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oppressive. The air is purer; the environments are more cheerful and inviting; and we no longer experience that strange mental depression which we felt a while ago on the Colón side. As we begin the gradual descent of the water-parting ridge towards the Pacific coast, the beauty of the landscape often charms us, and we are tempted to forget all the discomforts and annoyances of Colón. The country is more thickly populated, the houses are better, the people look cleaner, healthier, stronger, and more self-respecting.
But even here they are not quite angels, either in appearance or in disposition; and you must know them and their language if you would get along pleasantly with them. Treat them civilly and kindly, and you are almost sure to receive civil and even courteous treatment in return. But have a care how you touch their sensibilities or wound their vanity! Serious disturbances sometimes result from a mere thoughtless jest. The great riot of 1856, for instance, grew out of an altercation between an ignorant railway passenger and a native fruit peddler. The passenger fancied he was being swindled out of a few cents in the price demanded for a pineapple, and coarsely remonstrated. Very soon he lost his temper and began to call ugly names in very bad Spanish. In less than ten minutes an angry crowd had collected: and in a few minutes more the whole neighborhood was in an uproar. The excitement soon spread; and before order could be restored, some sixty people had been killed outright, and many more wounded. It was many long years before the affair was definitely and amicably adjusted, for it became the subject of a protracted and vexatious diplomatic correspondence, and was finally referred to a mixed
The city of Panama occupies a tongue of land which
extends some distance out into the great shallow bay. On the outer edge of this bay, several miles from the mainland, is a beautiful group of small islands which were once coveted by Great Britain, and which our own Government once made a blundering effort to acquire by purchase. Thirty years later when we might have had them for almost the asking, we did not want them! The city, as I first saw it in 1873, was not unlike scores of others in Spanish America; but since then there have been many notable changes, which give it more individuality. Many fine buildings have been erected, among them a modern hotel that would be a credit to almost any city. The population is variously estimated at from thirty to forty thousand; I believe no correct census has ever been taken. At one time during the booming era of the De Lesseps Canal bubble, the resident and floating population probably amounted to fifty thousand. Since then the town has suffered somewhat, like some in our own country that got into the hands of “boomers," but it is still reasonably prosperous.
The site of the old town of Panama, founded in 1518, is some five or six miles distant from the present city, and is now a ruin. But it was an important place in its day, and became the radiating point of Spanish civilization on the South Pacific coast. Here dwelt the good prelate Luque who befriended Pizarro when that miscreant most needed a friend, and who was the recipient of characteristic ingratitude and ill-treatment in return. Pizarro was guilty of a hundred baser acts; but if this had been the only instance of his treachery and ingratitude, it would have been enough to consign his name to eternal infamy.
It was on the outskirts of this historic spot that I once witnessed a most singular blending of superstition and religious devotion. There was an odd looking pile of stones, some ten or twelve feet high, which seemed to have been loosely thrown together without much design. On the crest of this was an old iron cross, half consumed by rust. On one side of the rock pile (for it was little else), opening from the ground, was a rude doorway, barely large enough to admit a man's body on hands and knees. This led back to an inner cavern (it could hardly be called a room), wherein lighted tapers were burning. In this and beneath a rustic altar, was a quantity of human bones, collected in a sort of stone urn. The attendant friar, getting his dates a little mixed, told me these were the mortal remains of some early Christian missionaries who had died on this identical spot early in the sixteenth century. I asked him how he knew this. “Ah, señor mio,” said he, “such is the tradition of holy men, and I accept it.” If he entertained any doubts as to its truth, others of the faithful did not; for the place was visited regularly at intervals during the year by simple-minded Indians from a distance who deposited their pesetas,' and renewed their vows over the bones of the saintly dead.?
The so-called “State” of Panama is coextensive with the isthmus of that name, and comprises an area of about 30,000 square miles. Its present population is perhaps 400,000, including an independent tribe of Indians who are said to number about 8,000. It is the most northern of the nine constituent commonwealths of the present
1 A peseta is a native silver coin, corresponding to the franc, worth about sixteen cents.
2 Paracelsus stated what is now an admitted scientific fact when he uttered these remarkable words :-"Whether the object of your faith be real or false, you will nevertheless obtain the same effects. Thus, if I believe in Saint Peter's statue as I have believed in Saint Peter himself, I shall obtain the same effects that I should have obtained from Saint Peter. But that is superstition. Faith, however, produces miracles; and whether it is a true or a false faith, it will always produce the same wonders.”
Colombian union, and to most foreigners is better known than the Republic itself. The result is that one of the most beautiful and interesting countries on the continent is habitually misjudged by what little is here seen of it.
And yet, strange to say, this is precisely the section of which Colombians seem to feel most proud. Like a deformed and useless member of a family, it is a sort of pet of the household, humored and spoiled and habitually deferred to by all the others. It has already cost the central Government, in the way of reclamations growing out of local disorders, more than the entire “State” would bring if put up at auction; and yet if you would touch the pride of the average Colombian at the most sensitive point, just intimate that his Government might be induced to part with the sovereignty of the isthmus! He believes Panama to be “the navel of the world,” and that at some time or other, and in some manner, not very clear even to his own mind, it will be the source of fabulous wealth. Stranger still, he seems to have the impression that this particular spot is especially coveted by all the nations of the world, and that “the United States of the North" (as he persistently miscalls the title of our Government), is merely awaiting some favorable pretext to take forcible possession of it. Nevertheless, every time the federal Government at Bogotá gets into some serious trouble with its “revolutionists" on the isthmus, it importunes the Washington authorities to intervene for the preservation of order there.
The general topography of the isthmus may be described as a succession of hills and valleys with intervening swamps and rapidly-running streams. The great central range of hills, often rising to the dignity of mountains, which separates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds, is merely the extension of the great western cordillera of the Andes, which, under a different name,
continues through Central America, Mexico, and the United States, and is finally lost in the icy slopes of Alaska. The Atlantic side is drained by the Atrato and the Chagres; the Pacific side by the Tuya and its confuents. The head-waters of the Atrato and of the Tuya are not a great way apart, with a sort of table-land swamp intervening; and there is an Indian tradition that some of the early buccaneers once passed from one to the other in light canoes and pirated a small settlement on the Pacific coast near Darien.
It is interesting to note how persistently this shadowy tradition of a natural water-pass across the isthmus hangs about the early literature of the country. We find frequent allusions to it, not only in the Spanish poems and romances of the seventeenth century, but likewise in the colonial state papers and official correspondence of a much later date. The most remarkable instance occurs, however, in an official communication by the Governor of Panama (one Don Dionicio Alceda) which bears the date of 1743. In that communication, speaking of the River Mandingua (the former name of the Atrato), the Governor says:
“It rises in the mountains of Chepo and runs eastward some four and a half leagues, to the Atlantic. The
a navigation of this river is very properly prohibited under the pain of death, owing to the facility it affords for passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. This •passage was effected in the year 1679 by the arch pirates Juan Guartem, Eduardo Blomar, and Bartolomé Charpes. These freebooters,” the Governor goes on to say, “were tried for their crimes by audience of the viceroyalty, and as they could not be had in person to suffer the just punishment, they were burned in effigy at Santa Fé (de Bogotá), while they were yet ravaging the settlement on both sides the isthmus."