Agnes C. (Agnes Christina) Laut.

Through our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert online

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Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThrough our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert → online text (page 15 of 19)
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Bridge, you can go on to Taos by motor. As you
ascend the mesa above the river bed, you see the
mountains ahead rise in black basalt like castellated
walls, with tower and battlement jagged into the
very clouds. Patches of yellow and red splotch the
bronzing forests, where frost has touched the foli-
age; and you haven't gone very many miles into the
lilac mist of the morning light shimmering as it
always shimmers above the sagebrush blue and sandy
gold of the Upper Mesas before you hear the
laughter of living waters coming down from the
mountain snows. One understands why the Indians
chose the uplands; while the white man, who came
after, had to choose the shadowy bottoms of the
walled-in canons. Someone, back in the good old
days when we were not afraid to be poetic, said



198 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

something about " traveling on the wings of the
morning." I can't put in words what he meant;
but you do it here going up and up so gradually
that you don't realize that you are in the lap, not
of mountains, but of mountain peaks; breathing,
not air, but ozone; uplifted by a great weight being
taken off spirit and body; looking at life through
rose-colored tints, not metaphorically, but really;
for there is something in this high rare air not
dust, not moisture that splits white light into its
seven prismatic hues. You look through an atmos-
phere wonderfully rare, but it is never clear, white
light. It is lavender, or lilac, or primrose, or gold,
or red as blood according to the hours and the mood
of hours; and if you want to carry the metaphor
still farther, you may truthfully add that the hours
on these high uplands are dancing hours. You
never feel time to be a heavy, slow thing that op-
presses the soul.

As the streams laugh down from the mountains,
ranches grow more and more frequent. It is charac-
teristic of the West that you don't cross the acequias
on bridges. You cross them on two planks, with risk
to your car if the driver swerve at the steering wheel.
All the houses are red earth adobe, thick of wall to
shut out both heat and cold, with a smell of juniper
wood in the fireplaces of each room. Much of this
land nearly all of it, in fact is owned by the
Taos Indians and held in common for pasturage and
cultivation. Title was given by Spain four centu-
ries ago, and the same title holds to-day in spite of



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 199

white squatters' attempt to break down the law by
cutting the wire of the pasture fences and taking the
case to the courts. It was in this way that squatters
broke down the title of old Spanish families to thou-
sands and hundreds of thousands of acres granted
before American occupation. To be sure, an Amer-
ican land commission took evidence on these titles,
in the quarrel between Yankee squatter and Spanish
don; but the squatter had " friends in court." The
old Spanish don hadn't. He saw titles that had held
good from 1540 slipping from his neighbor's hands;
and he either contested the case to lose out before
he had begun, or sold and sold at a song to save the
wreckage of his fortunes. Of all the Spanish land
grants originally partitioning off what is now New
Mexico, I know of only one held by the family of
the original grantee; and it is now in process of par-
tition. It is an untold page of Southwestern history,
this " stampeding " of Spanish titles. Some day,
when we are a little farther away from it, the story
will be told. It will not make pleasant reading, nor
afford a bill of health to some family fortunes of the
Southwest. Perjuries, assassinations, purchase in open
markets of judges drawing such small pittances that
they were in the auction mart for highest bid, forged
documents, incendiary fires to destroy true titles
these were the least and most decent of the crimes of
this era. l< Ramona " tells what happened to Indian
titles in California. Paint Helen Hunt Jackson's
colors red instead of gray; multiply the crimes by
ten instead of two; and you have a faint picture of



200 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

the land-jockey period of New Mexican history.
Something of this sort is going on at Taos to-day
among the pueblos for their land, and down at Saca-
ton a-mong the Pimas for water. Treaty guaran-
teed the Indian his rights, but at Taos the squatter
cut the pueblo fences and carried the case to court.
At Sacaton, the big squatter, the irrigation company,
took the Pimas' water; so that the Indian can no
longer raise crops. If you want to know what the
courts do in these cases, ask the pueblo governor at
Taos ; or the Pima chief at Sacaton.

It is late September. A parrot calls out in Span-
ish from the center of the patio where our rooms
look out on an arcade running round the court in a
perfect square. A mocking-bird trills saucily from
his cage amid the cosmos bloom. Donkeys and bur-
ros amble past the rear gate with loads of wood
strapped to their backs. Your back window looks
out on the courtyard. Your front window faces the
street across from a plaza, or city square. Stalwart,
thick-set, muscular figures, hair banded back by red
and white scarfs, trousers of a loose, white pantaloon
sort, tunic a gray or white blanket, wrapped Arab
fashion from shoulders to waist, stalk with quick,
nervous tread along the plaza; for it is the feast of
Saint Geronimo presently. The whole town is in
festal attire. There will be dancing all night and
all day, and rude theatricals, and horse and foot
races; and the plaza is agog with sightseers. No,
it is not Persia; and it is not Palestine; and it is not



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 201

Spain. It is just plain, commonplace America out
at Taos white man's Taos, at the old Columbia
Hotel, which is the last of the old-time Spanish inns.

As you motor into the town, the long rows of great
cottonwoods and poplars attest the great age of the
place. Through windows deep set in adobe case-
ment and flush with the street, you catch glimpses of
inner patios where oleanders and roses are still in
bloom. Then you see the roof windows of artists'
studios, and find yourself not only in an old Spanish
town but in the midst of a modern art colony, which
has been called into being by the unique coloring,
form and antiquity of life in the Southwest. A few
years ago, when Lungren and Philips and Sharpe
and a dozen others began portraying the marvelous
coloring of the Southwestern Desert with its almost
Arab life, the public refused to accept such spectacu-
lar, un-American work as true. Such pictures were
diligently " skied " by hanging committees, and a
few hundred dollars was deemed a good price. To-
day, Southwestern art forms a school by itself; and
where commissions used to go begging at hundreds
of dollars, they to-day command prices of thousands
and tens of thousands. When I was in Taos, one
artist was filling commissions for an Eastern col-
lector that would mount up to prices paid for the
best work of Watts and Whistler. It is a brutal
way to put art in terms of the dollar bill; but it is
sometimes the only way to make a people realize
there are prophets in our own country.

Columbia Hotel is really one of the famous old



202 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

Spanish mansions occupying almost the entire side
of a plaza square. From its street entrance, you
can see down the little alleyed street where dwelt
Kit Carson in the old days. His old home is almost
a wreck to-day, and there does not seem to be the
slightest movement to convert it into a shrine where
the hundreds of sightseers who come to the Indian
dances could brush up memories of old frontier
heroes. There are really only four streets in Taos,
all facing the Plaza or town square. Other streets
are alleys running off these, and when you see a no-
tary's sign out as " alcalde," it does not seem so
very far back to the days when Spanish dons lounged
round the Plaza wearing silk capes and velvet trou-
sers and buckled shoes, and Spanish conquistadores
rode past armed cap-a-pie, and Spanish grand dames
stole glances at the outside world through the lattices
of the mansion houses. In some of these old Span-
ish houses, you will find the deep casement windows
very high in the wall. I asked a descendant of one
of the old Spanish families why that was. " For
protection," she said.

" Indians?" I asked.

" No Spanish women were not supposed to see,
or be seen by, the outside world."

The pueblo proper lies about four miles out from
the white man's town. Laguna, Acoma, Zuni, the
Three Mesas of the Tusayan Desert all lie on
hillsides, or on the very crest of high acclivities.
Taos is the exception among purely Indian pueblos.
It lies in the lap of the valley among the mountains,



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 203

two castellated, five story adobe structures, one on
each side of a mountain stream. In other pueblo
villages, while the houses may adjoin one another
like stone fronts in our big cities, they are not like
huge beehive apartment houses. In Taos, the houses
are practically two great communal dwellings, with
each apartment assigned to a special clan or family.
In all, some 700 people dwell in these two huge
houses. How many rooms are there? Not less
than an average of three to each family. Remnants
of an ancient adobe wall surround the entire pueblo.
A new whitewashed Mission church stands in the
center of the village, but you can still see the old
one pitted with cannon-ball and bullet, where Gen-
eral Price shelled it in the uprising of the pueblos
after American occupation. Men wear store trou-
sers and store hats. You see some modern wagons.
Except for these, you are back in the days of Coro-
nado. All the houses can be entered only by
ladders that ascend to the roofs and can be drawn
up the pueblo way of bolting the door. The
houses run up three, four and five stories. They
are adobe color outside, that is to say, a pinkish
gray; and whitewashed spotlessly inside. Watch a
woman draped in white linen blanket ascending
these ladders, and you have to convince yourself that
you are not in the Orient. Down by the stream,
women with red and blue and white shawls over
their heads, and feet encased in white puttees, are
washing blankets by beating them in the flowing
water. Go up the succession of ladders to the very



204 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

top of a five storied house, and look out. You can
see the pasture fields, where the herds graze in com-
mon. On the outskirts of the village, men and boys
are threshing, that is they are chasing ponies
round and round inside a kraal, with a flag stuck
up to show which way the wind blows, one man fork-
ing chaff with the wind, another scraping the grain
outside the circle.

Glance inside the houses. The upstairs is evi-
dently the living-room; for the fireplace is here,
and the pot is on. Off the living-room are corn and
meal bins, and you can see the metate or stone on
which the corn is ground by the women as in the days
of Old Testament record. Though there is a new
Mission church dating from the uprising in the
forties, and an old Mission church dating almost
from 1540, you can see from the roof dozens of
es tufas, where the men are practicing for their
dances and masked theatricals. Tony, the assistant
governor, an educated man of about forty who has
traveled with Wild West shows, acts as our guide,
and tells us about the squatters trying to get the
Indian land. How would you like an intruder to
sit down in the middle of your farm and fence off
1 60 acres? The Indians didn't like it, and cut the
fences. Then the troops were sent out. That was
in 1910 a typical "uprising," when the white
man has both troops and courts on his side. The
case has gone to the courts, and Tony doesn't expect
it to be settled very soon. In fact, Tony likes their
own form of government better than the white man's.



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 205

All this he tells you in the softest, coolest voice, for
Tony is not only assistant governor: he is constable
to keep white men from bringing in liquor during
the festal week. They yearly elect their own gov-
ernor. That governor's word is absolutely supreme
for his tenure of office. Is there a dispute over
crops, or cattle? The governor's word settles it
without any rigmarole of talk by lawyers.

" Supposing the guilty man doesn't obey the gov-
ernor? " we ask.

* Then we send our own police, and take him, and
put him in the stocks in the lock-up," and he takes
us around and shows us both the stocks and the
lock-up. These stocks clamp down a man's head as
well as his hands and feet. A man with his neck
and hands anchored down between his feet in a black
room naturally wouldn't remain disobedient long.

The method of voting is older than the white
man's ballot. The Indians enter the estufa. A
mark is drawn across the sand. Two men are nomi-
nated. (No women do not vote ; the women rule
the house absolutely. The men rule fields and crops
and village courtyard.) The voters then signify
their choice by marks on the sand.

Houses are built and occupied communally, and
ground is held in common; but the product of each
man's and each woman's labor is his or her own
and not in common the nearest approach to so-
cialistic life that America has yet known. The peo-
ple here speak a language different from the other
pueblos, and this places their origin almost as far



206 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

back as the origin of Anglo-Saxon races. Another
feature sets pueblo races apart from all other native
races of America. Though these people have been
in contact with whites nearly 400 years, intermarriage
with whites is almost unknown. Purity of blood is
almost as sacredly guarded among Pueblos as among
the ancient Jews. The population remains almost
stationary; but the bad admixtures of a mongrel race
are unknown.

We call the head man of the pueblo the governor,
but the Spanish know him as a cacique. Associated
with him are the old men may ores, or council;
and this council of wise old men enters so intimately
into the lives of the people that it advises the young
men as to marriage. We have preachers in our
religious ranks. The Pueblos have proclaimers
who harangue from the housetops, or estufas. As
women stoop over the metates grinding the meal,
men sing good cheer from the door. The chile,
or red pepper, is pulverized between stones the same
as the grain. Though openly Catholic and in at-
tendance on the Mission church, the pueblo people
still practice all the secret rites of Montezuma; and
in all the course of four centuries of contact, white
men have never been able to learn the ceremonies
of the estufas.

Women never enter the estufas.

Who were the first white men to see Taos? It is
not certainly known, but it is vaguely supposed they
were Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions,
shipwrecked on the coast of Florida in the Narvaez



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 207

expedition, who wandered westward across the con-
tinent from Taos to Laguna and Acoma. As the
legend runs, they were made slaves by the Indians
and traded from tribe to tribe from 1528 to 1536,
when they reached Old Mexico. Anyway, their re-
port of golden cities and vast, undiscovered land
pricked New Spain into launching Coronado's expe-
dition of 1540. Preceding the formal military ad-
vance of Coronado, the Franciscan Fray Marcos de
Niza and two lay brothers guided by Cabeza de
Vaca's negro Estevan, set out with the cross in their
hands to prepare the way. Fray Marcos advanced
from the Gulf of California eastward. One can
guess the weary hardship of that footsore journey-
ing. It was made between March and September
of 1539. Go into the Yuma Valley in September!
The heat is of a denseness you can cut with a knife.
Imagine the heat of that tramp over desert sands
in June, July and August! When Fray Marcos
sent his Indian guides forward to Zuni, near the
modern Gallup, he was met with the warning " Go
back; or you will be put to death." His messengers
refusing to be daunted, the Zuni people promptly
killed them and threw them over the rocks. Fray
Marcos went on with the lay brothers. Zuni was
called " clbola " owing to the great number of buf-
falo skins (cibolas) in camp.

Fray Marcos' report encouraged the Emperor of
Spain to go on with Coronado's expedition. That
trip need not be told here. It has been told and re-
told in half the languages of the world. The Span-



208 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

iards set out from Old Mexico 300 strong, with 800
Indian escorts and four priests including Marcos
and a lay brother. What did they expect? Prob-
ably a second Peru, temples with walls of gold and
images draped in jewels of priceless worth. What
did they find? In Zuni and the Three Mesas and
Taos, small, sun-baked clay houses built tier on tier
on top of each other like a child's block house, with
neither precious stones, nor metals of any sort, but
only an abundance of hides and woven cloth. When
the soldiers saw Zuni, they broke out in jeers and
curses at the priest. Poor Fray Marcos was think-
ing more of souls saved from perdition than of loot,
and returned in shamed embarrassment to New
Spain.

Across the Desert to the Three Mesas and the
Canon of the Colorado, east again to Acoma and the
Enchanted Mesa, up to the pueblo town now known
as the city of Santa Fe, into the Pecos, and north,
yet north of Taos, Coronado's expedition practically
made a circuit of all the Southwest from the Colo-
rado River to East Kansas. The knightly adven-
turers did not find gold, and we may guess, as winter
came on with heavy snows in the Upper Desert,
they were in no very good mood; for now began
that contest between white adventurers and Pueb-
los which lasted down to the middle of the Nine-
teenth Century. At the pueblo now known as
Bernalillo, the soldiers demanded blankets to protect
them from the cold. The Indians stripped their
houses to help their visitors, but in the melee and no




A fashionable metal-worker of Taos, New Mexico, who
has not adhered to the native costume



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 209

doubt in the ill humor of both sides there were at-
tacks and insults by the white aggressors, and a state
of siege lasted for two months. Practically from
that date to 1840, the pueblo towns were a unit
against the white man.

The last great uprising was just after the Ameri-
can Occupation. Bent, the great trader of Bent's
Fort on the Arkansas, was governor. Kit Carson,
who had run away from the saddler's trade at six-
teen and for whom a reward of one cent was offered,
had joined the Santa Fe caravans and was now living
at Taos, an influential man among the Indians. Ac-
cording to Col. Twitchell, whose work is the most
complete on New Mexico and who received the ac-
count direct from the governor's daughter, Governor
Bent knew that danger was brewing. The Pueblos
had witnessed Spanish power overthrown; then, the
expulsion of Mexican rule. Why should they,
themselves, not expel American domination?

It wac January 18, 1847. Governor Bent had
come up from Santa Fe to visit Taos. He was
warned to go back, or to get a military escort; but
a trader all his life among the Indians, be flouted
danger. Traders' rum had inflamed the Indians.
They had crowded in from their pueblo town to the
plaza of Taos. Insurrectionary Mexicans, who had
cause enough to complain of the American policy
regarding Spanish land titles, had harangued the
Indians into a flare of resentful passion. Governor
Bent and his family were in bed in the house you
can see over to the left of the Plaza. In the kraal



2io TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

were plenty of horses for escape, but the family were
awakened at daybreak by a rabble crowding into
the central courtyard. Kit Carson's wife, Mrs.
Bent, Mrs. Boggs and her children hurried into the
shelter of an inner room. Young Alfredo Bent,
only ten years old, pulled his gun from the rack
with the words "Papa, let us fight;" but Bent
had gone to the door to parley with the leaders.

Taking advantage of the check, the women and an
Indian slave dug a hole with a poker and spoon un-
der the adobe wall of the room into the next house.
Through this the family crawled away from the be-
sieged room to the next house, Mrs. Bent last, call-
ing for her husband to come; but it was too late.
Governor Bent was shot in the face as he expostu-
lated; clubbed down and literally scalped alive. He
dragged himself across the floor, to follow his wife;
but Indians came up through the hole and down over
the roof and in through the windows ; and Bent fell
dead at the feet of his family.

The family were left prisoners in the room with-
out food, or clothing except night dresses, all that
day and the next night. At daybreak friendly Mexi-
cans brought food, and the women were taken away
disguised as squaws. Once, when searching Indians
came to the house of the old Mexican who had shel-
tered the family, the rescuer threw the searchers
off by setting his " squaws " to grinding meal on
the kitchen floor. Kit Carson, at this time, un-
fortunately happened to be in California. He was
the one man who could have re'strained the Indians.



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 211

The Indians then proceeded down to the Arroyo
Hondo to catch some mule loads of whiskey and pro-
visions, which were expected through the narrow
canon. The mill where the mules had been unhar-
nessed was surrounded that night The teamsters
plugged up windows and loaded for the fray that
must come with daylight. Seven times the Indians
attempted to rush an assault. Each time, a rifle
shot puffed from the mill and an Indian leaped into
the air to fall back dead. Then the whole body of
500 Indians poured a simultaneous volley into the
mill. Two of the Americans inside fell dead. A
third was severely wounded. By the afternoon of
the second day, the Americans were without balls or
powder. The Indians then crept up and set fire to
the mill. The Americans hid themselves among the
stampeding stock of the kraal. Night was coming
on. The Pueblos were crowding round in a circle.
The surviving Americans opened the gates and made
a dash in the dark for the mountains. Two only es-
caped. The rest were lanced and scalped as they
ran; and in the loot of the teams, the Indians are
supposed to have secured some well-filled chests of
gold specie.

By January 23rd, General Price had marched out
at the head of five companies, from old Fort Marcy
at Santa Fe for Taos. He had 353 men and four
cannon. You can see the marks yet on the old Mis-
sion at Taos, where the cannon-balls battered down
the adobe walls. The Indians did not wait his com-
ing. They met him 1,500 strong on the heights of a



212 TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY

mesa at Santa Cruz. The Indians made wild efforts
to capture the wagons to the rear of the artillery;
but when an Indian rabble meets artillery, there is
only one possible issue. The Indians fled, leaving
thirty-six killed and forty-five wounded. No rail-
way led up the Rio Grande at that early date; and
it was a more notable feat for the troops to advance
up the narrowing canons than to defeat the foe. At
Embudo, six or seven hundred Pueblos lined the rock
walls under hiding of cedar and pifion. The soldiers
had to climb to shoot; and again the Indians could
not withstand trained fire. They left twenty killed
and sixty wounded here., Two feet of snow lay on
the trail as the troops ascended the uplands; and it
was February 3rd before they reached Taos. Every
ladder had been drawn up, every window barricaded,
and the high walls of the tiered great houses were
bristling with rifle barrels ; but rifle defense could not
withstand the big shells of the assailants. The two
pueblos were completely surrounded. A six pounder
was brought within ten yards of the walls. A shell
was fired the church wall battered down, and the
dragoons rushed through the breach. By the night
of Feb. 4th, old men, women and children bearing
the cross came suing for peace. The ringleader,
Tomas, was delivered to General Price; and the
troops drew off with a loss of seven killed and forty-
five wounded. The Pueblos loss was not less than
200. Thus ended the last attempt of the Pueblos
to overthrow alien domination; and this attempt
would not have been made if the Indians had not



TAGS, THE MOST ANCIENT CITY 213

been spurred on by Mexican revolutionaries, with
counter plots of their own.

We motored away from Taos by sunset. An old
Indian woman swathed all in white came creeping
down one of the upper ladders. They could not


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Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThrough our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert → online text (page 15 of 19)