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Six Months in Mexico
by Nellie Bly
AUTHOR OF “TEN DAYS IN A MAD HOUSE,” ETC., ETC.
AMERICAN PUBLISHERS CORPORATION
310-318 SIXTH AVENUE
GEORGE A. MADDEN,
IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIS NEVER-FAILING KINDNESS.
JAN. 1st, 1888.
SIX MONTHS IN MEXICO.
By NELLIE BLY.
ADIEU TO THE UNITED STATES.
ONE wintry night I bade my few journalistic friends adieu, and, accompanied by my mother, started on my way to Mexico. Only a few months previous I had become a newspaper woman. I was too impatient to work along at the usual duties assigned women on newspapers, so I conceived the idea of going away as a correspondent.
Three days after leaving Pittsburgh we awoke one morning to find ourselves in the lap of summer. For a moment it seemed a dream. When the porter had made up our bunks the evening previous, the surrounding country had been covered with a snowy blanket. When we awoke the trees were in leaf and the balmy breeze mocked our wraps.
Three days, from dawn until dark, we sat at the end of the car inhaling the perfume of the flowers and enjoying the glorious Western sights so rich in originality. For the first time I saw women plowing while their lords and masters sat on a fence smoking. I never longed for anything so much as I did to shove those lazy fellows off.
After we got further south they had no fences. I was glad of it, because they do not look well ornamented with lazy men.
The land was so beautiful. We gazed in wonder on the cotton-fields, which looked, when moved by the breezes, like huge, foaming breakers in their mad rush for the shore. And the cowboys! I shall never forget the first real, live cowboy I saw on the plains. The train was moving at a “putting-in-time” pace, as we came up to two horsemen. They wore immense sombreros, huge spurs, and had lassos hanging to the side of their saddles. I knew they were cowboys, so, jerking off a red scarf I waved it to them.
I was not quite sure how they would respond. From the thrilling and wicked stories I had read, I fancied they might begin shooting at me as quickly as anything else. However, I was surprised and delighted to see them lift their sombreros, in a manner not excelled by a New York exquisite, and urge their horses into a mad run after us.
Such a ride! The feet of the horses never seemed to touch the ground. By this time nearly all the passengers were watching the race between horse and steam. At last we gradually left them behind. I waved my scarf sadly in farewell, and they responded with their sombreros. I never felt as much reluctance for leaving a man behind as I did to leave those cowboys.
The people at the different stopping-places looked at us with as much enjoyment as we gazed on them. They were not in the least backward about asking questions or making remarks. One woman came up to me with a smile, and said:
“Good-mornin’, missis; and why are you sittin’ out thar, when thar is such a nice cabin to be in?”
She could not understand how I could prefer seeing the country to sitting in a Pullman.
I had imagined that the West was a land of beef and cream; I soon learned my mistake, much to my dismay. It was almost an impossibility to get aught else than salt meat, and cream was like the stars - out of reach.
It was with regret we learned just before retiring on the evening of our third day out from St. Louis, that morning would find us in El Paso. I cannot say what hour it was when the porter called us to dress, that the train would soon reach its destination. How I did wish I had remained at home, as I rubbed my eyes and tried to dress on my knees in the berth.
“It’s so dark,” said my mother, as she parted the curtains. “What shall we do when we arrive?”
“Well, I’m glad it’s dark, because I won’t have to button my boots or comb my hair,” I replied, laughing to cheer her up.
I did not feel as cheerful as I talked when we left the train. It had been our home for three days, and now we were cast forth in a strange city in the dark. The train employes were running about with their lanterns on their arms, but no one paid any attention to the drowsy passengers.
There were no cabs or cabmen, or even wheelbarrows around, and the darkness prevented us from getting a view of our surroundings.
“This has taught me a lesson. I shall fall into the arms of the first man who mentions marry to me,” I said to my mother as we wended our way through freight and baggage to the waiting-room, “then I will have some one to look after me.”
She looked at me with a little doubting smile, and gave my arm a reassuring pressure.
I shall never forget the sight of that waiting-room. Men, women, and children, dogs and baggage, in one promiscuous mass. The dim light of an oil-lamp fell with dreary effect on the scene. Some were sleeping, lost for awhile to all the cares of life; some were eating; some were smoking, and a group of men were passing around a bottle occasionally as they dealt out a greasy pack of cards.
It was evident that we could not wait the glimpse of dawn ‘mid these surroundings. With my mother’s arm still tightly clasped in mine, we again sought the outer darkness. I saw a man with a lantern on his arm, and went to him and asked directions to a hotel. He replied that they were all closed at this hour, but if I could be satisfied with a second-class house, he would conduct us to where he lived. We were only too glad for any shelter, so without one thought of where he might take us, we followed the light of his lantern as he went ahead.
It was only a short walk through the sandy streets to the place. There was one room unoccupied, and we gladly paid for it, and by the aid of a tallow candle found our way to bed.
EL PASO DEL NORTE.
“MY dear child, do you feel rested enough?” I heard my mother ask.
“Are you up already?” I asked, turning on my side, to see her as she sat, dressed, by the open window, through which came a lazy, southern breeze.
“This hour,” she replied, smiling at me; “you slept so well, I did not want to rouse you, but the morning is perfect and I want you to share its beauties with me.”
The remembrance of our midnight arrival faded like a bad nightmare, and I was soon happy that I was there; only at mealtime did I long for home.
We learned that the first train we could get for Mexico would be about six o’clock in the afternoon, so we decided “to do” the town in the meanwhile.
El Paso, which is Spanish for “The Pass,” is rather a lively town. It has been foretold that it will be a second Denver, so rapid is its growth. A number of different railway lines center here, and the hotels are filled the year round with health and pleasure seekers of all descriptions. While pit is always warm, yet its climate is so perfect that it benefits almost any sufferer. The hotels are quite modern, both in finish and price, and the hackdrivers on a par with those in the East.
The prices for everything are something dreadful to contemplate. The houses are mostly modern, with here and there the adobe huts which once marked this border. The courthouse and jail combined is a fine brick structure that any large city might boast of. Several very pretty little gardens brighten up the town with their green, velvety grasses and tropical plants and trees. The only objection I found to El Paso was its utter lack of grass.
The people of position are mainly those who are there for their health, or to enjoy the winter in the balmy climate, or the families of men who own ranches in Texas. The chief pleasure is driving and riding, and the display during the driving hour would put to shame many Eastern cities. The citizens are perfectly free. They speak and do and think as they please.
In our walks around we had many proffer us information, and even ask permission to escort us to points of interest.
A woman offered to show us a place where we could get good food, and when she learned that we were leaving that evening for the City of Mexico, she urged us to get a basket of food. She said no eating-cars were run on that trip, and the eating gotten along the way would be worse than Americans could endure. We afterward felt thankful that we followed her advice.
El Paso, the American town, and El Paso del Norte (the pass to the north), the Mexican town, are separated, as New York from Brooklyn, as Pittsburgh from Allegheny. The Rio Grande, running swiftly between its low banks, its waves muddy and angry, or sometimes so low and still that one would think it had fallen asleep from too long duty, divides the two towns.
Communication is open between them by a ferryboat, which will carry you across for two and one half cents, by hack, buggies, and saddle horses, by the Mexican Central Railway, which transports its passengers from one town to the other, and a street-car line, the only international street-car line in the world, for which it has to thank Texas capitalists.
It is not possible to find a greater contrast than these two cities form, side by side. El Paso is a progressive, lively, American town; El Paso del Norte is as far back in the Middle Ages, and as slow as it was when the first adobe hut was executed in 1680. It is rich with grass and shade trees, while El Paso is as spare of grass as a twenty-year old youth is of beard.
On that side they raise the finest grapes and sell the most exquisite wine that ever passed mortals’ lips. On this side they raise vegetables and smuggle the wine over. The tobacco is pronounced unequaled, and the American pockets will carry a good deal every trip, but the Mexican is just as smart in paying visits and carrying back what can be only gotten at double the price on his side; but the Mexican custom-house officials are the least exacting in the world, and contrast as markedly with the United States’ officials as the two towns do one to the other.
One of the special attractions of El Paso del Norte (barring the tobacco and wine) is a queer old stone church, which is said to be nearly 300 years old. It is low and dark and filled with peculiar paintings and funnily dressed images.
The old town seems to look with proud contempt on civilization and progress, and the little padre preaches against free schools and tells his poor, ignorant followers to