CHAPTER XVI:Riding The Circuit—Concluded


Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER XV:Riding The Circuit—Continued Next: CHAPTER XVII: Trip To The Nabajo Country


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Socorro and Situation.—Court.—Mad Calf.—Religious Meeting.—Warm Spring.—Start for Las Cruces.—Crabb's Ranch.—Fray Cristobal.—The Journey of Death.—Remain in Camp.—Cross the Jornada.—Halt at Robledo.—Doña Ana.—Mr. Thompson.—Fort Fillmore.—Ride to El Paso.—Arrive at El Molino.—Situation.—Judge Hart.—Valley of El Paso.—Wine, etc.—Pacific and Atlantic Railroad.—Town of El Paso.—Visit the Town.—Its Beauty.—Dinner.—Leave El Molino.—Stop at Fort Fillmore.—Major Backus.—Court in Las Cruces.—La Mesilla.—Anecdote.—Music.—Start homeward.—Arrival in Santa Fé.—Author's Experience on the Circuit.—Advantages of the Trip.

The town of Socorro is situated upon the west side of the Del Norte, on a bluff bank some two hundred feet above the river. The name, in English, means succor, and is said to have been so called from the following circumstance: During the rebellion of 1680, a party of Spaniards, retreating down the valley, hard pressed by the Indians, here met troops from El Paso coming to their assistance, and in commemoration of the event, the town afterward built upon the spot was called Socorro. The population is about five hundred, and at that time the family of Mr. Conner were the only Americans in the place. The valley, in the neighborhood of the town, is productive, the pasturage is unusually fine, and good crops are raised. The inhabitants are favored with good clear water, and are not obliged to resort to the muddy river. About three miles distant is a somewhat remarkable warm spring that comes from beneath a range of hills, and immediately below falls into a pool which forms a fine place for bathing.


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FRAY CRISTOBAL MOUNTAINS.


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The court continued in session at this place until Friday without transacting any business of importance or interest. The court-house was in better condition than in most of the other counties, and the situation more pleasant. The front looked out upon the Plaza, while in the rear was a beautiful vineyard, which promised an abundant supply of delicious grapes. There was no jail in the county, nor had there ever been one. The only stirring occurrence during the week was the advent of a mad calf one evening upon the Plaza, followed by a crowd of men and boys yelling like so many friends. They intended to stone the poor animal to death, but were prevented from carrying their cruel purpose into effect. I was afterward told, by a resident of the place, that the next morning the calf was killed, and the flesh distributed through the place for food.

The members of the bar invited Mr. Cardenas, the converted Catholic priest heretofore mentioned, to preach during the week, and on Wednesday evening he held forth in the court-house. The sermon was in Spanish, and he had a respectable audience as listeners, mostly Mexicans. The bar organized themselves into a choir, and during the exercises sang three hymns, one of which was that delightful old Church tune, ‘‘
How tedious and tasteless the hours,
’’ every word of which found its way to my heart, and carried me back to my boyhood days, and vividly revived a holy recollection of the best of mothers. I had not heard the hymn for years, and now to listen to it in a strange land, and under the peculiar circumstances which brought it forth, awakened thoughts and feelings that had lain dormant for years.

The evening before we left Socorro we rode out to the warm spring and bathed in its pleasant waters. The pool is some twenty feet long by fifteen wide, and eighteen


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inches deep. The temperature of the water is about that of new milk, and it is said to possess some medicinal qualities that render bathing in it conducive to health. This spring supplies the town, and by the time it arrives there becomes cool and pleasant to the taste. There are several warm springs in New Mexico, some of which are medicinal in a high degree; and if in the States, and they could be conveniently reached, they would prove a fortune to the owners. One, in the neighborhood of Las Vegas, is celebrated as effecting remarkable cures in cases of chronic rheumatism, and invalids occasionally resort thither.

The next point south of Socorro at which the District Court sits is the town of Las Cruces, the county seat of Doña Ana county, the distance between the two places being one hundred and fifty miles. Our party numbered six persons, who were obliged to continue south, the balance returning north. We all intended going down on the east bank of the river; but the water being too high for Judge Benedict to cross in his buggy, he and three others traveled on the west bank, while two of us crossed to the other side. The mail-party came along about the time we were ready to start, and we took the opportunity of traveling in their company for greater security. We crossed the river by fording, and joined them as they were hitching up. There were seven persons, all told, including three passengers—six Americans and one Mexican.

It was about noon when we left camp, and we drove that afternoon twenty-five miles to the rancho of Mr. Crabb, where we stopped for the night. Our road, as usual, lay along the bank of the river, sometimes through fertile bottoms, and at others among the sand-hills. We found accommodations at Mr. Crabb's. A few nights before, a party of Mescalero Apache Indians attacked


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his corral and carried off his stock, which caused us to keep a close watch upon the animals. The next day we drove to Fray Cristobal, sixteen miles, to breakfast, passing on the way the ruins of Valverde. Some years ago this place was a flourishing settlement, but the inhabitants were driven away by the Indians and have never returned. All the way down from Socorro the country is mostly barren, and we saw but one house.

Fray Cristobal is a simple camping-ground, and not, as the young traveler would most likely imagine before he arrived there, a respectable-sized village, where he could find entertainment for man and beast. The place is named after an old Franciscan friar, who lived in the country many years ago, and was so called because of the resemblance of the profile of the mountain to the outline of his face. The accompanying sketch shows a striking likeness to the human countenance, and must be recognized by every one who has passed that point. On the west bank of the river, between Socorro and the lower point of the Jornada, there are two military posts, Forts Craig and Thorn, one village, Santa Barbara, and an occasional rancho.

Fray Cristobal is the northern terminus of the Jornada del Muerto, or the Journey of Death, a barren stretch of country, which extends nearly a hundred miles to the south. It is almost a dead level, and without water except the little found in holes after a rain, and is bounded on each side by a range of mountains, that on the west shutting off all approach to the river. The only vegetation is a short, dry grass and a few weeds. It is, properly speaking, a table-land, and the shape is not unlike that of a canoe. The width is from five to thirty miles. The river here makes a long detour toward the west, while the road that crosses the Jornada runs almost due south. This desert has ever been the


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dread of travelers, and many a one has entered upon it and never been heard of afterward. It was formerly the range of the Mescalero Apaches, who in some instances cut off whole trains. In the winter season it is visited by terrific storms of wind and snow, and sometimes both men and animals are frozen to death before they can cross it. In the warm season it is very usual to make the drive in the night, particularly if the holes do not contain water, as it is easier for the animals. Our present camp-ground being at the mouth of the Jornada, the necessary preparations are made for crossing it: the water-kegs are filled, animals well rested, and the wagon examined to see that every thing is in good traveling condition.

We remained in camp from eleven in the morning until five the evening, resting beneath the fine old cottonwoods, while the animals pastured upon the luxuriant grass that covered the river bottom. Having completed our arrangements, we left camp and commenced the passage of the Jornada. The road for the first five miles gradually ascends until it reaches the plain, where it becomes smooth and hard, and superior to any turnpike I have ever seen. The night was beautifully clear, and in the soft atmosphere of that southern latitude the stars shone out with great brilliancy. Every thing rested in profound quiet, and no noise was heard but the clatter of our horses' hoofs and the rumbling sound of the wheels upon the hard road. The mountains could be distinctly traced in the moonlight, and but for their serried peaks, to remind us that we were upon terra firma, it would have required no great stretch of the imagination to believe ourselves at sea. A tall soap-weed grows upon the Jornada, which more than once in the night I mistook for Indians. They are about the height of a man's head, with a bushy top, and are well calculated


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to deceive the unwary traveler. We made sixty miles of the distance by three o'clock in the morning, when we halted and turned our animals out to graze for a couple of hours. I made my bed on the leeward side of a bush, and, in spite of the chilliness of the atmosphere, I slept soundly until I was awakened by the conductor to continue the ride. We hitched up between five and six, and completed the balance of the distance to the river by eleven, stopping meanwhile to breakfast beside a hole that contained a few barrels of filthy stuff we were obliged to call water.

We halted to dine and graze our animals at Robledo, the southern terminus of the Jornada, where we remained until four in the afternoon, and then drove into Doña Ana. We stopped here for the night. The stage drove into a large corral (in plainer English, cow-yard), and, as there was no public house in the village, or other place where travelers could find accommodations, we spread our blankets among the mules, and slept as soundly as though we had been provided with more sumptuous quarters. This is a modern-built Mexican town, with a population of some five hundred; the river bottom here is broad and fertile, and well watered and cultivated.

At Doña Ana resides Mr. P. M. Thompson, a young man of enterprise, whose life is full of romance. He is a native of New Jersey, where his friends still resides; but, at the age of twelve years, he ran away from school at Morristown, and joined Black Hawk's Indians about the close of the war between them and the United States. He was adopted into the family of White Hawk, a brother of the chief, and in all respects was brought up as an Indian; his face was painted, and he was taught the use of the bow and arrow, and other accomplishments of the red men. He remained with them until the war with Mexico, when, being in Saint Louis upon a visit, he enlisted


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in the army and went to New Mexico, where he was afterward discharged. We drove the next morning to Las Cruces, where the stage stops to change the mail. This was properly the end of my journey, but, as a week would intervene before the meeting of the court, I concluded to continue on to El Paso, forty miles below. I tarried at Las Cruces but a few moments, when I resumed the road in company with one of the passengers, who bestrode a mule belonging to the stage. Four miles brought us to the silver-smelting furnace of Mr. Stephenson, where we stopped a few minutes to examine the works, and look at some of the specimens of the precious metal obtained from the ore, when we mounted and rode to Fort Fillmore, four miles farther on.

Fort Fillmore is a large and pleasant military post, and is intended to garrison a battalion of troops. The form is that of a square, the quarters of the officers and men inclosing the open space within on three sides, while the south is open toward the river. The buildings are adobes, but comfortable. A farm at that time was attached to the post, since discontinued, on which were raised vegetables for the troops. There is also a well-selected post library for the use of officers and men, which is an evidence that the government does not overlook the mental wants of her soldiers. The post was garrisoned by three companies of the third United States infantry, under the command of Major Backus, an officer of experience and merit. I was received by the officers with the politeness that always characterizes them. Among others, I met Dr. S., surgeon at the post, the son of a distinguished citizen and valued friend of my native state, whose acquaintance I made with more than ordinary pleasure in that distant region.

We left the fort for El Paso about eleven, in advance of the mail, as we were desirous of arriving there that


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evening. The country is uninhabited until you arrive within four miles of the Pass, where you find three or four houses by the road side. There is evidence of former settlements along the valley, but the fields have gone back into a state of nature, the buildings tumbled down, and the acequias filled up, the whole having been laid waste by the Indians some years ago, and never resettled. A few miles below the fort we passed the battlefield of Bracito, where Doniphan fought a severe action with the Mexicans during the war. At four we stopped an hour upon the river bank to graze our animals. It was nearly sundown when we reached Frontero and entered the sand-hills. Here the country becomes very hilly and barren of vendure, except a few cactuses and a sparse growth of stunted pines and mesquite. The sun went down while we were winding among the hills, and we were left to finish the journey in the dark. Slowly traveling the tortuous course of the hilly road, we descended again into the river bottom, and between eight and nine o'clock we arrived at the hospitable mansion of Judge Hart, who made us feel at home the moment we had passed his threshold.

Our wearied animals were given into the care of the mayor domo, while their no less tired riders were taken charge of by our host. By the time we had made our toilets supper was announced, of which we partook with unusually keen appetites. After supper we retired to the library, and passed some time in most agreeable conversation. During the evening several gentlemen came in for the purpose of organizing a Masonic lodge, but as neither my companion nor myself had ever been initiated into the mysteries of the order, we were not allowed to participate in the ceremony. Our host excused himself to attend his brethren, and we, at the same time, claimed the privilege of amusing ourselves in our own


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way, and therefore went to bed. In spite of the near proximity to the place where the mystic rites of the order were being enacted, I had no troubled dreams of spooks or fiery gridirons, nor saw the ghost of the murdered Morgan; but the God of Sleep, with gentle kindness, sat upon my weary lids until the sun had climbed far up into the heavens the following morning.

El Molino (the Mill), the residence of Judge Hart, is rather romantically situated upon the east bank of the Del Norte, three miles above the Mexican town of El Paso, and a short distance below where the river forces its passage through the mountains. The house is built in the Mexican style, is large and convenient, and within were found every luxury and comfort of home. At this point there is good water-power, which he has taken advantage of and erected a large flour-mill. Judge Hart is a native of Kentucky, and settled at this point at the close of the war, in which he served as an officer. Mrs. Hart is a Mexican by birth, a Chihuahuanian, but of fine Spanish blood, and is a lady of refinement and intelligence. Having something of a literary turn, he has collected together a good selection of books, and there, removed from the great and busy world, he spends his time between business and the pursuit of letters.

I awoke refreshed, and, after a substantial breakfast, felt in a condition to follow whithersoever our host might lead in the pursuit of amusements or sight-seeing. Toward noon we rode down to Magoffinsville, three miles below, to pay our respects to Mr. M., the proprietor, whom I found living quite in nabob style in a large Spanish-built house, that reminded me somewhat of an old mansion of the feudal ages. Fort Bliss had lately been established here, and, for want of barracks, the officers and men were quartering in the buildings of Mr. M. The present garrison was four companies of the eight infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander.


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FORT BLISS, TEXAS.


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Here begins the somewhat celebrated Valley of Paso del Norte, which extends south thirty or forty miles, until the mountains again close down upon the river. The width varies from a half to three miles, and at a few points it is wider. The land is fertile, well irrigated, and produces fine crops. It is particularly productive in wheat, and it has been estimated that this narrow strip of land, lying on both sides of the river, would produce, under proper cultivation, enough to support a million of inhabitants. The valley would grow the grains and vegetables, while the hills and mountains would supply good pasturage for numerous flocks and herds. The climate is delightful, and even excels that of New Mexico. It is a region of perpetual spring and summer, and most of the tropical fruits and plants flourish as though it was the land of their nativity instead of their having been transplanted from a still more genial clime. The grape, in its variety, grows in great abundance, and vineyards, from which delicious wines are made, are scattered all along down the valley. In writing upon this subject, De Bow, in his Industrial Resources of the South and West, says, ‘‘The most important production of the valley is grapes, from which are annually manufactured not less than two hundred thousand gallons of perhaps the richest and best wine in the world. This wine is worth two dollars per gallon, and constitutes the principal revenue of the city. The El Paso wines are superior in richness, and flavor, and pleasantness of taste to any thing in the United States, and I doubt not that they are far superior to the best wines ever produced in the Valley of the Rhine or on the sunny hills of France. Also a great quantity of the grapes of this valley are dried in clusters, and preserved for use during the winter. In


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this state I regard them far superior to the best raisins that are imported into the United States.’’ Grapes and wines are the most valuable productions of the valley; but next to the cereal grains in point of usefulness may be mentioned the lechuguilla, a plant that grows upon the almost barren mountain-sides among the stunted pine and cedar trees. The blades are very fibrous, and, when pounded, washed, and scraped, are manufactured into ropes and many other useful articles.

If the proposed Atlantic and Pacific rail-road should be constructed through Texas, El Paso will be an important point on the route, and it will be the means of settling this whole valley with an enterprising population. The place of crossing is just below the mill of Judge Hart, which is said to be the most eligible point for the purpose upon the river.

The Mexican town of El Paso del Norte, in the State of Chihuahua, is situated upon the western bank of the river, and nearly opposite Magoffinsville. It was settled some two hundred and fifty years ago, and was originally the seat of a Spanish mission. There is a difference of opinion as to the origin of the name it bears. Some maintain that it was so called because here the river passes the mountains, while others content that it was because the fugitive Spaniards passed to this place from the north in 1680, when driven out of New Mexico by the Indians. The former is probably the correct origin of the name, as the town was founded many years before this rebellion took place. The settlements extend down the valley some ten or twelve miles, and the population is estimated at six thousand. The houses are so much interspersed with vineyards, orchards, and cultivated fields, that it presents more the appearance of a succession of plantations than a town. The Plaza, as the more compact portion is called, is near the head of the valley, where is situated the old cathedral, custom-house, and other public buildings, and where the trade of the town is carried on. Just below the point where the river passes the mountains a dam has been thrown across the stream, in order to turn the water into a large acequia, which runs the length of the valley, and irrigates the gardens, fields, and vineyards. El Paso is the centre of a considerable trade with the northern states of Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico, which is principally carried on by means of pack-mules.


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CATHEDRAL EL PASO DEL NORTE.


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I remained during the day and night the guest of Mr. Magoffin, and was never treated with greater politeness and kindness. The next morning I went over to El Paso with a party of gentlemen to see the town. We rode down to the ferry, when we stripped the saddles and bridles from our horses, which we put into the boat, and made the animals swim across. Safely upon the other side, we saddled up again and rode into town, the custom-house officer at the landing allowing us to pass without examination. These officers are accommodating fellows. The duty upon silver taken from Mexico to the United States is about eight per cent., but the merchants manage to get it across for about one half by making a private arrangement with the officer, who is always ready to "turn an honest penny." Each man has his price, and if one sum will not buy him another will. As we rode through the town I was struck with the charming appearance it presented. On every side were vineyards, flower gardens, orchards, and shrubbery, loaded with foliage, flowers, and fruits, and little canals carried water along nearly all the streets, and through the gardens and yards, adding to the pleasantness of the scene. Fruit-trees of all kinds, singly and in groves, were growing on every hand. The buildings are ordinary abode houses, but such was the beauty and picturesqueness


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of their surroundings that they appeared much more pleasant than mud houses ever seemed before. When to these natural beauties we add nearly every delicacy and luxury that the heart of man can crave, and a climate that rivals that of Italy, it can easily be conceived that, as a place of residence, it is almost an earthly paradise. We stopped at the only public house in the town, and remained to dine. The landlord was a German or a Swiss, and is said to have been one of the cooks of Charles X. of France; but whether or not he learned the profession in a royal kitchen, his cuisine upon this occasion was quite incomparable, and far exceeded my expectations. His soup, meats, and other dishes, of which there was a variety, I have seldom seen surpassed in the first hotels in the United States. If cooks were ennobled nowadays, he should certainly be dubbed Master of the Kitchen, and be allowed to wear a golden spit at his button-hole as a badge of his rank. Upon this side of the river I found every thing purely Mexican, and even the near proximity of the Americans, without the advantage of their institutions, had failed to start the inhabitants from the Rip Van Winkle sleep in which they have slumbered for centuries. I imagined that I could see a difference, even in the donkeys and beggars, between those of El Paso and the same race of quadrupeds and bipeds who inhabit the soil of New Mexico. A small guard of soldiers was stationed in the town to aid the government officials in carrying into effect the mandates of his serene highness. We returned to the Texas side of the river before sundown, when, making my adieus to the kind host at Magoffinsville, I continued up to El Molino, and again became the guest of Judge Hart.

I took my departure from El Molino on Saturday, the thirteenth instant. I was favored with the company of


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a party of officers returning to Fort Fillmore; we numbered eight persons, including the wife and daughter of Colonel Alexander. The day was clear and pleasant, and we made the distance to the fort by four in the afternoon, without hinderance on the way. I remained at the post until the following Monday, quartering with Dr. S. With the exception of those who have their wives with them, the officers formed a common mess, and appeared to live on the most agreeable terms with each other. I dined with Major Backus and family on Sunday, and made the acquaintance of his wife and daughter, whom I found to be pleasant and intelligent persons, and who had shared the major's camp and garrison life in New Mexico for three years. The troops turned out on Sunday morning for inspection and parade, and the band discoursed sweet music at different times during the day.

On Monday morning I rode up to Las Cruces, to give my attendance at the United States District Court, which was to begin its sessions that day. The county seat of Doña Ana is a modern-built Mexican village, and, in Yankee style, stretches mostly along one broad street, with a population of about a thousand souls. On the opposite side of the river is the famous Mesilla Valley, which has caused such a hubbub in the political world. It lies along the west bank of the Del Norte, some thirty odd miles from north to south, with a width of from a quarter to two miles, being bound on the west by a range of barren mountains. The glowing accounts that have been written about the beauty and fertility of La Mesilla are not sustained by the reality, and were gotten up by those who were entirely ignorant of the subject. The population is much less than represented. At the first election held after the Gadsden purchase the number of votes polled was two hundred and thirty-five, and at the


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Congressional election in 1855 the number was between five and six hundred, making the population, at the highest estimate, not more than about twenty-five hundred. But a small portion of the valley is cultivated, and that by means of irrigation, the water being brought from the river in acequias. In point of fertility, the soil is about equal to the remainder of the Territory; but I would not exchange a good Pennsylvania farm of a thousand acres for the whole valley for agricultural purposes.

The term at Las Cruces was a slim affair, so far as matters of interest were concerned; yet there were enough unimportant cases to occupy the time of the judge until Friday afternoon. Two indictments were standing upon the criminal docket for offenses committed in the Mesilla; but as this valley was not then considered as belonging to us, and within the jurisdiction of our courts, these cases were disposed of in a summary manner. Before this territory (La Mesilla) was reacquired under the Gadsden treaty, it was a source of constant annoyance to our authorities. The villains who found a home there would slip across the river, commit offenses, and return before they could be apprehended; and the rascals from this side would flee to the other after the commission of a crime—and both were equally safe, there being no treaty between us and Mexico for the rendition of fugitives from justice.

During our attendance upon the court, the judge, bar, and officers found accommodations at the public house of a Mr. Bull, where, for two dollars and fifty cents a day, we got tolerably good living. In the interval of business many amusing anecdotes were related, one of which, told by Judge B., is too good to be lost. In the county of S., in the State of Indiana, the two associate justices were, upon one occasion, holding a term of court, when a motion was made to dismiss a case, or, in common legal parlance,


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to throw it out of court. This brace of modern Lycurguses listened to the argument of counsel pro and con with the gravity of a badger, and, after it was concluded, made up their minds that the case should be thrown out of court, and, in accordance therewith, one of these worthies directed the clerk to throw the papers out of the window.

After court adjourned on Friday evening I rode down to the fort and passed the night there. The commanding general of the department had arrived during the afternoon, and, as the sun was about going down, the band came upon the parade and played some delightful airs in honor of his presence. This is one of the most delightful seasons to listen to music, and he who can not appreciate the "concord of sweet sounds" at such a time must be a much greater scamp than the Bard of Avon writes him down.

I returned to Las Cruces the next morning, and the same afternoon we turned our faces homeward. Our party was now a dozen strong, being joined at Doña Ana by the mail and a Chihuahua merchant traveling north, where we slept the first night. The second day we made about eighty miles on the Jornada, and at three in the morning we lay down to sleep upon the cold, hard earth for a couple of hours, while our animals rested and grazed. I had a severe chill during the time, but it was not strong enough to keep apart my heavy eyelids. The Journey of Death safely passed, we continued up the valley of the Del Norte without accident, and arrived at Santa Fé on the twenty-sixth day of May.

Thus I completed the judicial circuit of the Territory. The distance is nearly a thousand miles, and the country we traveled mostly composed of barren mountains and sandy plains, and in many parts traversed by hostile Indians. The accommodations were meagre enough,


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unless we had the good fortune to stop with an American family, or to partake of the hospitality of the officers of the army, and several times we had to lie in the open air. I saw enough to be satisfied that the office of United States Attorney for New Mexico is no sinecure, and one trip should satisfy any reasonable man, unless he has an overweening desire to become a modern Wandering Jew, or a new-fangled Don Quixote traveling hither and thither in search of legal or other adventures. The trip afforded me an excellent opportunity to see the country and the people, and also to observe how our judicial system works among a population just tasting of its effects. Every thing convinced me that they are an orderly and respectful people, and I have observed better decorum among them in the court-house than I ever noticed in the States in the most intelligent community. In every instance I was treated with great kindness, and hardly saw an instance of rude behavior during the whole of my absence.

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