Among the Pueblos
I USED to think Fernandina was the sleepiest place in the world, but that was before I hadseen Santa Fé. The drowsy old town, lying in a sandy valley inclosed on three sides by mountain walls, is built of adobes laid in one-story houses, and resembles an extensive brick-yard, with scattered sunburnt kilns ready for the fire. The approach in midwinter, when snow, deep on the mountains, rests in ragged patches on the red soil of New Mexico, is to the last degree disheartening to the traveler entering narrow streets winch appear mere lanes. Yet, dirty and unkept, swarming with hungry dogs, it has the charm of foreign flavor, and, like San Antonio, retains some portion of the grace which long lingers about, if indeed it ever forsakes, the spot where Spain has held rule for centuries, and the soft syllables of the Spanish tongue are yet heard.
It was a primeval stronghold before the Spanish conquest, and a town of some importance to the white race when Pennsylvania was a wilderness, and the first Dutch governor was slowly drilling the Knickerbocker ancestry in the difficult evolution of marching round the town pump. Once the capital and centre of the Pueblo kingdom, it is rich in historic interest, and the archives of the Territory, kept, or rather neglected, in the leaky old Palacio del Gobernador, where I write, hold treasure well worth the seeking of student and antiquary. The building itself has a history full of pathos and stirring incident as the ancient fort of St. Augustine, and is older than that venerable pile. It had been the palace of the Pueblos immemorially before the holy name Santa Fé was given in baptism of blood by the Spanish conquerors ; palace of the Mexicans after they broke away from the crown; and palace ever since its occupation by El Gringo. In the stormy scenes of the seventeenth century it withstood several sieges ; was repeatedly lost and won, as the white man or the red held the victory. Who shall say how many and how dark the crimes hidden within these dreary earthen walls ?
Hawthorne, in a strain of tender gayety, laments the lack of the poetic element in our dear native land, where there is no shadow, no mystery, no antiquity, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but commonplace prosperity in broad and simple daylight. Here is every requisite of romance, — the enchantment of distance, the charm of the unknown, — and, in shadowy mists of more than three hundred years, imagination may flower out in fancies rich and strange. Many a picturesque and gloomy wrong is recorded in moldy chronicles, of the fireside tragedies enacted when a peaceful, simple people were driven from their homes by the Spaniard, made ferocious by his greed of gold and conquest; and the cross was planted, and sweet hymns to Mary and her Son were chanted on hearths slippery with the blood of men guilty only of the sin of defending them.
Four hundred years ago the Pueblo Indians were freeholders of the vast unmapped domain lying between the Rio Pecos and the Gila, and their separate communities, dense and self-supporting, were dotted over fertile valleys of Utah and Colorado, and stretched as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico. Bounded by rigid conservatism as a wall, in all these ages they have undergone slight change by contact with the white race, and are yet a peculiar people, distinct from the other aboriginal tribes of this continent as the Jews are from the other races in Christendom. The story of these least known citizens of the United States takes us back to the days of Charles V. and the “ spacious times of great Elizabeth.”
About the year 1528 an exploring expedition set out, by order of the king of Spain, from San Domingo to invade Florida, a name then loosely given to the wide area between the bay of Fernandina and the Mississippi River. It was commanded by Pamphilo de Narvaez ; the same, it will be remembered, who had been sent by the jealous governor of Cuba to capture Cortez, and who, after having declared him an outlaw, was himself easily defeated. His troops deserted to the victorious banner, and when brought before the man he had promised to arrest Narvaez said, “ Esteem yourself fortunate, Señor Cortez, that you have taken me prisoner.” The conqueror replied, with proud humility and with truth, “It is the least of the things I have done in Mexico.”
This anecdote illustrates the haughty and defiant spirit of the general who sailed for battle gayly as to a regatta, with a fleet of five vessels and about six hundred men, of whom eighty were mounted. He carried blood-hounds to track natives, chains and branding-irons for captives; was clothed with full powers to kill, burn, plunder, enslave ; and was appointed governor over all the country he might reduce to possession.
The leader and his command perished by shipwreck and disasters, all but four. Among the survivors was one Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, treasurer for the king and high sheriff, wdio is described in the annals of that period as having the most beautiful and noble figure of the conquerors of the New World; and in the best days of chivalry his valor on the battle-field, his resolution in danger, his constancy and resignation in hardship, won for him the proud title “ Illustrious Warrior.” Ten years he, with three companions, rambled to and fro between the Atlantic and Gulf of California. The plain statement of their privations and miseries must of necessity be filled with marvels; that of Cabeza de Vaca, duly attested and sworn to, is weakened by wild exaggerations, and the Relation of this Western Ulysses is touched with high colorings and embellished with fantastic fables equal to the moving accidents by flood and field of the heroic king of Ithaca. He tells of famishing with hunger till they devoured dogs with relish ; of marching “ without water and without way ” among savages of giant stature, dressed in robes, “ with wrought ties of lion skin, making a brave show, — the women dressed in wool that grows on trees ; ”1 of meeting cyclopean tribes, who had the sight of but one eye ; of being enslaved and going naked, — “ as we were unaccustomed to being so, twice a year we cast our skin, like serpents; ” of his escape, and, after living six years with friendly Indians, of being again made captive by barbarians, who amused themselves by pulling out his beard and beating him cruelly; of living on the strange fruits of mezquit and prickly-pear ; of mosquitoes, whose bite made men appear to have “ the plagues of holy Lazarus ; ” of herds of wonderful cows, with hair an inch thick, frizzled and resembling wool, roaming over boundless plains.
Holding his course northwest, he came to a people “ with fixed habitations of great size, made of earth, along a river which runs between two ridges ; ” and here we have the earliest record of Pueblo or Town Indians, so named as distinguished from nomads or hunting tribes, dwelling in lodges of buffalo skin and boughs. It is difficult to trace his course along the nameless rivers of Texas; he must have asceuded the Red River, and then struck across to the Canadian, which runs for miles through a deep cañon, in which are yet seen extensive ruins of ancient cities. Undoubtedly he was then among the Pueblo Indians, in the northwestern part of New Mexico. He described them as an intelligent race, with fine persons, possessing great strength, and gave them the name “ Cow Nation,” because of the immense number of buffaloes killed in their country and along the river for fifty leagues. The region was very populous, and throughout were signs of a better civilization. The women were beter treated and better clad ; “ they had shawls of cotton ;2 their dress was a skirt of cotton that came to the knees, and skirts of dressed deer-skins to the ground, opened in front and fastened with leather straps. They washed their clothes with a certain soapy root which cleansed them well.3 They also wore shoes.” This is the first account of the natives of that country wearing covering on their feet, — doubtless the moccasins still worn by them.
The gentle savages hailed the white men as children of the sun, and, in adoration, brought their blind to have their eyes opened, their sick that, by the laying on of hands, they might be healed. Mothers brought little children for blessings, and many humbly sought but to touch their garments, believing virtue would pass out of them. The rude hospitality was freely accepted ; the sons of the morning feasted on venison, pumpkins, maize bread, the fruit of the prickly-pear, and, refreshed by the banquet, made their worshipers understand that they too were suffering with a disease of the heart, which nothing but gold and precious stones could cure. The Pueblos were then as now a race depending on agriculture rather than the chase, and were in distress because rain had not fallen in two years, and all the corn they had planted had been eaten by moles. They were afraid to plant again until it rained, lest they should lose the little seed left, and begged the fair gods “ to tell the sky to rain ; ” which the celestial visitants obligingly did, and, in answer to the prayers of the red men, breathed on their buffalo skins and bestowed a farewell blessing upon them at parting.
They again pushed westward in search of riches, always further on, crossed a portion of the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain, and traveled “for a hundred leagues through a thickly settled country, with towns of earth abounding in maize and beans.” Hares were very numerous. When one was started the Indians would attack him with clubs, driving him from one to another till be was killed or captured.4
Everywhere they found order, thrift, friendly welcome. The Indians gave Cabeza de Vaca fine turquoises, buffalo robes, or, as he calls them, “ blankets of cow skins,” and fine emeralds made into arrow-heads, very precious, held sacred, and used only in dances and celebrations. They said these jewels had been received in exchange for bunches of plumes and the bright feathers of parrots ; they were brought a long distance from lofty mountains in the north, where were crowded cities of very large and strong houses.5
It appears from his Relacion that Cabeza de Vaca passed over the entire Territory of New Mexico, went down the Gila to a point near its mouth, struck across to the river San Miguel, thence to Culiacan, and so on to Mexico, where the four wanderers, worn by hardship, gaunt and spectral by famine, were received with distinction by the viceroy, Mendoza, and Cortez, marquis of the valley.
The venturesome hero was summoned to Valladolid to appear before Charles V., and hastened to lay at the feet of his imperial master the gathered spoil which cost ten years of life: the hide of a bison, a few valueless stones resembling emerald, and a handful of worthless turquoises.
Before he set sail for Spain, Cabeza de Vaca told his marvelous story to sympathetic and eager listeners ; and, besides, airy rumors had already floated down the valley of Anahuac of a land toward the north where seven high-walled cities, “ the Seven Cities of Cibola,” were defended by impregnable outworks. They were least among the provinces, where were countless greater cities of houses built with numerous stories, “lighted by jewels,” and containing treasure stored away in secret rooms rich as Atahualpa’s ransom. Various rovers gave accounts of natives clad in curious raiment, richer and softer than Utrecht velvet, who wore priceless gems, whole ropes and chains of turquoises, in ignorance of their actual value. One of these stragglers, an Indian, reported that the houses “ of many lofts ” were made of lime and stone; he had seen them “ with these eyes.” The gates and smaller pillars of the principal ones were of turquoise, and there princes were served by beautiful girls, whom they enslaved; and their spear-heads, drinking - cups, and ornamental vessels were of pure gold. There were wondrous tales, too, of opal mountains,6 lifted high in an atmosphere of such amazing clearness that they could be seen at vast distances ; of valleys glittering with garnets and beryls ; of clear streams of water flowing over silver sands; of strange flora ; of the shaggy buffalo; of the fearful serpent with castanets in its tail; 7 of a bird like the peacock ;8 and a Llano broad as the great desert of Africa, over which hovered a mirage more dazzling than the Fata Morgana, more delusive than the spectre of the Brocken.
A friar named Niza, with one of the companions of Cabeza de Vaca, went out “ to explore the country ” three hundred leagues away, to a city they called Cibola,9 clearly identified as old Zuni, on a river of the same name, one hundred and eighty miles northwest of Santa Fé. This flighty reporter testified to Mendoza that he had been in the cities of Cibola, and had seen the turquoise columns and soft, feathery cloaks of those who dwelt in king’s palaces. Their houses were made of stone, several stories high with flat roofs, arranged in good order; they possessed many emeralds and precious stones, but valued turquoises above all others. They had vessels of gold and silver more abundant than in Peru.
“ Following as the Holy Ghost did lead,” he ascended a mountain, from which he surveyed the promised land with a speculator’s eyes; then, with the help of friendly Indians, he raised a heap of stones, set up a cross, the symbol of taking possession, and under the text, “ The heathen are given as an inheritance,” named the province “ El Nuevo Regno de San Francisco” (the New Kingdom of St. Francis) ; and from that day to this San Francisco has been the patron saint of New Mexico.
In our prosaic age of doubt and question it is hard to understand the faith with which sane men trusted these bold falsehoods. They were mad with the lust of gold and passion for adventure; and valiant cavaliers who had won renown in the battles of the Moor among the mountains of Andalusia, and had seen the silver cross of Ferdinand raised above the red towers of the Alhambra, now turned their brave swords against the feeble natives of the New World. Less than half a century had gone by since the discovery of America; the conquests of Pizarro and Cortez were fresh in men’s minds, and an expedition containing the enchanting quality called hazard was soon organized. Illustrious noblemen sold their vineyards and mortgaged their estates to fit the adventurers out, assured they would never need more gold than they would bring back from the true El Dorado. The young men saw visions; the old men dreamed dreams; volunteers flocked to the familiar standards; and an army was soon ready “ to discover and subdue to the crown of Spain the Seven Cities of Cibola.”
Francisco Vasquez Coronado, who left a lovely young wife and great wealth to lead the romantic enterprise, was proclaimed captain-general; and Castenada, historian of the campaign, writes, “ I doubt whether there has ever been collected in the Indies so brilliant a troop.” The whole force numbered fifteen hundred men and one thousand horses; sheep and cows were driven along to supply the new settlements in fairy-land. The army mustered in Compostella, under no shadow darker than the wavy folds of the royal banner, and one fair spring morning, the day after Easter, 1540, marched out in armor burnished high, with roll of drums, the joyful appeal of bugles, and all the pomp and circumstance the old Spaniard loved so well. The proud cavaliers, “ very gallant in silk upon silk,” kindled with enthusiasm and answered with loud shouts the cheers of the people who thronged the housetops. The viceroy led the army two days on the march, exhorted the soldiers to obedience and discipline, and returned to await reports.
When the mind is prepared for wonders the wonderful is sure to appear, and time fails to tell what prodigies the highborn gentlemen beheld: the Indians of monstrous size, so tall the tallest Spaniard could reach no higher than their breasts; a unicorn, which escaped their chase. “ His horn, found in a deep ravine, was a fathom and a half in length ; the base was thick as one’s thigh; it resembled in shape a goat’s horn, and was a curious thing.” They were the first white men who looked down the gloomy cañon of the Colorado to the black rushing river, walled by sheer precipices fifteen hundred feet high. Two men tried to descend its steep sides. They climbed down perhaps a quarter of the way, when they were stopped by a rock which seemed from above no greater than a man, but which in reality was higher than the top of the cathedral tower at Sevilla. They passed places where “ the earth trembled like a drum, and ashes boiled in a manner truly infernal; ” watched magnetic stones roll together of their own accord; and suffered under a storm of hail-stones, “ large as porringers,” which indented their helmets, wounded the men, broke their dishes, and covered the ground to the depth of a foot and a half with ice-balls ; and the wind raised the horses off their feet, and dashed them against the sides of the ravine. They fought many tribes of Indians, and were relieved to meet none who were man-eaters and none anthropophagi.10
The route of Coronado is traced with tolerable clearness up the Colorado to the Gila; up the Gila to the Casa Grande, called Chichiticale, or Red House, standing more than three centuries ago as it does now, in a mezquit jungle on the edge of the desert; “ and,” writes his secretary, “ our general was above all distressed at finding this Chichiticale, of which so much had been said, dwindled down to one mud house, in ruins and roofless, but which seemed to have been fortified.” With true Spanish philosophy, he covered his disappointment, and gave the place an alluring mystery, with the idea that “ this house, built of red earth, was the work of a civilized people come from a distance.” And into the distance he went, through Arizona, the lower border of Colorado, and turned southwest to where Santa Fé now stands, then the central stronghold of the Pueblo empire. They fought and marched, destroyed villages, leveled the poor temples of the heathen, planted the cross, and sang thanksgiving hymns over innumerable souls to be saved, — all very well as far as it went; but the mud-built pueblos yielded neither gold nor precious metals.
Acoma, fifty miles east of Zuni, is thus accurately described by Castenada, under the name of Acuco : “ It is a very strong place, built upon a rock very high and on three sides perpendicular. The inhabitants are great brigands, and much dreaded by all the province. The only means of reaching the top is by ascending a staircase cut in solid rock: the first flight of steps numbered two hundred, which could only be ascended with difficulty ; when a second flight of one hundred more followed, narrower and more difficult than the first. When surmounted, there remained about twelve more at the top, which could only be ascended by putting the hands and feet in holes cut in the rock. There was space on this summit to store a great quantity of provisions, and to build large cisterns.” 11
The chiefs told Coronado that their towns were older than the memory of seven generations. They were all built on the same plan, in blocks shaped like a parallelogram, and were from two to four stories high, with terraces receding from the outside. The lower story, without openings, was entered from above by ladders, which were pulled up, and secured them against Indian warfare. There was no interior communication between the stories ; the ascent outside was made from one terrace to another. The houses were of sun-dried bricks, and for plaster they used a mixture of ashes, earth, and coal. Every village had from one to seven estufas, built partly under-ground, walled over the top with flat roofs, and used for political and religious purposes. As in certain other mystic lodges which date back to the days of King Solomon, women were not admitted. All matters of importance were there discussed ; there the consecrated fires were kept burning, and were never allowed to go out. The women wore on their shoulders a sort of mantle, which they fastened round the neck, passing it under the right arm, and skirts of cotton, “ They also,” writes Castenada, “ make garments of skins very well dressed, and trick off the hair behind the ears in the shape of a wheel, which resembles the handle of a cup.” They wore pearls on their heads and necklaces of shells. Everywhere were plenty of glazed pottery and vases of curious form and workmanship, reminding the Spaniards of the jars of Guadarrama in old Spain.
The gallant freebooters traversed deserts, swam rivers, scaled mountains, in a three years’ chase after visionary splendors ; but the oval valley and the vanishing cities, with their sunny turquoise gates and jeweled colonnades, faded into the common light of day. Though the adventurers failed in their mocking “ quest of great and exceeding riches,” they explored and added to the Spanish crown, by right of occupation, an area twelve times as large as the State of Ohio.
1 It is the same to-day that it was in 1540, — a place of great strength; and the Mesa can be ascended only by the artificial road. The houses on top are of adobes, one and two stories in height. Water is brought from the valley below by the women in jars of earthenware, which they balance on their heads with wonderful ease as they ascend the high steps and ladders. The present population numbers not over four hundred souls.
I dwell on these earliest records because it is the habit of travelers visiting ruins, which in the dry, dewless air of New Mexico are almost imperishable, to ascribe them to an extinct race and lost civilization, superior to any now extant here. They muse over Aztec glories faded and temples fallen in the spirit of the immortal antiquary, who saw in a ditch “ slightly marked ” a Roman wall, surrounding the stately and crowded prætorium, with its all-conquering standards bearing the great name of Cæsar.
These edifices are not mysterious except to fevered fancies, and their tenants were not divers nations, but clans, tribes of one blood, and civilized only as compared with the savages surrounding them,— the tameless Apache, the brutish Ute, the degraded Navajo, against whose attacks they devised their system of defense, so highly extolled by rambling Bohemians, and threw up “ impregnable works,” which are only low embankments wide enough for the posting of sentinels.
I have been through many abandoned and inhabited pueblos, examining them with the utmost care, and can discover no essential in which they differ from one another or from those of Castenada’s time. In each one there is the terraced wall; the vault-like lower story, used as a granary, without openings, and entered from above by ladders; the small upper rooms, with tiny windows of selenite and mica ; the same round oven; the glazed pottery; the circular estufa with its undying fire; acequias for irrigation, not built like Roman aqueducts, but mere ditches and canals ; and from the sameness of the remains I infer that no important facts are to reward the search of dreaming pilgrim or patient student.
Each village had its peculiar dialect, and chose its own governor. The report of the Rev. John Menaul, of the Laguna Mission, March 1, 1879, gives an abstract of their laws, identical with those framed by " the council of old men,” the dusky senators described by Castenada; and then, as now, the governor’s orders were proclaimed from the top of the estufa, every morning, by the town-crier.
After the invasion of Coronado, New Granada, as it was then called, was crossed by padres, vagabonds of various grades, and later by armies of subjugation. The same tale is told: how the peace-loving Pueblo was found, as his descendants are, cultivating fields along the rivers or near some unfailing spring, living in community houses wonderfully alike, and keeping alive the sacred fire under laws which like those of the Medes and Persians, change not. The fair strangers were at first graciously welcomed and feasted ; but the red man soon learned that the children of the sun, before whom they knelt, whose marchworn feet they kissed in adoration, were come merely for robbery and spoil. The Indian was condemned not only to give up his scanty possessions and leave the warm precincts of the cheerful day to work in dismal mines, but he must put out the holy flame, and worship the God of his pitiless master. Conversion was ever a main object of the zealous conquistador, and Vargas, one of the early Spanish governors, applying for troops to carry on the crusade, writes,— and his record still stands, — “ You might as well try to convert Jews without the Inquisition as Indians without soldiers.” The first revolt (1640), while Arguello was governor of the province, grew out of the whipping and hanging of forty Pueblos, who refused to give up their own religion and accept the holy Catholic faith.
The Pueblos constantly rebelled, and escaped to the lair of the mountain lion, the den of the grizzly and cinnamon bear, the hole of the fox and coyote. They sought shelter from the avarice and bigotry of their Christian persecutors in the steeps of distant cañons, and found where to lay their head in the hollows of inaccessible rocks; and this brings us to the cliff houses, latterly the subject of confused exaggeration and absurd conjecture.
It is well known that the first foreign invasions were by far the most merciless, and it appears reasonable that hunted natives made a hiding-place in these fastnesses ; that there they allied themselves with the Navajo, who, from a remote period, had dwelt in the northern plains, beat back the enemy, and, as Spanish rigor relaxed, returned from exile to their fields and adobe houses as before. Mud walls had been proof against arrow, spear, and battle-axe, but could not withstand the finer arms of the fairer race. The cave or cliff dwellings of Utah, Colorado, and Arizona are exact copies of the community tenements of Southern and Moquis pueblos, varying with situation and quality of material used. The architecture of these human nests and eyries — in some places seven hundred and a thousand feet from the bottom of the cañon—has been magnified out of all bounds. Eager explorers, hurried away by imagination, have even compared the civilization which produced them with
The grandeur that was Rome.”
I found nothing in them to warrant such flights of fancy, and, like all castles in air, they lessen wofully at a near view. Those along the Rio Mancos and Du Chelly are mere pigeon-holes in the sides of canons, roofed by projecting ledges of rock. The walls, six or eight inches thick, are built of flat brook stones hacked on the edge with stone hatchets, or rather hammers, to square angles; in some cases they are laid in mud mortar and finished with mud plaster, troweled Pueblo fashion, with the bare hand. Certainly, mortal never fled to these high perches from choice, or failed to desert them as soon as the danger passed. Whether we believe that the hunters were Christian or heathen, we must ad mit that this was a last refuge for the hunted, made desperate by terror. The masonry is smoothed, so none but the sharpest eyes can notice the difference between it and the rock itself, and in no instance is there trace of chimney or fire-place.12 The whole idea of the work is concealment.
One might well ask, with sight-seeing Niza strolling through fabled Cibola, “ if the men of that country had wings by which to reach these high lofts.” Unfortunately for the romancers, “ they showed him a well - made ladder, and said they ascended by this means.” And well made ladders the cliff dwellers had, —steps cut in the living rock of the mountain, and scaling-ladders stout and light.
The solitary watch-towers along the McElmo, Colorado, and wide-spread relics of cities in the cañon of the Hovenwap, Utah, near the old Spanish trail through the mountains from Santa Fé to Salt Lake, are built on the same general plan, and divided into snug cells and peep-holes, averaging six by eight feet. Perpendiculars are regarded ; stones dressed to uniform size are laid in mud mortar. A distinguishing feature is in the round corners, one at least appearing in nearly every little house. “ Most peculiar, however, is the dressing of the walls of the upper and lower front rooms, both being plastered with a thin layer of firm adobe cement of about the eighth of an inch in thickness, and colored a deep maroon red, with a dingy white band eight inches in breadth running around floor, sides, and ceiling,” 13 — ideas of improvement probably derived from their enlightened conquerors. There is a story that a hatchet found here would cut cold steel, but I have not been able to learn its origin or trace it to any reliable authority.
In every room entered was the unfailing mark of the Pueblo, pottery glazed and streaked, as manufactured by no other tribe of Indians, and invariably reduced to fragments, either through superstition or to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy. No entire vase or jar has appeared among the masses strewed from one end to the other of their ancient dominion. I have picked up quantities of this pottery near old towns, where it covers the ground like broken pavement, but have not seen one piece four inches square.
After their first experiments the Spaniards saw the policy of conciliating a confederation so numerous and powerful as the Pueblos, and as early as the time of Philip II. mountains, pastures, and waters were declared common to both races; ordinances were issued granting them lands for agriculture, but the title in no instance was of higher grade than possession. The fee simple remained in the crown of Spain, then in the government of Mexico by virtue of her independence, and under the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, February 2, 1848, passed to the United States.
When General Kearney took possession of the country the Pueblos were among the first to give allegiance to our government, and as allies were invaluable in chasing the barbarous tribes, their old enemies, whom they tracked with the keen scent and swiftness of blood-hounds. They number not less than twenty thousand peaceful, contented citizens, entitled to confidence and respect, and by decree of the supreme court (1871) they became legal voters.
Without written language, or so much as the lowest form of picture-writing, they usually speak a little Spanish, enough for purposes of trade, and, less stolid and unbending than the nomads, in manner are extremely gentle and friendly. Their quaint primitive customs, curious myths, and legends afford rich material for the poet, and their antiquities open an endless field to the delving archæologist.
Nominally Catholics, they are really only baptized heathen. A race so rigidly conservative must by very nature be true to the ancient ceremonials, and their religion is not the least attractive study offered by this interesting people. Even the dress of the women (oh, happy women !) has remained unchanged, — the same to-day as described by Coronado’s secretary in 1541.
There passes my window at this moment a young Indian girl from Tesuque, a village eight miles north of Santa Fé. Like the beloved one of the Canticles, she is dark but comely, and without sad dle or bridle sits astride her little burro in cool defiance of city prejudice. Always gayly dressed, with ready nod and a quick smile, showing the whitest teeth, we call her Bright Alfarata, in memory of the sweet singer of the blue Juniata; though the interpreter says her true name is Poy-ye, the Rising Moon. Neither of us understands a word of the other’s language, so I beckon to her. She springs to the ground with the supple grace of an antelope, and comes to me, holding out a thin, slender hand, the tint of Florentine bronze, seats herself on the window-sill, and, in the shade of the portal we converse in what young lovers are pleased to call eloquent silence Her donkey will not stray, but lingers patiently about, like the lamb he resembles in face and temper, and nibbles the scant grass which fringes the acequia. I think his mistress must be a lady of high degree, perhaps the cacique’s daughter, she wears such a holiday air, unusual with Indian women, and is so richly adorned with beads of strung periwinkles. She wears loose moccasins, “shoes of silence,” which cannot hide the delicate and shapely outline of her feet, leggins of deer-skin, a skirt reaching below the knee, and a cotton chemise. Her head has no covering but glossy jet-black hair, newly washed with amolé, banged in front, and “ is tricked off behind the ears in the shape of a wheel which resembles the handle of a cup,”—the distinguishing fashion of maidenhood now as it was more than three hundred years ago. Tied by a scarlet cord across her forehead is a pendant of opaline shell, the lining of a muscle shell, doubtless the very ornament called precious pearl and opal which dazzled the eyes and stirred the covetous hearts of the first conquistadores. Our Pueblo belle wraps about her drapery such as Castenada’s maiden never dreamed of, — a flowing mantle which has followed the march of progress. Thrown across the left shoulder and drawn under her bare and beautiful right arm is a handsome red blanket, with the letters U. S. woven in the centre.
One secret cause of the Pueblos' ready adherence to our government is their tradition that,
In the eternal yesterday,”
Montezuma, the brother and equal of God, built the sacred city Pecos, marked the lines of its fortifications, and with his own royal hand kindled the sacred fire in the estufa. Close beside it he planted a tree upside down, with the prophecy that, if his children kept alive the flame till his tree fell, a pale nation, speaking an unknown tongue, should come from the pleasant country where the sun rises, and free them from Spanish rule. He promised the chosen ones that he would return in fullness of time, and then went to the glorious rest prepared for him in his tabernacle the sun.
I have seen the remains of that forsaken city, once a mighty fortress, now desolate with the desolation of Zion. Thorns have come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof. It is a habitation for dragons and a court for owls. The site, admirably chosen for defense, is on a promontory, somewhat in the shape of a foot, which gave a broad lookout to the sentry. In the valley below the waters of the river Pecos flow softly, and park-like intervals fill the spaces toward foot-hills which skirt the everlasting mountain walls. The adobe houses have crumbled to the dust of which they were made, and heaped among their ruins are large blocks of stone, oblong and square, weighing a ton or more, and showing signs of being once laid in mortar.
The outline of the immense estufa, forty feet in diameter, is plainly visible, sunken in the earth and paved with stone; but all trace of the upper story of the council chamber has vanished. On the mesa there is not a tree, not even the dwarf cedar, which strikes its roots in sand and lives almost without water or dew; but, strange to see, across the centre of the estufa lies the trunk of a large pine, several feet in circumference, — an astonishing growth in that sterile soil. The Indian resting in its fragrant shade, listening to the never - ceasing west wind swaying slender leaves that answered to its touch like harp-strings to the harper’s hand, clothed the stately evergreen with loving superstition, which hovers round it even in death; for this is the Montezuma tree, planted when the world was young.
When Pecos was deserted the people went out as Israel from Egypt, leaving not a hoof behind. They destroyed everything that could be of service to an enemy, and the ground is yet covered with scraps of broken pottery marked with their peculiar tracery.
The Oriental Gheber built his temple over deep subterranean fires, and the steady light shone on after altar and shrine were abandoned and forgotten; but the fire-worshipers on the stony mesa at Pecos had a very different work. The only fuel at hand was cedar from the adjacent hills, and, shut in the dark inclosure, filled with pitchy smoke and suffocating gas, it is not strange that death sometimes relieved the watch. When the chiefs, who had seen the kingly friend of the red man, grew old, and the hour came for their departure to their home in the sun, they charged the young men to guard the treasure hidden in the silent chamber. Another generation came and went; prophecy and promise were handed down from age to age, and the Pueblo sentinel, true to his unwritten creed, guarded the consecrated place beside the miracle tree, daily climbed the lonely watch-tower, looked toward the sun-rising, and listened for the coming of the beautiful feet of them that on the mountain top bring glad tidings. Their days of persecution ended, they no longer ate their bread with tears, and a century of prosperous content went by ; then they were shorn of their strength, and their power was broken by inroads of warring nations. The cunning Navajo harried their fields and trampled the ripening maize ; the thieving and tameless Comanche carried off their wives, and sold their children into slavery, and their numbers were so reduced that the warriors were too feeble to attempt a rescue. Hardly enough survived to minister in the holy place; hope wavered, and the mighty name of Montezuma was but a dim, proud memory.
“Yet the devoted watchmen dreamed of a day when he should descend with the
sunlight, crowned, plumed, and anointed, to fill the dingy estufa with a glory like that when the divine presence shook the mercy-seat between the cherubim. The eternal fire flickered, smoldered in embers, but endured through all change and chance, like a potent will; it was the visible shadow of the Invisible One, whose name it is death to utter. Sent by his servant and law-giver, his word was sure ; they would rest on the promise till sun and earth should die.
At last, at last, constant faith and patient vigil had their reward. On the wings of the wind across the snowy Sierras was heard a sound like the rushing of many waters, the loud steps of the promised deliverer. East, toward Santo Domingo, southward from the Rio Grande, there entered Santa Fé an army of men with faces whiter than the conquered Mexican. Their strange, harsh language was heard in the streets ; a foreign flag bearing the colors of the morning, white and red, blue and gold, was unrolled above the crumbling palace of the Pueblos. The prophecy was fulfilled, and at noon that day the magic tree at Pecos fell to the ground.
After the American occupation, the remnant of the tribe in Pecos joined that of Jemez, which speaks the same language. It is said the cacique, or governor, carried with him the Montezuma fire, and in a new estufa, sixty miles from the one hallowed by his gracious presence, the faithful are awaiting the second advent of the beloved prophet, priest, and king, who is to come in glory and establish his throne forever and ever.
Susan E. Wallace.
- The hanging moss, Tillandsia Usneoides.↩
- Made of the fibre of the maguey, or American aloe.↩
- The root of the Yucca aloifolia, a spongy, fibrous mass, containing gelatinous and alkaline matter. It grows in most parts of New Mexico, where it is called amolé, and is used instead of soap for washing.↩
- This is still a favorite sport among the Pueblos. They sally out from their villages, mounted on burros, to the prairies, where rabbits are started from their coverts, when the horsemen chase them, using clubs, which they throw with great precision, like the boomerang of the savage Australian. In this way they catch a great many. It is very exciting, and is carried on amid yells and much good-natured laughter.↩
- In the Navajo country, between the San Juan and Colorado Chiquito, are found quantities of beautiful garnets and a green stone resembling emerald. It abounds in ruins of pueblos capable of holding many thousand souls; in all probability the emeralds presented to De Vaca came from that region.↩
- The name still attaches to a snowy range southwest of Santa Fé.↩
- Indian name for buffalo. New Mexico was known to the early Spaniards as the Buffalo Province.↩
- Castenada’s Narrative covered 147 MS. pages written on paper in characters of the times, and rolled in parchment. It was preserved in the collection of D’Uguina Paris, was translated and published in French by H. T. Campans, in 1838, and now lies before me. It is wholly free from the vice of the commonplace, being tinged with the warm glow which precedes the morning light of history. Wild as the Homeric legends, it serves like them to point the way.↩
- Cañon du Chelly, in Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation, is a passage through a mountain range, twenty-five miles in length, from one hundred to five hundred yards in width, and is perhaps the strongest natural citadel on the earth. There is but one narrow way by which a horse can ascend its height, where a squad of soldiers could defy the cavalry of the world.↩
- Hayden’s Survey, 1874.↩