1851 - Demoticus Philalethes
Hunting the Maroons with Dogs
I think you would like to read the account of a rancheria which I witnessed. It is a regular hunt of those negros who run away from the plantations and assemble in the interior of woods, building very imperfectly a rancho (hut), which only serves to keep off the rain. Sometimes several ranchos are seen together according to the number of runaways; and when they secure places of difficult access, they rapidly increase and form palenques, or villages, where they cultivate roots and bananas for their food, which together with the animals they catch with traps, or steal from neighboring plantations, afford them sufficient nourishment. There are permanent palenques in the mountains of El Cobre and El Cuzco, which the government has not been able to break up, notwithstanding their having been many years in existence, and troops having been repeatedly sent to dislodge them.
Rancherias are regular palenques, though on a smaller scale, of from ten to twenty negros. They live on the vegetables, pigs, and poultry which they steal during the night; they are almost entirely naked; their arms are the spades or cutlasses with which they work, and they carry commonly with them chuzos, or long sticks of hard wood sharpened and scorched at the end, to render them still harder. They seldom make use of arrows, and more seldom yet secure the services of a gun.
I was in a sugar plantation in the "Vuelta de Abajo" called "La Tumba," and one evening the party of the famous ranchador "Pepe Torres" arrived. It comprised three men and five dogs. Their object was to make a descent on a rancheria, about three miles from the plantation, of from twelve to fifteen negros, headed by a native chino (light-colored negro), who it was known had a sword, and had obtained the renown of guapo (courageous). The ranchadores carried swords, and a knife in its case, tied in a belt.
I did not wish to lose this opportunity of witnessing a hunting party of this description, and though I took with me my sword and gun, I made up my mind not to take any active part, but remain neutral as long as possible. My companions agreed that I should accompany them on those terms, and we started an hour before sunrise (Ave Maria). The dogs were tied in pairs with a rope, both ends of which were in the hands of the ranchador, and passed through the rings of their collars, so that by loosening one end only they were liberated. Pepe Torres had only one, which besides being tied, was muzzled. On entering the woods it was difficult to restrain the dogs; they had already scented the runaways, and pulled the strings vigorously.
I was behind the other ranchadores. Presently I observed two huts, in one of which a fire was brightly blazing: by its light I espied a naked negro with a coal in his hand in the act of lighting his pipe. His back was turned towards us.
At this moment (the morning's dawn), we heard the barking of a small dog, and four or five negros rushed suddenly from the huts evidently alarmed. On seeing them, one of our dogs barked, and they shouted and began to run. Shortly afterwards, others issued from both huts, stumbling as if they had been sleeping, and commenced also flying in all directions. Our three men rushed to the huts, and the dogs which pulled most strenuously, increased their velocity. Pepe Torres, with sword in hand, entered the first hut; the other two the second, and I slowly approached the door where the first named was, and saw two negros on their knees, and one lying on the ground, struggling with the dog, which in spite of the muzzle, bit him very often. Pepe Torres gave one of them a rope to tie the other in such a manner as to make the elbows come close together on the back; and this done, he tied himself with the other end of the rope, the arms of that one who had done the same to the first; he then called the dog and bade him to go to a corner, kicking him at the same time; the animal growled and obeyed; the third was also tied, and he helped the three to lay on the ground face downwards. The two ranchadores, who had found nobody in the other hut, followed the others. As Pepe was hurrying out of the second hut, I saw a chuzo passing about three inches from my eyes, and heard soon after the dog howling, as the instrument had scratched one of his legs, and blood was trickling from the wound. Pepe Torres commenced swearing, and said that he would revenge the wound of his dog, and taking him by the collar went in the direction marked by the chuzo so swiftly that I could hardly follow him. The dog readily found the track, and notwithstanding his lameness, we lost sight of him. We went on, and after a short interval, heard him barking. Pepe ran, and also disappeared; but I heard the dog’s voice and it served me as a guide.
The sun was already shining, and I had just emerged from the wood: a thick row of canas bravas (reeds) was before me; I was about to pass through them, when I saw on the other side a pond, in the center of which a mulatto was standing with the water rising to his waist, without any hat, but a handkerchief tied round the head, and a long sword in his hand. He had his back turned towards me, and on the opposite border Torres was standing, so that I remained unperceived. The runaway defied the guajiro, making a proposal that he should tie the dog, and he would then meet him in single combat. He did it quickly and the other began to emerge from the pond. The resolute ranchador was waiting at the top of the height unconcerned, so that the other had to ascend in order to attack him. This he was doing most undauntedly, notwithstanding the disadvantage, when the dog, which had been jumping and barking, and which was not (perhaps purposely) well tied, got loose and rushed towards him, when only six or eight paces from Torres. On turning round to defend himself against the dog, Pepe jumped and struck him with the sword, which entering the right shoulder almost split the body in two, as the sword would have cut the left hip if it had descended with a little more force. I was touched at the treacherous murder of the courageous mulatto, and hid myself from the sight of the murderer. I, then, went back to the huts, where I found that the number of prisoners had increased by three, which the other ranchadores, whose names I do not recollect, had captured. Torres arrived shortly afterwards, bringing, as a trophy, the sword of his victim, and overflowing with joy at his exploit. He related the story in such a manner as to make me almost doubt the evidence of my own eyes; so highly colored was the sanguinary scene. They had been fighting over a quarter of an hour; he had been struck by the mulatto, two or three times with the back of the sword, and finally had split him in two. Neither the dog, which could claim an equal share of the triumph, nor I, who knew that all was false, denied his assertions. He, nevertheless, ought to have known, by my countenance, that I had seen everything. He recalled to my mind that inimitable creation of Shakespeare, "Swaggering Jack Falstaff," who with "hack'd sword," maintained mortal combat with his foes, "full seven hours by Shrewsbury clock."
Of the six runaways taken, only one belonged to the plantation "La Tumba": the others were from neighboring estates, where they were taken in order to collect four dollars captura (seizure) for each. I was requested to take to the plantation the one belonging to it; I accepted, and intended to loosen the rope with which he was tied, but thought that he could escape. I was very much annoyed; but the evil was caused by my promise. I concluded, then, to be at least his padrino (protector), and obtained the relinquishment of flogging, but could not prevent his being shackled, in order to avoid a second escape.
The Island of Cuba Or: The Men and Government, the Laws and Customs as Seen by American Eyes
New York 1856