Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 48: Dr. Mehdi Aminrazavi

From April 2017: “He and Colin talk about Islam: how it developed, its central beliefs and practices, and how it has evolved since the time of Mohammad.”

Mehdi Aminrazavi is Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Co-Director of the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. A native of Iran, he received his education in the United States and has lived and taught in Virginia for decades.

via Podcast 48: Dr. Mehdi Aminrazavi — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 25: Daniel Crofts

From Sept. 2016: “He is the author of ‘Reluctant Confederates’ and more recently ‘Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery.’ “

Here, he talks with Colin about growing up in Chicago, studying under C. Vann Woodward at Yale, and his adventures teaching in China, following in the footsteps of his missionary grandfather.

via Podcast 25: Daniel Crofts — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: No apologies to offer

In this final excerpt, Velazquez ends her journey in Texas, where she reflects on her life of war and peace, and where she looks optimistically to the future. She is satisfied and proud that she fulfilled her dream to live a rich and adventurous life.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 70: In this final excerpt, Velazquez ends her journey in Texas, where she reflects on her life of war and peace, and where she looks optimistically to the future. She is satisfied and proud that she fulfilled her dream to live a rich and adventurous life.


Once on the road again, we followed the valley southward, stopping the next day for our dinner at an Indian village, which was situated at the foot of a lofty mountain and which overlooked the Rio Grande. After having dined, we struck across a stretch of high, dry table land, covered with sagebushes, of which we gathered a quantity as we went along to be used as fuel in cooking our supper. We reached the Rio Grande again about nightfall and had a grand supper, some of the gentlemen having succeeded in killing half a dozen wild ducks and one rabbit, and in catching one fish.

From this point, we pursued our way down the valley, passing a number of old Mexican towns and plantations of cotton and sycamore, which indicated that the land had once been thickly settled with people of no mean civilization, until we reached Fort McRae.

This valley of the Rio Grande is a magnificent route for a railroad, and I doubt not that in a few years it will be found worthwhile to build one. There is plenty of water and timber, and the country offers many inducements to industrious settlers. The principal towns are Albuquerque, Valencia, Socarro, Dona Ana, and Mesilla. The Pueblo Indians have a number of settlements, and the portions of country inhabited by them are generally in a high state of cultivation. These Indians own a great many cattle, sheep, and horses, and they support a number of churches and schools.

Near Fort McRae is the famous hot spring. It is situated on a high mound, and its depth has never been sounded. This spring is in a state of constant ebullition, is very clear, very hot, and is possessed of valuable medicinal properties. Consumptives are especially benefited by the use of its waters. Around the edge is a rough crust of lime, which takes all imaginable shapes. The water of the spring will cook eggs quicker than ordinary boiling water, and when cool it is very pleasant to the taste. A short distance off is a cold spring, near which is a famous Indian camping ground.

Striking south-westward from Fort McRae, we came to Rio de los Mimtres, near the head of which is Mowry City, founded by Lt. Mowry, who could not have had any very clear ideas as to what he was about when he attempted to make a settlement in such a place. Mowry City has a hotel, one or two stores, and more drinking-saloons than do it any good. That it will ever be much of a place I do not believe. There is not water enough in the river the greater part of the time to float two logs together, and in very dry weather one can step across it without wetting the feet. A sudden shower will, however, convert this puny creek in a short time into a raging river, which carries everything before it, and then it will subside as suddenly as it arose.

From Mowry City, which I regarded as a fraud of the worst kind, we went to Pachalalo, where we found a very beautiful ranch, owned by a Canadian who had taken a great deal of pains in improving and beautifying his place. He had made a pretty artificial lake, which, like the rest of the ranch, was supplied with water brought down from the mountains.

A visit was now made to Silver City, a new settlement in the mountains, containing probably about fifteen hundred inhabitants. There were three quartz mills, but nothing worth talking about appeared to be doing in the way of getting out metal. None of the mines were paying expenses, chiefly, I thought, through a lack of competent persons to treat the ore, which seemed to be rich enough. Another and very great difficulty in working these mines, however, was the absence of transportation facilities and the presence of hostile Indians. A railroad will aid immensely in developing this country, which is one of the richest in the world in minerals. On the San Domingo, San Francisco, and Gila Rivers are admirable grazing lands, which will be very valuable to somebody in the course of time. The attractions of this country are very great, and it will doubtless be rapidly settled in a few years.

This country, however, did not hold out any great inducement for me at the time of my visit, and, after taking a look at it, I turned back, and passing through Mesilla, went to El Paso, in Texas, where I remained two days, preparatory to taking the overland stage for a journey across the Lone Star State.

El Paso is the terminus of the overland stage route, the mails being conveyed from there to the interior on horseback. This town is one of the prettiest on the Rio Grande, and there is more business done there than in any place in that whole region outside of Santa Fe. El Paso contains a number of really fine buildings, which would do credit to some Eastern cities. The country in the vicinity produces corn, wheat, and all kinds of vegetables in great abundance. Excellent grapes grow without cultivation, from which the best wine I ever drank, outside of France, is made. The climate is very healthy, the soil fertile, being capable of producing anything that will grow in Louisiana, and the water abundant for all purposes.

The overland stage from El Paso passes through a number of small villages, along the banks of the Rio Grande, until Fort Bliss is reached. This country contains some of the finest grazing lands for sheep in the world. The next place is Fort Quitman, where a large garrison is stationed, and leaving this, the road passes through a well-timbered country, abounding in live-oak, cedar, and taskata — a species of pine which makes a very intense heat when used for fuel. Eagle Spring, a short distance from Fort Quitman, takes its name from the immense number of eagles that build their nests and rear their young in the rocky cliffs. The scenery here is very beautiful but it is considered one of the most dangerous spots on the route, on account of the opportunities which it offers to the Indians for an effective attack.

Leaving the river and making the interior, we were not long in arriving at about as rough and unpleasant a piece of ground as I ever traveled over. In this strip of territory, of about thirty miles in width, rattlesnakes and horned toads are more abundant than the scorpions on Scorpion Rock at St. Thomas.

The Leon Holes, which our stage next reached, are three in number, and the water is very brackish. No bottom has ever been found to them. They say that a freighter who wished to tighten the tire of a wheel, threw it into one of these holes, but when he was ready to start it was not to be seen, having passed completely out of sight.

About seven miles from the Leon Holes is Fort Stockton, and beyond that is a station-house kept by a man who had the reputation of dishing up for his guest pretty near everything and anything that could be eaten. The place, however, was neat and clean, and as the cooking looked inviting, I, being too hungry to be over-fastidious, ate what was before me and asked no questions.

We next traveled through a number of beautiful valleys and over rolling prairies, abounding in buffaloes, antelopes, and deer until the Rio Pecos was reached. This is a bold and muddy stream, and when, as the stagemen say, it gets on a rampage, it rushes on in a perfect torrent. The station-keeper at this point was a small man who blasphemed enough for six large ones. In spite of his foul language, however, he was a good housekeeper, and everything about his place looked nice and in good order.

Our stage now rolled through one of the richest stock-raising countries in America — a country which, when the Texas and Pacific Railroad is built, will certainly be rapidly settled.

The farther we now proceeded the more frequent became the signs of civilization, and, as with this journey, through a most interesting but little-known section of the country, was the last of my adventures that is likely to be of interest to the majority of readers, this seems to be a proper place to bring this narrative to a close.

Perhaps my story was worth the telling, perhaps not — the great public, to whom I have ventured to confide a plain and unpretentious account of my adventuresome career, will be a better judge of that than I am. All I claim is that my conduct, under the many trying and peculiar circumstances in which I have been placed, shall be judged with impartiality and candor, and that due credit shall be given me for integrity of purpose and a desire to do my whole duty as I understand it.

For the part I took in the great contest between the South and the North I have no apologies to offer. I did what I thought to be right, and, while anxious for the good opinion of all honorable and right-thinking people, a consciousness of the purity of my motives will be an ample protection against the censure of those who may be disposed to be censorious.


Loreta’s Civil War: This kind of life

Velazquez, now a mother to a baby boy, moves on to Colorado and New Mexico Territory, and the natural beauty takes her breath away.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 69: Velazquez, now a mother to a baby boy, moves on to Colorado and New Mexico Territory, and the natural beauty takes her breath away.


With my little baby boy — born during my sojourn in Salt Lake City — in my arms, I started on a long journey through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, hoping but scarcely expecting to find the opportunities which I had failed to find in Utah, Nevada, and California for advancing my pecuniary interests. Apart, however, from profits that might result from it, the journey would be worth making for its own sake, for, from what I had heard of this section of the Western country, great things were to be expected of it in the near future, and the satisfaction of seeing and judging of the nature and extent of its resources would amply repay me for the trouble of making a trip through it.

After leaving Salt Lake City, the first place of importance reached was Denver, Colo., on the Platte River. This I found to be a well built and very thriving town of about eight or ten thousand inhabitants. Among its public institutions were a branch of the United States Mint and several hotels, churches, and banks. Denver was, until the completion of the Pacific Railroad, the chief trading center in this region. Since the completion of the railroad, however, its importance in comparison with other places has in some degree diminished but as the country becomes settled, it may be expected to increase in wealth and population, and it will probably, ere a great many years, be one of the finest cities in the whole West.

Among the new towns which have recently sprung up in Colorado is Pueblo, nearly two hundred miles south of Denver and the terminus of the narrow-gauge railroad which taps the Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne. This town takes its name from the Pueblo Indians, who are much farther advanced in civilization than most of the aborigines and who deserve much credit for their industrious habits and their efforts to prosper.

Trinidad, still farther to the south, is an old Mexican town and is the center of an extensive cattle and sheep raising country. There is a constant war going on in this region on the subject of stock between Americans, Mexicans, and Indians. Cattle thieves, who steal stock from Texas and Mexico, rendezvous near Trinidad, and, as they are not particular whom they plunder so long as they are able to do it with impunity, their presence is anything but agreeable to people who desire to live reasonably peaceable lives and to get along by minding their own business.

Some distance from Trinidad is Stockton’s Ranch, in the midst of a wild, unsettled country, and the only house within a circuit of many miles’ ride. This is a noted headquarters of the desperadoes who infest New Mexico and Lower Colorado. The building is two stories in height, is quite large, and contains a store and drinking saloon. On a mound above the house is a graveyard, in which twenty-one people have been buried. Only three out of this number had died natural deaths, the others having been shot down like dogs for some real or fancied offenses. Stockton has killed several men himself, while many more have fallen by the hands of his confederates.

Stockton was a small man, restless in his movements and with a fierce black eye. He had a wife and a very interesting family for whom I felt much sympathy when I learned what a desperate character he was. His wife, who seemed to be a very nice, clever woman, was much troubled with regard to him. She told me that she was always uneasy about him when he was away from home, and that, at times, even when he was sleeping in his bed, she was harassed with fears lest someone should come and take him for the purpose of shooting him.

While I was at the Ranch, Stockton sent out some of his men to get some cattle at Maxwell’s Ranch, which he claimed as his. His instructions were to take the cattle at all hazards and to capture the men who were supposed to have stolen them, dead or alive. The herders were generally selected for their utter recklessness, and as a rule they cared neither for God nor man but would shoot down anyone who offended them, without pity or remorse. Most of these herders are very young men and are generally athletic and handsome. Some of them, from their appearance and conversation, appear to have been well-reared, and if asked why they have come to the frontiers to lead such a wild life as this, they will frankly say that they are trying to make their fortunes, and that they expect to do it in a couple of years. They are usually disappointed in these expectations, and those who do not give up in disgust and return to civilization fall into the habits of the country and soon become as finished desperadoes as those who have been born and brought up there. Some of them, however, engaged in this kind of life because they really like it and because they feel a certain freedom and unrestraint in roaming about in the open air.

Whenever a freight train, either American or Mexican, passed, Stockton would buckle on his belt of six-shooters, and, with a big negro armed in a similar manner as his bodyguard, step out into the road with a roll of brands in one hand and a pistol in the other and inspect the brands on each head of cattle. Should the brands compare with his, he would take them from the train and let the freighters make out the best way they could. He has many times stopped and broken up freight trains bound for Sante Fe and the interior, to the infinite injury of the merchants who depend upon the freighters for their goods. The traders, however, appear to be powerless before this and other desperadoes, and the government which takes their taxes under the plea of affording them protection ought certainly to do something to prevent them from being at the mercy of men who recognize no laws but their own fierce wills.

On one occasion Stockton, through some of his employees, duped two men from Maxwell’s Ranch, who, he asserted, had stolen cattle from him. When he had them in his power he started off, leaving the impression on the minds of their friends that he intended to take them to Trinidad for the purpose of delivering them up to the sheriff. Instead of doing this, however, he carried them into a side road and there shot them, leaving their bodies to be devoured by the coyotes, or, perhaps, buried by some casual passer-by. For this deed he was arrested and lodged in jail. He was liberated, however, almost immediately, without even the form of a trial, the officers being too much afraid of him and of his confederates to detain him.

The occurrences which I have related will illustrate the kind of life that is led in the cattle-raising country of Colorado, New Mexico, southwestern Kansas, and Texas. I named this place Bandit House and the ford in the stream nearby Dead Man’s Crossing — which are expressive and appropriate, if not poetical.

Beyond Stockton’s is General Maxwell’s Ranch. Maxwell is the wealthiest American in southern Colorado. I believe he got his start in life by marrying a Mexican woman who inherited an extensive Spanish grant. Maxwell has quite a large family, and he bears a better reputation than do most of the old settlers. He is a great gambler and is much interested in horse-racing but is disposed to be kind and hospitable to strangers.

Crossing quite an extensive piece of country, the Dry Cimmaron is reached. Here some enterprising Englishmen, headed by a Mr. Read, have taken up a large tract of land and have established a colony. They have built a very neat little town, and when I passed through there, their affairs seemed to be in a thriving condition. The town is located on a rather high and dry elevation, which takes its name from the scarcity of water in the branch of the Cimmaron River, which runs by it.

Dry Cimmaron was for a time a stopping-place for the stages from the Elizabethtown mines, which connected with the Southern lines. It is on a more direct route for the cattlemen and freighters but, although it has plenty of wood, it is open to objection as a cattle and freight station on account of the insufficiency of the water supply.

The next point of interest is Fort Union, in New Mexico, about sixty miles south of Dry Cimmaron. This fort, which, at a distance, looks like a small city, is built of adobe, or white bricks, and is plastered inside and out with gypsum, which gives it a rather dazzling-white appearance. The garrison consists of five companies of infantry and one of cavalry. Fort Union is the central supply depot for the frontiers and is a very important position. Some distance off, in the mountain, is a steam saw-mill, which supplies all the lumber used in and about the fort. This saw-mill is protected by an armed guard of soldiers. There is also a blacksmith shop, a wagon shop, a carpenter shop, and a post office. Each company has a garden and several cows, and the men seem to take a great deal of pride in keeping everything in the best possible order. This fort and its surroundings do much credit to the officers who planned them and who have succeeded in making such a nice-looking place out of a frontier military post.

From Fort Union to Santa Fe the traveler passes over some rough country. Santa Fe is the oldest city in New Mexico and one of the oldest in the country. It has been, and undoubtedly for a long time will be, an important center of trade between the United States and Mexico. The ground in and about the city is all owned by Mexicans or people of Mexican descent, who refuse to sell on any terms, but who will lease to Americans. The houses are chiefly one- and two-story structures, built of adobe, and covered with tile or thatch. They are cool, pleasant, and comfortable in summer. The hotel, which is kept by an American, but which is owned by a Mexican, who has refused to permit any alterations or improvements to be made, stands on the corner of the plaza, or great public square, which was laid out by the founders of the city. During the war, the Union soldiers insisted on erecting a monument on the plaza to the memory of their fallen comrades. This gave great offense to the old residents, who regarded the structure as an injury to the appearance of their public square but as they were powerless to prevent its erection, they were compelled to submit with the best grace they could. As the monument is not a very elegant-looking affair, it is not surprising that those who were not interested in it could not bring themselves to admire it.

So old a city as Santa Fe, of course, has an interesting history, but a recital of the events which have made it famous is scarcely called for in such a narrative as this. It is, in its peculiar way, a handsome place and has a venerable appearance, which is quite imposing. Santa Fe contains about twenty thousand inhabitants.

It was in the month of November that our little party started down the fertile valley of the Rio Grande from Santa Fe, but the weather was warm and pleasant, the great elevation giving this region a deliciously dry and healthful climate. There were seven of us in all, and for the sake of companionship and mutual protection we engaged a large wagon drawn by six mules.

It was about ten o’clock in the morning when we rolled out of Santa Fe, and our first camping-place was an Indian village, where we found a neat little adobe house, of which we took possession while resting ourselves and preparing our supper. One of the gentlemen made the coffee, while the others employed themselves in cooking the provisions, or in roaming about, looking at, and trying to converse with the Indians, or viewing the scenery. My traveling companions were all pleasant people, and we enjoyed ourselves hugely. Mr. McKnight, the owner of the wagon and mules, was an exceedingly gentlemanly man, and I shall always bear him in kindly remembrance for his attentions to me and to my little boy during this journey.

Loreta’s Civil War: Some varieties of life

Velazquez explores Mormon beliefs, enjoys a new friendship, and appreciates the beauty of her new home.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 68: Velazquez explores Mormon beliefs, enjoys a new friendship, and appreciates the beauty of her new home.


To my great satisfaction, my husband at length got tired of working in this region and under so many disadvantages, and concluded to try his fortune elsewhere. He had quite a notion of New Mexico, which he thought held out inducements for fortune-seekers but I was beginning to be out of the notion of the whole business and was anxious to be among a different class of people from those who, for the most part, make up the population of the mining districts. There was so much outrageous swindling going on when we were there residing that I was disposed to regard almost any move as a good one and very willingly turned my face eastward again.

We went first to Salt Lake City, where we remained for some time, and I consequently had excellent opportunities afforded me for becoming intimately acquainted with a number of Mormons and of learning a great deal about their religion and their manners and customs.

The lady with whom I boarded had been an early convert to Mormonism, had resided at Nauvoo at the time the exodus was determined upon, and had been one of the band of emigrants, who, fleeing from persecution, had sought a home among the mountains of Utah. She had been one of twelve wives and was a strong advocate of polygamy. When she saw that I really desired to know something about Mormonism, not from mere curiosity but from a genuine wish to gain information that would enable me to form an impartial judgment, she took great pleasure in answering all my questions and in providing me with facilities for pursuing my inquiries.

She was a very intelligent woman, and her account of the persecutions to which the Mormons were subjected at Nauvoo, and the suffering and hardships they endured during the long and toilsome journey to a place where they hoped to be forever undisturbed, was most interesting. She had quite an extensive library, to which I had free access, and she took a great deal of pains in directing my reading and in explaining points which I found to be obscurely stated in the books.

As I was the only boarder in the house, my husband being away in the canyon most of the time, we were naturally thrown much together, and after we became intimate she took me into her confidence to an extent that she would not have done had we been comparative strangers.

Among other things, she showed me her Endowment robes, which she wore when she became a member of the Mormon Church. This dress consisted of a linen garment, something like a pair of drawers. It was very full and had a body and sleeves attached. Over one side a heart-shaped piece was cut out, and the edges worked with a button-hole stitch. Curious figures were also worked on the sleeves and on the left hip. The robe proper was something like a priest’s surplice. The slippers, which, like the rest of the dress, were of linen, resembled moccasins. A tall pointed cap with holes for the eyes, which is drawn down over the face during the ceremonies, completed this singular attire.

The decorations worn by the men while taking the oath were also shown to me. They consisted of a regalia of Mazarine blue silk, with a representation of the Temple of Solomon in the center and a heart surrounded by a number of emblems similar to those in use by the Masons. She told me that the oath was very similar to that which the Masons used, and that it was administered to both men and women.

During my residence in Salt Lake City, I became acquainted with Brigham Young, and a number of the bishops, and other prominent Mormons, and I formed a very high opinion of them. There certainly has seldom or never been so well-governed a people as the Mormons were before the Gentiles found them out and insisted on intruding on their domain. As for polygamy, it is a part and parcel of their religion and has the sanction of the same Bible that the Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, acknowledge, and I cannot see why the Mormons should not be permitted to hold their religious beliefs the same as other sects. I do not believe in polygamy myself, but if other people think it is right and choose to practice it, that is their business and not mine.

Whether polygamy, however, be right or wrong, there is this to be said in favor of the Mormons. The men marry according to the custom of their church, and they acknowledge and provide for the women who bear them children — which is a good deal more than a great many people who denounce polygamy and Mormonism do. The Mormon religion professes to be based upon the Bible, what they call “The Book of Mormon,” being merely a later revelation, and I have heard as good, sound, practical sermons preached in Salt Lake City by Mormons who worked hard all the week earning bread for their families as I ever heard anywhere.

I have listened to the preaching of nearly all the principal bishops, and I never heard any of them utter a word that was not good doctrine, calculated to make men and women better and more honorable in all their dealings with their neighbors. Most of these sermons were in a much more practical vein than some I have heard in fashionable churches a good many hundred miles eastward of Salt Lake City, but I liked them none the less for that, and I respected the preachers, for, so far as I was able to see, they practiced exactly what they preached and did not have one religion for the Sabbath and another for working days.

I never saw or heard of a gambling den or a drinking saloon being kept by a Mormon, and many of the degrading vices which flourish in Gentile communities were absolutely unknown in Salt Lake City when the Mormons were its only residents. Even now, the standard of morality is higher in this and other Mormon towns than it is in any place that I know anything about between Omaha and the Pacific coast, while in real thrift and industry the Mormons are out of all comparison superior to their Gentile neighbors.

These people went to Utah, hoping and expecting to separate themselves from the rest of the world in order that they might worship God in their own way without molestation, and they ought to be permitted to do it. Through many years of toil and indefatigable industry they transformed the barren wilderness into a blooming Paradise. Conducting the water down from the mountains, they succeeded in bringing the sandy plains, covered with sage bushes, under cultivation, and what was once a dreary desert is now fertile fields, yielding luxuriant harvests or orchards bearing the most delicious fruits.

During my stay in Salt Lake Valley, I boarded for several months in the house of Bishop Nilo Andrews at Sandy Station and was on very intimate terms with five of his six wives. They were all smart women, and their children were, without exception, fine looking, strong, hearty, and intelligent. The bishop was passionately fond of his children and took the greatest pains to have them well educated. His daughters he escorted to all public gatherings and entertainments that it was proper for them to attend and did all in his power to make life enjoyable for them.

The bishop was about sixty years of age and was as hale and hearty as a man of thirty. He was not a bit afraid of work and could get through an amount of it that would have shamed many a younger man. I never want to receive better hospitality than I did from him, and when he found that I was desirous of obtaining correct information about the Mormons, he expressed himself as willing to tell me anything I wished to know.

He was quite a learned man, and like all the Mormons I ever met, was thoroughly posted in the Bible and in biblical history, and was able to explain in a satisfactory manner the points of coincidence and differences between Mormonism and other religious systems. The bishop told me that the greatest pains was taken in the matter of religious instruction, and that men and women who could not read, and even quite young children, often knew most of the Bible by heart.

There are a number of sects among the Mormons, between which some jealousy seems to exist. Of these, the Brighamites, the Gadites, and the Josephites are the principal. What the differences between them are I never could exactly make out. Another matter I never clearly understood was the status of sealed wives. I could not comprehend by what theory a Mormon could marry a widow for her lifetime, while all her children born of the second marriage would belong to the first husband in the next world.

The city of Salt Lake is located on the banks of the River Jordan, a stream which connects Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. It is about three miles distant from the mountains, which lie to the eastward. The streets are very wide and are, many of them, very handsome in appearance, being lined with cottonwood and sycamore trees and having streams of water running through them. This last is an especially attractive feature.

Most of the houses are well built and are very neat and pretty, being supplied with all the conveniences and comforts reasonable people can desire. Each house has a small garden and orchard attached, which are invariably kept in the best possible order.

Brigham Young’s residence is of stone and is surrounded by a wall. Over the entrance is a bee-hive, emblematic of industry, and over the large gate is a spread eagle. The house is plain and not at all pretentious, but it is neat and substantial looking. The walls of the office are ornamented with some fine portraits of Joseph Smith and other Mormon celebrities.

Brigham Young is a light-complexioned man, rather inclined to corpulency, but strong and hearty in spite of his years and the labors he has undergone. He has a large, full head, a keen blue eye, and an easy, affable manner that is very engaging. I found him to be a pleasant, genial gentleman, with an excellent fund of humor and a captivating style of conversation.

The great Tabernacle, which will be used for the purpose of worship until the Temple is completed, is an immense building which will seat fifteen thousand people. The pews are built in tiers, so that each person in the building can have a view of the altar. The altar is a large and imposing structure. In its rear is the organ and a space for the choir. This organ is the second largest in the world. It was built entirely in Salt Lake City. The work on the Temple is going on all the time, slowly but surely, and the expectation is to have it finished by the time of Christ’s second coming. He will then dedicate it, and it will be the great religious center of the world, where all true Christians will come and worship.

Every ward of Salt Lake City has its public school, and efforts are made to give every child a good practical education. There are four large hotels, three banks, three printing offices, a large, well-regulated hospital, numerous manufactories of various kinds, and several flouring and other mills.

There are several large towns in the neighborhood of the city, and new settlements are continually springing up. Springville, about fifty miles to the southeast, is a very beautiful place. At the time of which I am writing a railroad down the center of the valley was in operation, and two others were in contemplation.

The mineral wealth of Utah is practically inexhaustible. Iron, gold, silver, copper, lead, salt, gypsum, soda, arsenic, and slate abound in immense quantities. Salt Lake is a very large body of water, of a much greater specific gravity than that of the ocean. No living thing can exist in it, and in its deepest parts no soundings have ever been able to find a bottom. There are three islands near the middle of the lake, which are said to be rich in metals. In the southern part of Utah, called Dixie, cotton and cattle are raised. On the banks of the Sevier River are very fine grazing lands. The Mormons claim that there have been some discoveries of gold and silver made in this section.

Taking it all in all, my residence in Salt Lake City was both pleasant and profitable to me, and when the time came for me to say farewell to my Mormon friends, I did so with many regrets and with many wishes that they might escape persecution from their enemies. I could not agree with all of their religious doctrines, but I learned to regard them as an industrious, hard-working, and honest people, and as, consequently, deserving of respect and sympathy.

After a sojourn of a number of months in Utah, I prepared to journey eastward again, having scarcely bettered my fortunes, but having seen some varieties of life worth seeing and having gained some valuable experiences, not the least valuable of which was that mining speculations are things that people who have consciences should have as little as possible to do with.

Loreta’s Civil War: Sadness and strangeness

Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 62: Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.


Being bent upon visiting my relatives and my early home, I purchased a ticket permitting me to stop at St. Lucia until the next steamer, and after a short and pleasant cruise, which was not marked by any incident of note, we reached the island which was endeared to me as being my mother’s birthplace, and on account of my residence on it, being among the most fascinating recollections of my childhood.

As I was preparing to leave the steamer, I was surprised by the steward bringing me a beautiful basket filled with different kinds of fruit. A card which accompanied it told me that it was from Capt. F., who had been obliged to stop at St. Lucia for repairs, having broken a mast. On going on shore, I sent the captain a note, requesting him to call on me at the residence of my cousin, the old family homestead. This he did, and I introduced him to my relatives. His visit was a short one, however, as his vessel was almost ready for sea, and so he said goodbye again, and for the last time. I have never seen him since.

It was not without a certain feeling of sadness and strangeness that I found myself once more domiciled in the old-fashioned stone house where I had lived with my father and mother and brothers and sisters when a little girl. The house and its surroundings were much the same as they were many years before, and yet there was something oddly unfamiliar about them, and it took me some time to reconcile my recollections with the realities. The stone house, built in the English fashion, the marble floor, the ancient furniture of Spanish make, the stone water-pool and stone filter, and the banana and prune bushes which grew at my mother’s window were, however, all as they had been, and as if I had left them but yesterday.

In gazing on these familiar objects, I was forced, in spite of myself, to think of the many years that had passed since I had last seen them and of the many things that had happened. The happy family that had gathered under this roof had been scattered and most of its members were dead, while I, the darling of my father and of my gentle mother, what a strange career I had gone through — stranger far than that of many a heroine of romance whose adventures had fascinated my girlish fancy. I was yet, too, a young woman, and what strange things might not the future have in store for me? It was enough, however, just then to think of the past and of the present without perplexing myself with speculations as to the future, and I gave myself up to such enjoyment as a visit of this kind to a fondly remembered home of childhood was able to afford.

After viewing the old house and its immediate surroundings, I went to the family burying ground in search of the weather-stained vault, which contained the earthly remains of near and dear relatives, among others, of a sister and a brother, whose faces I never beheld after I left Cuba to go to New Orleans to school. The ivy and the myrtle grew so thick about it as almost to hide the inscription, and yet there was something beautiful in the appearance of the spot, which marked it as the fitting resting place for the beloved dead. As I stood by this vault and thought how lonely I was in the world and how unpropitious the future seemed, I thought that if it could be the will of God that my spirit should be taken to Himself, I would gladly have my body rest here beside those of my brother and sister. I was reluctant to leave the place but felt impelled to go on and seek the destiny that awaited me in another land and resolved to be as courageous as ever in meeting whatever fate or position the future might have in store for me. Before leaving the tomb, I knelt down to pluck some ivy leaves to carry away as remembrances, but as I stretched out my hand to gather them, something restrained me, and I went away empty-handed as I had come.

I remained in the old homestead, enjoying the hospitality of my cousins until the arrival of the steamer and then said farewell to St. Lucia — my visit to it having been the happiest episode of my journey.

From St. Lucia, I went to the Danish island of St. Thomas, where one of my friends of the war time, to whom I had written announcing my intention of revisiting the place, was expecting my arrival. When we entered the harbor, the passenger boat, which was to take us ashore, came off to the steamer, and as she neared, I recognized my friend. I waved my handkerchief to him, and he took off his hat, and when the boat came alongside he sprang on board, and shook me most cordially by the hand, expressing, as he did so, the greatest gratification at seeing me again.

When we reached the wharf, I met another of my old war acquaintances, the Italian consul. He also was glad to see me and asked me all manner of questions about where I had been and what I had been doing since the blockade-running business had come to a standstill. I walked between my two friends up to the hotel, where I found that a fine large room had been engaged for me, and, once fairly installed in it, the visitors came pouring in, one after the other — first, the proprietor and his wife, then the Danish commandant’s wife, then half a dozen others, until I was obliged to go into the drawing room and hold a regular reception.

Nowhere during my trip had I been welcomed with a more hearty and sincere courtesy or with a more evident disposition to make a heroine of me. All through the evening people were coming in, some of them acquaintances, who, having heard of my arrival, were anxious to extend a welcome, and others, strangers who had learned something of my adventurous career, were desirous of being introduced to me. One of the most agreeable of my visitors was Mr. English, the correspondent of a newspaper in Manchester, England. He was a fine, dashing young fellow, overflowing with wit and humor, and his lively conversation created a great deal of entertainment.

During the evening, some of the company amused themselves with dominoes, others with cards, while I was surrounded constantly by quite a little crowd of persons who persisted in having me relate to them some of my adventures. After a time, wine, ale, and cakes were brought in, and the gentlemen and some of the ladies, too, regaled themselves with cigars and cigarettes. It was nearly twelve o’clock when the Italian consul, a white-haired old gentleman, arose, and asking to be excused, wished us good night. As I was tired I followed him, asking my kind friends to excuse me, and so the party broke up.

I slept late the next morning and was awakened by a tap at my door. It was Mrs. Capt. B., who wished to know if I was sick. I said that I was quite well, whereat she smiled and said she would send me a cup of chocolate. The girl soon came with the chocolate, and after drinking it, I dressed myself and went down to the drawing room. As I passed the consul’s office, he came out and gave me a “good morning” and offered me his arm to take me in to breakfast.

After breakfast, I was joined in the drawing room by quite a large party of ladies and gentlemen, who proposed that I should go with them through the fort and up to the top of the hill to see the scenery.

The town of Charlotte is built on three hills, from the summits of which beautiful views of the harbor and the island are obtained. One of the features of the scene is a rock, called Frenchman’s Cap. It is almost perpendicular, and is, I believe, considered dangerous to shipping. Scorpion Rock is inhabited only by the horrid reptiles from which it takes its name. They are unusually abundant there, and for that reason it is generally given a wide berth, as no one cares to make its intimate acquaintance.

The principal fortifications of St. Thomas are Fort Christiana, and Prince Frederick’s and Mohlenfe’s batteries. These are occupied by a small force of Danish soldiers, who are clean and tidy looking but otherwise are not remarkable in appearance.

It was under the guns of Fort Christiana that the blockade-runners were accustomed to receive their cargoes and, notwithstanding the supposed vigilance of the United States fleet, most of them managed to get off in safety. On my former visit to St. Thomas, one of the Federal officers was pointed out to me as being in the trade himself. On one occasion, at least, where the consul notified him, he permitted a vessel with a contraband cargo to put to sea and did not pretend to give chase until she was so far away that there was no hope of overtaking her.

As the reader will, perhaps, remember, on the occasion of my previous visit to St. Thomas, I had the satisfaction of seeing the Confederate cruiser Florida come in, and coal, and get away again in safety through a clever trick played upon the Federals. The Florida took in her coal and supplies at the King’s wharf, and when she was ready for sea, one of the sailors pretending to be an Englishman went to the consul, Mr. Smith, and told him that as they were coming in they saw the Florida off to the westward of the island. Mr. Smith, accordingly, gave orders to the Federal man-of-war to go out and look for her, and so soon as the Federal cruiser was out of the harbor, and heading westward. Capt. Maffitt, having steam up, put on all speed and went out after her. Before the Federal commander discovered that he had been duped, the Florida was out of sight and out of danger.

The Danish commandant told me that he was heartily sorry the war closed so soon, for the people of St. Thomas profited greatly by it. He was of the opinion that could the South have held out for another year, the great powers of Europe would have interfered in her behalf and she would have secured her independence.

Loreta’s Civil War: Warning them and all others

Stranded in Venezuela, Velazquez sends a message to her friends in New Orleans, warning them not to follow her south.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 60: Stranded in Venezuela, Velazquez sends a message to her friends in New Orleans, warning them not to follow her south.


I remained in the city of Bolivar for several months, making occasional excursions into the country in the neighborhood and going up the River Orinoco as far as San Fernando. My object was to find out all I could about the natural resources and climate of Venezuela for the purpose of advising my friends in New Orleans, and through the kind assistance of my Venezuelan acquaintances … I was, ere long, in possession of ample information to enable me to form an opinion as to the desirability of people from the United States seeking new homes in this part of the world.

The expedition, of which I was a member, was followed not a great while after by another one of equally shabby character under the charge of a Dr. Price. This was made up of poor families who had scarcely anything with them, which would have enabled them to start farming or business of any kind in a strange land. These people were sent on shore by Price, who immediately slipped away and left them to their fate, not caring what became of them.

It was an outrage which cannot be denounced in too-strong terms to take these poor people out to Venezuela without capital and without any means of support and no punishment I can think of would have been too severe for the men who did the deed.

As for the emigrants, they were indignant at the treatment they had received, and having nobody else at hand to vent their grievances upon, fell to blaming the United States consul and the Venezuelan authorities. They would not acknowledge the consul, and some of them abused him in the grossest manner. This made him powerless to act for them. I interested myself as much as I could in behalf of such as were disposed to be tractable, and succeeded, through the consul’s influence, in procuring passage back to the United States for several of the unfortunates. The rest scattered over the country, some of them died, some found precarious employment of one kind or another, and some tried to make their way home again.

After the arrival of Price’s expedition, I considered it my duty to communicate with my friends in New Orleans without more delay for the purpose of warning them and all others who were disposed to emigrate not to think of doing anything of the kind. I accordingly wrote a letter advising those who thought of emigrating to Venezuela, to let it alone and denouncing Johnston and Price for holding out inducements to poor and ignorant people which they had no assurance whatever would be realized. I said that it would be useless for any persons from the States to come to Venezuela without plenty of capital to carry on any such operations as they might engage in, and that if they did come they would have to submit to the laws of the country and take their chances with its citizens.

One great objection to any emigration schemes, however, was the instability of the government, and the fact that Venezuela had no national credit. The governor of Bolivar said that Venezuela would be glad to have industrious people come to it from the United States or any other country, and that facilities would be afforded for them to take up lands at low rates, but he had no supplies to give half-starved men and women who might be landed within his jurisdiction and was anxious that no one should come under any misapprehensions as to what reception they would be likely to have on their arrival.

I stated the facts within my knowledge plainly and reviewed the situation in such terms that there could be no misunderstanding of my meaning, and before sending my letter had it countersigned by the governor, his brother, the consul, and a number of Americans who were in the city.

This duty having been performed, I felt free to enjoy myself, and having by this time quite a large circle of acquaintances, I found very little difficulty in the way of having a good time.

Two young gentlemen, Senor Sayal and Senor Rodriguez, both became very attentive to me and very jealous of each other and very jealous also of Maj. G., a gentleman whom I esteemed very highly. I was afraid at one time that Sayal and Rodriguez would have a serious difficulty and perhaps kill each other — the last named, especially, was very violent and declared that any man who stood in his way should die. As for myself, the party chiefly interested, I cared nothing for either of them except in the way of friendship and had no intentions of marrying again. My matrimonial experiences hitherto had been so unfortunate that I came to the conclusion I had better live single and travel about to see the world, relying upon myself for protection.

While residing in Bolivar I conformed to all the customs of the place and endeavored to see all that was worth seeing. A number of families welcomed me most cordially to their homes, and in company with my friends of both sexes I went on several pleasant excursions. It was quite a popular custom to go up the river on a Sunday morning to Marichal or San Rafael to bathe. At these places there were regular bathing grounds, resorted to by the people of Bolivar, and the washer-women also went there to do their work. The method of washing clothes was peculiar — they would be thrown over smooth stones and beaten with sticks while drenched with water. This process, it is scarcely necessary to say, is terribly destructive to the clothing.

The city of Bolivar is a very beautiful place. It is built on the brow of a hill, overlooking the River Orinoco on one side and a lagoon on the other. Behind the city are the Marichal Mountains, in which gold is to be found but scarcely in paying quantities.

The people of Bolivar are hospitable and agreeable in their manners, and those with whom I became acquainted did all they could to make my time pass pleasantly. I attended several fandangos with Senor Sayal and Senor Rodriguez, as as well as other entertainments.

After having resided in Bolivar for several months, I concluded to visit other portions of the country and accordingly made a trip around by sea to La Guyra, and from thence to Caracas. To my great surprise Rodriguez came after me by the next steamer and began to be more attentive than ever. He introduced me to his relatives who resided in the neighborhood of Caracas and appeared to be resolved to make sure of me, now that he had his rivals at a distance. I, however, gave him very little encouragement, although, had I felt anxious to marry again, I perhaps would have done well to have been more gracious to him. He was one of twelve sons, and his parents were very wealthy, owning immense estates and large herds of cattle, which must have yielded them a great income.

With this visit to Caracas concluded my Venezuelan experiences, for, notwithstanding the assiduous attentions of Senor Rodriguez, I could not be persuaded to remain and made my preparations to return to the United States. Taking passage on a schooner bound for Demerara, in British Guiana, I said adieu to my Venezuelan friends, having made up my mind that my own country was the best to live in after all, and that in it thereafter I would seek my fortune. My Venezuelan trip, however, was, notwithstanding the ungracious auspices under which it was commenced, a source of gratification to me. It made me acquainted with a portion of the world that was well worth looking at, and it was the means of bringing me in friendly relations with a number of excellent people, for whom I shall always have a warm regard, and to whom I shall always feel indebted for many unsolicited kindnesses.

The personal gratifications which the trip afforded me amply repaid me for all the expense and trouble I was put to in making it, but, beyond this, I have the satisfaction of knowing that … I was the means of preventing a great number of persons in the Southern states from being swindled by speculators who, taking advantage of the [weakened] condition of the South after the war, and the discontent of a large portion of the people, were endeavoring, without proper means or facilities for carrying out their proposed objects, to organize colonization parties to go to various places in South America.

My experiences in Venezuela convinced me that it was no place for poor Americans to go to. For people who had capital and the skill and energy to use it properly, it held out many inducements but no more and no greater than were held out by the Western portions of our own country.

Portions of Venezuela are very beautiful, and the scenery along the banks of the Orinoco, especially, is lovely in the extreme. The country is, much of it, fertile, and its mineral wealth is very great, but it is undeveloped, and those who attempt its development will be tolerably certain to have a hard time of it and to expend a great deal of money before they get much return, either for their cash or labor. Apart from everything else, the climate is very trying, especially to strangers, and this of itself is a good and sufficient reason why residents of the United States would do well to tempt fortune elsewhere.

Along the banks of the Orinoco and its tributaries the vegetation is most luxuriant, and all kinds of tropical fruits abound in the greatest profusion. The forests contain mahogany … and the chinchona tree, from which quinine is made. In the interior are to be found the Caoutchouc or India-rubber tree, and half a dozen varieties of the cottontree. Some of the latter are, I think, especially worthy of the attention of those who are interested in cotton-growing, and with proper cultivation they might be made to yield far more valuable results than they do. Tobacco grows wild, and is cultivated to some extent, but the natives, although they are inveterate consumers of the weed, do not understand how to cure it properly.

The diet of the Venezuelans is largely made up of fruits, of which they have a great variety, such as the banana, of which there are half a dozen different kinds, coconuts, figs, mangoes, manzanas de oro, or golden apples, marma apples, guavas, oranges, grapes, and pomegranates. The melons are very plentiful, and, although small, are sweet and well flavored.

Sugar is made to some extent from the cane, which bears a strong resemblance to the maple sugar of the United States. Yams and sweet potatoes are very abundant, and there is a hardy species of cabbage which grows on the edges of marshes and which sometimes attains a height of eighteen or twenty feet. The calabashes grow to an enormous size and are used for carrying water. The onions are numerous but small.

The flowers grow in great profusion and are very beautiful. The mariposa attains to the height of the oleander and has gorgeous white and scarlet blossoms. The zueco is a bright little plant and is very fragrant. The people of Venezuela are exceedingly fond of flowers and always have a great number of them about their dwellings.

The birds of Venezuela, for the most part, are of very rich plumage. There are several varieties of parrots, of which the macaw and the green and gray parrots are the talkers. The paroquets are very diminutive, and are beautiful little birds. … The ayax is a bird that is heard last in the evening and first in the morning; it has a very peculiar cry, and the natives are exceedingly superstitious about it, thinking that should they kill it some misfortune is certain to happen to them.

The lizards and other reptiles are too numerous for description. In the huts of the poorer classes, lizards, scorpions, roaches, and other livestock live on the most intimate terms with the human inhabitants and do not appear to interfere very materially with their comfort.

The forests and jungles are filled with panthers, jaguars, and South American tigers. The last named are very ferocious, and the natives stand in great fear of them.

The people of Venezuela are very superstitious and are exceedingly particular about their religious observances. In their manners they are courteous and unaffected, and some of their household ways are very primitive. Their meat is cured in strips, and their corn is ground between two stones, the under one of which is hollowed out to some extent. This kind of work is chiefly done by the women. The men make hammocks out of grass, bark, and cotton, and employ themselves in the cultivation of the ground and in the care of livestock and the pursuit of game. In the summertime the hammocks are swung out in the open air between two trees or in rude huts with no sides to them. The milk of the ass is preferred to that of the cow or goat. Most of the cooking is done in earthenware jars or pipkins. Earthenware jars of a peculiar make are also used for keeping water for drinking purposes in.

The principal exports of Venezuela are cattle, hides, tallow, and coffee from the La Guayra and Jaracaybo districts. The United States consul at Bolivar, while I was there, was interested to some extent in gold mining. The quartz was brought from the Caratol Mountains, nearly two hundred miles distant, on the backs of donkeys and was purchased by the consul from the natives with merchandise. Having obtained the quartz, he crushed it and extracted the metal, which was forwarded to the mint in Philadelphia. The mineral wealth of Venezuela is very great — gold, silver, copper, and tin abounding in large quantities. The mines, however, are, for the most part, far distant from the commercial centers and are very inefficiently worked. It would pay capitalists to go into the mining business in Venezuela if they could get some railroads built or even if they could get some good common roads made.

The country away from the seaboard or the watercourses is thinly settled, and there is not likely to be any great increase in the population until the facilities for easy traveling are much greater than they are or were at the time of my visit. The roads to the mines are mere paths, not larger than cattle trails.

The natives in the interior suffer many hardships and privations, and anyone going to Venezuela without ample capital must expect to do the same. One great source of annoyance to the country people is the jigger, a species of worm which buries itself in the feet, generally under the skin near the toe-nails. It is very painful under any circumstances, and it not infrequently causes the loss of the toes.

As in nearly all of the South American states, the government of Venezuela is very unsettled, and the schemes of ambitious politicians, who are ready at any moment to resort to arms for the accomplishment of their ends, render both life and property to some extent insecure. To be sure, the revolutions which occur there from time to time do not, as a rule, cause any great amount of bloodshed, notwithstanding the commotions they make, but they have the effect of leaving a sense of insecurity on the public mind and of preventing improvement which otherwise might be made. The white people are, for the most part, well educated and intelligent, but they do not appear to understand the art of self-government, while the negroes, Indians, and half-breeds seem to be incapable of doing anything to advance their own condition or to promote the interests of the country. With such a heterogeneous population as resides within its borders, and with the educated whites so greatly in the minority as they are, there is not much prospect of Venezuela speedily attaining the position her agricultural and mineral resources would seem to entitle her to.

Loreta’s Civil War: No earthly paradise

The expedition to Venezuela is a disaster, and Velazquez loses her young and handsome husband to the “black vomit.”

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 59: The expedition to Venezuela is a disaster, and Velazquez loses her young and handsome husband to the “black vomit.”


A small schooner was finally procured, and preparations for our departure were pushed rapidly forward. Just as we were on the point of sailing, however, the owners of the vessel, who had not received their money for her, attempted to regain possession. We were all arrested, therefore, but after a long investigation of the case, were released, and the schooner delivered into our hands. This was a disagreeable and discouraging commencement, but it would have been well for the entire party had it been the worst misadventure that befell us.

As the time for departure drew near, I lost confidence in Johnston more and more, and almost at the last moment endeavored to persuade my husband to refrain from embarking, suggesting that we should seek a home somewhere in the West. He, however, was resolved to go, and I yielded my better judgment to his wishes and went aboard, very much against my inclination.

The expedition consisted of forty-nine persons, including children, all of whom were stowed away in the hull of a small schooner without regard to decency, and without many of the necessities of life. I did not find out how badly provided we were for a voyage until after we were at sea but when I did discover what treatment was in store for us, I was boiling with indignation. There were no conveniences of any kind, scarcely provisions enough to sustain life, the water was foul from the impure barrels in which it had been placed, while the conduct of some of the persons on board was an outrage on the very name of decency. Our diet was beans and hard tack for breakfast, the same for dinner, with the addition of duff for dessert, and this bill of fare was repeated, day after day, until we entered the River Orinoco.

It was a terrible voyage, and although I had passed through some rather rough experiences in my time and was accustomed to hardships, it will always live in my memory as one of my most painful experiences. My sufferings, however, were nothing in comparison with those of some of the poor women and children who were with us, and I was indignant beyond expression at the idea of their being victimized in the manner they were.

At length, after a cruise that, brief as it was, was fast becoming intolerable, we entered the mouth of the Orinoco, and the despairing band of emigrants began to pluck up their spirits, for now they were fairly in sight of the paradise which had been promised them.

The sight of the promised land, of which such glowing accounts had been given them, filled our company with extravagant joy. Alas, they little knew what was yet in store for them but the prospect of being able to leave the wretched little schooner was such a pleasant one that they scarcely thought of the future, and almost any fate seemed preferable to remaining on board of her.

We had not been in the neighborhood of the mouth of the river long before a small, light canoe put out towards us, and its occupant, hailing us in Spanish, asked whether we did not want a pilot.

I was the only person on board who understood him, and as he came alongside the captain refused to let him come on board. Some of the men, thinking that he had hostile intentions, produced their pistols, and for a time there was a prospect of trouble.

I accordingly went to Johnston, and said, “Now, Capt. Johnston, you are in a nice fix. This man is a pilot, and you cannot go up the river without his assistance. If you attempt anything of the kind you will be considered a pirate.”

This frightened Johnston, and I laughed in my sleeve to see the perplexity he was in. After leaving him to his reflections for a few moments, I said, in a whisper, “This man is a government pilot, and your vessel and crew are in imminent danger. It won’t do to trifle with these Spaniards, I can tell you, for if you do, they will make short work of the whole party.”

Johnston saw the point, and telling the captain of the schooner who the man was, he was permitted to come on board. The arrival of the pilot created quite a commotion, and no little surprise was expressed at the fact of his being a negro. The man, however, understood his business and managed the vessel very skillfully. Without his assistance we would never have been able to have ascended the beautiful Orinoco or have steered the schooner among the numerous islands.

The scenery along the river was truly beautiful, and all admitted that, whatever else the country might be, it was certainly fair to look upon. I had not much confidence, however, that, on closer inspection, it would prove to be the earthly paradise we were searching for but kept my thoughts to myself, for I knew that there would not be much use in expressing them.

The first village we came to was Coraeppa, where we took on board another pilot, Antonio Silva by name. He was a bright colored half-breed, and, like the negro, was skillful in his business. When he boarded us, the captain exclaimed in disgust, “Good Lord, are all the officials in this country niggers?” A good many of the emigrants were quite as much disgusted as the captain and seemed to think that if the negroes were of as much importance as they seemed to be in Venezuela, it would have been just as well to have remained at home and fought the battle for supremacy with the free negroes and carpetbaggers on familiar ground.

That night we anchored at Baranco with a great uncertainty before us as to whether we would be permitted to proceed any farther or not. At this place I caught the first fish, which was a grateful addition to our bill of fare. Some of our people went in bathing — a performance which astonished the natives, who were afraid to venture into the water on account of the alligators, which abounded in rather startling profusion. Others obtained permission to go on shore and created a sensation by doing so. The ignorant natives, who had no idea who we were, promptly abandoned their houses, and, leaving everything behind them, fled to the forests.

They imagined that we were a band of pirates who were coming to take possession of the country.

A messenger was now dispatched to the city of Bolivar to notify the governor of our coming, and, with considerable uncertainty as to the reception we were likely to meet with, the next morning we resumed our slow progress up the river.

At Los Tablos we were commanded to stop, and a most primitive piece of artillery was pointed at us, which excited some derision in my breast but which appeared to inspire terror in that of Capt. Johnston, for he was in much agitation lest the authorities on shore should take a notion to fire on us.

After some parley, however, we were permitted to pass on to the city of Bolivar unmolested. On arriving off that place, the order was given that nobody should go ashore, much to the dissatisfaction of every one, for there was not a man, woman, or child on the steamer but was anxious to leave her at the earliest practicable moment.

After a time, the United States consul, Mr. Dalton, boarded us. He denied being the consul when my husband spoke to him and said that he was heartily ashamed of such a shabby expedition. In spite of his denial, however, I knew that he was the consul and determined to demand his assistance in case it should be necessary.

I now resolved to land and look out for myself and appealed to my husband to come with me, saying that I had money enough about me for all our present needs, although the other members of the expedition were not aware of the fact, and that I could draw more, if it should be wanted, through the consul.

My husband, however, refused to go and said that he would stick by the expedition to the last. I suggested that they would be far from sticking to him in case he was left destitute, and, thoroughly disgusted with the whole business, I left the schooner and went to the hotel.

At the hotel I met several very nice people with whom I was soon on friendly terms and was rejoiced to find myself once more in reasonably comfortable quarters, after what I had gone through with. The hotel was kept by a German who had married a Venezuelan woman, and it was very well managed.

Once on shore, and free to do as I pleased, I proceeded to carry out the purpose I had in view when I started. I called on the consul and explained matters to him, and through him obtained an introduction to the governor and his family. By all the persons I met I was well received, and a general desire was shown to give me such information as I needed with regard to the country and the inducements which it might hold out for emigrants from the United States.

While I was thus employing myself on shore my husband stuck to the schooner. Finally, however, he too became so much disgusted that he concluded to take my advice and abandon Johnston and his whole enterprise. In a day or two he left and started for the gold mines to find that the black fever was raging there to such an extent that it was dangerous for him to remain. He therefore returned and went to Caracas, where, shortly after his arrival, he was taken ill with the black vomit and died.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism. Learn more about me on and LinkedIn.

1. Obama making first public appearance of post-presidency in Chicago
By Jordan Fabian | The Hill | April 21
“It ends a three-month period of relative silence since Obama left office on Jan. 20, much of which he has spent on vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., on a Caribbean island with English billionaire Richard Branson and at an exclusive resort in French Polynesia.”

2. Cascarón Confusion? Your Guide to All Things Fiesta
By Jessica Elizarraras and Bryan Rindfuss | San Antonio Current | April 20
“Aside from urging you to hydrate, stock up on sunscreen and cash, here’s a quick explainer on what you should know about San Antonio’s largest celebration which runs from April 20-30.”

3. Trump Unleashes the Generals. They Don’t Always See the Big Picture.
By Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper | The New York Times | April 20
“Taken together, the episodes illustrate how even the military’s most seasoned four-star field commanders can fail to consider the broader political or strategic ramifications of their operational decisions, and some current and former senior officials suggested that President Trump’s decision to unshackle the military from Obama-era constraints to intensify the fight against terrorists risked even more miscues.”

4. The Knight’s Move
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus | The Nation | April 19
“Can a new Trump-inspired intellectual magazine transcend its contradictions?”

5. The Man Booker International Prize 2017 shortlist announced
The Man Booker Prizes | April 20
“The settings range from an Israeli comedy club to contemporary Copenhagen, from a sleepless night in Vienna to a troubled delirium in Argentina. The list is dominated by contemporary settings but also features a divided Jerusalem of 1959 and a remote island in Norway in the early 20th century.”

6. Science confirms the incredible story of Lithuania’s Holocaust escape tunnel
By Sarah Birnbaum | The World :: PRI | April 19
“Shortly after the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941, they started bringing groups of Jews from the nearby city of Vilnius, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, to the Ponar forest. The Nazis lined them up, shot them at close range, and tossed the bodies into pits.”

7. Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?
By Ben Child | The Guardian | April 19
“Was Yoda just an old fool? And why is Luke Skywalker calling for an end to the Jedi? Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, is veering into dangerous territory”

8. With the death of a patriarch, have the Rockefellers lost their power?
By Michael Kaplan | The New York Post | April 2
“When former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller passed away in 1979 of a heart attack, it was allegedly after having made love to his secretary. Steven Rockefeller shocked everyone by marrying Anne-Marie Rasmussen, his family’s housemaid, in 1959. In 1951, Winifred Rockefeller, great-niece of John D. Rockefeller, killed herself and two of her children inside their Greenwich, Conn., home. Ten years later, in 1961, while hunting down art in New Guinea, 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller was supposedly eaten by cannibals.”

9. Inspired by nature: the thrilling new science that could transform medicine
By Laura Parker | The Guardian | October 2016
“Jeffrey Karp is at the forefront of a new generation of scientists using nature’s blueprints to create breakthrough medical technologies. Can bioinspiration help to solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems?”

10. Party Hopping
By Dave Mann | Texas Monthly | May 2017
“As they lose sway among Texas Republicans, big businesses should try something radical: an alliance with Democrats.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The Associated Press and The New York Times offered special reports on Obama’s legacy. Here are a few selections from their analysis series.


This week: The Associated Press and The New York Times offered special reports on Obama’s legacy. Here are a few selections from their analysis series.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. The Obama Era
The New York Times | 2016 and 2017
“The Obama Era [explores in six parts] the sweeping change that President Obama has brought to the nation, and how the presidency has changed him.”
Also see: Obama enters the final weeks of his presidency

2. Obama racial legacy: Pride, promise, regret — and deep rift
By Sharon Cohen and Deepti Hajela | Associated Press | Jan. 4
“[H]is presidency did not usher in racial harmony. Rather, both blacks and whites believe race relations have deteriorated, according to polls. Mounting tensions over police shootings of African-Americans prompted protests in several cities and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Also see: Some key moments related to race during Obama’s presidency

3. As Obama accomplished policy goals, his party floundered
By Lisa Lerer | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“The leadership of the one-time community organizer and champion of ground-up politics was rough on the grassroots of his own party. When Obama exits the White House, he’ll leave behind a Democratic Party that languished in his shadow for years and is searching for itself.”
Interactive: The Obamas’ legacy in race, civil rights, social media, and more

4. Michelle Obama: A first lady who charted her own course
By Darlene Superville | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“As she navigated her way through, the woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago discovered a talent for television and a comfort with Hollywood A-listers, haute couture and social media. And she used all of those elements to promote her causes — childhood obesity, support for military families, girls’ education — with at least some success.”
Also see: For girls, Michelle Obama is an empowering example
Also see: Michelle Obama: Life’s ‘greatest honor’ was being first lady

5. Michelle Obama loved fashion and the fashion world loved her
By Jocelyn Noveck | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“[U]nlike some past first ladies who favored one or two big-name designers, Mrs. Obama has spread her fashion choices among a huge stable of them — often promoting lesser-known names, and taking care to promote American designers at such high-profile events as inaugurations, conventions and state dinners.”

6. Obama makes his mark as first ‘social media’ president
By Kevin Freking | Associated Press | Jan. 6
“Obama’s two terms in office played out like a running chronicle of the trends of our times.”
Also see: President ending reign as pop culture king

7. 8 ways the US job market has evolved over Obama’s 8 years
By Christopher S. Rugaber | Associated Press | Jan. 6
“The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Jobs have been added for 75 straight months, the longest such streak on record. But many other trends, not all of them positive, have reshaped the job market over the past eight years. …”

8. In realist foreign policy, Obama found limits
By Bradley Klapper | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“Over eight years, Obama ushered in a new era of diplomacy, re-establishing the United States as the driving force behind fighting climate change and reducing the threat of nuclear weapons.”

9. Handing Trump a broad view of war powers
By Josh Lederman | Associated Press | Dec. 5
“After eight years as a wartime president, Barack Obama is handing his successor an expansive interpretation of the commander in chief’s authority to wage war around the globe. And that reading has continued to grow even as Obama prepares to pass control to Donald Trump.”

10. A quiet mission to export gay rights oversea
By Josh Lederman | Associated Press | October 2016
“The U.S. has deployed its diplomats and spent tens of millions of dollars to try to block anti-gay laws, punish countries that enacted them, and tie financial assistance to respect for LGBT rights. … Yet the U.S. encountered occasional backlash, including from some rights groups that said public pressure by the West made things worse.”

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