The Murder at Greytown, Part Two

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, behind the scenes

The Dealings of the Accessory Transit Company: parts 1, 2

Horace Greeley published Samuel Wood’s account of Greytown to counter the claims from Solon Borland and the Accessory Transit Company that their actions troubled only a den of scum and villainy better wiped out than left intact. Wood lived in the town for a few years and heard from eyewitnesses about the murder of a pilot named Antonio by a Captain Smith of the Transit Company. Greeley could do one better, though. Via the Boston Atlas, he had something approaching the account of an actual eyewitness.

The affair began when the Transit steamer H. L. Routh, came down the river

and ran into a bungo (native boat) injuring it considerably; whereupon the patron and owner of the bungo remonstrated and demanded pay for his injury, threatening to shoot Capt. Smith-some accounts say aimed a gun at him. The steamer proceeded down the river, when the immortal Solon Borland, Minister Plenipotentary of the United States to Central America, said to the captain: “Why didn’t you shoot the d—-d black ——” (the language is too gross for publication.)

The Captaint urned the steamboat, which, by this time, was almost half a mile below the scene of the dispute, and ran back against the current of the river to where the bungo laid, and having meanwhile been below and loaded his rifle, deliberately dropped on one knee and shot the patron of the bungo dead. He went below and expressed regret at the deed, said he wouldn’t have done it if “Borland” had not told him to do it.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Clearly we have here no crime of passion, committed in the moment. Smith turned his boat around and ran near half a mile back up to do his murder. After that, he resumed his previous course and reached Greytown. There

a warrant was issued for the arrest of Capt. Smith, who at first seemed willing to submit, when Borland interfered, and, rifle in hand, stood on the guards of the boat, telling the Marshal if he stepped on board he would shoot him; that Smith should not be arrested, that he (Borland) was an American Minister, and called upon the passengers to aid him.

The passengers, doubtless moved by Borland’s charming personality and reasonable position, “did nothing except talk.”

The police went away empty-handed and Borland went ashore to see the Commercial Agent, Joseph Fabens. Somehow a rumor got going that passengers would come ashore to burn the town and so Greytown’s mayor forbade landings that night. The boat sent to pick Borland up ran afoul of the order and so the minister considered himself arrested. A band of angry Nicaraguans, hearing that they could find Smith with Borland at Fabens’ house, went down to arrest him themselves. And at last we have something that resembles Borland’s account of being accosted by a mob.

Borland came downstairs and exasperated them still more by his harangue in the choicest kind of dialect, such as Webster does not furnish-Off, scum of h-ll, &c., &c.

The Mayor appeared on the ground and denounced the crowd, but could not disperse them, when someone threw a bottle which some accounts say hit him (Borland) on the nose; and the Mayor, on the spot, offered a reward of fifty dollars for the discovery of the vagabond. The next morning the City Attorney addressed a note to the Commercial Agent, disavowing the rabble and disclaiming any intention of insulting the Minister, and the steamer sailed, bringing the distinguished blackguard to New York.

Does this sound like an utterly anarchic place full of lawless pirates? Borland would have his audience believe as much, but what more would an American mayor do in a similar situation? Greytown tried to make things right with Borland, even if Borland did much to cause the murder that brought a bottle to his face. When a mob showed up to take him, the mayor denounced it. The town government made it very clear that they had nothing to do with the mob and did not approve of its actions.

But that and a dodgy pair of real estate disputes where the Transit Company appears in the wrong warranted leveling the place?

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