UNDERFOOT an illimitable wilderness of hot brown sand ; overhead an illimitable wilderness of hot brown sky ; sand and sky fused together at the far horizon ; the great encircling desolation broken only by clumped sagebrush, mesquite, and Spanish bayonet, and by round bare hills ; no limit to it anywhere within sight or within the range of imagination ; over all, dominating earth and sky, the air and the glow, a deep silence, — such is the pitiless New Mexican waste. The eye that looks on it, the mind that contemplates it, is captivated by a spell. “ Neglected and forgotten of God,” he will say who views it as a stranger. The very thought of green pastures and still waters is alien and illusory. Of all strange corners of our strange West, this is the strangest; and it is the chosen and beloved abiding place of the strangest and least comprehensible of all those who make up our national character. It seems a pathless desert. What purpose could be served by beaten ways ? Paths are made by travel and to be traveled ; but here one would as well stop haphazard in any place. Yet there are countless thin, sinuous “trails,” dissecting the immense empire of desolation into principalities and powers of barrenness. One does not find these paths by seeking; he comes upon them unaware and quite by chance. Winding across the dull sand, itself the product of ages of disintegration of the bleak hill ranges, they are marked only by a finer comminution of the sand into yellow dust under the slow grinding of hoofbeats. The trails are as characteristic as the wilderness they traverse and as the people who use them. In its waywardness each says: “ Take your time ; there is no hurry. The present moment is as sacred as any other.”
Choose at will the least promising of all these ancient bypaths. In the burning noontide comes a slow gray burro, meek and patient; his head drooped, his eyes mere glinting peepholes in his outward shagginess, —every line, curve, and movement full of unobtrusive dignity. And this sedate aspect eminently befits his estate, for he is no ordinary beast; he is the bearer of the presiding genius of the desert, — the mestizo, the Greaser, half-blood offspring of the marriage of antiquity with modernity. Time cannot take from him the unmistakable impress of old Spain. But his Spanish appearance is not his dominant characteristic. His skin has been sunbrowned for centuries ; his nose and cheeks are broad ; his lips are thick ; his brows are heavy, sheltering eyes soft, passionate, inscrutable. King in his own natural right, master of a blessed content, he is the strange progeny of parents who waged warfare against each other, and all but perished in the strife. They gave him no heritage save a blending of their own warring passions. Anomalous as he is, he is one of the few distinct types in our national life whose origin is fully known to us.
It is an old story, but one whose charm warrants its repetition, that the Spanish conquerors, having established themselves in Mexico, looked with discontented eyes for new and wider fields for adventure. They had heard fascinating tales of the magnificence of that race which they were to overcome in Mexico. The conquest made, the simple children of the western hemisphere, whose fabled wealth had been a lure and a snare to valor, were found to be poor, primitive folk, dwelling within bare stone and adobe walls which had been reared for protection against the raids of nomadic enemies. But, childlike in many things, they were wise in their love of peace, and were quick to see that it was desire for gold, rather than lust for blood, which had brought the Spaniards. “We have naught to give. Behold, we are oppressed with our poverty. But our neighbors to the northward are rich, strong, and powerful. They dwell in seven cities of gold, decked with gems. In those cities you will find what you seek here in vain. Go, and leave us in peace.” Coronado went with his followers, soldiers and priests and friars. On the way they heard rumors of the might and wealth of those they were to conquer. The zeal of arms was not stronger in the hearts of the soldiers than was the zeal of Christian conversion in the souls of the friars. For, taking one time with another, the Franciscans were not behind their secular brethren in the desire to impress eastern civilization upon this far new west. Sometimes priests and monks were leaders ; sometimes they were mere camp followers of the army ; but they were always present. When, after surmounting hardship and privation, the dauntless little band had made its way through the desert to its goal, again bitter disappointment lay in wait. Glowing tales had been sent to the mother country by the leaders of this foray, — tales of vast achievement of arms and of vaster pillage, big tales to justify these knightly vagabonds in prosecuting war without royal permit. What liars they were ! But despite these gorgeous ancient lies, by little and little we have found out the truth concerning the vanquished natives of Mexico and its outlying provinces.
“ The seven cities of the province of Cibola,” writes Mr. H. O. Ladd, “ were favorably situated in a valley. The most populous was named Macaque. Some of its houses were six and seven stories high; most of them were four stories high, ascended by ladders from terrace to terrace. Coronado reported to Mendoza that the town from which he wrote had about five hundred houses. The people wore cotton mantles, with fur and skins for winter covering, but generally wentnearly naked in summer. They daily received instruction from priests selected from the aged men. The climate was variable, often cold, with occasional rain, and they provided themselves with firewood from cedars growing twelve or fifteen miles distant. They had no fruit trees, but their fields bore excellent grass and maize, which they ground more finely than did the natives of Mexico. The wild beasts of the country were bears, mountain lions, wild sheep and goats, deer and elk of great size, whose skins the people tanned and painted for clothing and ornament, and also embroidered. They were industrious, disposed to peace, and neither given to drunkenness nor cannibalism. They buried their dead with the implements of their occupations. They were fond of music, and sang in unison with those who played on flutes. Their worship, received from tradition, was mostly toward the waters; for by them their corn was made to grow, and their lives were thus preserved. Their women were well treated, and were clad in tunics of cotton and mantles of finely dressed deerskins, passing over the shoulder, fastened at the neck and falling under the other arm. Their hair behind the ear was fashioned like a wheel, and resembled the handle of a cup. Turquoises hung from the ears, and were used as necklaces and girdles. A man had but one wife, and lived single after her death. Their weapons were bows, spears, stone hatchets, and shields of hides. The people of Cibola withdrew their families to the mountains, and were at first unwilling to communicate to Coronado the information he desired concerning the neighboring provinces. They, however, were induced to send messengers to distant towns and invite them to a conference with the strangers. Few responded to the invitation. But the Cibolans declared their willingness to submit to the laws of the Spaniards, and to have their children instructed in their religion.”
Here, then, were the raw materials — Spaniard and Pueblan — from which the Greaser was to be evolved in the course of time.
The apparent mission of the Spanish soldiers in the New Mexican desert was to work devastation. Had the soldiers been alone, it is more than likely that the abiding places of the village Indians would have been razed, and their ruins, with the bodies of the people themselves, left to burial by the wind-blown sands. But, whether by the mercy of Providence or by mere chance, it happened otherwise. The Franciscans were the mediators and intercessors with fate. The soldiers were but craftsmen in arms, not civilizing agents. Spanish soldiers have never civilized anything. It was through the self-sacrifice and devotion of those good brothers that the first thin enamel of European, not to say Christian manners was put upon the character of the Pueblan. The soldiers did not hesitate to pledge anything and everything, even their soldierly honor, to the subdued people, whenever those pledges were deemed expedient ; nor did they hesitate to violate every pledge, when it suited their convenience. But the priests and friars were as nearly honest as it is possible for godly Spaniards to be. According to their light (not a very bright light) they kept faith.
There was another fable to which Coronado listened, — the myth of Quivera. When, after the ignominious failure of his expedition to the northeast, he returned with his little army to Mexico, certain of the priests and lay brothers chose to remain in the new territory, to begin the slow work of conversion and regeneration, — a work which has never been completed. It is impossible to eradicate original sin by legislative enactment ; it is equally impossible to make over a race of pastoral pagans by force of arms or by the arbitrary dicta of professional religionists. The Indians had conceived a strong distrust of the whole conquering race ; they could not discriminate. They had seen how empty of good the heart of a professed Christian could be, and they had suffered by that emptiness. The priests who remained after the departure of their armed allies boldly took big chances. They have had their story told many times. They were dropped neck and heels over the city walls. None the less, it may be, they are entitled to rank as Christian martyrs.
It was not until more than sixty years after Coronado’s withdrawal that the first consistent attempts were made to plant permanent Spanish colonies in New Mexico. In 1598 Oñate entered the territory with a band of colonists, who brought large herds of domestic animals, and came prepared for home-building. With them were a goodly number of the ubiquitous friars. Oñate and his party meant to be friendly with the children of the soil. A conference was held with the several Pueblo tribes, whereat nearly all declared allegiance to the king of Spain. Two months later the first permanent missions were established. But Coronado’s faithless vagabonds had laid too insecure a foundation for the upbuilding of comity. An Indian is slow to forget ; until he has forgotten he cannot forgive. Undying enmity had grown up in the native heart toward the Spaniards. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put the broken confidence together again. Nominally and perforce the Pueblans were subjects of the Spanish throne ; in reality they were still village Indians. Nominally and almost perforce they were good Catholics, — celebrating mass, meeting the money demands of the clergy, and submitting to the rites of Christian baptism ; in reality they were still worshiping the gods of the sun, the wind, and the rain. Doubtless Oñate and his successors in office cherished the belief that their work was going well, and that the free native spirit had been thoroughly subdued and converted; but this submissive aspect was only a little folding of the hands in sleep, merely a cat nap before a fierce awakening. There were eighty-two years of the era of Spanish colonial rule ; then came the uprising in revolt, with uncompromising slaughter or expulsion of the immigrants, — an application of an elemental version of the doctrine of reciprocity. Those who were able fled ; those who could not fly faster than the Pueblans could follow suffered death. Only some Spanish maids and matrons were held as captives, to become wives, and in due time mothers.
But Spanish domination was soon regained, and it endured until the time of Iturbide and the establishment of the Mexican Confederation. Then again Spanish blood was at a discount. Church and state together passed into control of the unregenerate half-breeds ; and there followed a total eclipse of the pale light which had but half illumined the moral sky. Then, in sharp contrast, followed American annexation, with Bishop Lamy and his Jesuits; then — still sharper contrast — the real American incursion, with its railroad, its barbed-wire fences, and its public schools. And the Greaser is passing. It is now quite in order to write his obituary.
Some one — I think it was Mr. Herbert Spencer — has declared that the unmistakable mark of a high race of men is individualization, differentiation, heterogeneity, and variation from type. If that be a test, then we need not hesitate to say of the Greaser that he stands very low in the scale; for, to lapse into a Western mode of speech, he is all alike. Choose one, and you have a pattern from which all his brethren could be drawn, with only slight modifications in the items of beard and adipose.
Possibly the Greaser may seem more real if we put him down in figures. In 1540 the native population of New Mexico was, by approximation, 150,000. After three centuries it had declined to 45,000. Of the latter number, not more than two per cent were of European blood ; about twenty per cent were considered pure-blooded Pueblans ; the others were mestizos. Within the last fifty years, of course, there have been great accessions to the white population, but the numbers of the other classes have not changed materially. And the white distrusts the Indian, the Indian despises the Greaser, the Greaser hates the white; there is a perfect rondo movement of dislike and antagonism. It could not well be otherwise. Inborn and inbred race instincts are strong. The differences are such as cannot be reconciled by the mere dwelling together of conflicting elements. Amalgamation of those elements can never be made complete: the Greaser himself, for example, is not an amalgamation of the characters of his parents ; he is only an emulsion. The course of life upon our frontier has been fruitful of practical demonstration of several problems in sociology. One of the clearest is that the Indian problem will not be determined by any process of race absorption. Sometimes, in the exigencies of frontier life, misfit marriages have occurred ; but they were only matters of expediency, a compromise with the hard fate which for a time separated the pioneers from women of their own blood. As soon as this condition changed, and white wives had become in some degree commensurate to the demand, those misalliances ceased, and the half-caste households which had been already established served no better purpose than to stand as monuments of connubial folly. There can never be more than a thin overlapping of the margins of these races. As the advance of the whites becomes more aggressive, the red men will simply retreat, — grudgingly enough, no doubt, — until by and by they are crowded into the last ditch. This is very true of the life of New Mexico ; and in that territory the discord is in three notes.
The Greaser, even more than the Indian, has resented the intrusion of American ideas and energy into his placid atmosphere. The steam engine has annihilated distance, which to the eye of the native dweller was the chief charm of those broad plains ; the shriek of the steam whistle tears to tatters the mantle of long-enduring silence; the wire fence is an infuriating infringement upon wideranging freedom ; and as for Protestantism, with its simplicity of manners, its harsh and uncompromising morality, its public schools, and its substitution of disturbing ideas for beloved formalism, it is an affront to all the big and little gods of ancient days. But the Greaser seems to see the hopelessness of rebellion. Though his serene forehead is drawn into a black scowl, though under his breath he swears a multitude of picturesque oaths, though in his heart he rages, he feels his helplessness. He will not in any wise sincerely adopt and conform to the new order of things, called civilization ; he can do nothing save to withdraw within himself, there to ponder his impending doom. The fruitful river valleys were long his home, as they had been the home of the Pueblan before him; but the white man coveted these, also. As the valley towns have grown, supplanting adobe with red brick, covering the earthen walks and roads with harsh pavements of brick and stone, substituting restless commercial activity for the sleep of centuries, the Greaser has gathered his serape about him, mounted his burro, and gone out upon the desolate plains. Ask him where he will go next, and he has recourse to that quaint bit of speech which is the best index to his mental habit, “ Quien sabe ?” (Who knows ?) Meanwhile, he rests in the sunlight ; eating, drinking, smoking cigarettes wrapped in the sweet husk of the corn, — always smoking. The white slave of commercialism may take the land, may destroy every monument of ancient peace, may do what he will, if he but gives tobacco in exchange. One morning, seven or eight years ago, I was lounging in a small trading store in the western end of Socorro County, which was a base of supplies for the sheep-herders and cattlemen of the neighborhood. Presently there appeared a Greaser mounted upon burroback, a live sheep tied across the burro’s rump. After a word or two of listless bargaining, the Greaser gave his sheep in exchange for a four-ounce package of the cheapest smoking tobacco. Had he been inclined to dicker, he might have secured a little more; but, like the rest of his kind, he was possessed by a certain large scorn of petty haggling. He preferred to take the proffered quarter pound, and return with another sheep when his pouch was empty.
The mention of that incident reminds me of one use which the white man has made of the Greaser; for there is one niche in the territorial life into which he fits, — sheep-herding. Sheep-raising is one of the industries in which the white man, taking a hint from his predecessors in the field, has invested largely. The original dwellers in the land had both wool and cotton. A good measure of success has attended the industry in these new hands, and this success is due, in part at least, to the occupation of the mestizos as herders. They are ideal sheep-tenders. There is a strong temperamental affinity between the dullness of the sheep and the indolence of the man. Sheep on those wide pastures require to be kept in large herds ; forage is comparatively scant, and they must roam freely, picking what they can as they go. They are not to be driven ; they must take their own slow time. The only need for human guardians of the herd is to see that strays are not suffered to escape, and that there are no ravages of wolves or mountain lions. There is a deadly monotony in the work, with only bleating inanity for companionship, with an infinity of nature’s own wilderness before the eyes, and sometimes with no glimpse of other human beings for many days and weeks together, — only the thousands upon thousands, acres upon acres, of woolly backs and mutton heads upon which to rest one’s eyes and thoughts. The American temperament will not bear solitariness. The insane asylums of the sheep-raising Western states and territories hold many victims of monotony-madness, — a disease well known wherever the whites are confined in broad solitudes. But this isolation suits the Greaser. There is no going mad for him. Mount him on the back of his burro, put him to tending a herd of sheep, and he is in his element.
That children of nature are childlike and bland has been often told us, but there is an accompanying element of their disposition which may well cause a thoughtful man to pause. They have a strong way of keeping their mouths shut, and allowing the other fellow to do the talking. That is one of the Greaser’s strong points. No one can tell what a Greaser thinks; no one can say what masked batteries of passion lie back of his well - mastered eyes. To trust a Greaser is to take a long jump into utter darkness. That he is treacherous every one knows who has had to do with him ; but he is not wholly blameworthy. We have it upon good authority that the natives of the territory were simple and honest. The trick of deception was caught from the first conquerors and from the later paleface of the much-speaking tongue. But the Greaser’s power of deception is a perfect mastery of the art, beside which the skill of the Yankee is merely the bungling of a novice. As we say out West, the Greaser “ puts up a good front.” One must needs be by nature suspicious, or thoroughly schooled in the ways of the swart little man, to detect the danger lurking behind the soft shine of the eyes, in the curves of his smile, and in the few gently breathed words. Only physical courage is wanting to make him what we know as a “ bad man.” Physical courage he has none, — or at best but a little, and that thin. To be sure, he will fight, particularly when in his cups or when his jealousy is aroused ; but he must fight with his own weapon, the knife. He is troublesome when he holds a knife, but he dreads the revolver, and of the great American fist he stands in honest fear. When he fights with his knife, so long as the odds are in his favor, he is a demon ; but if he is scratched and catches sight of his own blood, that is the end of him. At heart he is the basest of cowards. This alone is enough to seal his doom. When the white nudges with his elbow and demands that the Greaser give more room, the poor little chap has not the “ nerve ” to jostle him again.
One who is dominated by the modern American spirit would be likely to predicate the downfall of the Greaser, upon the one fact that he is lacking in “ enterprise.” Nothing could be more truly said of him than that he is not “ progressive.” But he has got on very well. Left to himself under those genial skies, he has prospered in happy indolence, where the American with his creed of thrift has often failed. But the Greaser has the knack of it. He has never, like his successor, laid elaborate plans for to-morrow; he has mastered the faculty of being contented with each passing day. Perhaps no land is too barren to nourish the man who knows that trick. In New Mexico, the American is kept busy with his strenuous effort to make both ends meet. The Greaser is wiser : he does not expect them to meet, — does not want them to meet. He prefers to see the line of his placid days stretching away and away, after the manner of his ancient trails, toward the undefined horizon of his life. That is good enough for him.
Commerce, as a serious occupation in life, repels him. It is entirely foreign to his fixed and self-centred nature. Every tradition is against it. When the Pueblans trafficked with other tribes, it was for the sole purpose of supplying pressing wants which they could not satisfy by the means at their command within their own communal life. And those wants were real, not imaginary. While the American fills his days with “ hustling,” the Greaser gets what is needful for breakfast, dreams away the morning, then gets what Providence vouchsafes for his next meal, and dreams again. Judging by our different standards, we must be slow to call the Greasers’ life ideal; but we must concede that it is not altogether without charm. One who has lived with those simple people, letting himself lie open to the influences of the tranquil hours, is quick to catch the pleasurable thrill of this new order of laziness. Having experienced the idyllic repose, I am loath to say that it is not to be preferred to some of our own hotfooted, ineffective activity. There are so many ways of being lazy ! I rather like the Greaser way.
But the invasion of this endless leisure by commerce has not provoked such strong resentment as has been aroused by the establishment of the public school. If commerce is repellent to the Greaser, the public school is revolting. While the poor Greaser stops his ears against the strident clamor of the Yankee invasion, and turns pale with nausea induced by its dizzy swirl, how is it possible to reconcile him to being instructed in the principles of which those hobgoblins are the offspring? The Yankee schoolmaster would teach idolatry of strange gods, — “practical” things. Geography? For the mestizo there is no geography save that of the broad scene bounded by his own sky-line; seas, continents, empires, are things of no significance.
The religious notions of the Greaser are, after all, the strongest moulding and motive force in the making of his social character. However mistaken he may have been in his conception, all of the signs and tokens of character which he displays to the world have been moulded under the influence of that religion which has been for the time his master. Every pagan people gives a strong outward expression of obedience to the formal exactions of its religion. This is particularly true of the mestizo, because of his inactive, negative mental constitution. But his nominal conformity is not a key to the rude theology which the man cherishes in his heart. Conformity makes the citizen; it never makes the man. Since the beginning of his race, the Greaser has been, with a few trifling exceptions, a Catholic devotee. He is born, married, buried, within the shadow of that Church; he prays and pays as it demands; it has a first mortgage upon him, but it is not a part of him. And after looking at the matter carefully for a time, one is led to believe that an attempt to foreclose the mortgage would snap the bond. For, though he is so exemplary a slave, he loves his freedom. Since he cannot have it outwardly, he makes some outward concessions, then builds his little imperium within: there neither priest nor soldier, Spaniard nor American, has admission ; there he worships the phantoms of his dreams.
The student must grapple with difficulties in attempting to discover the bona fide faith of the Greaser, who knows so well how to say nothing, how to hide what lies in the deeps of his eyes. It is of no use to ask him what he thinks. The eternal hills may yield their secret treasures, but the soul of the Greaser remains an inscrutable mystery.
“ Faith in God ” is the teaching of the priest, but the onlooker suspects that the Greaser’s memory is longer and stronger than his confession of faith, and that there abides in his inner being an unyielding devotion to the old sun worship, in which the spirits of the ancient plainsfolk were grounded. It was a beautiful and poetic faith, not devoid of spiritual benefits. The Pueblan sun worshiper had a rude religion, because he was of a rude folk. But he looked for the coming of an earthly savior, a deliverer from earthly ills and oppressions ; he had this tradition before the Spanish conquest, and he still has it, — a little vague and dimmed by many disappointments, but not yet broken.
How much of this has been passed by the Pueblan to his love child, the Greaser ? Quien sabe ? In the larger strongholds of the Catholic Church, the cathedral cities and towns, the Greaser is held well in hand, and is drilled, schooled, catechised, to the point of perfect subjection. But in the remote fastnesses of mountain and desert, where priestly visitations are rare, no one can pretend to put his thumb upon the Greaser belief. And wherever the Greaser is, whether watching the sunrise from a hilltop or upon his knees in the cathedral, in no vital particular is he a Christian or an American. There is a strange order in New Mexico, continuing its rites to this day, —rites as rigorous as ever asceticism devised. This is the society de los hermanos penitentes, — the Penitent Brotherhood, — a study of which will show to what length and depth of zeal the Greaser will go when he is made to think it necessary. In the Lenten season the brotherhood is assembled for horrid trials of the flesh, when members are made to undergo such a course of self-inflicted punishment as fairly sickens the beholder. When it is over, and absolution has been given, there is the inevitable rebound from emotional excess, and for the remainder of the year the holy penitents range at the fullest length of their tether in all manner of vice, degradation, and lechery. But while that terrible ceremony may certainly be taken as a measure of religious zeal, it is not necessarily a measure of Catholic zeal.
There is one particular, however, in which the Greaser may be considered as in heart and soul a Catholic, and that is the earnest pursuit of opportunities for holding carnival on the multitudinous Church feast days. He can give instruction to any other reveler upon earth, of whatsoever caste or creed. The festival was also a Pueblan institution ; but with the Indians it was a post-harvest Thanksgiving on a large scale, and had some meaning. With the Greaser, feast days occur at every whipstitch. Some are legitimate enough ; some have no more foundation than myths invented by the local clergy in the days when they were intent upon converting the Indians by hook or by crook. There is the great day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a purely local institution, of purely local origin, but for that very reason of high sanctity. Religious ceremonies, of course, attend upon every day of festival; but in the eyes of the Greaser such ceremonies form a merely perfunctory prelude to the real business of the day,—a little tonic for the appetite, a little half-willing concession to the Church’s power of restraint. But mass is only a cloud, the passing of which leaves the rest of the day in broad sunlight, and leaves him free to do what he will. A feast day is a time of richest gala dress, a time of outdoor and indoor games, of drinking, of dancing, of music and song, of every sensuous joy, — and all with the blessing hand of the jovial padre laid upon the head of the participant. The pages of many books might be filled with strange tales of those feast times, if they were to be considered seriatim ; it suffices to say that they make the largest power in holding the Greaser and the Mother Church together.
The Pueblan houses were large communal structures, of many stories and many rooms; but that was a necessary precaution for the sake of strength to resist wandering and powerful enemies. That necessity has passed, and when the Greaser builds to-day, his corner stone is simplicity, his walls are plainness, his roof is artlessness. The raw material lies ready to his hand ; the willing sun lends its aid freely ; roughest of rough roof timbers may be got with a little labor. What window so simple as a hole in the wall ? What boon more beneficent than heaven’s free air? The finished house is a small square box of dried mud, chinked as need be with fresh relays of mud ; the floor is earthen. Sometimes the builder is moved, by spasmodic ambition or by the increase in his household, to make two rooms ; more often there is but one. In the towns, where such things can be got without too great effort, the house may have a wooden bedstead, and perhaps a rough table and a wooden chair ; but these are not essential. Men slept before there were bedsteads, ate before there were tables, and took their ease before there were chairs. A mat spread upon the floor is very good, when there is placed by its side a heaped kettle of fiery chili stew and a brimming gourd of pulque ; and he who has once slept upon a mass of the shredded fibres of the maguey, or Spanish bayonet, will not be envious of the down couches of kings. God save the Greaser! How happy he is !
Clothing is reduced to its simplest terms. In the winter it is used for warmth ; in the summer it serves only an Edenic purpose. To keep warm is very easy. The plains are populous with herds, and if skill to weave is wanting, tanned skins do just as well. Here again the maguey befriends the Greaser, for its strong fibres twisted together make an excellent thread. Every man is his own shoemaker, and the pliant sandals of fire-cured skin are of the essence of comfort for the feet. In the summer season a very little cotton cloth goes a great way, with either man or woman. Brilliant hues are preferred, of course. The hat is the man’s crowning glory. Upon it he lavishes ungrudgingly all his scanty wealth, and the extent of its adornment with silver spangles, gems, and gewgaws is limited only by his ability to buy. The poorest of the poor will often be seen wearing a sombrero whose cost has been many times that of all the rest of his bodily furnishing. The women wear no hats ; instead they wear bright scarfs, wound over and around the head, neck, and shoulders with a skill and an attractiveness won by long practice.
The abode of the Greaser has been styled “ headquarters for dirt.” He is himself, one could almost say, the very apotheosis of dirt, and the nooks of his house and the folds of his raiment are the inns of those skipping, crawling things that provoked Sancho Panza’s immortal plaint. But the Greaser is proverbially hospitable ; he does not give grudgingly of his substance to his tiny guests ; what he has they are free to take. And he has his reward; he gets a little physical exercise now and again. He also gets entertainment. If he had no fleas to bite him, he would be likely to die of ennui. The manner of the Greaser’s hospitality is still broader. No matter how poor his hovel or how meagre his board, the stranger is welcome. I should not like to call his apparent generosity a mere feint; but do not be too sure of him because you have eaten of his salt. If you sleep beneath his roof, keep one eye on his handy knife. That is the Spanish of his nature and his creed, and illustrates the uncertainties of life in a neighborhood where forgiveness of sin is a marketable commodity.
One must not be too curious to see his marriage certificate, for the marriage ceremony is an expensive luxury. Baptisms and death ceremonies must be paid for ; but since the days of old the Church of the territory has looked with leniency upon a custom of mating sans cérémonie. There is no social penalty, for there is no blame attaching to a custom which has been in vogue amongst Pueblans, Spaniards, and Greasers from time immemorial. The Spaniards stole Pueblan women ; the Pueblans stole Spanish women ; their mongrel offspring take what they can get and are satisfied. If there is, nowadays, a certain laxity of surveillance upon the part of the spiritual guides, what matter ? The wedding fee can well be suffered to pass. Though it is not paid, it is as good as put by into a sort of permanent sinking fund; for connubial unions, whether celebrated “ by the book ” or not, are fecund of other fees. Baptism, I have said, is always paid for. After all, the marriage service would be but a mockery among such folk as these, who are temperamentally incapable of observing its obligations.
As in all that goes to make manly character, the Greaser is a mere fragment of a man in stature. According to the artistic dictum, which pronounces the curve the line of beauty, the Greaser should assuredly be beautiful, for his make-up is superlatively rich in curves. His pudgy head and face bear an obtrusive lot of curling lines, which wriggle sinuously down over neck and shoulders, until they are lost in the portentous curve of his waistband. For he is fat. Rich or poor, idler and loafer, he never runs to leanness. The women are like the men. Perhaps you have heard or read of beautiful mestizo maidens ? Travelers’ tales ! Save in the pictures of susceptible romanticists, I have never seen a beautiful Greaser girl. Sometimes in real life there is a certain tenderness of outline and form, a certain subflush of overripe color beneath the dusky skin, which, added to the glow of the eyes, give an effect of voluptuous charm that doubtless appeals to some. But whatever beauty the girl has in the first glamour of her youth is soon merged into the grim and ominous aspect of early old age. Roundness becomes rotundity ; the hue of dark rose becomes the dye of butternut ; the lissome, free walk becomes a flatfooted waddle. Only the inextinguishable light of the southern eyes remains to the end, — index of the passion which has burned to ashes all other elements of beauty. Men and women share in the possession of those wonderful eyes, and of the voice, which is the eyes’ fitting mate, — soft, velvety, lifeless, as though expressly made to handle the vitiated but musical Spanish-Indian patois of the Southwest.
Daily round of duty there is none for the mestizo, beyond the effort of preserving his masterly inactivity, — the labor of keeping strenuously busy doing nothing. He has always been satisfied with the least measure of the dignity of labor. In the olden time there was a system of half-voluntary slavery in vogue throughout Mexico and its dependencies, and that system has stamped its mark indelibly upon the Greaser mind. The poor man formerly incurred indebtedness to another, binding himself to work for his creditor until the debt should he paid. But his money wage was small, and meanwhile he was compelled to buy his few necessaries of life from his creditor, with the result that he sank deeper and deeper into the mire of debt, until after a time he lost the hope, and even the ambition, to become free. Through the operation of this scheme of peonage, parents would mortgage their children, husbands would put a lien upon their wives and upon themselves, until this quasi-slavery grew to be an “ institution ” of considerable significance, whereby the workers gradually lost all thought of the manly integrity of work, and forfeited the true and only reward of the laborer. Nowadays the Greaser will not work unless he is driven ; but the lawful authority to drive is gone. Corollary : The Greaser does not work, — unless the out-of-door idling of the sheep-herder can be called work. In the first days of American occupation of New Mexico, the streets of the towns along the Rio Grande were picturesque with groups of pack burros, heavy-laden with immense bundles of fagots and mesquite roots, brought from plain and hill, for sale as firewood, a sale which brought such few stray coins as were necessary for replenishing the store of tobacco and pulque. Some of the burros were water carriers, with great earthen jars swung in pairs against their panting sides. That is all past. The Yankee’s dirty coal train has crushed the burro with its bundle of roots ; the Yankee pumping station has drowned the old water carrier. But that does not matter ; nothing matters very much in New Mexico. If the Greaser is ragged, the desert air and the ineffable sunlight have a kindly warmth for the skin ; and for the inner man there is chili colorado, pulque, and the sweet valley wine. Though the cursed gringo drives a sharp bargain, no bargain is intolerable which yields tobacco, the godfather of content.
To-day, at sunrise you will find the Greaser squatting against the eastern wall of his adobe hovel, basking, smoking, dreaming ; in the glaring noon he shifts to the southern exposure, squats, smokes, dreams ; when the gorgeous day dies he is by the western wall, stretched at his length, smoking and dreaming dreams, — dreams which he never tells.
William R. Lighton.