Daily Archives: 23 March 2020

Riding a Texas Railroad, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 60-62:

30th April (Thursday).—I have to-day acquired my first experience of Texan railroads.

In this country, where every white man is as good as another (by theory), and every white female is by courtesy a lady, there is only one class. The train from Alleyton consisted of two long cars, each holding about fifty persons. Their interior is like the aisle of a church, twelve seats on either side, each for two persons. The seats are comfortably stuffed, and seemed luxurious after the stage.

Before starting, the engine gives two preliminary snorts, which, with a yell from the official of “all aboard,” warn the passengers to hold on; for they are closely followed by a tremendous jerk, which sets the cars in motion.

Every passenger is allowed to use his own discretion about breaking his arm, neck, or leg, without interference by the railway officials.

People are continually jumping on and off whilst the train is in motion, and larking from one car to the other. There is no sort of fence or other obstacle to prevent “humans” or cattle from getting on the line.

We left Alleyton at 8 a.m., and got a miserable meal at Richmond at 12.30. At this little town I was introduced to a seedy-looking man, in rusty black clothes and a broken-down “stove-pipe” hat. This was Judge Stockdale, who will probably be the next governor of Texas. He is an agreeable man, and his conversation is far superior to his clothing. The rival candidate is General Chambers (I think), who has become very popular by the following sentence in his manifesto:—”I am of opinion that married soldiers should be given the opportunity of embracing their families at least once a-year, their places in the ranks being taken by unmarried men. The population must not be allowed to suffer.”

Richmond is on the Brazos river, which is crossed in a peculiar manner. A steep inclined plane leads to a low, rickety, trestle bridge, and a similar inclined plane is cut in the opposite bank. The engine cracks on all steam, and gets sufficient impetus in going down the first incline to shoot across the bridge and up the second incline. But even in Texas this method of crossing a river is considered rather unsafe.

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A British Colonel in Matamoros, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 8-10:

Brownsville is a straggling town of about 3000 inhabitants; most of its houses are wooden ones, and its streets are long, broad, and straight. There are about 4000 troops under General Bee in its immediate vicinity. Its prosperity was much injured when Matamoros was declared a free port.

After crossing the Rio Grande, a wide dusty road, about a mile in length, leads to Matamoros, which is a Mexican city of about 9000 inhabitants. Its houses are not much better than those at Brownsville, and they bear many marks of the numerous revolutions which are continually taking place there. Even the British Consulate is riddled with the bullets fired in 1861-2.

The Mexicans look very much like their Indian forefathers, their faces being extremely dark, and their hair black and straight. They wear hats with the most enormous brims, and delight in covering their jackets and leather breeches with embroidery.

Some of the women are rather good-looking, but they plaster their heads with grease, and paint their faces too much. Their dress is rather like the Andalucian. When I went to the cathedral, I found it crammed with kneeling women; an effigy of our Saviour was being taken down from the cross and put into a golden coffin, the priest haranguing all the time about His sufferings, and all the women howling most dismally as if they were being beaten.

Matamoros … suffers much from drought, and there had been no rain to speak of for eleven months.

I am told that it is a common thing in Mexico for the diligence to arrive at its destination with the blinds down. This is a sure sign that the travellers, both male and female, have been stripped by robbers nearly to the skin. A certain quantity of clothing is then, as a matter of course, thrown in at the window, to enable them to descend. Mr Behnsen and Mr Maloney told me they had seen this happen several times; and Mr Oetling declared that he himself, with three ladies, arrived at the city of Mexico in this predicament.

4th April (Saturday).—I crossed the river at 9 a.m., and got a carriage at the Mexican side to take my baggage and myself to the Consulate at Matamoros. The driver ill-treated his half-starved animals most cruelly. The Mexicans are even worse than the Spaniards in this respect.

I called on Mr Oetling, the Prussian Consul, who is one of the richest and most prosperous merchants in Matamoros, and a very nice fellow.

After dinner we went to a fandango, or open-air fête. About 1500 people were gambling, and dancing bad imitations of European dances.

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