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.
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.