MEXICAN WAR REMINISCENCES
By Judge Zo. S. Cook
(These several contributions cover the period of February to April, 1897, and were made to the Wilcox Progressive Era, published at Camden)
Oriziba is a city, or was then, of about thirty thousand inhabitants. It is located in a beautiful valley of same name, some ten miles wide by about eighteen miles long, the longest way being north and south. It was eighteen miles to the snow capped mountains of the same name. The distance to the snow, although 18 miles, had the appearance of being only a few hundred yards.
Snow carried from mountains
Peons or peasants, a poor squalid race, were engaged continuously in bringing snow from the mountain to the city. This was brought on their backs or shoulders. The snow when first gathered is light as chaff, is packed and pounded into a square cake until it is as solid as lake ice. It melts slowly and can be carried on foot to the city with little appreciable loss.
The carrier has a band or strap which is fastened on each side of a sack filled with snow; this band goes around the forehead, each sack weighing from one hundred to one hundred and fifty, according to the strength of the carrier, they take a stooping position and travel at a rapid ambling gait, going four to six miles per hour. The distance as said was eighteen miles, yet these ice venders or carriers would leave the city on the early morning and return at night with their loads of ice.
Occasionally the better-to-do carriers use the donkey to bring their snow, each being loaded with two hundred pounds; they, however, failed to make as good time as those on foot. Often those poor beasts of burden, donkey, had not only to carry the ice, but the lazy owner would be perched on top of that. Ice was about as cheap as it was in the- South, and probably cheaper; iced drinks could be found on every corner of importance, such as lemonade, ice cream, iced milk and sherbert; those drinks are very cheap, usually selling for a “claco” (one cent) per glass.
Never ceasing flow of water
Oriziba is a beautiful city, its principal street running in a straight line entirely from one side to the other, is very broad, not less than two hundred feet; well paved with round stones, making travel with vehicles most unpleasant, but it was free from dust; the side walks were narrow but quite smoothe.
Various fountains throwing their never ceasing jets of water high into the air could be seen from one end to the other, They were from one hundred and fifty to two hundred yards apart at crossings of principal streets. This never ceasing flow of water with its agreeable murmuring noise as it flowed toward the main channel had a pleasing and quieting effect on sultry days in this tropical clime.
Although the sun was extremely hot, particularly about nine o’clock in the morning, it was seldom oppressive, and rarely ever so when resting quietly in the shade. There was invariably a mountain breeze that would spring up about noon, tendering it exceedingly delightful. The nights were cool and pleasant, often requiring the use of a blanket for cover during the night. There was not a chimney or fireplace in the city, the cooking was done on a raised surface composed of unburned brick; little holes were left in the top in which a handful or two of charcoal was placed. Over this the cooking vessel was placed. All theit cooking arrangements and vessels being made of clay and burned, similar to the ordinary earthen jars and jugs.
Soldiers quartered about the city
The soldiers were quartered about the city in such manner as to command the approaches or passes, Capt. Irby’s, Lomaxs, and Gibb’s companies were about the center of the city, quartered in what was one of the first hotels of the place. The quarters had but one place or door in which to enter or pass out of the barracks. It was a two-story edifice, built of stone surrounding a court yard of about eighty feet square. A gallery ran around the entire building on the second floor, overlooking the square or yard. The front on the principal street was three stories in height. In the upper rooms Col. Seibles and the commissioned officers of the battalion had their sleeping quarters; these were reached by a series of easy wide stone steps.
The rooms bordering the square or yard were sleeping quarters for privates and non-commissioned officers, except on the ground floor on the extreme back. There were the cooking places for the soldirs, as well as stables for the horses belonging to Col. Seibles and his staff.
In the center of the yard was a fountain throwing water some ten feet high and falling over in regular sprays into a reservoir surrounding the fountain some ten feet in diameter and three feet deep. This water falling so regularly and smoothly gave the appearance, when the sun shone on it, of innumerable diamonds, or a grand veil ornamented with various brilliant stones; nothing could be more beautiful and pleasing to the tired soldier after coming in from a four hour drill in the sun. The water was delicious and cool, the fountain head supplying the city of those fountains with their supply, coming from the melted snow on the mountain already mentioned, It was brought by underground pipes extending for a distance up the valley towards the snow. The short distance it had to come with the fall given, the water had not time to become warm before it reached the fountains in the city. Then the constant flow through these kept up a supply, fresh flowing from the head or main source all the time. A large creek ran through the city from north to south banks high and steep. The water flowed with a rush, making it one of the finest for running machinery that can be found in any country. If it was in the United States it would be lined from head to mouth with factories. This would be particularly the case if it was located in the New England States.
There was a cotton factory located there, running about thirty thousand spindles, turning out a fair quality of goods. The cotton had to be imported from the United States. This was packed from Vera Cruz on mules, each mule carrying a half bale. The bales were opened on arrival at the port, divided in half, each containing a pack load for one mule. This expensive means of transportation ran the cost of goods up by the time it was in the market to a high price. The factory was run by native girls and women. This property was owned by a Yankee from New England, who had been in the place for quite a number of years, coming there when a young man, had married in one of the best Castillian families and had amassed a large fortune and was living in grand style.
Creek supplied water
A water mill on the creek was run by the natural force of the current without expense of a dam or gathering a head of water as is usual for creek mills. By some arrangement two currents or passage ways were so made that all the current could be turned through one channel, thus bringing the force of the current on the waterwheel. When grinding ceases this channel is cut off so as to throw the water into the other channel. This mill ground wheat, corn, oats, and in a rude way cleaned or attempted to clean rice. It was situated on the main street and formed part of a stone bridge built across the creek, this in a small way was a piece of good work. The bridge would not be noticed, being on a level with and of the same width of the street.
Houses were built over the creek on each side of the bridge. There were other bridges across the same creek at the crossing of principal streets. The flow of water with its velocity made it a perfect sewer for the city. It was also the resort of hundreds of women and children daily bathing and washing clothes. At first thought it would be suggested as not a desirable bathing place, but the quantity of water, its rapid current and nearness to the fountain head removed objectionable features. Not more than half a mile from the main street was the foot of the mountain from which all this immense water flowed. The soldiers did all their washing of clothes in this creek. The usual days set apart for this duty were looked forward to with pleasure; hundreds could be seen standing in the creek manipulating a garment on a flat rock. Nearly all the women were clothed in the garment only supplied by nature, except they usually had their hair hanging down their backs. Some tresses would be the pride of many a society belle if she could sport such of nature’s gifts.
Tobacco factories employed girls
Several large tobacco factories were in operation; one had some three hundred girls making cigars and cigarettes. Cigars could be bought for six cents a dozen up to as high as ten cents each. The latter were very fine, long, and gave one a capital smoke.
The tobacco was raised in the country near; was brought in on pack mules and donkeys in large bales suitable for this mode of transportation. Peons, as they are called, do all the agricultural work on farms and gardens. Peonage is a species of slavery unknown with us. A peasant hires himself to labor; he is furnished with supplies by the land owner; if he comes out in debt, which he is apt to do, he, as well as his family, are bound by the most stringent laws to work out the indebtedness, having to live, in the meantime, purchasing everything from the landowner, they never succeeded in getting clear.
This indebtedness is entailed on their children and their children’s children, some having been working the same lands for generation after generation. They, the peons, are held more firmly in slavery than negroes were in the South before freedom, at least their conditions are not so good as to the comforts and necessities of life. They, the peons, had their overseers and bosses. Some of the more intelligent would go in the army, in which case the government would be required to cancel the debt.
There were several large sugar making factories, if they could be called such. Sugar cane grew to perfection; would grow till seed heads were formed, similar to the ordinary sorghum of the States. The cane was pressed between large wooden rollers, similar to those used in the South during the war. Probably not over more than fifty per cent of the juice was pressed out. It was boiled in large open-mouthed kettles, the sugar made was like that usually found in the bottom of a barrel of homemade cane syrup, and was no better for use, being exceedingly hard and dark. Coffee and oranges grew in abundance, in fact all the tropical fruits were in abundance.
I found this book while researching Alabama ancestors. Curious, I decided to give it a try. While some authors make history dry and dull, Donna R Causey has made it personal. You feel like these are people you know, or maybe even your own ancestors. At the very least you know this is how your ancestors lived. But even if you are not a history buff, you will enjoy the stories of love that are found in each generation and the overall LOVE of the first couple in this family to come to the Colonies and how they shared their love and taught their children to share it as well. Highly recommended.