Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Bull fights are now prohibited in the Federal District–
embracing a territory around the City of Mexico, somewhat larger
than the District of Columbia–and they are not an institution in
any part of the country. During one of my recent visits to
Mexico, bull fights were got up in my honor at Puebla and at
Pachuca. I was not notified in advance so as to be able to
decline and thus prevent the performance; but in both cases I
civilly declined to attend.

Another amusement of the people of Mexico of that day, and one
which nearly all indulged in, male and female, old and young,
priest and layman, was Monte playing. Regular feast weeks were
held every year at what was then known as St. Augustin Tlalpam,
eleven miles out of town. There were dealers to suit every
class and condition of people. In many of the booths
tlackos–the copper coin of the country, four of them making six
and a quarter cents of our money–were piled up in great
quantities, with some silver, to accommodate the people who
could not bet more than a few pennies at a time. In other
booths silver formed the bulk of the capital of the bank, with a
few doubloons to be changed if there should be a run of luck
against the bank. In some there was no coin except gold. Here
the rich were said to bet away their entire estates in a single
day. All this is stopped now.

For myself, I was kept somewhat busy during the winter of
1847-8. My regiment was stationed in Tacubaya. I was
regimental quartermaster and commissary. General Scott had been
unable to get clothing for the troops from the North. The men
were becoming–well, they needed clothing. Material had to be
purchased, such as could be obtained, and people employed to
make it up into “Yankee uniforms.” A quartermaster in the city
was designated to attend to this special duty; but clothing was
so much needed that it was seized as fast as made up. A
regiment was glad to get a dozen suits at a time. I had to look
after this matter for the 4th infantry. Then our regimental fund
had run down and some of the musicians in the band had been
without their extra pay for a number of months.

The regimental bands at that day were kept up partly by pay from
the government, and partly by pay from the regimental fund. There
was authority of law for enlisting a certain number of men as
musicians. So many could receive the pay of non-commissioned
officers of the various grades, and the remainder the pay of
privates. This would not secure a band leader, nor good players
on certain instruments. In garrison there are various ways of
keeping up a regimental fund sufficient to give extra pay to
musicians, establish libraries and ten-pin alleys, subscribe to
magazines and furnish many extra comforts to the men. The best
device for supplying the fund is to issue bread to the soldiers
instead of flour. The ration used to be eighteen ounces per day
of either flour or bread; and one hundred pounds of flour will
make one hundred and forty pounds of bread. This saving was
purchased by the commissary for the benefit of the fund. In the
emergency the 4th infantry was laboring under, I rented a bakery
in the city, hired bakers–Mexicans–bought fuel and whatever
was necessary, and I also got a contract from the chief
commissary of the army for baking a large amount of hard
bread. In two months I made more money for the fund than my pay
amounted to during the entire war. While stationed at Monterey I
had relieved the post fund in the same way. There, however, was
no profit except in the saving of flour by converting it into

In the spring of 1848 a party of officers obtained leave to
visit Popocatapetl, the highest volcano in America, and to take
an escort. I went with the party, many of whom afterwards
occupied conspicuous positions before the country. Of those who
“went south,” and attained high rank, there was Lieutenant
Richard Anderson, who commanded a corps at Spottsylvania;
Captain Sibley, a major-general, and, after the war, for a
number of years in the employ of the Khedive of Egypt; Captain
George Crittenden, a rebel general; S. B. Buckner, who
surrendered Fort Donelson; and Mansfield Lovell, who commanded
at New Orleans before that city fell into the hands of the
National troops. Of those who remained on our side there were
Captain Andrew Porter, Lieutenant C. P. Stone and Lieutenant Z.
B. Tower. There were quite a number of other officers, whose
names I cannot recollect.

At a little village (Ozumba) near the base of Popocatapetl,
where we purposed to commence the ascent, we procured guides and
two pack mules with forage for our horses. High up on the
mountain there was a deserted house of one room, called the
Vaqueria, which had been occupied years before by men in charge
of cattle ranging on the mountain. The pasturage up there was
very fine when we saw it, and there were still some cattle,
descendants of the former domestic herd, which had now become
wild. It was possible to go on horseback as far as the
Vaqueria, though the road was somewhat hazardous in places.
Sometimes it was very narrow with a yawning precipice on one
side, hundreds of feet down to a roaring mountain torrent below,
and almost perpendicular walls on the other side. At one of
these places one of our mules loaded with two sacks of barley,
one on each side, the two about as big as he was, struck his
load against the mountain-side and was precipitated to the
bottom. The descent was steep but not perpendicular. The mule
rolled over and over until the bottom was reached, and we
supposed of course the poor animal was dashed to pieces. What
was our surprise, not long after we had gone into bivouac, to
see the lost mule, cargo and owner coming up the ascent. The
load had protected the animal from serious injury; and his owner
had gone after him and found a way back to the path leading up to
the hut where we were to stay.

The night at the Vaqueria was one of the most unpleasant I ever
knew. It was very cold and the rain fell in torrents. A little
higher up the rain ceased and snow began. The wind blew with
great velocity. The log-cabin we were in had lost the roof
entirely on one side, and on the other it was hardly better then
a sieve. There was little or no sleep that night. As soon as it
was light the next morning, we started to make the ascent to the
summit. The wind continued to blow with violence and the
weather was still cloudy, but there was neither rain nor snow.
The clouds, however, concealed from our view the country below
us, except at times a momentary glimpse could be got through a
clear space between them. The wind carried the loose snow
around the mountain-sides in such volumes as to make it almost
impossible to stand up against it. We labored on and on, until
it became evident that the top could not be reached before
night, if at all in such a storm, and we concluded to return.
The descent was easy and rapid, though dangerous, until we got
below the snow line. At the cabin we mounted our horses, and by
night were at Ozumba.

The fatigues of the day and the loss of sleep the night before
drove us to bed early. Our beds consisted of a place on the
dirt-floor with a blanket under us. Soon all were asleep; but
long before morning first one and then another of our party
began to cry out with excruciating pain in the eyes. Not one
escaped it. By morning the eyes of half the party were so
swollen that they were entirely closed. The others suffered
pain equally. The feeling was about what might be expected from
the prick of a sharp needle at a white heat. We remained in
quarters until the afternoon bathing our eyes in cold water.
This relieved us very much, and before night the pain had
entirely left. The swelling, however, continued, and about half
the party still had their eyes entirely closed; but we concluded
to make a start back, those who could see a little leading the
horses of those who could not see at all. We moved back to the
village of Ameca Ameca, some six miles, and stopped again for
the night. The next morning all were entirely well and free
from pain. The weather was clear and Popocatapetl stood out in
all its beauty, the top looking as if not a mile away, and
inviting us to return. About half the party were anxious to try
the ascent again, and concluded to do so. The remainder–I was
with the remainder–concluded that we had got all the pleasure
there was to be had out of mountain climbing, and that we would
visit the great caves of Mexico, some ninety miles from where we
then were, on the road to Acapulco.

The party that ascended the mountain the second time succeeded
in reaching the crater at the top, with but little of the labor
they encountered in their first attempt. Three of them–
Anderson, Stone and Buckner–wrote accounts of their journey,
which were published at the time. I made no notes of this
excursion, and have read nothing about it since, but it seems to
me that I can see the whole of it as vividly as if it were but
yesterday. I have been back at Ameca Ameca, and the village
beyond, twice in the last five years. The scene had not changed
materially from my recollection of it.

The party which I was with moved south down the valley to the
town of Cuantla, some forty miles from Ameca Ameca. The latter
stands on the plain at the foot of Popocatapetl, at an elevation
of about eight thousand feet above tide water. The slope down is
gradual as the traveller moves south, but one would not judge
that, in going to Cuantla, descent enough had been made to
occasion a material change in the climate and productions of the
soil; but such is the case. In the morning we left a temperate
climate where the cereals and fruits are those common to the
United States, we halted in the evening in a tropical climate
where the orange and banana, the coffee and the sugar-cane were
flourishing. We had been travelling, apparently, on a plain all
day, but in the direction of the flow of water.

Soon after the capture of the City of Mexico an armistice had
been agreed to, designating the limits beyond which troops of
the respective armies were not to go during its continuance. Our
party knew nothing about these limits. As we approached Cuantla
bugles sounded the assembly, and soldiers rushed from the
guard-house in the edge of the town towards us. Our party
halted, and I tied a white pocket handkerchief to a stick and,
using it as a flag of truce, proceeded on to the town. Captains
Sibley and Porter followed a few hundred yards behind. I was
detained at the guard-house until a messenger could be
dispatched to the quarters of the commanding general, who
authorized that I should be conducted to him. I had been with
the general but a few minutes when the two officers following
announced themselves. The Mexican general reminded us that it
was a violation of the truce for us to be there. However, as we
had no special authority from our own commanding general, and as
we knew nothing about the terms of the truce, we were permitted
to occupy a vacant house outside the guard for the night, with
the promise of a guide to put us on the road to Cuernavaca the
next morning.

Cuernavaca is a town west of Guantla. The country through which
we passed, between these two towns, is tropical in climate and
productions and rich in scenery. At one point, about half-way
between the two places, the road goes over a low pass in the
mountains in which there is a very quaint old town, the
inhabitants of which at that day were nearly all full-blooded
Indians. Very few of them even spoke Spanish. The houses were
built of stone and generally only one story high. The streets
were narrow, and had probably been paved before Cortez visited
the country. They had not been graded, but the paving had been
done on the natural surface. We had with us one vehicle, a
cart, which was probably the first wheeled vehicle that had ever
passed through that town.

On a hill overlooking this town stands the tomb of an ancient
king; and it was understood that the inhabitants venerated this
tomb very highly, as well as the memory of the ruler who was
supposed to be buried in it. We ascended the mountain and
surveyed the tomb; but it showed no particular marks of
architectural taste, mechanical skill or advanced
civilization. The next day we went into Cuernavaca.

After a day’s rest at Cuernavaca our party set out again on the
journey to the great caves of Mexico. We had proceeded but a
few miles when we were stopped, as before, by a guard and
notified that the terms of the existing armistice did not permit
us to go further in that direction. Upon convincing the guard
that we were a mere party of pleasure seekers desirous of
visiting the great natural curiosities of the country which we
expected soon to leave, we were conducted to a large hacienda
near by, and directed to remain there until the commanding
general of that department could be communicated with and his
decision obtained as to whether we should be permitted to pursue
our journey. The guard promised to send a messenger at once, and
expected a reply by night. At night there was no response from
the commanding general, but the captain of the guard was sure he
would have a reply by morning. Again in the morning there was no
reply. The second evening the same thing happened, and finally
we learned that the guard had sent no message or messenger to
the department commander. We determined therefore to go on
unless stopped by a force sufficient to compel obedience.

After a few hours’ travel we came to a town where a scene
similar to the one at Cuantia occurred. The commanding officer
sent a guide to conduct our party around the village and to put
us upon our road again. This was the last interruption: that
night we rested at a large coffee plantation, some eight miles
from the cave we were on the way to visit. It must have been a
Saturday night; the peons had been paid off, and spent part of
the night in gambling away their scanty week’s earnings. Their
coin was principally copper, and I do not believe there was a
man among them who had received as much as twenty-five cents in
money. They were as much excited, however, as if they had been
staking thousands. I recollect one poor fellow, who had lost
his last tlacko, pulled off his shirt and, in the most excited
manner, put that up on the turn of a card. Monte was the game
played, the place out of doors, near the window of the room
occupied by the officers of our party.

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