Minister Combs to the Secretary of State.

No. 270.]

Sir: I have the honor to forward to the Department copies of the various communications received and transmitted in connection with the complaint filed with the legation by Mr. Al Stebbins, an American citizen, in behalf of himself and his wife, on August 4, 1904.

In the complaint which Mr. Brown submitted under the same date to the minister of foreign affairs of Guatemala, Mr. Stebbins alleged:

Willful and continued trespass on the rubber lands of himself and partners.
Forcibly entering his domicile.
Seizing and carrying off rubber belonging to Mr. Stebbins.
Menacing his wife with a rifle.

No reply having been made to this note, I again, on December 16, 1904, called the attention of the government to the subject, and again, on January 10, 1905, I pressed the government for a reply to the complaint.

Under date of February 3, 1905, the government forwarded their statement of the case and requested that I advise Mr. Stebbins to present himself and his witnesses to the court at Escuintla for a further investigation. I thereupon wrote Mr. and Mrs. Stebbins to come to the legation. Mr. Stebbins had left the country, but Mrs. Stebbins came and made an affidavit. After a conversation with Mrs. Stebbins and replying to the note of the minister of foreign affairs under date of February 21, 1905, inclosing Mrs. Stebbins’s affidavit, I stated I regarded that the incidents alleged removed the question from one for local adjudication to one for our respective governments to consider; declined to ask Stebbins to present himself to the court at Escuintla and requested an oral discussion of the facts at issue. In the interview which followed Mr. Barrios renewed his request that I would have the Stebbins submit themselves to the local authorities in the matter, saying it was not a diplomatic question. I replied I could not follow such a course; its effect would be the local officials would try themselves. The testimony substantiating the complaint had been submitted to his government; that I was free to say the statements of Stebbins and his wife carried conviction to my mind; that the question, so far, was not a diplomatic one, and I trusted his government would not allow it to become so; that I hoped they would make a careful examination for their part into the truth of the charges and, if they reached the conclusion I had, would themselves furnish a satisfactory remedy without any demand upon our part. That from conversation with Mrs. Stebbins I was sure she would accept 5,000 pesos as a full settlement, but if the matter progressed to the diplomatic field and my views were sustained it would cost their government much more financially and would create that unwholesome friction always aroused in the settlement of such claims in spite of the best purposes to the contrary.

Mr. Barrios declared they desired to treat the question upon its merits and, if warranted, make proper reparation.

[Page 526]

After a further delay I informed the minister last week that Mrs. Stebbins desired to go to the United States and had written asking if it would interfere with the conduct of her case. That in reply I would advise her to go, unless he wished her to remain for a settlement, and again advised they make an immediate and direct adjustment with her. Mr. Barrios said he would like her to remain as there was no doubt of an agreement on the lines I had suggested, and asked in case the rubber was returned if its value would be credited on the 5,000 pesos. I replied it would be.

In consequence of this interview I wrote Mrs. Stebbins informing her of its purport and advising she remain for a few weeks, and sent a copy of my letter to Mr. Barrios to notify him of my course and to confirm our conversation.

Though the Stebbins did not originally claim damages, I considered a small amount due Mrs. Stebbins under the circumstances and I also felt the requirement of a sum, the payment of which would probably fall upon the local and responsible authorities, would have a salutary effect. A prompt payment in such cases, obtained from those committing the offense, is much more efficacious in curing such evils than many times the amount exacted after years of delay from the national government.

I desire to acknowledge the purpose displayed by this government to maintain, by deserving, our good will.

I have, etc.,

Leslie Combs.
[Inclosure 1.]

Mr. Stebbins to Chargé Brown.

Sir: I, Al Stebbins, an American citizen, temporarily residing with my wife in the Republic of Guatemala, finca “Los Angelos,” department of Escuintla, beg to respectfully depose the following: That I, in company with several other Americans, own the above-mentioned finca, consisting of about 24 caballerias of land, with valuable timber and rubber growing thereon, aside from its value as pasture land; that on Saturday last, July 30, 1904, I found a number of men taking rubber from the trees on our land at a place called “Las Garsis,” which men were under a caporal named Pedro Ariza, employed by Meleton Agreda, commandante of La Gomera. I ordered the men off our land and took possession of the rubber they had extracted, about 75 pounds, offering to pay the men for their work. The men refused pay for their work, alleging fear of Agreda, to whom they went to tell of the occurrence. I took the rubber to my house at “La Polonia” with the intention of taking it to the commandante at La Democracia the next day and asking his protection against further aggressions in the way of rubber hunting on our lands without permission. On Sunday morning, the 31st ultimo, at about 11 o’clock, Capt. Meleton Agreda, of La Gomera, with a squad of 12 men, 10 of whom were armed, came to my house, forced an entrance, ill-treated my wife, and carried away not only the rubber taken from the thieves the previous day, but a pair of spurs and a shotgun as well. They attempted to capture me, but I escaped to the upper part of the house and refused to go to La Gomera, as I was in the jurisdiction of La Democracia. I protested all this time against the violent invasion of my domicile without authority, the ill treatment of my wife, who was struck with a rifle by one of the invaders, and requested to be shown Agreda’s authority for his violent and outrageous conduct toward a law-abiding foreigner. Agreda replied by asserting his authority to do what he pleased without further approval than his own caprice; that he was in command and would not receive orders or instructions from anywhere nor from anyone, he alone being responsible to himself. I refrained, though sorely tempted, when my wife was struck, from taking summary action, with the assurance that Agreda’s acts would receive the approval of his superior. After making various and general threats against us, he finally left and forcibly carried off my rubber, spurs, and shotgun.

I went before the jefe politico of Escuintla with my complaint written out, recounting the above outrageous abuse, who told me simply that he would take note of the occurrence.

[Page 527]

I respectfully request you to bring this matter to the attention of the proper authority, asking for a correction of the abuse, the return of the stolen articles, the punishment of the offending official, and some assurance that there will not be a repetition of this abuse and that proper protection will be given us in our property rights against rubber stealing with official connivance.

Our purpose is to be peaceable, industrious, law-abiding residents, avoiding all difficulties with officials and neighbors by means of the law. We know our rights and only ask to be protected therein.

I have, etc.,

Al Stebbins.
[Inclosure 2.]

Chargé Brown to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Excellency: I have the honor to transmit herewith the complaint of one Al Stebbins, an American citizen, against Senor Meleton Agreda, commandante of La Gomera, in the department of Escuintla.

Willful and continued trespass on the rubber lands of Mr. Stebbins.
Forcibly entering house of same.
For seizing and carrying off rubber belonging to Mr. Stebbins.
For menacing his wife with a rifle.

I would earnestly recommend the statement of charges to the consideration of your excellency in the confidence that if the allegations are maintained your excellency will be pleased to take the necessary steps for the punishment of the offender and the guaranteeing of security to the property and persons of Mr. and Mrs. Stebbins.

With renewed assurances, etc.,

Philip M. Brown.
[Inclosure 3.]

Minister Combs to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to call your excellency’s attention to the fact that no response has been received by this legation to the complaints submitted in behalf of Benjamin Dillingham, of Livingston, nor Al Stebbins, of La Democracia, the former having been submitted on September 23 last and the latter on August 4 last.

Availing myself, etc.,

Leslie Combs.
[Inclosure 4.]


The American minister has the honor to again call the attention of his excellency the minister for foreign affairs to the legation’s note of August 4, 1904, transmitting the complaint of the American citizen Al Stebbins for the violation of his domicile, the confiscation of his property, and the menaces to his wife on the part of the comandante of La Gomera.

This request was renewed December 16, 1904, and in view of the fact that daily communication exists between the capital and Escuintla the American minister trusts that he may expect the reply of the Government of Guatemala to the complaint at an early date.

Mr. Combs embraces, etc.,

[Page 528]
[Inclosure 5.—Translation.]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs to Minister Combs.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to transcribe to your excellency the note I have received from the department of government and justice. It says as follows: “Mr. Minister: From the supreme court of justice a note has been received saying: ‘Guatemala, January 28, 1905. Sir: In view of your esteemed note of the 14th instant, I have the honor to transcribe to you the report that the judge of the first instance of Escuintla issued, which literally says: “Honorable Supreme Court of Justice: Complying with the orders of that superiority, I have the high honor of submitting a report concerning the complaint of the citizen Al Stebbins.’ On August 3, 1904, Mr. Stebbins appeared for himself and in the name of his companions at the office of the political chief of this department, making known, among other things, that some persons, whose names he did not know, had gone on his lands to gather rubber; that he, Stebbins, had kept the rubber to the amount of 75 pounds and taken it to his habitation; that an escort, headed by Meleton Agreda, first prevented the construction of a country house and afterwards took from his house the aforementioned rubber, after which said Stebbins with his wife were threatened by said Agreda. Stebbins wound up by asking for a correction of these abuses and that the rubber be returned. These proceedings were turned over to this court from the office of the political chief of this department for the corresponding investigation. Mr. Stebbins offered no proof in support of his complaint and this court followed up the investigation by gathering all the data that it could collect, and as the evidence obtained from witnesses was to the contrary of what Stebbins alleged, an order was issued, of a temporary character, declaring that there was no motive for issuing a warrant for the arrest of Agreda. From this report that honorable superiority will observe that the court under me has proceeded with the strictest impartiality, everything being in accordance with the law and in obedience to the dictates of justice. I have the pleasure of renewing to that superiority the expression of my respect. Escuintla, January 20, 1905. Leon de Leon Flores.” With assurances of high esteem and consideration, etc., J. Pinto.’ Upon transcribing this to you I have the pleasure, etc., Juan J. Argueta.”

Upon having the honor to transcribe the foregoing to your excellency, I have the pleasure of making known that the authorities of Escuintla have received new instructions to continue the investigation.

I trust, Mr. Minister, that you will kindly indicate to Mr. Stebbins that he should present to the court of Escuintla the witnesses he may have for the defense of his rights and to facilitate the termination of the case.

Renewing, etc.,

Juan Barrios M.
[Inclosure 6.]

Minister Combs to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to acknowledge your excellency’s note of February 3, 1905, in answer to this legation’s note of August 4, 1904, respecting the alleged forcible entry into the domicile of Stebbins, the threatening and abusive treatment of him and his wife, and the theft of several articles by a body of soldiers under command of Meleton Agreda the latter part of July last.

The facts alleged by Mr. Stebbins and his wife remove this question from one for local adjudication to one for our respective governments to consider. I therefore can not ask him to present himself to the judge at Escuintla.

In this legation’s note of August 4 last a statement was inclosed from Stebbins respecting the circumstances complained of and I now have the honor of inclosing a copy of the affidavit of his wife.

Stebbins has an honorable discharge as a noncommissioned officer in the American Army, which is a substantial certificate of good character and intelligence. His statement and that of his wife are consistent, simple, and to my mind convincing, and I hoped when the complaint was transmitted your excellency’s government would be pleased to make such reasonable reparation as the facts would seem to warrant.

Whenever it would suit your excellency’s convenience I would like to discuss orally the questions involved, that we may adjust them, if possible, unofficially.

With renewed, etc.,

Leslie Combs.
[Page 529]

Mrs. Stebbins’s affidavit.

I, Mrs. Al Stebbins, hereby certify that on Saturday, July 30, 1904, while sitting in company with my husband, Mr. Stebbins, in our shanty, situated on our place called La Polonia, in the department of Escuintla, I saw a number of men approaching under command of Meleton Agreda, captain of the soldiers at La Gomera, and as my husband suspected their intentions were not friendly he told me to go upstairs, which I did. Said Agreda approached my husband and asked him to return the rubber my husband had taken from Agreda’s men the day before, which rubber my husband refused to return, at the same time asking for Agreda’s authority to come and recover it. Agreda pulled a paper, with writing on it, from his pocket and held it aloft, but refused to allow either my husband or myself to read it; neither would he himself read it to us. Agreda then forced his way into our house and my husband came into the loft to get his gun. All this time the soldiers accompanying Agreda were there with cocked rifles and Agreda had his revolver in his hand, also cocked. When my husband came into the loft I entreated him not to shoot, and I myself descended to the floor of the shanty where Agreda and his men were, at the same time getting between his men and the rubber that was on the same floor. The soldiers were ordered to seize the rubber, but were apparently afraid to do so while I was in front of them, though repeatedly ordered to do so by Agreda. At last one of the soldiers, while his rifle was still cocked, placed the end of his rifle barrel against my body and pushed me to one side, upon which my husband ordered me to offer no further resistance, but let them take it, as they were, too many for us. Before leaving, in addition to the rubber the men took possession of almost everything they could lay their hands on, including a saddle, spurs, shotgun, and other articles. While we still lived there some of the same men returned and partly burned our house down. Since leaving there it has been completely reduced to ashes.

Mrs. Al Stebbins.