by George E. Marsh
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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