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arrow Stories and Tales of the Coast & Geodetic Survey
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banner - piffle and jottings from the dessicated west during 1934

by George E. Marsh


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The Bridges of El Paso

My last day in El Paso. The morning was crammed full of errands to run and minor things to buy and two trips to town had to be made. In the p.m. I started out again to round up the items that hd escaped my list in the morning– some writing paper, ink, shorts and shirt. With these in hand I started out to spend the rest of the day and evening in Mexico and to get a permit to take photos there.

With my purchases wrapped and tied together, I took the street car for Juarez. Of course I got across the river all right but when the Mexican customs inspectors came aboard, I was distinctly out of luck. One fellow took the package and tore into it while I was explaining its contents; then he found the other package and tore into it. What he said I know not. Some kind-hearted passengers saw my plight and told me that I would have to go into the customs house at hand. To the officials I said that I wanted to leave it there until I got ready to go home. There was too much no-savvy English on their part and no savvy Spanish on my part for us to get anywhere. After a bit, a Mex who could understand my tongue came to my rescue and explained that I would have to take it back to the U.S., or else pay duty on it. And the duty could not be determined until next week for this was Saturday.

Now there are two bridges across the river, one for going in street cars and autos and the other for returning vehicles, but hoofers can use either bridge either way. So I paid toll a second time and walked back with my bothersome bundle and camera. The only place where I could leave the ragged package was at the other bridge, a half mile away, where there is an office of the Border Patrol. Here I introduced myself as a friend of George Harris. I was most welcome and might leave my bundle as long as I wished for the place was open twenty-four hours a day.

Now to get the permit. I walked over, paying the 5 cents toll, ( 9 cents to date) but at the other end a Mex guard saw the camera and commanded me to go into the office at hand. Straight-way I said that I was going to see the chief of police and get a permit, for I had been told that was the thing to do. He negatived the idea pronto and said I should see the Commissioner over at the other bridge. Back I came, paying toll, and walked to the second bridge where another toll was collected (15 cents now) and I was on the road to Mexico once more. I inquired for the Honorable Commissioner. “Gone away. Be back Monday morning; see him then.” By that time I was going to be miles away from Juarez. There was nothing to do but return to my own country again, tramp from bridge to bridge and park the camera with my bundle. By now it was getting too late to take pictures anyway.

For 3 cents more I again set foot in Mexico and my toll bill had grown to 21 cents. After roaming around a while, I found a professional guide, Joe. We went into a huddle and bargained. In exchange for seventy-five cents he would show me the Mission and Jail. He said he could have got me a permit without any delay. Illuminating if true. Probably true– just another racket where all concerned get a split. I’ll try it next time. Too many days have elapsed since my encounter with Joe to give you all of the entertaining high-lights but the contact was something like this:

“This is the Mission of St. Peter and St. Paul. It was built in 1549. See the statues of the Saints up in the front of the building. All those little holes in the mortar is where bullets hit during the revolutions we had down here. See, none of them hit Peter or Paul. That shows there’s a merkle (miracle). Don’t it?”

We went inside and climbed up in the balcony at the front end of the mission where we could get a good look at the ceiling and the construction. Dozens of black-shawled women were kneeling at prayers on the floor below. “All of these beams and wooden work is mahogany and they are all carved. Just think of the time it took to carve all of these beams 385 years ago. See how all the timber is held together with wooden pegs. There is no iron in the building. It can stand plenty years, can’t it?”

Then we went up to the bell-tower. This is of interesting construction. It is circular and built at one corner of the mission. It is about six feet in diameter inside and in the center is a timber a foot in diameter. Mortises are cut in this, one above the other and displaced so as to spiral. Solid fan-shaped pieces of hard wood are let into the hollows and into holes in the wall. These are the steps, ponderous, staunch and much worn of course. As Joe points out the various features he says “This can stand plenty years, can’t it?” From the top a good view of the city is had and it is a more extensive place than one would expect from his acquaintance with the ‘show’ part that he sees near the bridges.

Joe calls attention to the bell. He hits it to make a weak tone and speaks of its fine quality; and shows the little wear on the inside after all these years. Here again– “It can stand plenty years, can’t it? It took 15 donkeys six months to haul it here from Mexico City. It was made in Spain. It took 14 years to build this tower.” I don’t remember if he said the tower can stand plenty years or not, but probably did.

“See that monument. That’s Juarez who saved the city in 1810.” And Joe said,”When the insurrectionists found they couldn’t hit the enemy, they shot Juarez.” Later I walked over the monument and found its white marble pedestal, that is high and ornate, very much the worse for time and lack of repair. Juarez, not being a saint, stopped many a bullet as the holes plainly show.

Next we went down into the church and up to the altar. This end of the mission is very ornate with much wood carving and decorating after the Catholic fashion. Here I saw a marble statue of St Rose and some other saints carved of wood and then painted. Joe pointed out that I could not tell them from marble, “You agree you can’t tell them from marble”; but I could with one eye half opened. “This is the statue of the Immac. Concept, and is 384 years old. This statue of the Mother of Sorrows was made in Rome 400 years ago and was given to the church when it was built. This wood, pointing to some ornamental wood-work, was painted 180 years ago. These embroideries are all made by the women of the church. They have to bring in all these flowers fresh every day.” There were many large vases filled with beautiful blooms.

There must have been fifty women kneeling about; not a single man. In Mexico all the sins are committed by the females presumably. One was confessing. She and the priest sat on benches opposite each other with their heads thrust thru the drapes of a black box that was dimly lighted. In leaving, I saw the grave of the first priest, Domingues.

Governments rise and fall quickly in Mexico. The loyalists of the party in power salute each other with “Vive (vee’-a) Villa, Vive Carrenza, or Vive whoever is the president for the moment. If one can’t return the address in the same manner, he must lay low. A local boss was vive-ing everyone he met to determine their political faith and he came to a Chinaman. “He said “Vive----“. The chink said “You vive first.”







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