Photos of Chiriqui, by David Pech
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Volcan Baru, by Thomas Carey
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David, Panama
Feb 15th 1920

Dear Albert,

We recd your letter and we had just sent one to your address which you could pass around among you all.

I think I can answer all your questions without dodging very much. You seem to think we want to inveigle you into some kind of a trap. No, no, my son. If you think it pays better to live around them cities and depend on a job than to get you a good ranch in an a no 1 climate - beats So. Cal. It's up to you to decide. We are satisfied with what we have here. If this same land was in Cal it would be worth a thousand to 5 thousand dollars per acre. With this climate, where one don't have to irrigate - and where oranges don't freeze and there is no Santa Annas or other hot desert winds to burn up trees and fruit.

Now about schools, you can't expect too much in the way of schools in a place like this, where the Americans are just scattered far apart. There is a good school in David where they teach both English and Spanish. The teacher is a very fine kind of a man - an American from Chicago. He has a wife and three children. They are young people, been married 5 years. The tuition is 1 dollar a month. If you should come, and Adolph comes, I could take the children of school age and Percy and Edith and keep them down there for school, if that would suit you, or Lillian could teach them up to the seventh grade. She passed the 8th and is very fond of children and all children like her. We could build a little schoolhouse and have a regular school. And when enough people comes in here with children the government will establish a school. Of course such schools are not comparable to the California schools, though I think the school in David is pretty good. But if you think it's not a good thing, don't come.

Of course you get lots of different fruit and nuts in California you would not get here, but one thing certain, land won't be any cheaper there nor here than it is now and there is an awful lot of landless people in the U.S. People have flocked to the cities for school privileges, and where people get out of touch with the land it takes somewhat of an effort to break loose from all the hooks and bonds that conditions in the city naturally fastens on to people.

You asked about the land, I think. I had about 8 pages written to you, but yesterday when I was cleaning up old papers and letters I got that one in with the rest - so now I may not remember all you asked.

There are several places for sale that we know of, all good places. They range in size from 100 acres to any amount. Some have pasture on them, but they are not what we would call farms, for these people don't really farm. They raise corn and beans mostly, and down on the coast they raise corn, beans, and rice. They mostly have cattle ranches - that is the principal industry here. It's easy, for the grass is always good up here in the foothills.

The land, with part of it in pasture and generally some wire fencing, can be bought for from 5 to 10 dol per acre. One can buy a place of 200 acres, 75 or 100 acres of it in pasture, for 1 thousand dol. Wild land, or in other words timber land with good timber for saw milling, can be had in any amount. But if a person wants to saw lumber they better look the place over before they buy any saw mill, so to be sure that every thing will work out all right, and run no risk.

There is no risk with cattle, either dairy or beef stock. This is as perfect a stock country as one could wish for. The climate is cool, it's not hot here like Los. and yet it never frosts here. It does way up on the mountain, but never snows. October and November are rainy, and generally a fog comes up from the coast in the afternoon in the rainy season. The mornings are generally clear even in the most rainy season, but in the dry season we have an occasional shower once or twice a month and the weather is very fine - a good breeze and plenty of sunshine.

Maybe I told you that we have an iron wheel farm wagon, an Hercules stump puller, a harrow, a plow, a cultivator and seeder, and two sets of harnesses all new, and we calculate if any of you boys come you can use our implements, because we are fitting this ranch up for a stock ranch and don't intend to do much farming. We will raise what we need of corn, beans, vegetables, pineapples, bananas, and oranges, and raise chickens and a few hogs. But cattle is the best thing, less work and best returns. We are 10 miles from the nearest RR station so we don't expect to raise much produce to sell, unless it is beans or cheese - something easy to handle. We may some day have a pineapple canning plant, can't say yet. Pineapples grow well here.

The place we bought is 750 acres. We are going to pay Dillie back her money unless she wants to take a share in the place. I suppose she thinks we wont, but we will. We will make a payment of 1 thousand (and 70 some dollars interest) in May 1921, and May 1922 another payment of a thousand, then that is all - we will be free then and own the place.

It was first owned by a man from Equidor. He raised 16 children here, all girls, and they all married and moved away. Some of their men was interested in Pearl fishing, and finally the old man sold out, or traded out, and went to Pearl fishing. He is dead now and the pasture all growed up to brush and trees. So now that is what your old hard working father is doing now. He is cutting down the trees and brush and will burn the slashing and then pull the stumps and plant grass again. Or most likely the grass will naturally come up - it's all over under the trees now.

We haven't money to stock the place or we would buy some cows now. But we will get the place fixed up, then we can borrow money to stock it, if we need to. We need some good milk cows, about the first thing. We have three native cows, but they are not much for milk and butter.

Pa wrote to you, and he wondered if you ever got his letter, and Lillian wrote to the children. We don't want you to come if you don't want to. We don't want anyone to be dissatisfied, but if you make up your mind to come you won't regret it, I don't think.

You ought to bring some grape and berry plants, and some almonds and other nuts to plant, and of course bring your bedding and dishes, and I suppose it would pay to bring your stove, if you have a wood stove, if not you can get one here.

Don't come on a Pacific Mail boat. They are awful and take so long. Enquire at the Japanese steamship office about the Jap boat. Second class is good on the Jap boat. I suppose Andrew and Carrie will be coming when you do. I think times are getting dull in the States, by what I hear, and whenever it gets dead out there you might as well move.

Dillie never says what she is doing or where or how she lives, she just writes like a stranger. I should think you all would go to the Saints meetings while you have an opportunity to do so - I wish I could. If you all stay in Los. I think I will go up there in 1923 if I live and the Lord wills.

I wish you children all would write, and not wait for me to answer every time. If you want to ask any more questions, just put down a list of them and send them. We will do our best to answer.

I think Emma wants to know about snakes. Yes, there are some poison ones here, but no rattlesnakes. There is not much danger from snakes. I haven't seen a live one yet. Sometimes they kill one when they are clearing. But there are snakes almost everywhere except in town, and sometimes there are a few there.

Love to all, from Mother


P.S. You might have to live in a house that was not pretty nor very convenient for a while, and there no doubt would be many nice things you have now that you couldn't have here, at least not for a while. I don't know whether you would be satisfied, but it seems to me like you would want a change from that kind of work, and that you would like to have a herd of cattle. They will always be increasing in numbers.

You might want to do something else - I can't tell what you could do. There is good saw timber, big straight tall trees of different kinds, both hard wood and soft. But no pine. One would have to look the situation over and find out what they could get for their lumber. Or you might want to raise sugar cane, but we don't think much of that unless you can put up a mill, and that takes too much capital.

Please put Louie's name on this letter and mail it.

David, Panama
Jan 12 1921

Dear Children,

We rec'd your letters and Christmas cards. We had a letter from Dillie, one from Carrie, and one from Albert, so I might as well write one letter to you all.

We all are well and are liking our home in Chiriqui as much as ever. The climate suits me very well, for it is a place where I have never been too cold nor too warm. Of course it is no place to come to work out, but if one wants to get a home and get so they won't have to depend on a job, it is the very best kind of a place to come to. I call a home a place that supports you.

There is several small pieces of land near here, and even better located than we are for convenience to the road, as they are on the public highway and we are not. But we like our place and have made a road out to the highway. If this was in Cal, this land would be worth a thousand dollars per acre. One piece contains 150 acres, can be bought for one thousand dollars U.S. currency, not hard to clear as the big timber has been cut down, and some pasture on it. Another piece contains 100 acres, can be bought for about three thousand dollars. It has more improvements than the 150 acres. It has about 30 acres of fine pasture. Two oxen go with it. Also, it is on the road. There is another of about 800 acres for one thousand dollars, unimproved. Has lots of big timber, good for saw timber. But as far as most people's opinion is about sawmilling, they don't think it is the greatest thing for this country yet a while.

We have not paid all on our land yet, but the Boys are working and saving the money to finish paying up. Then they are going to quit and come up on the farm. It's a fine cattle country and sugar cane country. Some are making big money with sugar. We think of having a cheese factory, and we intend to build a hotel and have a resort for people on the Canal Zone want a place up here in the Mts. to go to take their vacations. But that takes money. If we had a little sawmill, we could make our own lumber, then we could soon start a hotel.

Natives do the work in this country, so with the exception of the C[anal] Z[one]. there is no good jobs for Americans, and that is no better than working at a job elsewhere.

We figure on Carrie having a school if she comes down. We would take card of Josephine for her while she teaches. Lottie and Adolph wants to come, only for the school. There is an English school in David, but it is not a desirable place to live, for David is on the coast and it's too warm and the water isn't good, so we rather do without school than to live there. Besides, we would have to rent a house in David, and that wouldn't pay. That is what is keeping others from settling up here. But if we get a school, more people will come, and of course land will be more expensive then.

If you want to buy land here and still stay there and work, you can do that. Of course we don't have a lot of things that you do have, and maybe you wouldn't like it. But we like the free . . .


. . . because I expect you will be down here in a little while. But Dillie don't say anything about coming, so I sent her a picture of us. As for the lady she spoke of, I couldn't advise, for some people think they will like a thing, and when they get it they don't like it. So it's not safe to advise strangers that one knows nothing about.

But it's up to someone to put up a building for a resort and run it, for I don't know enough about such things to make a success of it, and I don't want to bother with it. The beginning would not need to be very large, to start it, and one could build up as the business grew. You see, there are several thousand Americans on the C[anal] Z[one]. and elsewhere in Panama, mostly in the lower tropics, where it is necessary for them to come up to higher altitudes for a time, and we have a fine location here.

We are sleeping under two double blankets, while people in the lowlands seldom ever need more than a sheet or light single blanket. And yet the days are not too cold up here. All kind of stuff grows such as corn, vegetables, and orange, etc. Oranges are 4 cts each right now in the Canal Zone stores.

It's somewhat difficult to describe a country, but here are some of the things most to be desired. Good land, easy to clear, easy to work. Good water in running mountain streams and cool springs. A cool climate, yet never freezes. No mosquitoes or house files - absolutely none. Green pastures, and as I said before, there are a good many Americans scattered around through the country, besides those employed on the C[anal] Z[one]. No Negroes up here either.

(Continued from last night)

You better take notes of the things in this letter that you want to remember. Set them down in a little book.

There are other pieces of land for sale around here, so if you have acquaintances who want land, bring them with you and help to get Americans in here - that's all we need to make this a great country. Some day not far distant, there will be an automobile road from the Zone and Panama City to David. Then this land won't be for sale at no such figures as it is now.

There is a good opportunity here for a country store. In fact, everybody around here is wanting one, but all being farmers, no one has time to keep store. There is the opportunity for anyone that would like that business, and it would not take much means, as only the most essential things would need to be kept at first, and then increase the supply as the business increased. That is a very good thing right now for someone to do. They could locate near or on the sugar plantation of Harland and Brown. Everybody, both Americans and natives, would be glad to have a store up here. Or one could put up a store right at the end of the RR, so they could ship their goods right to the store. That is only a couple of miles from the Sugar Co. One could buy a great deal of produce right in the country around, but no one can really say what they would do unless they see for themselves.

Anyway, it is a safe place to come to, because the climate, water, and land all are good. As to snakes, tell Emma we don't find very many, and what they are stay in the woods and run like sixty.

When one thinks of the dry deserts and hot Imperial Valley, and the cold snowbound North, and lots and lots of other undesirable places, it seems to me anyone would not hesitate in coming down here and making ways and means for schools and other things, like people always have had to do, for after everything is established, then the land is high and other opportunities taken up.

That's the trouble - too many people hang around cities where they never can get anything that will make them independent. The longer people hang around cities, the less opportunities they will have for anything better. And, while education is good, books can be had anywhere, and a good big chunk of land for the coming generation of Meissners, I believe, would be about as good a thing as could happen to them. And there is not a ghost of a show for the children in the States to be anything but the servants of capitalists, and more so in California.

Therefore, lay aside your scruples, doubts, and fears, and strike out for freedom for yourselves and children. Here is a country waiting for you. All you need to do is to come and take it. If you can be satisfied with things crude for a while, then better things will come later, for labor creates capital.

I believe you can ship your furniture and dishes and a few fruit jars, a dozen or so. You can hunt up the Japanese steamship office and find out all particulars. And write to Manly or Charlie at Balboa before you start.

With love to all, From Mother 

David, Panama
Feb 15th 1921

Dear Son Albert,

We just rec'd the letter which you sent to Manly. I have just sealed one to you, but will write to give you more information about the country.

Commencing with David: It is our traveling point. It is a seaport town. Boats come weekly or semiweekly from Panama City to David. The route is along the coast. It is a hundred miles from Panama City to David - two days, two nights, or a little more sometimes. David is electrically lighted, but does not have paved streets nor sewer system. Yet, though there is talk of it being so improved soon, and the new Governor of Chiriqui - who, by the way, is a very good friend of ours - is a progressive man, and his wife is also a progressive woman. Panamanians, of course. Both speak English well. So he will most likely use his influence for the improvement of David, as that is his home and there is talk of a military road from Panama City to David, which will be a U.S. road. Then this will be a country made.

Chiriqui is the richest province in Panama, and has a noted climate. There is lots of poor country in Panama. Leaving David for the upper country, one crosses open, rolling country, no timber, just pastures, but all well watered with mountain streams. Then on up to the foothills, which are timbered and the land gets rougher, but not too rough for farming, and there is an abundance of clear cold water. The rivers are not large, for there is only a distance of perhaps 40 to 50 miles from their head to the ocean.

Now in regard to fish, we believe if trout was brought here the streams could be populated with them or other fish. There are plenty of ocean fish at the mouth of the streams. The natives are good fishermen. We often bought fish in Panama. There are red snappers, mackerel, snooks, and others - all good fish. If one wants to fish, they can get a native with his boat to go with them, very cheap.

As for game, there is plenty, deer and chevo. Chevo is a small deer, something like a goat. We see them occasionally, but we don't shoot them, for we want them to live and be in our woods. Then there is the tapir, or autoburro, it was called in Mexico. Here they call it micho de monte. A harmless creature. There are lions and tigers, but they live far back in the mountains where it is uninhabited. And so do the monkeys, of which there are two or three species, but we or most of people don't kill them. They are harmless. There are wildcats and honey bear, a small animal like a coon, and opossums and squirrel and rabbits and I suppose some other small creatures.

But birds - say, this is bird paradise. I never seen the like. I can't name them. Some are beauties, in fact most of them are, and sweet singers. Some are bright red, others are clear blue, and many of green and yellow and gray and brown and mixtures, etc. I am delighted with the birds. There are wild turkeys, handsome glossy seal brown, and there is a marsh hen which looks much like a small hen, only it has beautiful plumage of many colors, and parrots. There are quail, but not very plentiful, and wild doves.

But we don't do much hunting; we like to keep the game around us. The man we bought the place of has all kinds of tiger skins. He is a sort of hermit, a regular mountaineer. Anyway, we have tow crack shotguns, a shotgun and a rifle. The shotgun cost 55 dollars. (At your disposal, the guns.) Charlie is quite a sport and hunts some when he comes up here for vacation.

Now you want to know some of the bad features. Well, according to how we look at, and we are on the grounds you see, there are mighty few. But here is what you might consider drawbacks.

We are 10 miles from the nearest RR station. That's where we shipped our goods, and ourselves too, and Pa and the boys came out here to the ranch for pack horses, and to another place for ox carts. So we got our stove out on the station platform and got our provisions out and set up housekeeping. We stayed three days before we got moved from there. We all walked out to the ranch and packed the horses. I weighed 231 then, so I guess if I could get here on foot it's not so bad. But since then, we have made a better road and brought our machinery and piano in on an ox cart.

We are 25 miles from David. We go horseback. It takes 5 hours to go - that is, just easy gait. No hills between here and David.

Now remember this: All the land I tell you about (except 2 places) are nearer than we are to the station and to David, and most of it is on a good public road, mind you, a good road. There is two mountain ranches for sale which are farther out than we are. Both have fine pastures of all the year around green grass, and both have about 40 head of cattle which go with the place. One has a cane field and a sugar mill, that is, the kind the natives use. They make good sugar. It is brown and made in hard brown cakes and cells for 5 cts. per lb. We use it a lot here. Carrie knows what it is. They called it panella in Mexico; here they call it dulce. There is 150 acres; it is priced at 5 thousand. Has a good road right to the ranch and is in an altitude of about 5000 ft. and is owned by a widow. One other Mt. ranch just above us, of about 60 acres.

And there is Jennett's, the man we bought of. He has 1000 acres with a good small house. He wants 10 dollars per acre. He will sell it all, or will cut it up to suit the purchaser. It's good land and a pretty place. It joins us, and we believe, if it was bought all in one piece just as it stands, that one could get it for 5 thousand. He is not a farmer. He has been here 28 years. He is a naturalist, somewhat of a hermit. His land has lots of fine timber, great oaks and other valuable trees that would make boards three feet wide. He has a few stands of bees which are doing well, has two good horses (ponies) which he would likely include.

There is 200 acres, about half in pasture and partly fenced for 1000 dollars; joins our land. And another of 150 acres, 100 acres in good clear pasture and all fenced, for 3000. One of 100 acres for 1000 dollars, all small timber, easy to clear, has all been cleared once. This one is the one we have picked out for Andrew and Carrie. All these places are well watered, one side bordering on river. One place of 1000, a piece of timber land with plenty of water power and fine saw timber, can be bought for about 1000 dollars. Just a short distance from public highway, easy to get road to it, this land where timber is good.

Then there are others for sale that we don't know the prices of, for we haven't enquired. Now all this land which I have described is in the highland or foothills, except one - the 5000 ft. altitude - is in the mountains. We can see it from our upstairs window, way up on the mountains. We believe peaches, apples, and almonds would grow up there.

All is in a cool healthy climate with good water. There are no destructive storms. It thunders here in the rainy season, but what of that. One learns to like all the voices of nature, even the thunder and the roar of the mighty deep, though I can't say I have got that far yet. I don't mind the thunder, though. It don't seem to thunder very hard here. We are on the Pacific Coast; that makes a difference.

The only thing we consider as a drawback or bad feature is, we have not enough Americans. They are scattered far apart, what few there are. Most of them own big cattle ranches, thousands of acres. Quite a few of the Americans are from California. They all seem well satisfied, for some of them have been here for years. Some went back but came again to stay. We can't think of any more drawbacks than I have told you of. I told you October is rainy and where the climate is about perfect, except it is too rainy in October, but that's only one month. And where it is never too dry, where there is plenty of fuel and excellent water in abundance, good land easy to work and cheap, no destructive storms, and where Uncle Sam is Boss, what's the matter.

Of course, we don't have everything as convenient as it is in more settled places, but we have the natural resources to make use of. We can have good roads and school and other things if we get more people who are interested in doing things.

I hope some of those who come will bring some good cows. They can pasture them here on our ranch till they get a pasture fixed, for we need good dairy cows. And Pa wants you to bring a lot of strawberry plants. They grow well here. We want other varieties. Pack them in moss or dirt in a basket and keep them where you can water them on the ship. We don't get any commission on any of this land. You buy direct from the owner. The only interest we have is to get settlers. Women generally are homesick for a while, but get over it. Men all like these countries and won't leave.

NOTE: The following proposal that Loretta made to the Missionary Board was implemented in 1925 by her son Manly who married Hazel in 1924 just before Loretta died. See Hazel's letters from Panama

[To Church of God Missionary Board, Anderson, IN - written between 1921 and 1924]

I wish here to tell you of the needs of a people who I have lived among, and to outline a plan whereby many could be benefited and perhaps a work might be started with a small beginning that might prosper and be the means of bringing enlightenment and salvation to many

In the highlands of Panama, where climatic conditions are unsurpassed, where there is an abundance of pure water for all purposes - even for the use as power. And where there is timber for building purposes and fine woods for the making of furniture etc. And where the growing of oranges and other citrus fruits could be made to yield a profitable business if rightly handled, also the growing and preserving of pineapples. And dairy products, which should be a paying business in a country where pastures grow luxuriantly, is so much neglected that the people know very little about the use or handling of milk and butter. The only dairy product they use there is a white cheese which resembles our cottage cheese, only that they make it of sweet milk, use home made rennet, and the cheese is often too poorly handled to make it attractive.

Cattle raising has been the principal industry in Panama, and was considered a paying business until the improvement of the Colombia harbors in the last few years has made it possible for Colombia to dispose of beef stock at so low a figure that it has seriously affected the cattle industry in Panama.

What they need there now is not beef cattle but milk cows. Ice could be manufactured and an up-to-date business established, if people of enterprise and the necessary capital could be furnished.

The sugar industry is perhaps the most desirable from a money-making standpoint, as the highlands of Panama in the state of Chiriqui is in every way adapted to the growing of sugar cane. But more capital is needed for sugar than for the other things I have mentioned, because the machinery for making sugar would be expensive. Nevertheless, it could be done on the share holding plan, by forming a company, say for instance if one thousand persons would invest $50.00 dollars each to erect a mill. The natives would furnish the sugar cane at so much per ton.

But as you may not be interested in this, I will not go into detail but will try to give you some idea of what I believe could be done with very little capital and a few willing workers, and to tell you something about the people. I have lived among them, visited their homes, seen their needs and heard their tales of joys and sorrows, learned their superstitions, and find that many of them are wishing for better things, and that all are in need of more education, not only from books but about the common things of daily life. And most of all, they need the pure gospel which makes grace abound where sin did abound.

There are many children in Panama whose mothers are native women, their fathers are Americans or other foreigners: Germans, Swedes, etc. These children most of all appeal to me, for they are somewhat of a misfit, generally of the poor class yet the father, being a white man and having some education and knowing better ways of living, he naturally would like better things for his children, yet is not able to obtain them.

I will speak of one family in particular which I happen to know something of. The father is a Canadian of Scotch blood. He went to that country years ago, worked as an ox team driver. He married a native woman and 16 children have been born to them, twelve of them at least are living. The father is an intelligent man and has some education, is a good neighbor, has no doubt done the best he could to raise his family. The mother too is above the average of the poor class native women but the children have had no advantages - those who have married have married the "barefoot natives," as the poor class is termed there by foreigners.

Many of the natives never wear shoes during the whole of their lifetimes. They cook on a heap of stones in one corner of a hut, and have no beds, simply sleeping on a shelf made of a board or poles. They use gourds for most of their vessels to carry water, and prize an empty tomato can quite highly. Many of them have never been a hundred miles from home. They live mostly on corn, beans, rice, and meat, whereas if they knew how to manage they might have fruits and milk, butter and cheese, and some kinds of vegetables, which would be a great benefit to them.

I see no other way to reach these people except through the children. They will receive instructions that the adults will not, and do not open their hearts to receive. But the children can be impressed, and the parents - not only foreigners but natives - are anxious for them to learn.

Then too, on account of the Canal Zone being in the hands of Americans and settled with Americans, the Panamanian has become accustomed to Americans and does not have the prejudice that is felt by some of the Spanish speaking countries. And law and order is better maintained, and no danger of revolution to disturb or destroy a work if started there.

As my letter is already too long, I will conclude by saying, if you the Church of God Missionary Board are interested, we offer as a free gift one hundred acres of the best farming land on our ranch of 7500 acres. We offer our services free for 2 years to oversee the clearing and planting of land and the building of a suitable building for a school and home for missionaries.

We can obtain lumber sawed by natives at a very reasonable figure; making an estimate, would say a building could be built for four hundred dollars which would be all that would be needed for several years or until the work became entirely self-supporting, and I believe that in time it would pay a dividend.

We would need say 4 head of milk cows. We already have two mules, two horses, and some beef stock on the place which we would give the use of free. Also some farming machinery and a stump puller and wagon we have. Bananas and some citrus fruits in bearing on the place.

The place is all well fenced and cross fenced. We have about [?] acres in good pasture and sugar cane, could produce our own sugar right on the farm, as the natives make a good quality of brown sugar. Blackberries can be grown and do grow wild. Guava jelly would be one of the products, as well as orange marmalade and pineapple products.

It would be about two years before there would be an income from pineapples, and about 5 before much of an income from oranges could be realized, but dairy products would be profitable from the start. We have a fine Jersey bull which was brought from the Canal Zone and is of fine strain, and with a few good cows to start with, we could in the course of a few years have a fine herd.

We would need one teacher only to begin with who could give lessons in Spanish, as the law requires all schools to teach Spanish. For the manual labor, natives to clear the land and plant. As soon as the school got under way we would require each student to perform a certain amount of work as a matter of training, but this if managed properly would help make the school self-supporting.

Someone accustomed to the tropics and manner of life in Spanish speaking countries could be of use. As we have had considerable experience both in Mexico and Panama, we offer our services to the Lord.

Mr. & Mrs. A. F. Meissner
315 Lee Place, L. A.