COMMERCE OF THE PRAIRIES, by Josiah Gregg: Volume II



Departure for Santa Fe Straitened for Food Summary Effort to procure Beef Seizure of one of our Party Altercation with a Rico His pusillanimous Procedure Great Preparations in Chihuahua for our Arrest Arrest of Mexican Troops A polite Officer Myself with three of my Men summoned back to Chihuahua Amiable Conduct of Senor Artalejo Junta Departmental and Discussion of my Affair Writ of Habeas Corpus not in vogue The Matter adjusted and Passport granted The Morale Impunity of savage Depredators Final Start Company of Pasenos with their Fruits and Liquor Arrival at Santa Fe.

     HAVING closed all my affairs in Chihuahua and completed my preparations for departing, I took my leave of that city for the North, on the 31st of October, 1839. I was accompanied by a caravan consisting of twenty-two wagons (all of which save one belonged to me), and forty odd men, armed to the teeth, and prepared for any emergency we might have destined to encounter: a precaution altogether necessary, in view of the hordes of hostile savages which at all times infested the route before us.

     We also set out provided with an ample stock of bread and other necessaries; for, from the suburbs of Chihuahua to the village of


Carrizal, a distance of nearly a hundred and fifty miles, there are no settlements on the route, from whence to procure supplies. To furnish the party with meat, I engaged twenty sheep, to be delivered a few miles on the way, which were to be driven along for our daily consumption. But the contractor having failed, we found ourselves entering the wilderness without a morsel of meat. The second day our men began to murmur it was surely 'dry living' upon mere bread and coffee: in fact, by the time we entered the 'territory' of the Hacienda de Encinillas, spoken of in another chapter, they were clearly suffering from hunger. I was therefore under the necessity of sending three Mexican muleteers of our party to lazo a beef from a herd which was grazing at some distance from where we had pitched our camp; being one of those buffalolike droves which run so nearly wild upon this extensive domain. It had been customary, from time immemorial, for travellers when they happened to be distressed for meat, to supply their wants out of the wild cattle which nominally belonged to this hacienda, reserving to themselves the privilege of paying a reasonable price afterwards to the proprietor for the damage committed. I must say, however, that, although I had travelled over the same road nine times, I had never before resorted to this summary mode of procuring food; nor should I, on the present occasion, have deviated from my regular practice, though thus partially authorized by a custom of the


country, but for the strait in which we found ourselves, and the fact that I was confident I should meet either with a mayordomo or some of the vaqueros, to whom I could pay the value of the beef, before passing beyond the purlieus of the hacienda, upon the lands of which we had yet to travel for sixty or eighty miles.

     The muleteers had just commenced giving chase to the cattle, when we perceived several horsemen emerge from behind a contiguous eminence, and pursue them at full speed. Believing the assailants to be Indians, and seeing them shoot at one of the men, chase another, and seize the third, bearing him off prisoner, several of us prepared to hasten to the rescue, when the other two men came running in and informed us that the aggressors were Mexican vaqueros. We followed them, notwithstanding, to the village of Torreon, five or six miles to the westward, where we found a crowd of people already collected around our poor friend, who was trembling from head to foot, as though he had really fallen into the hands of savages. I immediately inquired for the mayordomo, when I was informed that the proprietor himself, Don Angel Trias, was present. Accordingly I addressed myself to su senoria, setting forth the innocence of my servant, and declaring myself solely responsible for whatever crime had been committed. Trias, however, was immovable in his determination to send the boy back to Chihuahua to be tried for robbery, and all further expostulation only drew down the

Page 125 WITH A RICO.

grossest and coarsest insults upon myself; as well as my country, of which he professed no inconsiderable knowledge.*

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* Trias, while yet a youth, was dispatched by his adopted father to take the tour of Europe and the United States. He was furnished for his pocket moneys (as I have been told) with nearly a hundred barras de plata, each worth a thousand dollars or upwards. This money he easily got rid of during his travels, but retained most of his innate bigotry and self-importance: and, with his knowledge of the superiority of the people among whom he journeyed, grew his hatred for foreigners.

     The altercation was at first conducted solely in Spanish; but the princely senor growing weary of hearing so many unpalatable truths told of himself in the vernacular of his own humble and astounded menials, he stepped out from among the crowd, and addressed me in English, a language in which he had acquired some proficiency in the course of his travels. The change of language by no means altered his news, nor abated his pertinacity. At last, finding there was nothing to be gained by this war of words, I ordered the boy to mount his horse and rejoin the wagons. "Beware of the consequences!" vociferated the enraged Trias. "Well, let them come," I replied; "here we are." But we were suffered to depart in peace with the prisoner.

     That the reader may be able to form some idea of the pusillanimity of this lordly haciendero, it is only necessary to add, that when the altercation took place we were inside of the fortifications, from which our egress might easily have been prevented by simply closing the outer gate. We were surrounded by the whole population of the village, besides a


small detachment of regular troops, whose commandant took a very active part in the controversy, and fought most valiantly with his tongue. But the valor of the illustrious Senor Don Angel knew a much safer course than to vent itself where there was even a remote chance of personal risk. His influence could not fail to enlist the public in his behalf, and he thought no doubt that his battles might just as well be fought by the officers of justice as by himself.

     Yet ignorant of his designs, and supposing the matter would end at this, we continued our march the next day, and by the time night approached we were full twenty miles from the seat of our late troubles. While at breakfast on the following morning we were greatly surprised by the appearance of two American gentlemen direct from Chihuahua, who had ridden thus far purposely to apprise us of what was brewing in the city to our detriment. It appeared that Trias had sent an express to the governor accusing me of rescuing a culprit from the hands of justice by force of arms, and that great preparations were accordingly being made to overtake and carry me back. That the reader may be able to understand the full extent and enormity of my offence, he has only to be informed that the proprietor of an hacienda is at once governor, justice of the peace, and everything besides which he has a mind to fancy himself a perfect despot within the limits of his little dominion. It was, therefore, through contempt for his 'ex-


cellency' that I had insulted the majesty of the laws!

     Having expressed my sentiments of gratitude to my worthy countrymen for the pains they had taken on my account, we again pursued our journey, determined to abide the worst This happened on the 3rd of November: on the 5th we encamped near the Ojo Caliente, a hundred and thirty miles from Chihuahua. About eleven o'clock at night, a large body of men were seen approaching. They very soon passed us, and quietly encamped at a distance of several hundred yards. They were over a hundred in number.

     Nothing further occurred till next morning when, just as I had risen from my pallet, a soldier approached and inquired if I was up. In a few minutes he returned with a message from El Senor Capitan to know if he could see me! Having answered in the affirmative, a very courteous and agreeable personage soon made his appearance, who, after bowing and scraping until I began to be seriously afraid that his body would break in two, finally opened his mission by handing me a packet of letters, one of which contained an order from the Governor for my immediate presence in Chihuahua, together with the three muleteers whom I had sent after the cattle; warning me, at the same time, not to give cause, by my resistance, for any other measure, which might be unpleasant to my person. The next document was from Senor Trias himself, in which he expressed his re-


gret at having carried the matter to such an extreme, and ended with the usual offer of his services to facilitate an adjustment. Those, however, which most influenced my course, were from Don Jose Artalejo (Juez de Hacienda, Judge of the Customs, of Chihuahua),who offered to become responsible for a favorable issue if I would peaceably return; and another from a Mr. Sutton, with whom I had formerly been connected in business. The manly and upright deportment of this gentleman had inspired me with the greatest confidence, and therefore caused me to respect his opinions. But, besides my obligation to submit to a mandate from the government, however arbitrary and oppressive, another strong motive which induced me to return, in obedience to the Governor's order, was a latent misgiving lest any hostile movement on my part, no matter with what justice or necessity, might jeopardize the interests if not the lives of many of my countrymen in Chihuahua.

     With regard to ourselves and our immediate safety, we would have found but very little difficulty in fighting our way out of the country. We were all well-armed, and many appeared even anxious to have a brush with the besiegers. However, I informed the captain that I was willing to return to Chihuahua, with the three 'criminals,' provided we were permitted to go armed and free, as I was not aware of having committed any crime to justify an arrest. He rejoined that


this was precisely in accordance with his orders, and politely tendered me an escort of five or six soldiers, who should be placed under my command, to strengthen us against the Indians, that were known to infest our route. Thanking him for his favor, I at once started for Chihuahua, leaving the wagons to continue slowly on the journey, and the amiable captain with his band of valientes to retrace their steps at leisure towards the capital.

     Late on the evening of the third day, I reached the city, and put up at the American Fonda, where I was fortunate enough to meet with my friend Artalejo, who at once proposed that we should proceed forthwith to the Governor's house. When we found ourselves in the presence of his excellency, my valued friend began by remarking that I had returned according to orders, and that he would answer for me with his person and property; and then, without even waiting for a reply, he turned to me and expressed a hope that I would make his house my residence while I remained in the city. I could not, of course, decline so friendly an invitation, particularly as I thought it probable that, being virtually my bail, he might prefer to have me near his person. But, as soon as we reached the street, he very promptly removed that suspicion from my mind. "I invite you to my house," said he, "as a friend, and not as a prisoner. If you have any business to transact, do not hold yourself under the least restraint. To-morrow I will see the affair satisfactorily settled."


The Junta Departamental, or State Council of which Senor Artalejo was an influential member, was convened the following day. Meanwhile, every American I met with expressed a great deal of surprise to see me at liberty, as, from the excitement which had existed in the city, they expected I would have been lodged in the safest calabozo. I was advised not to venture much into the streets, as the rabble were very much incensed against me; but, although I afterwards wandered about pretty freely, no one offered to molest me; in fact, I must do the 'sovereigns of the city' the justice to say, that I was never more politely treated than during this occasion. Others suggested that, as Trias was one of the most wealthy and influential citizens of Chihuahua, I had better try to pave my way out of the difficulty with plata, as I could stand no chance in law against him. To this, however, I strenuously objected. I felt convinced that I had been ordered back to Chihuahua mainly for purposes of extortion, and I was determined that the oficiales should be disappointed. I had unbounded confidence in the friendship and integrity of Don Jose Artalejo, who was quite an exception to the general character of his countrymen. He was liberal enlightened and honorable, and I shall ever remember with gratitude the warm interest he took in my affair, when he could have had no other motive for befriending me except what might spring from the consciousness of having performed a generous action.


     At first, when the subject of my liberation was discussed in the Junta Departamental, the symptoms were rather squally, as some bigoted and unruly members of the Council seemed determined to have me punished, right or wrong. After a long and tedious debate, however, my friend brought me the draft of a petition which he desired me to copy and sign, and upon the presentation of which to the Governor, it had been agreed I should be released. This step, I was informed, had been resolved upon, because, after mature deliberation, the Council came to the conclusion that the proceedings against me had been extremely arbitrary and illegal, and that, if I should hereafter prosecute the Department, I might recover heavy damages. The wholesome lesson which had so lately been taught the Mexicans by France was perhaps the cause of the fears of the Chihuahua authorities. A clause was therefore inserted in the petition, wherein I was made to renounce all intention on my part of ever troubling the Department on the subject, and became myself a suppliant to have the affair considered as concluded.

     This petition I would never have consented to sign, had I not been aware of the arbitrary power which was exercised over me. Imprisonment, in itself; was of but little consequence; but the total destruction of my property, which might have been the result of further detention, was an evil which I deemed it necessary to ward off even at a great sacri-


fice of feeling. Moreover, being in duress, no forced concession would, of course, be obligatory upon me after I resumed my liberty. Again, I felt no very great inclination to sue for redress where there was so little prospect of procuring anything. I might certainly have represented the matter to the Mexican government, and even have obtained perhaps the acknowledgment of my claims against Chihuahua for damages; but the payment would have been extremely doubtful. As to our own Government, I had too much experience to rely for a moment upon her interposition.

     During the progress of these transactions, I strove to ascertain the character of the charges made against me; but in vain. All I knew was, that I had offended a rico, and had been summoned back to Chihuahua at his instance; yet whether for 'high treason,' for an attempt at robbery, or for contempt to his senoria, I knew not. It is not unusual, however, in that 'land of liberty,' for a person to be arrested and even confined for weeks without knowing the cause. The writ of Habeas Corpus appears unknown in the judicial tribunals of Northern Mexico.

     Upon the receipt of my petition, the Governor immediately issued the following decree, which I translate for the benefit of the reader, as being not a bad specimen of Mexican grand eloquence:

     "In consideration of the memorial which you have this day directed to the Superior Government, His Excellency,
the Governor, has been pleased to issue the following decree:
     "'That, as Don Angel Trias has withdrawn his prosecution, so far as relates to his personal interests, the Government, using the equity with which it ought to look upon faults committed without a deliberate intention to infringe the laws, which appears presumable in the present case, owing to the memorialist's ignorance of them, the grace which he solicits is granted to him; and, in consequence, he is at liberty to retire when he chooses: to which end, and that he may not be interrupted by the authorities, a copy of this decree will be transmitted to him.'
     "In virtue of the above, I inclose the said decree to you, for the purposes intended.
     God and Liberty. Chihuahua, Nov. 9 1839.

     Thus terminated this 'momentous' affair. The moral of it may be summed up in a few words. A citizen of the United States who, under the faith of treaties, is engaged in his business, may be seized and harassed by the arbitrary authorities of Chihuahua with perfect impunity, because experience has proved that the American Government winks at almost every individual outrage, as utterly unworthy of its serious consideration. At the same time, the Indians may enter, as they frequently do, the suburbs of the city, rob, plunder, and destroy life, without a single soldier being raised, or an effort made to bring the savage malefactors within the pale of justice. But a few days before the occasion of my difficulty at Torreon, the Apaches had killed a ranchero or two in the immediate neighborhood of the same village; and after-


wards, at the very time such a bustle was being made in Chihuahua to raise troops for my 'special benefit,' the Indians entered the corn-fields in the suburbs of the city, and killed several labradores who were at work in them. In neither of these cases, however, were there any troops at command to pursue and chastise the depredatore though a whole army was in readiness to persecute our party. The truth is, they felt much less reluctance to pursue a band of civil traders, who, they were well aware, could not assume a hostile attitude, than to be caught in the wake of a band of savages, who would as little respect their lives as their laws and their property.

     Early on the morning of the 10th, I once more, and for the last time, and with anything but regret, took my leave of Chihuahua, with my companions in trouble. Towards the afternoon we met my old friend the captain, with his valiant followers, whom I found as full of urbanity as ever-so much so, indeed, that he never-even asked to see my passport.

     On the evening of the next day, now in the heart of the savage haunts, we were not a little alarmed by the appearance of a large body of horsemen in the distance. They turned out, however, to be Pasenos, or citizens of the Paso del Norte. They were on their way to Chihuahua with a number of pack-mules laden with apples, pears, grapes, wine, and aguardiente proceeds of their productive orchards and vineyards. It is from El Paso that Chihuahua is chiefly supplied with fruits and


liquors, which are transported on mules or in carretas. The fruits, as well fresh as in a dried state, are thus carried to the distant markets. The grapes, carefully dried in the shade, make excellent pasas or raisins, of which large quantities are annually prepared for market by the people of that delightful town of vineyards and orchards, who, to take them altogether, are more sober and industrious than those of any other part of Mexico I have visited; and are happily less infested by the extremes of wealth and poverty.

     On the 13th, I overtook my wagons a few miles south of El Paso, whence our journey was continued, without any additional casualty, and on the 6th of December we reached Santa Fe, in fine health and spirits.

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