Gambar halaman

them are piles of mere broken rocks, while others are covered with grass, shrubbery, and small trees. The plains are sandy and mostly unproductive—not, however, from any natural barrenness in the soil, but from a deficiency of water. There are but few durable streams in the whole country, and streams of good water are extremely scarce. But in the plains and most of the dry beds of rivers water can be obtained by digging wells only a few feet in depth; and wherever irrigation has been resorted to by means of these wells, the produce of the soil, from its remarkable fertility, has abundantly rewarded the labor of the agriculturist. Much of this soil is of volcanic origin, having been washed from the mountains by the action of heavy rains, and the produce extracted by means of irrigation from these apparently barren and unprolific sands is something most marvellous. The general aspect of the country on the coast is exceedingly barren and forbidding, but I have seen no instance where the soil is properly cultivated that the labor bestowed on it is not well rewarded. The growth of vegetation is exceedingly rapid, and the soil and climate are such as to produce nearly all the tropical fruits in great perfection. But the inhabitants are disinclined to agriculture, and most of them live indolent and roving lives, subsisting principally upon their herds. Notwithstanding the unfavorable character of the country, it is capable, in the hands of an industrious and agricultural people, of supporting a population much more numerous than the present. In the time of the missions, when very small portions of the soil were cultivated, and even these but rudely, by the Indians, the four districts of San Jose, Santiago, San Antonio, and Todos Santos contained a population of thirty-five thousand souls, whereas, the present population of the same districts is only seven thousand.

The agricultural products of Lower California are maize, sugar-cane, potatoes, dates, figs, grapes, quinces, lemons, and olives. A considerable quantity of hides, beef, cheese, soap, sugar, figs, raisins, &c., is annually exported to Mexico and Upper California, flour and merchandise being received in exchange. The vegetable market of Mazatlan is also in part supplied from the valley of San José.

But the value of Lower California does not result from its being either a grazing or agricultural country. Its fisheries, mines, commerce, and the influence of its geographical position, are matters of much higher importance than its agricultural productions.

The whole coast of the peninsula abounds with fish; clams and oysters are found in great plenty and of every variety. The islands of the gulf abound with seal, and the whaling grounds on the Pacific coast are of great value. During the past year Magdalena bay alone has, at one time, contained as many as twenty-eight sail, all engaged in this fishery. The pearl fishery is also exceedingly valuable. Formerly, when it was conducted with system and regularity, the annual produce of a single vessel with thirty or forty divers, between the months of July and October, usually amounted to about $60,000; and now, badly as the fishery is conducted, the annual exportation of pearls amounts to between forty and fifty thousand dollars. Tortoise and pearl shells are also articles of exportation.

Lower California contains valuable mines of gold, silver, copper, and lead; but, for the want of capital,

very few of these are worked, and this in the rudest manner possible. Nevertheless, the labor expended on them is well rewarded; and there can be no doubt that with capital and suitable means they would yield very handsome profits. The salt mines on Carmen island are capable of supplying the whole coast of Mexico and California; already the duties on this article amount to a considerable sum.

The commerce of the peninsula is now very limited, being principally confined to a coasting trade with the ports of Mexico. The whole population of the country is but little more than ten thousand, and the annual imports and exports are estimated at $300,000. But in our hands this commerce, freed from the absurd restrictions imposed by Mexico, will soon receive a very great extension. La Paz will become the principal depot of American goods for the western coast of Mexico; and in a few years most foreign goods intended for this coast will also be deposited in the warehouses of Lower California, to be transferred to the ports of Mexico at such times and in such quantities as the demands of the market may require. In the present variable state of Mexican trade, resulting from an irregular and fluctuating tariff, which differs for each port and changes with every change of general or state administration, it is frequently necessary to transfer vessels with their cargoes from one port to another, or to keep them for weeks at sea, standing off and on, so as to enable the agents to arrange the rate of duties at the custom-house before landing the cargoes. Sometimes the consignees are obliged to send their vessels to the Sandwich islands. or Valparaiso until a change of administration will enable them to avoid the exorbitant demands of some

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »