History of Orange Walk







My interest in the history of Orange Walk began with the work done by the late Alejo Ayuso back in the 1960’s.  Since then I have avidly read every primary and secondary source I have been able to locate that dealt with Orange Walk.  I procured copies of documents from British Army Archives and from Archives in London and in Jamaica.  I made good use of my visits to the Belizean National Archives in Belmopan, and had copies made of maps that I found in the Survey Department collection.  I read and filed every reference to Orange Walk history that I came across in history books, and periodicals of all sorts.



In addition, I interviewed many of the older residents of town including Mr. Eugene Flowers and Mr. Felipe Magaña.  I am grateful for their accounts of the earlier days and for their kindness in sharing the legends passed on to them.


The historical writing of Alejo Ayuso; both that which he published and those unpublished materials which he entrusted to me, have also been much utilized.


Writing a history such as this is a matter of combining all these sources into one coherent story.  I have had to decide, in some cases, between two conflicting reports, and I have had to decide what to include and what to omit.  Throughout I have concentrated on the story of Orange Walk and limited myself to those aspects of national history which directly develop or illuminate that story.  I have not, for example, presented a detailed history of the Maya, nor have I developed the topic of slavery.  These and similar broad areas have already been amply treated by other historians whose works are readily available in Belize.


Despite the care with which the first edition was prepared and the widespread attention it gained, I have been surprised by the persistence of several glaring inaccuracies in various publications and in the minds of some people with whom I have talked.  These errors center around the famous battle of 1872, which is the best known and most popular occurrence in the town’s history.


In writing the account of the battle, I made substantial use of two primary sources: the official account in the regimental History published in 1885, and the testimony of residents, taken down by the Orange Walk magistrate shortly after the battle, telling what they had observed.  The latter material is in the National Archives.  Both of these references are available to any interested reader.


Some of the more widespread errors: (a) Marcus Canul attacked the Forts in Orange Walk.  The battle was fought in 1872 and the Forts were not built until 1874 and 1876.  This is well documented.  (b) Marcus Canul was an honourable man merely fighting for the rights of his people.  There is an element of truth here, but one wonders if Canul himself perceived his role in this light.  Remember that he is credited with many robberies, burnings, and pillagings, that he held people for ransom on several occasions and even killed his hostages, and that he and him men burned part of Orange Walk and looted some of the inhabitants in the process.  This was no altruistic Robin Hood!  (c) There was more than one group of soldiers involved.  The so-called “Africans” were the enlisted men of the British West India Regiment (actually Jamaicans) all blacks.  They were under the command of a British (white) officer.  This followed Army practice throughout the Empire.  The officers were invariably British, and the enlisted men natives.


A last note on the battle; if Canul did not attack the Forts, just what did he attack?  The Regimental records contain a map of the battle site.  This matches precisely an early map of Orange Walk, which I located in the Survey Office, and is corroborated by most of the oral and written evidence.  The old barracks were built on a hill just in front of the present B.E.C. building.  That was the center of town in those days and that was what Canul attacked.


In revising the first edition, I made use of newly published research on the Maya – notably the discoveries at the Cuello Site.  I also rearranged several chapters with a review toward improving readability and corrected minor errors.


I would like to thank Fr. Richard Buhler, S.J. for his kind assistance with the first edition and for his encouragement in preparing this second edition.  I am grateful to him and to BISRA for permission to use the final chapters which were originally published in “Belizean Studies”.





Based on recent excavations just outside Orange Walk (at the site called Cuello), the earliest residents of the area date back to 2500 B.C.  These people cleared the virgin forests and, utilizing methods of advanced agriculture, which included raised, irrigated fields, planted their corn and root crops.  Upon this early foundation was built the great Maya civilization in this land which they came to call Acalan – the land of the canoe people.


The classic period of the ancient Maya began around 325 A.D. and flourished for the next 600 years.  It was during these centuries that the temples seen around Orange Walk were built and that the society and culture of the Maya reached their highest point of development.  It was then that relative peace reigned in the various city-states, which stretched back into Peten and northward into Yucatan.  And it was then that the farmers, following the directions of the priest-nobles, constructed ever larger and more beautiful temples.  Artisans also developed their skills in carving, painting, weaving and pottery making.


Around 925 A.D. the Maya civilization collapsed for reasons that are still debated.  In Yucatan, in the area of Chichen-Itza, it was later revived by the coming of the Toltecs who introduced changes.  The Maya in Acalan, however, were not strongly influenced by the Toltecs and they continued to live their simple lives amid the ruins of their former greatness.  From day to day and from decade to decade they followed the seasons with their milpas until they were touched by the coming of the Europeans.


The lives of the present-day Maya in the villages of Orange Walk District (at least a few years ago – before the advent of sugar cane as a major crop) closely resemble the way the ancient Maya lived.  Then, as now, the milpa was the main source of work and corn the staple food.  The area around Orange Walk was also famous in ancient times for its orchards of cacao trees and for its production of honey.  Their homes, as they still are today in many places, were of sticks called “pimento” lashed together and plastered with white marl.  The roofs were thatched with palm leaves.






The Maya settlement which stood on the spot where Orange Walk now stands was called, according to Thompson, Holpatin.  Few traces of the Maya occupation are visible today.  No important artifacts or burial sites have been found within the limits of the town.  Whatever clues there might be lie buried under the streets and houses of modern Orange Walk.  The extent of ancient Holpatin can only be guessed at, but two areas seem to indicate use by the Maya.  The limestone hill on which the Post Office stands has pottery shards and flint chips embedded in the exposed side facing the river.  Nearby is a steep hill in which have been found several openings or caves large enough to admit a man and going deep into the hillside.  These are said to contain pots of some sort.  Shards and pieces of flint are common in this area too.



These two sites may have been pyramids or at least an indication of where Holpatin stood.  They are not more than a few hundred yards from each other and they overlook the river in the direction of San Estevan where a ceremonial center was located.


There are scores of house mounds in the area of Petville and the excavations at Cuello nearby which show, when taken together with the other indications, that this area was fairly well populated by the ancient Maya at some point in time.

Why the Maya chose to build here is a matter for speculation.  Perhaps the natural limestone ridges attracted them in the same way that similar ridges attracted them to Pozito and Nohmul.  Perhaps their choice was influenced by the fact that it lies just about half-way, by river, between the important ceremonial center at Indian Church (Lamanai) and the capital city of ancient Acalan at Santa Rita near Corozal.  It may well have served as a resting place for canoes traveling between these cities.


This capital was called Chetumal and the state of Acalan was one of the League of Mayapan.  This state was on the side of the Cocom family during the civil wars which enveloped the peninsula.  It became a haven for the resisters of the Spanish when the northern states fell under their control.


When the Spanish made an attempt to conquer Chetumal between 1530 and 1550, some 200 warriors are reported to have come down the New River to help defend their capital.  At the time of the attack, ancient Chetumal had over 2,000 houses.  One hundred years later the population seems to have declined and most of the remaining groups of Maya withdrawn into the bush.


When the British logwood cutters arrived in the mid 1600’s they raided the villages which they came across.  They attempted to enslave the Indians, but the Indians avoided them by moving to areas of the interior not under the control of either the Baymen or the Spanish to the north.



3.  WOODCUTTERS     1600 – 1730


During the late 1600’s or early 1700’s another group of people began to use this highway to the sea.  They came from England in search of the logwood, which they found in abundance along the banks of the New River.



These rugged and hardworking woodcutters began their work in August when a captain and from ten to fifteen men set out from Belize in pit-pans or dories.  They had been preceded by a huntsman who had located the trees to be cut and who now led them there.


At first, the trees closest to the river were taken, since they could be more easily removed.  As time went by, however, the cutters had to go further into the bush.  The type of wood they cut changed over the years from logwood, used as a dye, to mahogany, used in making fine furniture.


When the woodcutters arrived at the area in which they would work, they constructed a rough camp or “bank” where they lived and where the stores were kept.  The men worked until November opening up rough logging roads to the trees and then cutting the trees down.  They returned to Belize City for the Christmas holidays, and came back to the logging site a month or two later.  At this time they worked at getting the logs to the river using ropes, with smaller logs as rollers.  Later on, after 1805, oxen were brought in to assist in this work.


At the bank the logs were squared off, marked with the owner’s initials and chained together.  With the first heavy rains of June, these rafts were floated down the river to the boom – made up of logs chained across the mouth of the river.  There they were sorted out and loaded onto ships for transport to Europe.  Orange Walk probably began as one of these riverside logging camps.  As time went on, more and more logwood cutters traveled the New River to reach uncut timber.  Some of these men settled down on a more or less permanent basis and the river camps became rough villages of thatched houses and small farms.  It was some of  these early settlers who named their village after a walk (plantation) of orange trees.



4.  THE SPANISH PROBLEM   1730 – 1798


As the woodcutters spread out from Belize City, they were given an increasingly hard time by the Spanish government in Yucatan.  The Spaniards claimed this area and wanted no British woodcutters here at all.


In 1730 there were several logging camps along the New River when the Spanish sent a force of soldiers to clear them out.  They came up river from the Bay of Chetumal and upon reaching the lagoon, crossed over land to Belize.  They collected fifty prisoners on their way, but this did not discourage the cutters.  They begged England for protection from the Spanish and at the same time moved back to their logging camps.


Again in 1745 the Spanish garrison sent soldiers up the river to destroy logging camps.  This time the settlers fled in their boats to the island of Roatan, but still they did not give up.  They soon moved back  and followed their trade in peace until 1763, when the Spaniards forces made their third excursion up the river forcing the cutters to abandon their camps and seek refuge in Belize.  Even after these three attacks, the woodcutters did not give up.  They rebuilt their New River camps and continued as they had before.  These early years of Orange Walk under the constant threat of Spanish attach were not peaceful ones, but the woodcutters were strong and independent men.  They were used to being free and to moving about as they wished.  They were not easily discouraged, but then neither were the Spanish.



The governor of Yucatan made two more attempts to dislodge the British settlers, both by sea  and both failures.  In 1779 they attacked the settlement at St. George’s Caye.  As a result, a treaty was signed with Spain  which allowed the cutting of logwood in the area of the New River but it also included many restrictions on the activities of the Baymen that they did not feel they could follow.  So the Spanish made one last attempt to force them out on the 10th of September, 1798.  This attack, again on St. George’s Caye, was repulsed and the Spanish sailed away for good.


After the last attack, in 1763, on the New River logging settlements, Orange Walk was left to develop in peace.  It saw the change from logwood to mahogany and the beginning of the chicle gathering industry.  It observed the acquisition of huge areas of forest stretching south to the lagoon and well into the foothills of Peten by the British Honduras Company (later the Belize Estate and Produce Company.)  It attracted Maya settlers from the interior and welcomed refugees from the north during the War of the Castes.  And as Orange Walk grew, the slow and winding road to the sea which had brought brave Baymen and Spanish soldiers, carried away on its flood vast mountains of mahogany.






1847 – 1867



The twenty-five years between 1847 and 1872 were troubled ones for the people of Orange Walk.  The War of the Castes which raged throughout Yucatan to the north, gradually came closer and closer to the colony.  The first concrete sign of the fighting was the flood of refugees across the border.  With them came the news of advancing  warriors, and the border settlements were thrown into a panic.

The Icaiche and Santa Cruz Indians were Maya tribes from the interior which had felt threatened by the spread of Mexican control from the north and the invasion of their lands by the Baymen from the south.  Thus caught in the middle, they fought back in various ways, under different leaders  and with varying degrees of  intensity for over fifty years.


During the War of the Castes, the Indians obtained a large part of their guns and ammunition from the British colony.  This practice, through strongly protested against by the Mexican authorities, continued through out this period and substantially enriched the merchants engaged in this trade.  Several Orange Walk firms, including that of Escalante and Company, did very well.


Marcus Canul, an Icaiche chief, can be credited with bringing the war across the border.  He was encouraged by a Mexican government decree in 1864, which claimed this area for Mexico.  Also, the Icaiche village of San Pedro Siris, located within the colony, had been supplied by the British with arms to help protect the border but instead, they welcomed Canul and his men, and joined him in his efforts against the colonists.


Canul’s first action was his capture of the logging camp called Qualm Hill in 1866.  He held the inhabitants for $12,000 ransom, but later released them to the British representative Mr. Von Ohlafen for $3,000 at Corozalito.



This caused much excitement in the colony, and the garrison at Orange Walk was increased by eighty men.  Two patrols were then sent out against Canul, but neither was successful.


The first of these, in September of 1866, was led by  Captain Delamere.  This small group found itself vastly outnumbered and it retreated.  The second expedition at the end of December was commanded by Major MacKay.  This detachment was ambushed just before reaching the village of San Pedro.  After a brief fight against over 400  of Canul’s men, the British retreated with five dead and sixteen wounded.  In the confusion they left behind equipment and ammunition, as well as the Civil Commissioner, Mr. Rhys, who had accompanied them.


Naturally, all this military activity worried the people of Orange Walk, especially in light of the British rout.  Appeals were made for more help and reinforcements were sent to the colony from Jamaica, under Lieutenant-Colonel Harley.


In early 1867, Canul captured Indian Church, located on the New River  lagoon.  Several people in Orange Walk expressed a desire to move across the New River for greater protection, but this was discouraged by the local authorities.  Also in 1867, a village militia was raised and drilled and in 1868 a Frontier Police Force was instituted to patrol the border.  These two forces were in addition to the garrison of soldiers of the West India Regiment which had the responsibility of protecting the colony against Indian attacks.



Lieutenant-Colonel Harley set out against the Indians on February 9, 1867 with the augmented British forces.  They attacked and burned the villages of San Pedro Siris and San Jose, which had welcomed and given aid to Canul.  This action seems to have given the colonists much confidence.  During the following two years of relative peace, the “battle fever” died down, and people seemed certain that Canul would not return this way.  The local militia was disbanded, the garrison force   reduced, and the people allowed to turn their attention to logging, farming and milpa cultivation.  Canul did send an occasional note demanding rent for the land on which the colonists lived and worked, but this did not cause the residents of Orange Walk much worry. 



The years  between 1867 and 1872 show a steady decline in preparations for battle and in provisions against attack.  Even as early as April of 1868, not long after the burning of San Pedro, the townspeople seemed not to welcome the large garrison in their midst.  Lieutenant-Colonel Harley complained to his superiors in Belize on April 2nd that the local people refused to supply the soldiers with drinking water and recommended that the soldiers be withdrawn if the situation continued that way.


The same month, a disastrous fire, accidentally started by Commissariat Issnor’s wife while she was cooking, burned down the barracks, the police station, several nearby houses and part of the surrounding stockade.  The barracks had been in poor shape anyway, with a roof that leaked and a dirt floor that flooded when it rained.  After the fire, the soldiers had to camp in tents on the parade grounds and they also camped in the nearby Catholic chapel.  The stockade was not rebuilt but the barracks was.  This new building stood about 30 yards from the river on a hill (in the vicinity of the present B.E.C. building.)


In 1870, taking advantage of the withdrawal of some of the soldiers from Corozal, Canul and his men “captured” that town without a fight.  This and the occasional word that the Indians were passing nearby, showed that he was still active.  During this time also, the British Honduras Company was attempting to remove the Icaiche Indians from their lands.  The Jesuit priests who served the villages of San Pedro and San Jose, tries to help the Indians remain where they had settled but they were unsuccessful.



Orange Walk in 1872 was a small town of about 1,200.  The population was made up of Creole woodcutters and Mestizo small farmers (milperos) or storekeepers, with an upper class of English managers and government officials.  The town centered on the parade grounds near which was located the catholic chapel and the five buildings of the First West India Regiment.  The barracks was twenty by sixty feet in size and had the two ends partitioned off.  It had a thatched roof, “pimento” and stick walls, and a board floor.  The thirty-six men of the garrison lived in this building while the officer and doctor had their quarters on the other side.


To the west of the parade ground, the shops and houses were located without much regard for orderly streets.  On either side of the barracks were also several thatched houses.  (See map).


A word about firearms would add to an understanding of how these battles were fought.  The “Enfield” rifle was in general use.  This was a single-shot muzzle loader.  This means that after each shot, the barrel had to be cleaned out, a new ball cartridge loaded through the mouth of the gun and rammed down.  Then a new percussion cap was placed on the pin where the hammer would touch and the gun was ready to fire.  While reloading, the soldier was defenseless except for his bayonet or knife.


(part one)


September 1st, 1872 began as an ordinary Sunday for the people of Orange Walk.  They spent the early morning hours having breakfast and preparing for the day’s activities.  They had learned to live with rumor of Indian attacks, but on this particular morning, no one expected anything out of the ordinary to happen.  The previous day, however, Marcus Canul and well over 150 of his men had crossed over the Rio Hondo and were this morning headed right for Orange Walk.


Since his last letters demanding rent  had produced little response from either the magistrate at Orange Walk or the Lieutenant-Governor in Belize City, perhaps Canul intended to collect what he felt was his due.  He may have wanted to show the British that he was still a powerful force to be feared and respected.  He may have had in mind the 1864 Mexican claim to the British Colony, or perhaps he wanted to retaliate for the destruction of San Pedro Siris and San Jose.  Whatever his reasons, his plan was clear.


When the peaceful morning was shattered by the fierce screams of the attackers, punctuated by the noise of their rifles, the people of Orange Walk must have realized immediately what was happening.  For the wealthier residents, like Don Pancho Escalante, with strong houses, ammunition and guns, making a stand against them would have been the obvious choice.  But the poorer inhabitants could only get out of the way as quickly as possible.  Most grabbed what they could and took the bush.  Some women and children escaped by paddling dories across the river and then walking through the bush to San Estevan.


The Indians moved in from three directions.  One group, coming in from the west, attacked the houses and stores.  The other two groups converged on the barracks; one taking up a position on the southeast side, behind the piles of logwood and in the houses there, while the other took cover in the houses to the southwest, making especially good use of a stone house that stood on the corner.



One resident, a carpenter named John Haylock, lived in one of the houses to the southeast.  He barely got his wife and little boy out the back door before eight or nine Indians burst in the front door and began firing at the barracks through the spaces in the wall.  Haylock was lucky enough to have hidden himself behind the mosquito netting of his bed.  He tells how the Indians spoke in Maya and in Spanish, which he understood a little, indicating that Corozal was next.  As he lay hidden, the balls fired by the soldiers came through the walls and even struck close enough to him to throw dirt in his face.


The only warning the soldiers had was the sound of lead balls rattling against the walls of their barracks.  Lieutenant Graham Smith and Staff Assistant Surgeon Edge were taking their Sunday morning baths at the time in the Officer’s Quarters to the west of the barracks.  They barely had time to run to the barracks and were fired at on the way.  The lieutenant had pulled on his trousers, but Doctor Edge was “in a state of nudity”.


The lieutenant reported, “at about 8 A.M. on September 1st, I was bathing when I heard the report of a gun and the whiz of a bullet along the road running past the south end of the barracks room.  I looked out the door of my house facing the barracks and saw the corporal, of the old guard, which had just been relieved, running towards me.  He said, ‘ The Indians have come. ‘  I repeated this to Doctor Edge, who was living in the same quarters with me, then put on my trousers and ran across to the barrack room and got the men under arms as quickly as possible.”



The only soldiers with ammunition at that point were those on guard duty.  The rest of the ammunition was in the portable magazine in the guard-room.  Unfortunately, in his haste, the lieutenant had forgotten the key to this chest, so he and Sergeant Edward Belizario had to brave the enemy gunfire to run across to his house to get it.  It was something of a miracle that both of them arrived back at the barracks unscathed.


Nor was this their only problem.  The guard-room could not be entered without going outside.  Sergeant Belizario volunteered once again to go out and to try  to bring the magazine around.  He managed to drag the heavy box about halfway back, but he could not get it any further.  He then had to open the box where it was and pass the ammunition bags over the wall to the men inside, all while being shot at by the Indians.  Even though the magazine was hit many times ( it was afterwards described as being “starred with white splashed of leaden bullets”) he reaches safety without a scratch on him.


The barracks had not been constructed for use as a fort.  The enemy bullets came right through the walls.  The soldiers had to use their iron bedsteads for additional protection inside.  Even so, fully one third were wounded during the battle and one man was hit four times.  Afterwards over 300 bullet holes were counted in the walls and in some places even the thatch had been shot away.



Once the soldiers were armed and  the battle under way, the lieutenant battle under way, the lieutenant took up a rifle and began firing out the door on the western side.  Beside him stood Private Robert Lynch.  Within minutes both had been hit; the lieutenant receiving a serious wound in his left side and the private falling dead.  Although Smith continued in command as long as he could, he eventually had to hand it over to Sergeant Belizario and Doctor Edge.  (The latter was a non-combatant, but was the only other officer and Englishman in the detachment.)


Private George Bidwell was the only soldier who had not been able to reach the barracks before the siege began.  He had just been assigned to duty at the stores shed and fought from this position until the Indians took over the buildings.  He then used his bayonet on one of them and made a run for Escalante’s yard.  From there he fired at the Indians until his ammunition ran out.  He informed Don Pancho that he was going across to the barracks for more and was fatally shot on the way.  Driving off the Indians, but their elation was tempered by the sight of the burned and looted houses and stores, and the number of dead and wounded.  Then too they had no way of knowing if or when the Indians would return.  The next day, in fact, the rumor was spread that the Indians  were on their way back.  The people were ready for them this time, but the rumor proved false.


A message for help was sent to Belize, but it took two days for it to reach there.  When it came, the Lieutenant-Governor, William Wellington Cairns directed the commander of the First West India Regiment, Major Johnston, “to proceed without loss of time to Orange Walk where the Indians are reported to have attacked the garrison, captured the Magistrate, and set fire to the houses.”  He went on to declare martial law in the Northern District and to direct that any Icaiche found on British territory be treated  as the Queen’s enemies.  He sent his launch with a detachment of 20 men under Captain F. White which arrived in Orange Walk at midnight on the 4th of September, Major Johnston arrived the next day with another detachment of 53 officers and men, but the Indians had long since crossed back into Mexican territory.



The conduct of the soldiers during the battle received high praise from the residents and the military and governmental authorities.  Lt. Smith, Dr. Edge, and Lance Corporals Spencer and Stirling were all promoted as a result of their valor.  Sgt. Belizario was given a distinguished conduct medal and several of the Privates were highly commended.


One of the residents wrote of them, “I have nothing to say but what rebounds to their credit … as British Soldier; and if medals and crosses were distributed among the dusky warriors… all that I can say is that every one of the brave fellows…would be entitled to a medal at least.”  9.  THE FORTS


In the years following the battle with Canul, despite the news of his death and the declarations of peace made by his successors, the chief concern of the people of Orange Walk was protection from Indian attack.  Within four years, Orange Walk had been fortified by two forts. These were built outside what was then the limits of the village.  They were named after men who had served as Lieutenant-Governors during this period. (Major Robert Mundy from 1874 to 1876 and William Wellington Cairns from 1870 to 1874)


Fort Mundy was completed two years after the battle, in 1874.  Although built to overlook the river, this not an actual fort like Fort Cairns.  It was a simple wood and masonry fence erected to protect the goal, police station and courthouse.  It was under the command of the Police Force.


The old courthouse, shown on the map of 1887, served well up into this century when the new one  was built.  It had living quarters for the magistrate upstairs, and the courtroom downstairs.


In 1878, Fort Mundy was very nearly lost to fire.  The area around the fort had not been kept clear and the houses had been built quite close by.  The “ready and able aid” of the West India Regiment under Captain Hill saved  the fort.  The Lieutenant-Governor at that time, Sir Fredrick P. Barlee, sent these men his thanks for their bravery and a fifty dollar reward.  The survey map of 1888 shows the lands within a 150 foot radius of the fort having been purchased from residents of Orange Walk (including F. Escalante, E. Cervantes, and Eugenia Gonzalez) by “Barlee”.



The Police Force that manned this fort numbered 17 men in 1882 with one, Robert Wallen, having been on the force since 1863. (When he retired in 1888, he ran the ferry named the “Scoro” which operated across the New River near the fort.


Before 1880, the Sergeant of Police was also the Postmaster.  He complained that the two jobs were too much for one man to handle with the result that a Mr. Smith was appointed that year as the first Postmaster in Orange Walk.


Fort Cairns was completed in 1876, most likely having been built by the men of the West India Regiment.  This was a true fort consisting of a ditch  which enclosed earthworks.   These were surmounted by a stout wooden fence or stockade.  The fort had a single gate on the eastern side which could be closed off by means of drawbridge.  On the southeast and northwest corners were masonry bastions the remains of which can be clearly seen today, as can the remains of the earthworks and moat.  The bastion afforded the defenders crossfire along the walls in the event of an attack.  Around the fort, the perimeter was kept clear even well up into this century to deprive attackers of cover from which to fire upon the soldiers.


The northern part of this perimeter was used as a parade grounds and was faced by three barrack buildings, and St. Peter’s Anglican Church.  This field, now used for football, is still called “the barracks”.  When it was active, Fort Cairns was under the command of the West India Regiment.



10.   THE TOWN

In 1880


In 1881, Orange Walk was established as a separate district from Corozal.  The population had risen rapidly during the years preceding and following the battle, adding a large number of MestizoYucatecan” to the previously Creole and white population.  This appears to have caused some conflicts as the Lieutenant-Governor expressed his concern in 1873 that the two groups learn to live together in peace.  Another letter to the Governor from the police noted that although the Creoles would help the police, the Yucatecans would not.


The growing town of Orange Walk had two bars in 1882, owned by F. Escalante and J.W. Price.  The latter also held a license to make rum.  The license book for that year also lists fourteen horses and one mule.  There were eleven shops including those of Hopun, C. Briceño, W. Smith, and J. Alpuche.


The main occupations of the townspeople during these years were logging, chicle gathering, milpa cultivating ( or subsistence farming) and ranching which included the raising of cattle and of sugar cane for rum.  These occupations tended to be limited to one class of people.  The ranchers, the upper class, were of European ancestry either refugee Spanish, local English or Confederate American.  The merchants were also in this group.  The logging workers were, and still are, largely Creole while the milperos were Mestizo or Indian in background.


One of the biggest employers in the District was the Belize Estate and Produce Company, which had been formed in 1875 from the former British Honduras Company.  This company owned vast tracts of timber land along the New River south from Orange Walk, including the New River Lagoon.




The dramatic influx of Spanish and Mestizo Catholics met with a corresponding increase in the activity of the church in Orange Walk.  Although the people of the New River had been served by various priests on a missionary basis, the first to be sent here as pastor was Father Alphonse Parisi, an Italian Jesuit.  He served Orange Walk from 1875 to 1880.  His church, which had been built sometime before 1872, was a simple thatched structure located near the present Pallotine convent.  Several years before his arrival it had served the soldiers as a barracks.



Father  Parisi started the first school in Orange Walk in 1876 and applied  to the government for aid in running it.  This aid was to be given, the Governor noted when he agreed to assist, as long as a resident, English-speaking priest was in charge.  As a sign of encouragement, the Governor even sent prizes to be distributed to the children.


Father Parisi was replaced by Father Chiarello, S.J. who served   for two years.  Father P.J. Piemonte replaced him and served as pastor until 1886 when he returned to Spain to complete his studies.


Father Pastor Molina was a Yucatecan priest sent north because he could speak Maya.  He served this area from 1885 to 1890 and made visits to the Icaiche tribes across the border.  The Register he kept shows that he traveled almost constantly.


Father Piemonte came back and worked in various parts of Belize until 1897 when he returned to Orange Walk.  In 1898 he supervised the building of a convent and invited the Sisters of the Third Order of Mt. Carmel from New Orleans to live in it and run the school.  Sister Apoline and three other sisters arrived in Orange Walk on February 20, 1899, and opened two schools: a public school with 124 students and a select school with 35.  Due to sickness, the sisters had to return to New Orleans a year after their arrival. They did not return.



The building of the granite monument that stands in front of the present church was also directed by Father Piemonte.  It was brought in pieces by boat and erected to mark the beginning of the Holy Year and of the 20th century.  It bears the names of the devoted citizens of Orange Walk including Mrs. P. Price, the Ayuso and Escalante families and the Hon. J.M. Rosado.  Also there is Father Piemonte’s name.


The turn of the century and the unveiling of the monument was celebrated by people from all over the area at an outdoor Mass at midnight on December 31st, 1899.  There were so many people that it took over   an hour to distribute Communion.  Just six months after this celebration, Father Piemonte died and was buried in Orange Walk with great ceremony and devotion.  He was 47 years old.  He had begun work on the new La Inmaculada Church ( the present ediface) but it was up to his successor, Father Joseph Muffles, to complete this task.


Father  Muffles was assigned to Orange walk in May of 1900, and with the death of Father Piemonte in June, began his twenty-one year pastorship of the Orange  Walk church – an extraordinary record of service.  He was highly regarded by his people and still remembered for his dedication.



Before the construction of the road to Belize City in 1925, the river provided the highway and chief means of communication with the outside world.  Over land travel on horseback was arduous and slow.  River travel was not much faster.  Until the invention of the steam engine, it consisted of boats that had to be paddled  or rowed.


The earliest mention of larger vessels traveling the river is that of the launch sent by the Governor following the battle in 1872.  A boat called the “Pioneer” was in regular service in 1875, and might have been one of the first to run the regular route between Belize City, Corozal and Orange Walk, with stops at the villages along the way.  The “Fredie M.” was carrying mail when it was wrecked near Corozal in 1895.



The turn of the century ushered in the golden age of the northern steamers.  One of the earliest boats of this period was an unnamed one owned by Katherine A. Leitch.  This eighty-foot steam vessel carried ten cabin and forty deck passengers.  The "“Egarton” (a 114 foot, twin-engined vessel) was licensed in 1914 and the “Star” (a two-decker) was licensed in 1916.  The “Star” took a day and a half to reach Belize City from Orange Walk.  In 1920, the “Star” carried fifty men of the Volunteer Guard into Belize for a shooting competition.



Perhaps the best-known vessel was the “Africola” (72 tons) owned by L.G. Chavannes and registered  in 1922.  She left Belize on Mondays at noon for Corozal and the New River, with stops at Pueblo Nuevo, Caledonia and San Estevan.  She returned to Belize on Thursdays.  The First Class fare was $6.50 and the Second Class fare was $3.25.  Freight charges included $0.50 for a bag of rice, $0.10 for a box of candles, $0.40 for a bag of corn, and $0.25 for a block of chicle.


Besides carrying the mail and passengers, the river steamers brought in to Orange Walk; rice, boxes of condensed milk, drums of oil, kegs of  butter, candles, salt, flour, barrels of pork and pigtail, and (carefully packed into barrels) bottles of Chavannes Lemonade; the real “Afri-Kola” for which the boat was named.  It carried back to the City: chicle in blocks (each stamped with the owner’s initials) corn in sacks, green avocados and ripe pineapples, oranges, bananas, and watermelons from San Estevan.  From the mill of J.W. Price came brown sugar in 100 pound sacks.  From Caledonia came pigs, alligator skins, and tobacco leaves bound into bundles.  And from the Gonzalez distillery came fifteen and twenty-five gallons casks of “Taste-Tells” rum.  With the construction of the road to the City in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, it was only a matter of a few years before the slow-moving steamers were replaced by trucks.  The “Chapulin” was the last steamer in regular service.  It was owned by R.S. Turton and registered in 1923.  It carried six First Class or cabin passengers and twenty Second Class or deck passengers.  The “Chapulin” made its final voyage in 1939 under Captain Felipe Magaña.


Spectacular scenes brightened up the years between 1900 and 1939, not the least of which was the destruction by fire of the “City of Belize” while it was tied up at the wharf in Orange Walk in 1911 or 1912.  The "E.M.L.” was a smaller boat, which figured heavily in the history of the country as the cause of the loss of a Catholic Bishop.  The “E.M.L.” was on its way to Orange Walk on April 10, 1923, with Bishop Hopkins and three Pallotine sisters when it sank while nearing the Bay of Corozal.  He is said to have spent his last moments seeing that the women and children got what life jackets there were on board.  The Bishop and two of the sisters were drowned.


Long time residents mention two other boats as traveling to Belize from Orange Walk on a regular basis: the “Florin” and a boat called the “L.G.C.”  (or L.A.C.)


Orange Walk was also the terminal for another fleet of boats – those operated by the Belize Estate and Produce Company in its logging operations.  Two of the earlier company boats were the paddle wheeled steamer “Don Felipe” of 24 tons (registered in 1890) and the “Alpha” a stern paddle-wheeler in service about the same time.


The “Ella” was a motor schooner of 59 tons, registered in 1903 by the Belize Estate and Produce Company, which later sold it to the Escalante family of Orange Walk.  It was used to haul out logs and after it had outlived its usefulness, it was driven up a creek in the vicinity of Trial Farm and burned.


Though the New River still serves as a highway for the rafts of logs, and for the barges of sugar and molasses produced at Tower Hill, the time when it was the sole link with the rest of the world has long passed and the northern steamer has become the stuff of history.






Following is a partial list of references for this book.  Published articles, books, archival materials, and Survey Department maps are listed, however, I have made no attempt to list unpublished materials or the results of my own interviews and investigations.


            Note:  N.S. stands for the BISRA publication “BELIZEAN STUDIES” once called “NATIONAL STUDIES”




Archival materials: various letters and reports from Orange Walk 1800 to 1872.

Licenses 2120 (b) 275, 278, 233, 236.

Police Force correspondence (fol. 337)

Fort Mundy fire R 120(a) fol. 207

Frontier Guard R 119 (a) Fol. 156



Blue Book publication for 1858

Bradley, Leo. “The Last Fight” N.S. 1973

BRUKDOWN Magazine Special History editions Number 6/7

            (1979) Number 8 (1978)

Buhler, R.O. “The Icaiche of BelizeN.S. 1975


            BELIZE, BISRA, 1976.


Cairns, W.W. letters in Archives (vol. 108)


Edge, J. Dallas, M.D. (reports in Archives)


            REGIMENT, Chapman & Hall, London, 1885.

Haylock, John. (report  in Archives)

Hulse, Gilbert R. “A History of Orange Walk  N.S. Vol 2, #2


Nievens, Mary B. “El Pozito; A late Classic Site” N.S. Vol 3

            #3 1975

Price, J.W. (report in Archives)

Quirarte, Jacinto. “Wall Paintings at Santa Rita” N.S. Vol 3,

            #4 1975


            Stanford U. Press, 1967.


            EMPIRE, Time-Life Books


Survey Department: Sketch Plan of Orange Walk 1887

            Map of Fort Mundy c. 1888

            Map of Orange Walk (undated)

Thompson, J.E. THE MAYA OF BELIZE 1972

Commons Island Community History Visitor Center Goods & Services
Belize Search Messages Belize News