DE todos los Generales cual es el mejor ?
Es mi General José con su Guardia de Honor !
IT is only within a century that the world has become habituated to behold the birth of nations, and already the spectacle has grown too common to attract more than transitory notice. In the sluggish days that preceded the revolutionary efforts of our fathers, a nationality was fixed, seemingly immutable, the growth of scarcely numbered ages, the daughter of immemorial Time. A people then could place its hand upon its titledeeds, and, looking back through half a score of centuries, trace its gradual development from nothingness to power. To-day, on the contrary,—to use a somewhat daring metaphor, — nations have become autochthonous ; they have repudiated the feeble processes of conception and tutelage ; they spring, armed and full-grown, from the forehead of their progenitors, or rise, in sudden ripeness, from the soil.
Thousands must now be living, the citizens of prosperous states, who can recall the days when they had entered upon manhood and yet the name itself of their nation had no existence. How many, indeed, are still among us, to whom nations owe the impetus that gave them birth ! Prominent, at least, among those who can lay claim to such distinction, there still stands one whose career it were well, perhaps, to study. We will endeavor to profit by a glance at it.
With this intent let us transport ourselves in imagination to the Llanos or Plains of Venezuela. It is a region similar in some respects, widely dissimilar in others, to the more celebrated Pampas of the regions to the south. The wonderful plain, covering more than two hundred thousand square miles, and forming the basin of the gigantic Orinoco, is a study in itself. The stranger who descends upon the vast savanna from the mountains that line and defend the coast is impressed with the momentary belief, when his eye for the first time sweeps over the level immensity, that he is again approaching the sea. From the hilly country through which he has toiled, he beholds at his feet a limitless and dusky plain, smooth as an ocean in repose, but undulating, like it, in gigantic sweeps and curves. The Llanos that he sees spread out before him thus are one huge and exuberant pasture. Like the Pampas of Buenos Ayres, they are the support of myriads of roaming cattle ; but, unlike them, they are intersected by numerous rivers, and suffer rather from excess than from lack of moisture. The Orinoco sweeps, in turbid magnificence, from west to east, traversing their entire breadth; and its countless tributaries seam in every direction the immense plain thus divided, and frequently by their unmanageable floods turn it for thousands of miles into a lake.
The dwellers in this region have a character no less distinctive than that of the Plains themselves. At long intervals, sometimes scores of miles apart, their habitations are established ; but their home is the saddle. Innumerable herds of cattle and of horses turn to account the pasturage of the rich savanna ; and the true Llanero exists only as guardian or proprietor of these savage hosts. He is as much at home in this trackless expanse of rank vegetation as the mariner navigating a familiar sea. There are no roads in the Llanos; but he can gallop unerringly to any given point, be it hundreds of miles away. There are no boundaries to the huge estates ; but he knows when the cattle he is set to protect are grazing upon their own territory or upon that of a neighbor. He leads a life in which the extremes of solitariness and of activity are combined. Separated from his nearest neighbor by a journey of half a day, visited only rarely at his hato or farm-house by some casual traveller, or by the itinerant Galician peddler, whom he contemptuously denominates the merca-chifles, the silent horseman lives wrapt up in ignorance of all but the care of the roving beasts that are intrusted to his vigilance.
Let us glance somewhat more nearly at the Llanero in his home. If we are able to obtain an elevated view of the savanna,—let us say, in the Llanos which constitute the Province of Barinas, and through which the A pure rolls its rapid current to swell the volume of the Orinoco,—we shall observe, at distant intervals upon the plain, irregular groups of palmtrees surmounting the wavy level of the grass. These isolated clumps or groves, called matas in the provincial idiom, form the landmarks of the Venezuelan Plains ; and in the neighborhood of each we shall find the hato or dwelling of a Llanero. The building, we shall find in every case, is a roughly-constructed hut. consisting of a floor raised a couple of feet above the spongy soil, and covered with a steep roof of palm-branches, with perhaps a thatch composed of the leaves of the same invaluable tree. A rough partition of mud-plastered twigs divides the Llanero’s dwelling into unequal apartments ; the lesser being reserved for the use of the females of the household, while the larger, furnished with half-a-dozen hides, the skin of a jaguar, and a couple of benches or stools ingeniously manufactured from bamboo, is the general reception-room, sleeping-apartment, and workshop for the hatero, when the floods are out, or when he takes a fancy at other times to shelter his head beneath a roof. A few rods from the dwelling is the corral or cattle-pen, a large oval inclosure, into which, at irregular intervals, he drives his herds for purposes of branding or enumeration ; and near the corral two or three impatient horses, shackled with a thong confining the forelegs, are grazing.
The cattle-farms or hatos of the Plains are owned, for the most part, by the Creole residents of the cities which dot their outskirts, but are inhabited only by the semi barbarous hateros, who attend to the few requirements of the stock, and slaughter the annual supply. The hatero, although a descendant, and proud that he is so, of the Spanish settlers, has much intermixture of Indian and negro blood in his veins. Few of the Llaneros, indeed, could show a pedigree in which the Castilian blood was not sorely attenuated and diluted with that of half-a-dozen Indian or negro progenitors. He is born on the Llanos, as were his ancestors for many generations ; and has no conception of a land in which cattle-plains are unknown, and where the carcass of an animal is of more value than the hide. His ideas are restricted to his occupation, and his religious notions limited to the traditional instruction handed down from the days when his forefathers lived amid civilized men, or to the casual teaching of some fervent missionary, who devotes himself to the spiritual welfare of these lonely dwellers on the Plains. Eight or ten persons at the utmost form a hato, and suffice for all the requirements of thousands of cattle. The women are as much accustomed to solitude as the men, and spend their time in domestic occupations, or in cultivating the little patch of ground upon which their supply of maize and cassava is grown. The occasion of their marriage is perhaps the only one of their visit to a town,—perhaps their only opportunity of seeing a printed book. Men and women alike are a simple, healthy, ignorant race, borrowing manners, dress, and dialect rather from the Indian than from the Spanish stock.
Such as he is, nevertheless, and for the purposes which his existence subserves, the true Llanero is indeed well placed in his peculiar region. A man of middle Stature, usually of broad and powerful build, short-necked, with square head and narrow forehead, and with eyes that would be black, if it were not for the fire that flickers in them with a carbuncle-like intensity. From the hips upward the Llanero is straight and well-proportioned ; but his constant equitation curves and bandies his legs in a manner plainly visible whenever he attempts to walk. His distinctive costume consists of the calzones, or cotton breeches, reaching a little below the knee, a tunic or smock-frock of the same material, confined about his waist with a thong of leather, into which he thrusts bis formidable machete or cutlass, and the inevitable poncho, that many-colored blanket which the entire Spanish-American race has adopted at the hands of the vanquished Indians, and which he uses as cloak, as pillow, as bed, and sometimes as saddle. Boots he has none, nor shoes ; but perhaps he may fasten strips of raw hide to his feet by way of sandals,—and a piece of raw hide covers, in all probability, his head. He cares little for ornament, since there are so few about him to admire display ; and all his pride is concentrated in the steed that bears him, the lasso that he can throw with such unerring aim, and the heavy lance that he uses in driving bis ferocious cattle, or as a death-dealing weapon when he is called upon to take part in some partisan warfare.
Upon his hato, perhaps, there are between one and two hundred thousand head of cattle and horses, guarded here and there by isolated posts of a nature similar to bis own. The animals, savage from their birth, roam the plain in droves of many hundreds, each herd commanded by two or three bulls or stallions, whose authority is no less despotic than that of the colonel of a Russian regiment. They sweep from feeding-ground to feeding-ground, galloping eight or ten abreast, headed by scouts, and suffering no human being or strange animal to cross their path. As the dusky squadron hurries, like an incarnate whirlwind, from one point to another, every one prudently withdraws from their irresistible advance ; and instances have occurred in which large bodies of troops, marching across the Plains, have been scattered and routed by an accidental charge of some such wild-eyed regiment. At certain intervals, la hierra, the branding, takes place ; when drove after drove are dexterously compelled within the walls of the corral, and there marked with the initials or cipher of the proprietor. This is the great festival of the hatero, and he invites to it all his neighbors for scores of leagues around. The bellowing cattle, the plunging steeds, the excitement of lassoing some bull more refractory than usual, the hissing of the iron as it sears the brandmark deep into the animal’s hide, all these are elements of exquisite enjoyment to the unsophisticated Rarey of the Plains. His great delight, on such occasions, is to display his skill in lassoing an untamed colt, or in performing the feat called to colear a bull. He selects from the suspicious herd some fine young three-year old, grazing somewhat apart from the main body, and creeps silently towards it. Suddenly the lasso flies in snaky coils over the head of the beast, and is drawn with strangulating tightness about its neck. At the first plunge, a brother hatero lassoes the animal’s hind legs, and it is permitted to rear and kick as frantically as it can, until it drops to the ground exhausted and strangled. The Llanero immediately approaches the prostrate colt, and deliberately beats its head with a heavy bludgeon until it becomes quite senseless. He then places his saddle upon its back, adjusts a murderous bit in its clammy mouth, and seats himself firmly in the saddle at the moment when the animal recovers strength enough to rise. The fearful plunges, the wild bounds, the vicious attempts at biting, which ensue, are all in vain ; in a couple of days he subsides into a mere high-spirited trotter, whom one can ride with ease after once effecting a mount.
The pastime of “tailing” a bull is somewhat singular. Two or three horsemen single out an animal upon which to practise it, and secure a lasso about its horns. Another lasso, deftly thrown about its hind legs, is fastened to a tree, and the strongest of the party then seizes the bellowing beast by its tail, which he twists until his victim falls over on its side and is dispatched. The greatest dexterity is required in this manœuvre by all practising it, as the slacking of either lasso enables the bull to turn upon his caudal persecutor, who is certain to be gored to death. This, indeed, not unfrequently happens. But a Llanero cares little for death. He faces it daily in his lonely converse with thousands of intractable beasts,—in his bath in the river swarming with alligators,—in the swamp teeming with serpents, against whose poison there is no antidote, and whose bite will destroy the life of a man in a single hour. Content with the wild excitement of his daily round of duty and recreation, with his meal of dried beef and cassava-cake, washed down, it is likely, with a gourdful of guarapo. a species of rum, in comparison with which the New England beverage is innocent and weak, and with the occasional recurrence of some such turbulent festival as that of the branding, he cares nothing for the future, and bestows no thought upon the past. The Llanero may be called a happy man.
Two years more than half a century ago there lived a Creole trader of some wealth in the little town of Araure, in the province of Barinas, upon the outskirts of the Llanos. Don José had a stalwart son, aged about sixteen, whom he had trained to active usefulness amid the monotonous ease of the torrid little municipality. Young José Antonio had received, it is true, only a scanty education, but he could sign his name, could verify a calculation, and had a shrewd, quick head for business. The doctors-of-law, tolerably numerous even in little Araure, pronounced him born for a jurist, and he was a godsend to the litigious natives of the Captain-Generaley. The hide-and-tallow merchants nodded knowingly, as he passed them in the street with a good-humored Àdios, and predicted great fortunes for the lad as a future man-of-business. The Cura thought it a pity that he should prefer the society of the dusky beauties of Araure to the more hallowed enjoyments of preparation for a priestly life. And all the while quite other destinies were held in store by Fate. The remissness of a mercantile correspondent of his father altered the earrent of his life, and mightily influenced, even to the present day, the fortunes of his country.
A sum was owing to Don José by a trader of Capudare, and he intrusted his son with the task of collecting the debt. One fine day, in the spring of 1807, the lad accordingly set out, in high spirits at his important mission, armed with a brace of pistols and a cutlass, and mounted on a trusty mule. The money was duly collected, but, as young José Antonio journeyed home with it, a rumor of his precious charge was spread, and he was beset in a lonely by-path by four highwaymen. The pistols flashed from José’s holsters, and one of the churriones fell the next moment with a bullet in his brain. Instantly presenting the second pistol, which was not loaded, he advanced upon the remaining three, who fell back in consternation, and fled, panic-stricken, from the boy. José Antonio was left alone with the highwayman's corpse. It was no light thing in Venezuela to commit a homicide without testimony of innocence, and young José hastened homewards with his treasure, in a state of trepidation far greater than any the living highwaymen could have inspired. Even in his parents’ dwelling, he dreaded, every moment, the arrival of an order for his arrest, and to appease his groundless anxiety his father shortly suggested that he should take refuge upon the Llanos, —the Sherwood of Venezuelan Robin Hoods. The youth was delighted with the idea, and engaged himself as herdsman in the service of Don Manuel Pulido, a wealthy proprietor, whom he served so well that he was very quickly advanced to a position of confidence and command. In a few months the slayer of the churrion had learned to smile at his recent apprehensions ; but the wild life of the hato had already thrown around him its subtle fascination, and the sprightly youth of Araure had become a naturalized son of the Plains. Soon few were able like young José to break an untried steed ; few wielded more dexterously the lasso, or could drive with more unerring force the jagged lance into the side of a galloping bull. Clad in poncho and calzones, he scoured the vast plain of La Calzada, acquiring, at the same time with manual dexterity and physical hardihood, the affections, still more important, of the wild Llaneros with whom only he associated. The lad of eighteen, scarcely two years a denizen of the Plains, possessed all the influence and authority of the hoariest Llanero ; and now the predictions ran that this daring José Antonio would one day be the most successful cattle-farmer in Venezuela !
WE must leave young José among his comrades of the hato for a while, and glance at the contemporaneous doings of anointed heads, whose destinies were strangely interwoven with his own.
Far away across the Atlantic, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, events had been developing themselves to the consummation that should overturn a splendid throne, shake Europe to its foundations, and electrify Spanish America with a sympathetic current of revolution, flashing from the pines of Oregon to the deserts of Patagonia.
The mysterious treachery of Bayonne was consummated. Joseph, brother of Napoleon, reigned on the throne of which King Charles had been perfidiously despoiled. Ferdinand, heir to the crown of Spain and the Indies, had scarcely heard himself proclaimed as the seventh monarch of that name, when he had resigned his kingly functions to a Regency, and hastened into the snare which already held his father a captive on the soil of France. The astounding intelligence arrived in different parts of South America during the year 1808. The effect was everywhere alike. One moment of utter bewilderment, an instant’s reeling under the shock of surprise, and then a magnificent outburst of loyalty from the simple-hearted Creole population ! El Rey, the King,—that almost mythical sovereign, who was ignorantly adored as the personification of wisdom and beneficence, no matter how cruelly Viceroys might misgovern, or Captains-General oppress,—was it possible to conceive him a captive, the signer of his own humiliation, the renouncer of his immemorial rights ? And Ferdinand, the young monarch of whom so little was known and so much expected, — he, too, a voluntary prisoner, while a Frenchman reigned in Madrid ? This was news, indeed, to bewilder nations who had hitherto remained content in infantile tutelage, unconscious, undesirous, of the rights of men ! Addresses, fervent with loyalty, were dispatched to Spain, embodying vows of eternal affection towards the King, and of detestation of Joseph, the usurper. French residents in Venezuela were publicly execrated by the excited Creoles ; the French flag was insulted, and the French messengers were glad to escape with their lives from the hands of the infuriated Colonists. No Spanish monarch ever had a firmer hold upon the Indies than Ferdinand VII. when Spain was lost to him in July and August, 1808.
But soon there came that inevitable question, first in the catechism of all human society : Whom shall we obey ? The King, whose hand had weighed not over lightly these many years, an abdicated prisoner at Bayonne ; Ferdinand yielding his authority into the hand of a nameless Regency, and his capital to the brother of the Corsican Emperor ; Spain overrun by two hundred thousand foreign troops ; messengers at hand from Joseph, from the Regency, from the Junta of the Asturias, from the Junta of Seville, each alike asserting iis right to authority over the Colonies, as legitimate possessors of jurisdiction in Spain itself ! The accession of Joseph, in fact, gave a momentary independence to Spanish America, and the royal governors were thrown upon their own resources for the maintenance of their power. The Colonies were for the first time called upon to provide for their own defence,—solieited, not commanded, to obey ; and they proved their loyalty by dispatching enormous sums in gold and silver to the Junta at Cadiz, as well as by their eagerness to ascertain in whom actually reposed the lawful government of Spain. Gradually, however, the consciousness of their own entity stole over the Venezuelans and New Granadians, and they bethought them of establishing an administrative Junta of their own, until better times should dawn on Spain, Blindly imprudent, the Viceroy violently opposed the project, and with such troops as remained in the Colonies the first Juntas were dispersed or massacred. Squabbles ensued, until the citizens of Caracas quietly deposed the chief Colonial authorities, and appointed a Junta Suprema to administer affairs in the name of Ferdinand VII. Intelligence of this step, however, was received with great alarm by the sapient Junta of Cadiz, and a proclamation was launched, on the 31st of August, 1810, declaring the Province of Caracas in a state of rigorous blockade. A war of manifestoes ensued, until the Provinces became enlightened as to then own importance and strength, and published, on the 5th of July, 1811, the Declaration of their Independence. Scarcely was this done when the Spanish Cortes offered liberal terms of accommodation, but they were rejected. The nation, that in 1808 thought it sweet to be subject, declared itself, three years later, for unqualified independence. The ardent revolutionist, General Miranda, was placed in command of some hastily-levied forces, and took the field against the Spanish commander, Don Domingo Monteverde, who had assumed a hostile attitude immediately after the Declaration.
It is only necessary here to say, that, after some hard-fought and honorable fields, Miranda and his fellow-officers were completely successful. All the principal cities were in the hands of the Patriots before 1812 began. Monteverde, in January of that year, was cooped up in the remote province of Guiana, and Coro on the sea-coast was also held by his troops ; but elsewhere the new Republic seemed fully established. Already the point of Constitution-making — the crystallization-point of republics — had been reached. The ports of Venezuela were for the first time opened to foreign trade. Her inhabitants were no longer restricted from the enjoyment of the fruits of their own industry. A gigantic system of taxation had been brushed, like a spider’s web, away. Two-thirds of the Captain-Generaley, in a word, were free.
There was little fear among any of the inhabitants of Caracas, in March, 1812, that they would again fall under the dominion of Spain. The Carnival had been celebrated with greater joyousness than in any year before ; the proverbial gayety of the town was doubled during the concluding festival of Shrove Tuesday ; and Lent had scarcely thrown as deep a shade as usual over the devoutest inhabitants of the city. Lent drew to a close, and there was every prospect that Passion Week would be succeeded by a season of rejoicing over impending defeats of the Royalist Goths in Coro and Guiana ; and Passion Week came. Holy Thursday fell on the 26th of March.
The solemn festival was ushered in with the most imposing rites of the Church. In the great cathedral, which dwarfed all other buildings in the Plaza, there was high mass that day. The famous bell clanged out to all Caracas remembrance of the agony of our Lord. A silent multitude was prostrated all day long before the gorgeous altar. Prelates and priests and acolytes stood, splendid in vestments of purple and white and gold, solemnly celebrating upon the steps of the sanctuary the holiest mysteries of the Roman Catholic communion. Above and around, gigantic tapers flared from candlesticks of beaten gold ; and every little while, the glorious anthems floated forth in majestic cadence, eddying in waves of harmony about the colonnade that stretched in dusky perspective from the great door to the altar, soaring above the distant arches, and swelling upwards in floods of melody, until the vast concavity of the vaulted nave was filled with a sea of sound. But a sultry heaviness weighed with the incense upon the air. Elder citizens glanced uneasily at one another, and the thoughts of many wandered anxiously from the sacred building. Outside, the streets were empty. All Caracas was engaged in public worship ; and the white dwellings that inclosed the Plaza, with its converging avenues, looked silently down upon deserted pavements, echoing only now and then to the careless tread of a party of negroes, or to the clattering heel of some undevout trooper. The sun had a glow as of molten copper ; the atmosphere was dense ; but not a cloud occupied the heavens. Towards evening the churches and the cathedral were again emptied, and the throng of worshippers, streaming out into the streets, prepared to witness the great religious procession that was to close the ceremonies of the holy day. Still the declining sun glowed with unnatural intensity of hue ; and the evening breeze swept over the town in unusually fitful and stormy gusts. The air seemed to be laden with mysterious melancholy, to sigh with a hidden presage of some awful calamity to come.
Of a sudden it came. A shudder, a tremor, a quivering shock ran, for hundreds of miles simultaneously, through Venezuela. A groan, swelling thunderously and threateningly into a hollow roar, burst from the tortured earth, and swallowed up in its convulsive rumbling the shrieks of an entire nation suddenly in wrapt in the shadow and agony of death. For a moment,—as if a supernatural hand were painfully lifting it from its inmost core,— the earth rocked and heaved through all Venezuela ; and then, almost before the awful exclamation, El temblor ! had time to burst from the lips of that stricken nation, it bounded from the bonds that held it, and in a moment was quaking, heaving, sliding, surging,rolling, in awful semblance to the sea. Great gulfs opened and closed their jaws, swallowing up and again belching forth dwellings, churches, human beings, overtaken by instantaneous destruction. A flash and a roar passed through the earth, and a jagged chasm followed in its track, creating others in its rapid clash and close. Whole cities shivered, tottered, reeled, and fell in spreading heaps of undistinguishable ruin. In one minute and fifteen seconds, twenty thousand human beings perished in Venezuela ; and then the Earthquake of Caracas ceased.
It was after four o’clock in the afternoon when the first subterranean shock was felt ; and long before five the agonized earth was still. Long before five, the stupefied survivors stood slowly recovering their faculties of speech and motion. Long before five, a piteous wail ascended to heaven from fathers and husbands and wives and mothers, desolately mourning the dead in the streets of Caracas, La Guayra, Mérida, San Felipe, and Valencia. In this manner the Holy Thursday of 1812 drew toward its close. But the physical disasters consequent upon the great earthquake were of insignificant import as compared with its moral effect. Colonist and Spaniard had shared alike in suffering and death during those dreadful moments ; but the superstitious population readily accepted the interpretation which an eager priesthood placed upon the event, and bowed in the belief that they had suffered the infliction in punishment of their rebellion against the King. Nine-tenths of the clergy and monastic brotherhood inwardly hated and feared the Revolution, and their practised tongues drew terrible auguries for rebellious Venezuela from the recent throes and upheaval of the earth. Preachers solemnly proclaimed the fact, that this, without doubt, was a catastrophe akin to the memorable convulsion which once had swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, for mutiny against the Lord ; and the proximate wrath of God could be appeased only by a retrogression into his chosen paths. The people listened to the fathers, and obeyed trembling. Miranda, who had struggled against and overcome the material power of his enemies, was impotent when confronted by spiritual terrors ; and after a few languid combats, his troops deserted, leaving Monteverde to triumph once more in the assertion of Spanish authority over every province of Venezuela. His headquarters were established at Caracas, and there, as well as elsewhere, his troops revelled in the perfidious torture and execution of their capitulated foes. During nearly two years, Monteverde reigned in Venezuela.
GUERRA Á LA MUERTE !
YET, towards the close of 1813, the star of liberty glimmered once more from the summits of the Western Cordillera. During and after the memorable earthquake, the city of Puerto Cabello, at that time held by the Patriots, was under the command of a young colonel in the Republican service, who had devoted a portion of his immense patrimonial wealth to the culture of his intellectual powers in European travel, (not, however, without subsequently applying a large share to the necessities of his country,) and whose name was Simon Bolívar. The treachery of an officer delivered the citadel of Puerto Cabello into the hands of some Spanish prisoners who were there confined, and in June, 1812, Colonel Bolívar was compelled to evacuate the town with all his force. While Monteverde lorded it over his country, he took refuge in the neighboring islands, and afterwards in New Granada, where he conceived the daring project which freed Venezuela, and has perpetuated, with his name, the simple but expressive title : Liberator, Libertador.
It is not our purpose here to follow the intrepid partisan in his descent, with six hundred New Granadian adherents, from the Andes, upon the astounded Spaniards. We cannot follow him, nor the generals whom he created, in their marvellous marches, and still more marvellous triumphs, during many succeeding years. Suffice it to say, that he fell like a thunderbolt from a sunny sky upon the confident Royalist troops,— that he defeated and routed them time after time, broke, with his terrible lancers, upon encampments which believed him a hundred miles away, and drove the Royal commanders, with varying success, from one point to another of Venezuela. His watchword was, Guerra á la muerte, “ War unto death ! ” Every battle-ground became a shamble, every flight a butchery. The system was inaugurated by his antagonists, who cruelly slew eight Patriot officers, and eight citizens of Barinas, shortly after the commencement of hostilities, under circumstances of peculiar barbarity. Thenceforward Bolivar’s men took no prisoners.
In the mean time, Wellington had driven the French across the Pyrenees, and Ferdinand the Adored ruled once more in Madrid. Even now, judicious management might have secured again the allegiance of the Colonies ; but the first action of Ferdinand was to vituperate his American subjects as rebels, whom he commanded to lay down their arms at once ; and on the 18th of February, 1815, there sailed from Cadiz a stately armament intended to enforce this peremptory order. Sixty-five, vessels composed the fleet, bearing six regiments of infantry, one of dragoons, the Queen’s hussars, artillery, sappers and miners, engineers, and eighteen pieces of cannon, besides incalculable quantities of arms and munitions of war. The expedition numbered fifteen thousand men, and was commanded in chief by the famous soldier, General Don Pablo Morillo, the guerilla champion, the opposer of the French.
On the 4th of April, this redoubtable army effected a landing ; and once more, all but an insignificant fraction of Venezuela fell under the hand of Spain. The flood of successful rebellion was rolled back from the coast, and Bolivar, with his dauntless partisans, was soon confined to the Llanos, which stretch away in level immensity from the marshy banks of the Orinoco, the Apure, and their tributaries.
Our readers have already been introduced to these Llanos, and have beheld their wild inhabitants amid the monotonous avocations of a time of peace. Let us now approach them while the “ bloodred blossom of war ” blazes up from their torrid vegetation. Let us descend upon them at night, here, at no great distance from the banks of the caymanhaunted Apure, and we shall gaze upon a different scene. All around us, the plain extends in the same desolate immensity that we noticed when we looked upon it from the hato ; still, as before, we see it covered with a dense wilderness of reedy grasses that overtop the tallest trooper in Morillo’s army; as before, we notice the scattered palmislands, breaking here and there the uniformity of level ; and hosts of cattle and wild horses are still roaming over the plain.
Near a mata, or grove of palm-trees, there is a sound of merry voices to-night. Fires are crackling here and there ; huge strips of fresh beef are roasting on wooden spits ; the long grass has been trodden flat in a wide circumference, and three or four rudely-constructed huts of palm-branches close the scene on one side. Five hundred men are collected here,—the élite of the liberators of Venezuela. Gathered about their camp-fires, these troopers, who have ridden a hundred miles since morning, are enjoying rest, refreshment, and recreation. But the word trooper must not conjure up a vision of belted horsemen, rigid in uniform, with clanking sabres, and helmets of brass. Of a far different stamp are the figures reclining before us. These are improvised warriors, hateros, cattlefarmers, who, grasping their lances and lassos, have eagerly exchanged the monotony of pastoral life for the wild excitement of the charge upon Spanish squadrons, and the ferocious slaughter of fellow-men. No two of this invincible band are clad alike. Here is a sergeant, wearing an old and dilapidated blanket poncho-fashion, with the remains of a palmleaf hat sheltering his head, and with limbs which a pair of ragged calzones make only a pretence of covering. Yet over his left shoulder is slung a gorgeous hussar-jacket, which he wears with the greater pride since it belonged last night to a lieutenant in the Queen’s regiment, whom he slew in cold blood after the fight ! Next to him leans a private, barelegged and bare-headed, wearing only an old piece of carpet about his waist, a flannel shirt, and the uniform coat of a Spanish officer, from which he has cut the right sleeve in order to secure greater freedom for his arm. A third has made himself a suit which Robinson Crusoe might have envied. Helmet, jerkin, breeches, sandals, — all have been cut from the same raw bull's-hide! His neighbor, a new recruit, still wears the national dress of his order, which has not yet been tattered and torn from him by long service ; and he is the envy of the motley troop. But the lack of uniformity in no wise detracts from valor, nor does it diminish the gayety of these terrible lancers as they lie idly grouped about the flickering fires. Half-a-dozen circles are absorbed in as many games at cards ; others are swallowing greedily some improvised fantastic tale ; and some are singing, in wild, irregular cadence, the favorite songs of the Plains. Their example soon becomes contagious, and group after group chimes in with the uproarious chant. Listen ! From the farthest extremity of the encampment comes a querying solo :—
" De todos los Generales cual es el valiente ? ”
and from five hundred throats the response is thundered : —
“ Mi General Paez con toda su gente ! ”
Again the solo demands :—
“ De todos los Generales cual es el mejor ? ”
and the tumultuous answer is vociferated : —
“ Es mi General José con su guardia de honor ! ”
And who may be the valiant General, the General with his guard of honor, excelling all the rest ? This, we learn, is the guard of honor ; the General is José Antonio Paez, little José Antonio who killed the highwayman and betook himself to cattle-farming on the Plains ! Now, however, he is the famous Llanero chieftain, favorite champion of Venezuela, brother-in-arms of Bolívar, who allows him, alone of all the military leaders, the privilege of an especial bodyguard. Since 1810,—for five years,—he has been fighting constantly in his country’s service, and has won himself fame while our eyes have been turned in other directions. Look ! he is standing there, at the entrance to his hut, while the chorus yet echoes among the palm-branches. Scarcely of middle stature,— certainly not more than five feet four in height,—but broad-shouldered, muscular, with a constitution of iron, equal to perpetual exertion, capable of every fatigue. His countenance is open and prepossessing, his features rounded, forehead square, eyes piercing and intelligent. Like his men, he wears a motley garb. — part Spanish uniform, part costume of the Llanos ; and he leans upon a lance, decorated with a black bannerol, which has carried death already to innumerable Loyalist hearts. Thus José Antonio Paez stands before us, on the banks of the Apure, in the twenty-fifth year of his age.
He has perhaps been hitherto too much neglected by us, and we must look backwards in order to take up the thread of his career. At the very first outbreak of insurrection in 1810, Paez took service as a volunteer in the hastily-levied militia of Barinas, and was quickly promoted to the post of sergeant in a corps of lancers. His influence and example attracted multitudes of Llanero horsemen to the Revolutionary ranks, but the calamitous period of the earthquake put an end to his military service, and he returned, in 1812, to his pastoral post. Soon, however, came news of Bolivar lighting from the mountains of New Granada ; and in 1813 Paez was once more in the saddle, with the commission, this time, of captain in the Patriot service. The Spaniards soon learned to dread the fiery lancer of Barinas. They were never safe from his sudden onslaught ; and Puy, the commandant of the Province, rejoiced loudly when an unlucky defeat placed the indefatigable guerrillero in his power. Paez was condemned to be shot, and was actually led out, with other prisoners, to the place of execution ; but a concatenation of extraordinary accidents saved his life, and he escaped once more to the head of his command. It was not long before he was brought in immediate contact with the now famous Bolívar, and he rapidly rose to independent command. In 1815, he was second only to the Liberator. Thousands of grim Llaneros acknowledged no chieftain beside el Tio Pepe,—Uncle Joe. When Morillo landed, in 1815, with his overwhelming force, only the Llaneros of Paez held out for the Republic ; everywhere else in Venezuela the banner of Spain waved in triumph, but on the Plains of the Apure there was neither submission nor peace. Yet, after a while, as the victorious legions of Morillo flooded, in successive waves from the coast, the level region of his refuge, Paez was compelled to evacuate the Plains, and leave them to the invader. With a few hundred of his horsemen he established himself on the Plains of New Granada. Scarcely had he grown familiar with his new centre of action when the troops of Morillo were turned westward for the purpose of curbing the rebellious spirits in the neighboring ViceRoyalty,— when, quicker than thought, Paez was once more over the mountains, and recovered by a sudden swoop the Llanos of Barinas. Thenceforward, this region remained the surest foothold of the revolution in Venezuela. Encircled with Spanish troops, it remained, nevertheless, a practical republic in itself, and the vast basin of the Orinoco was the cradle of Venezuelan freedom. The Provisional Government consisted of a mere council of generals, who, in 1816, created Paez General and Supreme Chief of the Republic. A vast stride from the hatero's hut that we saw him inhabiting in 1808 !
Paez resigned this dignity in favor of Bolivar in the following year, contenting himself with his great military command. Surrounded by the body-guard we have seen, through all the years 1816, 1817, and 1818, now in Venezuela, now in New Granada, in the Plains to-day, in the mountains to-morrow, enduring every privation, braving odds apparently the most overwhelming, fighting pitched battles at midnight, and triumphantly effecting surprises in the open day, he maintained alive, in the midst of general discouragement, the cause he had espoused. Bolívar, the Liberator, was meanwhile endeavoring to make head against the Spaniards elsewhere, and gathered a considerable force in the interior province of Guiana. In 1818, the vanguard of the British legion—troops browned by the sun of Spain, who had marched with Wellington from Lisbon to the Pyrenees, and who gladly accepted the offers of the Patriots when Waterloo had put an end to European strife-—sailed up the Orinoco, and effected a junction with the assembled Patriot forces.
At this time, not only the whole of New Granada, but the entire sea-coast of Venezuela and every important city in the Republic were possessed by Morillo. Yet the Royalist cause made no progress. Morillo’s dominion was like that famous Haarlem lake which occupied so large an extent of the lands of Holland; it might be great and threatening, but barriers insurmountable, though unpretending, forbade its expansion, and perseverance gradually succeeded in curtailing its limits. Whatever the hand of Morillo covered, he possessed ; but his authority ceased outside the range of his guns. His men were growing weary of the struggle ; few reinforcements came from Spain ; and the troops suffered frightfully, through their constant fatigues and hardships. The war had become that most terrible of all wars,—a deliberate system of surprises and skirmishes. Paez here, Bolivar there, Monágas, Piar, Urdaneta, and a score of other chieftains, at every vulnerable point, harassed, without ceasing, the common foe.
In 1819, Bolívar set out upon that marvellous expedition across the Andes, in which, by marching one thousand miles and fighting three pitched battles in somewhat less than eleven weeks, he finally liberated New Granada, and secured a vast amount of Spanish treasure and munitions of war. During his absence, Paez was left to keep Morillo in check on the east of the Cordillera. His plan of operations was, to be everywhere, and to do everything with his lancers. Venezuela clung with terrible tenacity to the idea of freedom ; and the Republic was converted into two great camps, perpetually shifting their boundaries, yet ever presenting the same features. Trade and commerce were at an end ; the only business thought of was that of war unto death. Death, everywhere ; death, at all times ; death, in every shape. By the sword and the lance, by famine, by drowning, by fire, decimated by fever, worn out by fatigue, the Spaniards perished. When their convoys failed or were intercepted, it was impossible to obtain food ; no foraging-party dared venture forth from the fortified encampment ; it was necessary that an entire division should march out into the Llanos, and seek for the nearest herd of cattle. It not unfrequently happened, in these expeditions, that the very cattle were enlisted on the Patriot side. Herds of several thousands of the savage beasts were sometimes driven headlong upon the Spanish lines, throwing them into confusion, and trampling or goring great numbers to death. Close in the rear of the resistless herd then charged the lancers of Paez, with the terrible black bannerol fluttering in the van. Before the scattered Royalists have time to rally, they are attacked in every direction by their merciless foes,—and in another minute the battle is over, and the men of the Plains are out of sight ! Sometimes, too, a detachment traversing the savanna would notice with affright a column of thin smoke stealing up into the sky a mile to windward ; and almost before the bugle or the drum could summon them to arms, the flames would be seething and crackling around them, and roaring away, in an ocean of fire, across the savanna beyond. And then, in the rear of the flames, dashed the bloodthirsty lancers, and the blackened embers of the grass turned red with the richness of Spanish veins! No venture was too arduous for the Llanero chieftain. He accomplished at one time an exploit in which only the multiplicity of witnesses who have testified to the achievement permits us to believe. San Fernando, an important town on the Apure, was strongly fortified, and was held by the Spaniards as a potent means of annoying the Patriots in any attempts they might make to cross the river. In order further to defend the passage, six large river-boats, each containing a piece of artillery, were anchored at a short distance below the only ford. But it became necessary that the Apure should be crossed, and Paez quietly undertook to secure the passage. With a few of his lancers, he rode to the river-bank, and there gave the command, Al agua, muchachos ! “ To the water, boys ! ” which he was accustomed to use when ordering his men to bathe. His meaning was at once apprehended. The men, stripping off their upper clothing, and holding their swords under their arms, plunged into the stream, shouting loudly to keep off the alligators, and partly rode, partly swam, nearly half a mile towards the gun-boats. Only the heads of horses and men were visible above the water, and the crews of the gun-boats, after a single discharge, which wounded none of the extraordinary attacking party, threw themselves into the river and made the best of their way to San Fernando, where they alleged that it was useless to contest possession of their charge with incarnate devils, to whom water was the same as dry land, and who butchered all their prisoners. The gun-boats were navigated in triumph to the Patriot camp, and did excellent service in ferrying the troops across the Apure.
BY the year 1820 the Revolutionists had for the third time perceptibly gained ground, and Morillo’s force, spread like a fan at the inland base of the sierra, was gradually yielding to the unceasing pressure ; — in a word, the Patriots were at length driving their enemies into the sea. Towards the close of 1820, Morillo opened negotiations with their chiefs, and a suspension of hostilities was commenced on the 26th of November, when the Spanish general gladly quitted the scene of his fruitless efforts, and retired to Spain with the title of Count of Carthagena, leaving Generals Morales and La Torre in authority behind him. The armistice was not prolonged. The Congress of Colombia, as the united republics of Venezuela and New Granada were then termed, demanded unqualified independence as the price of peace ; and in June — the Battle Month—of 1821, Bolívar and Paez took up arms once more. The Spanish troops were concentrated at the base of the mountains, with Valencia and Caracas in their rear. Before them, the road wound westward, through tortuous passes, towards Tinaquilla and Barinas, at the former of which places Bolivar with his forces was now halting. Six thousand men were in arms on either side ; but the troops of the Republic, though ragged, ill-fed, and badly armed, were flushed with the consciousness of success and the presentiment of triumph, while those of Spain were dispirited, worn out, and malcontent.
It was plain to the meanest trooper, however, that Carabobo must be held ; and on intelligence of the Patriot advance, the position, of amazing strength, was resolutely occupied. It seemed, indeed, that a regiment could defend such a pass with ease against an army. In order to debouch upon the Plain of Carabobo, the Patriots must penetrate a defile, forming a narrow and tortuous pass, the road through which was a mere seam at the base of a deep ravine. This narrow passage, through which, of necessity, Boli var’s troops must march in straggling line, terminated abruptly in a basin or valley shut in by hills, except upon the northeast, where it opened upon the boundless expanse of the contested plain. At the mouth of this gorge La Torre lay with all his force. Despite the unfavorable condition of bis men, with whom, moreover, HE was not popular, the odds seemed overwhelmingly in his favor. He stood on the defensive, in one of the strongest of military positions, and well provided with artillery, while his adversary was to struggle through a narrow valley in the face of his opponents, before a single man could be made available. The mouth of this valley was blockaded by the Spanish infantry, who stretched in silent lines from side to side in the evening of the 23d of June. On either flank, the hills were occupied by corps of riflemen, and the artillery was posted at their base. No force, it appeared, could enter the beleaguered valley and live. Bolivar commenced his passage through the defile on the morning of the 24th, and halted in dismay as he reached the outlet. It was too apparent that such a conflict as lay before him could not be braved. At this moment Paez learned that a narrow side-path existed, permitting the passage of a single file, which led, by a detour, to the plain. It was one of those curious accidents on which the fate of battles seems to hang ; and after some hesitation, Bolívar permitted Paez to venture the passage. Heading the famous Battalion of Apure, he at once wheeled to the left, and commenced the toilsome march. One by one the veterans struggled through the pass, but they were discovered by La Torre before they issued upon the plain.
Although taken entirely by surprise, the Spaniards had time for a partial change of front, and before the veterans of Apure had assembled at the mouth of the pass, a volley of musketry rang out from the Spanish lines, and the gleaming of bayonets told of a wall of steel across the path. The scanty force of Paez, however, dashed from the ravine, and, forming hastily, rushed upon the enemy. Four Royalist battalions converged upon them, and they were crushed. They fell back, flying in disorder, and the Spaniards were on the point of securing the pass, when a shout arose before them that made the stoutest quail. With one ever-memorable cheer, a long hurrah, which spoke of well-known unconquerable determination, the British legion, less than eight hundred strong, with their Colonel, John Fender, at their head, appeared at the mouth of the ravine. Forming instantaneously and in perfect silence, but with the accuracy of a regiment on parade, they threw forward their bayonets, and knelt down, sedately, calmly, immovably, to confront destruction. The remaining troops of Bolivar were in their rear, traversing slowly the defile ; and until they reached its mouth, that living wall of Anglo-Saxon valor neither stirred nor blenched. Volley after volley enfiladed their ranks, and, after each discharge, the mass of men was smaller. Still their cool and ceaseless firing rolled death into the ranks of the enemy, until at length the troops whom they had saved from destruction rallied once more. Then, what remained of the legion, headed by the two or three officers whose lives had been marvellously preserved, rushed fiercely forward like an avenging flame, and swept before them the affrighted Spaniards, wildly scattering at the onslaught which it was impossible to withstand. In another moment, eighty or ninety of the lancers of Paez issued from the ravine, and, hurling themselves upon the broken enemy, turned the defeat into an utter rout. La Torre's troops, with the exception of one regiment, fled in disgraceful confusion, or perished by hundreds under the lances of the implacable pursuers ; and on the evening of the 24th of June, Bolívar, encamped upon the Plain of Carabobo, laid his hand upon the shoulder of José Antonio Paez, thenceforward General-in-chief of the Armies of the Republic of Colombia !
Carabobo decided the War of Independence throughout South America. It snapped the chain which held Venezuela down, and the Spaniards, hemmed in for two years longer at Puerto Cabello, which place they defended with honorable pertinacity, were finally expelled from the free Republic in November, 1823. The city was taken by storm on the 7th of that month, and on the 9th the citadel surrendered. General Calzada, the commandant, with all his officers, and four hundred men, was shortly afterwards shipped for Spain.
Here the career of the Llanero closes. A new and still more brilliant avenue to distinction opens before Paez. At this, however, we can scarcely glance. Our business has been to study him in the saddle, wielding lasso and sword and lance ; nor have we left ourselves room for adequate allusion to his subsequent life as President and private citizen, deliverer of his country, and exile in these Northern States. Yet the record could not be called complete, unless we passed briefly in review the vicissitudes of the past thirty years.
After the taking of Puerto Cabello, Paez administered the affairs of Venezuela as Provisional Chief of the State, and held that office under the Congress of Colombia, until the two republics were dissevered in 1830, when he was elected first President of Venezuela. Only partially disturbed by a military insurrection. headed by the turbulent General José T. Monágas, which was soon suppressed, the administration of Paez was such as surprised all lookers-on in America and Europe. He displayed administrative talents of a high order, with all the firmness and resolution of a soldier, yet with all the business capacity and peaceful proclivities of a civilian.
Laying down the Presidential office in 1834, he was again called upon to assume it four years later, and until the close of 1842 Venezuela prospered under his direction. The foreign and domestic debt was liquidated by the products of national industry, and three millions of dollars were left in the treasury on the accession to the Presidency of General Soublette, in 1843. Honors had rained on the ci-devant impetuous horseman, whose shout had once so frequently been the prelude to slaughter and devastation. William the Fourth of England presented General Paez, in 1837, with a sword of honor ; Louis Philippe of France invested him, in 1843, with the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor; and two years later, there arrived from Oscar of Sweden the Cross of the Military Order of the Sword.
But in 1850, and thenceforward, until 1858, José Antonio Paez trod the streets of New York as an exile from his native land.
General José T. Monágas was elected President of Venezuela in 1848, and created dissatisfaction by his course of action. Paez placed himself at the head of an insurrectionary movement against him, and, being defeated, was imprisoned in the city of Valencia. General Monágas, influenced, it is probable, by feelings of ancient friendship, and remembering the pardon extended to himself on a former similar occasion, contented himself with a decree of exile against the captive veteran, and Paez embarked for St. Thomas on the 24th of May, 1850. He passed from St. Thomas to the United States.
All, whose memories extend so far back as the year 1850, remember the ovation received in New York by the exiled chief. New York grants an ovation to every one ; and Monágas would, doubtless, have been received with the same demonstration, had the breath of adverse fortune blown him hither, insterd of his antagonist.
After the first effervescence produced by the dropping of a notability into the caldron of New York, the Llanero general was permitted to enjoy his placid domesticity without molestation ; and in a pleasant street, far up-town among the Twenties, he lived in the midst of us for eight quiet years. A curious serenity of evening, for a life so turbulent and incarnadined in its beginning ! How many of the thousands who were wont to pass the stout old soldier, with his seamed forehead and gray moustache, as he enjoyed his quiet stroll down Broadway, thought of him as the lad of Araure, the horseman of Barinas, terror of the Spaniard, victor of Carabobo, and President of Venezuela? But though retired and unpretending in his exile, Paez was not neglected in New York ; and the procession which followed him, but a few weeks since, to the steamer destined to bear him back to his native land, — a procession saddened, it is true, by the feeble condition to which an accident had temporarily reduced the chieftain,—showed that his solid worth was recognized and honored.
Not yet, however, is it time for the summing-up of his history. The exile of 1850 has been solicited to return to his country, and the ninth anniversary of banishment may find him occupying once more the Presidential chair. General Monágas having been deposed in March, 1858, repeated invitations were dispatched, by the Provisional Government, to Paez, entreating his return ; and, after much cautions hesitation, he resolved, in the following September, to comply with the request. Subsequent events belong rather to the chronology of the day than to the page of history we have thrown open here. Our task is at an end; the career of the Llanero has been unfolded ; we have placed ourselves in the presence of the comrade of Bolivar, and have witnessed the rise of the Venezuelan Republic.