Charles Frederick Holder.

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pean they acquired flocks and Ik
probably through the Pueblo Indiana ;
the first effort to introduce domesti-
cated animals into the Northern Span*
ish domains being made by the Church
about the third decade of the seven-
teenth century. As soon as the Nava-
jos recognized the utility of sheep,
cattle and horses as a fertile source of
supply in meat and clothing, they
became too impatient to wait for the
slow process (as they regarded it^of
natural increase, and began to pjy
upon their old victims, the Pueblo
Indians. Thereupon the Spaniards
took up the defense of the latter, be-
came objects of sincere and lasting
hatred, and were driven out of the

Vol. IV— 25





country by the Navajos. During the
close of the seventeenth century,
Spanish settlements were re-estab-
lished by another so-called conquest,
but the subjection of the Navajos was
never accomplished. They not only
retained possession of their mountain
home, but became assailants, and car-
ried on aggressive warfare down to,
and even after the annexation of New
Mexico and Arizona to the United
States. i

In 1865, the tribe was removed from
its long successfully defended moun-
tain region — a region cool and bracing,
covered with snow until late in spring
— into the hot, level district of Bosque
Redondo. There the Navajos lan-
guished. Their agricultural industry
was handicapped, and their tendency
to self-improvement checked. Three
years later the government very wisely
reinstated them in their old domain.
Since that time they have lived peace-
ably, and, though molested by the
ubiquitous squatter on other people's
property, long displayed a forbearance
of retaliation, and a manliness in ap-
peal for protection of their rights .that
might classify them as a people on the
same platform of humanity with that
which, in the words of Tennyson,
cried out : " Let us alone ! "

But they are no lotus eaters. They
have been rapidly progressive, and to-
day their irrigation ditches, their
fertile fields and their well-managed
flocks, proclaim their systematic in-
dustry — though the majority of them
do live in the log-cabin, half dugout,
known by the name of ho-gan.

It might be supposed that this prim-
itive race, whose offshoots have left
their records printed in human blood,
stamped in broad type, in assertion of
their claim against the encroachments
of civilization, would have no taste for
art or tendency in the direction of
intellectual expansion. No greater
mistake could be made. The Navajos
are conspicuous for their inventive
faculty, their ingenuity, and their
ready power of adaptation to self-im-
provement of extraneous suggestions.

Nothing points more directly to the
proof of this assertion than their repu-
tation as manufacturers of textile fab-

There is evidence that among the
Navajos the art of weaving antedates
the time when any skill was imparted
to them therein through the Pueblo
Indians by the Spaniards. To-day
they are pre-eminent in the art
among the native tribes north of Mex-
ico, and their advancement in the
industry is due more to their own in-
telligence and artistic inclination,
than to the influence of European
instruction. The wonderful variety
of designs displayed in their fabrics,
and the innumerable combinations of
colors, are witnesses to the fertility of
imagination which the Navajo weav-
er's mind is gifted with ; while the
fact that in a thousand Navajo
blankets no two patterns can be found
exactly alike proclaims that each de-
signer scorns imitation or repetition.
Our artists might take a lesson from

Nevertheless, their savage instincts
have not been thoroughly eliminated
by their internal peaceable occupations
for many years. They still retain
their ancient customs ; the Mountain
Chant — the quacal — their sacred song
or chant is still heard ; and the
fur-dance is still practiced. The
Shaman and the arrow-swallower still
pretend to cure the sick.

The following narrative will illus-
trate one latent trait of character,
common alike to Indian and white
man. It is a long time since the
events occurred, but none the same do
they hold up the finger of instruction.

Seated on a blanket spread upon
the ground beneath a tree whose fol-
iage affords protection from the rays
of the sun, an Indian woman is en-
gaged in spinning woolen 3'arn. She
is a type of the comely women of the
Navajo race. In breadth of shoulders
and in the size and muscular develop-
ment of her arms and hands she is
almost masculine ; the most casual
observer would willingly admit that



in a personal struggle she would prove
a formidable antagonist to most city-
bred men of our times, while the
dude would be a plaything and shuttle-
cock to her in a test of strength. Her
hair parted in the middle, is gathered
back and tied behind her head in a
complicated knot, which is held to-

girdle round the waist secures the
dress to the body ; as no sleeves are
attached the arms are left bare, while
the upper part of the robe is folded
down from the shoulders over the
breast," one shoulder being generally
left exposed. These dresses of tlu
vajo women are very picturesque.


gether by the insertion of a rude hair-
pin passed through a loop of the
twist, thus preventing the strands
from disentangling themselves. Pend-
ant from her ears are silver bangles,
and on occasions she may be seen to
wear a necklace of colored beads or
turquoise gems. She is clad in the
costume of her primitive race. This
consists of a robe formed by sewing
two of the smaller sized blankets to-
gether at the sides, armholes being
left at about one-third of the distance
from the upper border of the garment
to the lower edge of the skirt. A

playing an endless variety of designs
in colors of black and dark blue with
stripes of red. Her lower limbs are
swathed in rather broad bands of cloth
w T ound spirally from the ankles to just
below the knees, where they are
secured by buttons so adjusted as to
meet the corresponding button-holes
at the end of each band. On her feet
she wears moccasins, though not un-
frequently both these and the above
described leggings are discarded. The
blanket on which she sits is one of
the coarser kind, the pattern consist-
ing of angular stripes running length-

3 8o


wise of the fabric within broader
straight bands worked-in, parallel
with its ends and sides. As before
remarked, the fertility in design of
the Navajo weavers is so great, that it
would be difficult to find two blankets
of exactly similar pattern.

At no great distance from her may
be seen another woman seated under
the shade trees. Before her is a prim-
itive loom at which she is industri-
ously at work, weaving one of those
blankets which have a world-wide
reputation for their durable and fre-
quently water-proof qualities. Her
dress is similar to that of the spinner,
and so like to her is she in features
and physical proportions that she
might readily be taken for her twin
sister. Her posture in front of the
loom, however, is different from that
of her companion, for she is squatted
on the ground with her legs folded
under her, thus being enabled to work
at the loom with her long muscular
arms until she has woven her web
to a height beyond which she can no
longer reach to pass her woof through
the warp. When this occurs she
rises and readjusts her machine in a
manner that will be afterward de-

The spinner's mode of procedure
is extremely simple. She uses no
spinning-wheel, a thin slick passed
through a flat, circular piece of wood


being her only implement. Holding
the end of this rude spindle in her
right hand and the tread in her left,
she sits hour after hour spinning the
woolen yarn, ever and anon winding
it, as it grows in length, on the ball
which she holds in her lap. Her only
material is native wool supplied from
the vast flocks of domesticated sheep
which the Navajos have possessed for
ages. Recently imported American
yarn has come into favor with the
Navajo weavers and many blankets
are now made of it, thus reducing the
labor of spinning.

Independently of the various colored
worsteds which these Indians now
obtain by trade, they have always
possessed a sufficiency of dyes to
afford them a wide scope for the dis-
play of their designs in an artistic
point of view. They had, and still
use, native dyes of yellow, black and
red. Indigo, introduced probably by
the Mexicans, supplied them with a
blue, and by mixture of it with their
native yellow, different shades of
green ; from the same source they
obtained the brilliant scarlet cloth,
called bay eta i which they unraveled,
using the threads in the manufacture
of their blankets. By this enumera-
tion of colors, it may be seen that the
Navajo blanket of former days would
not be deficient in gorgeousness. The
one which our heroine is employed in
weaving is being wrought in
divers colors and with excep-
tionally artistic design. When
she has completed it, the blan-
ket is destined to play an
important part at the most
critical moment in her life's
career. But before narrating
the interesting episode with
which it was connected, let us
describe her loom and her mode
of weaving.

From start to finish her skill-
ful production will cost her the
work of many weeks ; but as
she ties the last knot, at the
last corner, she can probably
gaze upon the finest fabric, and



the handsomest in design and combi-
nation of colors, woven in her day. It
will be the admiration of a multitude
and the cause of jealous hatred on
the part of many a sister weaver in
her tribe, and will place her in im-
minent peril of her life.

In the forks of two tree branches,
growing conveniently for her purpose,
she has placed and securely bound a


horizontal bar, to which she has sus-
pended a straight pole by lashing it
to the supporting beam with a rope
applied in spiral volutions, leaving a
sufficiency of unused rope to admit of
it being lowered when necessary. To
this pole she has attached by means
of loops the upper beam of her loom,
the distance between the two being
about three inches. This upper beam
is at an elevation from the ground
corresponding to the length of the
blanket she is going to weave, and
which will be nearly seven feet long
with a width of five feet six inches.
She has already constructed her

*The batten should be held horizontally instead of
obliquely, as shown in the cut.

warp by means of a framework com-
posed of four poles raised a few inches
from the ground, in the form of a
rectangular paralellogram, of dimen-
sions adapted to the size of the blanket
which she intends* to weave. The
poles at the ends being straight,
smoothly rounded and of equal diam-
eter from end to end, are not 1111 fre-
quently used as the upper and lower
beams of the loom. The weaver
now proceeds to tie her yarn to
one of the end poles winding it
over and under in a continuous
string, the thread after passing
over the upper portion of the
circumference of one pole being
passed under the opposite pole.
Two sheds are thus formed — the
upper and lower — the sectional
view of the warp presenting a
figure similar to that of an
elongated eight. A thin rod is
placed in each shed, near the
angle, through the entire width
of the warp, to keep it open and
the threads in place. The next
thing done is to quilt the termi-
nal loops of the warp together so
as to form a firm, stiff border.
Tying three strings together and
sitting with one of the end poles
in front of her, she fastens them
to the lateral pole, on her left,
and passing one of the cords un-
der the first turn of the warp
takes a second string and twilling
it once or twice with the other two,
takes in with it the second turn of
the warp. Then with the third
cord, twilled with the other two
as before, she gathers in the third
bend of the warp. Thus she continues,
each string being taken in turn, until
she has secured the loops of the entire
warp. She now stretches this three-
stranded cord — which it has become-
to its full extent, thereby separating
the threads of the warp sufficiently to
allow the passage of the woof. The
same method is applied to the opposite
end of the warp. It must be under-
stood that the weaver has been working
along the outside surfaces of the poles.



a position

The warp can now be detached from
the framework, care being taken to
keep the rods in the apexes of the
sheds in place. Attachment of the
warp to the loom is accomplished by
lashing the ends to the beams, it hav-
ing been already remarked that the
smooth, uniform end poles on which
it has been constructed are sometimes
used as the upper and lower beams.

When the warp has been fixed in
its vertical position, the upper shed-
rod is allowed to remain in place, but
to the anterior threads of the lower
shed, heddles, or healds, are applied,
and the shed-rod is then withdrawn.
The heddles are applied in this way :
Seated in front of the loom, the
weaver having placed on her right side
a ball of yarn passes the end of the
string through the sired, and having
tied a loop, passes through it the end
of her heald-rod — a slender stick
which she holds in her left hand
horizontally, and in such
that its right end touches
the left edge of the warp.
The heald-rod having been
passed through the loop
from left to right until its
point is even with the
second anterior thread
from the left, the weaver
deftly inserts her fingers
in between the first and
second threads of the an-
terior line of warp, and
draws through them a
heald - string ; this she
twists so as to form a loop
into which she pushes the
point of the heald-rod held
in her left hand. Between
every space that separates
the, following threads she
forms a loop and passes the
heald-rod through it until
she has worked from left
to right of the warp, each
alternate thread of the
lower shed being captured
in a loop of the heald.
When the last loop is
made she ties the end of

her heald-string to the rod, cuts it off,
and withdraws the shed-rod.

In weaving the blanket the operator
sits on the ground with the w T arp
hanging perpendicularly in front of
her. As she maintains this position
during the whole process, it is evident
that the web will attain a height
beyond which it will be impossible for
her to continue her work unless the web
can be lowered. This is accomplished
by loosening the spiral rope which
holds the yard-beam to the supporting
beam. The yard-beam is then lowered
to the desired distance, and the
loosened web folded and sewed tightly
down to the cloth-beam.

In weaving, the Navajo woman
uses no shuttle strictly speaking, the
nearest approach to it being a slender
twig on which the yarn is wound
when the pattern is such that the
woof has to be passed through six
inches or more of the shed. When
the pattern is intricate and the woof





is passed through only a few inches of
the shed, the yarn is wound into small
balls and pushed through with the
finger of the operator. The shed is
opened by means of the batten, a flat
piece of wood about three feet long
and three inches wide, and used to
strike home or close the threads of the
woof. It is by the vigorous use of
this implement that Navajo blankets
are rendered waterproof. (See page


Beginning to weave in the lower
shed, the operator draws a portion of
the healds toward her, bringing
forward the front threads of the shed
which is thereby opened about one
inch. She now inserts the batten
edgewise, then, turning it so that its
broad surfaces lie horizontally, by this
means opens the shed about three
inches and passes the weft through.
When the weft is in, it is pushed down
into its proper place by means of a
wooden fork and the batten is then
applied edgewise with firm blows on
it. The lower shed having received
its thread of the woof, the upper is
opened. This is done by releasing the
healds and shoving the shed rod down
until it comes in contact with the
healds, which process opens the upper
shed down to the web. The weft is
there inserted as before and the wooden

fork and the batten are applied. Thus
the weaver proceeds alternately with
each shed until the web is finished.

In fine and handsome blankets a
main object of the weaver is to have
both ends uniform, and to accomplish
this, most operators weave a small
portion of the upper end before they
finish the middle. This proces-
accomplished either by weaving from
above downwards, or turning the loom
upside down and working from below
upwards in the ordinary manner.

It has been already mentioned that
the ends of the warp are quilted firmly
together with a strong three-ply stri 1 1 g ;
the lateral edges of the best blankets
are similarly bordered and strength-
ened by cords applied to the weft. The
way in which these are interwoven is
this : Two stout cords of yarn, tied to-
gether are secured to each end of the
cloth-beam, just outside the warp, and
then carried upward and loosely tied to
the yard beam. Every time the weft-
thread is turned at the edge of the
warp, these two strings are twisted,
the web being passed through the
twist. As this border thread is always
twisted in the same direction, it is
plain that a counter-twist keeps form-
ing above the web, which in time
would stay the process of passing the
weft through the twisted cords ; when,
therefore, the upper portions of the
cords become inconveniently twisted
they are untied from the upper beam,
to which they have been only loosely
fastened, and are straightened out.

The weaving of the last two or
three inches of the web is the most
difficult part of the process and
the most tedious. Some time before
this distance from the finish has been
reached, the weaver has been compelled
to discard the batten, being no longer
able to insert it in the warp. At this
stage slender rods are placed in the
sheds, and the web is passed with ever
increasing difficulty on the end of a
fine splinter, while the wooden fork
can only be used to press down the
woof. Finally both the rod and
the shed itself have to be removed,


A Navajo blanket.


the alternate threads being separated
by a slender stick worked in laborious-
ly between them, and two threads of
woof being passed through, one above
and the other below the stick.

In weaving diagonals, the mechan-
ism of the loom is more complicated,
the warp being divided into four sheds,
the uppermost of which is kept open
with a shed-rod, the lower three being
provided with healds. When the
weaver wishes the diagonal ridges to
run upward from right to left she
opens the sheds in regular order from
below upward ; when she wishes the
ridges to trend from left to right she
opens the sheds in the reverse order.
In the quality and finish of Navajo
blankets there is a wide range, and
though the patterns consist only of
straight lines and angles, the variety
in designs is almost endless.

And now let us return to the two
Navajo women already introduced and
watch them at work, as the one twists
her colored wool, and the other plies
her fingers nimbly and dexterously
among the meshes of the warp, carry-
ing through them one or other of
the numerous woof-skeins that hang
from the upper edge of her web. For
the blanket she is occupied in weaving
will be one of the most skillful pro-
ductions in design and quality ever
wrought by Navajo women ; no matter
how elaborate the pattern, she has a
separate woof- skein for each compo-
nent of the figure, and hanging from
the face of her web there are nearly
thirty such shuttles in all, proving
how variegated is her design.

The two weavers are in the full
bloom and development of Indian
womanhood, and of that beauty which
fades so soon under the exactions of
savage life. Occasionally a few words
are exchanged ; but each one is so in-
tently occupied in making the result
of her handicraft the best of its kind
that the silence which prevailed might
feel oppressive to an invisible intruder.
Once and again, as the web grows
slowly upward the weaver calls the
attention of her sister — for such she

is— to her work. Thereupon the
spinner rises and examines the web.
The consultation is not long, but after
it is ended the worker at the loom may
be seen to ply her batten with in-
creased vigor, and pass the threada of
her woof-skeins with increased care.

For some time there had existed a
feeling of rivalry among the weavers
of the Navajo tribe, and so much
jealousy was aroused among the
women of two principal villages — for
very few men practiced the textile
art — that it was determined to adopt
some means to settle the dispute as to
superiority. For many years the
weaver's art had been deteriorating
among the Pueblo Indians, who found
it more convenient and profitable to
purchase blankets from the Navajos
than to manufacture them. Dwelling
nearer to the white settlements, they
could dispose of their agricultural
produce at better prices and less
trouble than could the Navajos.
Moreover, they have mines of turqu< rise
— a gem much prized by the latter —
and could readily obtain supplies of
whisky which was, and is, held by
most of the Navajos in higher esti-
mation than ornamental stones. Thus
while the circumstances of their mode
of living and their topographical posi-
tion caused a decadence of the textile
art among the Pueblo Indians, the
increasing demand for serapes excited
competition among the Navajos, pro-
ducing not only excellence of fabric,
but also the jealousy alluded to above.

For the better peace of the female
portion of the two communities, it was
decided that a trial of skill in their
art should be given by the weavers ;
that they should engage in a compet-
itive contest. Any weaver might com-
pete, and ample time was allowed for the
manufacture of new serapes, though
blankets already woven were admiss-
ible. Proper precaution was also
taken that the judges, who were
chosen from the Pueblo Indians, should
not know who was the manufacturer
of each blanket. Indeed, great secrecy
was employed by the artists them-

3 86


selves while weaving, and it was under-
stood that each competitor was to
weave into her fabric a private mark so
as to ensure the identification of her
own work. It is in the production of
her own exhibit at the important
exposition that Tcike is engaged as we
watch her with retrospective sight.

Tcike was the daughter of a princi-
pal chief, and was as skillful at the
loom, in design and excellence of fab-
ric, in her own tribe, as Penelope was
among the Greeks. But unlike Pen-
elope, though she had many suitors,
she did not have recourse to the Greek
woman's artifice in order to defer her
choice, which had been made before
the trial of skill was projected ; and
she knew that before many moons
were passed the production of her
fingers would enfold her husband's
form. Aided by her sister, who spun
the finest and most compact yarns col-
ored with the richest dyes, she worked
day after day at the loom until her
web was completed, the last threads
of the woof being inserted with infinite
• care, and the ends of the strong bor-
dering cords being tied at the four
corners, forming thereto ornamental

In regard to elaborateness of design,
richness of coloring, fineness and
strength of texture, and the uniform-
ity of its ends, it was truly a beautiful
work of art. Of the largest size, woven
in serrated stripes which extended
from end to end, with diamond-shaped
figures in its central longitudinal line,
Tcike' s serape would be very difficult
to surpass in excellence, and she might
proudly hope that no competitor's ex-
hibit would prove superior to her own

On the da} 7 appointed for the ex-
hibition, the Navajos, men and
women, assembled at the place of
rendezvous conveniently chosen for
the purpose. The judges also punctu-
ally attended, and the blankets, of
which there were many, were placed
on the ground side by side in parallel
rows, forming the borders of pathways

Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 50 of 120)