Mexico – Lake Patzcuaro

AT the house where I was staying were young men from every part of Mexico. Pleased at my enjoyment of their country, they wished me to see the whole of it, and from them I had much advice about traveling. A city they especially recommended was Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, assuring me that the Cathedral was the finest in the republic. On the same line were Lake Patzcuaro, with Tzintzuntzan and the supposed Titian painting, and the charming old city of Uruapan, to which the railroad had just penetrated.

On a morning in June I took the 7:10 train out of Mexico for Morelia. The rains had begun their freshening work and it was good to see the gaunt horses and cattle cropping the tender grass, while an occasional frisky colt or calf kicked his heels in the air. The conductor said that was just the way he felt when he got down to a lower altitude, and expressed the friendly conviction that when I got to Uruapan I should feel that way too. As the road approached the summit, which is about 3,000 feet higher than Mexico, I began to be very hungry. Fortunately there were Indian women at every station with food — such as it was !

At Flor de Maria which we reached at 12:10 P. M. there was a good substantial dinner; and from that point the train glided down through a gently rolling country, where the green plains stretch away on every side, with an occasional hacienda or white church tower, till they are lost in the blue of the mountains.

We arrived at Morelia about eight o’clock in the evening. It is a restful city, built on a hill which slopes gradually on every hand, affording perfect drainage, and is swept by cool breezes from the mountains. There is little noise at night save the monotonous cry of the street vendor. The city is brilliantly lighted by electricity, which makes the streets, almost deserted after nine 0’clock, seem still more solitary. Even the Cathedral towers have each a three-light cluster of incandescents. The Morelia Cathedral deserves its fame for beauty. The church is flanked on either side by a plaza filled with tropical verdure and blossoms. I have never seen a city with so many plazas. In all, the trees and plants have that casual arrangement which is the perfection of landscape gardening, and seems peculiar to Mexico.

Morelia is a city of fine buildings, massive enough to last through the ages. One constantly wonders where the people are. There are few carriages of any description, but I saw many fine saddle horses. One gets the impression of wealth on every hand, in the buildings in general, but above all in the churches. A unique group are the church of Las Monjas, with the sumptuous Colegio de Guadalupe for girls on one side, and the very plain but orderly barracks elbowing it on the other. The bells keep up a constant warning for the faithful.

From the college come sweet-faced children t0 buy dulces at the street corner. Soldiers lounge in front of the barracks, and within are heard the bugle call and drum-taps. The most noticeable movement in the city is at night and morning when the women carry water from the various fountains, an ever-graceful and interesting sight. The people are invariably soft-spoken and courteous.

I saw a lot of prisoners at work on the street, and as none had really bad faces I asked what they had done. My informant crooked his elbow and placed his thumb suggestively to his lips. Too much tequila (brandy) ! This gentleman was reclining on the edge of a fountain. The soldier in charge was leaning against a telegraph pole. The prisoners, with one or two exceptions, were resting on their shovels. I sank into a convenient stone seat, and we all rested.

The city of Morelia is named for the great Morelos, the formation of his name suggesting that of Bolivia from Bolivar. The population is estimated at thirty-seven thousand. I shall never cease to question the ac-curacy of these figures.

I took my departure at 7 A. M. A number of the in-habitants were in sight but the only active members were the porter with my trunk, and his reproduction, on a small scale, with my basket balanced on his head.

The road between Morelia and Patzcuaro presents a vista of more rolling prairies, towering mountain-ranges and the beautiful Patzcuaro lake. The ride takes two hours. At Patzcuaro an Indian transferred my trunk and ran in front of the mules all the way to the hotel to unload it. He then constituted himself my guide for all expeditions, and offered to see me through on horseback or to tote me as he did my trunk if I preferred. I knew I should like Patzcuar0 because the Morelia people said it was ugly. It is an ancient pueblo, built on a hill, which slopes away to the blue waters of the lake. At the back of the town are thick woods, and the square in front of the hotel is shaded by one giant tree where a fountain splashes clear water into the women’s ollas. Even men carry water in two jars balanced on the ends of long poles and none of them leaves the fountain without a rest and a dish of gossip. The air here is delicious. At first sight Patzcuaro impresses one as ugly, but take a ten minutes’ walk to the adjacent hill and you will change your opinion. Below you lies the large and beautiful lake, with its island villages and the fishing-boats of the Indians. Beyond the lake are the mountains; back of you the pine woods. You look your fill and turn to go, and pause to look again.

Patzcuar0 is chiefly interesting for having been the ancient capital of the Chichimecas, who are thought to have come from the North about the year 1200, and subdued the tribes that already occupied the shores and islands of Lake Patzcuaro. Indian chroniclers attribute the origin of the first people of Michoacan to a unique incident. They claim that during the emigration of the northern tribes, on reaching the lake of Patzcuaro, many of the people stopped to bathe. The others, by advice of their gods, who doubtless disapproved of the bathing habit, surreptitiously gathered up their friends’ clothing and departed.

The ancient victims of this too-practical joke were so infuriated, that they resolved to cut the acquaintance of the rest of their tribe for good and all. They camped on the spot, and so great was their hatred for the jokers, they even changed their language. Whatever the beginnings of this race, it was a large and powerful one, second only to that of Mexico proper, at the coming of the Spaniards.

It is noteworthy that the Indian king Miguangage, who had his seat at Patzcuaro, left no heirs for the reason that his first son was killed by lightning, and his others put to death by his own orders, in punishment for their crimes.

The last king of Michoacan bore the nickname Caltzontzi [Old Shoe], bestowed by the Aztecs in token of their scorn for his cowardly surrender to the Spaniards. This base monarch caused the murder of his brothers, fearing in them rivals for the throne. His people and the Aztecs were old enemies, and when the brave Cuauhtemoc sent his ambassadors proposing they should join forces against their common foe, he refused to consider their offers, and had them put to death. It is supposed he imagined the Spaniards would content themselves with taking Mexico, and leave him undisturbed; but when Cortes sent his troops, under Montano, he received them without resistance and went in person to the capital to offer submission to the conqueror. He continued king in name for a number of years, but finally fell into the hands of the cruel Nuno de Guzman, who, after robbing him of all his treasure, had him burned alive.

The Michihuacanos believed in the immortality of the soul and in the existence of God. They also worshiped idols and practised human sacrifice. Michoacan means ” country of fishes.” The name was bestowed by the Aztecs. When the conquerors came, the Indian nobles gave them their daughters, calling them tarascue which means ” sons-in-law.” The Spaniards, hearing this word constantly, corrupted it into Tarascos, and applied it to the Indians themselves, who are still known by this name.

Friday is market-day at Patzcuaro. Then the Indians come from far and near with their wares, and the plaza is crowded from sunrise. Among the things displayed are fruits in great variety, delicious fish (a tiny one, the size of a sardine, and a larger white one not unlike perch in flavor), and ducks. There is an abundance of a red earthenware, without ornament but apparently very strong; also the curious capote, or Indian rain-coat, woven from palm leaves. At this season every peon carries or wears one, and as he is often a wild-looking creature to start with, this shaggy, bristly covering completes the picture of a sure-enough Indian. The price is fifty cents for a fine large one, and it is a temptation to carry one away, unwieldy as it is. The weaving, which shows on the inside, is very close and firm, and the cape is said to shed water like a duck’s back. The Indian may sell what he brought to market but he carries another load home. Indeed, as one seldom sees one of the genus pure and simple who is not toting a pack, it is not hard to believe the statement that when he has nothing to carry he loads up with ballast.

I left Patzcuaro early on market-day to see Tzintzuntzan and the picture. With a good horse the ride may be easily made in two hours. The road was thronged with Indians on their way to market. There were trains of burros laden with the red pottery, and the driver always carried as much as one of the burros. There were women, with great baskets of fruit, and the inevitable youngsters slung on behind. If you look close enough at an Indian woman’s pack you are pretty sure to see a small pair of bare feet projecting from the midst of baskets and sacks. No wonder these youngsters grow up to have the endurance of pack-animals themselves, jolted as they are from the day of their arrival, over rough roads, rain or shine, always in the fresh air, suckled in the open, with the ground for a cradle. It means more than ordinarily, for an Indian to say, ” the mother that bore me.” That mother never locked him in to be burned alive by the explosion of a kerosene lamp. When she got ready to sally forth, she simply caught him up in her rebozo and tossed him on her back. Then she trotted off about her business, a mile or twenty, as it happened; and he might sleep, wake, coo or howl as he preferred, it was all the same to her. I saw one man, mounted on a small burro, and carrying a very young infant on his arm. One often sees a brawny peon carrying a baby as tenderly as though he loved it.

The strangest object was a very small article that a young Indian had wrapped in his zarape. He was carrying it as though it were an infant, but as he passed I saw a shock of coarse,, reddish hair and my curiosity prompted me to call him back and ask what he had. ” Un marranito, señor,” he replied, opening the zarape, and there sure enough, lay a baby pig sleeping as peace-fully as a child. His nurse eyed him fondly, and I was so surprised my genius for asking questions deserted me. I shall never cease to wonder if that pig was intended for sacrifice, or if he had been regularly adopted.

Tzintzuntzan is embowered in trees. The first glimpse of the town is attractive, with the church tower just showing over the tops of the olives. The houses and streets are clean and the people decent and friendly in their manner. It was a fiesta and the entire populace seemed to be carrying decorations to the church, where there was to be a procession in the afternoon. Women and children were laden with plants and flowers, and the men were carrying immense timbers to build a staging in the sacristy. The priest was a bright young Mexican with a genial manner, and impressed me as a real friend of the Indians. He had two schools under way. He readily consented to my photographing the picture, but the Indians looked on this with disfavor, and I was closely attended and narrowly watched by two patriarchs till my labors were ended. As to the painting, it is superb and would repay a longer journey. Its interest is enhanced by its quaint setting in this quaintest of old pueblos.

Tzintzuntzan was the seat of an Indian king as early as 1400. There are still extensive ruins; among them. one that is said to mark the site of. the palace of Caltzontzi.

I went to make my adieu to the padre who was still up to his eyes in business with his parishioners, and also took leave of the old Indians who had kept an eye on me to see that I did n’t hoodoo the picture with my mysterious box. They were now more cordial that they found I was going, but quite disappointed because I could not show them my photographs then and there. They inquired where my home might be, and on my telling them in ” los Estados Unidos,” they asked if it was on the other side of the water or where. They said they had heard of my country which made me justly proud. I told them that to reach theirs I traveled five days and five nights. The time was nothing, but they repeated over and over, ” traveling, traveling, all the days and nights on the machine.”

As I left the town I took a snap-shot at the old tower, looming amid the olive trees, which are said to have sprung from shoots brought from the Mount of Olives.

What tales we hear in Mexico, as though the truth were not quite romantic enough ! On reaching a crest that commands a view of the lake and islands, I stopped to use my field glasses. A group of home-bound natives were resting there, and they began whispering and pointing to the glasses. No doubt they all saw farther with the naked eye than I did with the lens, but for fun I let them all have a peep. Out of seven, but two could see. at all. These were like children with a new toy, but I soon found that the landscape had no charms for them. The train was just pulling into the Patzcuaro station, and again the maquina (locomotive) was the center of interest.

Much of the road lies close to the lake where one gets almost a sea breeze. Although the way was filled with returning Indians, when I reached Patzcuaro the plaza still presented a lively scene, and there was a reception at the priests’ college, with a brass band in attendance.

Patzcuaro is full twenty-minutes’ ride by street car from the station; whereas the station is but five minutes ride from Patzcuaro; fifteen minutes representing the difference between mule power and gravity. You make the ascent with much whip-cracking and yelling from the driver, and wild scrambling on the part of the mules. The return is much like a toboggan slide, and full as exciting, if the tracks happen to be wet and the conductor does n’t understand the brakes very well.

The ride on the train to Uruapan is delightful. With the descent, the landscape takes on a more tropical look, and the air becomes deliciously soft and balmy; but al-ways with a spring-like freshness. One of the loveliest lakes I ever saw lies quite near the line of the railroad. Absolutely still, without a fleck except where the water fowl light, it mirrors the trees, the mountains and the sky.

Not only had Uruapan’s fame for beauty preceded it, but I heard from a Mexican gentleman on the train a detailed account of the shooting and slashing affair held a few days since by the robbers and gendarmes, at the house of the former. Dancing was on the cards and though the gendarmes, who were self-invited guests, went at an unfashionably late hour, their hosts received them with open arms, i. e., knives and pistols. One gendarme succumbed to a bullet, another to a blow from a machete. A third received wounds from which he died the next day. At this juncture more guests arrived in the persons of the Jefe Politico and the soldiers. One robber was taken. The others escaped to the mountains, where two were captured and shot. In the meantime the first prisoner had been executed close by the cemetery to save a funeral procession. It was also rumored that a female robber who had been aiding and abetting her admirers was sent to keep him company. The small local sheet, El Amigo del Pueblo, touched lightly on the affair, and pleaded lack of time and space to go into details regarding six more bandits whose obsequies would take place the. following day. This was all discussed in the town., ” under the rose,” but to the casual observer Uruapan’s serenity remained unruffled. There were plenty of swarthy barefooted soldiers lounging about the cuartel; the town was patrolled day and night by uniformed (and barefoot) gendarmes, and occasionally a body of rurales rode through on their splendid horses. Clearly the Jefe Politico was a man of nerve and action, and meant to make Uruapan and its surroundings as secure for residents and visitors, as other parts of the republic.

When we reached Uruapan it had been raining. We boarded the stage which was drawn by a spike-team of mules; but the roads were heavy and the ” point of the spike ” refused to be driven, turning around and trying to climb on the front seat where I sat with the driver. The latter, who was yelling ” like a wild Indian,” gave me the reins at this juncture and got off to straighten out things. He took the obstreperous leader by the head and yelled: I pounded the wheelers on the back and yelled as near like him as possible: there was a plunge, a lurch, and we were off; the driver regaining his seat by a sort of handspring, and continuing to emit yells at the rate of a new one a second, till we landed at the hotel.

It was a new hotel of two stories, with large, clean, airy rooms, tile floors and iron bedsteads. Prices were fifty cents daily for all except rooms on the street which were one dollar. The restaurant was separate, the proprietor himself superintending the cooking. The service was good and cost a dollar a day.

Uruapan is built on the hillside, and commands an extended view of the valley and the mountains beyond. The surrounding roads are good and so are the saddle horses. At the time I arrived, Uruapan was having a boom and did n’t know whether to be glad or sorry; nor what to do with it. A boom is a thing that strikes a town like a cyclone, only worse; for while your cyclone does a neat job, removing the town carefully and effectually, the boom simply whisks it up in the air, toys with it a while, and then lets it down so hard that it takes the rest of its natural life to get its breath again. Uruapan’s boom I rejoice to say was not of this dangerous character. It was a mild, indolent, manana boom, tempered by siestas and church festivals. The climate undoubtedly had some-thing to do with keeping it from becoming unmanageable. It is true new houses were being built and many old ones repaired; but in the time of rains one can’t be expected to carry adobes and work in the rain. Again if the sun shines, just as likely as not it is some one’s dia santo, and there you are again. Seeing some workmen loitering in quite a pretentious building evidently about half-completed, I asked them when it would be finished.

Pues quien sabe! It had already been six years underway, and it would take at least three more. The señor must realize that it is a question of much time to build so big a house.

In this way Uruapan’s boom was progressing in a slow and dignified manner, without any fuss.

Another thing Uruapan had not fully made up its mind about was the railroad, which caused the boom and was erecting substantial passenger and freight depots of gray stone. Of course the maquina lands one at the capital inside of twenty-four hours. But one could al-ways go on a horse in nine days. The road was quite good, when it was not raining, with only occasional bandidos, which gave opportunity for a little pistol practice. True rents were higher and for that matter every-thing brought a better price than formerly. Tourists come with the maquina and their money is good money. All the same, things were very well as they were; and if the railroad had actually arrived, it was no fault of Uruapan’s.

This was all perfectly natural; and while, were it not for the railroad, I should not have been there, I could sympathize with Uruapan. When we have lived for three centuries and some odd scores of years, conserving the customs and traditions of our fathers, leading a quiet, peaceful existence, undisturbed except by an occasional revolution, conducting our affairs, public and private, not as the outside world would have us perhaps, but as we ourselves approve and prefer, is it strange if we regard with apprehension mixed with distrust the approach of that strange, unrestful thing called ” progress,” which comes with the maquina of the foreigner and is spelled with a capital ” P “?

I was glad that I reached Uruapan before the moss of three centuries had been seriously disturbed. The rail-road took me there, and then, owing to a timely wash-out, the trains stopped running. Uruapan, once more isolated, began spelling ” progress with a small ” p.” The whistle of the maquina no longer disturbed our morning slumber. I imagined that I detected a covert look of satisfaction on the faces of the dons, as we assembled leisurely at the post-office to await the arrival of the mail, which came on horseback. Truly it was like old times ! It gave one time to look about a bit and talk with one’s friends. Then too, there was always the subject of the mail to fall back on. There is a delightful sense of chance, of uncertainty about a horse which a maquina has no part in. Will the mail arrive this morning, this afternoon, or not at all? Of course if the mail mozo be on good terms with his sweetheart, who lives in the next village, the chances are that he will daily, and hence the mail will be quite late. If they have quarreled, his horse will be the sufferer, and I shall have my letters before noon. I am therefore divided between a friendly interest in the good fortune of the mail mozo, and the desire to have my letters. When I receive them, twenty steps will take me to a comfortable bench in the garden in front of the church, which is full of roses, and shaded by magnificent ash trees, whose moss-covered trunks and great size proclaim their age. The old church, whose front is a dull terra-cotta, has also its garniture of emerald moss on its cornices and moldings. God and the Bishop forbid that church ever being scraped or renovated !

The churches in Uruapan are much plainer than any in Mexico and suggest in their simplicity the California missions. The building is interesting, as in all parts of the country, and seems entirely an outgrowth from natural conditions. The main building material is adobe. The roofs are usually tile, and project far over the side-walks, thus keeping them dry and affording shelter from both sun and rain. Bridges and gates are invariably covered by a picturesque shake roof, which shelters the pedestrian and preserves the structure. The rainy sea-son is not a matter of a daily downpour of a few hours, with sunshine before and after, but often means a steady, soaking rain all day and all night. The town has two plazas, separated by a large building surrounded by portales. In the first there is a fountain with bushes that suggest lilacs, only their blooms are a bright pink. This plaza is filled with stalls of the Indians selling every-thing from fruit and sweets to shoes and clothing, while in the second are the band stand and more stalls. An-other building with portales follows and then comes the really beautiful garden, with a monument to the heroes of the war of the empire. This arrangement of parks, in the center of the town, is very pleasing and shows that the founders had an eye for beauty.

Uruapan’s lasting fame is built on its coffee plantations. You may ride in any direction, and pass miles of vigorous coffee plants interspersed with and overshadowed by banana palms. Many of the plants are loaded with the delicate white blossoms, whose faint aroma approaches white lilac, while others have the berry in every stage of development. Each berry has two kernels, with the exception of the highly prized Caracolillo, whose single kernel is supposed to possess the concentrated essence of two of the others. Trees bear at the age of four years. A skilful hand can pick from five to six arrobas (25 lbs. each) in a day, and earns six reales (seventy-five cents). The berries must be gathered with great care not to break the tiny stem about a quarter of an inch long, which immediately forms another bud. In addition to bananas, pineapples, oranges, lemons, mangos, and aguacates, I also saw the morera tree whose leaves are quite large, fine in texture, and with a sheen that gives them the actual appearance of crinkled silk; so that they seem intended by nature for the ultimate end, which is achieved with the aid of the silkworm.

What is there to do in Uruapan, do you ask? In the morning there are the baths, with one large tank of crystal-clear water, where the sunshine streams in through the dilapidated roof, and innumerable small rooms, spotlessly clean, with whole roofs, and with showers of hot and cold water. If you go in the tank, however, you will be in fine shape for a horseback ride. The acknowledged tariff is cuatro reales (or fifty cents), for a good animal for half a day.

The beautiful Cupatitzio River is Uruapan’s pride, and several roads lead to it with always a charming view of foaming waters and cascades. The falls of Tzararacua are very beautiful and well worth the hour and a half ride, which at the last is through the pine woods, and down a wild and picturesque canon. The water makes a sheer descent of at least a hundred and fifty feet, ending in a large pool in the bottom of the canon. In spite of the beauty of the falls and the vegetation, there is some-thing rather terrible in the deep and solitary ravine, and the tremendous roar of the water, especially if one be alone. I was wondering if any unfortunate had ever gone over the brink, when an Indian suddenly appeared from nowhere, and seemed as much surprised to see me as I was to see him. I asked him if any one had ever gone over and he said yes, that a woman had; and that he found her body in that very spot. She was bathing far up the river and was swept under by the current. He was looking for stray cattle and coming into the canon found the poor thing on the edge of the pool. He expressed his surprise at my going there alone and said at this season the place was sad; but that after the rains, it would be the scene of much festivity, the Indians going there on Sundays to pass the day in feasting and dancing, and returning home decked with flowers and garlands.

I had a funny experience in connection with the tariff on saddle horses. The administrador mentioned the price, as fifty cents for half a day, on my arrival, and sent at my request for a man who rented horses. I asked this worthy what he would let me have a horse every morning for and he said seventy-five cents. Of course this was cheap, but at the same time I did n’t like the idea of his raising the price simply because I was an American. I told him so, and he immediately dropped to fifty cents, but looked as though he meant to get even. The next morning he sent me a white rack-a-bones, with a hip knocked down, and his ribs projecting like barrel hoops. I returned him with some doubt as to his getting back to the pension, and the gentleman I was going out with sent for one of his own horses. The next day I interviewed a new man. He had a good horse but the price was seventy-five cents. I made further inquiries of disinterested individuals, and they agreed that there were saddle horses to burn at fifty, but evidently not for me! Every horse owner I asked said seventy-five. It was evident the owner of the white horse was boycotting me, and I determined not to be boycotted. I heard of an ancient Mexican on the out-skirts of the town who had good horses, and went to see him. He had evidently not been tampered with. He said the price was fifty cents and that he would get a horse in from his rancho for me. The next morning I paraded a spirited little pacer, in all the bravery of the old man’s embroidered saddle and silver bit, before the face of my horsey friend. I was still chuckling when the mozo came the next morning with the horse, and a message from the old man, that he should have to charge me seis reales, each time. I sent word that I should keep to my agreement. I put the horse through that morning, thinking it might be my last ride with him, and fell so in love with him I almost felt like weakening; but I thought of the white-horse man, and determined to resort to that faithful if plodding steed known as ” Shank’s mare,” before he should have the laugh on me. I was in the midst of dinner when there was a knock, and the old Mexican entered, in silver-trimmed charro suit, big hat, clanking spurs and a sword. Seis reales was written all over the wily old countenance. I whispered cuatro to myself and gave him a chair. I also gave him a drink, a puro and a cup of coffee. I showed him my spurs, my pistol, my watch, some photographs and my lemonade-shaker. I got him to tell me about his trip to Mexico and his fight with the bandits. Then I gave him another puro. When at last he tore himself away I handed him cuatro and asked him what the mozo meant by talking about seis. He professed profound ignorance and said there would never be any question of money between him and me. He had a flyer brought from his rancho that made the first pony fade into insignifiance; and he dropped in every day for coffee and a chat with his ” buen amigo el American.”

Uruapan was founded in 1533 by the good Fray Juan de San Miguel, who seems to have been a second Las Casas in his devotion to the Indians. Nothing is known regarding his birthplace, nor when he came to New Spain. He appeared in 1531 with another priest named Antonio de Lisboa, among the Indians of Morelia, which was then called Valle de Olid after the Spanish captain, who took possession of Michoacan in the name of his sovereign. The original name of the town was later changed to Valladolid. These poor priests, barefooted and in rags, with but five reales between them, won the confidence and love of the Indians and built a Christian church. Fray Juan de San Miguel subsequently traversed the whole of Michoacan, collecting the frightened Indians, converting them to Christianity, founding pueblos and building churches. He established schools in all of which music was taught, and the best voices were selected for the service of the church. Uruapan is said not only to occupy the loveliest spot in the valley, but in the whole state. When the good padre saw the beautiful river Cupatitzio with its abundance of clear cold water, he recognized an ideal place for a town, and at once began apportioning lots of land to the people, laying out the plazas and the streets, and dividing the town into barrios or districts. After directing the building of houses for the Indians and the planting of grain and fruit trees, he began the erection of the church; and later built the hospital which is said to have been the second hospital in the Americas. This was necessary for housing the multitude of poor and infirm Indians who besieged him for protection. Here they found a home and were provided with employment which made them in a measure self-supporting. The statue of this devoted man still adorns the front of the little chapel of La Purisima, and his portrait hangs in the sacristy of the ancient church. His memory is held in love and reverence, not only in the valley of Uruapan, but in all the state of Michoacan.

While in Uruapan, I read a book written in 1639 by Fray Alonso de la Rea, who was evidently a cultured man, and who wrote in a clear and concise manner. The good padre says that in spite of conflicting opinions as to the origin of the Tarasco Indians, he is satisfied they were not the first settlers of Michoacan, but that they are actually a branch of the Aztecs or Mexicans, who were the last of the incoming northern tribes. He says the ancients of the tribe claim that their people came with eight other nations from a place called Chicornotztotl, meaning ” Seven Caves.” (Modern historians refer to this point, which is north of Zacatecas, merely as a resting-place on the line of march.) He was satisfied of the main accuracy of their statement, from the existence of a very old painting on cloth, which still existed in the pueblo of Cucutacato, near Uruapan. This depicted the departure of nine tribes from seven caves, and their subsequent journeyings. The padre again refers to Seven Caves as being in the country called by the Indians “Aztlan. ” (The best authorities are now agreed that Aztlan was in California.)

The Tarascos, who were then an offshoot from the nine tribes but principally from the Azteca, founded Tzintzuntzan, which comes from Tzintzuni, meaning little bird with green plumage, that sips the honey of flowers (hummingbird). Another name for the same bird was Huitzilin, from which came Huitzilopochtli, the title of the Mexican war-god. The birth of the god Huitzilopochtli typified the immaculate conception of the Indians. His mother Coatlicue, the goddess with the skirt of serpents, was sweeping the temple on the hill of Coatepec, when she saw rolling towards her a coil of feathers. She caught it up and placed it beneath her waistband. She immediately became pregnant, and in due time, being still a virgin, bore Huitzilopochtli, who came into the world with a shield in his left hand, while his right clasped a dart or arrow of a blue color. His face was terrible from the first, showing his fierce nature. On his brow was a tuft of the bright green feathers of the humming-bird. The Indians said his name was also partly de-rived from Tlahuipochi, ” he who vomits fire,” and the god was depicted as being engaged in this pleasant occupation. In this tradition originated the manufacture of the famous green feather work for which these Indians were noted, ” and thus we see that the Tarascos were led by this false god,” says Fray Alonso.

Among the most admirable qualities of these people, was their ingenuity, which was not confined to one or two materials, but showed itself in all they did. ” Thus their works are known and applauded throughout the world.” They were particularly successful as sculptors, and so skilful in painting that all the churches of this province are adorned by hangings and pictures made by these same Indians; ” with such beauty of color, that we need not envy even the brush of Rome!” They were the inventors of foundry-work, and before the conquest made sundry small castings which they bartered with the other nations in trade. Under the guidance of master work-men, who came with the frailes, they became wonder-fully efficient in making bells, trumpets and sackbuts. (The clock bells in the church at Uruapan are literally ” silvered-toned. “) Among the articles of feather-work were pictures, images, shields, tapestries, miters and robes. The Periban painting (on wood) was invented here. It is not only beautiful, but so lasting as to be hardly affected by time; seeming to become part of the wood itself and lasting while the wood lasts. The process consists in applying first a coat of varnish, and rubbing it dry. The pattern or drawing is then pricked into the wood with a graver, and the colors laid on and rubbed with the palm of the hand, until a gloss equal to the finest lacquer is obtained. The articles made are writing desks, boxes, trunks, tecomates, vases, trays, bowls and jars. This craft seems to have deteriorated, at least as to variety. The Indians still make a number of small articles that are very attractive.

The Tarascos are also famous for their life-like sculptures of the body of Christ, which are prized throughout Europe. It is true, they had their first examples of the effigy in those brought by the priests; but they are the inventors of a remarkable paste which lends itself wonderfully to the work. To make this they cut the young corn stalks and extract the heart, which they grind into a pulp or paste called tatzingueni, from which they make the famous Christos de Michoacan. These images are not only beautifully proportioned, but so light that while many are six feet high, they weigh no more than if made of feathers. In addition to all these achievements, they have also made organs entirely of wood, and possessed of most beautiful tone.

The Tarascos were and are still serious and thorough in all that pertains to their religion. Among their ancient ceremonies, the burial of their kings is noteworthy. When a monarch realized that his end was at hand, he appointed his eldest son his successor, and began to instruct him in all that pertained to his office. The new king then summoned all the nobles to assist in the last sad rites. The one who failed to appear was considered a traitor to the crown. Each was expected to condole with the dying monarch and to bring some rich gift. At the last moment all were denied entrance to the death chamber, unless some one proclaimed himself able to avert the fatal stroke. When all was over, every one was admitted and the lamentations began, followed by the pomps and ceremonials of the interment.

The body was first bathed and then clothed in a long robe, and the sandals (emblem of valor) were attached to the feet. The ankles had golden bells and the wrists, strings of turquoise. The headdress was of plumes with rich embroidery and jewels. There were splendid collars and necklaces, ear-rings, bracelets and an emerald pendant for the lower lip called teutitl. The body was placed on a bier and covered with a mantle, on which was painted a portrait of the dead king with all his adornments. The women were then admitted to wail and mourn over their departed lord.

The next step is to designate the men and women who are to serve him in the next world, and must suffer death to accompany him. These are named by his successor; who first selects seven women whose offices are as follows: one to bear the bezotes (lip-rings) used by the king, which are of inestimable value; one for jewel-keeper; one cup-bearer; one aguamanos (hand washer); a cook, and two servants. The men form a much larger company including one each of the following named: keeper of the wardrobe; hair-comber; hair-brusher; wreath-maker; chair-bearer; wood-chopper; mosqueador (fly-killer); fire-blower; shoe-maker; perfume-bearer; oarsman; boatman; sweeper; white-washer; king’s porter; porter for the women; feather-worker; silver-smith; bow and arrow maker; tavern-keeper; buffoon or jester; (” that el infierno may not lack in jollity!” adds the padre). There were also hunters and several doctors, among them those who had failed to cure the king in his last illness. Then came the musicians and a host of volunteers, who, if worthy people, were not allowed to carry out their design of self-sacrifice.

The funeral procession left the palace at midnight, preceded first by people weeping and cleaning the way and then by the victims, whose heads were adorned with wreaths and their bodies painted bright yellow. Next came the musicians with clarinets, trumpets and drums of tortoise shell. The bier was borne on the shoulders of the sons and chief nobles, and accompanied by many torch-bearers, all chanting as they went the glories of the departed, together with the praises of his successor. On reaching the temple enclosure, they circled four times the huge funeral pyre, and then placed the body on the summit, still chanting as they set it on fire. Then while it was burning, they caught and killed the aforesaid servants who were to attend their master, beating them over the heads with heavy clubs. These wretches had been previously stupefied with drink, that they might not resist. Their bodies were cast, two and two, into immense jars. This slaughter lasted till daybreak, when the ashes of the king were enveloped in the mantle which had covered the body, together with the melted jewels and ornaments, and carried to the entrance of the temple. Over the remains were placed a mask of turquoise, a golden shield, and bow and arrows. A large tomb was opened in the stairway of the temple. A noble then took the ashes of his sovereign in his arms, and, entering the tomb placed them upon a bed richly ornamented with gold and silver. A huge olla was then introduced in the shape of a man. The remains were placed in it, and the olla sealed and left with its face turned to the east, after being wrapped in mantles. The urns. containing the servants’ bodies followed, with articles for domestic service, plumes, costumes for feasts and many jewels. The tomb was then closed and sealed. All who had touched the bodies bathed carefully to avoid a pest and the company returned to the palace. There they were seated in chairs richly carved, and feasted elaborately. A handkerchief was then given to each, and they were expected to remain for five days, seated in the court, with bowed heads and funereal aspect, without uttering a word to any one. During these five days no corn was ground, nor fire lighted. Later they retired to their homes to continue fasting and praying for the repose of the monarch’s soul; and the nobles went every night to the temple to renew their lamentations at the tomb.

These wearisome and long-drawn-out, not to say horrible, rites must have been purgatory on earth for all concerned; and doubtless before they were ended the new king almost wished the old one had n’t died. The Tarascos, who are everywhere in evidence in this land, are said to be as formal and punctilious in all observances of their present religion, as they were in the old, and serious at all times. Their ancient splendor has vanished and one almost wonders if such things have really been. They still hold the quaintest fiestas in the different barrios, where the music, decorations and customs are unique and half barbaric; but in all their feasting, drinking and dancing they preserve absolute, unmoved solemnity.