Mr. Harrington to Mr. Seward.

No. 64.]

Sir: On the 16th September last there was received at this legation a note signed by Mr. W. F. Nisbet, and certified to by several other parties, setting forth the particulars of an alleged difficulty that occurred on the route, “Tête Noire,” from Martigny to Chamounix, on the morning of Tuesday, the 10th September, between the parties signing and certain guides therein named.

The circumstances seemed to be so clearly and logically stated as to impress me with their truthfulness, and the propriety of representing the case to the federal government. I therefore went informally to two members of the federal council and submitted the letter to them. They at once suggested to me to lay the matter officially before the council, that an investigation might be ordered.

At the same time I was aware that the guides were cantonal and not federal officers; that in the canton of the Valais they were an important class, whose friendship if behooved a large class of people, hotel keepers, muleteers, &c., to cultivate, and that of all the cantons of Switzerland the authorities of the “Valais” gave most trouble to the federal government by their almost constant attitude of insubordination.

It was, therefore, more to bring to the attention of the government the conduct of the guides, with a view of preventing in the future similar outrages, than in the expectation of any extreme or really deserved punishment, that I submitted the case to the high federal council. Shortly after the receipt of his letter I had an interview with Mr. Nisbet. He [Page 210] was aware that his attempting to strike the guides greatly weakened his case, though he seemed to think the circumstances justified him in so doing.

Though the report of the prefect of Martigny is dated in December, its transmission to the federal council was delayed, and only reached this legation on the 19th of April.

The character of the authorities is shown by the investigation, which, when received, was subjected to criticism by me. This latter I delivered personally to the President, to whom I expressed my regrets in having to submit to my government a process evidently so ex parte and unjust. After reading a German translation, he requested me to await a line from him and the result of further inquiries to be instituted. That those outrages were of too frequent occurrence, and occasioned them (the federal council) much annoyance; and which, while they had every disposition to correct, it was not always in their power so to do.

Under date the 13th May, the President formally acknowledged the receipt of my communication of the 2d of that month, informing me that they had again called upon the authorities of the Valais in relation thereto,

The final reply, with the report of the council of state of the canton, bears date the 25th July, the receipt of which I acknowledged the 3d instant. Copies of all the papers will be found herewith.

Though otherwise unsatisfactory, I have reason to know that regulations have been established that will tend to prevent in future the repetition of like occurrences.

I have the honor to be, with greatest respect, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Mr. Harrington to the High Federal Council.

The undersigned, minister resident of the United States of America near the Swiss Confederation, has the honor to submit, for the consideration of the high federal council, a copy of a statement made to him by Mr. William F. Nisbet in behalf of himself and other American citizens, setting forth a series of gross outrages committed upon them on the 10th of the current month by certain guides named Jean Rouiller and Etienne Pierre, while passing from Martigny to Chamouny by the Tête Noire. It is with much regret that he feels himself thus called upon to approach the high federal council; but a sense of duty to those of his countrymen visiting Switzerland, who place themselves with entire confidence under the direction of persons duly appointed to guide and protect them as strangers in going from one point to another by difficult and otherwise dangerous passes, compels him to expose and present to your excellencies, and through you to the proper cantonal authorities, such acts of these agents as prove them to be not only unfaithful to their trust, but an unfaithfulness accompanied by violence to such a degree as to endanger the lives or limbs of travelers thus committed to their care.

Respectfully referring your excellencies to the inclosed copy of the communication of Mr. Nisbet for the details in extenso, the undersigned will only refer to some of the prominent incidents therein related, premising that Mr. Brooks, the principal sufferer, as well as Mr. Nisbet, are gentlemen of respectability and truthfulness, whose statements are entitled to full consideration.

It will be perceived that the party en route from Martigny to Chamouny consisted of Mr. Horace Brooks, an old gentleman, enfeebled by palsy, his wife and daughter, Mr. Nisbet, and an English gentleman named Fowler, for whose service five animals and two guides had been ordered. As they were about leaving Martigny, it was observed that there were three guides in attendance. Upon inquiry, it was found that two guides proposed to accompany the family of Mr. Brooks, who, however, declared that he had ordered and required but one, and directed the other to return. The guide [Page 211] refused, producing a paper or written order for three horses and two guides for the Brooks family, but by whom written none of the party appear to have known. Mr. Ms-bet, the rest of the party meanwhile proceeding, took the paper and returned to the landlord of the Hotel Clerc, of whom the animals and guides had been ordered, who immediately changed the order from two guides to one, and with the paper so corrected Mr. Nesbit returned to join the party, encountering on the way the refractory guide in animated conversation with another, apparently his superior, who demanded the paper, which was given up by Mr. Nisbet. Shortly after Mr. Nisbet had rejoined the party, the guide Rouiller came up, and declared that all three of the animals ridden by Mr. Brooks’s family should return to Martigny, unless the second guide was taken to Chamouny. Upon their replying that the party of three required but one guide, and the party of five but two, the guide angrily seized the bridle of the horse ridden by Mrs. Brooks, and attempted to turn him back towards Martigny. Mr. Nisbet defended Mrs. Brooks and came near having a personal encounter with the guide. Failing with the horse of Mrs. Brooks, the guide then seized the bridle of the horse of Mr. Brooks, and in his violent efforts to turn him back caused him to fall into a deep and dangerous hole, carrying Mr. Brooks with him. In consequence of the insufficient width of the hole not permitting the horse to fall to the bottom, he became suspended by his sides, the leg of Mr. Brooks being imprisoned and wedged between the side of the horse and the earth and stones against which he was lodged. Picks and shovels became necessary to rescue him, and ropes were required to be passed under the horse in order to remove him from the dangerous position into which he had been forced. The undersigned is happy to observe that apparently no serious or lasting injury resulted to Mr. Brooks, although the horse was so much injured as to prevent his continuing the journey. Notwithstanding these occurrences, the guide Rouiller still insisted upon the return of all of the three horses to Martigny, or the continuance of the second guide to Chamouny, coupling his demands with insults, in which the guide Etienne assisted. Rain commenced to fall, and midday had arrived, and there being no cessation of the outrageous conduct of these official guides, on the suggestion of an English pedestrian of the Alpine club, who had subsequently joined them, the party concluded to pay the full price of the guide to Chamouny in order to end the contest and be enabled to proceed. Upon receiving full pay, the end and object of all these outrages, the guide Jean returned to Martigny, taking with him the injured horse. In consequence of these rude assaults upon Mr. Brooks, his remaining strength became completely exhausted before the day was over, and he was obliged to remain the night in a wayside inn, the others arriving at Chamouny about 10 o’clock.

In thus submitting this statement to your excellencies, the undersigned begs permission to remark that this narrative presents no ordinary occurrences. He has had complaints made to him from time to time of alleged improper conduct on the part of guides and others, but, being well aware that the differences may have arisen from misunderstanding, caused by difference of language and habits, and from no intentional wrong, he has not felt himself justified in appealing to the high federal council. In the present instance the outrages appear to have been deliberately and persistently perpetrated, with a reckless and criminal disregard of life and limb, and all simply with a view to extort money which they had no right to demand.

It is well understood by travelers that these guides are officers or employés of the canton of Valais. Rules and regulations are prescribed by the cantonal authorities for the guidance and protection as well of the public, who are invited to employ them, as of the guides so employed. When respectable and peaceful travelers trust to the efficacy of such regulations, and to the good faith and honor of persons duly appointed to act as conductors, they have a right to protection. If, instead of protection, they are abused and maltreated, and their lives placed in jeopardy, it then becomes their duty promptly to report the offenders to their superiors, that the guilty may not only receive the punishment which is justly their due, but, by being dismissed from a service for which they have proved themselves unworthy, insure from others obedience to the regulations and proper treatment to the travelers thereafter placing themselves under their guidance.

It appears that the occurrences herein narrated were of a character to shock the sensibilities of several of the residents of the neighborhood, and to excite the indignation of the landlord of the Hotel Clerk,” as is shown by his letter, (copy herewith,) urging that energetic steps should be taken to bring the offenders to justice. In assuming control of the travel over these passes by appointing or licensing guides, by prescribing rules and regulations for the information and guidance of travelers, and by forbidding the employment of all persons not so licensed, the cantonal authorities assume and guarantee the protection of the traveler from extortion and intentional harm. It is confidently assumed that unfaithful or incompetent men would not be intentionally employed; it is assumed with equal confidence that unfaithful or improper persons will not be continued in employment after their unfitness has been fully made known to those who, and who alone, have jurisdiction in the premises.

The undersigned respectfully submits the case for such action as the high federal [Page 212] council may think proper, and with a confident belief that the authorities of the canton of the Valais, on being informed of the facts, will promptly take measures to relieve that canton from the stigma which must necessarily attach to and distinguish it, if the authors of such acts as are herein narrated are allowed to go unwhipped of justice.

The undersigned seizes this occasion to renew to your excellency and the high federal council the assurances of his highest consideration.


His Excellency C. Fornerad, President of the Swiss Confederation.

Mr. Wm. F. Nisbet and others to Mr. Harrington.

Dear Sir: The recent outrageous treatment of myself and some of my countrymen by certain guides of Martigny, in the canton of Valais, is the cause of my addressing to you these lines. I am impelled by several reasons, viz., in the hope that the guilty may be punished for the outrages I shall detail as having witnessed, that guides or other servants, finding that punishment may follow their evil doings, (if travelers choose to exert themselves to that end,) may be restrained by a wholesome fear; that the cantonal authorities, becoming aware that bad men are employed, will see to it that their districts shall not suffer in reputation by reason of their continuance, or by the future appointment of other than good and honest men. Particularly would I do this in the interest of future travelers, especially those from my own country. From a long experience in travel I am led to believe that they oftener submit and bow down to the outrages and indignities of guides and other servitors than travelers of any other nation. This may be the result partly from a mistaken spirit of generosity and good nature; partly from their failure or inability to comprehend the line between the traveler’s rights and the servitor’s legitimate latitude; partly from their having little or no acquaintance with the language, laws, customs, and topography of the country in which they may be traveling; partly from the fear of troubles, delay, and expense which an appeal to the authorities may cause them. Yet all this bears the proof of a profound indifference for the comfort and welfare of those travelers of their own or other lands who shall come after them. Every traveler owes his mite to the great society of travelers. In writing you these lines and asking your efforts in this case I am but acting upon my conviction of what every traveler owes to the concourse of travelers who annually pilgrim age to this charming land. Asking your kind forbearance for these first lines, I will now detail to you the facts in the case.

On Tuesday morning, September 10, a party of Americans, Mr. and Mrs. H. Brooks and daughter, a young English gentleman, Mr. Fowler, and myself, were at the Hotel Clerc at Martingny, all bound for Chamouny via the Tête Noire. One of the ladies being unwell, they at first concluded to remain until her recovery. I therefore joined with Mr. Fowler and engaged two animals and one guide, which were soon before the door of the hotel. The others now concluded to go, and gave the landlord of the Clerc a verbal order for three horses or animals, and a guide, which were brought in about half an hour. We then started in company. Before getting out of the town I noticed that three men accompanied the party, and on inquiry, discovered that two guides were going with the three animals last ordered by Mr. Brooks’s family. Calling their attention to this, they said that they wanted but one guide, and Mr. B. so told them, and ordered one to return. He refused, and took from his pocket a paper, on which was written two guides and three horses. I suppose this is a sort of voucher by which he could claim payment on our arrival at Chamouny. Whether it was given him by the hotel proprietor or by the chief guide I do not know, but I presume the latter. As he refused to return as long as this paper called for two guides, I told him I would return and have it altered. This I did, the party proceeding. At my arrival at the hotel the landlord immediately altered the number to one guide. I then mounted, and at some little distance from the hotel overtook the refractory guide talking with a man (who I have since supposed the chief guide) who, from his gestures and speech, I supposed to be giving him orders. He (the guide) asked to see the paper, and refused to return it to me. I left it with him and passed on, overtaking the party about two, miles up the road. In a few minutes this guide came up with us and demanded that all the animals ridden by Mr. B.’s family should go back to Martigny, or that he should be taken along to Chamouny. We told him that we did not know him at all; had ordered three horses and one guide, and that the party of three wanted but one guide, and the party of five wanted but two. This man now flew into a passion, seized the bridle of the horse which Mr. B. rode and attempted to turn the animal back. I struck at him twice from my horse with a bundle of canes, but did not hit him, as he sank down behind the horse. [Page 213] He then seized a stone but did not fire, but seizing the bridle of the horse which Mr. B. rode, attempted to turn him, and in so doing backed the animal into a deep and dangerous hole, carrying Mr. B. down with him. The hole was so narrow that the horse was completely wedged in, his back level with the ground on either side, his hoofs not touching the bottom, but his weight suspended by his sides. Mr. B. was yet upon his back, his right leg tightly wedged in between the horse and the stones. It was some five minutes before he was taken off, and only after the stones had been dug away. Pickaxes and shovels had to be used, and it was twenty minutes before the horse was taken out by means of ropes passed under him. Mr. B. is an old gentleman, and it was an accident that his leg was not broken. It now rained hard. Yet after all this, the fact also that it was 12 o’clock and a long journey before us, this guide, Jean Rouiller, yet insisted on taking the three animals back. The other guide who had come with the three horses, Pierre Etienne, seemed to second Jean in his efforts, and shook his fist furiously at me because I refused to give back to Jean the papers which he had before seized from me. It was evident that Jean would insist on going along to Chamouny or on taking the three horses back. Just then came along an English pedestrian of the Alpine Club, who advised us to get rid of this Jean by paying him twelve francs, the full price of a guide from Martigny to Chaniouny. He refused to let the horse go, and perhaps he was right, after the tumble he had had in the ditch. I gave up my horse to Mr. B. and jointly walked and rode with my English Mend. During this scene some twenty natives gathered about, and it was evident that they looked upon the affair as a great outrage. Both of the guides are bad men; they show it upon every feature. My own guide was quiet and a good fellow, but from fear kept silent. Fear and interest I believe compel the better guides and the landlords of the hotels to acquiesce in the continuance of bad men as guides. Think of your guide mounting your horse while you are walking! This both of the guides did at a later hour of the day.

It seems neither age, nor sex, nor any consideration whatever can deter these villains from outrages. Here was an old gentleman, feeble in body, attacked with palsy two weeks before, showing when he mounted the annimal at the hotel that he was weak. Here were two ladies, his only attendants; and yet these guides took no account of his condition. I am strongly inclined to the belief that they were emboldened by orders from their chief; and in confirmation of this belief, as well as for the purpose of further testimony, I inclose a letter received here by Mr. Brooks two days since, on his arrival, from the proprietor of the Hotel Clerc, at Chaniouny. This letter has been written of his own free will, as neither myself nor any of the party have seen or had any communication with him, or any one at Martigny, since our departure from there. It is quite evident that the natives who witnessed the scene have made it the talk of the town. At first I felt inclined to hold the hotel keeper responsible, as it was through him and from him that we all received horses and guides, and it was he who, later, altered the voucher from two to one guide. But I can conceive his difficult position as one among several hotel keepers, with their rivalries and jealousies, wishing to be upon the right side of the guides, who can be of service by their patronage. The whole system of guides from Martigny to Chomouny seems to be entirely in the interest of the guides. A traveler is actually forced by them to a stoppage of one and a half hour at the half-way house on the Tête Noire. This we had to submit to, notwithstanding all our previous delay and the lateness of the hour. It was 10 o’clock at night when we arrived at Chaniouny. Mr. B. became so weary that he was obliged to stop and remain at an inn on the wayside. At Chaniouny, I am told, the guides receive three francs per person for every one they take to any hotel. This is paid by the proprietor, and is probably one cause of the toleration of such villains. Then they walk their animals the whole distance at a pace far slower than an ordinary pedestrian walks, and become ugly and sulky if one urges his horse faster, or insists upon their so doing. Furthermore, no French guide from Chamouny is allowed to pilot travelers over the mountain on their (the guide’s) return, so that a traveler pays both ways, or, in other words, pays for two days for his guides and horses when he uses them but one, and this over a route where the back travel is equal to the forward travel. Yet as a traveler I do not, nor do I believe others, object to paying any reasonable tariff prices, but only to a forced imposition such as I have related. At Chamouny, before settling with the guides, I stated the facts to the proprietor of the Hotel Royal de l’Union, who advised me to appeal to the United States consul at Geneve. Yesterday, in company with Mr. Brooks. I called upon him, and it is at his suggestion that I address myself to you as the highest and proper authority. If my deposition is needed I shall be glad to make it, but, as I shall most probably be in Berne in the course of a week or so, I will do myself the honor to call upon you, and if needful will then give you any further information in my power. In the mean time I place the matter in your hands, trusting that every effort will be made to bring this outrage to such an issue as shall be a warning to ail the guides of Martigny, and a prevention of like outrages in the future.

I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. F. NISBET, &c., &c.

[Page 214]

We, the undersigned, parties mentioned within, have heard this letter, and hereby confirm with our signatures all the facts and statements therein contained, and urgently trust success will attend any efforts to punish the offenders.


Hon. Geo. Harrington, Minister of the United States of America.

Mr. Clerc, proprietor of the hotel, to Mr. Brooks.

Sir: I regret to hear that you had trouble with the guides this morning, after your departure from Martigny, and that they behaved very rudely to you. These are incidents that ought not to be passed over in silence; and to prevent their repetition I advise you, for the good of travelers, to make a serious complaint to your minister, and request him to present the case to the Swiss federal council, our supreme authority. A remonstrance of your minister will give much more importance to your complaint. Moreover, if you will make a complaint to me in writing, I will send it to the Valais authorities and have the guilty guide severely reprimanded.

I insist on your doing this, for, if what I hear is true, their conduct is scandalous. The chief guides ought to be responsible for the extortion on travelers by their subordinates. It was the chief who gave the order to the guide Jean Rouiller, on the way, to take back the mules or make you pay for them. He has superseded his authority in every way, and I advise you to be particularly hard on him in your complaint.

I will do all I can to assist you on this occasion, but the complaint must come from the traveler.

Accept, sir, my respectful consideration.


The High Federal Council to Mr. Harrington.

The federal council is finally able to reply to the note which the minister resident of the United States of America near the Swiss Confederation has addressed it, dated September 23, 1867, in which he communicates the complaint of Mr. William F. Nisbet and other American citizens on the subject of the bad treatment which they had experienced from the guides Jean Rouiller, and Etienne Pierroz, on the route from Martigny to Chamouny, passing by the Tête Noire.

With an apology for the delay in communicating the result of the investigation commenced upon this complaint, the government of the canton of Valais transmits, under date of the 11th instant, to the federal council the report of the prefect of Martigny, a copy of which is subjoined, and the order of march.

It appears from these two documents that the commissary of guides had been applied to by a group of travelers for two guides and three horses, as is seen by the order of march, on which the figure two has been erased. By virtue of the sixteenth article of the rules, which says, “the traveler who engages a guide and then dismisses him is bound to pay him half the fee,” the guide Rouiller had a right to demand the twelve francs for himself and his horse. But Mr. Nisbet wished to dismiss the guide and keep the horse. Rouiller proposed to refer the dispute to the commissary of guides, which Mr. Nisbet refused to do. The latter then spoke to the hotel-keeper, who took the responsibility of erasing the figure two from the order of march. With the order thus modified, Mr. Nisbet persisted in wishing to send away the guide and keep his horse, while Rouiller on his side refused to let his horse go without himself; on which Mr. Nisbet struck him twice with his cane. The dispute becoming more exciting, the traveler, in order to get rid of Rouiller, left him his horse and paid him twelve francs. As may be seen, there were wrongs on both sides in this dispute.

Meanwhile, as Rouiller was the first to do wrong, he will be punished by the privation of one of his regular trips at the commencement of next season, according to article twenty-six of the rules.

As to the fall of Mr. Brooks with his horse, the witness heard state that Rouiller did not touch Mr. Brooks’s horse, and that he himself, by a false movement, brought about the fall.

The commissary of guides acted somewhat inconsiderately in advising the guide [Page 215] Rouiller to take back his horse, but he did not infringe the rules, considering that this does not impose upon the guides, when they are once under way, any. obligation to abandon their horses to the hands of strangers.

The federal council does not doubt that Mr. Harrington will also be convinced by the process impartially drawn up by the prefect of Martigny, that the whole dispute should be principally attributed to the improper conduct of Mr. Nisbet, and that in the main the guide Rouiller was in the right. Hoping that monsieur the minister of the United States of America will see the matter in the same light, the federal council has the honor to renew to him the assurance of its high consideration.

In the name of the federal council, the president of the confederation.

DUBS, The Chancellor of the Confederation Schiefs.

Mr. George Harrington, Minister Resident of the United States of America near the Swiss Confederation, Berne.


Copy of the record of proceedings.

The prefect of the district of Martigny to the counselor of state, charged with the department of the interior.

Mr. Counselor of State: I have the honor to send you the result of the inquiry made on the complaint against the guides Jean Rouiller and Etienne Pierroz, by Mr. Nisbet, to the minister of the United States of America in Switzerland. Circumstances have prevented me from sending this report sooner. I first sent the complaint to the commissary of guides, telling him to report upon it, and, after a month’s delay, he said he preferred making a verbal report. Afterwards one of the chief witnesses, the woman an Guex Crosier, of the village of Rappes de Martigny-Combe, whom I had summoned, fell sick, and I had to go to her house to examine her.

That you may understand exactly what has been done, I will report the result of my examinations. I will then decide from the depositions if there is any foundation for the complaint, and which party is to be blamed. In the examination, the guides and others not knowing the travelers’ names, called Mr. Brooks “the old man,” Mr. Nisbet, “the bearded man,” or “the man on the white horse,” and Mr. Fowler, “the young man,” but for brevity I will call them by their names.

Here is what the commissary of guides said: While in the public square of Martigny, he saw Mr. Nisbet come trotting down to the Hotel Clerc. At first he supposed he had forgotten something; but when he saw Jean Rouiller running after him, he thought an accident had happened. He went up to him and asked him what was the matter. He replied that Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, advised by Mr. Msbet, wanted to send him back from Bourg-Martigny, but he said he would not go unless they paid him. Mr. Nisbet told them not to pay, because only one guide had been ordered, and then they came back to let the hotel-keeper decide. Hereupon the commissary started to the hotel, but when he saw Mr. Nisbet, he went up to him with Rouiller and wanted to talk to him; but he only showed them the order, which I inclose, and saying that the hotel-keeper had changed the number of guides from two to one, he galloped off. The commissary then told Rouiller he had nothing to do with that traveler; and as they had ordered two, they should pay for them, or come back and give reasons for not doing so. Jean Rouiller then went away, and that is all the commissary knows. He adds that the guides and mules that Mr. Nisbet had were ordered the day previous, and Mr. Brooks engaged his the next day, about nine o’clock.

Jean Rouiller gave the same testimony as the commissary, and added that, having overtaken the travelers at the village of Rappes, three-quarters of a league from Martigny, he told them what the commissioner said. Mr. Nisbet replied that he had nothing to do with him. The guide then asked to see the order of the hotel-keeper, reducing the two guides to one. Rouiller said the hotel-keeper had no right to do that; that the travelers must pay him, or go back to Martigny and satisfy the commissary. Mr. Nisbet insisting on proceeding, the guide took Mr. Brooks’s mule by the bridle and turned it back, when Mr. Nisbet struck at him three times with his caae, striking him twice on the arm; he dodged the third blow and fell. On getting up and taking a stone, he threatened to throw it at Mr. Msbet. Mr. Brooks’s horse fell in the stream, but Mr. Brooks was not hurt by the fall. A pedestrian came up, when Mr. Brooks got on his mule again, and, on his advice, Rouiller was paid six francs for his day’s work. Mr. Brooks then changed mules with Mr. Fowler, fearing to ride the one that had fallen with him, and which the guide said was now unsafe. Rouiller next claimed six francs for his mule, and it was paid him, after some hesitation. Rouiller then went back to the hotel with the animal. He said he did not [Page 216] insist on going to Chamouny, or force the travelers to turn hack, but only asked pay for his beast. He denies taking Mr. Brooks’s mule by the bridle.

The other guide, Etienne Pierroz, confirms what Rouiller said, except the interview with the commissary, which he did not see. He says he was angry with Mr. Nisbet for not giving back the order, as that was necessary for his justification. He says they both mounted to catch up with the travelers, who were ahead, and not to keep them from riding.

Alexandre Girond, Mr. Nisbet’s guide, heing called and informed that complaints were lodged against the other guides, he said: Those gentlemen ought not to complain, for they are wrong. He then stated that on arriving at Bourg-Martigny Mr. Nisbet wanted to send him back, because there were already two guides along. On Jean Rouiller’s saying that Girond had heen engaged the day before, and could not he sent back, they wanted to send Rouiller back, but he said he must go on to Chamouny. Rouiller said he would go back if they would pay him; this Mr. Nisbet refused to do, when Rouiller showed the order from the hotel-keeper for two guides for the Brooks family. Then Mr. Nishet agreed to go back with Rouiller and see the hotel-keeper ahout the dispute. They started back, and the others went on towards Chamouny. Mr. Nishet overtook them in a quarter of an hour, and Rouiller soon came up panting, and told them what the commissary had said. Mr. Nishet said he had nothing to do with the commissary, and asked to see the order, to prove that the hotel-keeper had reduced the numoer of guides, and to show that he owed Rouiller nothing, and they then started; but Rouiller seized Mrs. Brooks’s mule, and said: “If you will not pay me, we will go back to the commissary.” Mr. Nisbet, in a rage, struck at Rouiller with his cane. Girond could not see if he was struck, but saw him pick up a stone and ask Mr. Nisbet if he intended to strike him again. At this time Mr. Brooks’s mule fell with him, without injury. A young man on foot then came up and advised them to pay Rouiller and to send him hack. They paid him the six francs he claimed. He left his horse with Mr. Brooks, who did not want to take it. Rouiller then said: “If you send the horse hack, you must pay me six francs more.” The traveler then gave him six francs.

Girond being interrogated on certain allegations in the complaint, he said Rouiller did not insist on going to Chamouny, but only said: “They have engaged me, and they must pay for my services.” Rouiller did not take Mr. Brooks’s horse by the bridle and cause him to fall, nor did he say all three of the horses must be taken back. He did not refuse to take the horse that had fallen back. He says the guide Pierroz did not shake his fist at Mr. Nishet, but he heard a dispute because Mr. Nishet refused to give up the order to him. After all was over, Mr. Fowler said ironically to Rouiller: “No dinner nor peanuts for you to-day.” Even after the fall, Mrs. Brooks was willing that Rouiller should go on, but Mr. Nishet objected.

Hearing that Eugene Sandron, of Rappes, had helped to get the horse out of the gully, I had him called. He said he saw nothing before the horse fell, but he saw Rouiller receive six francs for his own services, and six for his horse, given to him by a young traveler. From what he had heard, he thought the strangers were wrong. He said the widow Melanie Guex Crosier had seen and heard all, from her window over the road where the scene occurred.

I went to see her, and she confirmed all that Alexandre Girond had said. She saw Rouiller receive two blows from Mr. Nisbet’s cane. Rouiller said several times: “Either retain me, pay me, or take me to the commissary.” She says Rouiller did not touch Mr. Brooks’s horse, and it was the young man who advised Mr. Brooks not to keep the animal. She saw Rouiller receive six francs at once, and six francs for his horse, given to him by the young man on foot. Mr. Fowler said to him: “No vale, no dinner for you this day,” and Rouiller simply replied, “I don’t want your dinner.” She did not see Pierroz shake his fist at Mr. Nisbet. She was above the people, and could see and hear everything. She saw no other persons present, but some came up afterwards.

I thought this sufficient to convict Mr. Nisbet and release the guides, so I made no more examinations.

The unanimous testimony of the persons examined shows that the order of service given by Mr. Clerc, of the hotel, to the commissary of guides, mentioned two guides for the Brooks family; that they wanted to send back one guide when only a quarter of a league from the starting place; that this guide did not refuse to go back, but demanded compensation, either from the travelers or from the hotel-keeper, by virtue of article ten of the law on transport service to travelers; that it was agreed to refer the matter to the hotel-keeper, when the travelers said they wanted but one guide; that Mr. Nisbet hurried to the hotel and had the order for guides changed from two to one, which could only be done by the commissary, and not by the hotel-keeper; that Mr. Nisbet would listen to no explanation from the commissary, and even ventured to strike a guide not in his service; that Rouiller did not cause Mr. Brooks’s horse to fall, but the horse fell from fright at Mr. Nisbet’s cane; that the guide did not offer to take Mr. Brooks’s horse away; he did not receive money for the entire journey from Martigny to Chamouny, but was paid for half the way, six francs for himself, and six for his horse; and finally, the witnesses of the scene were indignant at Mr. Nisbet for his conduct. [Page 217] The guides and witnesses do not blame Mr. Brooks, but condemn Mr. Nisbet for meddling with a business that did not concern him.

I cannot understand why Clerc, of the hotel, casts all the blame on the commissary, unless for some grudge, for I cannot conceive that he is to blame. The hotel-keeper did wrong to change the number of guides without consulting the commissary, making Mr. Nisbet believe the affair was amicably settled. He ought to know that when a guide is engaged he cannot be discharged without pay, against his will, and without the decision of the commissary.

If the guide had been sent back from the hotel, or Bourg-Martigny, he would have been entitled to three francs, by article ten, second section, of the law regulating the transport service of travelers; but after starting with him, and causing him to lose much time, I think that the twelve francs that Rouiller demanded was his due for himself and his horse.

I must add that Mr. Nisbet shows that he does not know how to travel over mountains, when he complains of a halt of an hour and a half midway. If he had any sense he ought to know that a guide and horses cannot go eight or ten leagues a day over mountains without rest, particularly after waiting for the travelers one or two hours at the hotel.

What Mr. Nisbet says about every guide getting three francs from the hotel-keeper for every person brought to the hotel is too silly to be believed. It may be done elsewhere, but not at Martigny and Chamounix.

Here are the facts, Mr. Counselor, as I obtained them, and I refrain from expressing my opinion thereon.

I return the three documents you sent me, and accept the occasion, &c., &c., &c.

GAY, Prefect of the Martigny District.

Mr. Harrington to the High Federal Council.

The undersigned, minister resident of the United States near the Swiss Confederation, has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency’s communication of the 15th ultimo, relative to the complaint of Mr. W. F. Nisbet and other American citizens, of the misconduct to which they were subjected on the part of certain guides serving the route from Martigny to Chamounix, by the Tête Noire, which the undersigned had the honor to submit to the high federal council under date of September 23 last.

Your excellency informed the undersigned of the result of the investigation called for by the high federal council, and, at the same time, inclosed to him a copy of the record of proceedings and of the testimony taken, as submitted by the authorities of the canton of the Valais, upon which those authorities declared the guides exculpated from all blame except for a slight misdemeanor on the part of guide Bouiller, for which, as a punishment, he would be suspended for a short period, at the commencement of the approaching season, from his functions as guide.

Accompanying this record was a paper, presumed to be the original order, by virtue of which two guides instead of one (the cause of the difficulty) presented themselves as attached to the party of Mr. Brooks, and was, doubtless, submitted by those authorities as a justification, firstly, for the appearance of the two guides, and secondly, as a further justification of the demand for indemnity, so rudely presented, and, in the opinion of the undersigned, so unjustifiably enforced from the travelers when the extra guide was told that his services had not been commanded and were not required.

Your excellency will permit the undersigned to refer to the testimony upon which the authorities of the Valais profess to have relied for their double verdict—that of acquittal of the guides, and conviction of wrong on the part of the travelers.

Aside from the counter declarations of the incriminated guides, who naturally sustained one another in pleading “not guilty” to the charges preferred against them, it appears by this record that but two witnesses were summoned, notwithstanding the assertion of the parties complaining that “about twenty persons gathered about the scene,” notwithstanding the declaration of the two cited witnesses that several persons were present, and notwithstanding the statement of the landlord of the Hotel Clerc, in his communication of the same day of the occurrences, that he had that morning been informed of the gross outrages that had been perpetrated upon the travelers. These concurrent statements prove conclusively that the lack of testimony was not compulsory.

Of these two witnesses, the first one (Sandon) testified that he saw nothing of what had passed before the fall of the horse, but “from what was stated to him by the people of his village, he estimated that the travelers were wrong.”

The second and only other witness is asserted to be a widow, so enfeebled as to have been unable to appear before the magistrate. Her testimony certainly confirms all the declarations of the guides. She neither saw nor heard anything improper done or said [Page 218] by them, but is decisive as to the numerous and frequent provocations on the part of the strangers. She asserts that she witnessed the whole scene from the window of a neighboring house, and is especially positive as to the exact sum that was finally paid by the travelers as indemnity for the dismissed guide and returned horse—that is to say, six francs for each. As it would be simply impossible for any one standing in a distant window to know, under the circumstances, how much, if any, money was passed from the hand of one individual into the hand of another, the undersigned may be pardoned for the little confidence he has either in the testimony or the witness.

Such is the testimony upon which the prefect of Martigny professes to rely in justification of his declaration that each and every charge and specification brought by the complainant (Nisbet) was false, notwithstanding they were sustained by four other unimpeachable witnesses.

The occurrences complained of took place on the 10th September, and the formal complaint of the parties was, on the 23d of that month, submitted to the high federal council, who immediately communicated with the authorities of Valais. The complaint, therefore, reached these authorities while the occurrences were fresh in memory, and before they had ceased to be a subject of comment. The landlord of the Hotel Clerc had already given voice to the general indignation by his voluntary urging the parties to bring their injuries before the proper authorities, in order to suppress the scandalous and outrageous treatment to which travelers were subjected by those guides. The undersigned fails to observe in the record that any of the “people of his village,” referred to by the first witness as conversant with the facts, or that the landlord of the Hotel Clerc, or any of the witnesses known to him as being informed, were called upon for testimony, though the prefect says, “I cannot comprehend why the master of the Hotel Clerc should have thrown all the fault upon the commissioner of guides,” &c. Certainly the prefect had power to ascertain why the keeper of the hotel had thus asserted, and it is equally certain, if the record be true, that he did not exercise that power. Why he did not do so he leaves to inference. That inference cannot be other than prejudicial to the good faith of the investigation. The basis of this difficulty, and the justification for all the subsequent acts of the guides, appears to have been the alleged order, above referred to, for two guides for Mr. Brooks’s party, instead of one, as he asserts he commanded. It is claimed that, under and by virtue of that order, Mr. Brooks was either bound to take two guides to Chamounix, or he or some one else should pay an indemnity. And what was this alleged order? Simply a paper, without signature, containing neither the name of Mr. Brooks nor other person, upon which was written, “two guides and three horses;” a paper with no other paternity than evidences that it issued from the Hotel Clerc. By whom written or by whom uttered was unknown to Mr. Brooks, though evidently known to the guides. Can it be successfully, or even seriously, asserted that such a paper committed Mr. Brooks to the payment of any money, when he promptly, at the commencement of the journey, declared that he had ordered and wanted but one guide?

Admitting that such paper was, in the usual form, employed on such occasions, the correctness of Mr. Brooks’s declaration that he had ordered but one guide was clearly and promptly admitted when the order, without hesitation or question, was changed from two to one. It is not claimed, nor even pretended, that the error, if error there was, was committed by or originated with Mr. Brooks.

In a community consisting of hotel-keepers and their employés, guides, muleteers, &c., dependent for support mainly upon travelers, collusions on the part of such for mutual benefit, at the expense of the strangers, it will be admitted are liable to occur, and to which, most frequently, the strangers submit rather than be delayed and suffer more serious annoyances. The undersigned does not charge collusion in this case, but it is certain that the indemnity demanded for the extra guide was forced from the strangers, and in amount, he is still constrained to believe, equal to the full charge for a guide and a horse for the journey from Martigny to Chamounix, notwithstanding it was not only made clear, but admitted at the time, as is shown by the record, that the error originated with the author of that order, and was in nowise the fault of Mr. Brooks. The undersigned claims that thereafter the latter should have been allowed to pursue his journey unmolested.

The complaint presented was of a grave character; it narrated a series of most discreditable acts, following each other in logical sequence, and culminating in that which endangered not only the limbs but the life of one of the party; and this narration, so clearly set forth, was sustained by five intelligent and responsible parties, one of whom, at least, Mr. Nisbet, from long residence and travel in Europe, was familiar both with the language and habits of the country. In the opinion of the undersigned, such a complaint, so substantiated, should have received from those authorities a thorough and searching investigation; it was submitted with that expectation, and in the hope that the punishment awarded to the guilty parties would have served to shield his countrymen, in the future, from like oppression and indignities, which are so offensive to the rights of protection guaranteed by treaty stipulations, and so violative alike of justice and the laws of hospitality. He regrets being obliged to say that, judging by the [Page 219] record, the investigation appears to him to have been partial and unsatisfactory. He has reason to believe, however, that other and further information or testimony than is shown by the record was obtained or taken, but why suppressed is left to conjecture. It certainly would have been more satisfactory had the record been complete, even had the additional testimony been only cumulative or against the complainants.

In thus submitting to your excellency the impressions which the perusal of the record made upon him, the undersigned trusts that he used no expression that may be construed as reflecting upon the action of the high federal council. He owes to them, and prays your excellency to accept, his thanks for the prompt manner in which, at his request, the authorities of the Valais were called upon for explanation.

The undersigned seizes this occasion to renew to your excellency and the high federal council the assurances of his highest consideration,


His Excellency Dr. I. Dubs, President of the Swiss Confederation.

The High Federal Council to Mr. Harrington.

The federal council thinks proper to inform monsieur the resident minister of the United States to the Swiss Confederation, that it has communicated the original and the translation of the note which Mr. Harrington has addressed it on the 2d instant, concerning the complaint of Mr. Nisbet against the guides Rouiller and Pierroz, to the government of the canton of Valais, inviting it to communicate this reply to the authorities who have acted in this matter, leaving it to the care of taking the measures which it may judge proper.

The federal council has also added that it thinks it would be for the interest of the country to verify how far the having omitted to give a hearing to many eye-witnesses may be confirmed, and to ascertain the motives of that omission, as well as to determine upon what may appear necessary under the circumstances.

Finally, the federal council has stated to the government of Yalais that it expects a report upon the measures taken and their results.

The federal council will, then, probably have occasion to make further communications on this subject to monsieur the resident minister of the United States of America, and, meanwhile, it has the honor to renew to Mr. Harrington the assurances of its high consideration.

In the name of the federal council, the president of the Confederation,

DUBS. The Chancellor of the Confederation,

Mr. G. Harrington, Minister Resident of the United States of America to the Confederation of the Swiss, Berne.

The High Federal Council to Mr. Harrington.

The federal council thought proper to communicate to the authorities of the canton of Valais the note of the American minister, dated 2d of May last, relating to the complaint of Mr. Nisbet against the guides Rouiller and Pierroz, with the order for a new examination of the facts that gave rise to the complaint, taking into consideration the observations presented by the plaintiff.

This having been done, the federal council now sends Mr. George Harrington a copy of the report dated the 21st instant, and the result of the second investigation, confirming the first, and to repeat to the minister resident the assurances of very high consideration.

WELTI, Vice-President for the Federal Council.
SCHIEFS, Chancellor of the Confederation.

Mr. George Harrington, United States Minister Besident, &c., &c., &c., Berne.

[Page 220]

The State Council of the Canton of Valais to the Federal Council.


Gentlemen: According to your order of the 13th of May, 1868, we have caused a second investigation of Mr. Nisbet’s complaint against the guides, Rouiller and Pierroz, from Martigny, as presented by the United States minister.

This second inquiry confirms the evidence given in our first report.

On starting, the travellers wanted to send back one of the guides engaged, and keep his horse. The guide claimed compensation for loss of time. This being refused, he proposed to take back his horse. Thereupon a dispute arose, and with hard words, Mr. Nisbet struck the guide with his cane, who in a rage threatened to take his horse away. At, this moment the horse and rider fell in a ditch, doing no harm.

Both parties were wrong here. If the traveler had paid the guide what was due him, and had not struck him, the consequences would not have been serious. Mr. Nisbet did not ask a judicial inquiry, but only an examination before a magistrate, as a police offense.

We accept the investigations of the prefect of Martigny, though not conducted with due formality.

In this inquiry the prefect got a report from Mr. Clerc, the hotel-keeper, Mr. Nisbet’s witness, showing, first, that it is not customary to sign orders for guides and mules; second, that Mr. Brooks’s order called for two guides and three mules; third, that the number of guides was reduced to one, at the request of one of the travelers, who returned to Martigny for that purpose; fourth, that Mr. Clerc, on hearing of the dispute, told one of the travelers he could send the guide back if he paid him. Mr. Nisbet said he knew nothing of the widow Genx-Crosier, one of the witnesses. Now, the inquiry shows her house to be near the road—the window where she was, only one and one-half yards from the ground, and four and one-half yards from the ditch in which Mr. Brooks’s horse fell; so she could well hear everything that passed. She heard the guide say he was satisfied with the twelve francs paid him; and there is no doubt of this, for Mr. Nisbet and the guide both confess it.

Another disinterested witness, the guide Alexander Giroud, gave testimony before the prefect, in favor of the guides.

The inquiry also shows that the persons present (said to be twenty by Mr. Nisbet) came up after the horse fell, and could not have seen what passed previously.

In view of this inquiry, the state council cannot alter its decision temporarily suspending the guide Rouiller from the exercise of his profession.

The state council, learning that the commissary of guides acted imprudently in advising the guide to take his horse back, it was determined to reprimand that official. In conclusion, we must say it is the commissary’s duty to settle disputes with guides, and Mr. Nisbet ought to have applied to that official, and not to the hotel-keeper, to settle his dispute with the guide.

Accept, gentlemen, the assurances, &c., &c.

(Signatures of the councilmen follow hereunder.)

Mr. Harrington to the High Federal Council.

The undersigned, minister resident of the United States, has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the communication from the high federal council of the 25th ultimo, transmitting copy of a report from the council of state of the canton of the Valais, relative to the difficulty that occurred in September last on the route “Fête Noire,” between a party of Americans and certain guides, heretofore under consideration.

In thanking the high federal council for their action in the premises, the undersigned can only reiterate his regrets that a portion of the testimony tending to the opposite conclusions of those originally emitted by the prefect of Martigny should continue to be suppressed, the undersigned having been assured by the party making it that such testimony was submitted in writing. The undersigned observes that, in addition to the judgment of the prefect of Martigny, the council of state has pronounced the chief commissioner also to have been guilty of impropriety, and subjected him to reprimand. Slight as the punishment has been, in the opinion of the undersigned, for such grave offences, he is not without hope that it will tend to restrain the unauthorized and improper conduct on the part of the official guides, of which there has been heretofore so frequent occasions for complaint.

The undersigned begs to renew to your excellency, and the high federal council, the assurances of his highest consideration.


His Excellency Dr. J. Dubs, President of the Swiss Confederation, Berne.