Chapter 28 - The Tiger Hunter by Mayne Reid

The Illustrious Morelos.

Little more than twelve months after its first breaking out—that is, about the close of the year 1811—the Mexican revolution might have been compared to one of those great fires of the American prairies, whose destructive range has been checked by the hand of man. In vain the flames jet out on all sides, seeking fresh element. A wide space has been cleared around them. Soon the crackling of the large trees, and the hiss of the burning grass, cease to be heard; and the whole plain becomes enveloped under a cloud of smoke rising upward from the blackened ashes.

Such was the fate of the insurrection stirred up by the priest Hidalgo. From the little hamlet of Delores it had spread like fire over all the vice-kingdom of New Spain; but very soon the leaders were almost to a man made captives and shot—the venerable Hidalgo himself undergoing the same sad fate. A remnant of the insurgents, pressed on all sides by the royalist troops under General Calleja, had taken refuge in the little town of Zitacuaro, where they were commanded by the Mexican general, Don Ignacio Rayon. There they had established a junta, independent of the government; and continued to launch forth their proclamations, powerless as the glow of the prairie fire after its flames have been extinguished.

When such a fire, however, has been the work of men—when kindled by man’s will and for man’s purpose—and not the result of accident or spontaneity, then, indeed, the flames may be expected to burst forth anew at some other point of the prairie or the forest.

Just so was it with the Mexican revolution. Another champion of independence, of origin even more obscure than his predecessors—if that were possible—soon appeared upon the arena which they had quitted, and with an éclat likely to eclipse any of those who had preceded him.

This was the curate of Caracuaro, he whom historians designate as “El insigne Morelos” (the illustrious Morelos). The Mexican writers do not state in what year Morelos was born. Judging from the portraits I have seen of him, and comparing the different dates that have been assigned to his birth, he should have been about thirty-eight or forty years old, at the commencement of his career as a revolutionary leader. His native place was Talmejo, a small hamlet near the town of Apatzingam, in the state of Valladolid—now called Morelia, after the most illustrious of its sons. The only patrimony of the future heir of the Mexican independence was a small recua of pack-mules, left him by his father, who was a muleteer.

For a long time the son himself followed this humble and laborious calling; when, for some reason or other, the idea came into his head to enter holy orders. History does not say what was his motive for this resolution; but certain it is that Morelos proceeded to carry it out with that determined perseverance which was an essential trait in his character.

Having sold off his mules, be consecrated his whole time to acquire those branches of education, rigorously indispensable to the attainment of his purpose—that is to say, the study of Latin and theology. The college of Valladolid was the scene of his student life.

Having gone through the required course, orders were conferred upon him; but Valladolid offering to him no prospect of advancement, he retired to the little pueblo of Uruapam, where for a time he subsisted upon the scanty means supplied by giving lessons in Latin.

About this time the curacy of Caracuaro became vacant. Caracuaro is a village as unhealthy as poor, where no one could be supposed to reside from choice; and yet Morelos, lacking powerful friends, had great difficulty in getting appointed to the living.

In this miserable place had he resided in a state of obscure poverty, up to that hour, when, accidentally introduced to the reader, at the hacienda Las Palmas. Under the pretence of visiting the Bishop of Oajaca, but in reality for the purpose of fomenting the insurrection, Morelos had travelled through the province of that name; and at the time of his visit to Las Palmas, he was on his way to offer his services to Hidalgo, as chaplain of the insurgent army. The result of that application was, that instead of a chaplaincy to his army, Hidalgo bestowed upon the cura of Caracuaro, a commission to capture the fortified seaport of Acapulco. It was in reality rather as a jest, and to disembarrass himself of the importunities of Morelos, that Hidalgo bestowed this singular and important commission. How much Morelos merited the honour will appear in the sequel.