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 7 of 19)
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Spanish mansion. To reach the Jemez Forests where
the ruins of the Cave Dwellers exist, you can drive or
motor (to certain sections only) or ride. As the dis-
tance is forty miles plus, you will find it safer and more
comfortable to drive. If you take a driver and a
team, and keep both over two days, it will cost you
from $10 to $14 for the round trip. If you go in on
a burro, you can buy the burro outright for $5 or $10.


(Don't mind if your feet do drag on the ground. It
will save being pitched.) If you go out with the
American School of Archaeology (Address Santa Fe
for particulars) your transportation will cost you still
less, perhaps not $2. Once out, in the canons of the
Cave Dwellers, you can either camp out with your own
tenting and food; or put up at Judge Abbott's hospit-
able ranch house; or quarter yourself free of charge
in one of the thousands of cliff caves and cook your
own food; or sleep in the caves and pay for your
meals at the ranch. At most, your living expenses
will not exceed $2 a day. If you do your own cook-
ing, they need not be $i a day.

One of the stock excuses for Americans not seeing
their own country is that the cost is so extortionate.
Does this sound extortionate?

I drove out by livery because I was not sure how
else to find the way. We left Santa Fe at six A. M.,
the clouds still tingeing the sand-hills, I have heard
Eastern art critics say that artists of the Southwest
laid on their colors too strongly contrasted, too
glaring, too much brick red and yellow ocher and
purple. I wish such critics had driven out with me
that morning from Santa Fe. Gregoire Pedilla, the
Mexican driver, grew quite concerned at my silence
and ran off a string of good-natured nonsense to en-
tertain me; and all the while, I wanted nothing but
quiet to revel in the intoxication of shifting color.
Twenty miles more or less, we rattled over the sand-
hills before we began to climb in earnest; and in that


time we had crossed the muddy, swirling Rio Grande
and left the railroad behind and passed a deserted
lumber camp and met only two Mexican teams on the

From below, the trail up looks appalling. It seems
to be an ash shelf in pumice-stone doubling back and
back on itself, up and up, till it drops over the top of
the sky-line ; but the seeming riskiness is entirely decep-
tive. Travel wears the soft volcanic tufa hub deep
in ash dust, so that the wheels could not slide off if
they tried; and once you are really on the climb, the
ascent is much more gradual than it looks. In fact,
our horses took it at a trot without urging. A certain
Scriptural dame came to permanent grief from a habit
of looking back ; but you will miss half the joy of going
up to the Pajarito Plateau if you do not look back
towards Santa Fe. The town is hidden in the sand-
hills. The wreaths have gone off the mountain, and
the great white domes stand out from the sky for a
distance of eighty miles plain as if at your feet, with
the gashes of purple and lilac where the passes cut
into the range. Then your horses take their last turn
and you are on top of a foothill mesa and see quite
plainly why you have to drive 40 miles in order to go
20. Here, White Rock Canon lines both sides of the
Rio Grande precipices steep and sheer as walls, cut
sharp off at the top as a huge square block; and com-
ing into this canon at right angles are the canons
where lived the ancient Cliff Dwellers some of
them hundreds of feet above the Rio Grande, with
opening barely wide enough to let the mountain


streams fall through. To reach these inaccessible
canons, you must drive up over the mesa, though the
driver takes you from eight to ten thousand feet up
and down again over cliffs like a stair.

We lunched in a little water canon, which gashed
the mesa side where a mountain stream came down.
Such a camping place in a dry land is not to be passed
within two hours of lunching time, for in some parts
of the Southwest many of the streams are alkali ; and
a stream from the snows is better than wine. Beyond
our lunching place came the real reason for this par-
ticular canon being inaccessible to motors a climb
steep as a stair over a road of rough bowlders with
sharp climbing turns, which only a Western horse can
take. Then, we emerged on the high upper
mesa acres and acres of it, thousands of acres of it,
open like a park but shaded by the stately yellow pine,
and all of it above ordinary cloud-line, still girt by
that snowy range of opal peaks beyond. We fol-
lowed the trail at a rattling pace the Archaeological
School had placed signs on the trees to Frijoles
Canon and presently, by great mounds of building
stone covered feet deep by the dust and debris of
ages, became aware that we were on historic ground.
Nor can the theory of drought explain the abandon-
ment of this mesa. While it rains heavily only two
months in the year July and August the mesa is
so high that it is subject to sprinkling rains all months
of the year; to be sure not enough for springs, but
ample to provide forage and grow corn; and for
water, these sky-top dwellers had access to the water


canons both before and behind. What hunting
ground it must have been in those old days! Even
yet you are likely to meet a flock of wild turkey face
to face ; or see a mountain lion slink away, or hear the
bark of coyote and fox.

" Is this it, Gregoire?" I asked. The mound
seemed irregularly to cover several acres pretty
extensive remains, I thought.

" Ah, no no Sefiorita wait," warned Gre-
goire expectantly.

I had not to wait long. The wagon road suddenly
broke off short and plumb as if you tossed a biscuit
over the edge of the Flatiron roof. I got out and
looked down and then went dumb ! Afterwards,
Mrs. Judge Abbott told me they thought I was afraid
to come down. It wasn't that! The thing so far
surpassed anything I had ever dreamed or seen; and
the color well those artists accused of over-
coloration could not have over-colored if they had
tried. Pigments have not been invented that could
do it !

Picture to yourself two precipices three times the
height of Niagara, three times the height of the
Metropolitan Tower, sheer as a wall of blocked
yellow and red masonry, no wider apart than you can
shout across, ending in the snows of the Jemez to the
right, shut in black basalt walls to the left, forested
with the heavy pines to the very edge and down the
blocky tiers of rocks and escarpments running into
blind angles where rain and sun have dyed the terra
cotta pumice blood-red. And picture the face of the


cliff under your feet, the sides of the massive rocks
eroded to the shapes of tents and tepees and beehives,
pigeon-holed by literally thousands of windows and
doors and arched caves and winding recess and port-
holes a city of the dead, silent as the dead, old
almost as time !

The wind came soughing up the canon with the
sound of the sea. The note of a lonely song sparrow
broke the silence in a stab. Somewhere, down among
the tender green, lining the canon stream, a mourning
dove uttered her sad threnody then, silence and
the soughing wind; then, more silence; then, if I had
done what I wanted to, I would have sat down on the
edge of the canon wall and let the palpable past come
touching me out of the silence.

A community house of some hundreds of rooms lay
directly under me in the floor of the valley. This
was once a populous city twelve miles long, a city of
one long street, with the houses tier on tier above each
other, reached by ladders, and steps worn hip-deep in
the stone. Where had the people gone; and why?
What swept their civilization away? When did the
age-old silence fall? Seven thousand people do not
leave the city of their building and choice, of their
loves and their hates, and their wooing and their
weddings, of their birth and their deaths do not
leave without good reason. What was the reason?
What gave this place of beauty and security and thrift
over to the habitation of bat and wolf? Why did
the dead race go? Did they flee panic-stricken, pur-
sued like deer by the Apache and the Ute and the


Navajo? Or were they marched out captives, weep-
ing? Or did they fall by the pestilence? Answer
who can! Your guess is as good as mine! But
there is the sacred ceremonial underground chamber
where they worshiped the sacred fire and the plumed
serpent, guardian of the springs; where the young
boys were taken at time of manhood and instructed
in virtue and courage and endurance and cleanliness
and reticence. " If thou art stricken, die like the
deer with a silent throat, " says the adage of the
modern Pueblo Indian. " When the foolish speak,
keep thou silent. " ; ' When thou goest on the trail,
carry only a light blanket." Good talk, all of it, for
young boys coming to realize themselves and life!
And there farther down the valley is the stone circle
or dancing floor where the people came down from
their cliff to make merry and express in rhythm the
emotions which other nations express in poetry and
music. The whole city must have been the grand-
stand when the dancing took place down there.

It was Gregoire who called me to myself.

' We cannot take the wagon down there, " he said.
" No wagon has ever gone down here. You walk
down slow and I come with the horses, one by one. "

It sounded a good deal easier than it looked. I
haven't seen a steeper stair; and if you imagine five
ladders trucked up zigzag against the Flatiron Build-
ing and the Flatiron Building three times higher than
it is, you'll have an idea of the appearance of the situ-
ation; but it looked a great deal harder than it really
was, and the trail has since been improved. The little


steps cut in the volcanic tufa or white pumice are soft
and offer a grip to foothold. They grit to your foot-
step and do not slide like granite and basalt, though if
New Mexico wants to make this wonderful Frijoles
Canon accessible to the public, or if the Archaeological
School can raise the means and cooperate with the
Forestry Service trail makers, a broad graded wagon
road should be cut down the face of this canon, graded
gradually enough for a motor. The day that is done,
visitors will number not 150 a year but 150,000; for
nothing more exquisitely beautiful and wonderful
exists in America.

It seems almost incredible that Judge and Mrs.
Abbott have brought down this narrow, steep tier of
600 steps all the building material, all the furniture,
and all the farm implements for their charming ranch
place ; but there the materials are and there is no other
trail in but one still less accessible.

That afternoon, Mrs. Abbott and I wandered up
the valley two or three miles and visited the high
arched ceremonial cave hundreds of feet up the face
of the precipice. The cave was first discovered by
Judge and Mrs. Abbott on one of their Sunday after-
noon walks. The Archaeological School under Dr.
Hewitt cleared out the debris and accumulated erosion
of centuries and put the ceremonial chamber in its
original condition. " Restoring the ruins " does not
mean " manufacturing ruins. " It means digging out
the erosion that has washed and washed for thousands
of years down the hillsides during the annual rains.
All the caves have been originally plastered in a sort


of terra cotta or ocher stucco. When that is reached
and the charred wooden beams of the smoked, arched
ceilings, restoration stops. The aim is to put the
caves as they were when the people abandoned them.
On the floors is a sort of rock bottom of plaster or
rude cement. When this is reached, digging stops.
It is in the process of digging down to these floors that
the beautiful specimens of prehistoric pottery have
been rescued. Some of these specimens may be seen
in Harvard and Yale and the Smithsonian and the
Natural History Museum in New York, and in the
Santa Fe Palace, and the Field Museum of Chicago.
Sometimes as many as four feet of erosion have over-
laid the original flooring. When digging down to the
flooring of the ceremonial cave, an estufa or sacred
secret underground council chamber was found; and
this, too, was restored. The pueblo of roofless cham-
bers seen from the hilltop on the floor of the valley
was dug from a mound of debris. In fact, too great
praise cannot be given Dr. Hewitt and his co-workers
for their labors of restoration; and the fact that Dr.
Hewitt was a local man has added to the effectiveness
of the work, for he has been in a position to learn
from New Mexican Indians of any discoveries and
rumors of discoveries in any of the numerous caves
up the Rio Grande. For instance, when about half-
way down the trail that first day, at the Frijoles Canon
or Rito de los Frijoles, as it is called, I met on an
abrupt bend in the trail a Pueblo Indian from Santa
Clara blue jean suit, red handkerchief around neck,
felt hat, huge silver earrings and teeth white as


pearls Juan Gonzales, one of the workers in the
canon, who knows every foot of the Rio Grande.
Standing against the white pumice background, it was
for an instant as if one of the cave people had stepped
from the past. Well, it was Wan, as we outsiders
call him, who one day brought word to the Archaeo-
logical workers that he had found in the pumice dust
in one of the caves the body of a woman. The cave
was cleaned out or restored, and proved to be a back
apartment or burial chamber behind other chambers,
which had been worn away by the centuries' wash.
The cerements of the body proved to be a woven cloth
like burlap, and beaver skin. There you may see the
body lying to-day, proving that these people under-
stood the art of weaving long before the Flemings
had learned the craft from Oriental trade.

You could stay in the Rito Canon for a year and
find a cave of fresh interest each day. For instance,
there is the one where the form of a huge plumed
serpent has been etched like a molding round under
the arched roof. The serpent, it was, that guarded
the pools and the springs; and when one considers
where snakes are oftenest found, it is not surprising
that the serpent should have been taken as a totem
emblem. Many of the chambers show six or seven
holes in the floor places to connect with the Great
Earth Magician below. Little alcoves were carved
in the arched walls for the urns of meal and water;
and a sacred fireplace was regarded with somewhat
the same veneration as ancient Orientals preserved
their altar fires. In one cave, some old Spanish padre


has come and carved a huge cross, in rebuke to pagan
symbols. Other large arched caves have housed the
wandering flocks of goats and sheep in the days of the
Spanish regime; and there are other caves where
horse thieves and outlaws, who infested the West
after the Civil War, hid secure from detection. In
fact, if these caves could speak they " would a tale
unfold. "

The aim of the Archaeological Society is year by
year to restore portions till the whole Rito is restored;
but at the present rate of financial aid, complete resto-
ration can hardly take place inside a century. When
you consider that the Rito is only one of many pre-
historic areas of New Mexico, of Utah, of Colorado,
awaiting restoration, you are constrained to wish that
some philanthropist would place a million or two at
the disposal of the Archaeological Society. If this
were done, no place on earth could rival the Rito ; for
the funds would make possible not only the restoration
of the thousands of mounds buried under tons of
debris, but it would make the Canon accessible to the
general public by easier, nearer roads. The inaccessi-
bility of the Rito may be in harmony with its ancient
character; but that same inaccessibility drives thou-
sands of tourists to Egypt instead of the Jemez

There are other things to do in the Canon besides
explore the City of the Dead. Wander down the
bed of the stream. You are passing through parks
of stately yellow pine, and flowers which no botanist
has yet classified. There is the globe cactus high up


on the black basalt rocks, blood-red and fiery as if
dyed in the very essence of the sun. There is the
mountain pink, compared to which our garden and
greenhouse beauties ar: pale as white woman com-
pared to a Hopi. There is the short-stemmed Eng-
lish field daisy, white above, rosy red below, of which
Tennyson sings in " Maud." Presently, you notice
the stream banks crushing together, the waters tum-
bling, the pumice changing to granite and basalt ; and
you are looking over a fall sheer as a plummet, fine as

Follow farther down! The canon is no longer a
valley. It is a corridor between rocks so close they
show only a slit of sky overhead; and to follow the
stream bed, you must wade. Beware how you do that
on a warm day when a thaw of snow on the peaks
might cause a sudden freshet; for if the waters rose
here, there would be no escape ! The day we went
down a thaw was not the danger. It was cold; the
clouds were looming rain, and there was a high wind.
We crept along the rock wall. Narrower and darker
grew the passageway. The wind came funneling up
with a mist of spray from below; and the mossed
rocks on which we waded were slippery as only wet
moss can be. We looked over ! Down down
down tumbled the waters of the Rito, to one black
basin in a waterfall, then over a ledge to another in
spray, then down down down to the Rio
Grande, many feet below. You come back from the
brink with a little shiver, but it was a shiver of sheer


delight. No wonder dear old Bandelier, the first of
the great archaeologists to study this region, opens his
quaint myth with the simple words " The Rito is a
beautiful place. "



THEY call it "the Enchanted Mesa," this
island of ocher' rock set in a sea of light,
higher than Niagara, beveled and faced
straight up and down as if smoothed by some giant
trowel. One great explorer has said that its flat top
is covered by ruins; and another great scientist has
said that it isn't. Why quarrel whether or not this is
the Enchanted Mesa? The whole region is an En-
chanted Mesa, a Painted Desert, a Dream Land
where mingle past and present, romance and fact,
chivalry and deviltry, the stately grandeur of the old
Spanish don and the smart business tricks of modern

Shut your mind to the childish quarrel whether
there is a heap of old pottery shards on top of that
mesa, or whether the man who said there was carried
it up with him ; whether the Hopi hurled the Spaniards
off that particular cliff, or off another! Shut your
mind to the childish, present-day bickering, and the
past comes trooping before you in painted pageantry
more gorgeous and stirring than fiction can create.
First march the enranked old Spanish dons encased in
armor-plate from visor to leg greaves, in this hot land
where the very touch of metal is a burn. Back at



Santa Fe, in Governor Prince's fine collection, you can
see one of the old breastplates dug up from these
Hopi mesas with the bullet hole square above the
heart. Of course, your old Spanish dons are followed
by cavalry on the finest of mounts, and near the
leader rides the priest. Sword and cross rode grandly
in together; and up to 1700, sword and cross went
down ignominiously before the fierce onslaught of the
enraged Hopi. I confess it does not make much
difference to me whether the Spaniards were hurled
to death from this mesa called Enchanted or
that other ahead there, with the village on the tip-top
of the cliff like an old castle, or eagle's nest. The
point is pagan hurled Christian down; and for two
centuries the cross went down with the sword before
savage onslaught. Martyr as well as soldier blood
dyed these ocher-walled cliffs deeper red than their
crimson sands.

Then out of the romantic past comes another era.
The Navajo warriors have obtained horses from the
Spaniards; and henceforth, the Navajo is a winged
foe to the Hopi people across Arizona and New
Mexico. You can imagine him with his silver trap-
pings and harnessings and belts and necklaces and tur-
quoise-set buttons down trouser leg, scouring below
these mesas to raid the flocks and steal the wives of
the Hopi; and the Hopi wives take revenge by con-
quering their conqueror, bringing the arts and crafts
of the Hopi people silver work, weaving, basketry
into the Navajo tribe. I confess it does not make
much difference to me whether the raid took place a


minute before midday, or a second after nightfall. I
can't see the point to this breaking of historical heads
over trifles. The point is that after the incoming of
Spanish horses and Spanish firearms, the Navajos be-
came a terror to the Hopi, who took refuge on the
uppermost tip-top of the highest mesas they could find.
There you can see their cities and towns to this day.

And if you let your mind slip back to still remoter
eras, you are lost in a maze of antiquities older than
the traditions of Egypt. Draw a line from the Man-
zano Forests east of Albuquerque west through Isleta
and Laguna and Acoma and Zuni and the three mesas
of Arizona to Oraibi and Hotoville for 400 miles to
the far west, and along that line you will find ruins of
churches, temples, council halls, call them what you
will, which antedate the coming of the Spaniards by so
many centuries that not even a tradition of their
object remained when the conquerors came. Some of
these ruins in the Manzanos and in western Ari-
zona would house a modern cathedral and seat an
audience of ten thousand. What were they: council
halls, temples, what? And what reduced the nation
that once peopled them to a remnant of nine or ten
thousand Hopi all told? Do you not see how the
past of this whole Enchanted Mesa, this Painted
Desert, this Dream Land, is more romantic than
fiction could create, or than picayune historic disputes
as to dates and broken crockery?

There are prehistoric cliff dwellings in this region
of as great marvel as up north of Santa Fe; north of
Ganado at Chin Lee, for instance. But if you wish to


A Hopi wooing, which has an added interest in that among
the Hopi Indians, women are the rulers of the household


see the modern descendants of these prehistoric Cliff
Dwellers, you can see them along the line of the
National Forests from the Manzanos east of Albu-
querque to the Coconino and Kaibab at Grand Canon
in Arizona. Let me explain here also that the Hopi
are variously known as Moki, Zuni, Pueblos; but that
Hopi, meaning peaceful and life-giving, is their gen-
eric name; and as such, I shall refer to them, though
the western part of their reserve is known as Moki
Land. You can visit a pueblo at Isleta, a short run
by railroad from Albuquerque ; but Isleta has been so
frequently " toured " by sightseers, I preferred to go
to the less frequented pueblos at Laguna and Acoma,
just south of the western Manzano National Forests,
and on up to the three mesas of the Moki Reserve in
Arizona. Also, when you drive across Moki Land,
you can cross the Navajo Reserve, and so kill two
birds with one stone.

Up to the present, the inconvenience of reaching
Acoma will effectually prevent it ever being " toured."
When you have to take a local train that lands you
in an Indian town where there is no hotel at two
o'clock in the morning, or else take a freight, which
you reach by driving a mile out of town, fording an
irrigation ditch and crawling under a barb wire fence
there is no immediate danger of the objective point
being rushed by tourist traffic. This is a mistake both
for the tourist and for the traffic. If anything as
unique and wonderful as Acoma existed in Egypt or
Japan, it would be featured and visited by thousands
of Americans yearly. As it is, I venture to say, not a


hundred travelers see Acoma's Enchanted Mesa in a
year, and half the number going out fail to see it
properly owing to inexperience in Western ways of
meeting and managing Indians. For instance, the
day before I went out, a traveler all the way from
Germany had dropped off the transcontinental and
taken a local freight for the Hopi towns. When a
tourist wants to see things in Germany, he finds a hun-

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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 7 of 19)