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

. (page 17 of 19)
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 17 of 19)
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they don't call the tent city a sanitarium. They
call it " Sun Mount/' or " Happy Canon," or some
other such name. The percentage of recoveries is
wonderful; but the point is, the invalids must come
in time. Wherever you go along the borders of
Old and New Mexico searching for prehistoric
ruins, you come on these tent cities.

Where can one see these cliff and cave dwellings
of a prehistoric dwarf? Please note the points.
Cliff and cave dwellings are not the same. Cliff
dwellings are houses made by building up the front
of a natural arch. This front wall was either in
stone or sun-baked adobe. Cave dwellings are
houses hollowed out of the solid rock, a feat not so
difficult as it sounds when you consider the rock is
only soft pumice or tufa, that yields to scraping more
readily than bath brick or soft lime. The cliff
dwellings are usually only one story. The cave
dwellings may run five stories up inside the rock,
natural stone steps leading from tier to tier of the
rooms, and tiny porthole windows looking down
precipices 500 to 1,000 feet. The cliff dwellings
are mostly entered by narrow trails leading along
the ledge of a precipice sheer as a wall. The first
story of the cave dwellings was entered by a light
ladder, which the owner could draw up after him.
Remember it was the Stone Age: no metals, no fire-
arms, no battering rams, nor devices for throwing



2 3 2 CAS A GRANDE AND THE GILA

projectiles. A man with a rock in his hand in the
doorway of either type of dwelling could swiftly
and deftly and politely speed the parting guest with
a brickbat on his head. Similar types of pottery
and shell ornament are found in both sorts of dwell-
ings; but I have never seen any cliff dwellings with
evidences of such religious ceremony as in the cave
houses. Perhaps the difference between cliff folk
and cave folk would be best expressed by saying that
the cliff people were to ancient life what the East
Side is to us: the cave people what upper Fifth
Avenue represents. One the riff-raff, the weak, the
poor, driven to the wall; the other, the strong, the
secure and defended.

You go to one section of ruins, and you come to
certain definite conclusions. Then you go on to an-
other group of ruins; and every one of your con-
clusions is reversed. For instance, what drove these
races out? What utterly extinguished their civili-
zation so that not a vestige, not an echo of a tra-
dition exists of their history? Scientists go up to
the Rio Grande in New Mexico, see evidence of
ancient irrigation ditches, of receding springs an'd
decreasing waters; and they at once pronounce
desiccation. The earth is burning up at the rate of
an inch or two of water in a century; moisture is
receding toward the Poles as it has in Mars, till
Mars is mostly arid, sun-parched desert round its
middle and ice round the Poles. Good! When
you look down from the cliff dwellings of Walnut
Canon, near Flagstaff, that explanation seems to



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 233

hold good. There certainly must have been water
once at the bottom of this rocky box-canon. When
the water sank below the level of the springs, the
people had to move out. Very well ! You come on
down to the cave dwellings of the Gila. The bot-
tom falls out of your explanation, for there is a
perpetual gush of water down these rock walls from
unfailing mountain springs. Why, then, did the
race of little people move out? What wiped them
out? Why they moved in one can easily under-
stand. The box canons are so narrow that half a
dozen pigmy boys deft with a sling and stones could
keep out an army of enemies. The houses were so
built that a child could defend the doorway with a
club; and where the houses have long hallways and
stairs as in Casa Grande, the passages are so narrow
as to compel an enemy to wiggle sideways; and one
can guess the inmates would not be idle while the
venturesome intruder was wedging himself along.
Also, the bottoms of these box-canons afforded ideal
corn fields. The central stream permitted easy irri-
gation on each side by tapping the waterfall higher
up; and the wash of the silt of centuries ensured
fertility to men, whose plowing must have been ac-
complished by the shoulder blade of a deer used as
a hoe.

Modern pueblo Indians claim to be descendants of
these prehistoric dwarf races. So are we descend-
ants of Adam; but we don't call him our uncle; and
if he had a say, he might disown us. Anyway, how
have modern descendants of the dwarf types devel-



234 CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

oped into six-foot modern Pimas and Papagoes? It
is said the Navajo and Apache came originally from
Athabasca stock. Maybe; but the Pimas and
Papagoes claim their Garden of Eden right in the
Southwest. They call their Garden of Eden by the
picturesque name of " Morning Glow."

How reach the caves of the dwarf race?

To the Gila group, you must go by way of Silver
City; and better go in with Forest Service men, for
this is the Gila National Forest and the men know
the trails. You will find ranch houses near, where
you can secure board and room for from $1.50 to
$2 a day. The " room " may be a boarded up tent;
but that is all the better. Or you may take your
own blanket and sleep in the caves. Perfectly safe

believe me, I have fared all these ways when
you have nearly broken your neck climbing up a
precipice to a sheltered cave room, you need not
fear being followed. The caves are clean as if
kalsomined from centuries and centuries of wash
and wind. You may hear the wolves bark bark

bark under your pillowed doorway all night; but
wolves don't climb up 6oofoot precipice walls. Also
if it is cold in the caves, you will find in the corner
of nearly all, a small, high fireplace, where the glow
of a few burning juniper sticks will drive out the
chill.

What did they eat and how did they live, these
ancient people, who wore fine woven cloth at an era
when Aryan races wore skins? Like all desert
races, they were not great meat eaters; and the



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 235

probabilities are that fish were tabooed. You find
remains of game in the caves, but these are chiefly
feather decorations, prayer plumes to waft petitions
to the gods, or bones used as tools. On the other
hand, there is abundance of dried corn in the caves,
of gourds and squash seeds; and every cave has a
metate, or grinding stone. In many of the caves,
there are alcoves in the solid wall, where meal was
stored; and of water jars, urns, ollas, there are rem-
nants and whole pieces galore. It is thought these
people used not only yucca fiber for weaving, but
some species of hemp and cotton; for there are
tatters and strips of what might have been cotton or
linen. You see it wrapped round the bodies of the
mummies and come on it in the accumulation of vol-
canic ash.

Near many of the ruins is a huge empty basin or
pit, which must have been used as a reservoir in
which waters were impounded during siege of war.
Like conies of the rocks, or beehives of modern sky-
scrapers, these denizens lived. The most of the
mummies have been found in sealed up chambers at
the backs of the main houses; but these could hardly
have been general burying places, for comparatively
few mummies have yet been found. Who, then,
were these dwarf mummies, placed in sealed vaults
to the rear of the Gila caves? Perhaps a favorite
father, brother, or sister; perhaps a governor of the
tribe, who perished during siege and could not be
taken out to the common burial ground.

Picture to yourself a precipice face from 300 to



236 CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

700 feet high, literally punctured with tiny porthole
windows and doll house open cave doors. It is sun-
set. The rocks of these box-canons in the South-
west are of a peculiar wine-colored red and golden
ocher, or else dead gray and gypsum white. Owing
to the great altitude some of the ruins are 9,000
feet above sea level, 1,000 above valley bottom
the atmosphere has that curious quality of splitting
white light into its seven prismatic hues. Artists of
the Southwestern School account for this by the fact
of desert dust being a silt fine as flour, which acts
like crystal or glass in splitting the rays of white
light into its prismatic colors; but this hardly ex-
plains these high box-canons, for there is no dust
here. My own theory (please note, it is only a
theory and may be quite wrong) is that the air is so
rare at altitudes above 6,000 feet, so rare and pure
that it splits light up, if not in seven prismatic col-
ors, then in elementary colors that give the reds and
purples and fire tints predominance. Anyway, at
sunset and sunrise, these box-canons literally swim
in a glory of lavender and purple and fiery reds.
You almost fancy it is a fire where you can dip your
hand and not be burned; a sea in which spirits, not
bodies, swim and move and have their being; a sea
of fiery rainbow colors.

The sunset fades. The shadows come down like
invisible wings. The twilight deepens. The stars
prick through the indigo blue of a desert sky like
lighted candles; and there flames up in the doorway
of cavern window and door the deep red of juniper



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 237

and cedar log glow in the fireplaces at the corner of
each room. The mourning dove utters his plain-
tive wail. You hear the yap-yap of fox and coyote
far up among the big timbers between you and the
snows. Then a gong rings. (Gong? In a metal-
less age? Yes, the gong is a flint bar struck by the
priest with a bone clapper.) The dancers come
down out of the caves to the dancing floors in the
middle of the narrow canon. You can see the danc-
ing rings yet, where the feet of a thousand years
have beaten the raw earth hard. Men only dance.
These are not sex dances. They are dances of
thanks to the gods for the harvest home of corn; or
for victory. The gong ceases clapping. The camp-
fires that scent the canon with juniper smells, flicker
and fade and die. The rhythmic beat of the feet
that dance ceases and fades in the darkness.

That was ten thousand years agone. Where are
the races that danced to the beat of the priest's clap-
per gong?

I wakened one morning in one of the Frijoles
caves to the mournful wail of the turtle dove; and
there came back that old prophecy it used to give
me cold shivers down my spine as a child that
the habitat of the races who fear not God shall be
the haunt of bittern and hoot owl and bat and
fox.

I don't know what reason there is for it, neither
do the Indians of the Southwest know; but Casa
Grande, the Great House, or the Place of the Morn-



238 CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

ing Glow, is to them the Garden of Eden of their
race traditions; the scene of their mythical " golden
age," when there were no Apaches raiding the crops,
nor white men stealing land away; when life was a
perpetual Happy Hunting Ground, only the hunters
didn't kill, and all animals could talk, and the Desert
was an antelope plain knee-deep in pasturage and
flowers, and the springs were all full of running
water.

Casa Grande is undoubtedly the oldest of all the
prehistoric ruins in the United States. It lies some
eighteen to twenty-five miles, according to the road
you follow, south of the station called by that name
on the Southern Pacific Railroad. It isn't supposed
to rain in the desert after the two summer months,
nor to blow dust storms after March; but it was
blowing a dust storm to knock you off your feet when
I reached Casa Grande early in October; and a day
later the rain was falling in floods. The drive can
be made with ease in an afternoon; but better give
yourself two days, and stay out for a night at the
tents of Mr. Pinkey, the Government Custodian of
the ruins.

The ruin itself has been set aside as a perpetual
monument. You drive out over a low mesa of roll-
ing mesquite and greasewood and cactus, where the
giant suaharo stands like a columned ghost of cen-
turies of bygone ages.

" How old are they? " I asked my driver, as we
passed a huge cactus high as a house and twisted in
contortions as if in pain. From tip to root, the



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 239

great trunk was literally pitted with the holes pecked
through by little desert birds for water.

" Oh, centuries and centuries old," he said; " and
the queer part is that in this section of the mesa
water is sixty feet below the surface. Their roots
don't go down sixty feet. Where do they get the
water? I guess the bark acts as cement or rubber
preventing evaporation. The spines keep the des-
ert animals off, and during the rainy season the cac-
tus drinks up all the water he's going to need for
the year, and stores it up in that big tank reservoir
of his. But his time is up round these parts; set-
tlers have homesteaded all round here for twenty-
five miles, and next time you come back we'll have
orange groves and pecan orchards."

Far as you could look were the little adobe houses
and white tents of the pioneers, stretching barb wire
lines round i6o-acre patches of mesquite with a faith
to put Moses to shame when he struck the rock for
a spring. These settlers have to bore down the
sixty feet to water level with very inadequate tools;
and you see little burros chasing homemade wind-
lasses round and round, to pump up water. It looks
like " the faith that lays it down and dies." Slow,
hard sledding is this kind of farming, but it is this
kind of dauntless faith that made Phoenix and made
Yuma and made Imperial Valley. Twenty years
ago, you could squat on Imperial Valley Land. To-
day it costs $1,000 an acre and yields high percent-
age on that investment. To-day you can buy Casa
Grande lands from $5 to $25 an acre. Wait till



2 4 Q CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

the water is turned in the ditch, and it will not seem
such tedious work. If you want to know just how
hard and lonely it is, drive past the homesteads just
at nightfall as I did. The white tent stands in the
middle of a barb wire fence strung along juniper
poles and cedar shakes; no house, no stable, no build-
ings of any sort. The horses are staked out. A
woman is cooking a meal above the chip fire. A lan-
tern hangs on a bush in front of the tent flap. Miles
ahead you see another lantern gleam and swing, and
dimly discern the outlines of another tent the
homesteader's nearest neighbor. Just now Casa
Grande town boasts 400 people housed chiefly in one
story adobe dwellings. Come in five years, and
Casa Grande will be boasting her ten and twenty
thousand people. Like mushrooms overnight, the
little towns spring up on irrigation lands.

You catch the first glimpse of the ruins about
eighteen miles out a red roof put on by the Gov-
ernment, then a huge, square, four story mass of
ruins surrounded by broken walls, with remnants of
big elevated courtyards, and four or five other com-
pounds the size of this central house, like the bas-
tions at the four corners of a large, old-fashioned
walled fort. The walls are adobe of tremendous
thickness - six feet in the house or temple part,
from one to three in the stockade a thickness that
in an age of only stone weapons must have been im-
penetrable. The doors are so very low as to compel
a person of ordinary height to bend almost double to



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 241

enter; and the supposition is this was to prevent the
entrance of an enemy and give the doorkeeper a
chance to eject unwelcome visitors. Once inside, the
ceilings are high, timbered with vigas of cedar
strengthened by heavier logs that must have been
carried in a horseless age a hundred miles from the
mountains. The house is laid out on rectangular
lines, and the halls straight enough but so narrow
as to compel passage sidewise. In every room is a
feature that has puzzled scientists both here and in
the cave dwellings. Doors were, of course, open
squares off the halls or other rooms; but in addition
to these openings, you will find close to the floor of
each room, little round u cat holes," one or two or
three of them, big enough for a beam but without a
beam. In the cave dwellings these little round holes
through walls four or five feet thick are frequently
on the side of the room opposite the fireplace.
Fewkes and others think they may have been ven-
tilator shafts to keep the smoke from blowing
back in the room, but in Casa Grande they are in
rooms where there is no fireplace. Others think
they were whispering tubes, for use in time of war
or religious ceremony; but in a house of open doors,
would it not have been as simple to call through the
opening? Yet another explanation is that they were
for drainage purpose, the cave man's first rude at-
tempt at modern plumbing; but that explanation falls
down, too; for these openings don't drain in any
regular direction. Such a structure as Casa Grande



242 CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

must have housed a whole tribe in time of religious
festival or war; so you come back to the explanation
of ventilator shafts.

The ceilings of Casa Grande are extraordinarily
high; and bodies found buried in sealed up cham-
bers behind the ruins of the other compounds are
five or six feet long, showing this was no dwarf race.
The rooms do not run off rectangular halls as our
rooms do. You tumble down stone steps through a
passage so narrow as to catch your shoulders into a
room deep and narrow as a grave. Then you crack
your head going up other steps off this room to an-
other compartment. Bodies found at Casa Grande
lie flat, headed to the east. Bodies found in the
caves are trussed up knees to chin, but as usual the
bodies found at Casa Grande have been shipped
away East to be stored in cellars instead of being
left carefully glassed over, where they were found.

Lower altitude, or the great age, or the quality
of the clays, may account for the peculiarly rich
shades of the pottery found at Casa Grande. The
purples and reds and browns are tinged an almost
iridescent green. Running back from the Great
House is a heavy wall as of a former courtyard.
Backing and flanking the walls appear to have
been other houses, smaller but built in the same
fashion as Casa Grande. Stand on these ruined
walls, or in the doorway of the Great House, and
you can see that five such big houses have once
existed in this compound. Two or three curious
features mark Casa Grande. Inside what must have



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 243

been the main court of the compound are elevated
earthen stages or platforms three to six feet high,
solid mounds. Were these the foundations of other
Great Houses, or platforms for the religious theat-
ricals and ceremonials which enter so largely into
the lives of Southwestern Indians? At one place is
the dry bed of a very ancient reservoir; but how was
water conveyed to this big community well? The
river is two miles away, and no spring is visible here.
Though you can see the footpath of sandaled feet
worn in the very rocks of eternity, an irrigation
ditch has not yet been located. This, however,
proves nothing; for the sand storms of a single year
would bury the springs four feet deep. A truer in-
dication of the great age of the reservoir is the old
tree growing up out of the center; and that brings
up the question how we know the age of these an-
cient ruins that is, the age within a hundred years
or so. Ask settlers round how old Casa Grande is;
and they will tell you five or six hundred years.
Yet on the very face of things, Casa Grande must
be thousands of years older than the other ruins of
the Southwest.

Why?

First as to historic records: did Coronado see
Casa Grande in 1540, when he marched north across
the country? He records seeing an ancient Great
House, where Indians dwelt. Bandelier, Fewkes and
a dozen others who have identified his itinerary,
say this was not Casa Grande. Even by 1540, Casa
Grande was an abandoned ruin. Kino, the great



244 CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

Jesuit, was the first white man known to have visited
the Great House; and he gathered the Pimas and
Papagoes about and said mass there about 1694.
What a weird scene it must have been the Sacaton
Mountains glimmering in the clear morning light;
the shy Indians in gaudy tunics and yucca fiber
pantaloons crowding sideways through the halls to
watch what to them must have been the gorgeous
vestments of the priest. Then followed the eleva-
tion of the host, the bowing of the heads, the raising
of the standard of the Cross; and a new era, that
has not boded well for the Pimas and Papagoes, was
ushered in. Then the Indians scattered to their
antelope plains and to the mountains; and the priest
went on to the Mission of San Xavier del Bac.

The Jesuits suffered expulsion, and Garcez, the
Franciscan, came in 1775, and also held mass in
Casa Grande. Garcez says that it was a tradition
among the Moki of the northern desert that they
had originally come from the south, from the Morn-
ing Glow of Casa Grande, and that they had inhab-
ited the box-canons of the Gila in the days when
they were " a little people." This establishes Casa
Grande as prior to the cave dwellings of the Gila
or Frijoles; and the cave dwellings were practically
contemporaneous with the Stone Age and the last
centuries of the Ice Age. Now, the cave dwellings
had been abandoned for centuries before the Span-
iards came. This puts the cave age contemporane-
ous with or prior to the Christian era.

In the very center of the Casa Grande reservoir,



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 245

across the doorways of caves in Frijoles Canon, grew
trees that have taken centuries to come to maturity.

The Indian tradition is that soon after a very
great flood of turbulent waters, in the days when the
Desert was knee-deep in grass, the Indian Gods came
from the Underworld to dwell in Casa Grande.
(Not so very different from theories of evolution
and transmigration, is it?) The people waxed so
numerous that they split off in two great families.
One migrated to the south the Pimas, the Papa-
goes, the Maricopas; the others crossed the moun-
tains to the north the Zuriis, the Mokis, the
Hopis.

Yet another proof of the great antiquity is in the
language. Between Papago and Moki tongue is
not the faintest resemblance. Now if you trace the
English language back to the days of Chaucer, you
know that it is still English. If you trace it back to
55 B. C. when the Roman and Saxon conquerors
came, there are still words you recognize thane;
serf, Thor, Woden, moors, borough, etc. That is,
you can trace resemblances in language back 1,900
years. You find no similarity in dialects between
Pima and Moki, and very few similarities in physical
conformation. The only likenesses are in types of
structure in ancient houses, and in arts and crafts.
Both people build tiered houses. Both people make
wonderful pottery and are fine weavers, Moki of
blankets and Pima of baskets; and both people as-
cribe the art of weaving to lessons learned from
their goddess, the Spider Maid.



246 CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA

There are few fireplaces among the ancient dwell-
ings of the Pimas and Papagoes, but lots of fire pits
sipapus where the spirits of the Gods came
through from the Underworld. Dancing floors,
may pole rings, abound among the cave dwellings:
mounds and platforms and courts among the Casa
Grande ruins. The sun and the serpent were fa-
vored symbols to both people, a fact which is easily
understood in a cloudless land, where serpents sig-
nified nearness of water springs, the greatest need
of the people. You can see among the cave dwell-
ings where earthquakes have tumbled down whole
masses of front rooms; and both Moki and Papago
have traditions of " the heavens raining fire."

It has been suggested by scientists that the cliffs
were cities of refuge in times of war, the caves and
Great Houses were permanent dwellings. This is
inferred because there were no kivas or temples
among the cliff ruins, and many exist among the
caves and Great Houses. Gushing and Hough and
I think two or three others regard Casa Grande as
a temple or great community house, where the
tribes of the Southwest repaired semi-annually for
their religious ceremonies and theatricals.

We moderns express our emotions through the
rhythm of song, of dance, of orchestra, of play, of
opera, of art. The Indian had his pictographs on
the rocks for art, and his pottery and weaving to
express his craftsmanship; but the rest of his artistic
nature was expressed chiefly by religious ceremonial
or theatrical dance, similar to the old miracle plays



CASA GRANDE AND THE GILA 247

of the Middle Ages. For instance, the Indians


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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 17 of 19)