J. H. (John Hanson) Beadle.

Western wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... online

. (page 22 of 62)
Online LibraryJ. H. (John Hanson) BeadleWestern wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... → online text (page 22 of 62)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

we are miserable, and long for port. Late in the afternoon we reach
Fort Union, when Captain Humphreys and family leave us, and my
only companion is a young German thence to Las Vegas. This is a
little south of Santa Fe on the headwaters of the Pecos River. It
dates back to the early days of Spanish occupation, and is a rather
prosperous place of three or four thousand. There our coach took on
three U. S. army officers and the Right Reverend John B. Lamy,
bishop of the diocese, who exerted himself to cheer up the heavy
hours of the night as the coach labored through the mountain passes
down to Santa Fe. The cold was intense, and the dawn showed three
inches of freshly fallen snow. The open growth of mountain pines
relieved the landscape but little ; the bare knolls looked inexpressibly
dreary, and the dark gorges suggested wild beasts and banditti. The
rising sun illumined the ragged peaks to our left, and poured a flood
of light through the side cafions, bringing out the red and yellow
stripes upon the wind-worn rocks, and producing for a brief space a
scene of strange, weird beauty. At one station the occupants were
dressing a bear which they had killed the previous night.

This is my fourth day of continuous travel, and I begin to
weaken; my head pitches forward and back in involuntary "cat-
naps" of a minute each. After four hours riding down hill,
by 10 o'clock in the morning the snow had disappeared; once
more nature asserted herself, and I was really feeling bright again



when we came in sight of Santa Fe. In all my travels I never re-
member being so disappointed. One might pass within two miles of

the city and
miss it. It
is not in
the Rio
Valley, as
I had sup-
posed, but
at least
miles from
that river,
quite in a
hollow, and
appears a
low, fl a t
o f in u d
huts. Some
squares are
walled i n
with mud,
stones and
then the
width of a
house roof-
ed around
the square
on the in-
side; parti-
tion walls
are built,

passages cut through, and a score of dwellings in one group are
complete. As the coach rolls through the narrow, ugly streets, it
looks more like driving through a dirt cut in some excavation than
the streets of a city. As we near the center of town these
squares seems more compact ; holes appear to have been cut through,



making shut alleys or narrow streets, and other openings show the
interior of these mud-walled squares to be a sort of stamping ground
in common, for pigs, chickens, jackasses, children, ugly old women
and " Greasers."

Reaching the plaza, things look a little better. There at least is a
patch of green, a tract grown up in alfalfa, or Spanish clover. We
stop at the Exchange, the only hotel in the city for white men, or
rather Americans, the other 'distinction, though perfectly accurate, not
being well relished here. The Exchange is a one-story square, like
all the rest; but across the middle of the square is a line of buildings
containing the dining-room and kitchen, and dividing the stable-yard
and poultry run from the open court for human use. An arched way
between the kitchen and dining-room connects the two courts; on the
human side women and children take their recreation, and men of
quiet or literary tastes can sit and read ; while the stable side is sacred
to dog-fights, cock-fights, wrestling-matches, pitching Mexican dol-
lars and other exclusively manly pursuits. The people of Santa Fe
evidently do not take in their philosophy the statement that '' Man
was made to mourn."

But I have little time to note these facts, for soon after leaving the
coach my head is rolling as in a fit of sea-sickness; and I soon take
to bed, where I remain for fourteen hours. Rising refreshed, I see
the city in a fairer light. The streets are dreary in themselves, but
the wayfarers are picturesque. Here comes a mountaineer with a
cabaUardo of donkeys, each bearing his little load of wood or hay
piled high on his back and strapped as only a Mexican can strap it.
Next is a well-to-do citizen always fairer than the common people
with all the pride of the gente fina ; then a Pueblo Indian with redder
complexion than his wild congener, and curiously striped and col-
ored blanket wrapping his stocky form. White soldiers in blue are
numerous, for this is military headquarters for a large district; stylish
officers with American wives brighten the principal street or saunter
in the plaza, while heavily loaded army wagons drag slowly through
the dust. The local traders, mostly Jews, add not a little to the com-
fort of the place ; they speak all the languages used here, and are all
things to all men to make it pleasant for visitors.

The sun shines from a sky of dazzling purity, but the air is cool ;
fires are necessary in the hotel parlor except for a few hours of midday,
and I wear my overcoat on the streets. The city has a summer
climate like that of Quebec, and a winter atmosphere much like that
of Tennessee. All this is a surprise, as I had somehow got the idea


that Santa Fe was in a hot climate. For incipient pulmonary com-
plaints it is most excellent ; those in an advanced stage of consump-
tion die very suddenly here. Just north-east of the city, though
thirty miles away, "Old Baldy," the noted mountain peak, rears its
white head 12,000 feet high; east of us is the Rocky Range; on both
sides of the city abrupt spurs put out westward toward the Rio
Grande. The elevation is 7,000 feet, making this one of the highest
cities in America; hence to the Rio Grande is all the way down hill,
a descent of some twenty-two hundred feet.

Santa Fe de San Francisco, ("Holy Faith of Saint Francis,") as
the old Spaniards named this city, has been inhabited by white men
for two hundred and fifty years; and long before that by Pueblos, one
of their old towns having been partly on the same site. In the nar-
row valley of Santa Fe Creek, walled in on all sides except the west,
by abrupt mountains, it is measurely free from winter storms. On
the other hand a suit of summer clothes is seldom seen in the streets ;
there are not thirty days in the year when they are needed. The
place looks a thousand years old; the dwellings are low, flat and un-
inviting. I don't think there are twenty two-story houses in the city.
The residences of some of the officials display a little taste ; two or
three of the merchants have houses with pretty surroundings, and
Bishop Lamy has a place which would almost be considered pretty in
Ohio. I saw perhaps a dozen gardens; all the rest of the view is
bare, gray and dried-mud color. But here are old withered Mexi-
cans, whose fathers and grandfathers were born, lived and died in
this valley ; for Santa Fe was an important place long before Wil-
liam Penn laid out Philadelphia. Here are old records and Spanish
manuscripts, with which an antiquarian might spend months of enjoy-
ment. Yes, Santa Fe has one great merit it is rich in historic interest.

The Mexicans are a strangely polite, lazy, hospitable, lascivious,
kind, careless and unprogressive race. The town saw its best days
many years ago, when the Santa Fe trade from St. Louis and Inde-
pendence was of great importance. It is now but the shell of former
greatness. The population is claimed to be 6,000 ; I do not see
where they put them. The whites, not of Spanish origin, number
about five hundred. The Federal officials are Americans, from the
States; most of the Territorial officers, Mexicans. It is a wonder
there is so little conflict of jurisdiction, with all these differences of
race and religion; but New Mexico is politically the quietest
of the Territories. Instead of the ever-recurring religious squabbles
of Utah, or the internecine political strifes of Dakota, these people


seem always satisfied with what the officials do, if it is within a
hundred degrees of right. They consider a governor as only one
remove below the Deity; or, rather two removes, the Virgin Mary
coming next, and the governor being about on the same degree as
St. Peter. To one like myself, accustomed to the studied contempt, or
lordly indifference, or good-natured and irreverent bonhommie, with
which Territorial governors are regarded, respectively in Utah, Colo-
rado and Dakota, it was something amusing to witness old, gray-
headed men, with hat removed, bowing low to Governor Giddings,
and to hear the senoras direct their children as he passed, " No hable
uste tanlo. EL Gobernador!" Politeness is ingrained in all Spanish-

As with most mixed races, the standard of morals is not high. The
gentefina, or tipper classes, mingle very little with the common people;
socially not at all. Except among the aristocracy, who seldom in-
vite travelers to their houses, there seems to be no distinction at social
gatherings on the score of character. The indifference on that subject
would astonish most Americans. If the Stantons, Anthonys, etc., are
really in earnest in the statement that "woman should have no worse
stigma than man for sexual sins," they would certainly be gratified
here, for the disgrace is, at least, as great to one sex as the other.
Indeed, I think the general judgment for marital unfaithfulness is
more severe on a man than a woman. The young Americans bring
their mistresses to the baile with the same indifference the Mexicans
do their sweethearts. These "girls" are scrupulously polite, and so
unlike the same class in the States, that it can only be accounted for
by the fact that they see no disgrace whatever in their mode of life,
and feel no sort of social degradation.

A visitor with any reverence in his composition scarcely knows
whether to smile or sigh at that " faith without knowledge," which
shows in all their customs, and most of all in their names. Jesus,
Maria, Mariano and Jose (Joseph) are favorites, the second and
third common to both sexes. A prominent citizen is Don Jesus
Vigil. His parents probably intended him for a "watchful Chris-
tian." Fortunately for sensitive American ears, it is pronounced
Haysoos VeheeL Irreverent as it may appear in me to write it, there
is a well-known citizen whose name is Jesus A. Christ de Vaca (Hay-
soos Antonio Kreest day Svahca).

Sometimes among the gentefina, the marriage contract specifies that
the sons take both names (united by "and"), from some principle
of law as to entailed estates. Thus Don Jose Vigil y Alarid is the


son of a lady of the Alarid family married to Sefior Vigil. In like
manner my young friends insisted that my rough Saxon patronymic
did not suit the soft Castilian, and I became Sefior Juan de Bidello.
All Spanish-Americans are brilliant in nomenclature. The full name
of a cowherd sounds like the title of a grandee. Americans who set-
tle in the country very often translate their own names, or give them a
Castilian termination. By such process Mr. Meadows becomes Sefior
Las Vegas; John Boggs, Sefior Juan de Palos; and Jim Gibbons
flowers out as Don Santiago de Gibbonoise. An Irishman from Den-
ver settled near El Paso, married a wealthy Mexican lady, and lives in
style; his original name, Tim Murphy, is long since forgotten, and
he signs his bank checks as Timotheus Murfando.

Twelve days I wandered about Santa Fe, finding much to interest,
and picking up a smattering of the language to serve me in my trav-
els westward. Daily I studied the routes through Arizona, and each
day brought fresh tales of disaster. First came a Mexican from El
Paso, whose two companions were killed by Indians on the edge of
the Jornada del Muerto ; and next a ranchero from the south-western
border, whose Mexican herders were killed, and all his stock run off
by the Mescalero Apaches. And while he was .yet speaking came
another messenger, and said that nine prospectors, who left by the
northern route, went too far south, fell into an ambuscade, and "their
scalps now ornament the lodges of Collyer's pets." Simultaneously
a lieutenant and sergeant of cavalry were ambuscaded in the Alamosa
and their animals "niched" with arrows. Drawing their revolvers,
they dashed bravely on, firing right and left, knowing that to be their
only chance for life, and, by rare good fortune, got through and into
the open plain. Sorely wounded, and compelled to abandon their
exhausted animals, only the darkness of night prevented their

We next receive Arizona papers with the information that the east-
ern coach was attacked near Tucson, and the driver and messenger

7 O

killed; and that the western coach was robbed beyond Fort Yuma
by Mexican ladrones, and the station-keeper and one messenger mur-
dered. The white population of Arizona was 9,600, and they then
averaged a loss of twenty per month by Apaches and Mexicans
about half the ordinary mortality of an army. All things considered,
I concluded to try the northern route. A soldier was about to start
for Fort Wingate with a wagon-load of provisions ; and General My-
ers, quartermaster, kindly gave me passage with him. From Win-
gate I thought to catch some kind of an expedition to Prescott.



There were stretches of fifty miles on that line without grass or wa-
ter, but no hostile Indians, which suited me admirably. By waiting
a month I could have gone to the Little Colorado with a party of
engineers; but life is too short to stay a whole month in Santa Fe.
At noon of May 22d I took my seat on an army wagon, and rolled


out of the New Mexican capital. Crossing the Rio de Santa Fe, we
left the valley and struck across the mesa in a south-west direction, the
city behind us appearing to sink slowly into the earth. Looking
back upon it, this noted town appeared to my eye exactly like a col-
lection of old brick yards. It is my invariable custom to say some-
thing good of a town on departing, if I can possibly think of a good
thing to say, but Santa Fe " raises me out." It was an important


place in the old days of freighting from the Missouri border, because
it was on the first level and fertile piece of ground the trains could
reach after getting through the mountain passes. But it can never be
a railroad center, though it may some day have a branch road.

My only companion from Santa Fe to Fort Wingate was Frank
Hamilton, of the Eighth United States Cavalry, stationed at that post.
Frank had been detailed to come to Santa Fe on military business,
and had improved the occasion by getting gloriously drunk, in which
condition he remained most of the time he was there, and was barely
sober enough to know the road. His first move was down a three-
foot bank into the Santa Fe. I jumped into the water to avoid a fall
on the rocks, which stuck up sharply on the other side; but the
wagon careened half over, lodged and righted again, when the mules
took a forward surge, so I got off with nothing worse than a drench-
ing. Hamilton, being drunk, and limber as a rag, of course escaped
injury. For \varrnth and dryness' sake I walked most of the

We turn south-west, rising by successive " benches " to a vast bar-
ren table-land. We pass in the afternoon one Mexican hamlet, look-
ing like a collection of half a dozen " green " brick-yards dry, hard,
dusty and desolate. Crossing the high mesa, level as the sea, we ap-
proach an irregular line of rocks, rising like turrets ten or twenty feet
above the plain, which we find to be a sort of a natural battlement
along the edge of the " big hill." Reaching the cliff we see, at an
angle of forty-five degrees below us, in a narrow valley, the town of
La Bajada. Down the face of this hill the road winds in a series of
zigzags, bounded in the worst places by rocky walls, descending fif-
teen hundred feet in three-quarters of a mile. La Bajada is the stere-
otyped New Mexican town a collection of mud-huts, among which
one or two whitewashed domos indicate the residences of persons of
the genie fina (hen-la fee-nafi), or, as they themselves style it, of the
sang re azul (blue blood).

The town has a hotel, consisting of a quadrangle of rooms around
an open square, which contains some flowers, two shade- trees, benches,
and wash-stands. The rooms have floors of wood, instead of dirt; the
walls are whitewashed; two mirrors and a buffalo-skin lounge adorn
the sitting-room, and generally the place ranks high. Two bright-
eyed, graceful, copper-colored senoritas bring me a supper of coffee,
side meat, eggs and tortillas de mats, and entertain me with a vo-
luminous account, in musical Spanish, of their personal recollections
of the place. I have learned enough of the language to be able to


say " ah," " yes/' and " no " at nearly the right place, and that is the
most required to keep a Mexican woman social. My companion, jolly
drunk, was barely able to get his team into the corral, when he fell
back into the wagon asleep, and, as he was the cook of our outfit, I
was obliged to stay o^rer night at the hotel. Except the two houses
mentioned, the whole town is of a uniform dull clay color, walls of
of mud, fences of mud, door and window-casings of mud-colored
wood, roofs of slightly sloping poles, covered with earth two or three
feet thick, floors of native earth beaten hard, and nowhere a patch of
grass to relieve the wearied eye. It is one of the few Mexican towns
not named after some saint; La Bajada means "The Descent," the
words being pronounced together, Lavvahadda.

Thence, in the cool of the morning, we journey at a sobre passo gait of
two miles an hour, down the valley towards the Rio Grande. The first
point of interest is the Pueblo of Santo Domingo, where I visit for an
hour. The houses are all in a bunch ; a few have doors, but most are
still entered from the roof, there being a ladder or rude stairway at
the corner. All the men were in the public field at work, and the
women and children appeared strangely quiet and undemonstrative.
The only man I met accompanied me three miles on the road. He
gave his name as Antonio Gomez, and talked fluently of their mode
of life and system of government. We were more social, indeed, than
could have been expected of men with but a few hundred words in
common ; but words are like dollars a few go a long ways when one
is pinched. But my main question : " How many years since your
people ' first came here ?" he answered, with a laugh : " Quidn sabe ?
Quisas doce quinientos !" (Who knows? Perhaps a dozen times five
hundred !) They generally reckon by tens ; are seldom able to count
high numbers, and any thing above two or three hundred is " infinity,"
vaguely expressed by quinientos.

Three miles brought us down into a beautiful vega, containing some
two miles square of rich, natural meadow, on which the Pueblos had
several hundred head of horses and mules. My companion pointed
out with some pride his own manada of sixty mules and mares, at-
tended by his three boys, and urged me to stop at his rancheria and
take dinner. But appearances were not inviting, so I plead no tiempo,
and hurried on after the team, Antonio leaving me with a friendly
grasp, and, "Addio, Senor, pasa buenas dies." (May you pass good
days.) A little farther on we drove within a quarter of a mile of the
river, where some twenty Pueblos were hauling a rude seine. They
held up some good-sized fish, shouting the price, but, on my de-


clining, waved me off with, "Buena Jornada, Seflor!" (A good jour-
ney, sir.)

We pass the little pueblo of San Felipe, and from this vega rise to
another desert for ten miles the same eye-wearying panorama of dry
sand, dark-gray rock, and treeless, grassless mesa, the whole un-
inhabited. About 3 P. M. we descend to another oasis of two or
three square miles, where we spend the night at the town of Al-
godones. All that I had previously seen of unsightly Mexican towns
is eclipsed by this straggling row of unburnt brick-kilns walls,
fences, houses, fields and corrals of dried mud. My companion had
fortunately got sober enough to cook our supper, while I hunted for
some additions to our fare, which consisted of army bread, pork,
coffee and potatoes. I found three luxuries for sale : vino de pais (na-
tive wine), eggs and goat's milk. My soldier took the milk by
choice, but I confined myself to the eggs and wine, with the regular
fare. After supper I ran about town till I found one intelligent cit-
izen, who gave me much information about the country, in a mixture
of French and Spanish. " When will the thirty-fifth parallel road be
built?" and "Will New Mexico be admitted soon as a State?" were
the questions on which he earnestly desired information. He set forth
the arguments for a State government at great length. The strongest,
in his estimation, seemed to be, " The rich (los ricos) are all in favor
of it." As they must pay the expense, he thought they should have
whatever they wanted.

We were off at six next morning, and a few miles from Algodones
entered the great oasis of Albuquerque, the largest body of good
land in New Mexico. For nearly a hundred miles, with slight
breaks, extends the fertile valley of the Rio Grande, varying from two
to eight miles wide. In this portion an acecquia, taken out of the
river above, runs along the bluffs, from which side-ditches, one every
furlong or oftener, convey the water among the fields. There we see
ridges of dirt thrown up, dividing the field into little squares of some
five rods each, to hold the water. The labor of irrigating seems much
greater than in Utah. In comparison with the sterile mesas we have
crossed, this fertile strip seems a very Eden. Wheat, which at Santa
Fe was just high enough to give a faint tinge of green, is here a foot
high, rank and thrifty. We are twenty-two hundred feet lower than
that city, and in a climate at least ten degrees warmer. Not more than
one-tenth of the whole area of New Mexico is fit for cultivation. Even
of that so fit, not more than half lies in a position to be irrigated, with
the present system. But that which is fertile is exceedingly so.


At least five-sixths of the population of New Mexico lives in the
Rio Grande Valley, or along its immediate tributaries; there are all
the important towns, while one may cross the country from east to
west, and travel for days without sight of a dwelling or green spot.
In most towns one^sees no shade trees, no rills of sparkling water
coursing the streets as in Utah or Colorado ; even the Rio Grande is
often exhausted in dry weather, and the many irrigating ditches it
supplies leave its bed dry for miles. Albuquerque appears in the
distance like a collection of brick-yards unbui-nt; but a nearer view
shows many vineyards and gardens. Among the little farms near the
city, the inhabitants are repairing their fences, as usual just before
the summer drought. A box-frame, some two feet square and a foot
deep, with no bottom, is placed upon the ground and filled with tough
mud mingled with a little grass ; then, the frame being lifted, leaves a
section of the wall in place to be hardened and whitened (a little) by
the sun. Successive blocks are stacked on this, till the mud wall is
four or five feet high. Such are the only fences one can see for days
of travel along the Rio Grande.

Reaching Albuquerque my soldier decided that he had enough
money left for a two days' spree ; we would therefore remain till
Sunday morning. So I rested, wrote, and rambled in the queer, flat,
old city, calling also on the padre, who is usually the most intelligent
man in a Mexican town. All the acting padres are now French or
Irish ; the native Mexican priests have been retired, whether on half-
pay or not I did not learn. The padre gave me many facts : that the
oasis of Albuquerque was some eighty miles long, and averaged four
miles wide, and that it was now two hundred and fifty years since the
Spanish Duke of Albuquerque encamped on this spot, though the city
is not so old. His name in full was Don Alphonso Herrera Ponto
Delgado de Albuquerque. I asked the padre "what was his front
name," but he did not seem to know. His descendants now belong to
the gente fina, that is to say, the first families before mentioned peo-
ple who have the sangre azul in their veins. The city is some two
hundred years old, contains about 2,000 people, and boasts of the
finest church in New Mexico a stately pile of adobes, with two lofty

Online LibraryJ. H. (John Hanson) BeadleWestern wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... → online text (page 22 of 62)