A Street, Guanajuato.
A Street And Cart.
Courtyard Of A Mexican House.
Street In Guanajuato.
We visited here one of the establishments where silver is extracted from the ore. Its high walls gave it the appearance of a feudal castle. Close by were some Indians, mining on their own account; for, even in the refuse of the mill, sufficient silver can be found to repay a native for his toil. Formerly no attention was bestowed upon such clay, and bricks were made from it for building purposes. To-day, however, it is known that there may be more silver in a single house wall than the entire structure is worth as a residence. Entering the mill, we found ourselves in a long, poorly lighted hall, filled with appliances apparently left over from the sixteenth century. Each side was lined with shallow bowls half-filled with water. In these a certain amount of ore is placed, together with copper and sulphate of iron; and through the semi-liquid mass large stones are dragged for hours, by wretched mules, until the ore becomes a pasty mixture looking like black mud. This is then taken to an open courtyard where quicksilver and other ingredients are added. To mix these elements thoroughly, mules are made to tramp through it, back and forth, for about thirty days, until the filthy mass is ready to be washed, strained, and smelted. Experts declare that twenty per cent. of the precious metal is wasted by these primitive processes, and that with proper machinery the work could be far better done in a hundredth part of the time.
Court Of The Mill.
But, even with present appliances, the profits are so large that there is little incentive for improvement.
Before I left the place, I had the curiosity to examine one of the mules, which had for months been tramping through the mixture. It was a pitiable sight. Its color was a ghastly green, its eyes were nearly closed, exposure to the mineral mass had burned the hair and some of the flesh from feet and legs, and thoroughly poisoned its whole system.
I do not know of any animals in the world more worthy of pity than the mules of Guanajuato. Omnibus horses lead a life of luxury and ease compared with them. Not only do these mules have to drag, blindfolded, for many years their heavy burdens in the treadmills; but, finally, when old and helpless they come into this courtyard to be killed gradually by the mineral poison, which causes them to assume meantime the varied hues of the chameleon.
The Sick Mule.
The Citadel of Guanajuato (now used as a prison) has played a prominent part in Mexican history. During Mexico's war for independence, in 1810, by which she sought to free herself from Spanish tyranny, Guanajuato was the heart of the rebellion and the scene of its most desperate struggles. Here the brave patriot-priest Hidalgo (in some respects the Washington of Mexico), having raised the standard of revolt against the Mother Country, gave battle to the Spanish army and defeated it. It is true, this victory was soon avenged, and eleven years rolled by before Hidalgo's dream of Mexican freedom could come to pass; but finally it was realized, notwithstanding the heroic patriot had meantime perished in the strife, and though upon a corner of this citadel his head had been displayed as a ghastly trophy, in the vain hope of striking his compatriots with fear.
While walking through the streets of Guanajuato, I saw an Indian going from house to house, and offering for sale a coffin! We sometimes think that the Mexicans have no enterprise; but, really, for an undertaker to send out drummers to solicit trade was a little beyond anything I had ever met before. This incident had a remarkable effect upon our guide.