EX-GOVERNOR ISHAM G. HARRIS
Memphis Daily Appeal, December 15, 1865
Overland Trip to Mexico-Studying Spanish Under Difficulties-In the Halls of Montezuma-Interview with the Emperor and Empress-Confederates in Mexico-Invitations to come to Mexico—Inducements-Commodore Maury-Commissioner of Civilization-The Lands Intended for Emigrants-The Climate-The Products-Coffee Culture-Fruits-A Home of Beauty and Fragrance-Ice in the Distance-Among the Ruins of the Old Haciendas-What Produced the Ruins-Former Buildings-Prominent Confederates Colonizing-Growing Prospects-Lazy Mexicans-"Mexican Times"-Governor Allen of Louisiana on the Tripod Situation of Cordova.
Through the kindness of Mr. George W. Adair, of the firm of Clayton, Adair & Purse, we are permitted to make the following extracts from a letter recently received from Hon. Isham G. Harris, Ex-Governor of Tennessee, who is now at Cordova, Mexico. The letter is highly
Cordova, Mexico, Nov. 12, 1865
George W. Adair
My Dear Sir – I lingered near Grenada, endeavoring to arrange some business matters, until the fourteenth of May. In the morning of the fourteenth I embarked, some six miles east of Greenwood, and set sail for the trans-Mississippi, the party consisting of Gen. Lyon, of Kentucky, myself, and our two servants. We navigated the backwater for one hundred and twenty miles, and on the morning of the twenty-first, just before daylight, I crossed at the foot of Island No. 75, just below the mouth of the Arkansas river; proceeded westward as far as the backwater was navigable, and on the morning of the 23d I left my frail bark, bought horses, mounted the party, and set out for Shreveport, where I hoped to find an army resolved on continued resistance to Federal rule; but before reaching Shreveport, I learned that the army of the Trans-Mississippi had disbanded, and scattered to the winds, and all the officers of rank had gone to Mexico
Having no further motive to visit Shreveport, I turned my course to Red River county, Texas, where a portion of my negroes and plantation stock had been carried some two years ago. I reached there on the seventh of June; I was taken sick and confined to my bed for a week. On the fifteenth of June, with my baggage, cooking utensils and provisions on a pack mule, I set out for San Antonio, where I expected to overtake a large number of Confederate, civil and military, officer, en route for Mexico. Reached San Antonia the twenty sixth, and learned that all Confederates had left for Mexico some ten days or two weeks before. On the morning of the twenty-seventh, I started to Eagle-Pass on the Rio Grande-the Federals holding all the crossings of that river below Eagle Pass. I reached Eagle Pass on the evening of the thirtieth, and immediately crossed over to the Mexican town of Pledras Negras. On the morning of the first July, set out for Montery [sic]; arrive there on the evening of the ninth. Here I overtook Gen Price and Ex. Go. Polk, of Missouri, who were starting of the city of Mexico the next morning, with an escort of twenty armed Missourians. As I was going to the city, and the rip was a long and dangerous for me to make alone, I decided to go with the, though I was literally worn out with over fifteen hundred miles of continuous horseback travel. I exchange my saddle horse, saddles, etc., for an ambulance; but my two mules to it, gave the whip and lines to Ran, bought me a Spanish grammar and dictionary, too the back seat, and commenced the study of the Spanish language. We made the trip at easy stages of about twenty-five miles per day, and reached the city o f Mexico on the evening of the ninth of August. The trip was one of the longest, most laborious and hazardous of my life, but I will not tax your time or mine with its details, many of which would interest you deeply if I was there to give them to you.
Our reception upon the part of the Government officials here was all that we could have expected or desired. We were invited to an audience with the Emperor at the Palace, the far-famed Halls of the Montezumas. At the time fixed, we called and were most kindly received by the Emperor and Empress, and were assured of their sympathy in our misfortune, and of their earnest hope that we might find homes for ourselves and friends in Mexico. The Empress was our interpreter in the interview. She speaks fluently the French, Spanish, German, and English languages, and is in all respects a great woman.
We overtook at the city of Mexico, Gen. Magruder, Commodore Maury, Gov. Allen, of La.; Judge Perkins, of La., Gove. Reynolds of Missouri, and Gov. Murrah and Gov. Clark of Texas, with many other and lesser Confederate lights. On the 5th of September the Emperor published a decree opening all of Mexico to Immigration and colonization, and Commodore Maury and myself and other Confederates were requested to prepare regulations to accompany the decree, which we did, and which were approved by t he Emperor on the twenty seventh. The decree and regulation offer very liberal inducements to immigration among which are a donation of public lands at the rate of six hundred and forty acres to each head of a family, and three hundred and twenty to each single man, a free passage to the country such as are not able to pay their own expenses, freedom from taxation for one year, and from military duty for five years, religious toleration, etc.
Commodore Maury has been appointed Imperial Commissioner of Colonization, which makes his authority in the matter of colonization second only to that of the Emperor. Gen. Price, Judge, Perkins and myself were appointed agents of colonization, and requested to examine the lands lying upon and near the line of railroad, from the city of Mexico to Vera Cruz, for the purpose of determining whether they were suited to American colonization. We are engaged at this time in the discharge of that duty. We find in the vicinity of this place the most beautiful, and all things considered the best agricultural country that I have ever seen. The climate is delightful, never hot, never cold, always temperate, always pleasant. The soil richer and more productive than the best of the prairie lands of Mississippi in the Okalona country, yielding large crops of corn, barley, rice, tobacco, sugar cane and coffee, with all the fruits of the tropics and the best that you ever tasted. You can raise two crops of corn on the same land each year. The usual mode of farming here is a crop of corn and a crop of tobacco, on the same land, the corn ripening always before time to plant tobacco, and ten miles from here, in the direction of the coast, you strike as good a [word obscured] country as can be found in the world.
The most profitable crop here is coffee, you plant about six hundred or seven hundred trees to the acre, it begins to bear at two and produces a full crop at four years old, you can always calculate safely on an average of two pounds to the tree, though there are instances of a tree's bearing as high as twenty-eight pounds. The tree is hardy, and will live for as long as five hundred years. It takes about as much labor to cultivate and put into market as an acre of coffee, as it does an acre of corn in Georgia.
The coffee plantation, with its shade of bananas, figs, oranges, mangos and zapotes [sic], with the walks fringed with pine apple, all in full bearing, is the richest and most beautiful spectacle upon which my eyes have ever rested. I have inspected [?] six hundred and forty acres, about ten miles from here, where I propose to surround myself with eh coffee plantation, in the midst of which I will nestle down, constantly inhaling the odors of the rich tropical fruits and gaudy colored and fragrant, tropical flowers, in an atmosphere of perpetual spring, yet turning the eye of the Northwest, you constantly behold the snow capped peaks of Orezrijba [?] and the Popocatapreti [?], from which I can draw my ice at all seasons of the year.
There are about thirty Confederates now here all of whom will locate their lands and commence the work of settlement within a week of ten days.
The place where we begin the first colony was highly improved and in a high state of civilization a hundred years ago. The extensive ruins of what was once magnificent structures show that these Hacienda were highly productive and the homes of wealth, luxury and refinement, but about fifty years since slavery was abolished in the State of Vera Cruz and the proprietors of these magnificent estates left the country with the large fortunes the had amassed. The church seized lands and allowed them to lie idle and go to ruin. The buildings on these places must have cost from one hundred to five hundred thousand dollars. The church held the property for about five years since when it was taken by the Government and the Government now sells it to us for colonization at one dollar per acre in quantities of six hundred and forty acres for each head of a family and twenty dollars each single man on a credit of one, two, three, four and five years. This is the beginning of the first Confederate colony in Mexico. Among those who propose to settle immediately are Gen Price and Gen. Shelley from Missouri, Judge Perkins of Louisiana, and myself. The resources of this country are such as to insure fortune to the energy and industry that has usually characterized our people. The wonder is that they have been permitted to remain undeveloped so long, but this is the most indolent, lazy and worthless population on earth. * * * * *
Will many people of the Southern States feel inclined to seek new homes or will the follow the example of Lee, Johnston and others? Mexico presents the finest field that I have ever seen for the enterprise of our people, and now that slavery is abolished in the South, hired labor can be much more easily procured here and made more profitable than any part of the United States. I do not propose however to urge or even advise an one to come, I only propose to give them facts and leave them to decide for themselves as I have done for myself, such as feel inclined to come will be received with open arms and cordial welcome. But enough of this.
Where is Forrest, and what is he doing? And where and how is every body else? For I have heard from none of our friends since I left Mississippi.
Give my kind regards to Mrs. Adair, Robbin, Jack and Forrest, and kiss Mary for me, and tell her that it would give me great pleasure to have a romp with her this evening.
Write me fully and do your best at penmanship, so that I may be able to read the greatest part of the letter. I sent you a copy of the Mexican News, an English newspaper edited by Gov. Allen, about a month ago. I hope you received it, though there was very little of interest in it, except that it shows the fact that we have started an American newspaper at the city of Mexico. I neglected to say to you that this place is situated on the line of railroad from Vera Cruz to the city of Mexico; seventy miles west of Vera Cruz. The railroad is now in operation to within eighteen miles of this place, and all the distance to the city of Mexico is under contract and the work rapidly progressing. It is a few hours' run by rail from here to Vera Cruz; fro Vera Cruz it is three days by steam to New Orleans, and fro New Orleans it is three or four days by rail to Atlanta, so you see that we are still neighbors, even if you should remain in Georgia. The road is owned by an English company, but is almost entirely in American hands.
My health is excellent, and I feel that it cannot be otherwise in this charming climate. Direct your letter to me at Cordova, Mexico, and in conclusion, let me beg you to excuse this horrid and disjoined letter, as it was written in the midst of a crowd, half of whom were continually talking to me and compelling me to talk to them.
Very truly your friend,
ISHAM G. HARRIS.