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Atlantic; secondly, inhabitants to make use of the vast acres of unoccupied lands. For these great benefits the people of this generation look to your philanthropy, energy, and enterprising genius. All are anxiously awaiting the result of the road privilege now in your possession.
R. McDOWALL, M. D. David, April 15, 1852.
Mr. Coffin, an American who went to Chiriqui in search of the gold ornaments found in the Indian graves, thus describes, in a letter, the province of Chiriqui:
“We sailed from New York on the 25th of August last, destined for the Chiriqui lagoon. On the 18th of September we made the Zappadilla Keys, off the Boca del Tigre channel. There was a strong current and land breeze setting out, and as our captain was not acquainted with the coast, we did not enter until the next morning. In going through the channel we found 27 fathoms as the regular depth, decreasing inside the lagoon to about 14 fathoms, and finally anchored, at about 5 p. m., close to the shore in eight fathoms water. Although the rainy season had fully set in, and our view was somewhat obscured by the continued showers, yet we were astonished and delighted at the grandeur and magnificence of this unequalled harbor. The shores were high and bold, covered with the stateliest trees, in many places down to the waters' edge. The islands and headlands shutting out the view of the ocean, and making the waters around us as smooth as a mill-pond, notwithstanding they were some thirty miles in length, by more than thirteen in breadth.
" The few inhabitants on the mainland supposed our schooner to be one of Walker's vessels, and immediately fled inland, carrying their cattle with them. Owing to this, we found it difficult to procure a guide. The next morning we secured the service of an Indian, who was partially acquainted with the route across, as it had formerly existed. He had never been over, but undertook, however, to show us the new horse road, opened by the Chiriqui Improvement Company. It was some three miles from our anchorage, and upon entering it found that we could readily walk forward at the rate of three or four miles per hour. Many diverging paths had been cut to ascertain the best grades, and fearful of being misled by these, we returned to the old road, which had long since been abandoned by all but the Indians--they cling to it from a superstitious belief, which will be noticed hereafter. This old route was one of exeerd. ing difficulty, and we regretted that we had not gone first to Bocas del Toro, and secured a guide from the agent of the Chiriqui Company, who could have taken us by the new road. After crossing the Guarume river sixteen times in two days, we finally lost the trail, and had to pursue the river bed as our only directing course. Prospecting this for gold while we were advancing, we, in four days, reached the mountains; the passes here were steep and rugged, causing much toil; but for this we were more than recompensed by the magnificent view that burst upon us as we emerged through them. It is impossible to fully or adequately describe the beauty of the sloping or gradually descending prairies which stretched off southward for forty miles towards the Pacific ocean. These lands, richer and more fertile than any I have ever seen, were covered with wild cattle, and dotted all over with wild sugar-cane, coffee, cocoa, plantains, oranges, bananas, guavas, mangoes, &c., growing in richer and increasing profusion as we descended further down the slopes. Higher up towards the mountains, through their ravines on all sides, were growing enormous trees of mahogany, cedar, basswood, sandalwood, ebony, lignum-vitæ, pehue, oaks, palm, caoutchouc or Indian-rubber, which latter, upon being punctured, yielded a continuous flow of the milk, which quickly hardened and became dark and solid after a short exposure to the air and sun. Besides these, there is a peculiar tree of great durability, lasting twenty years or more under water or under earth, and which the worm does not touch; it is, I think, called the Grenadilla; it is the rosewood of commerce, and is used by the residents for the underpinning of their houses. It will become of great value to ship-builders, for the framing of vessels.
We rested ourselves at Caldera, which is said to be the most healthful place in the world, no epidemic diseases ever having been known there. The atmosphere was delightfully exhilarating, whilst the abundant supply of nature, in every form, was most enticing. Fat cattle may there be purchased at three dollars, and horses and mules at from ten to fifteen dollars each. Grains and fruits can be had for the gathering. There is, indeed, a perpetual harvest of all that man requires upon these vast plains.
Early the next day we took horses for Dolego and David, and arrived at the latter place at 9 a. m. Here we found a few Americans. Most of the "huaca" hunters had left because of the rainy season. We were informed that many of them would return, both for the purpose of prospecting for gold and for permanent settlement in the country. Few, indeed, can go there without having the desire to remain, or resolving to return if circumstances force them away.
Amongst those in David was a late engineer and agent of the Panama Railroad Company. Upon meeting me he exclaimed, “My God! what a country we are in! What a place for railroads. Here you can start from the mountains to the Pacific, without fuel, using only the brakes down the long inclines, which are so gentle that a good engine can do nearly full duty in ascending them! And then so easy to make the road; you have but to lay down the cross-ties, put on the iron, and you are ready for work! And what a climate! I have never had such health. I could not believe, if I had not experienced it, that there could be such a difference in such a short distance from Aspinwall. I sleep under a blanket every night, and you cannot realize how invigorating it is after my residence in Aspinwall and Panama. I feel that I am becoming a new man in this district of Chiriqui.” This gentleman was one of the first pioneers upon the Panama road; cut down, indeed, the first tree that was felled in that important work, and his great regret now is that this route was then completely unknown. Had it been, doubtless it would at this day be, what it necessarily will ere long become, the great highway to California, as well as to Australia and the East Indies.
I have been in nearly every region of the globe, and until I visited this, believed that California surpassed them all. Chiriqui, from ocean to ocean, however, equals that in every respect, and surpasses it in many of the true essentials for prosperity and happiness.
With their usual spirit of monopoly, the Pacific Mail Company had sent Mr. Pierson down to prospect for their especial benefit, intending to secure to themselves all the passenger trade, and as much of other matters as might be possible. I found Mr. Pierson delighted with the country; he considers that it is to become the centre of new gold production, as well as of a commerce between Asia and Europe, which will change the existing relations of trade. Mr. Pierson wished us to go to Boco Vita, to assist, so soon as the dry season should commence, in opening the huacas; but, as our provisions and clothing had been left at the Chiriqui lagoon, we determined to return there by the new road which had been opened for the Chiriqui company, even if we should have to do so without a guide.
Our difficulty in procuring one was great. This arose from the fact that it had been opened through a country which the ancient and still cherished superstitions of the Indians taught them was specially guarded by their deities, and was supposed by them to be the region in which dwelt the spirits of their ancestors, and to which had been carried their treasures. They believe that the evil spirits had been driven out of this sacred ground, and, becoming devils, they had taken the forms of wild hogs, tigers, serpents, mountain mouchas, &c., and that any improper approaches were fatal to the party. Not deterred by these representations, we made our arrangements to set out. Finding that we were determined to go, our old guides agreed to accompany us, provided we would allow them time to prepare, and allow them always after night fall to sleep in our midst, and give them double pay. After two days' detention for their preparation, we started at noon from Dolego, travelling for fifteen miles over a magnificent prairie, gradually ascending at the rate of about one foot in the hundred. At the ranche were we stopped, we found sugar cane, Indian corn, plantains, bananas, &c., growing in the greatest abundance. On reaching the foot of the Boquete, we commenced opening the huacas, but with poor success; it was raining too much to continue this work, as they filled with water as fast as we dug into them. Next day we entered the mountain passes, expecting a toilsome and difficult ascent, but were agreeably disappointed, as it was so gradual by the Chiriqui road, which we were on, that we actually crossed the ridge or backbone of the Cordilleras, and were on the descending slope, with waters flowing to the Atlantic, before we were aware that we had reached the summit. The distance from the summit is only about twenty miles, with grades which nowhere exceed eighty feet to the mile, and these by careful engineering can be much reduced. We came slowly down, camping frequently for the purpose of prospecting.
It is impossible for me to describe the beauty of the scenery on the line of this road from David to Chiriqui lagoon. It was like the most highly improved English parks, but exceeded any of them in the stately grandeur of the trees, and the wild but beautiful luxuriance of vegetable production everywhere around us—superb mahogany trees of every variety, live-oaks, bread fruit, log. wood. The grape tree, producing a fruit about the size of a pigeon's egg, hav. ing a pith similar to that of the olive, and of the most delightful taste, refreshing and invigorating, and said to possess great medicinal quality in dispelling fevers. There were also several kinds of trees producing nuts from which the natives extract oils of rich and peculiar qualities, which they use upon the hair and for softening and beautifying the skin. We found, also, the potato growing wild, quite as large and good as the cultivated Irish potato of this country. There were many productions, the names of which we could not learn, and an endless variety of trees, some of enormous size and height, the timber of which appeared most valuable. There were also great varieties of fruits on trees, bushes, and shrubs, many of exceeding delicacy to the taste and apparently most nutritious.
There is also a silk grass of great length of fibre, very strong, and far superior to the manilla. It must entirely supersede this latter article for the manufacture of rope. A sample of this, with some other articles, I send you herewith. Cotton grows wild, and the tree reaches the size of our large apple trees, with bolls of such a size that a handful may be taken from each. It appears to fully equal the Sea Island quality of South Carolina, but is shorter in fibre. In some parts of the lagoon the oranges, lemons, and limes grow in profusion; they were the largest and finest kind I have ever seen.
Game is most abundant. Amongst the varieties are deer, mountain moucha or wild cow, warrah or wild hog; thousands of each of these are roaming through the mountain passes and feeding on the rich slopes. There are wild turkeys, pheasants, quails, partridges, and birds of every imaginable plumage; the birds of paradise are here much larger than those of India. Monkeys of every size and great variety of color followed us from tree to tree, chattering and pointing at our dog. The natives eat the red monkey, considering him a great delicacy, but when killed and the hair taken off, they had so much the look of a human, that we could not be tempted to taste. Some of these monkeys are very docile, and become great favorites with the natives.
The Chiriqui road runs through a country unequalled in beauty and richness.
The land will produce an abundance with but slight tillage; and once the road is carried to a high state of improvement, sugar and tobacco as fine, if not finer, than those of Cuba will become articles of large export; while coffee, cocoa, or the chocolate nut, will be of equal importance.
On the plains the road is already in condition for carriage travel ; through the mountains it is only fit for horse transport; but if vigorously worked it can, in from sixty to ninety days, be rendered fit for wagons or carriages and the transportation of mails and passengers; and the entire distance from ocean to ocean may be accomplished in a single day. The land being high, without marshes, and with but few streams to cross, and these small, a railroad may be constructed with facility and rapidity; and as this road has the only harbors of the isthmus at its termini, it must necessarily become one of vast importance to the civilized world. The commerce between Great Britain and Australia, the Indies, and China, as also to her North Pacific possessions, must take the route across the Atlantic, and by the isthmus to the Pacific. In such a trade vessels of large tonnage must be employed to make their voyages profitable. Such vessels can nowhere find a harbor on the isthmus, except at the Chiriqui lagoon, and at the terminal point of the road on the Pacific. This route must, therefore, become the European highway to Asia. The Panama route may answer the purpose of our commerce until we also use larger vessels; but ultimately the Chiriqui route must, from its natural advantages and its coal beds, become the leading commercial route.
At the period of our first arrival in the lagoon we had no time to examine its shores or islands. On our return we coasted there on our way to Bocas del Toro. At several points on the mainland and island we saw the coal veins which belong to the Chiriqui company cropping out and glistening in the sun. At Pope's island and at Splithill a vessel could lay directly under the edges of these veins, in deep water, and have the coal shovelled from the mines down her hatches.
The islands are equally fertile with the mainland. On Provision island there are thousands of cocoa-nut trees, lemons, oranges, plantains, bananas, and sweet potatoes growing wild, and rotting for want of use. The same on Cocoa-nut keys, Columbus island, and nearly all the other islands in the lagoon. All the islands, and especially Pope's island, are to a great extent covered with large trees, fit for ship timber and for the finest works; amongst them we found liveoak, cedar, locust, zappadella, granadilla, grape fruit, rosewood, satinwood, zebrawood, and other varieties, the names of which we did not know. Some of the trees grow to the height of 120 feet before a limb shoots out. There is also the betel-nut tree, the most beautiful tree that is known; it is the same as the Java betel, the nut of which is used for chewing by the natives.
The shores of the lagoon are varied, some sandy beach, some bluff coral, some high rock, and at intervals
the land stretches out with heavy timber, growing down to the water's edge. There are no marshes, and although we were exposed constantly in the rainy season for more than two months we enjoyed entire health, and this justifies us in saying that it is the most healthy, if not the only healthy, locality on the entire isthmus. The sea breeze sets in at about 11 a. m., gentle and exhilarating, and continues most of the day, dying out at 6 in the evening, when the land breeze commences, and blows gently throughout the entire night; each breeze is sufficient to enable vessels to enter or leave the lagoon. The main entrance is the Tigre channel; it is 160 miles from Greytown and 120 miles from Aspinwall, or nearly equi-distant between them. The town of Boca del Toro, on Columbus island, is pleasantly located on a handsome little bay. It contains about two hundred inhabitants. The lagoon abounds in fish. The hawksbill and green turtle are abundant. There are never-failing springs of fresh water on all the islands, and on the
H. Rep. Com. 148—6
shores of the lagoon. The water of the creeks and rivers is also excellent, and is preferred by the natives because it is warmer than those of the springs.
Nature has spread her bounties plentifully around this favored region, and all that seems to be wanted is the full completion of the Chiriqui road into a railroad to fill the shores and the interior with a thriving and active people, and to build up commercial cities in the harbor, which will probably rival some of the most prosperous of our own country.
I have given you a brief and disinterested report upon the country and the condition of the road thus far opened by the Chiriqui company. I might go into great detail, but were I to do so, and describe accurately the face of the country and all its rich and varied productions, I might be charged with exaggeration, or even with dealing in the marvellous. It is impossible to realize its beauties and advantages except by actual observation.
In conclusion, I may add that the possessions of your company are of immense value, and their improvement ought to be pressed forward rapidly, to secure advantages which are now opening to this line of transit.
I shall return to Chiriqui in January, and may settle permanently there. If I can in any way be of service in forwarding you information, it will afford me pleasure to do so. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
CHARLES E. B. COFFIN.
The late envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of New Granada, in an official paper certifying to the titles of the Chiriqui Improvement Company, thus speaks of the province of Chiriqui :
In addition to the foregoing certificate, I avail myself, with great pleasure, of this opportunity to give testimony, that from information, official and private. worthy of all belief, or from my own information, I am of opinion that there are few countries in the world that possess so many elements of prosperity and wealth as that part of the State of Panama which forms the province of Chiriqui
. In proof of this, it is sufficient to mention its interoceanic position, the variety and comparative softness of its climate, which is most salubrious, especially in the mountainous parts, which enjoy a very fresh and bracing temperature, and in the southern part is almost populated, level, covered with grass and flowers, and abounding in flocks and herds; whilst the northern part only awaits the hand of civilized man to become no less healthful and desirable, and perhaps still better populated.
The mines of gold, from which Christopher Columbus carried with him specimens to Spain, yet remain to testify the existence of that precious metal in the gorges and ravines of the mountains; the mines of copper, of iron, of coal, and the various mineral springs which exist between the town of David and Boca: del Toro; the gum elastic, the pearls and pearl oysters, and the tortoise, furnishing the tortoise shell, abound on those coasts, in which there is already considerable commerce; the richest and most valuable dye-woods, timber for building, and especially ship timber, and resinous and medicinal woods, besides all these resources to make living easy and cheap. The most abundant game invite the chase, and all the fruits and products of the intertropical zone, from the papa, Indian corn, and garden products, to that of cocoa, the plantain, the arrowroot, the cacao, the coffee, the cotton, the sugar-cane, besides many other things to which other countries now owe their wealth and prosperity; the facility of communication, especially on the Pacific side, whilst Panama and Punta Arenas furnish convenient and secure markets for the stock and all the articles of food from Chiriqui, there being between the town of David and Panama a level road. with abundance of water, and well populated-a people simple in their manner