Narrative of the Texan Santa Fé Expedition 2
SOJOURN AT SAN MIGUEL (Chapters 15). On the morning which followed the night described in the last chapter, we were taken to new quarters in another part of the town, where a small room was provided for our prison. We had barely time to examine our new quarters before the governor sent a guard to escort us to his lodgings at the priest's house. On being brought before him we found the great man surrounded by his principal officers, both military and civil, and from their obsequious manner it was evident enough that Armijo's power was supreme. The governor did not rise as we entered his room, but still waved his hand with great natural dignity and politeness, and bade us good-morning with a frankness and cordiality which he well knew how to assume. Remarking that he was aware, from our appearance and Howland's declarations, of our being caballeros, or gentlemen, in our own country, he ordered his officers to make room for us on the different boxes and trunks scattered about the room. He then asked several questions in relation to General McLeod and his party, said that he was going immediately with all his force to meet him, and that if the Texans resisted every one of them would be killed. He next spoke of the strength of New Mexico, its great resources, the prowess and daring bravery of himself and the resistless soldiers under his command, and drew such a ludicrous picture, and relieved it with such a tissue of bombastic fanfaronade, that we could hardly maintain our gravity. If we had not met and seen the brave soldiers of whom he spoke, his words might have gone for something; but the whole of them had passed in review before us, and in short, such a motley, half-naked, ill appointed set of ragamuffins constituted his army, that we could with difficulty believe that the great Armijo was not quizzing us in his grandiloquent description.
After a little commonplace conversation Armijo next gave special directions to the old alcalde of San Miguel that we should be well treated, that all our wants should be provided for, and that no one could insult or impose upon us without incurring his most fierce and vindictive wrath. He then dismissed us, remarking, as we were leaving the room, that if one of us attempted to escape during his absence life should be the forfeit. We were then marched back to our new quarters, and a very small guard placed over us-a guard we could at any time have seized upon, tied neck and heels, and locked in our own prison. Scarcely had we returned to our carcel before a blast from one of Armijo's trumpets announced his immediate departure; and ere the sounds had died away, the great man and his followers dashed past us, evidently going some hundred yards out of his way for no other purpose than to give us one more opportunity of seeing him. His appearance was certainly imposing, even unto magnificence. On this occasion he was mounted on a richly-caparisoned mule, of immense size and of a beautiful dun color. In stature Armijo is over six feet, stout and well built, and with an air decidedly military. Over his uniform he now wore a poncho of the finest blue broadcloth, in-wrought with various devices in gold and silver, and through the hole in the center peered the head to which the inhabitants of New Mexico are compelled to bow in fear and much trembling. Armijo is certainly one of the best-appearing men I met in the country, and were he not such a cowardly braggart, and so utterly destitute of all moral principle, is not wanting in the other qualities of a good governor.
On his departure, San Miguel, which ordinarily contained some two or three hundred able-bodied men, was left with scarcely a dozen, he having dragged away with him every one old and active enough to carry a lance or bow and arrow, in the direction of the great prairie, to meet the force under General McLeod. The room assigned us as a prison was immediately adjoining the little adobe church of San Miguel, with its small belfry and clear-sounding bell, and its rude turret surmounted by a large wooden cross. Had this room not been completely overrun with chinches, which, when night came, issued from every crack and crevice in the walls in myriads, it would have been very comfortable. Our guard was soon on the most soclable terms with us, allowing us to sit in front of our door, and kindly doing any little errand which might add to our limited stock of comforts. In the room adjoining ours, the two doors not being four yards apart, lived a Mexican family, the head of which was a zapatero, or shoemaker. His wife was a young, chatty, well-formed woman, and had not one side of her face been marked by a large, ugly red spot, would have been exceedingly comely. Two thirds, at least, of the women we had seen were more or less disfigured by these deep-red marks; and we could not but think that nature, in this mountain climate, had dealt unkindly with them. Not for one moment did it occur to us that these red blotches, which frequently gave the countenance an expression absolutely hideous, had been placed there by other than the partial fingers of nature. I knew that fancy frequently led the votaries of fashion to strange and most unseemly lengths, but I could not believe that in her wildest caprice she had instituted such revolting adornments for "the human face divine."
On the following morning, it appeared to us that the mark on the face of our female neighbor had changed its position. Not a little did we marvel at this; for all were sure the spot had been on the opposite cheek the day before, and still we could not believe that it was other than a mark she had carried from her birth. Early on the third morning she appeared before us with a face not only fair, but very pretty-not a spot or blemish to be discovered. At first we did not recognize her, but on inquiring, we found that all the spots which had so much disfigured her had been placed there by herself, the juice of some red berry being used for the purpose. We told the Señora Francisca that she looked much better plain, and without those extraneous ornaments, and after this she beautified herself no more. The custom is universal among the females of New Mexico, and when there is no weed or berry that furnishes a deep-red tint, they use vermilion, or even a reddish clay. How they can imagine that these vile marks improve their appearance it is difficult to conceive, and the fact can only be accounted for upon the principle that there is no accounting for taste. The belles of New Mexico appear to be ignorant of the aphorism that "beauty when unadorned is adorned the most."
The dress worn by the females of Northern Mexico, in fact all over the country, is a cotton or linen chemise and a blue or red short woollen petticoat-frequently, among the more wealthy, the latter is made of a gaudy, figured merino, imported expressly for the purpose. These simple articles of rainicnt are usually made with no little degree of neatness, the chemise, in particular, being in many cases elaborately worked with flowers and different conceits, while the edges are tastefully decorated with ruffles or laces, if it lies within the power of the wearer to procure them. On first entering the country, the Anglo-Saxon traveler, who has been used to see the gentler sex of his native land in more full, and perhaps I should say more becoming costume, feels not a little astonished at the Eve-like and scanty garments of the females he meets; he thinks that they are but half dressed, and wonders how they can have the indelicacy, or, as he would deem it at home, brazen impudence, to appear before him in dishabille so immodest. But he soon learns that it is the custom and fashion of the country-that, to use a common Yankee expression, the women "don't know any better." He soon looks, with an eye of some leniency, at such little deficiencies of dress as the absence of a gown, and is not long in coming to the honest conclusion, as the eye becomes more weaned from the fastidiousness of early habit and association, that a pretty girl is quite as pretty without as with that garment. By-and-by, he is even led to think that the dress of the women, among whom fate, business, or a desire to see the world may have thrown him, is really graceful, easy, becoming: he next wonders how the females of his native land can press and confine, can twist and contort themselves out of all proportion, causing the most gracefully-curving lines of beauty to become straight and rigid, the exquisite undulations of the natural form to become flat or angular, or conical, or jutting, and all in hornage to a fickle and capricious goddess a heathen goddess, whose worshipers are Christians! He looks around him, he compares, he deliberates-the result is altogether in favor of his new-found friends.
Among the Mexican women, young and old, corsets are unknown, and, by a majority of them, probably unheard of. I traveled nearly seven hundred miles through the country, without seeing a single gown-all the females were dressed in the same style, with the same abandon. The consequence any one may readily imagine: the forms of the gentler sex obtain a roundness, a fullness, which the divinity of tight lacing never allows her votaries. The Mexican belles certainly have studied, too, their personal comfort in the costume they have adopted, and it is impossible to see the prettier of the dark-eyed señoras of the northern departments without acknowledging that their personal appearance and attractions are materially enhanced by the neglige style. Moore's beautiful lines to Nora Creina appear to apply especially to the Mexican girls, for their dress certainly leaves every beauty free to sink or swell as Heaven pleases. But by all this the reader must not understand that the traveler sees no full-dressed ladies in Mexico. In the great city of the Montezurnas, in fact in all the larger towns where foreigners and French milliners have settled, he sees them habited after the fashion of his own land, although he cannot but notice that a large portion of those so attired feel constrained and ill at ease under the infliction. I have seen, in one of the larger cities, a lady with the body and sleeves of a fashionable frock hanging dangling at her back, without even attempting to conceal what many would call a gross departure from all rules and reasons.
Bonnets are never worn, either by rich or poor, high or low; but in their stead the mantilla and reboso, more especially the latter, are in general use among all classes. The latter is a species of long, narrow scarf, made of cotton, and in a majority of cases figured with two colors only, blue and white. These indispensable articles in the toilet of the Mexican female serve not only the uses of parasol and bonnet, but also of shawl, veil, and workbag. The manner of wearing them is extremely graceful-sometimes upon the head, at others over the shoulders, and again round the waist, with the ends hanging across the arms; in the streets they are worn almost invariably over the head, and so archly and coquettishly does the fair Mexican draw the reboso around her face, that the inquisitive beholder is frequently repaid with no other than the sight of a dark and lustrous eye peering out from amid its folds.
The ends of the reboso are frequently used as an apron, to carry any little articles that cannot be held in the hands, and seldom is a female seen without one of them, from the extreme north of Mexico to its southernmost boundaries. From childhood it is worn, and long habit has so accustomed them to its use that it is not laid aside when engaged in common household labor. It is really surprising with what facility the Mexican females perform their household duties encumbered by this garment. An American lady would as easily manage her affairs with her hands tied behind her back as with the reboso about her, yet it is never in the way of the Mexican. The mantilla resembles it in many respects, but is made of finer material, rather wider, and worn more among the fashionables in the larger cities. An extremely beautiful ornament it is, too, when worn with that peculiar grace which no other than the lady of Spanish origin can affect.
The more striking beauties of the women of Northern Mexico are their small feet, finely-turned ankles, well-developed busts, small and classically formed hands, dark and lustrous eyes, teeth of beautiful shape and dazzling whiteness, and hair of that rich and jetty blackness peculiar to the Creole girls of Louisiana, and some of the West India islands. Generally their complexions are far from good, the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood giving a sallow, clayish hue to their skin; neither are their features comely, although frequently a face may be met with which might serve as a perfect model of beauty. But then they are joyous, sociable, kind-hearted creatures almost universally, liberal to a fault, easy and naturally graceful in their manners, and really appear to have more understanding than the men. Had we fallen into the hands of the women instead of the men, our treatment would have been far different while in New Mexico.
During our tedious and annoying confinement at San Miguel, we were visited by every girl in the town, and from the ranchos in the vicinity. Each time they brought us some little delicacy to eat; and if ever men came near being killed with kindness, we were the victims. One party would arrive with a dish of chile gaisado, an olla podrida, or hash of stewed mutton, strongly seasoned with red pepper, and really excellent when well made. Scarcely would this party leave us before another would come in, bringing atole and miel; others milk, eggs, tortillas, or bread. Of all these different dishes we were obliged to partake, or wound the feelings of our kind-hearted friends; and the consequence was, that we were frequently compelled to swallow a dozen meals a day for the first week or two of our imprisonment. That we did fair justice to the hospitality of the women, I am frank to confess, for our previous long starvation had given us most excellent and not easily appeased appetites; but if "enough is as good as a feast"-and an old adage says that it is-I can argue from experience that too much is worse even than a brief famine, when personal comfort is taken into consideration. No slight can be greater than the rejection of any eatable proffered by a Mexican girl; and so numerously attended were our levies at San Miguel, that we were frequently employed half the day in paying due honor to our presentations.
It was on the afternoon of the 17th of September that Colonel Cooke and his men surrendered themselves at Anton Chico. On the morning of the 20th these betrayed and unfortunate men passed through the edge of San Miguel on their long and gloomy march towards the city of Mexico. We were not permitted to see them, but were informed by the women who visited us, that they had been stripped of nearly everything, and were badly treated in every way. At this point of my narrative-for I cannot find a more fitting place-I will give my readers an account of the agency Lewis had in inducing our companions to surrender their arms at Anton Chico. To show him in his true colors, I will make a few extracts from a statement of the particulars of the surrender made by Lieutenant Lubbock, one of Captain Sutton's officers. Lieutenant L. was taken to the city of Mexico with the rest of the party, but while confined in the convent of Santiago, made a daring escape by leaping from a balcony in the second story, and afterward succeeded in reaching Texas in safety. It seems that the day after the small party which I accompanied, consisting of Howard, Fitzgerald, Van Ness, and Lewis, left the large sheepfold on the Gallinas, the main body of the Texans took up the line of march, and traveled as far as Anton Chico. They did not enter the town, but encamped on the edge of a ravine within some two hundred yards, a strong position in case of attack, with an abundance of water running almost at the very feet of the men. Three or four of the Texans, who crossed the river, and entered the small town to purchase provisions, were arrested by Dimasio Salezar, who was then encamped at the place with several hundred men. Salezar immediately sent one of them back to Colonel Cooke and Dr. Brenham, with a request that they would come over to the village and hold a consultation with him. These officers very properly sent back word to him that if he wished to see them he must come to their camp. He came over, and the conference resulted in the liberation of the men. Colonel Cooke then asked Salezar what had become of Van Ness, Lewis, Howard, Fitzgerald, and myself. He answered that he had met us was satisfied with the objects of the mission as we had explained them, had treated us as friends, and sent us on to the governor. That night, according to Lieutenant L., Salezar was re-enforced by a hundred and fifty men, but the rest of his account of the surrender I will give in his own words.
Such is Lieutenant Lubbock's account of the agency of Lewis in inducing the surrender of his former friends and companions. The same officer then goes on to speak of the arrival of Armijo on the day after the surrender, saying that the petty tyrant was much exasperated on seeing that the betrayed prisoners were not tied. By his orders they were then bound-four, six, or eight together, as many as the different lariats would confine. The cries among the more open friends of Armijo, during this operation, were, "Kill them! kill them! Death to the Americans!" After nightfall a consultation was held by the officers more immediately in the interest of Armijo, and directly within hearing of the Texans, as to the propriety of either executing them all upon the spot or sending them forthwith to the city of Mexico as trophies of the valor of the New Mexicans. The party in favor of the latter course prevailed by a majority of only one vote!
The day following that on which Colonel Cooke and his comrades were marched through San Miguel, we petitioned the old alcalde for a change of quarters, the room we were then occupying, although comfortable in every other respect, being so completely overrun with chinches and other vermin, that it was impossible to sleep at night. After we had waited with great impatience two days, and passed two more sleepless nights, the old fellow finally procured us a clean and comfortable room directly on the plaza. A hint from Van Ness, to the effect that Armijo should be made acquainted with the kind of room the old alcalde had furnished us, probably induced that functionary to hasten our removal. When once established in our new quarters, our time passed more agreeably. Our only occupations were eating, drinking, sleeping, chatting with the girls who made us daily visits, and speculated upon our past reverses, our present position, and future prospects. At dark we would build a fire, for the evenings were now cool among the mountains, and then probably spend half the night in song and story. Each one of our little party had a checkered experience to relate, and the recital of some ludicrous adventure would bring forth a peal of uproarious laughter, much to the astonishment of the little knot of Mexicans congregated among us, who could not conceive how prisoners, in the power of such a man as Armijo, could indulge in such boisterous mirth. For myself, I must say that I have never laughed more heartily than while confined in that little prison-house on the plaza of San Miguel; and could our anxious friends have been spirited into that wild and romantic land, and permitted to eavesdrop under the walls of our carcel on some of those evenings, they could hardly have deemed us other than a party of merry fellows holding a jolly carousal.
But with all this hilarity, thoughts of an escape frequently entered our minds. The members of our guard, who manifested the greatest astonishment at our indifference to imprisonment, we could at any time have captured and tied, and with their bows and arrows, and a German double-barreled gun in their possession, we could next have taken the town of San Miguel with the greatest ease. On several occasions, so careless was the guard , we made trials of skill with them with the bow and arrow, Major Howard beating the best of them at a game which may be considered their own; but, even with their arms in our possession, where were we to go? Had we known then, what we afterward ascertained, that so many dreary months of toil and captivity were in store for us; had we been aware that by forced marches we could have reached Bent's Fort in three or four days, we might have made the attempt. There was no one, however, to give us advice, no friend without to aid us in an undertaking of the kind, we knew nothing of the country, and thus were we compelled to give up all thoughts of an escape at a time when the chances of its successful result were altogether in our favor. With the knowledge we have since gained, I doubt whether the same party could be safely kept another month in San Miguel, at least with so weak a guard, under like circumstances.
We had been but a week in our new quarters before a caravan arrived direct from St. Louis, owned by one of the Chavez family, a rich and powerful connection in New Mexico. Chavez himself, in a neat buggy wagon, accompanied his men. I could not help reflecting, while gazing at him in the plaza, upon the difference of treatment he had experienced in the United States from that I had met with in his country, knowing, as I did, that my feelings and intentions on entering the latter were precisely the same as his on first setting his foot on that soil where I claimed citizenship. I would cheerfully have endured a month's extra imprisonment for an opportunity of making known my reflections and feelings to Chavez; but this might not be-he did not come within speaking distance. Three or four days after Chavez passed through San Miguel, another caravan, made up of Americans on their way to California, arrived from St. Louis, and after resting themselves for one day, again took their departure for their new homes west of the Rocky Mountains. Anxious as we were to converse with these men, and gather news of the world without from which we had now been cut off more than four months, we were forbidden the privilege. The alcalde undoubtedly had his orders not to allow any intercourse, and scrupulously did he obey them.
Following close upon the heels of this party of Americans, or but three or four days later, came still another caravan, belonging to Mr. Samuel Magoffin, a native of the United States, but at this time a merchant of Chihuahua, who was now on his way with more than forty wagons that were heavily laden with goods. Mr. Magoffin sent us word, through a Mexican, that he had had an interview with Armijo, who had granted him permission to visit us; but as he had not brought a written order to that effect, the old alcalde would not allow him even to approach within a hundred yards of our prisonhouse. By the same messenger we were informed that we need not be under the least apprehension for our lives; and in addition, he brought the positive assurance that I was shortly to be liberated, the governor not having any charges against me, and not wishing to detain me after the termination of his expedition against the party of Texans now approaching under General McLeod. This was good news; too good, as I then justly thought, to be true, although at that time, I have little doubt, Armijo intended to give me my liberty, and would have done so had it not been for Lewis.
From Mr. Magoffin we received a generous supply of coffee and tobacco, luxuries more welcome than anything he could have sent us. The old alcalde furnished us regularly with tortillas, atole, and occasionally with an earthen pot of boiled mutton; but as we had saved our money, we had the means to purchase occasionally a fat sheep, eggs, good bread, and any little necessary we might wish for; and now that we had coffee and tobacco, and had no employment save the dressing and cooking of our meals, we fared most sumptuously. We contrived to manufacture excellent pipes of corn-cobs; for stems we were indebted to a monkey-faced Mexican named Juan Sandobal, who brought us some branches from a small bush growing upon the river bank, the pith of which could be easily extracted. This fellow Sandobal was a regular loafer in and about our premises, ready at any time to mend our shoes, run on errands, wash our handkerchiefs, or play us a rude air on a cracked mandolin of which he was the proprietor, and all "for a consideration." He invariably contrived to cheat us in every transaction we had with him, and we as invariably made it a point to tell him that we considered him an arrant knave; yet the fellow had made one trip with the traders to St. Louis, spoke some half dozen words of English, and as he had associated on the road with Americans in the capacity of servant, made bold to call us his amigos, or particular friends. There was no such thing as getting rid of his importunities: hints he would not understand, and kicks he appeared to look upon as little innocent familiarities between intimates.
Our principal out-door agent, when his time was not otherwise occupied was Tomas Bustamente, the same personage who purchased the sheep for us on the morning after our first arrival at San Miguel. Don Tomas, as we called him, was always bringing us information of all the movements of Armijo, and was ready at any time to make up a story in case nothing had occurred that might in any way interest us. For us he always manifested the greatest friendship; and as he was a specious, honest-seeming, and open- countenanced fellow, accommodating to a fault, and with far more integrity than Sandobal even pretended to, to him we always entrusted our important commissions. All our little purchases were made by him; and with such scrupulous exactness did he give us the price of every little article bought, and so honestly did he return us our change for the money we placed in his hands, that for a long time we gave him credit for being a perfect rara avis among the lower classes in New Mexico-an honest man. But an unfortunate accident-unfortunate, at least, for Don Tomas-completely overthrew our good opinions of him. I have before mentioned that an American merchant of San Miguel, Mr. Thomas Rowland, had been arrested by Armijo about the time when Howland was first taken, and that his goods and effects had been confiscated. We had been confined but a couple of weeks before Rowland was released, his effects were given up to him, and he had once more opened his store. Some half dozen times a day our countryman passed within a few yards of our prison, yet was not allowed to communicate with us by word, or even gesture. We knew the circumstances of his arrest, and the constraints under which he labored; yet I am confident we were indebted to Rowland for many little favors, and I have little doubt that he sent us many luxuries which never reached us, all through the rascality of Tomas Bustamente. The little circumstance, which brought this fellow out in his true colors, I will here relate.
Than our pipe-our homely, oblivious pipe-we found no greater solace during the many hours of affliction. Far be it from me to say that any pipe is preferable to a cool, finely-flavored Havana, or that I esteem it under ordinary circumstances; but in a time of adversity and trial, when the mind has no employment but to brood over unavoidable misfortunes, there is more real comfort, more forgetfulness of the present, to be drawn from even a cob pipe, well filled with Virginia tobacco, than from any cigar that has ever been twisted since the day when Sir Walter Raleigh was supposed by his servant to be on fire, and deluged with a flood of cold water. If any of my readers do not credit this assertion, let them ask old campaigners, those who have had abundant experience, and from whose judgment there is no appeal in the woods. I know that I have drawn much solid comfort from a pipe, and puffed away many weary hours of captivity.
The evening following the return of Don Tomas from his unsuccessful trip, one of our female visitors remarked that the ring Señora Bustamente had received from Van Ness was a beautiful present, and that she was so extremely proud of it that she was showing it about among all her acquaintances! Here was a discovery, and it is almost unnecessary to say that after this Don Tomas fell most essentially in our esteem. We did not let him know, however, that we had detected him in his little swindling operation. He was useful in doing errands, and probably took as little toll out of our money as any of the natives would have done. His delinquency, too, taught us all a useful lesson-it proved to us that the most specious and honest-seeming among this class of Mexicans had their tricks and failings, and that the best men among them were worthy of close watching.