Notes and Documents
dentally came up to one of our guard. He discovered that I had my
head covered with a large gingham handkerchief and took a fancy
to it; he by signs made me know that he would give me for it five
large dried biscuits. I agreed to the bargain, as bread then was more
of a dainty to me than a confectioner's fixings. But here arose another
quandary in my mind. I did not know the sentry, nor did he me, for
dark it was, but we got along. He motioned me to stand where he
was, and he gave me up his musket to stand guard in his place, sign-
ing that he would go to his camp and bring the bread, which he did.
Now was he not a pattern of a sentinel? It was the custom of the
Mexican picket and camp guard to sing out at intervals of about half
an hour, in a very drawling, half inhuman voice, their watchword,
"Sentinela alerta," (Guard be on the alert). This dismal sentence
would start perhaps a mile off, the next sentinel would repeat it in a
few minutes afterwards, till it went all the round, to be repeated some
half hour afterwards, in the same round.
Now I stood guard at the post the Mexican assigned me. I heard
that doleful watchword coming near me; it soon would have been
time for me to repeat it-but then by my brogue, if I had imitated it,
they would have thought something was rotten in camp; if discovered,
I as well as the sentinel might have been ordered to be shot, for Mexi-
cans have but short trials either in military or civil cases.
But my man came in time, he gave me five large hard baked loaves
of bread. I snatched my handkerchief off my head and gave it to him,
for I was in a hurry, because by some camp fire I had burnt a hole in
one corner, which he did not discover, for it was hid by the good
portion of the remainder.
I made my way to camps, and after eating part of the bread, and
saving the balance for next day, I went soundly and happily to sleep.
I had no mishap about my trade, for it being dark when it was
made the sentinel next day did not recognize me, to prove the swindle
I perpetrated on him, nor did I know the party whom I had duped.
Now I am really at a loss, why our guard kept up that dismal
twang of "Sentinela alerta." Was it to keep them awake, or like chil-
dren in the dark afraid, to call on some one to relieve them from fear?
Our valiant sentinels, a mongrel of half Indians, more ignorant
than the former southern slaves, poorly clad, badly armed, and even
ignorant of using fire arms, the majority of our guard having only
bows, arrows and lances, why they could have been easily overpow-
ered, for by their watch word either Indians or other civilized foes
could have ascertained their position. No better sign board for a
traveler would have been needed to direct them to camps and to
evade the guard.
However I must say that after we left New Mexico, our future
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 66, July 1962 - April, 1963. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101196/. Accessed July 11, 2014.