air.
They carry the clean clothes home on their heads. Mexi-
can women always carry burdens on their heads. I have
seen little girls struggling to lift a five-gallon oil-can full of
water. And if you have ever tried to pick up a five-gallon
can filled with water, you know that it is no light load.
But with the cans balanced on the top of their heads, they
walk off quite easily. These head burdens give them a
very straight carriage. When I saw peon women walking
along, with beautiful pottery ollas balanced on their heads,
I always expected to see the ollas drop. But I have yet to
see one fall. They make no special effort to maintain the
balance. They just walk along easily, not even holding the
ollas in place with a hand. Sometimes, when the burden is
especially heavy, they wear little felt head-pads.
Culiacan is famous all over Mexico for its pretty girls.
78 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Those of the aristocratic class live rather secluded lives,
never even walking down the street without a chaperon.
The girls of the peon class have more freedom. They
come to the river every day to swim. It is very curious to
see them afterward getting dressed in full sight of the
world, putting on the latest Hollywood clothes and shaking
out their fashionable boyish bobs, indifferent as to whether
or not the public is looking on.
We stayed in an old hotel which was very charming.
The dining-room was an immense room open on one side to
the patio, fragrant with flowers and green with banana and
other tropic trees. Our bedrooms were twice the size of an
ordinary bungalow living-room, with big windows. The
floors were made of separate pieces of wood, like a mosaic.
Long ago these floors were very fashionable. It was
rather funny, because the floors squeaked as you walked.
I never got tired of sitting on the little balcony in front
of my room watching the traffic flowing by. One minute
it would be a company of Mexican soldiers marching
stiffly along like West-Pointers to the music of drums and
bugles. Mexican bugle-calls are much more beautiful than
ours. Their mess-call is a wild wail that suggests a dying
swan. Considering it often calls them to a meal of tortillas
that they have made themselves, it seems too beautiful for
In the trail of the soldiers will be a band of burros loaded
with sugar-cane or perhaps with earthen jars and pots
and dishes. Sometimes a train of burros comes in from
the ranches loaded with live chickens. The chickens are
packed on burros in little wicker cages, something like
bird-cages:) although I 'have seen a burro draped all over
with live turkeys or even a pig or two.
WASHING WOMEN IN CULIACAN
THE OLDEST CITY IN AMERICA 70
There are a few automobile taxicabs; but the tans I
liked best were funny two-wheeled carts with canopies on
top. There are two seats one for you and one for the
driver. They are called aranas (ah-rahn-yahs), which, in
Spanish, means spider.
The people in Culiacan seem to dance all the time. Per-
haps this is because the girls are so very lovely. There are
little dancehalls down by the river. At the slightest ex-
cuse they give a fandango. Hollywood jazz dance music is,
alas, more popular than their own Mexican music.
At the edge of town are little suburban settlements
what we should call crossroads. The houses have a differ-
ent character from those in the northern part of Mexico.
In the north, the peon houses are all of stone and adobe.
As you come farther down in the hot country, many are
made of what is called wattle. They make a wall by
thrusting straight, hard arrowweed stalks into the ground;
then another wall a few inches from it. Between the two
barriers of arrowweed they pour stones and adobe. It
makes an excellent house. The roofs are thatched from
arrowweed and sometimes palm fronds.
The peasant houses around Culiacan are charming, as
peasant houses usually are in all countries. About half the
house is made of outdoors. There is one room or maybe
two completely walled in. But standing out from this
like a porch is a big ramada without walls, but with a roof
of thatch. In this ramada the life of the family is carried
on. Here they cook and eat and sometimes sleep.
Many Americans have come to live in Culiacan. They
have haciendas back in the country. Young American
boys come down as engineers and marry Mexican girls of.
the better .class and enter into a life that is half Latin and
80 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
half Anglo-Saxon and altogether charming. We at-
tended one of these weddings, which was performed with
great elegance and gayety. But when it was over and the
handsome young college boy had been married to the most
beautiful sefiorita you ever could imagine, I heard one of
the girls say with perhaps some secret envy 'Poor
Guadalupe; she is only a Gringa now.'
UN GRAN CABALLERO
EL SENOR DON ALBENO MARIA GUADALUPE RODRIGUEZ is
un gran caballero. He is forty-five years old and exactly
three feet, five inches tall. We did ourselves the honor to
make his acquaintance in the town of Santiago the day we
left Culiacan. He sat with a grand air on his tiny fawn-
colored burro and informed us with a flourish, 'Esta es su
ciudad/ (This is your city,) We didn't feel like packing
off the city, however, although we might reasonably have
done so, there being only two adobe houses. We realized
that El Sefior was only extending the usual charming
Mexican courtesy. Whenever you go into a Mexican
house, the host always says, 'Esta es su casa/ (This is
We discovered that we had been tactless in selecting
this day to meet Don Albeno. It was the most unfortunate
day of his life. Although he had fought in several revolu-
tions and had been married three times, his heart was still
gay for fandangos. The night before he had attended a
gorgeous fandango in a neighboring town. In the course of
the festivities a rival caballero had given offense. Drawing
himself to his full yard and five inches, Don Albeno had
challenged the contemptible interloper to fight then and
there to the death. But his little squeaky voice had been
lost in the music of the dance. In fact, the rival caballero
not knowing that he was being defied to come outside
and be slain had been so careless as to step on the per-
82 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
son of El Gran Caballero, El Seftor Don Albeno Maria
Guadalupe Rodriguez. As though that were not mortifica-
tion enough, on the way home late that night, Don Albeno
had the misfortune to fall off his fawn-colored burro. Al-
though the burrito was not much taller than a big dog, Don
Albeno was too little to climb back on again. To the great
disaster of his pride, he was obliged to walk all the way
home leading the burro.
In his more serious moments of earning a living, Don
Albeno engaged in a most heroic and sensational occu-
pation. He caught wild horses and wild steers. This he
accomplished by guile and strategy. Don Albeno found
out where the wild horses came to the water-holes to drink.
In these animal trails he would cunningly place the loop of
a hidden lasso. The other end he tied to a tree. When the
wild horse or steer came along, its legs would be caught
and it would struggle until it fell all in a tangle. When it
had tied itself up into a quite hopeless knot, Don Albeno
would swagger out of his hiding-place, place one tiny foot
on the head of the quivering monster, and laugh a laugh of
It was dark night when we came into the mountain town
of Elota. It was dirty, forlorn, and forsaken utterly
dreary. A few shabby houses on dirty streets against the
dark shape of the mountains. There was no hotel. We
were to be quartered in the casa of the apothecary. He had
the best house in town. He had his drugstore in one of the
front rooms. In this was an array of patent medicines and
jars of rouge and boxes of violent-looking lipsticks for the
When we arrived, all the elite of the town were as-
sembled in the druggist's patio and were seated in state
UJN UKAJN UAJBALLJfiKO 88
sefloritas with demure, curious eyes bunched in between
fat sefioras. Everyone in town who had not been invited
to the party crowded around the doors and windows, ten
or twelve deep, their tall sombreros dim shapes in the
night. The village band was just getting ready to play.
The leader was giving a magnificent gesture with his
cornet preliminary to the crash of harmony that was to
follow. When a most unexpected event happened.
Up dashed two automobile trucks one filled with
pretty sefloritas and the other carrying a rival band.
With dismay the Mayor of Elota realized the full signifi-
cance which we, at the time, did not. It meant that the
rival town of San Ignacio had executed a brilliant flank
movement. It seems that San Ignacio had every expecta-
tion that the Gringos would come there to spend the night
instead of at Elota. Preparations had been made for a
grand fandango. When no Gringos appeared, suspicion
entered the heart of the Mayor of San Ignacio. He sent
out a courier, who came galloping back on a spent and
weary horse to announce that the Gringos were in the
hands of the treacherous rival, Elota.
Dismay never enters the heart of a Napoleon. The
Mayor of San Ignacio gathered up all the seftoritas who
had come to the fandango and hustled them into a motor
truck for the first time in their lives without chaperons.
Into another truck he crowded the musicians of the village
band: the two trucks tore out through the darkness for
Before he could recover his senses, the Elota bandmaster
found himself outgeneraled. Before he could get his
musicians launched into Rancho Grande, the invading
band from San Ignacio was almost tooting its brains out,
84 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
playing Negra Consentida. All night long, the band of
Elota waited for a chance to show its art and talent. But
every time the bandmaster of Elota lifted his cornet as a
signal, the band from San Ignacio crashed into a blare of
music and drowned it out.
When I went to bed that night, the fandango was still
going on. But, as the night dragged on, I could hear the
valiant band from San Ignacio growing weaker and weaker
... until at last just before the first light of dawn came
over the mountains, the San Ignacio band gave one last
despairing exhausted toot and expired.
Then, like a jungle roar, came a blast of triumph. The
Elota band, which had been waiting in concealment, gave
a preliminary 'Umpa, Umpa, Umpa,' and sent the echoes
ringing with Marcha Zacatecas. The San Ignacio band
could only glare in futile rage. It was down and counted
out. The last sound that assailed the infuriated ears of the
San Ignacio band as it sped away in the automobile truck
was the Elota band playing in a most insulting manner the
American jazz tune, 'Show Me the Way to Go Home.'
At Elota we had our first experience with a Mexican
boarding-house. The room where I slept was also the
telephone exchange. My dreams were disturbed by a
sefiorita flying wildly in and stumbling over the furniture
to plug in at the switchboard.
The bed upon which I slept was of rawhide. There were
no sheets or blankets only a thin spread and the wind
came off the mountains snows bitterly cold. In the middle
of the night I had to get up and fish out a camp sleeping-
bag from one of the caravan trucks. I discovered that it is
the custom in all these rural inns for the parlor boarders to
bring along their own serapes by way of bedclothes. I be-
UN GRAN CABALLEBO 85
gan to understand why El Nortefio never parted from his.
I gave him money and he came back with a scrape for me.
It was of such a bright redness that it looked like a sunset
in the act of bleeding to death. I looked like a ripe tomato
with it folded about me.
A Mexican without a serape is like a chicken without
feathers. The serape is a closely woven blanket six to
eight feet long. In the middle is a long slit through which
you can poke your head, letting the garment drape over
you, front and rear. The serape is at once the saddle-
blanket, bed-covering, and overcoat. In latter days the
cheaper serapes are made by machinery and are of cheap
red cotton; the peons usually wear such. The old hand-
wovens, like El Nortefio's, have been handed down from
generation to generation. Hie very finest ones come from
Saltillo capital of Coahuila. The designs are conven-
tionalized sunsets and sometimes Aztec gods. The best for
everyday use are made in Pueblo and Oaxaca horn the
wool of native sheep usually gray and black some-
times with the winged lion. Weavers of serapes usually
die of tuberculosis on account of the dust.
With daylight came hard realities. This is a cruel coun-
try..-, high, barren mountains... forlorn, heartrending
little towns. The struggle for life is pitiful and terrible. I
don't see how they live. Or on what.
One hears a great deal in the United States about 'lazy
Mexicans.' The fact is, that almost any other people
faced with their problems would have sunk in bitterness
and despair. I have seen whole families patiently plodding
from one end of Mexico to the other the babies packed
on the burro looking for work. In Guaymas I saw
scores of peons hungry and exhausted who had
86 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
walked for days pursuing a rumor that laborers were
needed in California. Turned back, they were sleeping
with their families in tents made of old bags on the cold
stones on the water-front patient, uncomplaining, sad-
eyed, but accepting their fate.
The Mexican is a strong character. In his veins is the
blood of the Spanish Conquistadores and the blood of
dark, enduring Indian races. It will be interesting to see
what new vistas of progress are opened to Mexico when the
peon woman is released from her life of endless, grinding
toil. It seems to me that I cannot remember to have seen
an idle Mexican woman.
It is in these mountain hamlets like Elota that the lives
of the women are hardest. Their work is endless. All the
water used in the households has to be carried in earthen
jars from the river a quarter of a mile or more. Every
river crossing is the scene of endless processions of Re-
beccas going to the well. Tourists find it picturesque, but
the Mexican would prefer the picturesqueness of a kitchen
The pitiful little crops of corn that they raise in patches
in the river bottoms must be ground by the women on their
metates. The metate is a flat slab of volcanic rock. Upon
this they lay the corn and grind it to a flour with a sort of
stone rolling-pin. Corn has a hard, tough kernel. To
crush it is hard, back-breaking work. The life of a Mexican
peasant woman, from the time she is a young girl until she
is old and broken with toil, is spent over a metate. Mex-
ico's real national anthem is the pat-pat-pat of women
Every day is washday in Mexico. And doing the family
laundry, squatting on one's knees on the wet rocks of a
UN GRAN CABALLEBO 87
river, is not my idea of a joyous outdoor sport. No one
knows what the future will hold for Mexico when this
bitter, endless toil has been replaced by modern sanitation
the kitchen sink and the hot-water heater. Being a
workhorse hasn't taken the charm from the Mexican peon
women, however. They have a shy, quiet dignity that
whispers of their Indian blood.
In a little town named Quila (Key-la), we swooped down
on a quiet little home and asked for lunch. In our party
was the Governor of Sinaloa and his staff and all these
strange Gringo engineers more celebrities than the peon
woman had ever seen before in her life. There was not
half enough in the house to eat. There are not many races
who could have produced a woman capable of meeting the
situation with such poise and composure. She was court-
eous, deferential, but unflustered. In the end, some of the
young engineers got canned food out of the cars and in-
vaded her kitchen. They fried bacon and eggs; made
coffee, and even tried their hands at tortillas. I think we
must admit that the average American woman would have
been reduced to the verge of hysterics with all these
strange Gringos messing around the kitchen while the
Governor waited for his luncheon. She was as serene as an
A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH
HE WAS quite the most elegant fellow I had seen in Mexico.
His army officer puttees were polished until they gleamed
in the sun. His coat was a gay-colored mackinaw and his
felt sombrero decorated with silver embroidery was
cocked at an alluring angle over his handsome young face.
As he passed along the 'Street of the High Waves'
(Calle de las olas alias), he gave me a glance of some dis-
satisfaction as though to demand a reason why a little fat
Gringo should stand between him and the panorama of a
glorious April morning. But he shook off the annoyance
with a shrug of his shoulders; lit a cigarette; drew in a
long, happy breath of fresh salt air, and continued his
blithe and careless stride..
Two little soldiers, who walked with him, fell behind a
step or two humbly abashed by his swaggering pic-
turesqueness. He had the appearance of a gentleman on
his way to a rendezvous. As, indeed, he was. He had a
rendezvous with Death. He was on his way to be shot in
front of an adobe wall in the old Spanish fort on the hill.
We waited, and the bright air of the morning seemed to
strangle us as we waited tense and nerve-strained. At
last the ocean breeze brought in the faint crash of a volley
of musketry, and we knew it was the end of the gay young
officer with the silver-embroidered sombrero. He had in a
moment of sudden passion shot a soldier with his silver-
THE * STREET OF THE HIGH WAVES/ MAZATLAN
The Cathedral in the background
A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH 89
Anything can happen in Mazatlan. And almost every-
thing does. It is the most beautiful place I have seen in
any country; but it seems, somehow, like a movie set.
You always have the feeling that presently the studio
'prop' man will come along, pack it away on shelves, and
get a receipt on a printed form for the pieces.
Mazatlan is a seaport an old "hang-out* of pirates
and smugglers on the Gulf of California. It has religiously
followed the policy of 'Try everything once.' It has tried
everything several times. It has been fought over with
shot and shell so many times that it has lost all count. But
no tragedy has been able to take away its gayety and
charm. Once you have seen Mazatlan, it will live in
your heart forever.
There are really two Mazatlans. One flows along a sun-
lit street where the surf splashes over the sea-wall at high
tide, drenching the pavements with rainbow spray. This
street is like a Mexican Riviera, with sidewalk cafes,
where you sip your afternoon coffee and let your dreams
drift out to the little high-peaked islands that stand in an
azure sea; old Spanish inns; great casas whose tropic
palms peep over the balconies and garden walls.
You turn down a side street and step back four hundred
years old churches, soft-colored with the tender touch
of age; ancient cemeteries whispering with memories; end-
less burro trains loaded with wood and pottery and fodder
from the mysterious mountains; islands of coconut palms;
long, sleepy lagoons where the wrecks of forgotten ships
lie half-buried in the sand; flocks of screaming parrakeets
and everywhere the soft serenity of the tropic sun.
The hotel where we stopped was built in recent years,
but seemed very old, for it is a replica of a Spanish inn. In
90 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
the patio they kept until lately a huge snake, a
python, to catch rats. He lay all day coiled under the
palm trees, his beady little eyes contemplating the passing
world without compromise. A year or so ago, he passed to
la the American Consulate on the 'Street of the High
Waves,' I found a quaint old book which told of past days
past comedies and tragedies. It was a file copy of all
the letters written about a hundred years ago. In those
days, having no typewriters and no carbon paper, they
had to copy all their letters 'by hand' in a record-book.
These letters were written by the American Consul at
Mazatlan to Daniel Webster, who was at that time
Secretary of State. The Consul was finding the job so
filled with difficulty and high drama that he was always
threatening to resign.
One day, he wrote a hurried letter which sizzled with
excitement. A British man-of-war had anchored in the
harbor and a Mexican clerk from the office of the port
captain had not watched his manners. He had offended
the dignity of His Britannic Majesty's Royal Navy by
being as we say 'sassy.' Whereupon the British
captain had returned to his ship and had notified the
Mexican Government that he would proceed to bombard
the town; just blow it into flinders and toothpicks if
that clerk didn't come right out and apologize.
Our agitated Consul was writing to inform Daniel
Webster that the sassy clerk said he would be gosh-
dinged if he would apologize. The guns were loaded; the
captain was walking the quarter-deck in high indignation,
and goodness knows what was going to happen.
Another letter that almost seemed to sigh with re-
A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH 91
lief out of the yellowed old pages announces that the
sassy clerk decided to apologize; so nobody was blown into
toothpicks or flinders and the crimson banners of the
British Empire still floated with pride at the masthead.
Another letter tells the Secretary of State about a deed
of great heroism which earned the gratitude of the United
States. There had been a hurricane one of the storms
which sometimes tear in from the Gulf in wild fury. The
harbor of Mazatlan has a rock bottom with very little
mud; so the anchors do not hold very well. In this hurri-
cane every ship in the harbor had been lost. With almost
incredible courage and strength a Mexican fisherman had
rowed his little boat in the teeth of the storm and had
rescued five American sailors. The Consul suggested to
Daniel Webster that the honor and dignity of the United
States Government demanded that the man be suitably
rewarded. For his valor in risking his life to save the sailors,
he ought to be given three pesos (about a dollar and a
quarter). But inasmuch as he lost an oar, the Consul
thought that a grateful Republic ought to give him another
two pesos for the oar making a magnificent total of
about three dollars. Presumably the money was paid, as
nothing more was said about the matter. I hope that this
sudden avalanche of wealth did not ruin the man's charac-
At the edge of the old part of town is an ancient ceme-
tery, hidden by a high brick wall adorned with much
fancy decoration and ironwork. In this cemetery the
bodies of the dead are lowered into rented graves. They
are rented for a period of five years. If the rent is not forth-
coming at the end of that time, the bones are thrown out
and there is a vacant grave for rent. This seemed horn-
92 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
lying to us, but the Mexicans do not look at Death as we
do. They face it with a shrug of indifference like the
young officer on the * Street of the High Waves/ Death
comes to all now or later.
One day we saw a little girl's funeral in Mazatlan. It
was a gala affair. Out from the top of the little white
hearse stretched long white ribbons, the ends of which were
held by little girls in white lawn dresses. They walked by
the side of the hearse. As they held out the white ribbons
it was exactly like a Maypole dance.
The hearse was followed by an automobile carrying the
priest and the mourners the little girl's father and
mother. On the back of this automobile was a big sign
They didn't mean to be heartless. It was only that death
is an everyday affair in Mexico.
It is a common sight at Mazatlan as in nearly all
Mexican cities to see a sad-eyed peon walking along
with his broken-hearted little wife, carrying a tiny coffin
on his head. Sometimes these baby coffins are covered
with silver or gold paper. Often the coffin is just a pitiful
little black box. The people are very poor and cannot
afford to hire a hearse. But it was pitiful to see how wist-
fully one little mother watched as she followed a little
black coffin on her husband's head the white hearse
going by with the Maypole white ribbons and the flowers.
But Mazatlan is not all death and war. It is, in fact, a
A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH 93
very gay, lively, little town. About twice a week a steamer
stops in the harbor on its way from California or New York
or Cuba. For four or five hours Mazatlan is filled with
tourists intent on buying souvenirs. They buy Mexican
sandals, perfumes, and baskets. Very few young lady
tourists leave Mazatlan without a pair of iguana shoes.
An iguana is a horribly ugly lizard which infests all this part
of Mexico. Sometimes it grows five or six feet long and
looks like a spirit of evil. It is harmless; is found in all
tropical America, eaten, and tastes like tender chicken.
When skinned, its hide makes the most beautiful shoe
leather. A great many so-called snakeskin shoes and purses
and girls' 'aviator hats' are made of the soft, pliable hides
of the giant lizards of Mexico.
Mazatlan is also a division point on the railroad. Nearly
all the engineers and brakemen and dispatchers and por-
ters are Mexicans. The trains stop for nearly an hour
there, so the station platforms are Hke public markets
Mexican women selling tamales and fruit and baskets and
souvenirs. They stay until late at night and the old-
fashioned flaming kerosene torches with which they light
their booths give a charming flavor of picturesqueness to
But just as everywhere in Mexico the new jostles elbows
with the very old, so the country beyond the railroad
station circles through the hills into the country of the
bandits the wild mountains.
I had the honor of an invitation to spend two weeks as
the guest of one of the most famous bandits in Mexico;
I regret that I sent my 'regrets.' The bandit was a gay
humorous rascal named Marcos Diaz. He was a sort of
Mexican Robin Hood.
94 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Don Marcos had a friend who was a friend of mine."
He was an American this friend and owned a gold
mine back in the hills. The fact that Don Marcos liked
and admired the American very much did not interfere
with his business life. Every so often he would appear at
the mine with his gang of armed men and loot the place.
Sometimes he carried away money. Sometimes all he
wanted was horses or burros, or even pack-saddles. Once
he arrived with a demand for chicken-wire fence.
Finally, the Mexican commander of Mazatlan decided
that Don Marcos was as we say 'getting too fresh.
In some way the bandit had offended the dignity of the
Mexican army. The comandante sent word to El Sefior
Bandido that he was commanded to come into town and
be shot in front of an adobe wall.
'Ho, ho/ replied Marcos. 'Come out and catch me if
He should have known better. The next day the coman-
dante sent another courier into the mountains with this
message: *I have captured your grandmother, your
mother, and your four little children. I am going to shoot
one of them each day until you come in and surrender.
I shall begin with your grandmother/
Don Marcos rode in that night and surrendered to the
commander, to be shot. He said something in Spanish
that might be roughly translated: 'Well, I guess the laugh
is on me.'
They made grand preparations for shooting Marcos.
They arranged to have a barbecue and sent out engraved
invitations to the party. Don Marcos took the liveliest
interest in the proceedings. He was, so to speak, all
swelled up over his own importance. At the last minute
A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH 95
owing to political complications they decided not
to shoot him, after all. I shall always t.Tiinlr that Don
Marcos was a little bit disappointed.
After being set free, he mounted his bronco and rode
back to his American friend at the mine. He was very
'Now look at what you have done to me/ he said.
4 YouVe gone and busted up my business. All my bandits
"Well, that's just too bad/ said the American sarcasti-
cally. 'It looks as though you will have to go to work or
The countenance of Don Marcos brightened at once.
This was a new idea. Work would be quite a delightful
'Oh, yes of a certainty/ he said. 'That will be fine.
You shall give me a job here at the mine/
'What kind of job shall I give you? 5
Don Marcos relapsed into deep thought as he studied the
problem. At last his eyes lighted up. 'After all/ he said,
'my main experience has been carrying money. You shall
give me a job carrying your money from the bank in
town to your mine. This will assure that no wicked bandit
At last accounts his friend was still thinking it over.
He told me he felt inclined to give Don Marcos the job.
A PRAYER BY A ROADSIDE
WE HAD stopped for a basket luncheon near a little road-
side cross. It was worn afid weather-beaten. At the foot
of the cross was a pile of small stones. I noticed that El
Nortefio picked up a little stone and placed it carefully
with the other stones. He made the sign of the cross on
his forehead and breast, and I could see that he was saying
* What's the idea? 5 1 asked him.
'I was saying a little prayer for the repose of his soul.*
'But why did you put a stone at the foot of the cross? 5
'To show that I had said a prayer for the repose of his
'Who was he? 5
'Quien sabe. 5 (Who knows?)
Then El Nortefio told me that" all these crosses marked
the spots where someone had died by violence. Every
wayfarer stops to say a prayer for the repose of the soul
hurled thus suddenly and with no priests to hear his
last confession into Eternity.
I remembered that all day we had been passing these
little crosses by the roadside. Some were very old and
almost covered by piled-up stones.
'Did you say that each one of these crosses marks the
place where someone died? 5 I asked Nortefio.
4 Si, sefior todas. 5 (Yes, sir all.)
'How is it that so many died violent deaths? 5
A PRAYER BY A ROADSIDE 97
'Bandits, some of them. Some were killed in the revolu-
tions. People die where they die.*
I tried to take the scared strain out of my voice as I
asked, as gayly as possible: 'And these bandits? They
are, of course, all gone now?'
El Nortefio turned with a look of surprise. 'Did you
not hear me talking to those soldiers we passed? Yester-
day the bandits captured an American mining-man. He
had talked too much about his money. It is not well to
talk too much about money, senor. He said he wanted to
buy some mining claims. He hired a guide to take him
back into the heart of the lonely and desolate mountains.
The guide led him into the clutches of a gang of bandits.
They rode out of the underbrush four of them and
leveled guns at him. They made him ride away with
'Where is he now?' I asked, with a laugh that I am
afraid sounded a little nervous.
'Quien sabe?' said El Nortefio indifferently. 'Some-
where up there in the mysterious mountains.'
'Will they kill him?'
'Quien sabe?' said El Nortefio, who was beginning to
lose interest in the subject.
We were to hear much of this case during the days
that followed but not as much as was heard in the
United States. As a matter of cold fact, there are^more
bandits in a city like Los Angeles in one night than in the
entire Republic of Mexico in a year. But being more
picturesque, every bandit in Mexico becomes an alluring
drama to the Yankee newspapers.
South of Mazatlan we had entered the real tropics.
The imaginary line called the Tropic of Cancer that divides
98 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
the tropical zone from the north temperate zone runs
about thirty-five miles north of Mazatlan. It is the palm
country. You see great forests of palm trees. The huts
of the peons are all made of thatched palm leaves. Parrots
and strange tropical birds fly through the trees. One bird
has a very long tail that streams out like a pennant as
he flies. In a high wind these birds are blown around as
though these long tails were sails. Alligators sun them-
selves on the banks of slow, muddy streams. Life is crude
and primitive. In the lush lands of the river bottoms you
see peons plowing with oxen and crooked sticks for plows.
From time to time we passed little towns on the banks of
the rivers. The banks were always lined with the ramadas
of the peon women doing their daily laundry. And nearly
always we saw water-carts a barrel with two wagon-
wheels and drawn by a mule. These carts were driven
into little towns back in the hills and the water sold at so
much a bucket. One curious thing we noticed about all
the houses: all of them had platforms upon which they
placed all their grain and hay this because of the rats
and myriad insects of the tropics. The burros and oxen
and mules stood under the platforms and ate the hay as
it edged down between the slats of the platform.
The traffic along the country roads was quaint and
picturesque. Sometimes we passed big two-wheeled carts
with enormously high wheels, drawn by six or seven oxen.
Sometimes we saw what in our own border days of the
West were called * spike teams', four burros harnessed
in a line at the wheel; two or three burros harnessed in
front of them. The effect was of a wedge-shaped or
spike-shaped team. Sometimes the wagon-wheels were
so high and the burros were so little, it looked as though
A PRAYER BY A ROADSIDE 99
the wagon would run right over them. They were like a
lot of little chickens with the high wagon for an old hen.
The chief crops raised in this part of Mexico are sugar-
cane and bananas.
We stopped that day for a while at an old town, Rosario.
The whole town is built over a mine. The Tajo Mine is
probably the oldest producing mine on the American con-
tinent. It has been in active operation for more than three
hundred years. The tradition is that, way back in the days
of the Spanish Conquistadores, a party of soldiers were
marching north along the West Coast. As was usual, they
had a band of live cattle with them for food. To take
care of these cattle they had a vaquero. They made camp
at the present site of Rosario. The vaquero built a little
fire and cooked his dinner by himself. In the morning he
noticed that on the ground where the hot embers had been
were little hunks of melted gold and silver.
A town grew up around the mine; then a very beautiful
church. With the exception of one or two I have seen
farther south in Mexico, it is the loveliest Spanish church
I know. It is built in the Spanish Colonial style, with a
golden altar, two belfrys, one above the other. From the
ground beside the great door a caracol stairway runs all
the way up to the bells and the choir loft.
The entrance to the mine is right in the middle of the
town. Through the years they burrowed out tunnels
until the tunnels completely undermine the streets and
the houses. The weight of the old church is so great that
it has begun to settle into the underground workings.
One of the walls leans over perilously, and huge cracks
have riven the nave. The American engineers in charge
of the mine told me, however, that they have been able
100 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
to ree*nf orce the structure so that the devastation will go
These young American college boys in charge of the
work told me that, in tunneling, they come across old
engineering works made by Spanish engineers of the days
of the Conquest. Considering the crude tools they had,
they were wonderful engineers. There is nothing that
modern engineers could tell them about taking out ore
or treating it. The only thing they didn't know, that mod-
dern engineers know, is about the new metals that have
Puffing around the town were two little engines drawing
trains of ore cars from the mine to the smelters. There
seemed something strangely familiar about them. I
learned that they used to be in the Chutes Amusement
Park in San Francisco giving rides to excited, shrieking
Just before darkness fell that night, we drove through
a giant palm forest so dense that the light filtered through
only in wan patches. Even at noonday it was dark; late
in the afternoon it was like a tomb. Its blackness was
creepy and mysterious. Right in the middle of the forest
we found a clearing where a few Indians lived in a town
where the houses were all made of palm leaves. They
were, in reality, little more than thatched roofs with one
wall or no walls. It is always summer there and so hot
that they do not need houses except to keep off the
rain. These Indians made their living by gathering nuts.
We made a call of ceremony and state at the house of the
head man who kept his pig under his bed.
Finally just at dusk we came out of the forest
into a valley where the road skirted the dark jungle. The
A PRAYER BY A ROADSIDE 101
soldiers had left us a long way back. With us, however,
was an automobile filled with officers of the State Police.
They were picturesque, handsome fellows, with velvet
waistcoats and revolvers, whose holsters eclipsed all the
other decorated holsters we had seen in point of elegance.
They signaled for the caravan to stop and came back to
'See that your revolvers are fully loaded/ they said.
'Each man who sits next to the driver must carry a rifle
and see that it is loaded and ready for action. We are
getting into the bandit country.'
When it grew really dark with the thick, heavy darkness
of the tropics, we turned on the headlights of the cars.
The caravan was stopped again. The officers came back
to tell us that, on no account, must we show any lights.
They said that we should be a target for bandit shots if
we showed lights in the midst of the night. It was grand
melodrama, but we got tired of banging along on a dark
road so we turned on the lights. Personally I believe
we were safer than we should have been in any large
'Now,' they said, 'all the cars must keep right together.
Be sure not to lose sight of our car.' Whereupon they
stepped on the gas; sped away with a rush and roar
so fast that we did not see them again.
El Nortefio here really began to live. He stationed him-
self on the running-board of our car and never left it
during the long night ride, clinging there like a monkey.
He was armed like a deep-sea pirate: two bandoleers of
belted cartridges over his shoulders; an enormous Ameri-
can cavalry revolver and a Winchester rifle. He was all
in favor of battle.
102 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Afterward we discovered that we had packed all of our
own ammunition somewhere back in the baggage-car with
the canned tomatoes. Had we met any real bandits, our
cartridges would probably have been of as much value
among the canned goods as in our guns.
I have been asked very often as to the truth about
Mexican bandits. Well, then, the truth is this:
Nayarit is a wild country of mysterious mountain
fastnesses. A few years ago these mountains contained
bands of roving freebooters who maintained a sort of
Robin Hood kingdom. There was one fellow who lived
the lif e of a bandit king. He had a large hacienda back in
the hills from which he sent out his forays to collect ran-
During my first visits to Mexico, the trains from Mazat-
lan to Guadalajara always had armored cars and soldiers.
There are no armored cars on the trains now Mexico
is safer than any modern American city.
After Obregon and Calles came into power, a savage
war of extermination was started against the Al Capones
of Mexico. The bandits were hunted down with cavalry
war-worn experienced troopers and it was a war with-
out quarter, with only little piles of stones by the roadside.
The most effective work in this blood-thirsty man-hunt
was done not by soldiers but by spies. In bandit-
chasing, the Mexican police devised a means of fighting
them with spies.
One spy became very famous and effective. His plan
was to turn bandit and join one of the famous gangs.
Among his accomplishments was that he was a remarkably
It should be explained that knife-fighting is an intricate
A PBAYEB BY A ROADSIDE 103
and subtle art. El Nortefio always laughed when he saw a
knife-fight in a movie, with the actors holding on to each
other's wrists and pumping their arms about like wind-
mills. What especially drew giggles from El Nortefio
was that the movie actors always held their knives up-
side down. A real knife-fighter holds his Bowie as a foil-
fencer holds his sword with the forefinger extended
along the handle. On his left arm by way of a guard he
wraps his serape. If he has no serape he holds his sombrero.
With this he knocks away the other fellow's knife when he
tries to thrust. An old trick of knife-fighters is suddenly
to slap the other fellow in the face with his hat. So skillful
do the Mexican knife-fighters become that it is almost
impossible to hurt them. I know of a case where two
Mexicans fought with knives in the old Plaza in Los
Angeles. They fought until the serapes wrapped around
their arms were cut to shreds of yarn. They fought until
they were so tired that they both fell down and could
not get up. The fight lasted four hours, yet neither was
Well, this spy was the best knife-fighter hi all Mexico.
He would ride around with these bandits on their raids
for weeks at a time, pretending to be one of them. Then
one day he would manage to pick a quarrel with the leader.
They would fight, and the spy always killed the bandit.
One time the spy, after gaining the complete confidence
of a bandit gang, arranged a big fandango to celebrate
his own or somebody's birthday. When the bandits came
to the party suspecting nothing the spy gave a
signal and concealed soldiers shot them to death.
In the large cities of Mexico, the criminal element was
wiped out by methods that offer a suggestion to Chicago.
104 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
A handsome young fellow of good f amily Roberto Cruz
by name became chief of police. He introduced the
grim 'Law of Flight/ where every known gangster was
assumed on being arrested to have attempted to
escape. One morning a grim news item appeared in a
Mexican paper to the effect 'Last night the inmates
of a known den of crime unfortunately got into a quarrel
and they all killed each other/ In two months the thugs
of Mexico City were dead or on the way to the United
States, where they could have the protection of slush
funds, shyster lawyers, and complacent courts.
It was late at night when we crawled into a little country
inn at the old, old town of Acaponeta. We took a walk
around the town the Plaza with its dilapidated grand-
stand, long rows of adobe houses, and a big stone cathe-
dral. We heard a tragic and terrible story about this old
Owing to a dispute with the Mexican Government, the
priests were all compelled to leave Mexico. For a year or
so the people worshiped in the churches alone as best they
could usually under the guidance of some old woman.
During this period the bandits broke loose around Aca-
poneta. They came riding boldly into the town, of which
they took full possession. The frightened people fled
into the jungles or concealed themselves in their houses.
About three hundred women took refuge in the church,
where they knelt in prayer while the bandits rode around
the town yelling and shooting.
Suddenly the front door was wrenched open and a
villainous-looking bandit rode into the church on horse-
back. At one end of the church was a magnificent altar,
built hundreds of years ago. High up on the altar was a
A PRAYER BY A ROADSIDE 105
figure of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. Grate-
ful women had, during the years, hung precious ornaments
on this figure. They would pray, and when their prayers
were answered, they would show their gratitude by sacri-
ficing their most precious jewels, necklaces and so on.
The figure was blazing with jewels.
It caught the eye of the bandit. Riding his horse inside
the altar rail, he took out his lasso and whirled it around
his head. The women saw what he intended to do. He
was going to lasso and drag down the jeweled figure of the
Virgin from the altar. One of the women gave a terrible
shriek; leaped to her feet; rushed at the bandit; climbed
up the side of the horse, and clutched his throat. In-
stantly he was attacked from all sides. The three hundred
women dragged h from the saddle three hundred
strong infuriated women, their work-worn hands given
ten times their strength by hysterical fury. His horse
bolted in terror down the long aisle. Tangled in the coils
of his reata, the bandit was literally torn to pieces.
This, at least, is the story that is told. If it isn't all
true it ought to be. It's a good one.
AN OLD PIRATE PORT
*THB Bells of San Bias' was the last poem written by
Henry W. Longfellow. As a matter of fact, the poet never
saw the place. His poetic fervor was fanned into verse
by a friend who had stopped in to see the old pirate port
while on a sea trip up the West Coast. Had it been vouch-
safed Longfellow to have spent a few days in those quaint
old streets, his poem would have been a glowing epic. For
the bells of San Bias whisper of blood and tragedy, battle
and treasure. Ghosts of stately galleons float on the
sand-clogged lagoons; wraiths of long trains of pack-mules,
weighted with gold and silks and precious spices, climb
the forgotten treasure-trail built by the Conquistadores
across the mountains. Memories of padres outfitting ships
and expeditions for the relief of the half-starved missions
and garrisons of California, memories of pirate battles
that stained the quiet waters.
San Bias is a feeble old grandmother now muttering
to herself in the sun but she has lived. She flourished
in the days of the Filipino galleons. These treasure-ships
were the most magnificent vessels that ever sailed the
sea. Standing high out of water with great poop-decks
rising like castled towers from the sea, they were regal
and imperial in their grandeur. Their great sails were
painted; their tall sides rose from the blue water in a
gleam of gold leaf from which shone the muzzles of brass
cannon. The sun sparkled on the polished armor of the
soldier guard walking his post on the high quarter-deck.
AN OLD PIRATE PORT 107
The captain was always a grandee of Spain who dined
in solitary grandeur and dignity in his palatial salon from
plates of solid gold like an emperor. Smaller craft
scuttled out of the way of these galleons in awe and terror
like a little dog slinking from the path of a St. Bernard.
By arrangement of the Spanish Government, a galleon
set sail from Manila once a year bound for Mexico. She
breasted the sea, hull-down with a cargo of treasure, of
a value that staggers the imagination: silks from China,
spices from India, gold bullion, silver plate, argots of ore
packed into the great holds like ballast. They were bound
for Mexico, mostly for Acapulco, but sometimes for San
Bias. The fact that the Spanish built a paved treasure-
road from San Bias across the mountains to Vera Cruz
indicates that the commerce of this port must have been
The pirates who left bloodstains on the rocks of San
Bias were almost as de luxe as the ships they attacked.
They were quite elegant fellows. I am sure they would
have been shocked to the distinguished marrow of their
bones to have heard coarse ditties about Yo-ho and a
bottle of rum: not to mention their probable horror at
frivolous musical mention of a dead man's chest.
The pirate of romance and tradition was a rough per-
son, with his cutlass between his teeth, half-boots made
thick for wading around on blood-soaked decks, a scarlet
kerchief around his snaky locks, and a heart hungry for
murder. Of such was the pirate of the Caribbean. He was
a murderer and a drunken marauder. His crew was culled
from the riff-raff of the gutter thieves, criminals,
murderers, human scum. His rule was that of ferocity
and terror. The strongest bully ruled. With the skull
108 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
and crossbones floating from the masthead the pirates
descended upon the helpless town slew and pillaged
and tortured. Afterward there was always a mad drunken
brawl, with bloody fights over the division of the loot;
greedy hands that reached for gold lying clinched in pools
The story of the Filipino galleons must almost be told
with the story of Sir Francis Drake. He was the perfect
type of the gentleman pirate as the galleons were the
perfect type of the treasure-ship of romance. Drake was
an English sea captain, a quiet, self-controlled gentleman
who ruled his crew with decorum and etiquette. He was
probably the finest sailor and navigator of his time
one of the truly great sailors of all time. He was a pious
Churchman who always had prayers said on deck before
sending his pirate crew swarming into the rigging of the
great Spanish treasure-ship. Although nearly always
carrying off his lootings with a 'This-hurts-me-more-
than-it-does-you, Sir/ he was unable to restrain his pro-
per indignation with the captain of one galleon because
of his lack of etiquette in firing a broadside at the Golden
Hind before the English crew had finished its battle-
prayers. That seems to have been the only time he is
known to have sunk a galleon in any but the most charm-
ing manner. Even his prisoners have left diaries in which
they agree that his manners were faultless. No one
before or since has ever known how to slit a throat or
sink a ship with more suavity or punctilio.
The best manuals and correspondence courses inform
us as to the practical value of good manners in business.
Witness the case of Sir Francis Drake. Being an eminently
practical person, he did not bother about the filthy little
AN OLD PIRATE PORT 109
loot and the pieces of eight and the golden doubloons
over which the blood-thirsty thugs of the Caribbean
murdered each other. Where these drunken scum got
pennies, Sir Francis got pounds and golden treasure. His
well-disciplined crews fought like trained bull terriers
not like gutter curs. His victories over the great Spanish
galleons with their fighting men in armor form one of the
astounding chapters of history. When the tiny Golden
Hind sailed up to challenge a Filipino galleon, it must
have looked like a fox terrier barking at an elephant. But
so skillfully and bravely did his men fight as they swarmed
up the golden sides and into the rigging that they seldom
lost their prey. Once the proud banner of scarlet-and-
gold was cut down from the masthead, the English pirate
became a kindly, tactful, and considerate victor.
Drake sailed home at last with more loot than the old-
fashioned pirates of the Spanish Main ever dreamed was
in the world. It is related that from the wreck of one
galleon, Drake took what would have amounted in
modern money to about $15,000,000. He looted ships
and Spanish colonial towns until the Golden Hind wal-
lowed hull-down in the sea from her load of treasure.
On one occasion he had to order the crew to dump over-
board great deck-loads of precious cargo to make way for
richer loot. Instead of the wild drunken battles over the
division of the loot as in the bloody dramas of the
Caribbean Drake distributed the shares to his men with
the solemn decorum and impartiality of the directors of
the First National Bank declaring a semi-annual dividend.
For years, he waylaid and. fought the galleons of Spain.
Some of them he sent to the bottom, where the fish no
doubt give Sunday afternoon excursions to peer in at the
110 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
beautifully carved windows to the gold-leafed magnificence
of their cabins. Other galleons, gutted like a canned fish,
lived to limp into some near-by harbor, shattered and
broken in their pride.
San Bias became a port of refuge into which they scut-
tled like badly frightened old cows seeking succor from
wolves. For this reason and for other reasons San
Bias was at one time one of the most important cities of
the new world. It lies at the mouth of the Santiago River,
not far from the historic towns of Tepic and Compostella.
At one time it had a population of more than thirty
thousand. It had a great foundry for the manufacture
of church bells; wharves, custom-houses, warehouses,
churches, soldier barracks, and a fort that overlooked the
entrance of the bay. Nothing remains now but a handful
of old houses surrounding a shabby public square. And
dreams dreams. I have seen no other town in Mexico
so redolent of the past, of houses that seemed so to whisper
There is a very lovely old church fronting the plaza,
small but perfect. From its belfry the bells of San Bias
still send out their silver chimes just as Longfellow
imagined them. The church stands on a sleepy, empty
street fronted by the crumbling wrecks of old palaces with
balconies and barred windows. One of these must have
been a place of consequence, possibly the palace of the
comandante. It has still an air of ancient hauteur. What
remains of an old street-car line wanders crazily on rusted*
crooked rails to the water-front over ties cut from solid
Half a dozen peons, with white cotton pants almost as
wide as a woman's skirt, sit around the little corner store.
AN OLD PIRATE PORT 111
Once San Bias was a great fishing port, but the day we
were there, the proprietor of the corner store could provide
only canned salmon from Oregon. He was finally per-
suaded to have his wife pat some tortillas, but he was not
in a lather of emotion about it. He drew some sad-looking
pop-bottles out of his refrigerator which was a block
of lava rock, contributed by a prehistoric volcano in the
vicinity. Holes had been bored into this rock and the
bottles nested in the holes.
After luncheon, we walked down the old railroad track
to the ancient port of the galleons. There isn't much left
to the harbor now. For two or three hundred years, the
river has been pouring silt into the lagoon until the chan-
nel is choked. Only small fishing-boats can drift through
the sandbars up the river to the alligator jungles above.
Across the stream you can see the remains of the old fort
on the hill under whose frowning bronze cannon the
galleons once took refuge. Only a few crumbling walls
now mark the place. Only the old custom-house remains:
it still does business. It looks like a block-house of our own
frontier days, wide balconies encircling its upper story.
I imagine it has been patched and rebuilt many times since
its uniformed officials hurried out to board the last galleon.
In the street behind it, at its four corners, are four very
old brass cannon planted contemptuously muzzle-dowz
in the ground to serve meekly as posts. Local tradition
says that they were taken from a pirate ship which
perished from over-ambition under the bellowing guns of
The main street of San Bias was the beginning of one
of the most famous highways in the whole world. It was
the Spanish treasure-road, paved with tiny cobblestones,
112 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
fitted together like a mosaic. It ran for countless miles
over hot tropic plains and through the high mountains
flanked with stone fences piled by the patient toil of
Indian slaves. This was the old Spanish treasure-road.
One end was at San Bias: the other on the East Coast of
Mexico, across the mountains at Vera Cruz. When the
galleons landed at San Bias, the treasure cargoes were
packed on mules and, under heavy military guard, started
on the long, perilous journey across Mexico. At Vera
Cruz, the mules delivered their pack-loads to other ships
which sailed for Spain. For days we bumped along over
what remains of this old Spanish treasure-road in our
What remains of San Bias nestles up against a range of
hills, covered with thick jungle growth. Hidden in the
lonely silence of this jungle is the grave of another chapter
of history. And this chapter belongs in greater degree
to California than to Mexico.
You wind up a steep hillside trail: then plunge down
into the jungle. It is so dense that the sun niters through
in a wan, pale filigree of light. Fighting your way along a
dim burro path, you come at last to a majestic ruin. It
is the ruin of an old monastery. It looks English rather
than Spanish. Out of the ruined stillness, you expect to
hear the ghost of Richard Cceur-de-Lion bellowing a
ballad. Yet the knights that it housed were knights of
the Cross rather than knights in armor. It was the home
of the priest, Fray Junipero Serra, during the period he
was outfitting the expedition that was to establish the
long chain of mission churches down the length of the
Caxnino Real in California.
The roof of lie old monastery has fallen in. The nave
AN OLD PIRATE POET US
is a mass of fallen timbers and masonry overgrown with
jungle plants. At the top of one wall, which probably
supported a bell-tower, a banyan tree has found life. Its
long blanched roots stream hungrily down the great stone
wall to the ground. I think, at that, there must have been
a still earlier church, for scratching off the green mould of
the jungle, we found a date, which was carved about
seventy years after Father Serra landed in California,
on his mission to carry the Cross to the heathen.
Plowing our way back through the jungle, we came to a
fork of the trail. We came to a headland where the re-
mains of a pretentious stone building still stand. Accord-
ing to tradition, this building was once the headquarters
of Portola, who commanded the military end of Serra's
expedition. Had it not been for these mouldering build-
ings, now strangled by the jungle, there would have been
no California. At any rate, not a California claimed by
Spain and held by Spain until Uncle Sam was ready to
take it over. During the middle years of Father Serra's
work among the California Indians, the Mexican Govern-
ment proposed to close the port of San Bias. Father
Serra made the long, agonizing trip to the City of Mexico
(he suffered for years from an open sore on his leg which
made riding a torture). He told the Viceroy that, if he
closed the Port of San Bias, it would be necessary to
abandon all the missions of California and yield the land
to Russia or England. All the supply ships which at that
period carried food and other necessaries to the missions
outfitted at San Bias. Nearly all the mission bells which
tolled the Indian neophytes to service and to their labors
were moulded in a long-ago-forgotten foundry in the town
of San Bias.
114 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
San Bias has written many other chapters into the
history of California and the West. In 1818, the pirate-
insurgent, Captain Hippolyte Bouchard, ravaged the coast
of California, attacking the ranches and looting the towns,
even plundering the old mission at San Juan Capistrano
on the modern San Diego to Los Angeles highway. In
response to a frantic appeal to the Motherland, an army
of one hundred infantrymen was recruited at San Bias
and one hundred cavalry from Mazatlan. They came to
the rescue in troop-ships. But, before they arrived, Bou-
chard had sailed away. Having been recruited from the
scum of a seaport town, the San Bias infantrymen became
such a collective nuisance that California wailed to be
delivered from the deliverers.
Later, one Manuel Micheltoreno, having been appointed
Governor of California in the face of one of the current
revolutions, recruited an army in San Bias that is still
known to history as the 'cholo army.' It consisted of
half -starved vagabonds who according to tradition
disembarked at San Diego without the usual adornment
As late as 1840, San Bias figured in California history.
Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, having decided that
the Gringo population were a pest, herded them to the
number of sixty into a ship and packed them off to San Bias.
The story is too long to tell, but it is a colorful chapter.j
Very few tourists have visited San Bias. I don't know
why. It can be reached without difficulty by sea from
yachts. It is not a specially difficult trip by motor car
from the old town of Tepic. For mystery, charm, mem-
ories, I know of no place in Mexico more appealing.
IN OLD TEPIC
THE sad-eyed little peon and his wife were packed like
two burros. He had a long board balanced on his head
and the board was loaded from one end to the other with
pottery. It looked as though he were walking along with
a curio store on his head. His pretty little wife came pat-
tering along the country road behind him with an enormous
load of sugar-cane stalks on her back.
A bright idea struck one of the engineers. We all
wanted to buy pottery. Why not buy this fellow's whole
load off the plank on his head? There was a railroad
station near by. We could take the stuff over there;
ship it by express. Then we should not have to worry
any more about our shopping. This was applauded as a
El Nortefto was detailed to strike the bargain. We saw
him talk for a few moments to the pottery carrier. Then
to our surprise the peon emphatically shook his head,
hoisted his load, and dog-trotted off down the dusty road
as though he were intent on escaping.
'He doesn't want to sell it all,' explained El Nortefio.
'What's he got it for, then? Is this just the way he
takes his daily dozen? Trotting up and down the road
with a pottery store on his head?'
'He wanted to sell some of it,' said El Nortefio, patiently
ignoring the sarcasm. 'He is very poor and he needs the
money; but he doesn't want to sell all of it.'
'What's the idea?'
116 OID MOTHER MEXICO
'Because, if lie sold all of it, there would be no reason
for him to go to the market.'
This was a few miles out of Tepic. After we saw the
public market there, we rather sympathized with the
peon. We didn't wonder then that he liked to go. Going
to market with things to sell is about all the pleasure
he gets out of life.
Of all the towns in Mexico, I like Tepic the best. It
is very old. It sits there, sweet and complacent and con-
tented, while the rest of the world tears around in such a
hurry that it is like a chicken with its head cut off. Tepic
stands on a great plateau high in the mountains so
the weather is always cool in the hottest part of summer.
In the days when Forfirio Diaz was President of Mexico,
it was a favorite summer resort for the aristocracy, who
came up from their haciendas in the moist hot lands of
Back of the town toward the Church of the Cross
is what remains of the paseo where fashionable folk used
to go. The paseo was and is a round plaza. At the
hour of sunset and on into the evening the Mexican
belles would come out there in then: open carriages with
prancing horses and silver-mounted harness. Sitting de-
mure and in an elegance of white lawn dresses, with high
jeweled combs in their jet-black hair, they rode around
and around the plaza. As they rode, a procession of
fashionable young bachelors walked around and around
the plaza in the other direction; so they were always
passing and repassing. The young men in their silver-
embroidered sombreros and their tight-fitting jackets
were quite open hi their admiration. But it was etiquette
for the lovely sefioritas to pretend not to notice that they
IN OLD TEPIC 117
were being looked at. Nevertheless, they continued to
ride around and around.
The paseo is grass-grown and deserted now. The
procession of fashion stopped when the Revolution swept
over Mexico twenty years ago and the rich families be-
came poor and fled to California to live. Many a happy
family in Los Angeles dates back to a sidelong glance at a
handsome boy from a girl in a gleaming carriage at the
paseo in Tepic. The paseo will never have that procession
again. Automobiles and a leisurely procession around and
around a little plaza do not "jell/ so to speak.
Everything in Mexico is a little bit mysterious, and one
of the most charming mysteries at Tepic is sheltered be-
hind a crumbling old wall, in front of the Church of the
Cross, near the paseo. Inside this wall is a huge cross
growing in the soil. It is made of green plant life that grows
in the form of a perfect cross in the midst of a big patch
of lighter-colored grass. No one knows when it first grew
there or how. All that they know is that it has been
there as long as the oldest man can remember. The grass
grows there, year after year, and the plant grows; but it
never loses its shape or form. The Mexican people con-
tend that it was never planted by the hand of man and
that it has various miraculous powers.
The center of the town of Tepic is a public plaza four
or five blocks long, fronting a fine old church with very
tall belfry towers. For blocks along the streets that line
this plaza and slipping into narrow side streets are the
public markets. Every Saturday the peasants come in
from the country to sell their wares sugar-cane, pot-
tery, guarachas, toys, sombreros, candy, ribbons, tamales,
queer tropic fruits, baskets, horsehair bridles, reatas...
118 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
What impressed us was the quietude. Had that been
an Italian or a French market, you could have heard the
chatter for a mile. These Mexican-Indian women sit there
on the ground silent and watchful. They make no at-
tempt to 'ballyhoo' their wares. There is no bargaining
and no heckling composed, inscrutable, and patient.
They may look dumb, but they are not. Those inscruta-
ble masks cover a shyness that is Indian and a sense of
ridicule that is devastating also Indian.
The Indian women who sit like lumps on the station
platforms at Albuquerque and Yuma go back to their
homes to mimic the passengers they have seen and to
cry for hours over the smart cracks of the hosiery drum-
In their own homes these silent Mexican peon women
are gay, sarcastic, voluble. A quarrel between two of
them mis the air .with language.
Mexican women of the upper classes talk in streams in
the home circle nobody listening to anyone else.
As a rule, it is a man who sells the sugar-cane. The
stalks stand in bundles behind him. When a customer
comes, he cuts off a joint of the cane with a sharp knife.
Mexicans are very fond of sugar-cane. Little boys and
girls and even grown people sit along on the street curb-
ings sucking and chewing it. All along the gutters are
little tin stoves some of them made of Mr. Rockefeller's
oil-cans on which the women cook tortillas and en-
chiladas for sale.
The baskets are incredibly cheap. I saw one so big
that it looked as though it might have been one of the
baskets in which Ali Baba hid the forty thieves. I asked
the price, and the woman looked at me doubtfully as
THE PLAZA OF TEPIC
IN OLD TEPIC 110
though she feared she were going to stun me with the
figure. 'Dos pesos, Sefior,' she said. One dollar! It must
have cost some peasant woman in the mountains days
and days of hard work to make that basket.
The quick, artistic eyes and the patient hands of these
peasants have rescued many things from the rubbish-
heaps. They use pieces of old automobile tires to make
soles for their sandals. They make better guarachas than
cowhide. Old burned-out electric-light globes are used in
a quaint way. I have one in which a doll-like figure of the
Virgin Mary is inside the globe, almost filling up the
space. I can't imagine how the artist ever got the figure
inside the globe. The figure is elaborate and beautiful.
The Virgin wears a white dress with a yellow cloak thrown
around her shoulders. On the front of the white dress is a
large scarlet cross. At the foot of the figure is a cluster
of palm sprays, and between the sprays, rising from the
feet of the figure, are two tall poppies one scarlet and
one golden all in wax. It is a delicate and charming lit-
tle work of art which required artistry and endless intricate
toil. Yet the woman asked only twenty-five cents of our
money. The struggle for lif e and food is pitiful in Mexico.
Until I saw these markets at Tepic, I had supposed
that Mexican sombreros were all alike. But I learned that
almost every section of Mexico has its own pattern in
hats. Those in Nayarit (of which Tepic is the capital)
have little squashed-in tops, instead of the high peaks
we see on all sombreros in pictures. Also the straw in
these Tepic sombreros is so hard that the hats are all
like iron. You could knock a man flat by hitting him
with one. I don't see now they stand wearing them.
They weigh like a cartload of bricks.
120 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Everything in the costume of the peon has a reason.
His sombrero has a brim that curls up at the edge because
he has no pockets in his clothes and carries his treasures
on his hat. His charro pants are of leather and very tight
because he has to ride through brush. Now the charro
costume continues as an expression of rural elegance.
The jacket of the charro costume is short to give the hand
a chance to travel quickly to the sash, and the sash is a
memory of the Spanish sword-belt. High heels of the
vaquero boots are not an affectation, but were made that
way to keep the feet from slipping too far into the stir-
On special days, other peons come to the markets with
ancient curios that they offer for sale, spread out on the
sidewalks old swords, ancient rusted daggers, spurs.
Some have been dug out of the ground and plainly date
back to the knights of the Conquest. Some of these swords
were once proud weapons made in Toledo; have been
stained with blood, and now end their story on a sidewalk
next to a tamale peddler. The peons usually stay Satur-
day and Sunday. Then they start back to the hills again.
Everything in Tepic has the charm of great age. We
went to see the manager of a cotton-mill and found his
office had been an old Spanish inn with a cobblestone
courtyard great wide balconies and worn old stair-
ways queer dark passageways.
The hotel where we stopped had a grand name Bola
de Oro, the 'Ball of Gold.' It has no room telephones.
When you want something, you walk out to the rail of the
balcony and clap your hands. Some miracle seems to tell
the world whether you want the little seflora who does your
room and your laundry, or the shine-boy who puts a
IN OLD TEPIC 181
gleam on your field boots, or the mozo who carries your
trunk on his back, or the bathroom mozo. They all give
you the impression that you are the lord of the manor and
that they live only to make you happy.
Taking a bath at the hotel is no light and frivolous mat-
ter. You clap your hands for the mozo and he disappears
into a distant part of the house and starts a wood fire
under a tank. In due time, you start on a journey for a
couple of miles through the house. It seems all right to
wander around dressed about as Lady Godiva: Mexican*
are not fussy. The bathtub is tin and the bathtowels are
about the size of a lady's pocket handkerchief; but any-
how, it's a bath.
The people of Tepic are charming and friendly. One
night, El Norteno and I were walking along a dark, narrow
street and I was attracted by the sound of music coming
from a little hotel. We walked in to see what was going on.
As usual, in Mexican hotels, the dining-room was a sort of
porch fronting on the patio. At a long table, a party of
gay, jolly young fellows were giving a bachelor dinner to
one who was about to be married. They were employees
of a cigarette factory. Seeing us standing at the edge of
the patio, looking on, one of the young fellows came over
to ask if the Senor Gringo would not honor them by joining
I spent all the rest of the evening with them. They were
lovable, merry-hearted boys, and I had a grand time.
They asked me what I would like to have the orchestra
(two guitars and a violin) play. I asked first for Rancho
Grande. They all stood up and roared its rollicking meas-
ures at the tops of their voices. Then I asked for Cuatro
Milpas. I noticed that they all seemed pleased, but I
122 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
didn't know why. Then the toastmaster stood up and
thanked me for a charming compliment. I didn't under-
stand how I had given them a charming compliment until
El Nortefio whispered to me that those two tunes were
written on the heart of Tepic. Both were composed by
young men of Tepic and they were almost like national
The bridegroom was an official of the cigarette factory
and most of the guests worked there with him. We
toasted the bride with sentiment, romance, and poetic
license, for naturally she did not appear. With our limited
Spanish and their no-English-at-all, we did not under-
stand their speeches and they did not understand ours
which were frequent. I found this to be a distinct improve-
ment on listening to after-dinner speeches that you do
Coming home to the hotel, we encountered three very
dignified gentlemen who were walking down the middle
of the street arm in arm. Ahead of them was an orchestra
which they had hired to let the world know how they felt.
Occasionally they let out a defiant yell in concert: then
relapsed into majestic dignity again. In Mexico es-
pecially here on the West Coast I have seen often one
solitary Mexican walking all over town in grandeur in the
wake of an orchestra sounding the paeans of his triumph.
This is a magnificent crescendo of our American mood
of 'Drunk and glad of it/ Incidentally, there is very
little drunkenness in Mexico. The gentlemen who throw
eggs at the paintings in the bar-rooms are of another and
When we got back to the hotel, we found a tense, ex-
cited conference going on. The center of the conference
IN OLD TEPIC 128
was an elderly German banker, owner of vast Mexican
properties. He was of such honor and integrity that he
was trusted even by the bandits. This conference had to
do with the bandits who had kidnapped the American
mining-man. A rough-looking horseman had ridden in
from the hills with a message written on a dirty piece of
paper. The German banker handed it to me without
comment. This is what it said:
'A menos que este mensajero vuelva mafiana por la
manana, trayendo consigo treinta mil pesos, el Sefior
Bristow sera pasado por las annas al mediodia en punto.'
(Unless this messenger returns to us safely tomorrow
morning, bringing with him thirty thousand pesos, Mr.
Bristow will be shot at the hour of noon.)
The German banker had wed to the relatives of Mr.
Bristow; they were waiting in anxiety at Mazatlan. The
messenger sat on his horse outside the hotel, waiting to
gallop for the hills. Two cavalry officers were arguing with
the German banker. They were urging him to ignore the
message and let them start with the troops in pursuit.
They were furious at the idea of temporizing with a bandit.
'But they would see you coming,' interposed El Nortefio,
butting into the conversation. 'And the Gringo gentleman
would be killed.'
The cavalry officers flushed with anger at the interrup-
tion from a peon boy; but the old German banker looked
at him reflectively and nodded gravely.
4 We shall wait for a little while,' he said.
WHERE THE WEST BEGAN
THE beautiful Eamona was not impressed by the memo-
ries of Coronado. She lives in the old city of Compostela,
from which Coronado started one January day in 1540
on his quest for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. The
only thing that seemed to interest Ramona very much
was to show me that she could play Yo-Yo (the game that
we call Diablo) better than I. Between twirling the f oolish
spools on a string, I asked her if she did not often dream
'Coronado/ she said, trying to remember somebody
named Coronado. * Coronado Coronado Coronadcj
'El Seflor Francisco Vasquez Coronado.'
Ramona called back into the kitchen where her mother
was making some enchiladas for our lunch. 'Mamacita,
conoces un tal Francisco Vasquez Coronado?' (Little
Mama, do you know a man named Francisco Vasquez
Mamacita said she did not know any such person, so
Ramona turned back to Yo-Yo.
Ramona is about seventeen, with eyes that light up
like hidden fires. Her mother runs a little store where she
sells the worst enchiladas I ever tasted, pottery from
Guadalajara, mule harness, and bottled beer. Ramona
loves to dance, but there is no one with whom she can
dance. She loves life, but the pigs in the street, the sleepy
WHERE THE WEST BEGAN 125
burro trains, and Mass at the old cathedral are all the ex-
citement she can find.
Compostela drowses in its memories. It is perhaps the
deadest town on the West Coast. All day long, old peons
wrapped in scarlet scrapes sit around in the little deserted
plaza with dreams of other days in their black eyes. A
young poet of my acquaintance Donald Carr wrote
some charming verses about these old men in the park at
Ay, hombrecito de los viejos,
Que suefio tiene en los negros ojos?
Ay, pudieramos tambien quedar
Sofiando suenos por un avatar!
FOB DON CAEB
Oh, little old man,
What dreams are in your blade eyes?
Oh, would that we could hold our dreams
Throughout our lives!
I went to pay a visit to the old cathedral. It is a
magnificent church and one of the historic shrines of our
country, although we have forgotten it. The church was
built in 1586, almost a hundred years before our Pilgrim
Fathers landed at Plymouth Bock. After Coronado sallied
out from Compostela in his long search for Cibola and its
golden cities, Compostela became the capital from which
all of the discovered lands were governed. So it is only
truth to say that Compostela was the first capital of the
land that was to be the United States. From this sleepy
old town there went forth edicts and orders carried by
couriers and messengers up through the lonely jungles, on
through the mountain passes, through the country of the
126 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
At one time there was a government palace a palacio
and a fortress for the soldiers. But it has been so com-
pletely ruined and effaced by Time that we could not be
sure even of its location. The grandeur of Compostela
did not last long. The bishop who founded the church, as
the then farthest outpost of the Cross, never saw the
church. He died before it was finished. The bishop who
took his place died shortly after taking up his residence
in Compostela. The third bishop was bored to tears by
life in the sleepy, crude little garrison town and moved
the seat of his authority to Guadalajara.
I have seen the old cathedral many times, but I never
see it as it stands. To me it is always peopled by ghosts.
I always see a cavalcade of Spanish soldiers in the street,
their rough barb war-horses pawing and champing at the
big bits; men-at-arms in their leather armor made of
seven thicknesses of deerskin, with their huge bell-muzzled
muskets, their lances and their great swords; the pack-
horses and mules, with the muleteers endlessly tightening
the cinch straps and rearranging the packs; the half-
naked TftcHg-fl allies looking on in wonderment; the chargers
of the knights in armor held by the servants. And always
from the dim recesses of the cathedral the solemn chants
of the last Mass. And presently, in my mind's eye, I see
the great studded front door swing open and the knights
come stumping out in their armor to their horses. One
horse is more splendid than the others, a long, sweeping
saddle-cloth of gold and scarlet falling almost to his ner-
vous, stamping hoofs Coronado's war-horse.
At the head of the company of knights strides a hand-
some young man in armor Coronado. History tells us
that he was a gay young society blade of a powerful and
WHERE THE WEST BEGAN 127
influential family. When he started on this romantic
quest, most of the knights who went with hi were care-
less young aristocrats, out for a lark. Malicious gossip,
perhaps, but tradition says that they threw away most of
their armor the first day out because it got too heavy.
In the first fight at Zufii, two of the horsemen are said to
have been so panic-stricken they put their saddles on
hindside to. But in then* breasts beat brave fighting
hearts. Many a time when Coronado wanted to turn
back, they insisted on keeping on in the face of danger,
hunger, suffering, and fatigue. Coronado's instructions
from the Viceroy were specific. When he found the Seven
Golden Cities of Cibola, he was to load up two wagons
with gold. The Viceroy decided to be modest; just two
wagonloads of gold would be enough.
The old church hasn't changed much in all these years.
Someone who wanted to show his gratitude and piety has
put up a hideous clock-tower of bright blue on lie front;
otherwise it is as Coronado saw it.
The first time I saw the cathedral was during the
period when the priests were in exile from Mexico and the
Mexicans were holding services of their own. It was some
kind of day of celebration. An old woman was leading the
chants and litanies in a high, strident voice and the others
joined in. All the women were on their knees on the cold
stones. Some of them had come in from miles out in the
country on their knees every step of the way. As they
came into the church, they prayed; then crawled a few
inches nearer on their knees toward the altar. Near the
altar was a group of young girls with crowns of thorns
pressed down upon their foreheads. At one side was a
large glass coffin in which there was a wax figure of
128 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Jesus Christ, His body bloody and torn as it came from the
At the rear of the church was a middle-aged peon in
white cotton drawers and shirt who was showing his little
son how to tell the beads of his rosary as he prayed. At
the end of the lesson, the child bowed respectfully and
kissed his father's hand. For a moment it puzzled me;
then I understood. It was a custom reaching back to
days of chivalry. He was kissing the sword-hilt of the
ruler of his House.
When I returned to California, I asked Mr. Ramon
Novarro, the Mexican movie actor, about it. He was
surprised that I should have been surprised. 'Why, cer-
tainly,' he said. 'I have never left my house in my life
without kissing my father's hand/
On the outside of the church is a cross carved into the
stone. It stands at the height of a man's heart. All around
the cross the stone is pock-marked by little holes. You
know what that signified: bullets. No one knows how
many men have been executed standing in front of that
As we left the old church and walked through the sleepy
streets of the adobe town, there came to our ears a queer,
squealing noise, punctuated by the beat-beat-beat of a
tom-tom. We started to investigate.
In an adobe house we found an impressive sight. The
town butcher had got himself all-dressed-up in his best
sombrero and his tightest leather pants. He had ridden
his horse right into the house and was sitting in the saddle,
trying to look like Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz,
or something. As he sat in silent grandeur, two little
Indians played in his honor. One had a native pipe that
WHERE THE WEST BEGAN 129
looked something like a crude piccolo; the other had a
A curious custom all through this part of Mexico is to
hire bands to play in one's honor. If you have done some-
thing of which you feel very proud or have a birthday or
something, you hire a band and have it follow you around
the streets tooting tunes by way of hurrahs.
I don't know what the town butcher had done that he
was so proud of, but he had been sitting there for a long
time on his horse like a statue, his face pulled into a very
haughty and proud expression. When he saw us, he beck-
oned us to come in. There was a long and excited conver-
sation between the Indian musicians, which we could not
understand, as it was in some native dialect. Then the
one who played the flute stood up and bowed and said,
'We will now play in honor of the Gringos. We shall
play the national anthem of their great country the
And then they solemnly proceeded to play what they
thought was our national anthem.
It was *Oh, Katarina'!
BANDITS AND BULLS
ALL the next day we rode through a country filled with
romance. This is the country of the charcoal-burners.
We passed an old burned-out volcano about equally well
known for charcoal and bandits. All over the mountain-
side we saw the huts and the furnaces of the charcoal-
burners. At the railroad stations we saw charcoal heaped
mountain high. They make it by burning the sap and
green out of the fresh-cut boughs. Most of it goes to
various parts of Mexico and to San Francisco, where
many chefs still cook in the old style.
For almost half a day we rode through the ancient
hacienda called San Jose de Condi It dates back to 1550
and is one of the oldest farms in the New World. It is a
little kingdom of itself with villages and great ranch-houses
and outpost villages where the vaqueros live. At the main
ranchhouse is a large town occupied by the ranch peons
and an old church.
For generations the business of the San Jose" de Conde
has been raising bulls for bull-fights. They are not hie
the cattle we know. They are little black fellows as savage
as tigers. Just as we breed cows for Tnilk by picking out
good milkers for mothers, so they breed bulls for fighting
by killing off every calf that does not seem to hate men.
The young ranch foreman told me that the fighting bulls
are as savage and dangerous as any known wild animal.
He told me of an instance where a bull chased a vaquero
BANDITS AND BULLS 131
up .a tree and kept him there for five days and nights,
pawing the ground under the tree by way of challenge,
only moving away for quick snatches of grass, literally
sleeping with one eye on the tree. He said that the old
ranch was going to abandon the business. Bulb for the
fights do not pay. It is too risky. The fiercest bull may
not pan out as a fighter once he is in the ring. If he
doesn't, the fickle crowd begins to shout scorn and deri-
sion. The owners of the ranch are going to stock it with
modern beef cattle.
There is a narrow strip of country near this old hacienda
which is noted for scorpions. These venomous little in-
sects always suggest a tiny leprous lobster to me. They
have a deadly poison which is usually fatal to chil-
dren. I know a woman who, stepping out of bed in the
night in an old hotel, was stung by one. She said that it
had the unusual effect of causing a partial paralysis of
the motor nerves, yet an acute and agonizing sensitiveness
of the skin. There is one hill near this place which the
Government has fenced in, forbidding anyone to go there.
Late in the afternoon we passed through a tiny village
on a lonely mountain road. There is a tradition that, in
the old Spanish days, a company of soldiers deserted the
colors and turned bandit. One of them who was the
chief bully established a sort of robber kingdom back
in the mountains, with bandits working for him on a pay-
roll like cowboys. Descendants of those robbers ac-
cording to tradition settled in this mountain village,
every inhabitant a freebooter. If so, the inhabitants
must in the meanwhile have experienced religion. With
night coming on, we approached the place nervously.
The women came out to meet us, bringing us presents of
183 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
melons and fruit. One of the cars needed water and one of
the peon women lugged it out by the gallon in an earthen
jar, smilingly refusing pay for her work.
We arrived at the little town of Lctian at dark and found
the sorry last chapter of a real bandit story. The German
banker in Tepic to the huge disgust of the army officers
had made a bargain with the bandits; they had re-
duced their demands from thirty thousand pesos to
six thousand. That morning a messenger had gone out
with a pack-horse loaded with silver money in linen
sacks. The bandits had agreed to deliver Mr. Bristow at
Ixtian late that day. They wouldn't take a chance by
bringing him to Tepic; and they warned the German
banker that they would kill Bristow if any hostile move*
ment was made by the troops.
We waited with considerable excitement, but Bristow
did not come for a long time. Late that night, after the
moon had risen, an elderly man rode into town, swaying
from sickness and exhaustion, on a wretched old wreck
of a cow-pony. It was Bristow. He found a place to stay
and went to bed. When he had had time to rest a little,
we went to the house to hear the story of his adventures.
As he told the story, he had been captured by four men.
They had suddenly appeared out of the underbrush and
leveled rifles at his head. They told his guide to go on his
way and made Bristow ride with them. He said that he
had no idea where they took him. He could speak only a
few words of Spanish and they could speak no English, so
all their conversation was carried on by signs. They took
what money he had. One of the bandits took off his high
field boots, which are considered a great prize in Mexico,
and gave M" a pair of sandals. One of them took his
BANDITS AND BULLS 138
watch; another his gun; and they divided up his money
which amounted to several hundred pesos.
For about twenty days he lived the life of a hunted
coyote. The bandits were afraid of the troops. They were
constantly on the move. Night and day they rode. They
would ride into the mountains; suddenly double on their
tracks, and strike off in a new direction. They were all
mountain men and experienced riders, so they didn't
mind the terrific pace and the fatigue. It nearly killed
Bristow, who was an old man and in poor health.
From time to time a messenger would appear and there
would be a conference. Then the messenger would ride
away again. Bristow understood they were bargaining for
his lif e. They made him perfectly well understand that,
if the money did not arrive at a certain day, he would be
killed. Otherwise than that, they were very good to him.
He said when they got any food, they always gave him the
best of it. When they killed a chicken, they gave fa' the
choicest bits and ate the neck themselves. Sometimes
they went without food altogether and gave what little
they had to him. Whether this was really kindness, how-
ever, or merely the principle of feeding up a turkey for
Thanksgiving Day, I do not know; and he didn't either.
When the messenger finally came back with the money,
they rode with him some distance toward the nearest
town; then they all fell back and disappeared except one.
He went on with Bristow until the lights of the town could
be seen in the distance. He carefully explained to the sick,
tired old man how to find the rest of the road and vanished
like a ghost into the night.
There was a garrison of Mexican troops in the town of
Ixtlan. They were furious that the bandits should have
184 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
been allowed to get away with this impudence. They were
literally champing at the bits to take the trail against
them. They insisted and it was probably true that,
if they had had their way, there would have been no ran-
som; only dead bandits. Out of courtesy for the Gringo,
they reluctantly stood apart and let the ransom be paid.
But then but then the next chapter was theirs.
One of the officers drew for me a map in red, blue, and
black ink by which he showed that they had every avenue
of escape cut off for the bandits. To allow Bristow to come
safely back to civilization, they had opened a place in the
line, like a gate. Now they were going to close the gate.
All through the night we heard the clatter of galloping
horses as the cavalry patrols started for the hills. It was a
mission of vengeance to avenge their hurt pride.
We heard very little about it from the officials, but dur-
ing the weeks that followed, the Mexican papers farther
to the south where we had continued our journey published,
now and then, small items stating that Jose Gomez
or somebody a bandit had been caught and executed by
the troops in the mountains of Nayarit. And I imagine
that many a little pool of drying blood marked the spot
where some bandit who had divided his chicken with the
Gringo came to the end of his career. Some of them were,
perhaps, surrounded and killed by troops. In many
other cases, innocent-looking burro trains driven by peons
and loaded with sugar-cane turned out to be moving forts
the sugar-cane hid machine guns.
Bristow said that when he was with the bandits they
were almost starving. Most of the time a little corn meal
mixed with water was all they could find to eat. One can
imagine the torture of their fear after that, the leader
BANDITS AND BULLS 185
knowing that any member of his bandit band was likely
to turn traitor at any moment and kill him for the price
on his head: every peon passing with a burro likely to be
a soldier in disguise. Days and nights of terror a
remorseless, bloodthirsty, untiring man hunt. The whole
incident was a grand thrill, but convinced me that the
life of a criminal is more unhappy and less profitable in
Mexico than elsewhere.
"Wherever cussedness is abroad, you can usually find a
renegade American. According to rumor the real head of
the Ixtlan bandits is an American who lives a life of appar-
ent innocence in the town. There are reasons why he can-
not go home to the 'States/
Ixtlan is an old Aztec town. From the earliest times it
has been a stopping-place for travelers and an outpost for
troops Aztec, then Spanish, now Mexican. We were
the only guests at a little country inn. It was a sort of
family affair. They tried hard to make us happy. The
head of the household was a widow; we seldom saw the
sefiora, although she came in every morning to wish us
good-morning and every night to wish us pleasant dreams.
The two daughters of the household waited on the table
and made the beds in the old high-ceilinged bedrooms.
The eldest was Amparo. She was pale and lithe with
eyes in which dreams slumbered. She was very much dis-
tressed if we didn't eat everything, which was quite im-
possible because she brought it on by armloads. In the
evening, she played the phonograph, and as she put on
each new piece looked around anxiously to ask, *Le gusta? '
(You like it?)
The other daughter was Juanita. She had eyes that lit
up suddenly with humor. But her delicate mouth was sad
186 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
and turned down at the comers. Her face was strong with
Spanish strength. In the face of Amparo was the sugges-
tion of the beauty of another race probably Toltec or
Aztec. But Juanita was proud and Spanish.
Amparo was something of a coquette. One day she
invited one of the young engineers to go to Mass with her;
then told him she was going at 5 A.M.
In the evenings they played rummy for hours with the
engineers, not having an idea what it was all about.
A Mexican girl has but one thought to do what her
men want. The domestic mores of the Eastern purdah
still hold her.
Her first social contact with American boys leaves her
dazed. Great social changes are being made in Mexico by
girls who have been educated in the United States.
After her marriage, the Mexican girl becomes the em-
press of her own household. All Mexican women of social
breeding and mature years impress me as being very much
alike. They cover their shyness with a regal dignity, but,
having let down the bars, are witty, animated, and with a
genius for intimacy. They are easily offended, however,
by the slightest breech of ceremonious etiquette. When an
opportunity comes, they often show high executive ability
the product of their experience as chatelaines of great
households. If you are accepted into a Mexican household,
you find yourself overwhelmed with a tender maternal
anxiety for your happiness and welfare.
Maria was the maidservant the criada. She did all
the laundry work and helped in the kitchen and pumped
the water into the funny old shower bath for us. Maria
was small and wistful. But she was pretty, too, in a
timid, shrinking way.
BANDITS AND BULLS 1S7
Pedro was the old manservant. He helped us with our
baggage and eagerly ran our errands. In leaving, we gave
him a tip. He looked at it and although it seemed very
little to us ran down the street after us to give it back
and ask for something smaller. He protested it was too
much. If Pedro ever gets a job in an American hotel, the
other bellboys will all insist that he be examined for in-
AN OLD AZTEC TOWN
IT WAS Palm Sunday in Lrtlan. I was wakened that morn-
ing by a queer thumping sound on the pavement outside
my window. A young Indian was on his way to church.
As penance for his sins he was torturing himself. He had
made a cross of timbers so enormous that the weight al-
most crushed him. He was crawling on his hands with the
cross on his back. It was so heavy that he could only
struggle along for a few feet at a time. He had been
crawling all night, since sundown the day before, from
his hut in the hills. His face was drawn and pale, for he
had eaten nothing. His knees were bleeding from contact
with the hard stones.
The church at Ixtlan is very, very old. The congrega-
tion is of almost pure Aztec descent and the church some-
how takes on the strangeness of that vanished race. The
old belfry tower was a fortress and its time-grayed sides
are torn by bullet marks. It is the shrine of a wild fierce
The church was packed with peons whose Indian blood
showed in their faces. Each one held in front of his face
the frond of a palm as the priests passed down the aisles
in the ceremonial procession. Bagged people, fierce people
with wild eyes. In the hope of a miracle, the steps of the
church were thronged with sick babies, some of whom were
blind and some horribly deformed. Many were carried
to the place by tiny little girls not much bigger than the
AN OLD AZTEC TOWN 189
babies themselves. Having deposited the babies, they sat
and waited in hopeless, patient silence.
It was a great fete day as well as a day of religious cele-
bration. The sidewalks were packed with peddlers and
booths. Some sold beads of colored glass; others, religious
medallions, tortillas, sticky cactus candy, sugar-cane.
One peddler had a board spread with relics odd spurs,
garden tools, old knives with half the blades broken, dag-
gers with rusted blades. In the midst of this trash was a
court sword that had belonged to a Spanish knight.
When we pulled out of Ixtlan, that day, our automo-
biles bumped and thumped over the ruts of one of the
oldest roads in the Western Hemisphere. It was the old
Spanish treasure-road over which the long pack-mule
trains carried the cargoes of the galleons from San Bias
over the mountains to Vera Cruz. It was almost pitiful
to tfiinlr of the labor that had gone into the making of that
road. The pavement was made of small cobblestones
fitted together like a mosaic. In the days of the treasure-
trains, it must have been Eke a modern bathroom floor.
For centuries it has been allowed to go to rack and ruin.
Deep cafions have been cut into it by the cloudburst
waters that come surging down from the hills. In places
it is as much as a loaded burro can do to pick his way
around the gullies and barrancas in the road.
As we were fighting our way in low gear over this road,
we met a burro train loaded with long planks that gave
the effect of each little burrito carrying his stall along with
him. One slipped and fell. With those long boards fastened
to his sides, he could not get up again until some of our
engineers climbed out of the cars, grabbed the ends of
the boards, and lifted him back to his feet. The peon who
140 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
drove the train must have been astonished, for no Gringo
had ever shown any interest in him before, but his face
was absolutely impassive as he raised his big sombrero
and murmured, 'Muchas gracias, sefiores.'
The road finally got so bad that we decided to tear
down a piece of the stone wall that lined the road, first
having asked permission of the Presidente of whom,
more later on. A surprise met us in that wall. For hun-
dreds of miles these walls line the road and crawl over the
hills until your eye loses them in the distance. "We thought
we could toss down the stones as in a New England stone
wall. When we tried it, we found that every stone was
wedged and fitted in so carefully that we had to pry
it out with automobile tools. No wonder those walls
have stood there since the days of Cortez! Everywhere in
Mexico you have to be impressed with the superb engineer-
ing genius of those old Spanish Conquistadores. It may
be they were cruel and tyrannical and greedy in their hunt
for gold, but they had brains.
We found El Norteflo waiting for us at a camp that some
of our party had established at a place called Porto Suelo.
The boys had pitched their tents right in the middle of the
old treasure-road. It was the first time we had taken the
tents from the baggage trucks, and we all thought it was a
good deal of fun. The tents were little tan-colored houses
with one pole in the middle like a Sioux Indian tepee. At
the front of the tent, part of the wall let down to make a
little window, protected from insects by wire netting.
Each of us had an army cot and a canvas sleeping-bag,
lined with blanketing. To Nortefio's huge delight, the
sleeping-bags could be opened and closed with zippers.
We set up a long folding camp-table at one side of the
AN OLD AZTEC TOWN 141
road and got out the kitchen equipment. There was a
camp stove with a gasoline flame. El Nortefio was very
much astonished as he came into camp, struggling with a
huge armload of wood, to learn that we had a machine that
talked like a man our camp phonograph. He helped us
to set up another mysterious instrument which had a long
jointed pole that was braced against the winds of the
tropic night by guide-wires tied into the stone walls of the
time of Cortez. El Norteno had never heard of a radio out-
fit, and the operator let him wear the head-piece and hear
the faint little buzzing clicks. He looked politely skeptical,
however, when he was told that those little clicks were
coming from a boy in a little town in Ohio who had caught
them by accident as he was feeling around in the air waves.
Another one was coming from a sleepy army operator in
Honolulu who suddenly came to lif e as he realized who was
sputtering into the air, and who courteously agreed to
take the message from the Mexican mountains and relay
it for us back to Los Angeles.
Our camp was right in the middle of the 'main-traveled*
road up from the mysterious Barranca country to Ixtlan
and the big towns beyond. All day long and far into the
night, the burro trains pattered through our camp be-
tween the cook-tent and our sleeping-tents. It was a pro-
cession I shall never forget. Some of tne burros were
loaded with jars and pots to be sold in the markets of
Tepic. Some had crates of chickens or turkeys and several
had squealing pigs. Some were serving as carriages, carry-
ing women and children. All the women were riding side-
ways sometimes curled around Mexican cow-saddles
and sometimes on blankets. From one end of Mexico to
the other, I have never seen but one woman riding what
142 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
we call astraddle. She was the beautiful young wife of an
army officer with a haughty, cold face. She was fashiona-
bly dressed in white duck with a gorgeous gold-embroid-
ered sombrero. When her wild young thoroughbred shied
at our cars, she lashed him with merciless cuts of a gold-
mounted quirt without a trace of expression on her
* poker face."
Late at night one little family came through the camp
with two sleepy babies in panniers on the sides of a burro
and a timid little mother plodding alongside. We always
marveled at the wonderful way in which these loads were
packed on the saddles. Just try, for the benefit of your
soul, fastening a pack on a burro's back. The darn thing
slides one side, then the other side. It usually winds up its
career under the burro's stomach. Try then to pack a
burro with fragile, jiggly native pottery, and you wfll come
to the conclusion that the most famous of our diamond-
hitch experts of the old border days still had something to
learn from a Mexican mule-driver. The driver urged the
little beasts on by shouting *Aye-bur-r-o'!
What impressed us was the perfect courtesy of these
simple little peons. You can imagine what must have
been their secret astonishment to come suddenly upon
this camp of strange Gringo gentlemen with queer tents,
high radio poles, and the sputtering flash, of the radio
itself. All day and far into the night they came, but of
all that procession I did not see one who stared. They
lifted their sombreros, murmured * Buenos noches, sefiores,'
but looked neither to the right nor to the left. I cannot
claim that we were equally courteous.
Many features of our camp fascinated El Nortefio.
Especially the patent can-opener. To tell the truth, I
AN OLD AZTEC TOWN 14S
was fascinated myself by the can-opener. To his ineffable
bliss, he was allowed to lift the lid from the cans, and had
we not been firm, he would have gone on de-lidding all
the cans on the West Coast of Mexico. Hie coffee per-
colator came next of rank in his wonderment. After that
my typewriter. He would plant himself in front of that
instrument, watching the quick clicking keys with en-
trancement. Only the coffee percolator could wean away
his attention. He liked to watch that bubble. So also did
we. It was an oasis in a desert.
My frank admiration for Mexico stops just this side
of the coffee. To our taste, at least, it is terrible. They do
not grind the berries as we do. They pulverize them until
they become a brown talcum powder. This they bofl
until it is like lye. Very often they bring the coffee around
cold hi a pitcher, and pour a portion into your cup. To
this they add either hot water or hot milk, as your sins
deserve. "Whenever I Jook hot milk, I was sorry I had not
asked for hot water, and when I chose hot water, my
regret was agonizing that I had not asked for milk. It
is pretty awful either way. To the Mexican palate, ours
is just as bad. In some of the larger Mexican cities they
ask you if you would like to have cafe" americano. Say
'Yes'! Say'SiM Yellit! Don't let there be any mistake.
From Ixtian there had come with us as a guard of honor
a troop of cavalry the bodyguard and escort of El
Presidente, the boss of the town. He was a gorgeous figure.
He was enormously fat, but he rode like a centaur. His
mount was a dun-colored mule. His saddle was a thing of
mystic beauty. It was mounted in solid gold. His bridle
was fit for a prince of Cathay. All his personal, clothes,
from his sombrero heavy with silver embroidery to his
144 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
enormous silver spurs, went with the outfit. Leaving
us in camp with the soldiers, El Presidente took two of
our engineers and two mounted scouts and went away to
find if possible a road over which our automobiles could
We were interested in our troopers. They were so quiet.
All day long they sat on the high land above with their
carbines across their knees, saying scarcely a word. Once
in a while they played a Mexican card-game. Three times
a day they cooked their tortillas. They accepted our
canned goods with shy thanks, but I don't think they
liked the stuff much. One of our party was a Mexican
navy officer, sent with us as an honorary escort. He was a
charming and interesting fellow. Once during the after-
noon he borrowed a carbine from a soldier and we had a
target contest: but the fouled, worn-out cavalry weapon
was a poor second against our American repeating rifles.
Their horses were a poor lot. They explained that the
good horses disappeared in the havoc of the last revolution.
The soldiers themselves, however, were fine military
material. I doubt if there is another soldier in the world
who .will march so far or fight so courageously or uncom-
plainingly on a diet of corn cakes which he cooks himself.
One of the party had a movie camera. To relieve the
boredom, a young army major, who had joined our party
at Tepic, suggested that we stage a play about bandits.
He stopped the next man who came along on a burro and
explained to him that he had been cast for the part of the
bandit. He was a handsome young fellow and played the
part like a movie hero. When the major suggested that the
soldiers hang him by the neck as a fitting finale to the
drama, we made hasty objections. 'But we could cut him
AN OLD AZTEC TOWN 145
down before he really choked/ said the major. The peon
did not offer the slightest objection. He apparently
thought it would be a grand idea and great realism. He
was the one most obviously disappointed when we de-
clared the drama ended with the hero still unhanged.
That night was the most gorgeous moonlight night I
ever remember to have seen. The mysterious shadow of
the mountain fell caressingly across a fairyland sunk in a
deep cation. The Mexican major and I walked out along
the old treasure-road. He talked of the relations between
the United States and Mexico. Without a close under-
standing friendship between the two countries, Mexico
will be a Belgium for any European country seeking to
invade the United States, a fatal vantage-ground from
which it will be possible to strike at the heart of America.
The talk then turned to art and music. He was speaking of
an orchestra leader in the City of Mexico who has a new
and interesting interpretation of Mendelssohn. Suddenly
he thrust out an arm and swept me around behind him,
shielding my body with his. His heavy army revolver
was out of the holster and in his hand as he tensely watched
a movement in the shadow. The chaparral parted and a
burro came through into the moonlight.
The major laughed. 'You never know,' he said. He
put his revolver back into the holster. "We were speaking
* Compafiero,' I said, hoping he would not hear my knees
shaking, 'compafiero, excuse me but I cannot intelligently
discuss Mendelssohn with gooseflesh trickling down my
backbone. Let's go back and go to bed.'
IF YOU can imagine what it would be %ei trying to drive a
car down Bright Angel Trail and across Grand Cafion,
you may get an idea what it was like when our engineers
forced two small automobiles through the Barrancas.
This is one of the greatest gulches in the world. It is a
giant gash in the heart of the high mountains near the
border of Nayarit and the State of Jalisco. Until an Ameri-
can raikoad company built a track hugging the face of the
mountains that tower above the Barrancas, Guadalajara,
the second city of Mexico, was a city cut off marooned.
Either you mounted a mule and plodded over mountains
through a district at that time infested by bandits, or you
made an enormous circuit by sea. The Southern Pacific
Railroad tackled the terrific job of laying rails that encir-
cled tlie rim of the great chasm. It is said to be the most
difficult and expensive stretch of railroad construction in
the Western Hemisphere -perhaps in the whole world.
And now that it is built, it is one of the most amazing and
beautiful train rides in the world. But it did not help
motor traffic in any way. The problem of our party of
engineers was to blaze a trail for automobiles.
Back in the days of the Conquest, the Spaniards built a
road through the Barrancas: the San Bias to Vera Cruz
treasure-road pitched down over the brink of the big
canon and crawled up the other side. With the passing of
time, this road had gone to ruin. Whole sections of it had
THE BARRANCAS 147
pitched down over the edge of precipices. What remained
of it was cut into cations. It was an impediment rather
than a passage. There were places where a burro had to
be packed very lightly, to stumble and crawl over. The
nature of the ground may be assumed from the fact that
one section of the Barrancas bears the appropriate name
Salsipueda (Get out if you can).
We sent two of the five cars back to Ixtlan to be shipped
by flatcar to Magdalena on the side of the canon. The
remaining two cars which were to make the trip were
stripped of their baggage load. A soldier had been sent
ahead to arrange for ox-teams. A troop of cavalry rode
behind to supply the man power.
The cars were scarcely outside of our roadside camp
when the trail pitched down over the brink. It will always
remain one of the epics of automobile driving. But it is
not interesting to tell about. There were places where the
cars had to hug burro trails on the perilous faces of moun-
tain cliffs, the wheels held on the edge by ropes and soldiers.
There were places where they had to go up hills that were
like climbing the side of a sky-scraper. It was a matter of
backing up for a start, then a mad plunge of a few feet in
low gear, then another start. There were places where
six oxen pulled with their might and main ahead, a troop
of dismounted cavalry pushed from behind, while the
engine roared and screamed. It is a tribute to modern
automobile makers that not even a tire was punctured
during this terrific ordeal.
At the bottom of the cation is a lonely, desolate little
Mexican town whose inhabitants would no doubt die of
homesickness were they removed to a spot more favored.
The gentleman who wrote "Home, Sweet Home/ touched
148 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
a mysterious phase of human character. At the end of the
Apache wars, Geronimo and his renegade warriors were
sent as prisoners to the most beautiful part of Florida.
They yielded to the inevitable in the matter of losing their
freedom, but some of them literally died of longing for the
God-awful desolation of the burning Arizona deserts.
One Apache chief explained the loneliness of his heart by
saying, 'I can't look anywhere except up if I wish to see
anything.' I don't know how the folks in Blandabarrancas
explain their attachment.
From one brink to the other, the automobiles fought
their way twenty-eight miles over a motor Purgatory.
Having shipped myself with the cars from Ixtlan, I found
them resting on cots in a wretched little hotel in the town
of Magdalena. It is a tradition that the hero who came
through Pickett's charge at Gettysburg usually shoots
his arm off with a Fourth-of-July firecracker. Just so the
only damage to any of our cars was in taking one of them
off the flatcars at the unloading.
Magdalena was interesting, but did not tempt us to
linger. There is a tradition that the mysterious hidden
gold mine of the Aztec Emperor Montezuma was near Mag-
dalena. More recent and more cold-blooded investigations
of the stories of the Spanish Conquest bring a note of
skepticism to these treasure tales. They considerably
reduce Montezuma's financial rating in Bradstreet's.
Historians are beginning to wonder if the Aztecs had much
gold. Their interest seems to have turned to other min-
erals obsidian, turquoise.
An ancient letter from a soldier of the Conquest has
been found. In telling the news to the folks back home,
he says that, when Cortez had to retreat from the city
THROUGH THE BAEEANCAS BY AUTOMOBILE WITH THE
HELP OF SOLDIERS AND OXEN
THE BARBANCAS 149
Tenochtitlan (the present Mexico City), an order gave
the soldiers the usual privileges of a forced retreat the
privilege of looting. They could cany off all the gold they
could find. He writes with sardonic bitterness that he
wishes he had stayed at home in Spain and herded goats.
Whether or not Montezuma got his gold from Magdalena,
the fact remains that others have found gold there. Rich
and important mines have been, and are being, worked by
American and British interests.
What interested me in Magdalena was the old church.
It has a marvelous crucifix a lif e-size figure of Christ
that is reputed to shed real blood at certain significant
periods. A book might be written of some of the sacred
figures found in Mexican churches. The artists of that
period were nothing if not literal. The figure of the Cross
is not conventionalized as in our modern artistry. Most
of them depict the last episode of a human being dying in
awful agony. It calls out the sympathy of the simple,
warm-hearted little peons to them the Christ is their
intimate friend. The day we visited the old church, a little
Mexican boy of perhaps ten years was dinging to the
blood-stained, worn, fragile hand of the Christ, kissing
the hand again and again, murmuring caressing, loving
words of sympathy and consolation.
I found a volunteer guide in a smart Syrian from
Beyrout. He was clever, illuminating, and brazen. The
Syrians are all over Mexico. They are the sharp traders,
the money pioneers. This one told me shamelessly how
he had captured the trade of the town from the Mexican
merchants. He said the gag was to pretend great friend-
ship to play on the hearts of the peasants. 'I tell Mrs.
Lopez,* he said, 'that the fellow across the way would
150 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
charge her more: but to show her how warm my heart is
for the people of Mexico, I am going to let her have her
corn meal and pink dresses very cheap/
Although this may be effective in the homeland, the
Mexican is disillusioned by the time he gets to the United
States. The patent-medicine shows of Arizona find the
Mexican suckers hard-boiled and wary. My friend Slim
Sheets, who sells the world's most marvelous corn cure
between acts of the most wonderful vaudeville show on
earth, tells me that a Mexican will never buy anything
until after the third day. He waits to observe the ex-
perience of some Gringo friend before he is prepared to
believe that an ointment rubbed on the outside of a shoe
will cure the corn inside.
My Syrian friend said that another factor of his success
lay in introducing into Magdalena the dollar-down-dollar-
a-week system. Like every other transplanted Gringo
whom I consulted, he said that the Mexican peon was
good pay a square shooter and commercially honorable.
We drove out late that afternoon through narrow little
streets where the women sat in doorways nursing babies.
We were in the mescal country now hills covered with
the fat-leaved maguey century plants that yield Mexico's
national liquor. A Mexican maguey hacendado has a
long wait ahead. Several years must elapse before the
crop is ready to 'pick' and then it is not picked.
Mescal is made by cooking and fermenting the root which
grows almost to the thickness of a man's body; the result
is a yellowish-white liquid very intoxicating and of in-
describable taste. Tequila is a refinement of mescal.
We stopped that night in what had been a lovely old
suburban villa and had been turned into the worst hotel
of my not inconsiderable experience. It was more sug-
gestive of a Pompeian villa than a Mexican house great
square rooms looking out on loggias, patios following
patios. The bedchambers were not alluring. The mat-
tresses were of board. I drew a room with two engineers.
At bedtime, one remarked with heavy sarcasm: 'We leave
to you the choice. Do you prefer the oak bed or the
spruce?' We were warned not to step around in the dark
on account of scorpions.
In the midst of our misery, we found light. At breakfast
next morning, we discovered ourselves sitting seatmate to
one of the most interesting men in Mexico, a tiny, sprightly
old man with long whiskers. It was Dr. Atl, the greatest
expert in the world on Mexican churches. He has written
a work in six volumes which is recognized as the last
word. I thought it was strange that there should still be
one in Mexico with a name so essentially Aztec. Then I
learned that his private name is quite different. He comes
from an old Spanish family. His heart from childhood was
ever with the vanished Aztecs. Also it was an unfilled
desire of his heart to be a doctor. Whereupon, returning
from a long sea voyage, he announced to an astonished
world that from that point on he was to be known as Dr.
Ati, and from that point on began the real achievements
of his life. He is also an artist, a painter of international
fame, and a chemist of high repute.
Hie idea that anyone could write six huge volumes on
the churches of Mexico so staggered me that I felt drawn
into the impertinence of expressing my wonderment. 'But,
after all,' I hastened to add apologetically, 'it must be
a great satisfaction to realize that you have absolutely
exhausted a subject/
152 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Dr. Atl looked as though he were going to faint with
astonishment. 'Exhausted the subject!' he gasped. 'My
dear fellow, I haven't even seen one third of_the churches
He told us much that was interesting as we ate break-
fast, facts that were of value to travelers coming into one
of the great centers of New World architecture Gua-
dalajara. What seem to us now as Old-World architecture
buildings that whisper of ancient days were the
product of an outburst of a glorious period when Youth
found an outlet.
The myriad cathedrals and churches of Mexico represent
a golden age of young untrammeled architecture. Work-
ing under the masters of architecture in Europe, there
were a great number of young artists who champed at the
bit. As with many brilliant boys bending over drawing-
boards of today, they had to do what they were told.
The Spanish Conquest the opening of a new heathen,
churchless land to the Cross and the throne was their
opportunity. Their artistic handcuffs suddenly knocked
off, they could work out their own ideas. Never in the
history of the world was there such an era of church build-
ing. In a period of about one hundred years, more than
fifteen thousand important churches were built. An
average of more than three a week! Not many of these
stand as they were made. Many have been rebuilt several
times. Just as in the case of the missions of California.
I used to stand in their shadows and imagine myself
standing with the good Father Junipero Serra until I
discovered that Serra only saw one or two of the present
missions. Many of them are not even on the spots that
he built. The mission at Santa Barbara has been com-
pletely rebuilt four times.
THE BABBANCAS 153
I have spent a great part of my life admiring the voices
that were off key, and standing transfixed with admiration
in front of pictures that the committee was about to banish
to the dark cellars: so, in a hoarse whisper of warning, I
will pass on the verdicts of Dr. Atl. He says that the
cathedral at Pueblo is by far the finest in Mexico. In
Guadalajara the best architecture is to be found in the
Santuaro and the church of San Felipe de Jesus. So now,
if you go home, raving over the wrong church, don't
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO
GUADALAJARA always goes straight to the heart of the
visiting American. It is different in atmosphere and
psychology from any other Mexican city. In essence it is
Spanish rather than Mexican. It was established in 1530
about a hundred years before the Pilgrim Fathers
landed at Plymouth Bock by Captain Juan de Ofiate
in honor of his commanding officer, Nufio de Guzman,
who was born in Guadalajara, Spain.
It is fifty-two hundred feet above sea-level and I
have an idea that its perfect, sparkling climate has
something to do with its psychology. It is cynical, per-
verse, gay, attractive, sophisticated. Independent, 'con-
trary' almost as we would say, in the slang of the day,
'snooty.' Mexican politicians say with some sourness that,
whatever question arises, Guadalajara is always on the
other side. Whoever you are, Guadalajara is not in the
least impressed. No one escapes its gay, witty ridicule.
The city has been fought over; bombarded, invaded times
without number, but no tragedy can dim its spirits as
crisp and volatile as its mountain air. The air never gets
hot and the Guadalajarefios never get heated. It lies in
the dip made by an extinct volcano, and its climate has an
electrical exhilaration and tingle.
The city is gorgeous with churches. It is the real center
of the Catholic Church in Mexico a city of devotion
underneath its cynicism. From my hotel windows I
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 155
could count twenty-three magnificent churches. There
are, I believe, some fifty in all, not counting the small ones.
The hotels are colorful and charming. I have stayed at
several. All have a quaint foreign atmosphere. In each
one the rooms open out onto a great balcony, which in
turn looks down into a handsome rotunda. You never
have the sense of being fodder for a factory as in so many
American hotels. There is a f eeling that they want you
apart from your money. They have a real anxiety as to
your happiness and peace of mind. The whole staff gal-
loped up in a body when I announced that my bath would
not run hot water. It developed that the native plumber
not being a linguist had put the *hot* sign on the
The first day I walked abroad in Guadalajara, I was
stopped by a little boy about fourteen years old. He
wanted to know if I wanted a guide. He said he was very
poor and had four little brothers and sisters to support.
As our intimacy continued from day to day, he kept
increasing the number of brothers and sisters until I
became alarmed lest he should turn out to be blood brother
to all the half orphans in Mexico. The thing that reas-
sured me in this regard was his nationality. He was not
Mexican. His people had come from Indiana, his father
being a miner as well as the champion father of all time
in point of production. My little friend said he had been
born in Guadalajara. We spent a pleasant and valuable
morning together. He knew where we could find old
Spanish chests, red and gold Chinese chests a little
cylindrical chest with one flat side that was for the back of
a carriage. He did all the bargaining. He beat the dealers
down in their prices; then excused himself to go back to
156 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
collect. When we marched back in triumph to the hotel
with our arms filled with bundles and two cargadores
following with the chests, the clerk at the desk almost
fell over in his tracks.
'"Where did you get that boy?' he demanded. The boy
looked like innocence on a monument saddened by the
evils of the world. 'I found him on the street,' I said un-
easily. 'He found you on the street/ retorted the clerk.
'And before he goes, you had better look to see if your
watch is still there. He is the most notorious pickpocket
in Guadalajara. He is just out for an airing before he goes
back to jail again.' I remembered that he had shown a
remarkable f amiliarity with the premises when we had
gone to look over the jail a great courtyard surrounded
with cells from which the dejected inmates spoke pleas-
antly to my guide.
He was the first of many interesting acquaintances I
picked up on the streets. Another was Sefiorita Maria
Guadalupe Pecheco, with whom I had a desperate flirta-
tion. The seftorita was of the age of five years. She sold
newspapers in front of the Imperial Hotel.
'Look at that child's burning eyes!' I exclaimed to
one of the engineers as we stopped to buy a paper from
her. 'Don't they scorch a way right into your heart?'
The sefiorita listened gravely and as we thought
without understanding. We asked her name, but she
turned bashfully away. The next morning at breakfast
I felt a little soft hand on my knee and I looked down to
see this lovely baby. In a little soft voice, watching my
face meanwhile, she said: 'Mi nombre es Maria Teresa
Pacheco, y yo tengo ojos ealientes. Hagame el favor de
danne cinco centavos para un periodico.' (My name is
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 157
Maria Teresa Pacheco, and I have hot eyes. Do me a
favor; give me five cents for a paper.) We gave Maria
Teresa many five-cent pieces until we observed to our
pain that, at intervals, an older woman came and took the
money away from her.
Guadalajara is famous for the beauty of its girls. They
are lovely beyond all description, but it will do you no
good to know about it. The old Spanish customs prevail.
It is unheard of for a girl to be on the street alone. To go
anywhere with a boy unchaperoned is unheard of and
unthinkable. The city was all torn up over the scandal
of some of the young married people bathing in Lake
Chapala with modern bathing-suits and horrors of
horrors men and women together. The debate reached
such proportions that the Archbishop was finally called
in. To the dismay of the older people, he smiled and said
he couldn't see any harm.
Love is complicated in Guadalajara. Either the smitten
young sheik goes to the father and asks for the hand of a
girl he has only seen at a distance or he 'plays bear* at
her window. This charming custom hacer el oso is
the last stand of the true romance on the American con-
tinent. Guadalajara is an old-fashioned city with narrow
streets and the houses are built out to the sidewalks
elbow to elbow without a space or an inch between.
Family life goes on in the secluded patios. But in front
there are heavily barred windows that look out upon the
street. The boys come to these windows and whisper
soft nothings to the girl sitting in darkness on the other
side of the bars. Every night you see scores of these side-
walk courtships. The girl sits on a window-seat and the
boy leans with a swagger against the wall outside. The
158 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
lovers seem completely oblivions to the throngs passing
on the sidewalks. Sometimes the families are compkcent
and shut their eyes. Sometimes the swain stands at the
window and hears no response from within. He may not
call. He can only wait and champ up and down in front
of the window like a bear in a cage waiting and wonder-
ing. There are girls whose reign as belles is so great that
pathways have been worn in the cement in front of their
windows. I have known of cases where a boy stood in
front of a girl's window for three years every night
hoping and adoring. Once in a while he finally gets in;
usually he doesn't.
Among the houses of Guadalajara there are a few of a
somewhat later era that were built in two stories, some-
what on the order of the balcony houses of Monterey,
California. It distinctly cramps the style of the whisper-
ing lover to be obliged to murmur soft caresses from the
sidewalk to a second-story window. To meet this emer-
gency, some bright, progressive young fellow introduced
the portable telephone as a messenger of true love. This
he managed to send to the girl. When the dusk of evening
came, she would softly pass down the end of the telephone
line and they would exchange their vows under the benign
influence of the late Alexander Bell. While we were in
Guadalajara a tragedy occurred. The palpitating swain
came along the street burning with romantic ardor
to discover another swain whispering soft nothings to his
lady-love over the telephone which she had treacherously
lowered to him. The interloper finished his song of love
in the morgue.
A touch of Mexican city lif e that never fails to interest
Americans is in the cargadores. Hordes of them hang
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 159
around the railroad depots they are the Red Caps and
the express wagons of Mexico. They grab your suitcases
and your trunks and trot off as though they had a load
of feathers. I have seen two cargadores carrying a grand
piano through the streets on their backs. Their strength
is all in their legs. I have seen these human pack-horses
fail to lift a bundle of moderate weight. But once get the
weight shifted to their shoulders and their power is simply
incredible. A heavy trunk that would cause two of our
baggage-smashers to groan and complain simply rolling
it along a platform is as nothing to a cargador. If
there are any express wagons in Mexico, I have never
seen any. When you buy the usual loot at the antique
stores, the proprietor calls a cargador or two cargadores
and they go trotting off to the hotel or depot with heavy
boxes packed for shipment on their shoulders.
If you are intending to do much shopping in Gua-
dalajara, it is not unusual to call a cargador to carry
your money. There is gold to be had, but the usual
medium of exchange is the silver peso, valued at from
forty-five to fifty cents according to the rate of exchange.
To wander around on a shopping excursion with what
amounts to two or three hundred dollars in silver half-
dollar pieces is no light job. At the bank they give you
small linen sacks with the money and you walk, lugging
these sacks in your hands. It is not unusual to see a car-
gador from a bank walking along the streets with a back-
load of money. No one thinks of a guard. This is prob-
ably due in part to the intrinsic honesty of the Mexican;
due in part to the embarrassment that would confront a
robber finding himself with a wheelbarrow filled with
money to trundle along in his flight. I have often seen a
160 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
peon wheeling a barrow filled with money along the side-
Shopping in Guadalajara is a quaint and interesting
experience. One of the best places to buy old chests is in
an open patio behind the Governor's palace, where an
old man has collected them from places that he alone
knows. If you are not careful, however, in his beaming
anxiety to please he will 'fix them up* by painting the
horsehide lids with black paint and putting in new brass
nails. There is another curio store in an old house on a
side street. There are two or three stories of space loaded
with junk, among which are priceless things. The pro-
prietor is a charming old man with an amiable indifference
as to whether or not you buy. If you don't like what he
has there, he can be persuaded to open up two other
houses where he has other treasures stored. He has no
clerks, and 'salesmanship' is something of which he has
never heard. I think, on the whole, he rather hates to
part from anything in his collection.
There are two public markets where the Mexican
Indians sit in silence in inscrutable passivity while
you look at their sugar-cane stalks, their blankets, their
pottery, their dulces, their guarachas. There is here none
of the cocky indifference you sometimes encounter in
tradesmen; no * independence' of spirit. It is an attitude
of complete acceptance of fate. If you wish to buy, that
is your affair. Why should they tell you whether or not
you should buy?
One of these public markets is in the heart of the busi-
ness district. The other is in the lower part of town in a
great square in front of a municipal building. In latter
years, the municipal government has built regular stalls
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 161
for some of the little sidewalk merchants where trade
goes on much as in our markets. But the Indians who sit
outside in the gutters and on the ground go on in the old
way. Going to market is a social event with them. They
sit in the nest of their flounce of calico skirts seeing
nothing, yet seeing everything until their packload of
sugar-cane is gone; then they go back to the mountains,
the delectable vacation having ended. Booths and glass
counters would spoil their one great entertainment.
Around the great plaza in Guadalajara is an arcade that
runs in front of the buildings. This is called the Portales.
It is an alluring place. Serapes hang from the pillars of
the arcade. Dulce counters crowd booths where machetes
are sold. Sacred images next to guarachas. It all has the
gay air of a country fair. Behind these arcades are the
regular department stores. Most of them are run by
French people. In Mexico the nationalities fall into places
established by race characteristics. The stores that appeal
to women are mainly French. The factories and many of
the banks are in the hands of Germans. The public
utilities such as gasoline, street railroads, etc., requiring
large outlays of capital are likely to be under the
management of Americans or Canadians.
Of these foreigners, the Germans have been the most
successful with the Mexicans. Young German boys of
good families and efficient education come from the
Fatherland and marry into Mexican families. They learn
the language thoroughly and the customs of the people.
Such marriages are almost invariably happy. The French
keep strictly to themselves. They have their own clubs
and their own social circles. Usually they are working
toward the day when they can retire and go home to
163 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Paris. The Americans are of various types. Mexico is
filled with young college men of charming manners and
high attainments who have gained respect and liking in
Mexico and by 'slickers' who find it convenient to
stay on the far side of the international line. A visitor to
Mexico meeting other Americans is filled either with
pride or shame; seldom by halfway emotions. One thing
that brings great discredit and contempt for American
tourists is the way the men sometimes drink. They sug-
gest nothing so much as a locomotive stopping at a desert
American women who go to live in Mexico are seldom
completely happy while they are there and are never
happy after they leave. There is something in the gay,
careless leisure that, once experienced, can never be for-
gotten. Most American women, going with their young
husbands to Mexico, get a thrill out of the unaccustomed
luxury of so many quiet servants a sweet, respectful
One thing strikes a visitor to any part of Mexico
but especially in Guadalajara, where you expect something
different. This is the complete indifference to facts. No-
body knows whether the city has twenty thousand or
two hundred thousand people; as a matter of fact, it has
about one hundred and eighty thousand. No one knows
whether the Cathedral is twenty or two thousand years
old. And nobody cares. It is not an atmosphere wherein
you take stock. The exact facts of lif e just do not matter.
You take what the day brings.
It was given to Us to visit many homes homes of the
old families with the barred windows 'on the sidewalk
and the cool, lovely patios inside: homes of young Ameri-
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 163
can business men with mission f umiture and Hollywood
trappings; homes of the intellectuals built in the new style
without patios and with front lawns; and at least one
home of almost illimitable wealth. Forsaking the charm-
ing old architecture of the Spanish era, some of the newly
rich of the revolutionary period have built a new addition
to the city the Colonia. Many of these fortunes have
come with the suddenness of a desert thunder-shower.
The new architecture in many cases is unspeakably awful.
How any architect could look at those serene old churches
and those lovely mansions in the old quarter and commit
some of these horrors passes all understanding. The
worst of them look like the offspring of a marriage be-
tween a Hollywood movie bungalow and the cover of a
Christmas candy-box. Some of them have front lawns.
I have an unreasoning prejudice against front lawns.
Why should they have followed me to Guadalajara?
Just as in Sinaloa it had been permitted to me to come
closely in contact with the life of the old haciendas, so in
Guadalajara it came my way to be guest at a dinner
attended by the aristocracy and beauty of Jalisco. The
sefiora had been educated in a private school in Los
Angeles. I had known her there. Her story is the story
of modern Mexico. Young and beautiful, she has never
known the meaning of money. It has been poured into her
lap. The daughter of a very old Spanish family, dating
back for centuries of Mexican life, her people have lived
from the land. In Sinaloa they own an enormous planta-
tion where her little-girl years were spent. In Sonora they
have mines, and many of her memories are of the wild
Yaquis who adored her distinguished father. In Michoa-
can, her brother has a great hacienda where five thousand
164 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
peons plant and reap his wheat. She has been educated
to the limit. Most of the modern languages ripple off
her tongue like music. She is married to a rarely handsome
and distinguished young man of one of the old families.
Nevertheless, I could sense that she was miserable. She
goes to her house in Mexico City; then to Europe; then to
Hollywood; then to the hacienda looking for something
that she never can find.
'You are a caged tiger/ 1 said critically.
'Yes,* she agreed. 'Exactly. We entertain and enter-
tain and entertain. "When we do not entertain, my hus-
band goes to bed at nine. Following the Spanish etiquette,
I then go to my room and for hours I walk up and down
the floor like your caged tiger. I feel that I will die if I
don't get out and where is out? '
'What you need,' I said, 'is a job.'
She leaned eagerly over the table. 'Oh, for the love of
God, give me a job; it would save me!'
'Whatkindof a job?'
'Any kind of a job ; anything to do. I must do something
or die. I am young and strong. I am not a fool. I have no
children. I have been educated. Where do I go from
'How would you like to write?'
*I would love it.'
'It could be arranged.'
'Then I am practically writing right now.'
The words of a Mexican professor with whom I had
foregathered in Mazatlan came back to me. 'The dawn
of a new day for Mexico will come,' he said, 'when the
peon woman stops grinding tortillas and begins buying
baker's bread. In other words, when the brains and the
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 165
strength of the Mexican women are released for something
About twenty years ago, Mexico suddenly leaped out
of the Middle Ages into the twentieth century. The
wonder is, not that she has had so many revolutions, but
that she has had so few. And that these revolutions have
had so little destructive effect upon the slow, steady pro-
gress of the character of the people. The effect has been
most marked upon the educated women of the better
class. In search of clothes and excitement, they make little
forays out of Mexico into other countries that have be-
come essentially matriarchal; then they go home to a
man's world. And never forget that Spanish Mexico had
its roots in a remembered Moorish culture and civilization.
The well-bred woman of Mexico two generations back
lived the life of the chatelaine of a medieval castle. Her
life was bound up in her family and a small circle of
friends. Now she finds herself cut adrift from that and
halfway into a new world where family life has ceased
functioning and where nobody has any friends just
bridge partners. To her a railroad ticket represents a
bridge between long centuries. The peon woman has been
the balance wheel. Not having the price of a railroad
ticket, she has edged her way along very slowly.
There are thoughtful minds in Mexico who see in the
character of the Mexican peon the hope that Mexico may
progress without f ailing into the fatal errors of neighbor-
ing civilizations. They are anxious, among other things,
that the Mexican farmer shall continue to regard farming
as a manner of life rather than a food factory. Most of
all that, as machinery inevitably comes into his life, it
shall remain a tool. That the machine shall be his servant
166 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
rather than his master. Most of all that money shall
remain something to spend rather than a goal to be strug-
gled for, fought for, and prayed for. But above all else
these enlightened men of better minds are anxious that
the iminsistent little Latin-Indian shall not lose his bal-
anced appreciation of the realities of lif e.
My Indian friends tell me that the white man has
ruined his own happiness because he has departed from
the world. He has built himself a world in which his
horizon is a skyscraper; he walks on man-made pavements;
he has surrendered his song to a machine; has lost his
sense of sight and smell, and most disastrous of all
has lost contact with the electric earth currents. The man
whom we call primitive regards himself as one note in a
grand symphony. The trees, the dumb animals, the rocks,
are more than his brothers; they are his other self.
The peon stands between these theories of life. His
future course is one of perilous uncertainty. I think he has
less in life and more in life than any other man with whom
I have come in contact. There is such a thing as getting
so much that you have nothing. From outward ap-
pearances it would seem that no class of people have ever
had so much as the favored children of Hollywood, for
instance. It looks as though Fate had brought to them
on a silver platter, like French pastry, all the blessings
that men fight for youth, beauty, fame, wealth. Yet,
take them as a class, if there is a more miserably unhappy
collection on the face of the earth, I should not know in
which direction to seek them. Miss Lillian Gish and I
comparing notes agreed that we did not know one
happy person among the favored children of fortune of
Hollywood. I cite Hollywood because it seems to be the
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 167
ultimate of everything that our Anglo-Saxon civilization
erects as a goal. The little peon of Mexico hasn't had many
Christmas morning oranges; but he has not had the shat-
tering tragedy of sucking them dry and finding them sour.
The woman of the type of our hostess has found herself
adrift between the two worlds. The din of the jazz or-
chestras of Hollywood has drowned out the plaintive strum
of the guitar; but she dimly realizes that jazz is the
cadence of a Hottentot prayer without any heathen
god to pray to.
Dinner she said would be at 8.30. With railroad punctu-
ality, I punched the electric bell at 8.29. No answer. I
punched and punched until my thumb gave symptoms
of collapse. I sat down on the steps for reflection; then
rose to take another punch. At last a surprised butler in
evening clothes opened the door and I managed to con-
vince hi that I was me. 'The sefiora,' he said vaguely,
'asks you to sit in the library. She has not yet dressed.'
Time means nothing in Mexico. Dinner is when you get
there, and you get there when you get there. Being a
cook in Mexico must have complications. The interval
permitted me to study one of the most beautiful houses
I have ever seen. French Empire yet Mexican a beauti-
ful drawing-room opening into a flower-perfumed patio.
Beyond the patio, the patio of the servants, still more
like retainers than servants. They spoke to the sefiora
with an easy affection under their formal respectful cour-
The guests were of the old aristocracy of Mexico. One
was a handsome young matron from an old family at
Guaymas. She looked like a Moorish princess. Everyone
seemed to have been educated in Europe. They spoke
168 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Spanish, French, or English as the topic came up. The
dinner-table might have been set for a feast of Lucullus.
The plate was of gold; likewise the goblets. All that was
needed to complete the picture was to have led in a
couple of captive emperors with strings through their
The conversation was gay, cultured, and witty but
sometimes profound. No one else has come into my ex-
perience with charm equal to a cultured Mexican. Under
his sophistication is a touch of occult mystery always a
little whisper of things unseen, an echo of ancient Aztec
and Mayan rites.
The hostess told of the aged Maria, the bread peddler.
She was a Yaqui. The sefiora encountered her first in a
public market and she came thereafter to the house to sell
Yaqui bread which attracted a whim of the moment.
One day Maria was firmly insistent that bread must
be bought even though the whim had passed. *I have/ she
said, 'to earn money for my children/
'How many children have you, then?*
'"What, not really forty-two! No; you couldn't have;
it is impossible!'
'The number/ said Maria firmly, 'is forty-two/
'But where did you get them? Certainly you didn't ../
'Battlefields/ she said briefly.
She explained that in the terrific Yaqui battles many
children were left orphans. She went around and collected
'You have had to feed forty-two children all this while? '
'Sometimes not so many sometimes twenty-five,
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 169
'How is that?'
"When I find that I have more than I can feed, I kill a
few,* said Maria. 'How much bread shall I give you,
'Maria/ gasped the senora, 'not really? You don't
mean to tell me that you actually kill the children you
'Certainly I kill them,' said Maria. '"What would you
think of me, sefiora, if I allowed the poor little things to
One day there was a murder mystery in Guadala-
jara. They were discussing it with the usual excitement
when Maria came in with the bread. She listened in, so
to speak, until they got ready to pay attention to her
'Oh,' she said, her eyes lighting up with sudden interest,
'you mean that man down there in the cornfield? I
'Maria, what on earth are you talking about?'
'Were you not discussing a man found dead in the corn-
field? He had revealed the hiding-place of one of our
priests down in the Yaqui country. I saw him when I
came here, so naturally I killed him. What would you?'
'Oh, yes naturally,' murmured the seflora.
One day Maria happened to arrive at the end of a
tiresome tea-party. As the guests departed, one of the
sefiora's young house guests exclaimed in the direction of
the departing group of ladies, 'Oh, how I would like to
kill that woman!'
The next time Maria arrived, another tea-party was
assembling. Her quick Indian eyes took in the situation.
She put down her bread-basket in a corner; pulled a long
170 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
knife from her stocking, and took up her station near the
'For God's sake, Maria!' screamed the sefiora. 'What
are you doing?*
'Show me which is the one you don't like,' said Maria
amiably. "I will kill her as she comes in.'
Maria said that her father had been killed on a Yaqui
battlefield, but that she had his skull in her home as a
'His head? Good gracious! Where did you get his head?'
'I cut it off,' said Maria simply. 'After the battle, I
went out on the field and searched until I found him and
cut off his head. I loved my father very much and
wanted something to keep by me. So I cut off his head.'
"That was hard/ said the sefiora sympathetically.
'It must have been very hard for you.'
'Yes, it was a little hard,' conceded Maria. 'Especially
that big bone at the back of the neck. That was very
hard very tough.'
It was a great relief to all concerned when Maria took
her brood back to the Yaqui country. There was too much
Roman matron in Maria.
The talk at dinner turned to the philosophy of ex-
perience as it applied to a lovely young woman who had
suffered from an unfortunate marriage, but was headed
for an encore. 'Having burned one's finger in the candle-
flame, one does not put one's finger back into the flame/
said the hostess lightly. The young man at her right
leaned over and held his finger in the flame of one of the
table candles a tall cathedral candle, shrugged his
shoulders, and put it back again into the flame humor-
ously disproving her statement. I have known several
A SPANISH CITY IN MEXICO 171
Indians who could do that with fire; never before a white
man. In some way they surround the flesh with a pro-
tection of thought...
Later in the evening, in the drawing-room, one of the
older men came across the room to me. * When are you to
start your book?' he asked.
'Book? I am not going to write a book,' I said. 'I
don't write books. I write a column in a newspaper.
When gentlemen get angry at their wives, they prop up
my column against the sugar-bowl and pretend to be
reading it. I supply the 'studied silence' that you read
about in divorce courts.'
'Nevertheless,' he said gravely, 'you are going to write
a book many books. It will be the happiest period of
'How do you know all this? You have known me only
about an hour.' , . , , . ,
He hesitated. 'It is difficult for me to explain, he said
slowly. 'Does it mean anything to you when I say that you
have come to the seventh period of your life?'
'Not a darn thing.'
'Then be content,' he said, smiling. 'And take my word
for it that you are about to write a book.'
NOTES FROM MY GUADALAJARA DIARY
WHEN I came down from my room this morning, an
amazing sight met my astonished eyes. One of the engi-
neers had been dressing up Nicolas Pinta El Nortefio.
Not that we would willingly have changed one breath or
replaced one missing front tooth from the personality of
Nicolas, but we could see that he felt embarrassed in his
ragged hickory shirt and his guarachas, now that he was el
secretario to the Gringo caballeros. Nicolas had, after
heavy meditation, announced that he was the secretary
of the expedition.
In his new clothes, his elegance was almost overwhelm-
ing. His charming old straw sombrero had been replaced
by a collegiate lid whose ribbon was of such uproarious hue
that you could feel it in the dark. His shirt and tie were a
rebel yell, and his tan shoes the most fanciful and the
tightest ever seen south of the Bio Grande. It was the
first time his feet had ever known shoes, and he was dying
by inches. He walked like a cat on a hot plate. His face
under his jauntily cocked hat was both alarmed and
agonized. But when I suggested that he take off the in-
struments of torture and put on his comfortable guaraches,
he drew back indignantly. If he had to die, he was deter-
mined to die stylishly. I observed that for the rest of the
day El Nortefio remained in one of the automobiles. He
said he had to stay there to guard it, but it was noticeable
that he did not lift his feet where they could be seen. I
NOTES FROM MY GUADALAJARA DIARY 173
had a suspicion that he was giving them a little surcease
One of the quaint sights of Guadalajara is the public
letter-writer. They are to be found elsewhere in Mexico,
but nowhere else in such profusion. Guadalajara must
have a lot of letters to write. The scribes sit around long
tables on a side street off the plaza and thump out the
missives for the cash customers on aged typewriters. In
the stories I have read about the public letter-writers of
the Orient, they are always represented as inditing sweet
messages of love. But the customers who sit at the elbows
of these Guadalajara letter-writers appear to be sending
directions for distant funerals and the letter-writers always
seem to have been incredibly bored in early youth and to
have been accumulating boredom ever since.
This afternoon we went to a bull-fight in the Plaza de
los Toros. Over the rim of the amphitheater, towers of an
old convent standing against the skyline. I had expected
to see the wealth and fashion of Guadalajara in the seats
on the shady side, but the expensive seats were half-
empty and there were no belles. Bull-fighting seems to
have ceased to be fashionable. Even the bulls did not ap-
pear to have much enthusiasm for the drama. One bull
jumped over the barrier four times looking for the way
home. He was as lithe as a greyhound.
The matadors were second-rate artists. One of them
wore a surgical plaster on his cheek where a bull had gored
him the week before in Mexico City. He looked white
and shaken. He haggled the bulls with his sword, never
making a clean kill. Once he jabbed the espada into the
174 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
animal's shoulder blade. The bull shook it off, hurling
the sword into the grandstand.
There was, however, one real thrill. A toreador, coaxing
away the bull from a fallen picador, missed his footing
and fell flat. When he scrambled to his feet, it was too
late to retreat behind the barrier. He backed off to the
wall of the bull-ring the worst place he could go and
stood with his arm raised before his face, instinctively
trying to ward off the bull which was charging. His face
wore an expression of dread and horror. There was a
crash as the wall hit the bull's horns. To our surprise the
toreador stood there unhurt. The bull happened to have
extraordinarily long horns. They hit the wall on either
side of the bull-fighter, leaving him unscathed inside a
little pen of horns.
What impressed me about the bull-fight was the world-
weary lack of zest. The crowds jeered weakly when the
matador missed the kill. Instead of cringing from their
jeers, his face wore the bitter expression of sneering
resignation of a floor-walker in a department store being
rebuked by the manager to satisfy the vanity of the
offended Mrs. Moneybags.
The tamest part of the show were the picadors. They
rode in on bored old horses who were gored to death on the
horns of bulls who had to be aggravated to the goring.
The horses struggled to their feet again with their bowels
hanging out, but with a patient expression. It struck me
as very pathetic to see how obediently they answered
the slightest touch of the bit after this act of treachery
on the part of their riders.
There was nothing heroic about the fall of the pica-
dors. They were so padded with clothes and leather
NOTES FROM MY GUADALAJARA DIARY 175
shields that a freight train could have run over them with-
out hurting them much. When their horses fell, they lay
helplessly in a wad of clothes until the other bull-fighters
helped them up. They suggested nothing so much as a
drunken old gentleman being hauled home by his scornful
wife. The most interesting chap in the whole fight was a
picador who violated all the traditions by refusing to allow
his horse to be gored by the bull. Each time the nag was
summoned to the slaughter, the picador planted his long
pike in the bull's bloody shoulder and held him there. If
the bull charged, he only forced the horse to back off. The
bull thus stopped in his tracks glared around at the
circle of toreadors in puzzled embarrassment as though
to say: 'Well, what do you suppose one does in a case like
There were, however, points of unexpected interest in
the fight. I was interested to see how the matador stepped
out alone and studied the bull when he first came out from
the dark pen. No fooling. Bull-fighting is playing tag
with death. The ability to size up the character of that
bull may be the difference between life and death for the
Another thing that impressed me was the fact that the
matador advances to the kill only after the bull has come
to the point where he says: 'Well, say, what's this all
about, anyhow? I am tired of hooking a lot of red flags
that have nothing behind them.'
The final point of drama to me was the puzzled look
that came into the eyes of the bull as, with the sword up
to the hilt in his vitals, he stood with his forefeet planted
and blood gushing from his mouth, unable to understand
the strange weakness that was taking his life away.
176 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
In the afternoon we went to pay a call of ceremony and
state to the Governor of Jalisco, of which state Guadala-
jara is the capital. The engineers wanted to secure his
cooperation in a great highway plan.
The Governor's office is in a great palace* It is one of
the most beautiful and most interesting buildings in
Mexico. It was built in 1648. Here Miguel Hidalgo y
Castilla sketched and wrote the declaration of indepen-
dence from Imperial Spain. Here in March, 1858, Benito
Juarez narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of a
lunatic. The palace has played a great part in the long
drama of Mexico.
Like many other Mexicans of the new regime, the Gov-
ernor who ruled Jalisco at the time of our visit was a self-
made man. He had been a vaquero, and even then
walked with the odd, rocking, uncertain gait of one who
has spent his time in the saddle and whose walking has
been done on high-heeled vaquero boots.
The Governor received us in a magnificent palatial room
from the walls of which the dead heroes of Mexico looked
down upon us. We sat in a row of chairs at one side of the
room. The Governor and his staff sat in a row of chairs on
the other side. A servant brought in champagne, and we
asked after the health of the Governor. Another servant
brought in cognac, and he asked after our health. He
said the State of Jalisco was honored by our presence.
We said we were honored by his words. Then we retired,
and he turned the proposition down cold and flat.
THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS
CAN you imagine what would happen if our Federal Farm
Belief Board went to the crop sufferers in some Iowa or
Arkansas town with this proposition: 'We have a way out
of your difficulties. Now that you are not making a living
out of your farms, why not let the farms go and put in
your time on one of the creative fine arts?' Yet there are
two towns near Guadalajara in which the inhabitants are
doing just that. The towns are San Pedro Tkquepaque
and Tonala. In these two towns the one form of industry
is creative art pottery. Literally everyone is a born
The Mexicans are an amazing people in this regard.
They drink in art with their mother's milk. If you will
send away your wife who thinks she knows on a vacation
and leave your landscaping to the Mexican who comes to
hoe your garden, the result will be good for your soul.
In California I had a peculiarly perplexing problem of a
terraced lot that dipped into a little barranca where a
house was to be built. In a moment of high inspiration,
I grabbed the first Mexican day laborer who came to hand
and gave him carte blanche. He was an old fellow named
Juan. The result was something very charming and
interesting. My reputation for culture and good taste and
artistic vision has glowed in the hearts of my friends ever
since. In the Mexican National Museum there is a tiny
napkin admired by thousands as a work of delicate and
178 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
lovely artistry. It was made by an old peon woman to
keep the flies off the tortillas she was peddling.
When the Spanish Conquistadores came first into the
present State of Jalisco, they found the people of Tonala
making pottery of rare beauty. The great-great-great-
great-grandsons and daughters are still making pottery
of rare beauty. I was just about to say they were making
it from the same designs, but they have no designs. They
make up the designs as they go along, as a true artist
should. That's the wonderful thing about their work.
They sit in the doorways of their adobes with an earthen
jar in their hands and a little brush of dog's hair. They
make the designs as they go. They do not even pencil
them out, yet so accurate is their instinct that, as' they
turn the jars round and round following the design, the
figures all fit always meet on the far side with mathe-
Sometimes the whole family works at the job. You see
them sitting in circles in the adobe doorways or in the little
patios, quiet and contented. That little town of the pot-
ters snuggled into my heart. In traffic jams with a thou-
sand automobiles spitting out poison carbon monoxide,
when the desk telephone rings and the town clatters and
roars around me until I am one lap from the insane asylum,
I think of the little peasants of Tonala, sitting in the dirt
and the dust and fleas, in their white cotton clothes and
their bare feet, a beautiful work of art taking shape in
their hands and a gentle serenity in their faces. We are
a mad people, straining and pushing and throat-cutting
and tricking and double-crossing and what have we
that the little gentle people of art in Tonala have not?
I gained philosophy from an old man in Tonala.
IN TONALA, THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS
THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS 179
'Why, sefior, do you hurry, hurry, hurry?'
'Well um er I hope to achieve something in
'Achieve? What is that, sefior?'
'Well, don't you see maybe if I hurry, I could get
famous or something.'
'What is famous?'
'Why, you know where everybody talks about you. 5
'Everybody would talk about you if you had three
legs or six fingers/
Feeling compelled me to re-form my defenses. I said:
'I hurry that I may not starve in my old age.'
'Don't your children and your friends like you?'
'I don't know; perhaps they like me well enough.*
* Would they, then, let you starve?'
'Well, you see it's like this,' I said desperately. "They
will have their own burdens when I get old. As a matter
of pride I do not wish to live on their bounty. There-
fore, I hurry, hurry, hurry.'
'You have strange ideas, sefior,' he observed. 'You
would rather hurry, hurry, hurry, and make yourself
miserable for sixty-five or seventy years rather than en-
dure the small and brief discomfort of starving, which
at the most would be a matter of ten or twelve days.'
I don't suppose that Tonala is an Elysium, but you can't
walk those little narrow, dirty streets, between the rows
of peaceful adobes, and watch the pottery painters with
their cotton drawers and their dog's-hair brushes without
thinking of Kipling's lines:
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star
Shall draw the Thing as he sees it for the God of Things as They are.
180 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
A few years ago a Gringo hurrying 'gent* with a grand
inspiration collected a group of these Tonala potters and
lugged them off to California, where he planted them in
houses with modern plumbing, gave them more money
than they knew was in the world, and turned on the glories
of the white man's civilization. They were so miserably
unhappy, so homesick for the dust and dirt and the sunny
doorways of Tonala, that they couldn't work, so he had to
let them go home again.
There is one little peon in guarachas who is an artist
of such celebrity that his work has been placed in the
National Museum and has been exhibited in Europe.
Yet he seems to be quite innocent of the fact that he is
famous. He is*just an abashed little peasant with a gentle,
timid smile and a soul. I paid a visit of deep respect to his
studio. It is an adobe hut in his back yard. Most of the
time he and his wife do their work out in the yard, where
the pig is tied up by one front leg. Having found a design
that delighted my soul, I asked him if he would make
eleven more like it. He shrugged his shoulders, but he
could not summon the unkindness to refuse. His price,
however, was approximately two and a half times the
price of the original. When I expressed astonishment, he
intimated that it bored him to copy things. I retired
And so they sit in the doorways making pottery tall
carafe-shaped botellones for cool water made of a clay
called loza de olor; it has a peculiar dean smell and a
slight tang that gets into the taste of the water; wide-
mouthed oiks for cooking or for making chocolate;
jacaras, the soup plates, water tumblers called vasos; odd
ollas shaped like a drop of water with a flat flange around
the mouth for aguardiente. . .
THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS 181
The clay for the pottery comes from a hill near the town,
a hill of mystery and legend. There was once a great queen
(legend says she was white) who ruled over the Indians of
Tonala. Her name was Cihuapilla. When the Spanish
came, she was ruling over the ancestors of the present
Indians of Tonala and San Pedro and the lands beyond.
She made a treaty with the Conquistadores, which docu-
ment is still preserved in an old monastery. Being a mis-
tress of diplomacy and statecraft, she outgeneraled
Alvarado, Guzman, and their diplomats. They were not
unduly embarrassed by that fact, however. They simply
disregarded the treaty after the manner of conquerors.
At the time of her grandeur she had a great palace on the
top of the hill from which the potters get their clay. If
there actually was such a place, it has long since disap-
peared. But her spirit lingers. Because of her influence,
no clay can be found elsewhere that lends itself to the mira-
cle of the Tonala pottery.
As with everything else in Mexico, there is mystery in
Tonala. There are in the town two peons who, of course,
made pottery. Let them be called Pedro and Pablo.
Pedro's pottery was taken away to a museum to be ex-
hibited. Pablo became madly jealous. He put the Indian
curse on Pedro; sent word to him that because of the
curse he would presently die in great agony. Whereupon
the evil-thinking Pablo sat down and made a little clay
image of Pedro. The middle of it was made solid as a
rock from native cement. Pedro became very ill. His
stomach and bowels would not function. It was as though
the middle of him had turned into solid rock. Death
whispered to Pedro. Pedro's old mother, being a woman of
courage and infinite resource, went to Pablo's house in
182 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
secret. She found the bewitched figure of her son. Work-
ing with furious haste and being no mean potter her-
self she made a figure exactly like Pablo's cursed work,
except that the middle was not ossified. Then she made
another secret visit; substituted her figure of Pedro for the
taboo. Safely outside, she smashed the witch figure on a
stone. Pedro slept peacefully that night. In the morning
he had taken a marked turn for the better. In a few days
he was well, his stomach and bowels having returned to the
Pablo, expecting to find him dead, met Pedro blithely
walking along the street. Embracing his enemy, the
wicked Pablo begged to be forgiven. *I have tried to kill
one whom the gods have taken under their personal pro-
tection/ he said. To Pablo's immeasurable relief, Pedro
forgave him on the spot. Ever since then they have been
the best of friends.
I shall never forget the blind street minstrel of Tonala.
He was a sad old man with a guitar. He was led around
the streets by a ragged little boy who sat on the ground
and threw pebbles at marks while the old man sang.
We asked him to sing this and that for us, and it struck
me afterward that the songs we asked for were not only
grotesquely inappropriate, but a little cruel in the cir-
cumstances. He sang them all in the fiat, lusterless voice
of the blind. Most of them were gay little songs of love
and romance... Cielito Lindo and Negra Consentida and
Estrelliia. I wondered, as he sang, if the songs called to
his blind eyes the visions that they called to mine of
sefioritas with flashing black eyes seen under lace mantillas,
of little red heels on satin shoes that clicked through the
measures of the jarabe and the jota. And how strange it
THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS ISB
must have seemed to him, hearing voices in a strange,
unknown tongue calling for these songs, and having coins
larger than he had ever felt dropping from the mystery of
the eternal night of his sightlessness into his hands!
Near Tonala is the old town of San Pedro TIaquepaque.
It is also a pottery town, but rather touristy. Before the
first of the twenty-year series of revolutions deposed
Porfirio Diaz, San Pedro was a fashionable suburb of
Guadalajara. Remnants of the glory remain in the form
of quintas suburban villas of great elegance and lux-
ury. One especially remains in my memory.
You enter the heavy studded front door into a sort of
loggia which was part foyer, part living-room for the
family. It opened directly into an enormous patio, a
great courtyard in which a battalion of troops could be
maneuvered. In some of the large quintas, a huerta a
family orchard stands behind the wall of the patio. In
this case, the huerta was in a side patio down upon which
you could look from some of the bedrooms.
Around the courtyard were the rooms of the establish-
ment. On one side were the quarters of the servants, who
must have been a young army. On another side, the
kitchens, laundries, and storehouses. On a fourth side
were the apartments of the more intimate retainers of the
family. The house itself was in two stories, the master
bedrooms being on the upper floor. The courtyard had an
enormous gate which could be thrown open to admit
wagons and teams, then closed for defense. A high wall
surrounded the courtyard.
In looking these places over, I was struck by the dif-
ference between them and the old California houses I had
seen. The California ranch-houses were all low one-story
184 OLD MOTHEE MEXICO
adobes built around patios. They suggest peace and in-
timacy - simple homes in a country where everyone was
literally a cousin of everyone else and where there was
nothing to fear. All Mexican houses, on the other hand,
suggest danger and tragedy heavy studded doors, for-
tress gates, bullet-torn towers, death, tears, blood, and
Guadalajara has other alluring suburban places. One of
these is Zapopan. There is an old church and monastery
that have more flavor than is to be found anywhere else I
know of in Mexico. In August, it has one of the most
interesting cermonies to be found in the country. In front
of the monastery, which was built in the seventeenth
century, is a great courtyard. During this celebration in
August, the Indians go into camp there. A lodging for the
night is a simple process for the Indian tourists. They
wrap up in a serape and squat up against the wall with
the missus and the kids. On the great day, the faithful
come from their homes hi Guadalajara and they come on
their knees a twenty-minute journey on a street car.
All day long and sometimes all day and all night
they come edging along on their knees, praying and telling
their beads as they come. It is custom and etiquette to
spread a blanket or a serape in the fashion of Sir
Walter Raleigh for then* poor knees to rest on a moment
if you pass them in the road.
The climax of the festival is a native pageant a
representation of the story of the conquest of Jalisco by
the Spanish, presumably to call the attention of the Saints
of the Sky to the dirty deal the Indians had at the hands
of the Conquistadores. The Indians take the parts both
of the Indians who suffered and of the Spanish knights at
THE TOWN OF THE POTTERS 185
whose hands they suffered. A little Jalisco Indian, dressed
up as a Spanish knight and talking in the way he thinks
the knights must have talked, is something not to be
A MEXICAN EASTER
EASTER WEEK came while we were in Guadalajara.
The festival was of unusual significance that year. For
two or three years the priests had been in exile. Some of
them had been hunted down and killed. Others had been
driven out. During this period the faithful had worshiped
by themselves in the dim old churches. I had seen them
during this period. It was poignant drama. I had seen old
women crawling in on their knees over rough country
roads to the churches, prostrating themselves to the last
rags of humility, that God might be moved by their
sorrow and send them back their priests. In the cathedral
at Guadalajara I had seen young girls kneeling before the
altars with crowns of thorns on their heads. I had seen
peons standing for hours in the silent churches with arms
outstretched expressions of rapt devotion in their dark
eyes, standing in the position of Christ on the Cross, im-
ploring God to relent and send back their priests.
And now it was Easter and the priests had come back.
Judas was hanged on every street-comer in revenge for
his mortal sin. The Judas is as much a part of a Mexican
Easter as the painted Easter egg is of our Easter. The
Judas is usually a doll of grotesque ugliness. These dolls
range all the way from tiny pocket-sized souvenirs to
enormous dangling effigies that are strung across the
streets on ropes like election banners. Judas is shot and
kicked and burned and jeered. It suggests nothing so
A MEXICAN EASTEB 187
'much as an American crowd yelling at the umpire at a
With the beginning of Holy Week, the church bells of
the city were stilled. The faithful were called to worship
by the clatter of wooden wheels slapping on wood clappers.
Curtains had been dropped over the holy images in the
churches. By Wednesday it had become like a city of the
dead. A hush seemed to fall over the streets. The taxi-
cabs honking at the corners sounded like voices in a
tomb. Even the sedate old horses dragging the quaint
little open park carriages seemed to go slower if that
Miercoles de Ceniza Ash Wednesday... the Holy
Drama was rising to an intense climax.
Jueves Santo Holy Thursday the night of the
'Visitar los Monumentos,' when each penitent must visit
seven different churches and make the Stations of the
C ross __ the time before Easter when Holy Communion
may be taken.
Word had come to me that the Archbishop of Jalisco,
one of the great lords of the Mexican Catholic Church,
would receive me at his home Francisco Orosco
Jimenez. He was a lovely, gentle old man with a hand-
some, patrician face a regal bearing, but a manner of
winning simplicity. We were ushered into his presence in
a splendid old drawing-room with deep recessed windows
and cool, deep shadows. He was a very old man and his
face was white with fatigue. We knew he had not eaten
that day, so we shook his hands while our guide, like a
good Catholic, knelt to kiss the seal ring of the Arch-
bishopric. Then we prepared to withdraw. 'No, no,' he
said in the quaint precise English of one who had learned
188 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
it from a book and a library, "you must not go. I do not
want you to go.' Several times we rose to take our leave,
but each time his thin, ascetic, beautiful hands pushed us
back into our chairs. "Do you want me to be cross with
you?' he asked. * Then sit down. I do not want you to go.'
It was the hour of his quiet triumph. He told us that
the year before he had celebrated Easter Mass in the
darkened room of a lonely adobe house hidden in the
mountains, conducting the service almost in whispers,
with one priest to assist. 'As you well know,' he said to
the Mexican gentleman who had conducted us into his
presence. We also smiled, for we knew that it was this
faithful friend who had carried news and food to the hiding-
place during those days of peril. Daring death, not at
the hands of the Government, but of bands of fanatics.
'And now/ said the Archbishop, smiling.
And now we knew that on Easter morning there was to
be a magnificent High Pontifical Mass, with fifty priests
assisting the Archbishop.
When we finally insisted on leaving, in order that he
might rest before the ordeal of the afternoon, the Arch-
bishop got up with us and showed us over the old house.
It was an interesting type of a city house of the aristocracy
of an earlier day. It belonged to a family named Moreno.
It had been tendered to him as a home until a new palace
could be arranged. It was a charming old place of strange,
unexpected passageways, lovely old worn stone stairways
that twisted and turned in and out of little balconies.
The Archbishop's study was a bare little cell at the top
of the house, bare save for a rawhide bed, a simple table
and a Holy Crucifix.
That afternoon, by the Archbishop's special invitation,
A MEXICAN EASTER 189
we attended one of the most interesting of all ceremonies
of Easter week the Washing of the Feet. The cathe-
dral was crowded to the doors. But a Mexican crowd
lacks the football instincts of an American crowd. Every-
one stood patiently where he found himself. Except our-
selves. Magic hands seemed to open a way for us through
the press until we found ourselves at last inside the chancel
rail in the sanctuary.
The ceremony was long and intricate and beautiful.
It ended with the Archbishop washing the feet of twelve
old men who sat in a row in front of the altar. In theory
they had been picked up on the street. One was an old
peon in white cotton pants and guarachas. Another was
a fat old man with an imitation gold watch-chain across
his shabby vest. One was a dignified old gentleman with
a cane; his face bore the marks of better days. One was
plainly of Indian blood. They were embarrassed and very
miserable, but I was interested to see how quietly they
could sit and still be obviously ill at ease. Their bodies
were absolutely motionless during the whole ceremony,
and they did not fiddle with their hands. Their faces were
inscrutable and without expression. Yet I felt that they
were wretchedly unhappy at having an Archbishop wash
Just before the climax of the ceremony, the magnificence
of the Archbishop's robes had been changed to a simple
vestment of white, signifying purity and humility. A
little processional started at one end of the line of twelve
who sat, each with one foot bare those pathetic old
bare feet with their ludicrous big toes. Several priests
followed the Archbishop down the line of feet. One car-
ried a large silver pitcher; another, a basin. The basin
190 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
was put on the floor under each foot, and the priest with
the pitcher poured out a tiny stream of water over the
bare foot. A third priest handed the Archbishop a cloth,
a beautiful linen towel edged with Mexican drawn-work.
With this he wiped the water from the uplif ted foot and
bent to press Ms lips upon the flesh. I have never seen
anybody look more utterly miserable than the peasant
whose foot was being kissed.
That afternoon all of Guadalajara's fifty odd churches
were thronged with penitents waiting to confess their
sins in preparation for Easter. There were many touches
of poignant and pathetic drama. In the old sixteenth-
century church of San Francisco sat an old, old man wait-
ing for the priest. His bullet-shaped head was white; his
face, worn and tired. Finally, a door opened at the rear
of the church and a priest in brown robes came out. He,
too, was very, very old. His withered skin was like parch-
ment. He did not go to one of the confessionals. He took
his seat on a rough wooden bench, worn with age. He
beckoned to the old penitent, who crossed the dim church
and knelt by the bench. Tears were running down his
deep-furrowed cheeks. He sank to his knees, and his tears
ran down into the lap of the priest's coarse brown Fran-
ciscan robe. For a while the priest laid one delicate,
ascetic hand on the old man's head and allowed h to
cry. Then he bent his head to listen to the confession.
Their two old whitened heads were together. The penitent
held his lips close to the priest's head and whispered so for
a long time. Now and then the priest would nod his
head as though in understanding. At last, the story
finished, the old man who was confessing knelt with bent
head waiting for his answer. The priest sat in silence for
A MEXICAN EASTER 191
a moment. Then he spoke quietly; made the sign of the
Cross; rose and walked back to the room from which he
had come and shut the door. The old man remained
kneeling for a while at the bench. Then he rose stiffly
and wearily to his feet and walked back to the rear of the
church, where he knelt again on the old, old tiles that had
so often been wet with tears. The last I saw of him, he
was telling the beads of his rosary and the tears were wet
on his cheeks and upon his mumbling lips.
That night the Visitar los Monumentos. Each faithful
Catholic visited seven different churches, saying the
prayers of the Way of the Cross in each church. It was a
ceremony touching and interesting. Often whole families
made the round together. One such group we met in
church after church that night. The group consisted of a
bent old grandmother, her son and daughter-in-law and
their four children. One was a girl of about eighteen. In
Spanish she read aloud the ritual of their prayers and
litanies the story of the Christ and His divine sacrifice.
They knelt in front of each station; prayed while she read
aloud from the book. Then on to the next sacred image.
And so on through seven great dim churches with their
veiled altars, the faint, musty smell of old buildings cut
by the acrid odor of incense.
The cathedral, with its great Byzantine towers which
dominate the city, its paintings by the old masters;
San Francisco, with its ancient Baroque fagade and its
pigeons; El Carmen, with its allegoricals done by native
Indians; Jesus Maria, with its famous Santisima Virgen del
Bayo; the Santuario de Nuestra Sefiora de Guadalupe...
My favorite of all is one of the smallest churches, the
little old Church of Our Lady of Aranzazu, with its golden
192 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
altar and its quaint figure o! the Christ with false hair.
Gold used in decoration is pretty awful, but gold in mass
like this altar is beautiful and impressive. Santa Monica,
with its crude statues, one of which was used in olden times
by bandits as a hiding-place for their loot churches and
churches and churches . . .
THE LAKE COUNTRY
ONE always thinks of Mexico as a country of sagebrush,
deserts, skinny cow-ponies, and horned toads. On Easter
morning we started through a Mexico of great pine forests,
crystal lakes, wheatfields, and fine horses.
Some day, this part of Mexico will become one of the
great tourist resorts of the world. It has everything
wild, picturesque beauty, history, tradition, interest, ro-
mance all, thus far, unspoiled by tourist hotels, dude
ranches, and radio announcers.
Just out from Guadalajara, climbing to the high pla-
teaus, we rode through an interesting sociological experi-
ment. It is a great tract of land subdivided into model
farms. Model farmhouses more like Hollywood cottages
than old-time Mexican ranch-houses have been built
as part of the movement to put the peon on his own land.
At which point, I now proceed to run for my lif e. There
are two subjects to be avoided in Mexico as one avoids
scorpions and rattlesnake poison. These are the agrarian
question and the labor question. Both are loaded^ with
dynamite. Perhaps one may take a desperate chance and
say simply this: that after the revolution which deposed
Porfirio Diaz, the movement was started to cut up the
big haciendas and distribute the land among the peasants.
The hacendados contend that what has been the property
of their families through many generations has been
wrested from them without right; that the peasants do
194 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
not know how to farm or manage the land after they get
it, and that they end in cultivating enough corn for the
family tortillas and the rest lies idle. The contention of
the agrarian is that the land titles of the hacendados have
no real basis in justice, law, or equity, and that the peon
cannot be blamed for his lack of ability as a farm execu-
tive. He will progress as Mexico progresses.
The labor question is one still more bitter. The em-
ployers claim that the labor laws are harsh and oppressive.
The laborers claim that only by such regulation have they
been set free from slavery. You can roll your own con-
clusion; that cloud of dust flying down the road is me.
The road from Guadalajara leads to Lake Chapala,
one of the most charming and beautiful places .on the
American continent. The playground of the city of Gua-
dalajara, Chapala, is the scene of D. H. Lawrence's novel,
"The Plumed Serpent/ The English novelist was one of
the first to examine the soul of the Mexican peon. He re-
corded shrewd and brilliant conclusions about them in his
novel: 'Women were coming up between the trees on the
patch from the lake with jars of water on their shoulders;
children were playing around the doors, squatting with
their naked little posteriors in deep dust; and here and
there a goat was tethered. Men in soiled clothes were
lounging, with folded arms and one leg crossed in front of
the other, against a corner of the house or crouching under
the walls. Not by any means dolce far niente. They
seemed to be waiting eternally waiting for something/
Again he makes one of his characters say: 'Mexico is
like an old, old egg that the Bird of Time laid long ago:
and she has been sitting on it for centuries till it looks
foul in the nest of the world. But still it is a good egg.
THE LAKE COUNTRY 105
It is not addled. Only the spark of fire has never gone into
the middle of it to start it/
He speaks of the Mexican's strange indifference to
death. 'They are strong to carry heavy loads, but they
die easily. They eat all the wrong things and they don't
mind dying. They have many children, and they like
their children very much, but when the child dies, the
parents say, "Ah, he will be an angelito." So they cheer
up and feel as if they had been given a present/
He speaks of a dance where the dancers were artisans,
mechanics, or railroad porters. No peons danced. 'Be-
fore very long the organdie butterflies and the flannel-
trouser fifis gave in, succumbed, crushed once more be-
neath the stone-heavy passivity. Down on it all, like a
weight of obsidian, comes the passive negation of the
Indian. He understands soul which is not of the blood,
but spirit, which is superior and is the quality of our civili-
zation, this in the mass he darkly and barbarically repudi-
ates. Not until he becomes an artisan or connected with
machinery does the modern spirit get him . . .
'And against the dark flow of the Indian, the white
man at last collapses; with his God and his energy he
Although many Mexicans laugh at the * Winged Ser-
pent,' it is true that in the deeper phases of Mexican life
one always has the sense of a people waiting for a terrific
and mysterious Past to overtake them.
One of the great artists of Mexico has a school, attended
by many young children of Indian ancestry. To one who
came to Fm with pleading dark eyes, he said: 'My little
dear one, in your heart are the whispered memories of
the most remarkable race of artists who ever lived on this
196 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
earth. I would not have the impertinence to try to tell
you how to paint pictures. See, here is paint and here is
a brush.' The work of this child has since been seen in the
great art galleries of Europe. Even in the ironic carica-
tures of young Covarubias a sophisticate of sophisti-
cates there are wild, untamed memories. I do not know
whether people are born again in new bodies, but the
spirits of the great Aztec, Toltec, and Mayan civiliza-
tions are slipping back again to finish the saga inter-
rupted by blood and conquest.
The West Coast of Mexico, along which we had been
traveling, has always been a military frontier, an affair
of the outposts to which professional soldiers had been sent
to lonely garrisons to fight back the natives while the
engineers explored the hills for gold. The country to which
we had now come had always been a more or less settled
country a country of memories and mystery, a country
where the wind in the wheat seems to whisper in strange,
We passed quaint little villages with old weather-beaten
churches on this Easter morning thronged with peas-
ants. In one old town was a strange, eight-sided monu-
ment, ornate with figures and sacred carvings erected to
the memory of one of the Popes. La Barca is a quaint
little old town on the banks of a sleepy river which forms
the boundaries of the states of Jalisco and Michoacan.
The rural committee had been waiting at La Barca for us
for hours. They led us on a formal ride through a city park
planted with camphor trees and brought us finally to a
grove where a table had been set out under the trees. It
A splendid banquet of young goats* flesh and tortillas
THE LAKE COUNTRY 197
and frijoles and goodness knows what was cooking in an
oven made of stones. The cook was an old Southern
mammy. She was a thin old darkey with snow-white
hair and skinny, claw-like hands and the plaintive melan-
choly of her race. You would expect to find her in a
bandana making beaten biscuits, but here she was making
fiery hot dishes in a strange land. She had forgotten her
own language and looked at us uncomprehendingly when
we spoke to her in English. She, of all the people at the
party, seemed to take no interest whatever in us. To her
it was another job. Her story was easy to reconstruct
a handsome young soldier in a Mexican garrison on the
border and a likely mulatto gal from the cotton-fields of
Texas then a lifetime of exile in a strange land. She
cooked one of the best dinners I ate in Mexico.
As we ate, the village orchestra came to the side of the
table and played. The musicians were not like the gay
fat fellows we had seen in Northern Mexico. There were
four players. The leader was a young violinist with a
delicate, ascetic face and long black hair that poured down
over his face until he shook it back. The cornetist was an
old, old man, almost in rags. There was a younger man
with an ancient 'cello. He had broken off the spike which
supported it on the ground, so he had hung it around his
neck with a rope. The fourth member of the orchestra
was a young boy with a guitar. For our benefit they had
learned American tunes and laboriously and painfully
fiddled out that infernal ditty from Tin-Pan Alley, 'Show
Me the Way to Go Home/ They sighed with relief when
we sent word by El Nortefio to ask them to play only
Mexican music. They could play anything. One piece
for which we asked they had never heard of, whereupon a
198 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
member of the reception committee left the table and went
over to hum it to them. The young leader nodded gravely
and began to play it with the other musicians 'follow-
ing* as though that had been their orchestra pttce de
resistance all the days of then* lives.
While the luncheon was still going on, another orchestra,
this one of Mexican gypsies, whirled in from another
town. With a most patronizing air they took the center
of the stage while the little ragged orchestra retired behind
a big camphor tree and listened with patient, unresentf ul
I watched the face of the old Negro woman while this
little drama was going on. She continued to plod back
and forth from her barbecue oven in the ground to the
banquet table without one human sign of interest. Only
the deep melancholy of her race. It was an interesting
vignette of primitive racial contrasts of the peasants
of two races which have suffered bitterly and endured
while bound to the soil; who have been in virtual slavery
and who have worn out the fetters that bound them.
The Negro has emerged with a deep, melancholy resigna-
tion through which bursts an unquenchable gayety of
heart: emerged with a religious emotion that expresses
itself in wailing spirituals that plead for a Paradise with
golden chariots and fancy harps. The Mexican has
emerged also with a resignation that is an acceptance of
the dictates of God; but he is a rebel against men. The
emotion of the Mexican heart is expressed in songs of a
witty and sardonic humor; in fine irony and withering
ridicule. I couldn't imagine a Mexican singing a spiritual.
He clings to the hope of celestial life that will be his reward
for suffering, but he neither hopes for nor expects fanciful
THE LAKE COUNTRY 199
heavens with gold streets. His religion is an obedient
homage to a divine ruler to the celestial commander-
in-chief. He stands in silence with outstretched arms in
his church, torturing himself with penitential fatigue or
whispers his prayers in dim old cathedrals to El Seftor
Jesus Christ the Master. The songs of the Negro are
the songs of his servitude in the cotton-fields. The songs
of the Mexican are songs of a freed soil like Cuatro
Milpas that tell of a soldier's return to his cornfield
ruined by the Revolution. There is always a suggestion
of death in almost everything a Mexican does. He always
marches to war yelling Death to somebody or other.
Yet to him death is relatively nothing.
The more you know about Indians, the better you can
understand the Mexican peon, for the roots of his being
are Indian. Yet there is an essential difference. There is
the same element of masked sarcastic humor; the same
touch of sardonic malice. But in the case of the Mexican,
it is a mask of courtesy a charming smile that goes to
the lips and is not of the eyes. In the case of the Navajo,
the Sioux, or the Apache, it is a mask of open scorn. The
American Indian would never and could never have en-
dured the bitter slavery and oppression of the Spanish
Conquest. He would have died fighting. The final irony
accomplished by the Mexican Indian is that he is breeding
into extinction and oblivion the races that kept him in
slavery. The one hope of survival of the proud war peoples
of the plains is in merging quietly into the white races.
The Mexican Indians are reasonably certain of holding
the trenches until the day when Mexico is virtually an
Indian nation. It will be a great day. It is good blood.
When modern highways are built, this route that we
200 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
traveled will be thronged with tourist cars. We had long
days on wonderful panoramas, lakes and glorious moun-
tains a crystal fairy lake called Canecuaro hidden by
willows. We were paddled out across its clear depths by
an Indian in a boat that was a hollo wed-out log. It was a
place for naiads who live in deep waters... and again a
valley where sulphur springs come bubbling out of the
ground furiously hot... a vivid green lake on a high hill
in the crater of an extinct volcano... dreary little villages
that seemed to have no reason for being there... roads
turned to sticky gruel in the heavy rains... bands of
musicians waiting to welcome us to tiny, sad pueblos...
fields of waving wheat . . . landscapes like Turner paintings
seen from hilltops... stone houses... the gates of great
haciendas... villages of sullen, sardonic Indians where not
a Mexican face was to be seen... ox-carts... burros...
peon horsemen mounted on superb steeds . . . sombreros . . .
dark faces... sashes... spurs...
And at last Zamora. This is an interesting old city
which in the rainy season is marooned from the rest of
Mexico. It has two old churches which rear themselves
over the town with an ancient splendor of bell-towers and
weathered walls. There is the inevitable plaza and the
inevitable band; and around the plaza an arcade of shops
scarlet serapes hanging against the adobe walls, gua-
rachas stacked on the sidewalk, sombreros on the shelves,
candies in little glass boxes, saddles and silver bridles...
We were escorted in state to a hotel, where the stair-
ways to the second floor run up from a charming old
patio. My bedroom fronted on a street that was a pro-
cessional of Old Mexico packed burros weaving their
way through the traffic; grave-looking peons with serapes
THE LAKE COUNTRY 201
hanging over their shoulders and huge sombreros tilted
down over their eyes; women in open doorways; lovely
young girls making their demure way down the sidewalk,
watching the Gringo cars out of the corners of dark eyes
with shy curiosity. Farther north in Sonora the sefioritas
are not so different from our own flappers; but in these
mountain valleys they are still the sefioritas of the Spanish
The sweet old criada raps at the door of my room,
asking me if she can help me in any way. I am only half-
dressed, but the Mexicans have no mawkish modesty.
She insists on helping me drag off my heavy field boots.
She has only one English word 'Flit.' I take a look at
the bed, which is a little fortress guarded by mosquito-
netting. 'Si; gracias, sefiora. FLV She gallops off after
the Flit. She not only sprinkles the whole room and all
the crannies, but crawls under the bed on her hands and
knees in relentless pursuit of the enemy. Her gratitude
has a note of surprise when I give her a half-peso cin-
cuenta centavos. The Mexican peasants are sweet. When
we leave the hotel next morning, she is there to say Good-
bye, but waits bashfully until I say, 'Vaya con dios,
sefiora,' before she has the temerity to say that lovely
phrase. She has the shy timidity of a little girl, yet I
know she would face death without a tremor without an
expression in her inscrutable, calm eyes.
All the grandees of the town were on hand for dinner,
which was served at a long table under a portico at the
edge of the patio. I sat next a young fellow who was
general manager of the water company. I mentioned his
excellent English, and he told me that he had lived in
Los Angeles; had been educated at a Los Angeles business
202 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
coDege. His people had been among the refugees driven
from Mexico at the time of the overthrow of Porfirio Diaz.
'Providence works for good in his own way/ he said.
"There is nothing so important in the world, sefior, as
that there should be a complete understanding between
Mexico and the United States. Europe is dying in her
ashes in her old hatreds. It is for our two countries
to make a new world over here. Nature has given us
everything but understanding. That is for us to work
out. It is being worked out in two ways by the Mexican
boys who go to the United States as children and return
here with a complete appreciation of your people. The
other way is through the American travelers who are
coming to Mexico to look and understand and go home to
relate what they have seen. They are coming in increas-
ing numbers every year and are going home knowing
what is in our hearts.'
He said he was doing what he could to bring modern
business conditions into his work hi this placid old town.
But he wistfully confessed that he wished he were back in
California. He was happy; yes, he thought he was happy;
nevertheless, it was nice in Hollywood. 'I like the people
of the United States,' he said. 'They have warm hearts
and quick sympathies. They have biff and bang and pep,
yet they are human and very kind.'
The contrasts of Old Mexico are a never-ending delight.
That night we walked down the ancient streets and across
the plaza at the hour of the paseo when the sefioritas
walk in one direction, the gallant young caballeros in the
opposite direction, passing and repassing, the old, old
hour of the flirtations a custom as old as the Moorish
invasion of Spain. We went through the paseo, through
THE LAKE COUNTRY 203
old studded doorways to a patio that had been the middle
of a long-forgotten inn there to see two teams of college
boys playing a furious game of basketball with the 'rah,
'rah, *rahs, coaches on the sidelines and outbursts from the
cheering fans and f annettes.
THEY CAME BEFORE THE AZTECS
THE next day we rode through a country peopled by
strange and ancient gods. The Tarasco Indians can fairly
defend themselves from any possible charge that they are
tenderfeet in the country. They are old settlers. They
were here in the lake country of Michoacan before the
Aztecs came wandering down from the north a half-
savage hunter people.
The Aztecs came; endured a species of slavery; fought
their way to freedom like the Children of Israel; built a
mighty empire; were wiped out. But the Tarascos are
still living in their little stone villages scornful, con-
temptuous, and unmoved. Aztec, Spanish knight, Mexi-
can, Gringo they all look equally unimportant to the
Were I an artist trying to figure out a picture that
would represent 'Contempt/ my model would be a little
Tarasco Indian boy who hitch-hiked a ride on the back
of one of our cars. We had been riding all morning through
the Tarasco villages eleven in all little houses of
stone crowded together on narrow, rocky roads; back of
them a landscape of surpassing beauty; wind rippling
through wheatfields backed by great mountains heavy with
timber. The Tarasco women sat in the doorways and
watched with malicious scorn. They looked like Apaches
billowing calico skirts ten yards wide. They watched as
though we were bugs and not a desirable variety of bug.
THEY CAME BEFORE THE AZTECS 205
A boy about twelve hooked a ride on one of the cars,
perching himself inside the extra tire. In the car im-
mediately behind sat a colonel of the Mexican army an
aide of the Governor of Michoacan, a potentate. The
colonel shouted a sharp order for the boy to get off the
car. The little Indian gave him a glance of calm insolence;
then looked away to a leisurely contemplation of the
landscape. The colonel raved and roared, standing up in
the car and shaking his impotent fists. To tell the truth,
he looked as though he were about to disintegrate from
spontaneous combustion. The little Indian glanced at
him again with casual interest and curiosity; then retired
into his own philosophic contemplations. At last, when
the free ride had begun to lose its zest, he slid off and
waited at the roadside for the colonel's car to come up.
The colonel stopped the car and screamed a torrent of
denunciation at the boy, who stood there, erect and
proud and withering in his contempt. When the colonel
had absolutely exhausted his vocabulary and his larynx,
the boy threw the end of his serape back over his shoulder,
turned coolly and contemptuously away to walk back to
his village. All of which is probably to be classified as one
of the reasons why the Tarascos are an unconquered people.
In one of the oldest of these Tarasco towns, the in-
habitants make a very interesting kind of glazed pottery.
Long before the arrival of the invading Aztecs in Mexico,
there was a race called the Toltecs of whom little is known
except that they were master craftsmen. Toward the
end of their reign in the Valley of Mexico, they came
wandering north into Michoacan. Here they encountered
the Tarascans; taught them some of their arts among
them the art of making this glazed pottery.
206 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
I went up to a group of Indian women, watching us
from the end of one of the dingy old streets. I showed
them that I wanted to buy some glazed pottery. They
turned away and scurried into the house but did not
come back with glazed pottery. Finally, I found a boy
who was playing a lone game of tossing a basketball into
a basket, with his serape over his shoulder. He was
obviously bored, but finally, at my request, stopped a
woman who was carrying a magnificent glazed bowl under
her arm. He made known my wants. She did not even
hesitate, but continued her walk. 'She doesn't care to
sell you any pottery,' he said indifferently, as he went
back to his basketball. On the whole I don't feel that I
was exactly what you could call a social riot with the
Zacapu is hoary with romance and mystery as well as
age. The town lies in the lee of a hill. On the hill stands
a blockhouse like a fortress of the Middle Ages. The
story of this hill runs back to a time before there was
history. To stand under the hill of Zacapu is like standing
in the shadows of Mount Olympus in Greece.
On these hills there once lived a long-forgotten tribe of
hunter people. They were ruled by a king named Ticatame*
who was half a god. Under his direction, the tribe moved
restlessly on down the valleys until they came to Lake
Patzcuaro, about whose shores lived the ancestors of the
Tarascans. They were sedentary people who lived by
planting crops in the lush wet lands by the lake and by
fishing in its blue, sparkling waters. In all probability
there was a grand fight down there by the lake shores;
but they finally patched up the quarrel and the tribe
THEY CAME BEFORE THE AZTECS 07
from the hills of Zacapu settled down. Eventually they
became the dominant faction of the merged tribe. Their
story can best be told later on the shores of the lake where
Zacapu had turned out in gala dress to see the Gringos.
The narrow, time-worn streets with their adobe houses
were filled with children, school having been dismissed
for the celebration. Hundreds of girls in Pablano costumes
were lined up on both sides of the street. These Pablano
costumes are something like the dairy-maids' costumes of
comic opera gay with ribbons. The Mexicans are a
handsome people in any costume, and these children, with
their black eyes and their olive skins, were adorable.
They had baskets of confetti, but drew back from the
temerity of throwing it. At last an old peasant woman
asked me, with shy deprecation, * Would you mind,
sefior, if the niflas threw confetti at you in your honor?'
I picked up the nearest little girl and kissed her. Then
the battle began until the streets were like snow. At last
we got to the top of the street under the blockhouse. A
committee of prominent citizens agitated almost be-
yond human endurance began setting off sky-rockets.
Being broad noon daylight, nobody could see the rockets,
but the z-z-z-z-z of the whizzing stick seemed to supply
a distinguished and impressive note.
The entire population of the town gathered around the
door of the mayor's palace where we dined. They peered
over each other's shoulders as they crowded about the
windows and doors. When the street behind became so
black, and blocked with people that no one could move
forward or backward, the front row obligingly sent bul-
letins' back over their shoulders relating the progress of
308 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Our Spanish being a little weak, the one person at the
feast who could speak English naturally absorbed the
attention and the center of the stage. He was a flamboyant
young man with a country barber-shop haircut plas-
tered back with great elegance on the starboard side. He
had a bright red tie and a stick-pin made in the shape of
a horseshoe. He said that he had been in the United
States Navy; had served as steward on a trans-Atlantic
liner sailing from New York, and now was foreman in a
steel foundry in Cleveland, Ohio. He had come home to
Zacapu to visit his father and mother, and was in great
alarm for fear the new immigration laws of the United
States would not allow him to return to his wife and
baby. He said with great pride that his wife was an
American girl and had blonde hair.
'K you can't go back to Cleveland, you could bring
your wife and baby to Zacapu/ I suggested.
He was quite shocked. 'I couldn't do that my wife,
she is an artist/
'What kind of an artist?'
'Well, once in a while, she and her partner get a job
singing and dancing in the prologue at the movie theaters/
'She has a partner?'
'Sure; yes/ Then, in answer to what seemed to be an
unspoken question, he carefully produced a letter from his
inside pocket. He read it aloud; then he asked me to read
it aloud; then he translated it to the mayor, who sat in
uncomfortable silence at the head of the table, wondering
what it was all about. Then he handed the letter down
the length of the table from hand to hand. The letter
was written in a weak, scrawling hand, and this is what it
THEY CAME BEFORE THE AZTECS 209
'Dear Husband: I love you, I adore you. I am well.
The baby is well. I am dancing at the theater. Yours
truly, Your Wife/
After we had all read, seen and felt the letter, he took
it back and read it aloud again.
At sunset that night, we stopped at the summit of a
hill and watched the last rays flaming into the waters of
Lake Patzcuaro. This mysterious lake is as beautiful
as Tahoe and not as cold or as gloomy. The forest comes
down to the shore. There are little islands that one can
believe are enchanted. Descendants of the fisher people
who were there in the lost ages are still running their log
canoes into the rushes of the little lagoons. Across the
face of the waters we could see the ancient capital of
Tzintzunzan standing white against the mountains. It
was the seat of the last emperor of the Tarascans. His
name was Calzanzin. It was a fierce and haughty Indian
federation which, to the end, defied Montezuma of the
Patzcuaro has always been an abode of the gods. When
the invaders came from the hills of Zacapu, they brought
with them a god of the hunting people Taras. The lake
people not only stole him bodily, but adopted his name.
There was also a goddess who had much to do with the
<Aiming of the rain. Back along the road, near a lonely
Mexican village, we had stopped the cars to walk out into
a field that was alive and bubbling with hot sulphur
springs. The goddess was accustomed to snatch up victims
from the fields and fishing-boats; cut out their living
hearts, which she tossed into these boiling springs. By
some alchemy known only to goddesses, these boiled
hearts gave forth a steam that became rain-clouds.
210 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
There was also Tlaloc, who was a god of the lake, but
who was apparently kidnapped to become one o! the most
important gods of the Aztecs. He became the third sun
who re-created mankind after a couple of cataclysms
only to see his work destroyed in a mighty fire that
swept away all human beings.
When the planet Venus comes up over the hills of
Patzcuaro, she looks like a flaming ball of fire threaten-
ing and terrible. It is easy to believe that she was once
among the great goddesses oi the lake people at Patzcuaro.
Human history picks up this strange and self-reliant
people about the time that the era of the Toltecs was draw-
ing to a close as they were slipping away for some unac-
countable reason, leaving a pre- Aztec people to wander in
from the hills to look in wonderment at the ruins of their
It was late that night when we saw the spires of Morelia,
standing in a sparkle of light on a high plateau in the
distance, a sparkle of lights against the thick black tropi-
MORELIA the capital of Michoacan is suggestive of
nothing so much as an old New England house that has
been made over by an architect with the old doors
and fireplace, but with hot and cold water and a tele-
What has happened to Morelia is what will happen to
all Mexico modern sanitary regulations planned by
young university men sitting in offices where heretics
were tortured by the Inquisition; modern asphalt pave-
ments carrying automobiles that whizz by the monastery
where the Priest-General Morelos dropped his prayer-
book for a sword.
Morelia is the cleanest city I have ever seen. It is
absolutely spotless. It has one long magnificent street
which once seen will be never forgotten. Upon this street
are the cathedral, the Governor's palace, the college where
the priest Morelos planned the Revolution against Spain,
and another bishop's palace that is now a hotel.
The cathedral is, next to the cathedral in Pueblo, the
finest church in Mexico, immeasurably finer architectur-
ally than the famous cathedral in Mexico City. The latter
has a regal magnificence of detail in its various chapels,
but is too scattered and too diffused. It lacks a central
motif. The cathedral in Morelia is not so large and not
so magnificent, but it has cohesion and focus. You know
where to look. It has composition. The cathedral in
212 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Mexico City suggests a religion exposition an art collee-
tion. The cathedral in Morelia fairly envelops and over-
whelms you with its atmosphere.
Our hotel had been the palace of a bishop and was a
place of faded magnificence with great patios with porti-
coes, with impressive alcoves outside the bedrooms. I
had a room so large that one was fairly lost. The windows
looked upon the majestic front of the cathedral and the
chime of its great bells filled the room. The stairways
fascinated me. They started and ended in extraordinary
places, old half-dark recesses, rooms slipping into rooms.
In the bishop's day it must have been a regal establish-
ment with great retinues of servants.
The night of our arrival, the Governor of the State of
Michoacan came to the hotel to meet us, and we had
quite a gay and friendly time and we thought that from
now on we knew Mm. But we discovered that to meet a
Mexican Governor is no such light and frivolous matter.
We had just spent an evening with him. We had not met
him yet. Early the next morning, an aide in uniform
arrived at the hotel to inform us that the Governor
would receive us at the palace. We advanced on the place
in state, driving our cars in through the great medieval
gates into the open courtyard of what had been the seat
of an archbishop. It was a grand palace built with huge
balconies around a cobblestoned court.
It was like all government offices stenographer girls
finding business-like excuses to come out to look us over,
aides scurrying in and out of offices. We were escorted in
state to a reception-room. Finally, a great old door of
the Middle Ages was thrown open and we were shown into
a magnificent room with a blood-red carpet on the floor.
MOREUA, THE SPOTLESS TOWN
SPOTLESS TOWN 218
We were seated in a solemn row of chairs. Our merry,
affable young friend of the night before the Governor
sat there facing us. His face was frozen with solemnity.
He said that he was honored by our coming. We said
we were honored by his honor the same 'line' as at
the Governor's palace in Guadalajara. We sat there for
sometime. We were utterly miserable. He was miserable.
At length we were aware that we might take our leave
and rose stiff and solemn and august in our dignity.
After we had departed with stiff and formal bows, we went
down to the courtyard. Presently the Governor now
human again came down also, and we talked about
automobiles and tires and roads in the manner of the
jolly little visit at the hotel the night before.
That afternoon he gave us a luncheon at a charming
casino on the edge of town. It was a pleasant affair until
we came to the speeches when we froze into solemnity
and dignity again.
A Mexican banquet is a pretty awful affair, although
the speeches are far superior to the average of our Ameri-
can banquets. They are mercifully free from jokes about
Scotchmen. They have vehemence and glow. I found a
short way and a sure way to attain immortal fame as an
orator. Called on to speak, I replied in English, and my
remarks were much like a movie young lady speaking
into the radio 'mike' on the night of a grand Hollywood
movie opening. I am sure that every one has heard them . . .
'Hello, everybody. I am very glad to be here tonight and
I am sure we are going to see a WON-derful WONderf ul
picture. Good-bye, everybody.' That sounds very much
like my remarks at Morelia. I must have said about
thirty-five words, and they were not my very best words.
214 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
When I sat down, a young man at the other end of the
table rose to translate my thoughts into Spanish.
'I cannot hope/ he said, 'to repeat in my poor way the
golden eloquence, the glowing thoughts, the beautiful
and poetic imagery with which Senor Carr has spoken/
Whereupon he translated my remarks for the next forty-
five minutes and sat down amid a fury of enthusiastic ap-
plause. I was 'made' as an orator in that moment from
the jungles of Yucatan to the jagged peaks of Sonora.
'When I rose to speak, they, as usual, played the 'Diana'
with a great flourish 'Toot doodle de toot toot toot
too.' I was reassured to learn that, in addition to playing
it when the bull comes in, they also play it in token of great
military victories. I am not sure whether I was a military
victory or the d&ut of the toro but I guess it was all
right. Anyhow, I was golden eloquence.
The Governor of Michoacan at that time was a young
man named Lazaro Cardenas, one of Mexico's men of
destiny shy, simple, unaffected, and in terrible earnest.
He had surrounded himself with an extraordinary group of
young men engineers charming young university
men. They have made a model city out of Morelia.
General Cardenas is, however, a devout adherent of the
Agrarian Party and has filled the rich hacendados of
Michoacan with indignation and alarm. He has an almost
pathetic eagerness for recognition of his so-little-known
state by Americans. He realizes that its future prosperity
must depend upon publicity and tourists to a great extent.
As the only newspaper man in the party, I was a strategic
point. At the banquet he asked me with some evident
anxiety what I thought of the State of Michoacan. There
could not be room for two opinions about a state with one
SPOTLESS TOWN 215
beautiful lake after another in a country of sublime
mountains, with fields of golden wheat and fine horses.
So my honest answer was one of admiration. That night
he sent an aide to inquire of our party what I said about
Michoacan in private conversation. Later, when we were
received by the President of Mexico, who is a native of
Michoacan, the procedure was repeated, with the addi-
tional question as to what I thought of General Cardenas.
The next day, the Governor sent an aide to show us the
city. Especially his schools and hospitals. The most
interesting of these is an industrial school for boys in an
old Jesuit monastery of the Inquisition. The boys of this
school are mostly waifs some from the streets, some the
orphaned sons of soldiers of the Revolution. It is a school
of which any city might be proud. They are taught every
kind of craft, from printing to repairing airplanes. It
will be a surprise to my readers to know that Mexicans
take to machinery like the proverbial duck to water. They
are natural automobile mechanics. One of the features of
the education of these boys is to conquer fear. They are
taught never to acknowledge being afraid of anything.
The monastery where they are in school is an interesting
old place with an old torture-chamber and cells where the
heretics were disciplined during the Inquisition, which was
a very lively affair in Mexico. Old racks and the other
machinery of agony and anguish have been removed from
the ancient torture-chamber. It has been turned into a
gymnasium. In Mexico, for some reason, it embarrasses
them quite obviously when a visitor becomes too much
interested in the events of the Inquisition. They are a
super-sensitive and very * touchy* people.
I know of no other place in Mexico where progress is in
216 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
such visible or dramatic terms as in Morelia. We went to
what had been the ruin of an old church. It is now a pub-
lic library with more charm and atmosphere because
of its peculiar construction than others I have seen.
General Cardenas, among other reforms, was fighting
the drink habit among the peons. There were not many
cantinas in the city. On the walls of each saloon was, by
edict, a huge cartoon in color, depicting the evils of strong
drink. It strongly suggested our own W.C.T.U. warnings
of pre-Prohibition days. It had the same 'Father, Oh,
Father, Come Home With Me Now/ motif; the degrada-
tion of the man who imbibes; the beaming happiness of the
virtuous man who forswears the demon Rum.
I called the attention of the polite little bartender in one
saloon to the dreadful warning. 'Esesta verdad?' lasked
him. (Is this true?) 'Es la ley.' (It is the law,) he replied
diplomatically, with a shrug of his shoulders.
The state lottery of Michoacan is conducted by an
American. The Mexican has an entirely different attitude
toward the lottery from ours. It is not only respectable:
it has acquired a certain distinction. The lottery is located
in a charming old building. It has its own printing-plant
and executive offices. The drawings take place in a sort of
patio. As showing how respectable people feel toward
lotteries, the director gave a ball in our honor and it was
attended by the elite of the city. The dancing took place
in the patio of the official weekly drawings.
To see Morelia without seeing the old college where the
Priest-General prepared the revolt against the imperial
power of Spain would be like going to Niagara without
looking at the Falls. Mexico is a country whose history
has been one long terrific drama, and the dramas that we.
SPOTLESS TOWN 217
know have been built in the ashes of forgotten dramas that
we Iqiow must have occurred before history began to be
written. The West Coast of Mexico is redolent with ro-
mances, with high adventure, the footprints of gay young
blades sallying forth, of Arab war-horses in search of the
end of the rainbow. The Valley of Mexico to the south is
scarred with the, crash of battles and the debris of falling
empires, of slaughtered Aztec kings and the bloodstains of
human sacrifice. In these mountains, you are ever re-
minded of the struggle of Mexico for its freedom from
Spain. The monastery where Morelos lived; the bridge
where Hildalgo was beaten; marks of a struggle of simple
Indian peasants armed with knives and clubs against the
trained and tried troops of an imperial army.
THE MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAINS
WE LEFT Morelia in high state, with General Cardenas and
his staff escorting us out to a crossroads where we met two
cars of our party who had taken another route from Gua-
dalajara by way of Leon and Guanajuato.
They were bursting with exciting stories about their
trip of the great theater of Guanajuato: of the under-
ground crypt where bodies mummified by some peculiar
chemical quality of the soil stand propped up in rows
waiting patiently for Judgment Day. Upon the faces of
some of the mummies are expressions of horror and agony
which suggested that they had been buried alive in
the days before modern embalming, a great many poor
wretches unquestionably were. They told us of the street
that was paved with silver to celebrate the wedding of the
daughter of a Croesus; of a tunnel made for street-cars
which is being picked and pock-marked for the silver ore
in the rock roofs and sides.
Our road went into a mountain country and it re-
quires considerable imagination and etiquette to call it a
road. As we approached the mountain town of Ciudad
Hidalgo, named for another priest-general of the Revolu-
tion, we saw a car waiting by the roadside. Into the middle
of the road came three adorable little children dressed in
Pablano costume, who flagged us down. They were
Seflorita Maria de la Luz Montoya, aged five, and Seflorita
Teresa de la Pifla, aged seven. There was also a little boy,
THE MYSTEBIOUS MOUNTAINS 219
but, as is the usual fate of males, nobody paid much atten-
tion to him. A committee of grown-ups had also come
out with speeches that they never had a chance to deliver.
These two little girls with their black eyes captured the
works. We made them ride with us as we rolled through
streets that were snowing confetti, between lines of school-
children. They were in charge of two beautiful young
I may seem to overwork the word * beautiful,' but it is a.
temptation. I verily believe that the Mexicans are the
handsomest race who inhabit the earth. Their erect
pride of bearing, their grace and charm, their regular
features, and those deep, glowing eyes are a study in
human beauty. Their eyes have peculiar quality. They
seem at once to be wet and hot. There is a damp, mysteri-
ous glow that seems to shut up the soul like a curtain, yet
to suggest burning potentialities behind.
A luncheon banquet had been set for us under the trees
behind an old house. We wrecked all their careful ar-
rangements by insisting that the Senorita Teresa de la
Pifia should sit at the head of the table, which honor she
filled with the serene and slightly bored composure of an
empress presiding over a regiment of which she was honor-
It goes without saying that someone would have to
perpetrate the usual feeble joke about going to the United
States, to leave her father and mother, and be our little
girl. An American child would have giggled. TheSefiorita
Teresa lifted her eyes from her enchilada for a moment,
looked the jester over from head to foot with calm, con-
templative eyes; then said simply, 'No, thank you.'
That little banquet was a touching incident. We knew
220 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
that this village was almost starvation poor, yet they lav-
ished the board with the choicest food their imaginations
could conjure up. The ptice de resistance was young goat's
meat, but there was every other kind of native food I
ever heard of and many of which I had never heard.
There was one especially delicious something like the
inside of a tamale served in an earthen jar. Peasant women
hovered about the long table with great pitchers of pulque,
which pale liquid is disturbing to the head, but soothing
to the stomach and a good digestive agent.
They had the usual village orchestra but this time
with an added attraction. Some of the magnates of the
town fairly dragged a bashful young peon in white cotton
drawers and a cotton shirt up to the table. He was Fer-
nando Delgado and he had composed a song. A comrade
with a sunburned old guitar played the accompaniment
while Fernando sang it for us. He was so shy that as he
sang he kept his eyes on the trees with the fixed attention
of a child looking at the chandeliers while speaking a
. piece on Friday afternoon.
Fernando sang his song, slipped back into the crowd,
and was gone. I dare say he is down there somewhere in
the mysterious mountains driving a burro a genius
who will never be heard of. If he were in the United States,
he would probably be a famous song-writer of Tin-Pan
Alley on his way to Reno for a new and expensive
divorce, riding in his Rolls-Royce with a retinue of ser-
vants who snicker at him. As it is, he is condemned to
obscurity and peace of mind.
The song that he sang will be important source material
for historians some day. The corrido is the voice from the
dark stream of the native life of Mexico. It is to the peon
THE MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAINS
what the saga was to the Nordic the ballade to the early
Mexico is moving forward through a period of remark-
able changes. These corridos will remain as the record of
the emotion of a people. They compose a record more
accurate as registering a phase than all the books
written. There isn't much tune to them a monotonous
recitative with a certain pleasing hit.
One well-known corrido, for instance, is Las Esperanzas
de la Patria par la Rendition de Villa (The hope of the
country is for the surrender of Villa). Another, La Toma
de Zacatecas (The Fall of Zacatecas). Another: El Tren
Descarrilado (The train that jumped the track). Triste
Depedida de Emiliano Zapata (The sad farewell of Zapata).
The theme of most of these songs is, 'We are tired of
fighting and we want to go home.'
There are many corridos of a later vintage; one tells of a
Mexican peon who decided to go to Hollywood and be-
come a famous movie star like Ramon Novarro. After
many adventures, he wound up as a section hand on a
Fernando's corrido related the coming of the first air-
plane a priceless historic record of the reactions of a
primitive but humorous people. He told what the different
villages of the neighborhood thought of this winged
monster. This gave him an opportunity for sly digs
none of which he missed. It was witty, satirical, and de-
lightful. It had a certain flavor you will find in the songs
of no other people. Behind his inscrutable mask, the
Mexican peon is a past-master of the delicate art of ridi-
We stayed that night in a dreary little town. The hotel
8*2 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
was built like a prison with rows of bedrooms like cells
looking out onto a balcony that looked down upon a nar-
row, cheerless patio. When we left that morning, we saw
the peasant women going to early Mass little shabby
figures slipping through magnificent old doorways; the
music of the solemn Mass; the same music that was being
sung in great cathedrals of distant lands with the same
imperial grandeur of candle and gold-crusted robes
and the realization was brought to me of what religion
brings into the lives of these sad peons. To the women
especially it is then* life and their refuge. At the breakfast-
table that morning we found the table adorned by a splen-
did bouquet of roses in an old jar of Mexican pottery and
the simple card 'Greetings from an American woman
who lives in Zitacuaro.' We never heard more of her.
The roads from Zitacuaro climb straight up the moun-
tains. The grades were severe. They called for every thing
that a car could muster. And frequently for something
that they couldn't. The professional drivers made the
grade. The one manned by an amateur driver stuck.
Along came two peons with an old ox-cart and two lusty
bueyos (oxen). Our colonel ordered them to unhitch and
drag the car up. They- cheerfully obeyed.. They twisted
ox-tails; put their own shoulders to the wheel, and yelled
and struggled, and at last smiled benignly when the car
snorted up the hill. The peons were so poor that the
guarachas of one were only a couple of tattered shreds
under his feet. Yet they looked astonished when one of
our engineers held out a couple of pesos to them. They
had no thought of pay. They had at last to be pressed to
accept the money and went away fingering it in wonder-
ment and embarrassment. There is a generous soul under-
THE MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAINS 228
neath the cotton shirts of these Mexican peons until
he gets into the hands of the labor agitators and is con-
vinced that he is outraged and that his liberty has been
We climbed nearly ten thousand feet until our lungs
panted with effort from the altitude when we walked up
the steep slopes to lighten the struggling cars.
At last we came to an old town called San Bartolo which
was altogether delightful the city hall was an old build-
ing which appeared to have been born during the Middle
Ages, with a cobblestoned court, narrow, hilly streets
with the horses of the caballeros tied to old-fashioned
hitching-racks like our early Dodge City towns. We
stopped there to ask the mayor to send out oxen to the
relief of the heavier cars which were trying to follow us.
The horses, in a way, establish the character of the peons
in these mountains. They are a horse people. On the West
Coast, you seldom see a peon on a horse; he rides burros.
From generations of picking a precarious existence in a
cruel, rainless country, the horses of the north of Mexico
have acquired coarse hard mouths, pot-bellies, and
fighting hearts. Feeding in herds has taken away their
speed. The horses of these well-watered mountain valleys
have always fed well. From time to time they have been
improved by new blood. As a result, it is not unusal to
see a peon riding on a magnificent charger that looks as
though he had come from a horse show. Some of the finest
horse-breeding farms in the world are in this part of Mex-
ico. The revolutions have taken toll of them, however.
In the last kick-up, there were troops of cavalry mounted
on chargers that would have done credit to plumed knights.
Whenever we traveled on Sunday, we were pretty sure
224 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
to run into a horse-race, run on the open road behind
long lanes of mounted vaqueros. The grandstand is always
the back of a horse. I knew a man who had broken his leg
and insisted on being carried out to the back of his favorite
every morning while it was setting. He couldn't find any
other kind of chair that seemed comfortable to him.
On the long slope of a mountain road we met a touring-
car from which climbed one of the most remarkable men
in Mexico. We were to see much of hi afterward in his
own State of Mexico, in Toluca, his capital, and after-
ward in the United States Governor Filiberto Gomez.
With him had come to meet us two or three charming
young officers of his staff.
YE OF SIMPLE FAITH
PEASANT life in these mountain towns of Michoacan is
naive and unspoiled. From our material viewpoint the
peon doesn't get much out of life; but he puts untold
sweetness into life.
Everything is an excuse to him for a fiesta. And every
fiesta is a prayer. No doubt this is a subconscious reaching-
back to his Indian blood. In some of the larger Mexican
cities, the children look forward to some benign personage
approximating our Santa Glaus; but these little mountain
children never heard of Saint Nick. They have a Christ-
mas of their own, even more charming than ours.
The Mexican Christmas begins nine nights before
Christmas Eve. Nine houses have been previously selected
where the festivities are to occur. At seven o'clock in the
evening, a procession starts, probably in a plaza or in the
courtyard of some house that has been selected as a
rendezvous. It is led by an old man recognized for his
piety and social prestige. Walking with him at the front
are usually two young girls who carry images of Saint
Joseph and the Virgin Mary and often an image of the
donkey upon which Mary rode the burrito. Chanting
the Christmas alavanzas the special hymns of this oc-
casion they make their way down the street until they
come to the house which is first to be host. Knocking at
the door, the leader of the party asks for admission.
'Quien viene alii?' (Who is there?) comes the brusque
OLD MOTHER MEXICO
answer. The leader in the words of the alavanza
says there is a woman outside seeking shelter. 'Well, we
are not running a tavern/ is the reply. The leader insists
that the woman is suffering and in great pain and must
have shelter. But she is told to go away they can't
be bothered. But finally they talk or sing their way
into the house.
On entering the house, people in the procession all kneel
and sing a hymn while the figures of the Virgin Mary and
Saint Joseph are placed upon an altar which has been
prepared for that purpose by the owners of the house.
According to the wealth of the family is the altar. Some*
times they are very elaborate and beautiful with minia-
tures of the Holy City and its scenes. After the cere-
mony of the placing of the images on the altar, they all go
to the patio for the fandango. Always at a Christmas fan-
dango is the pinata. This is a lot of fun. An earthen olla
is suspended high from the ground. It is filled with gifts
dulces and toys. Someone is blindf olded and a club is
put into his hands. He is turned round and round until
thoroughly bewildered; then he tries to swat the olla.
Finally someone, after many have made wild swings and
misses, happens to strike the earthen jar. It breaks and
the favors scatter all over the patio. With shrieks of
laughter, everyone, young and old, scrambles for the
presents. Then the dancing starts. The native dances are
full of gayety and humor, as, for instance, one in which
the caballeros cast their sombreros at the feet of the
dancing girl. She kicks them aside until the hat falls from
a swain with whom she wishes to dance.
The next night, the procession starts at this same house,
when the sacred images are taken from the altar and they
YE OF SIMPLE FAITH 237
go to another house, where again they beg for admission
in behalf of the expectant mother. This is repeated at
eight houses with eight fandangos.
The ninth night is Christmas Eve. This is more elabo-
rate and costly than any of the other parties. I have
known families to reduce themselves almost to financial
ruin with their prodigal expenditures for the 'Good Night.'
I have known instances on the old Mexican ranches of
California where the festivities for this one night cost
one hundred thousand dollars in steer hides... the usual
medium of exchange.
The first part of the ceremony on Christmas Eve is the
same as on the other nights. Dancing is going on furiously
in the patio when, at eleven^thirty the music suddenly
stops. A dead hush falls. The guests all make their way
to the family altar and fall to their knees. Amid prayers
and the chanting of hymns, the host reverently places
the small image of the Christ child on the altar in a
little miniature manger which has been prepared.
The Christ had been born.
At midnight, the chanting of hymns stops and the pro-
cessional moves to the nearest church, singing as they go.
Here a High Mass is celebrated. At the conclusion of the
Mass, they all go back to the house and the dancing starts
in the patio again with more gayety and laughter and
hilarity than before.
The children are permitted to adore the Christ child in
his manger and to pray before the Shrine; but no Christ-
mas presents are distributed except what they have
managed to grab in the scramble when the pinata breaks.
Present-giving for the children comes on January 6.
This was the day when the three wise men, their way
228 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
lighted by the Star of Bethlehem, came bringing adoration
and presents to the manger. In Mexico, they speak of the
three wise men as the three kings, and this ceremony is
called Santos Reyes (Holy Kings).
After the religious ceremonies, the host produces an
enormous cake called the Rosca. It is something like a
giant doughnut baked from cake flour. In the Rosca has
been hidden a ring. If the family is wealthy, the ring is
sometimes a beautiful gem. In poor families it is some-
times a simple toy. Wealth or the lack of it is a matter of
unembarrassed frankness in Mexico. The guests in turn
cut the cake and one, of course, gets the ring. These
guests are always those who were present at the Christmas
ceremonies. Winning the ring by a lucky cut is not an
unmixed blessing. It involves the obligation to become
host at 'El Dia de Candelaria' (The Day of the Candle).
On the night of Santos Reyes, all the children must go to
bed promptly at nine o'clock and you can be sure no nina
begs off on this wonderful night. As they go to bed, they
leave their little shoes on the sills of their windows. In
the night the camels which composed the caravan of the
three wise men go pad-pad-padding along the roads and
streets and the little shoes are filled with gifts from their
packs just as American children are visited by the rein-
deer of Santa Glaus.
The Day of the Candles is supposed to be the anniver-
sary of the day when Mary took her infant son to the
Temple. In Mexico, it is the day when the seeds are
blessed. Each little rancherito with simple faith brings
one tenth of his last year's crop as a present to the Church
and his saints. Also he brings the seed to be planted in the
coming season. The peon is always a little inclined to
YE OF SIMPLE FAITH 229
bargain with his saints. If the saint blesses the seed with
fertility, then his one-tenth tithing on the next Candle
Day will be so much the larger. After the religious cere-
monies the peons spend the day exchanging seeds with
one another to strengthen their crops. And of course they
dance. The Day of the Candle is February 2.
One of the sweetest and most affecting sights in the world
is a Mexican pueblo inMes de Maria, the month of Mary.
Every day from May 1 to May 81, flowers are brought to
the Virgin. Each day of that month the church is turned
over to a different family for decoration. Often this
involves the idea of penitence and gratitude. If a Mexican
family has grave illness or dire trouble, it is usual to pro-
mise the Virgin to bring her flowers on a day in May if she
will help them in their affliction by her prayers.
The family whose day it is to decorate the church makes
elaborate preparations long in advance. In the case of
well-to-do families, orders have been placed with florists
for white blossoms. The flowers, in any event, must al-
ways be white. In the case of poorer families, they find
wild flowers or even make paper flowers, which the Mexi-
cans do with extraordinary artistry.
The flowers are placed in the vestibule of the church in
readiness for a procession of little girls all in white and
wearing tiny wedding veils on their heads. As they come
into the vestibule of the church, singing hymns, each is
handed a basket or a bouquet of flowers. They march
into the church and the ceremony of singing the Rosary
begins. After 'Hail, Mary,' has been sung for the tenth
time, two or more of the little brides walk up the main
aisle and lay their white flowers at the feet of the Virgin.
Ten more "Hail, Marys'; then more little girls marching
230 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
up the aisle with more white flowers. At the end of the
ceremony, the image of the Virgin is often completely
hidden by white blossoms. Both the flowers and the can-
dles are provided by the family whose day it is to take
charge. In the case of the poorer peons, the residents of a
barrio (a court) will sometimes combine their efforts and
hold a day in the church as a group. I have known peons
to save and scrape for a whole year to bring flowers to the
Cinco de Mayo the Mexican Fourth of July comes
on the fifth of May, during the Month of Mary. It is a
grand and hilarious celebration the anniversary of the
victory of a rag-tag army of Mexican peasants, armed with
knives and clubs and rocks, over the trained French
regulars who were trying to establish Maximilian as an
emperor over the Mexicans. Although General Ignacio
Saragoza was actually in command at the battle of
Fuebla, the hero of the celebration is Benito Juarez,
who headed the revolution. The Mexicans contend with
some justice that we Americans should also celebrate
Juarez and the Cinco de Mayo, as Napoleon HI probably
intended to slide that empire of Maximilian over across
the American border. Juarez chased the armies of Europe
off American soil forever. In fact, Cinco de Mayo has be-
come an important day in California. Next to the City
of Mexico, Los Angeles is the largest Mexican city in the
The next date to which the peons look forward is
'Viernes de Dolores' (The Friday of Sorrows, or of the
Sorrowing Virgin). This is four weeks before Good Friday.
They have a charming custom of planting seeds of wheat
in plates as we plant Chinese lilies or ferns. They grow
YE OF SIMPLE FAITH 281
up into tiny gardens of green blades. These plates of
wheat are placed before the image of the Virgin. After-
ward the heads of wheat are often used to decorate the
altar. The straw stalks are often painted in bright colors
and used for the same purpose. A curious and naive part
of the celebration is a punch made of beets, oranges,
chia, Jamaica, and other things. This is placed in tiny
ollas between the plates of wheat. During the religious
ceremonies as they pray and sing the Rosary this
punch is passed around. It is called 'The Tears of Dolores/
During Holy Week everyone appears in deep mourning,
that of the women as elaborate and beautiful as their
purses can stand. The women wear no hats only the re-
bozo no matter what the social station.
In some of the villages notably at Ixtiapalapa, near
Mexico City the Indians put on a Passion Play during
Holy Week. The part of the Virgin is always played by an
Indian girl notable for the purity of her life.
The next great day in the lif e of a pueblo or a city
is Mexican Independence Day September 16. This
ceremony is fiery and dramatic especially in the City of
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was the parish priest in a lit-
tle town in Guanajuato the Pueblo of Dolores. He was
a native-born Mexican nearly sixty years of age. He
planned a revolt from the intolerable tyranny of Spain.
It was to have started in December, 1810, at the time of
the annual Indian fiesta; but his plot was discovered. Ac-
cording to local tradition, he intended then to sound the
battle-cry of freedom at three o'clock on September 17,
when the peons came to early Mass before going to work
in the fields at daybreak. But, believing that discovery
OLD MOTHER MEXICO
was near, he rang the famous Mexican Liberty Bell at
eleven o'clock on the night of the 16th. The historic fact
seems to be that he was informed by a secret messenger at
two o'clock on the morning of September 16, and at early
Mass made the stirring appeal that has ever since been
known as 'Grito de Dolores' the cry of Dolores. The
evening of Independence Day is known to the peons
as 'Noche del Grito* night of the war-cry. In Mexico
City, the President of the Republic comes to the balcony
of the palacio at eleven o'clock; strikes the Liberty Bell
which has been preserved in the National Museum and
cries 'Viva La Independencia.' It is the dramatic climax
to what is possibly the most dramatic patriotic celebra-
tion on the American continent.
Benito Juarez, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, and Jose
Maria Morelos, in Mexico, are names like Washington and
Lincoln and Grant with us.
The two latter heroes are venerated as martyrs. Both
Hidalgo and Morelos were executed by the Spanish and
their heads impaled in public for eleven days.
The Mexican finds nothing whatever incongruous in
interrupting the lovely and touching ceremony of the Mes
de Maria, with its prayers and white flowers, to whoop and
shoot firecrackers in memory of Don Benito and why
And just so, why should he not come home from the
solemn and sacred Mass of the Birth of Jesus and dance
the night out. The God of the peon does not demand
THE BEAUTIFUL CITY
MEXICAN cities have character. They are like people.
Hermosillo is an elegant ranchero mounted on a splendid
Guaymas is a lovely, sad, aristocratic old sefiora in a
Mazatlan is an orchid growing in a smelly old patio.
Tepic, an ancient aristocrat sipping his aguardiente
in his courtyard while his orchestra plays.
Guadalajara, a cynical young Spanish cavalier with a
light guitar, serenading a girl he has never seen to
win a bet.
Morelia, a shining Rolls-Royce dragging an ox-cart.
Ciudad de Mexico the City of Mexico an Aztec
princess of merciless beauty dressed in a Paris gown,
stepping with delicate disdain across pools of blood shed
by men who fought over her. Ciudad de Mexico is Paris;
it is Berlin; it is an ancient Aztec capital; it is Hollywood.
It is every city.
Every one has his own Mexico City. There is a Mexico
City with nothing in it but dim old libraries, containing
manuscripts written in the regal flourishes of the Spanish
authors of the days of chivalry. There is a Mexico City
that contains nothing but the footprints and blood stains
of history. Another Mexico City has only mystery the
whispering ghosts of old religions, ancient rites, and for-
gotten philosophies. Yet another Mexico City is entirely
384 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
a city of beautiful works of art beautiful buildings,
superb statues, stark, wonderful paintings, murals that
overwhelm you with their crude, wild strength. There is
again a Mexico City that lives like a beautiful flower of
the night dark-eyed sefioritas and sensuous music and
laughter and flowers.
My Mexico City is a stage a stage where mighty
dramas have been played; where strong men have fought
for power and died in their armor. There is no other city
in the world unless it be Imperial Rome where so
much history has been written; so much blood spilled.
The city presents a picture of sharp and thrilling beauty.
Through its heart runs one of the most magnificent boule-
vards in the world. At one end is Chapultepec Castle;
at the other end, the Palacio and the great cathedral
waterlogged with drama and history. Through the mists
the snow-peaks of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl are
dimly seen like ghost mountains. Although it lies in a
long level valley, Ciudad Mexico is very high between
seven thousand and eight thousand feet and the thin
air sparkles and snaps with vitality.
It is Mexico, but not Mexico of the rebosos and the
tortillas. You are conscious of the native life only as a
dark stream running silently below the surface. You
may perhaps dine in a cafe that was an old monastery
scarred by the swords of Cortes and with Aztec graves
beneath its foundation stones; but you dine with a Paris
gown and a malacca stick. That it should be a cosmo-
politan city is natural when you remember who built it
ancient and long-forgotten Toltec craftsmen Monte-
zuma, Cortes, and the Empress Carlotta of Austria.
The hotel lobbies reminded me of The Hague during
THE BEAUTIFUL CITY 235
the World War well-dressed gentlemen of mystery and
without visible means of support, whispering to you of
their intimate connections with powerful persons. In
Mexico they are called coyotes. Fine automobiles drawing
up at the hotel doors; fashionable women making then:
way through the dark river of Mexican life on the side-
walks; peons with loads on then- heads; insistent street
beggars; peddlers of blankets; dulce-sellers, postcard
merchants; abashed, silent women in rebosos the dark
To stroll around the streets is to acquire a never-ending
succession of gooseflesh thrills. You stop to buy flowers
at a little stand fronting a park, and it is suddenly borne
in upon you that this street, with its solemn and re-
spectable-looking office buildings, was the bloody Cause-
way where the Knights of Spain died on Noche Triste
the Sad Night when so many Spanish families went into
mourning. Somewhere in the middle of what is now an
asphalt street full of rushing taxicabs was the place where
Alvarado put the butt of his lance down upon the corpses
and wreckage of the canal and saved his lif e by the first
pole vault in the history of the world a mighty leap in
full armor helped on considerably by the arrows and
javelins of the yelling Aztec warriors.
You pass a somber old monastic-looking building in the
old part of the city and realize that this is the College of
San Fernando where Father Serra chanted his litanies be-
fore he started on his tremendous crusade to civilize the
Indians of California and to establish the missions of
Another dark building in the old quarter was a mon-
astery where a son of Cortes and the luscious Marina was
286 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
tortured in the Inquisition. After nearly tearing him to
pieces, the Spanish government sent him word that it
was all a little mistake and he could consider himself
innocent which must have helped his broken body a
As you stop to buy a carved leather cigarette-case on
the Avenida Juarez, someone points out in the most
casual way that the park right back of the shop was the
place where the heretics were burned from time to time
as a gentle suggestion to the pious.
The Cathedral and the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio
axe all drenched with memories of Montezuma. The
Aztecs were not very old-timers in Mexico. They came
in from the north about five hundred years before Cortes
began the Conquest. It is a matter of historic experience
that some of the most magnificent civilizations have re-
sulted from the conquest of a sedentary, artistic people by
a race of military invaders. The Aztecs had arrived as a
subject people, but had fought their way to domination.
Montezuma was in full flower when Cortes arrived. He
was stepping high, wide, and handsome. His court was
one of regal and incomparable splendor. Even his soldiers
were arrayed with the gorgeousness of Oriental princes.
The Aztec army must have been a grand sight with their
cloaks of feathers and head-dresses sometimes of gold
Where the cathedral now stands was an Aztec temple
built like a pyramid with terraces. At the top was the
sacrificial stone upon which the victims were laid while the
priest tore them open and ripped out their living hearts.
Sometimes the victims were prisoners of war; but every
year the priests sacrificed a beautiful boy. For a year they
THE BEAUTIFUL CITY 237
fed him on the fat of the land and allowed him to wander
around the city enjoying himself. Although it occurs to
me that the morning occupation of counting the days un-
til his heart was to be cut out while a priest bent his back
over a rock was not the best inspiration for a holiday. A
month before he died, they always sent the beautiful boy
four young wives who no doubt were also beautiful.
In the circumstances even this four-ply honeymoon must
have had its drawbacks. These brides were supposed to
stand around and watch his bloody death on the sacrificial
stone and contribute their grief to the show.
This grim sacrificial stone is still in the Mexican
Museum along with various Aztec gods, Maximilian's
carriage and Indian handwork and native crafts. Some-
how the stone does not look sufficiently wicked. I was
disappointed. Nothing looks dramatic in a museum.
The day I went through the museum I fell into the
hands of a young professor from the University of Mexico.
As we went around the exhibits, he suddenly stopped
and said: 'Say, who are you anyhow?* 'A fellow going
through a museum,' I replied meekly. 'Yes, but you are
somebody different. Come on; let's start all over again. 5
So we started at the beginning again. He explained the
great calendar stone and so many symbolisms that my
head reeled. I felt like the Jewish gentleman who said to
the professor of algebra, 'I don't know what you mean
I am just listening because I like to hear the numbers.'
I came out of the daze at least with this; that the
calendar stone of the Aztecs was far more than a calendar;
it is a religion in shorthand and perhaps the most amazing
relic in the world. Superficially there isn't much mystery
about the Aztecs. Their ceremonies are known in the
288 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
most intricate detail; just so their gods and their philoso-
phy. There is even in existence a letter from an Aztec
mother to her flapper daughter that sounds like the
Beatrice Fairfax column in the Hearst newspapers. In
Mexico City there are several classes where the Aztec
language is taught. It is a terrible language to see in
print, but pleasant to the ear. Near Durango there is a
village where pure Aztec is spoken. It sounds like the
twitter of birds.
The Spaniards destroyed every vestige of the old
temple to build the modern cathedral. Only a wall half
excavated on a side street back of the church remains of
the mighty Indian city of Tenochtitlan.
The cathedral is rather overwhelming. You can walk
into any ordinary church; absorb what spiritual inspira-
tion is there for you and walk out having in a measure
seen the church. To say you have seen the cathedral in
Mexico City is about like saying you have seen the
British Museum or that you know music. It is a place to
study rather than to see. Its art treasures, its side chapels,
its sacred images, its altars . . .It is an aggregation of many
churches in one church. Its splendor and magnificence
overawe the most casual visitor, but it is for artists and
savants to appreciate it in detail.
Personally, it was an overdose for my cosmic con-
sciousness. My favorite churches in all Mexico still re-
main the cathedral at Puebla, the cathedral at Morelia,
and the little Church of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Guada-
On one side of the Plaza Mayor, where the Palacio now
stands, was an old Aztec palace. It is said to have been at
this place that Montezuma, a prisoner of war, stood and
THE BEAUTIFUL CITY 289
tried to tell his people the Spaniards were his loving
friends and that all was well. It is interesting to imagine
what would have happened and how the history of the
world might have been changed if Montezuma had had
the courage to stand there on the balcony and yell out to
his people a call to arms. That moment on the balcony of
the ancient palace is one of the crucial moments of human
Montezuma was a weak voluptuary. The Aztec
Empire groaned under the weight of his tyranny. When
he dined in royal state, three hundred subjects waited on
him. More than a hundred viands were always placed
before him. He pointed the golden royal scepter at what
he wished to eat. No one addressed him without making
three bows and exclaiming, "Lord, my Lord, Great
Lord/ without raising the eyes. The slightest carelessness
of a servant meant death by torture. In fact, he suggested
the imperious stupendousness of a Hollywood movie
director, and the gorgeousness of his surroundings at
times approached the elegance of a Cecil De Mille movie
set, although, of course, I don't know about the bath-
rooms... When Cortes arrived with his war-horses and
his cannon, the bold Montezuma collapsed like a bank
check marked 'no funds/
Had he come out that day to the balcony with a call
to arms, the Spanish army would probably have been
destroyed. Cortes was in a bad way. He had only a
handful of men; he had been disowned by the Spanish
Government. As it was, when the Emperor came out to
the balcony dressed as usual in his best clothes the
noble young Cuahutemoc heaved a brick at him. The
Spanish announced that the blow had killed him; but
240 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
doubtless he received what the police of today call
* special treatment' after they got him back inlto the
house. Anyhow, he died and the Spanish in the con-
fusion managed to escape in the night down that blood-
stained causeway. Cuahutemoc took command of his
people, but was finally captured and tortured to death.
A fine statue of this gallant young fellow now stands
in the middle of the Avenida Refonna below Chapul-
Bad as Montezuma was, the Spanish Conquistadores
were worse. Compared with the record of Cortes and
Alvarado, Al Capone is a fragrant white lily. There was
no treachery of which they were not guilty. The war
with the Aztecs was started, probably in this same
historic square in front of the cathedral, while the natives
were giving a fiesta in honor of Alvarado. In the middle
of the dance, Alvarado's soldiers leaped into the audience
with swords and cut them to pieces.
Fronting on the far side of the Plaza Mayor, the Aztecs
had a great market where they sold everything, from
native jewelry and corn to slaves with collars around their
necks. Back of this market now stands the Thieves'
Market. I have heard many tourists and Mexican resi-
dents tell of buying priceless treasures for a song in this
place. Many residents used to go there to buy back their
own stolen property. I saw nothing there but junk. It
looked like a cross between a country fair and a five-and-
ten-cent store. I was looking for swords of Spanish
chivalry. I found Mexican shoes, old stoves, and cheap
tinware. The Thieves' Market has been condemned for
a new court house. A much more entertaining place is the
national pawnshop, where from time to time pledged
THE BEAUTIFUL CITY 241
articles are auctioned off. Bargains. This also is near the
Here and there in the city you come across scars of the
American invasion what we call the ' Mexican War '
which brought California, Arizona, New Mexico, and
Texas into the Union. General Grant, as a young officer,
is said to have been quartered in the Palacio. Military
experts of our own army tell me that the American victory
was due to the mercy of High Heaven. General Scott,
who was not overweighted with brains, is said to have
committed a military absurdity and would have been
licked to a finish except for a quarrel between two Mexican
generals who could not agree upon a plan. So, as to the
American occupation, it is safer to say, with the Two
Black Crows, 'Why bring that up?'
One of the most interesting places in Mexico is the long
row of little shops really open booths which line the
edges of the Alameda. Sometimes they run clear around
the edges of the park. On Sundays they make a great
country fair; on Monday, two thirds of them have disap-
peared. In Jalisco one finds pottery; in Mazatlan, iguana
shoes; in Pueblo, blankets. But here you find them all
the pottery of Jalisco, the iguana shoes of Mazatlan, and
blankets of Pueblo.
Here is a little booth where old Juan makes his little
pottery figures. With a thimbleful of clay, a little wire
and thread, he will turn out a charging bull or a vaquero
mounted on a rearing pony or a matador with the espada
poised against the bull. The head of the vaquero may be
no larger than a match, but his features are all there.
Pleased with your praise, old Juan will shrug his shoulders
and murmur, 'Es nada; mica/ And he shows you half of
OLD MOTHER MEXICO
a peanut shell in which there is moulded a woodland scene.
Under the glass it shows completeness in every little de-
tail. Yet old Juan wouldn't know what to do with a glass.
He comes from a people with eyes the Jalisco Indians.
Some of these Indians have been known to make an ac-
curate count of cattle so far away that to Gringo eyes
they were only a faint cloud of dust in the distance.
Here is a booth where a shy little Mexican sells dressed
up fleas. Under a magnifying-glass we see that each
flea is dressed correctly in the complete attire of el toreador.
Old Concepcion, withered with age, sells guajes gourds
grown, shaped, and painted by the Tarascan Indians
of Michoacan painted in scarlet and black and gold
gourds that have been made into cups, pocketbooks,
plates, jugs, musical instruments, and art objects. The
lacquers and vivid paints are secrets age old of the
Tarascans. Some of the gourds are amazing. On the
vines they have been trained into alligators, egrets,
The next booth is also an art studio mounted
vaqueros, bandits of ferocious appearance; little toys
made of tule grass by the military prisoners; Jose and his
beautiful colored candles from Durango; yellow candles
with green-and-red stripes. The art of dyeing these
candles has come down to him from long generations.
Maria, who makes tamales and enchiladas; Esteban, who
will carve a piece of cowhide into the most beautiful
revolver-holster or a cigarette-case while you stand there.
You can name your own design or he will carve into the
leather the Mexican coat-of-arms the eagle perched on
a cactus branch strangling a snake. It was this eagle who
gave the signal to the nomadic Aztecs that they had ar-
THE BEAUTIFUL CITY 243
rived at the Promised Land and their long wanderings
were at an end... the fulfillment of an old prophecy. I
have observed that these magical sign-posts, erected by
Providence for the guidance of various wandering peoples,
always seem to be on mighty good land that belongs to
somebody else. The eagles and the arrowheads and the
snakes are a strict command to the pious that it is their
solemn duty to grab it.
Blankets of scarlet and white, blankets of black and
gray; exquisite lace and drawn-work; silver filigree; chairs
with seats made of cowhide the hair still on; chairs
made from mesquite and hide from the Yaqui country;
strange pottery from the Mayan country to the south,
made amid the ruins of lost cities; echoes from the myriad
lives of my sweet, gentle, fierce, patient, fire-eating old
Mother Mexico who dances gay fandangos on blood-
BREAKFAST... It is a long bar-room in the hotel. At one
side is the polished bar; along the other side of the room
are the booths, spotless with white tablecloths. We give
our orders to the Mexican waiter and puzzle through the
morning papers while we wait. In comes a party of news-
paper men a correspondent of a syndicate of American
papers and two charming Mexicans. One has an Irish
name, but his people have been so long in Mexico that he
speaks English with a strong native accent. We become
conscious of another figure behind us, and there stands
El Norteno, still walking gingerly in his stylish shoes
with his collegiate hat balanced precariously on his head.
Goodness knows where El Nortefio stays; he has a hotel
room somewhere among his own people.
A soldierly looking young officer comes up, who bows
formally as he asks, 'Pardon me were you not at Naco
during the battles?' I return a surprised 'Why, yes.'
And then at the bar, leaning on one elbow, I see my old
compaflero the General the gay, reckless young general
who got up at ten o'clock in the morning, battle or no
battle. We give each other the embrazo with much patting
on the back. Our breakfast party expands to the limit of
the table; then on into the aisle. . .
One of our engineers leans over and whispers... 'To-
day's the day. Hurry through your breakfast and come.'
We finish the huevos and coffee and excuse ourselves.
Today we are to be received by the President of Mexico
Celebrities are coming thick and fast. It was only
y rt terday that we were received by General Almazon in
the big bleak office building where he holds forth as
Minister of Communications. He is one of the strong men
of Mexico, bulking large physically as well as mentally.
I remembered him as he marched down from Pulpito Pass
during the Revolution at the head of eight thousand of
the best troops ever seen in Mexico.
I remembered his social adroitness at the American
Club in Agua Prieta the night of his arrival. A brash
American traveling man, seeing him sitting with an officer
of his staff at a table, had called the waiter and said, 'Take
a bottle of wine to that gentleman's table/ For just an
instant the General looked dismayed at this social brash-
ness. Then he turned to the waiter and said, 'Take a
bottle of champagne to every table in the American Club.'
The drummer should have been squelched, but I imagine
he completely missed the rebuke.
And in the afternoon we had met General Amaro at the
country club. He, too, is one of the most remarkable
men in all Mexico. A full-blooded Indian, he is Secretary
of War and a brilliant soldier. When he first came to the
capital, he was a primitive. In two or three years he has
mastered English, French, German, and Russian. When
he first arrived, he wore one earring. Among his people
this was not an ornament. The man who had killed his
father still lived. In due course of time the earring disap-
peared. Draw your own conclusions.
And now we were to be received by Ortiz Rubio,
President of Mexico. An officer of the presidential staff
246 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
had a car waiting for us at the door. We rolled along the
magnificent Avenida Reforma past the monument to
the liberators of Mexico, one of the finest works of art in
any city of the world; past the monument to the memory
of the martyred Aztec Chuahutemoc; past the American
Embassy, into the depths of the great cypress forest above
whose tops rear the terraces of Chapultepec. At one time
the forest was a magnificent wild-animal park, but the
officers of one of the revolutions gave a swell hunting party
and killed them all. The road circles round the hill and at
length we swept around into a graveled courtyard speckled
with soldiers on guard Chapultepec.
There are palaces in Europe that are peopled with
memories; but they are new bungalows compared with
Chapultepec and its ghosts. No one knows who first oc-
cupied the site. Before the Aztecs came into the Valley
of Mexico, some forgotten Iring had his palace here.
Montezuma had his summer place here with his harem
when the Spanish came.
The foundations of the present castle were laid in 1783
by one of the Spanish viceroys. He laid himself out so
elaborately in the way of house that all work was stopped
for a time by order of the Spanish "King. He thought the
man must be building a fortress instead of a house, from
the size of the bills. It was hammered to pieces by the
cannon of the Yankees when Mexico City was captured
during our Mexican War. Over here at the edge of the
courtyard is a parapet looking down the side of a deep
precipice into the cypress forest. With a deprecating
smile, our guide explained that over this cliff two little
cadets fourteen years old had thrown themselves to
certain death rather than basely surrender to the Gringos;
the defense of Chapultepec was largely in the hands of
little boy cadets.
We were ushered into a small reception-room on the
ground floor. Presently a young officer in a uniform that
fitted like a glove came with word that the Presidente de-
sired that we should be shown over the castle while we
waited. It is a beautiful place. We stood on the great
terrace and looked over the Valley of Mexico where
history has been written in blood; over the lovely city
that pours down the length of the valley like a world's
fair in crystal white; out through the haze of the morning
to the snow-peaks of old Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl;
through vistas of brocaded and wainscoted rooms; into
the coral-tinted bedroom and apartments of the Empress
Carlotta; into the somber elegance of the imperial dining-
room of the Emperor Maximilian.
The spirits of Carlotta and Maximilian pervade
Chapultepec. It was she who planned the present castle
out of the ruins left by the Gringo shells. She also who
planned the modern City of Mexico with its broad
boulevards. In her apartments with her regal bed and the
rose-pink brocades, everything is as though she had just
The tragedy of Maximilian is Chapultepec's best drama
because it was a drama of women. It is one of the ironies
of history that the innocent, well-meaning monarchs are
the victims who have to 'take the rap/ The Peter the
Greats and the blood-thirsty Ivans the Terribles die of
indigestion. It is the meek, inoffensive little henpecked
married men, like Nicholas and Maximilian, who are as-
sassinated in dark Russian cellars and die in front of firing
248 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
I have often wondered to what extent the history of the
world would have been changed had the pulchritudinous
Miss Maria Eugenie Ignace Augustine de Montija de
Guzman been cross-eyed or had had buck teeth and a
mole on her nose. As it was, she was so beautiful that the
fatuous Napoleon III married her and she became Em-
press Eug&ne. Her insatiable lust for power wrecked the
French Empire and brought a harmless Austrian archduke
a peck of trouble.
It was a great story a story of three women: Eugenie,
who evolved the idea of a Mexican empire under the
thumb of France. When the defeat of the Confederate
army in the Civil War gummed up her conspiracy, she
abandoned Maximilian to his fate. Carlotta, the beautiful
Belgian consort of Maximilian, packed her suitcase and
went back to France to take the French Emperor to task.
Eugenie promptly threw a beautiful and well-planned
swoon, and Napoleon blubbered and sniffled and said he
couldn't do a darn thing. So the beautiful Carlotta's
reason reeled. Through all the years until her death,
three or four years ago, she sat in a Belgian chateau, still
believing herself to be Empress of Mexico. Her marriage
with Maximilian was a charming love-story. Her last
message to him from Europe was heart-rending. Be-
lieving herself the object of a poison plot, she wrote him
this message: 'Dearly beloved treasure:' I bid you fare-
well. God is calling me to him. I thank you for the hap-
piness which you have always given me. May God bless
you and help you to win eternal bliss. Your faithful
Another woman entered into this grim tragedy. She
had shared the happy golden days of the last Empire.
It was a sort of play empire. The courtiers of Maximilian
delighted to dress themselves up as Mexican caballeros
galloping around the country with jingling spurs. Carlotta
had a carriage drawn by six cream-colored mules two
at the pole and four abreast as leaders. One of those about
the court was the Prince Salm Salm, a German soldier of
fortune. He had married a beautiful French-American
girl. It was court gossip that she had been a circus rider.
The story of the Prince Salm Salm and of the Princess
is one of desperate and romantic loyalty to a lost cause.
When nearly all the others had deserted Maximilian,
they stuck. In the last days her husband in a military
prison, Maximilian under sentence of death the Princess
tried to save the doomed man. According to a story left
by an officer of the Emperor's staff, the Princess Salm
Salm inveigled the commander of the death-watch into
her rooms at Quaretaro. First, she offered him one
hundred thousand pesos to allow the Emperor to escape.
This being refused, she said: 'Is that not enough? Then
here I am, Colonel/ And began to take off her clothes.
It is related that the officer was so thoroughly alarmed at
this Saint Anthony temptation that he tried to run out of
the door; found it locked; threatened to jump out of the
window unless she put on her clothes and let him out.
The Princess Salm Salm then rode on horseback to the
stern revolutionary chief, Benito Juarez, and knelt before
him, clinging to his knees when he tried to raise her,
begging for the life of Maximilian. He told her sadly that
he could not spare the life of Maximilian if all the kings
and queens of Europe were kneeling at his feet.
In Los Angeles I knew one of the officers of the firing
squad who shot Maximilian to death on the *Hill of the
250 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
Bells ' at Queretaro. He was a Pole, Colonel John Sobieski,
descendant of Poland's great Sobieski. He told me how
the Emperor shook hands with each soldier; handed them
each twenty dollars, and asked them to shoot straight.
But each dreaded the job, so they haggled him. So Colo-
nel Sobieski handed his revolver to the sergeant, who
placed it to the ear of the wounded man and pulled the
trigger. When I knew Colonel Sobieski, he was a tem-
Ghosts of the tragedy of Maximilian ghosts of the
tragedies of Porfirio Diaz of Madero ghosts of
In the little 'Yank-Mex' town of Los Mochis among
the sugar-cane plantations I formed a firm friendship
with one Colonel Octavio Serrano, who had been eye-
witness to the tragedies of Diaz and Madero. As a little
boy of twelve he had run away from his home in Guadala-
jara and had made his way to Mexico City, hiding under
the car seats. He had resolved to be an army officer.
Making his living like a sparrow on the streets, he came
every day to the Palacio, there to wait all day long in the
hope of meeting El Presidente. For three months he
waited with the patient endurance of his race. One
day he fell asleep and an indignant hand jolted him
awake. His sleepy eyes saw an officer of El Presidente's
staff, reproaching him for using the President's waiting-
room for a lodging-house. The little fellow faltered out
his story. 'Hm, Hm,' temporized the officer. 'Come
here tomorrow/ When he was at last ushered into the
presence of the great Don Porfirio, he was so overcome
that he could only burst into tears and cry, 'El Presidente,
military school, military school!' Although under age, he
was admitted by the President's order. When the sudden
collapse of the Diafc regime came, he violated all military
discipline and sent a personal telegram to the President,
in which he said, 'I ask for the privilege of dying at your
side.' Don Porfirio, deeply touched, told him to come on.
Once at Chapultepec, he found to his dismay that Diaz
had no realization of the tragedy. He thought it would
blow over and everything would turn out all right.
When Madero came to Chapultepec, he retained
Colonel Serrano as his aide in spite of his protestations of
undying loyalty to Don Porfirio. The day that Madero
was assassinated, all the members of his staff were put in
prison. Colonel Serrano, giving his honor as a Mason to
return, was allowed to go out to look after Mrs. Madero,
who, of course, was in great danger. He put her in a car-
riage and sought refuge for her in one of the Embassies.
She refused to be taken to the Embassy of the United
States. In the bitterness of her heart she said she would
rather die. The French Ambassador looked into vacancy
and hemmed and hawed and well really you-see-
how-it-is. At length in despair they went to the Japanese.
The Japanese Ambassador heard the plea, but made no
answer. Instead he turned to a servant and gave a sharp
order. Presently several servants came out bearing a strip
of scarlet carpet which they spread from the front door to
Mrs. Madero's carriage. As Colonel Serrano said fare-
well as he had to go back to jail the Japanese
Ambassador said, with quiet dignity, 'If anything hap-
pens to this lady, you will know, in your jail cell, that our
dead bodies are lying at her feet.'
Afterward, when Pancho Villa captured Zacatecas after
a terrific battle in which men were killed at the rate of
52 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
one thousand an hour, Colonel Serrano was captured and
sentenced to death. He was saved by a telegraphic ap-
peal to Villa from Mrs. Madero, then in the United
We were waited back into the present day by the ar-
rival of a young officer who announced that El Presidente
was ready to receive us. Over a broad terrace we were
brought into a beautiful reception-room that might have
been a room of the Palace of Louis XVI. It was light,
airy, and charming. On a grand piano stood a large
photograph of Herbert Hoover. It was the only picture
in the room.
The President of Mexico stood in the middle of the
room waiting to receive us. Ortiz Rubio is a type of high
official not often seen in Mexico. He is not a soldier, but
an engineer and a very capable one. He is rather tall and
well made, with a pleasant face. On this particular oc-
casion a patch of surgical plaster disfigured one side of his
face the mark of a would-be assassin's bullet. I could
not help observing that he took a chair alone with his
back to the wall near a corner of the grand piano. We
were seated in a semicircle in front of him. Our backs
were toward two French doors that opened out onto the
terrace. At each of these two doors lingered two young
officers. I noticed that their trim uniforms bulged over
the right hip and that they never took their eyes off our
backs. A hostile movement on the part of any of us
would have been a brief and economical method of
We talked through an interpreter, but I had a feeling
that the President understood English as well as any of
us. We had found General Almazon rather chilly and
formal, but Ortiz Rubio was quite chatty and friendly.
As an engineer he was deeply interested in the project of
building the international highway we had scouted. He
asked all kinds of questions. At length he turned to me,
the only journalist present.
'His Excellency/ said the interpreter, 'wishes to know
what Senor Carr thought of the State of Michoacan/ He
beamed when I told him my impressions of that lovely
mountain country, with its clean cities and its beautiful
'His Excellency * wishes to say to Senor Carr that he is
deeply gratified to hear these impressions, as Michoacan
is his home land/
Somehow I got the heavenly inspiration to say that,
although Michoacan was a beautiful country, I thought
of it only as a setting for its great men that its greatest
product was its progressive, outstanding men, like
General Cardenas, the Governor, and his staff of brilliant
The President smiled and nodded; then the interpreter
added: "His Excellency wishes to say that he is particu-
larly gratified to know that you feel this way as he re-
gards General Cardenas as one of the most promising
men in all Mexico/
EVERY morning, through the courtesy of an old friend of
mine, a limousine with a driver drew up in front of the
hotel for our daily 'buggy ride.' Also and this was un-
usual in a Latin country came the daughter of the
house to be our guide. She was eighteen a very pretty
girl. Educated in a California finishing school, she had
returned to the cloistered lif e of a Mexican girl of the
aristocracy; and she was perishing by inches of ennui.
Like the women of her race, she was silent before the
wishes of men, compliant, simpatica. She had no de-
sires beyond the pleasure of her guests and had very
little to say. Unlike most American girls, she understood
the intricacies of politics. One man at the hotel had told
us, with the confidential whisper of the coyote, that his
friend at the next table was to be the next Governor of
Yucatan. He could provide an introduction for a
'Don't bother with him/ she said quietly. 'He is the
jefe of the garrison in a little Mexican State and he will
never see Yucatan.' She knew the intrigues of this
general and that... as she knew the location of the Holly-
wood studios; and she knew them like a postman.
One day we went to Xochimilco to see the famous
floating gardens. This is just about the loveliest place in
the whole world. Originally the gardens were planted on
floating rafts of wicker; now they have taken root. To
HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 255
all intents and purposes, Xochimilco is a Venice of flower-
boats. Whereas in Venice you gondola your way between
gloomy, dank palaces, the canals of Xochimilco ramble
through immense fields of blossoms. The boats upon
which you ride are floating bowers of beauty and fragrance.
Usually you hire a little string orchestra to play as you
ride. Some of the boats have tables under a canopy where
you dine to the strains of Estrellita in the perfume of
flowers. As the boatman poles his way along, you pass
market boats absolutely hidden by blossoms, so that the
effect is of a floating bouquet. The sight of an Iowa farmer
who has made a killing in pigs, floating along on this
dolce far niente sea of perfume to the accompaniment of
the soft thrum of guitars, gives an impression of dreamy
elegance not to be forgotten.
Yet Xochimilco has had its battle scars, too. Some of
the most savage of the early Aztec wars were against this
tribe of blossom-sellers. And in the days of the Aztec
Empire the feather-cloaked army was always uneasily
waiting for the battle-cry which would announce that
Xochimilco had jumped the reservation again. In those
days the favorite blossom of the floating gardens must
have been the tiger lily.
Often, in these days, we went for luncheon in the lovely
old hotel at San Angel. The guides say that it was a
convent, and it may have been used at some time by the
nuns; but I saw an abstract of the real estate title and it
showed that it was the casa of a great hacienda. At any
rate, it is a charming place of quiet, dreamy old patios,
ancient corridors, quaint old passages, terraces, and
sacred shrines. It is hundreds of years old.
Another day we went to Coyoacan to see the little
356 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
church where Cortes went to say his prayers for Divim
guidance on the job of killing and torturing the Aztecs,
from whom he was planning to wrest their home lands anc
wreck their civilization the Aztecs who had receive*
him with open arms as an honored guest.
Cortes stands in history without parallel either f 01
treachery or military genius. He had the shining moral*
of a Chinese hatchetman; but he conquered a great mili-
tary empire with a handful of some six hundred soldiers.
The conquest of Mexico with this tiny army was mere
child's play compared with another feat attempted by
Cortes, namely, to keep his lawful wife, Dona Catalina
Juarez Marcaida, and the delectable Marina in Coyoacan
at the same time. After all, the conquest of Mexico was
only a series of battles. At the end of a banquet at which
Cortes and Dofia Catalina both spoke what was on
their minds, she suddenly died of * asthma* the kind c
asthma which shows the marks of a man's fingers on th
victim's throat. Dofia Catalina is supposed to be burie(
in the old cemetery at Coyoacan along with othe'
who died of various kinds of asthma. The Cortes palat .
at Coyoacan has entirely disappeared. Within its walls
the Aztec Prince Cuahutemoc was tortured to death n
an attempt to make hi reveal the hiding-place of the
imperial treasures. Cortes was a nice fellow!
We saw the villa where he parked the lovely Marina,
his Indian 'interpreter.' She was the most valuable in-
terpreter in the history of the world. According to tradi-
tion, Marina was an Indian princess captured from an-
other tribe and held as a hostage by the Aztecs. Probably
Montezuma was out of cigars the day that Cortes called,
so he gave him Marina. It was a fatal blunder. She grew
HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 307
to love her white captor and advised him in his campaigns,
an important feature of which was the alienation of other
jhxdian tribes from the Aztecs. It is a queer fact of history
:feat few nations have ever conquered primitives without
lie help of other primitives. If the dark races of the world
could have restrained their 'mads* at each other, there
would be no white races. We should have been wiped off
the face of the earth centuries ago. Had the Chinese and
the Hindus and the Persians fought with Genghis Khan
i.' it her than against him, all Europe would by now have
s ant eyes and would be burning punk sticks. Just so the
White Mountain Apaches beat old Geronimo when our
army failed. We had to enlist the Crows to fight the
$ioux for us.
. We went to Cuernavaca, which, from Montezuma to
Ambassador Morrow, has been the summer home of the
f anous. The present palace of the Governor was a sum-
ju'ir palace built for Cortes; and from its splendid ter-
jces he could watch the valley for uneasy dust-clouds
-mt might give warning of an Aztec uprising. The hapless
iwiaxiinilian, with Carlotta, spent some of his days at
Cuernavaca playing at being a Mexican caballero in a
silver saddle. The great Borda Gardens are here, too,
and dim old churches.
One of our great days was the trip to Guadalupe
one of the great sacred shrines of the world. To the
Mexican Indian it is what Mecca is to the Moslem. In
almost every Catholic church in Western America you
will find a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, painted on
what looks to be a hide, but is supposed to be a blanket.
It is a beautiful and interesting legend.
In the year 1531, an Indian peon named Juan Diego
858 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
was trudging over a bleak bare cactus hill when he be-
came aware of strains of sweet music and found himself
enveloped in a strange, holy light. The Virgin appeared
to him and instructed him to carry word to the bishop of
that district that she desired to have a chapel built in her
honor at a place she pointed out to Juan Diego. The
bishop, skeptical of the peon's story, demanded proof.
Again the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego. She told him to
go to the top of the bare cactus hill and pick his blanket
full of roses as a token for the unbelieving bishop. Juan
Diego wonderingly climbed the hill, where he found a
miraculous garden of roses. Having picked his serape
full of blossoms, he carried them back and emptied the
blanket at the feet of the bishop. To his astonishment he
found that a beautiful picture of the Virgin had miracu-
lously imprinted itself on the serape. The blanket of
Juan Diego is still in the church at Guadalupe hanging
upon the high altar under glass. It was under this stand-
ard that the soldier-priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led
the revolt against Spain in 1810.
Every year on December 12, a great celebration is
held in the old church on the anniversary of Juan Diego's
meeting with the Virgin. Indians make long pilgrimages
to be there. Guadalupe Hidalgo is a shabby little Mexican
town which is perpetually thronged with tourists
American school-teachers with notebooks and horn-
rimmed glasses; rich tourists in fine cars; devout little
Mexicans in guarachas and soiled cotton drawers, who
have plodded over weary miles of country roads to pray
at the shrine and drink of the blessed waters. At the spot
where Juan Diego first saw the Virgin is a well that gushed
out from under her feet. Sometimes the water bubbles
HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 259
benignly halfway up the well-curb, when the Virgin is
pleased. When the Virgin is displeased, the water level
drops. The day we were there, a sad little group of peas-
ants were trying forlornly to fish up the blessed waters in
a tin pail from a puddle in the wet mud at the bottom of
It was in Guadalupe Hidalgo that the treaty of peace
between Mexico and the United States was signed, the
* Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo* whereby Western America
passed under the Stars and Stripes. It is a state secret
that the United States intended to claim a great deal more
than she got, but our emissary was feeling mellow that
At the top of the hill where Juan Diego found the roses
is a chapel. Compared with most Mexican churches, it is
small and unpretentious. Back of it lies an old cemetery
with elaborate raised tombs much like the tombs in the
cemeteries of New Orleans. The most notable grave is that
of General Santa Anna the 'Napoleon of the West/
He was one of the most extraordinary characters in the
history of Mexico. He ordered the bloody massacre of the
Alamo; then, in his underclothes, surrendered to Sam
Houston at San Antonio. He was forever being defeated
and disgraced, but always bobbed up smiling for new
honors. No one else has ever had so romantic a hold on
the imaginations of the Mexican people.
The climax of our Mexican adventures and in a way
the most momentous spiritual experience of my whole
life was the day we visited the pyramids at San Juan
Teotihuacan. We rolled along through old city streets
until the city fell away and the road led through pleasant
fields. We stopped to take pictures of an old courtyard
260 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
against the walls of which Morelos, the priest-general ol
the War of Independence, was executed by a firing squad.
Again we turned off a few miles to visit the magnificent
old monastery of San Augustin. At one time it was half
under water. You can still see the water-marks on the old
Spanish doors. It must have been among the most splen-
did edifices of the New World. It is more like a palace than
a religious retreat. It suggests the descriptions of the Al-
hambra, with its serene and beautiful patios now in ruins;
cool dining-rooms with murals still on the walls, quaint
stairways, cloisters, and the great vaulted church. San
Augustin must have been very close, to the heart of great
wealth. Its cost must have been enormous; its luxuries
The pyramids of San Juan Teotihaucan stand on a wide
level plain looking out toward Popocatepetl and Iztac-
cihuatl. You cannot but feel that these mountains had
something to do with the selection of the site. These
pyramids are among the mysteries of the world. We know
exactly why the pyramids of Egypt were built and who
built them. The story of the pyramids of Mexico is
shrouded in mystery and darkness.
There are two large pyramids and several smaller ones.
Originally they were surfaced with stone and had several
terraces. One has been re-terraced by an archeologist, and,
as usual, all the other archeologists say it is all wrong. It
is assumed that one of the large pyramids was a temple to
the sun; the second in size, a temple to the moon. The
others are temples to the major planets. Astrologers of
today read all kinds of meanings and symbols into the
arrangement of these sacred mounds.
Near the pyramids is the excavated ruin of an old
Aztec house which is assumed to have been a residence
for the high priests who came out for the ceremonies which
were probably seasonal as the planets assumed certain
positions. It is possible to identify with comparative
clearness the purpose of the different rooms in this palace.
At the end of the majestic avenue of pyramids is a huge
amphitheater which has been reconstructed from the
mounds found there. It is an immense quadrangle sur-
rounded by terraces, flat stone platforms approached by
broad terraced steps. At one end of the quadrangle is a
temple with steps leading to an altar. Exactly in the mid-
dle of the quadrangle is a high level platform like a giant
prize-fight ring, with steps. In all probability the priests
and kings gathered here for the great ceremonies of the
Aztec year. It is considered probable that the sacrifices
were made on the high altar and possibly sacred dances
were held on the platform in the middle. One theory is
that the different separated grandstands surrounding the
quadrangle were set apart for the different tribes or castes.
Whatever theory is advanced, all the other archeologists
rise to point out that the theory is obviously wrong.
It is impossible to sit alone in that ancient place and not
feel the world slip away . . . The Aztecs come again the
ancient splendor of Montezuma, the feathered cloaks,the
glittering head-dresses of the warriors, the faltering ap-
proach of the beautiful boy to the altar, transported with
religious ecstasy, shaken with mortal dread and terror, the
flash of the black obsidian priest knife in the sun, the dread-
ful gurgling shriek of the victim bent back over the stone, the
living heart still pulsing in the uplif ted hand of the priest,
the blood dripping down his arm and onto his linen and
feathered robes, and at last the torn body bumping step by
263 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
step down the terraced throne, gathering scarlet stains
on pale flesh from the little river of blood . . .
Astronomers have announced that the place was built
according to the position of certain planets and thus
establish the age as two thousand five hundred years.
Near San Angel is a pyramid which shows signs of being
immeasurably older than that. At some forgotten period
of time a volcano belched out fire and brimstone and lava
all over this region. The ground is almost a lava pavement
for miles around. But the pyramid is not built of lava
rock. It is built of stone no longer to be found in that
vicinity. It is a fair conclusion that the pyramid was
built before the volcano spewed good building stone all
over the map which would denote incalculable age.
Behind the temple is the most interesting wall in the
New World. It thrusts out, half-buried, from an em-
bankment, an elaborate stone bulwark, the front of a
building, intricately and beautifully carved with the
images of Aztec gods: fiercely scowling gods, serpent gods,
fat gods, Quetzelcoatl, Huitilopochtli, Tlahuizcalpante...
It stands to reason that back of this wall must be the re-
mains of an ancient temple. It is now in process of careful
scientific excavation by trained archeologists. No other
country in the world is spending as much money on ruins
The truth is that Mexico is reaching back to an ancient
spiritual heritage. The ancient cults of the Mayan, the
Aztec, and the Toltec are rising from the soil like a dark
miasma. The coming of the Spanish knights of Cortes
interrupted the life-flow of a great philosophy. Had the
Mayan been allowed to continue his civilization for an-
other two hundred years, the jungles of Yucatan would
HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 263
have produced an era more glorious than the Golden Age
of Greece. Just so, the Aztec and the Toltec. These
civilizations were overrun by various invaders and beaten
down in their blood. But they did not die. Their thoughts
and their spiritual impulses lived on. The most remarkable
drama happening in the world today is the return of these
ancient cultures to Mexico. The arts, the music, the
drama, the cultures even the religions of those old
Indian civilizations are stirring; are coming back to life.
Daring young artists like Diego Rivera terrific, crude,
ungainly misshapen murals they shake you with their
power savage splashes of color, devastating brutal
strength. But they have not created a new art. They
have merely reached down to lost and forgotten fires, to
release something that has lain smoldering and steaming
since the day of the Mayan temples and the human
sacrifices of the Aztecs. Through the veneer of a sophisti-
cated Moorish-Spanish culture, touched up by Holly-
woodish spots, these old Indian mysteries are pushing
their way into the soul of Mexico. Out of the mists of the
past these old Indian races are coming back to finish their
interrupted story. "Whoever tries to deal with Mexico
without reading this mighty soul drama is trying to judge
an automobile by the paint on the hood; the nature of a
tiger by the soft feel of the fur.
Who knows but that this temple into which they are
now digging may not solve mysteries of ages; disclose
hidden secrets. In a way this beautiful wall poking out
from the side of a hill is symbolic of the search for the
secret. The Aztec civilization has been a curtain which
has hidden rather than revealed the past. There may or
may not have been a Toltec race. Many latter-day
264 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
scientists deny that such a race ever existed. They say
that the Toltecs were merely a caste of architects and
builders in the Aztec scheme of things. True or not, it is
obvious that the Valley of Mexico was once occupied by
a people who were possessed of high spiritual insight, to
whom the occult was an open book. The Aztecs were a
rough fighting people who came afterward. Just as some
of the religious symbolisms of the American Indians have
been reduced in significance to ghost dances, penitential
tortures, and mud idols, so it is probable that the Aztecs,
only half understanding what they found among the
ruins of this previous civilization, tried to materialize the
spiritual truths into something they could touch and feel.
They dramatized half-perceived philosophic truths into
funny-looking gods wiggling with snakes. Ideas that were
probably purely abstract in the beginning were pepped-up
with blood-fests in which the priests cut out the hearts
of screaming victims. Aztec gods and the Aztec fondness
for ritual and feather hats constitute a barrier to our search
for the soul tracks of these earlier people.
It is a belief almost universal among the highly edu-
cated people of Mexico that this lost race was a marooned
remnant of the population of the Lost Continent of At-
lantis. Many startling things are found in the jungles of
Mexico and Central America, relics that tie into the relics
of the earliest Egyptian civilizations some at least that
are close cousins to the relics found in the seven-cities-
deep ruins of Troy.
Nothing has been found thus far to prove the existence
of Atlantis or to identify the 'mother race* of Mexico as
Atlanteans. On the other hand, there is no clear reason to
disprove it. During the last few years, the floor of the
HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 265
Pacific Ocean has undergone great changes. Govern-
ment vessels making ocean surveys have found bottom at
six hundred feet where comparatively recent soundings
showed depths of thirteen hundred feet. And vice versa.
On the peaks of the High Sierras in California I have
found ancient lagoons literally packed with prehistoric
shellfish more shells than earth. If continents can rise,
they can also fall.
So, after all, the Aztecs and their pyramids are of not
very great significance. We say that these young artists
like Diego Rivera are, in their terrific and astounding
murals, going back to the Aztecs. In truth, they are un-
consciously trying to reach around the Aztecs to the
wisdom and philosophy of an older people.
To me Mexico is a great seething crucible in which the
plans of a mighty Destiny are being boiled out. In his
book, 'The Race Life of the Aryan People,' Dr. J. P.
Widney gives a hint of what this Destiny may be. In the
mists before human history began to be written, the Aryan
Race started from the high plateaus of Mid-Asia on a
long trek. They were a herder people a people of the
grass. Driven on by some mysterious Destiny that they
themselves did not understand, their impulse was always
to press on toward the west. They founded empires and
saw them fall. Then over the ashes and the ruins
they pressed on toward the west. They founded a great
empire in India and pressed on. Built a mighty Greece
and surged on to create the Roman Empire. Through its
wreckage they crossed the Channel to lay the foundations
of the British Empire.
The settlement of America showed how inexorable was
their disciplined fate. It was written that they should
266 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
never turn from their pathway around the earth. It was
forbidden to them to leave the grass belts, the temperate
zone. The Spanish landed far to the south out of the
accustomed avenue, the ordered route, of the Aryan trek
and the Spanish colonies decayed and perished. The
French veered too far north into the snows of Canada
and their sovereignty crumbled and fell. The Teutonic
Aryans kept to the grass belt. Although landing on bleak
and forbidding shores, confronted by almost insurmount-
able mountains, they pressed on along the destined path
and took root.
The last racial migration of the Aryan people was across
the prairies to the Pacific Coast the march of the
covered wagons. The settlement of California was written
in that far-forgotten day when the Wanderlust first seized
those half-wild Aryan herders on the cold Mid-Asia
mesas when man was young. The advice of Horace
Greeley was plagiarized from the grunts of a half-wild
ape-man who poked his hairy thumb toward the setting
sun and said 'Come on/
If it was our destiny to press always toward the west,
then we have come to the end of the story. We are writing
the last chapter. We have circled the globe. We stand at
the shores of the Pacific and in the mist beyond, we see the
wave-lashed shore of the home land from which we
started to circle the earth. Our long trek has ended.
At about the same time that our flat-faced hairy
ancestors were heading west from the Asian plateaus,
another people were starting from the same place in the
opposite direction. Their sealed orders from Destiny
were to press ever toward the east to hunt the rising
sun while we walked toward the sunset. They also
HISTORIC FOOTPRINTS 267
founded empires empires of the Mayan, Toltecs, and
the empires of the lost people.
We who trekked to the west developed into races of
builders, fighters, explorers, machinists people steeped
and sunk in materialism. The people who pressed east-
ward became highly spiritualized mystics, occultists.
As we learned how to use mowing machines and guns,
they perfected themselves in the knowledge of strange
The history of races shows that, at intervals, the Aryans
have turned south, and always a golden if temporary
age of the world has resulted the Golden Age of Greece,
Imperial Rome, Spain of the treasure galleons...
The phosphorus of decay.
The Aryan races are turning southward again
spiritually if not physically. This sudden vogue for all
things Latin that has seized America is not an accident.
We have finished our mad race around the world. We
have stopped with our forefeet stuck out stiff like steers
driven into a fence. We have gone materially to a perilous
point until machinery threatens to destroy us like a
Frankenstein monster. It is as though Providence had
said: 'I have sent you around the world. You have seen
everything. You have done everything. But you haven't
had time to think about anything. Now sit down and medi-
tate until you realize the meaning of what you have seen.'
In the ruins of these ancient Mexican civilizations in
the thought impulses that still linger there among these
mysterious temples are we perhaps to interpret our
brash experiences? Have we like the Aztecs been
sent to put life into the philosophies left by a wise and
268 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
A new race is being developed in the world. We see
advance scouts of it among our own flapper generations
daring, instinctive, intuitive. Just so in Mexico. Young
men and women oi advanced thought and high spiritual
concept are digging down through the veneer of Spanish
culture, down through the strong virile Indian civiliza-
tions, down through the Aztec arts and culture. They
will not stop until they touch the thought impulses of the
lost 'mother race.'
It has often been observed that the half-breed races of
Mexico are dying out; that Mexico is taking up her
heritage of strong Indian blood again. This is true. But
the significance is deeper. Old Mother Mexico is whisper-
ing a lullaby to new races not yet born.
IN WHICH WE SAY GOOD-BYE
THE last night. Tomorrow we were to pull out. Three
cars were to leave at daybreak by way of El Paso. The
rest of us were to go north by train. El Nortefio was to
ride with the cars up the Laredo road. He was im-
measurably proud. By telegraph we had arranged a job
for him in Los Angeles. He was to be sent to school as
a side issue. He was beginning to feel hie a Yankee
already. With obvious reluctance he took off his col-
legiate clothes and put on his old guaraches and som-
Our highly intelligent immigration laws! It would have
been all right had he been headed for California with
every prospect of starving in the gutters. The fact that
he had a good job ahead of him made him contract labor.
He was with us in the hotel lobby when they came in from
the consular office with the news.
I don't think he quite understood what it was all about.
He only knew that, for some cruel reason, the light had
been torn out of his soul. He took it like a soldier, standing
very straight, with eyes shut down to a hard point and the
color blanched from his face. Then suddenly he began to
cry. His body was torn by sobs that seemed to be tearing
his heart to pieces. I put my arm around his shoulders
and made him sit down. He put his head down on my
knee and cried until he could cry no longer. But' we sat
there for a long time. I remember .how his long slim
270 OLD MOTHER MEXICO
fingers ran up and down, ceaselessly sharpening the
crease in my trousers.
Finally, one of the young engineers came in with a
glowing inspiration. He was followed by another equally
'Can the tears, Nicolas/ he said. 'We've got an idea.
We will pull in at El Paso late at night. In the dark-
ness we will sneak you across the border. Come on now,
Old Top. We will be voting for you for mayor of Los
Angeles some day/
El Nortefio dried his eyes carefully with his new hand-
kerchief. He smiled at them tearfully, but slowly shook
his head. 'If I can't go into the United States honorably,
I don't want to go at all.'
The last time I saw El Nortefio, he was sitting on a
curb by the waiting automobiles which were packed and
ready to start. Two engineers were sitting on each side of
him on the curb and all five were crying.