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

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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 25 of 62)
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rarely a turquoise ; for the whole region abounds in curious stones and
petrifactions, with more fossils than Agassiz could classify in a month.
All the hillocks made by the desert ants are found to be dotted with
garnets, which, both plainsmen and Indians say, the insects have gath-
ered from the adjacent plain and piled there evidently attracted by
their brightness, whether from a sense of beauty or otherwise.

Three hours before one would not have known there was an Indian
in the vicinity ; now the square is full, and others are still pouring
in. But all are doomed to disappointment. Congress has been too
busy President-making to pass the appropriation bills, and the agent
sadly says : " No provisions yet." It is a time of scarcity with them
too. The annuity for the previous year has long been exhausted ;
their crops for 1870 were very poor; in 1871 there was a total fail-
ure. Their miserable, dry, burnt-out and barren country is yearly
growing dryer and more barren; the bunch grass is abundant, as it
grows without summer rains, but they have not had time to recruit
their flocks since the devastating Navajo war, and starvation threatens
half the tribe. The last grain in the agency store-house was issued
on the 14th of June; the Indians have eaten all their oldest sheep and
goats, saving the young, especially the ewes, to the last, and when I
visit their hogans I sometimes see them gnawing away at what look
suspiciously like equine shanks. The Agency employes have not been
paid for a year, and have to buy their own provisions from the nearest
Mexican settlements. Still the Navajoes are cheerful and lively, in
their worst troubles still looking for better times ; and I spend many
days of enjoyment rambling among them.

My first task is to learn enough of the language for the usages of
common life ; and a severe task it is. I begin with ah-tee-chee (" what


is it?") and proceed to the words for bread or meat, fire and water, viz:
chinneahgo, knuh and toh. The language is extremely nasal, equally
guttural, and abounds in sibilants and triple consonants, many sounds
having no equivalent in English. In every band are some Mexicans,
captured young and adopted by the tribe ; and a few Spanish words
are in common use, but so changed in the pronunciation as to make
them new. Thus Americano becomes Melicano; azucar, (" sugar ") tsu-
collo; scrape, ("blanket") selap, and ombre ("man") ombly ; for no
Indian or Chinaman can pronounce the r. Their social customs and
adornments have a singular resemblance to those of the . Japanese.
They treat their women as well as most white nations. Men do the
out-door work, women that of the household. The latter are very
communicative, humorous and mirthful, and nothing seems to amuse
them so much as my attempts at their language, at which they listen
and laugh by the hour. 'They say that a woman first taught them how
to weave blankets and make water-jars, for which cause it is a point
of honor with a Navajo never to strike a woman.

In my visits I frequently heard them speak of En-now-lo-kyh, some-
times joined with the word el-soo-see, and as I stooped to enter a
hogan, could sometimes hear the head of the family call to order with
" Hah-koh ! El-soo-see En-noic-lo-kyh ! " Learning that this was my
Navajo name, I sought the interpreter, highly flattered at my noble title,
to learn its meaning. A broad grin adorned his features as he informed
me that the two words, translated literally, meant " Slim-man-with-a-
white-eye." Feeling this to be somewhat personal, and inferentially
abusive, I had him explain somewhat of my business to them and
construct a name indicative of my profession ; and henceforth I hope
to become historical among the Navajoes by an unpronounceable word
of six syllables, meaning in English " Big Quill." When a commu-
nication is twice translated, it triples the ambiguity; and that is the
method employed with them: one interpreter speaks English and
Spanish, the other Spanish and Navajo. I made my remarks in the
plainest, most terse English I could command, which the American
translated into the florid Castilian ; this, in turn, the Mexican rendered
in the hissing, complicated phrases and cumbrous polysyllables of the
aboriginal tongue.

It was but seventy miles to the ruins on the De Chaco, and I had
arranged to visit them with Navajo guides, when one of the party
which had gone to San Juan arrived, completely' exhausted, and
announced that Agent Miller had been murdered, and all their horses
stolen but one ; that he had started immediately with that, and the rest


of the party were coming afoot. Next day the others arrived, quite
worn out, having walked a hundred miles in three days, carrying
their baggage. Their account is as follows : The party consisting of
Agent Miller, B. M. Thomas, (Agency Farmer,) John Ayers and the
Interpreter, Jesus Alviso, left Defiance on the 4th of June, to inspect
the San Juan Valley, with a view of locating the Navajo Agency
there. The examination was satisfactory, as they found one fertile and
beautiful valley near the river, capable of being irrigated by a single
acecquia, and sufficient to support the whole tribe. At the same time,
three others left the settlements on a prospecting tour, reached San
Juan one day after the Agent's party, and were camped twelve miles
from them on the bluff. Neither party dreamed of danger from the
Utes, as that tribe had been at peace many years ; and, though they
annoyed the Navajoes greatly, had not molested white men. On the
morning of the llth, just at dawn, Miller's companions were awakened
by the report of a gun and whistling of an arrow, both evidently
fired within a few rods of them. They sprang to their feet, and saw
two Utes run into the brush ; ten minutes after they saw them emerge
from the opposite side of the thicket, and ride up the bluff, driving
the company's horses before them. They did not know, at first sight,
that the Utes were hostile, or that they had fired at them. John
Ayers spoke to Miller, who did not reply; he then shoved him with
his foot, still he did not wake. They pulled off his blanket, and
found him dead. The Ute's bullet had entered the top of his head
and passed down behind his right eye, without disarranging his cloth-
ing in the slightest. His feet were crossed, and hands folded exactly
as when he went to sleep ; his eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted
into a faint smile, as if from a pleasant dream all showed beyond
doubt that he had passed from sleep to death without a struggle or a
sigh. Thus died James H. Miller, a true Christian, a faithful official
and brave man.

Congress did not adjourn without passing the Indian Appropriation
Bill, and soon came the welcome news that the agent at Santa Fe had
started several thousand bushels of grain for Defiance. Again the em-
ployed took heart; there was joy in the hogans. Mr. Thomas V.
Reams, Agency Clerk, was acting in place of Miller, deceased, and I
gladly acknowledge the many courtesies I received at his hands. In-
deed, all the employes, like people generally in these out-of-the-way
places, vied with each other in making my stay pleasant. I recall par-
ticularly Dr. J. Menaul and lady, preacher and teacher for the Agency ;
Lionel Ayers, post-trader; J. Dunn, wagon-master; A. C. Damon,


butcher, and Andy Crothers, in charge of grain-room. Altogether,
the whites at the .post numbered sixteen men and four women a little
colony far beyond the border of civilization, and the last whites I was
to see for some hundreds of miles.

The situation is pleasant and romantic. The Benito Hills, averaging
five hundred feet above the plain, run directly north and south. On
the west side of them is a vast inclosed basin, from which Cafion
Benito breaks directly through the hills a sharp, abrupt gorge, square
across the formation, with perpendicular walls entirely inaccessible.
The east end of the caflon broadens into a little valley, at the mouth
of which, though out on the plain, the fort is situated. A river once
ran through the gorge, of which the successive periods can be traced
on the sandstone walls to a height of two hundred feet. There seems
to have been the original bottom of the canon, whence the river stead-
ily cut deeper until it had completely drained the basin above. The
river had long been dry when the fort was located, but several springs
in the east end of the canon created a stream sufficient to irrigate a
section of the land on the plain. Here the Navajoes had raised corn
and melons from time immemorial ; they had no other vegetables when
found by the whites. The present occupants of Defiance have thrown
a dam across this end of the cafion, producing a beautiful artificial lake
some three hundred yards long, and rising so high as to leave barely
room for a wagon-road. The lake is strongly alkaline, but a few rods
below is a spring of the nicest and purest water to be found in these
mountains. It is the one important treasure of this post, which, with-
out it, would be almost uninhabitable. In the States, towns are lo-
cated according to convenience for trade ; in the mountains, settlement
is determined by the presence of never-failing water.

I had exhausted the sights near Defiance, and was eager to be off.
Mr. Reams called in Juerro, the old war-chief of the Navajoes, and
together they selected an intelligent young man to be my guide to
Moqui. The Navajoes were scattering out on their summer hunt and
trading trips, and we were likely soon to have abundant company.
My new guide took a stout burro for the trip, while I rode a good-
sized American horse. I was to provision myself and one man to the
Mormon settlements, and one man back, besides his fee. Thus ran
the bill : Thirty pounds of flour, ten pounds of bacon, ten pounds of
sugar, five pounds of coffee, and six boxes of sardines, the whole cost-
ing but twenty dollars. The same sum to my guides, and five dollars
for the hire of a burro, made the total expense, for a trip of nearly five
hundred miles, forty-five dollars not much more than railroad fare.


My horse, bridle, saddle, lariat, gun (a Spencer), and two Navajo
blankets cost me two hundred dollars. My Navajo knew a few words
of Spanish, perhaps fifty in all -about equal to my list in his language;
but, unfortunately for general conversation, our words covered about
the same objects. Such words as the following were in constant use:

Tohh . . . Water.

Klohh . . Grass.

Chizz . . , Wood.

Knuhh . . . Fire.

Klee . . . Horse.

Klitt . . . Smoke.

Hahkohh. . . Come.

Tennehh . . . Man.

I represent the sharp accent at the end of some words by doubling
the final letter, and the prolonged nasal sound by nh. The numbers
as far as twenty-two run thus : Kli, nahkee, tah, dteen, estlahh, hos-
tonn, susett, seepee, nostyy, niznahh, klitzetta, nahkeetsetta, tahtsetta,
dteentsetta, estlahta, hostahta, susetetta, seepetta, nostytsetta, nahta,
nahta kli, nahta nahkee, etc. " Thirty " is tahta, " forty " dteenta, and
so on, while after each the ten integers run as at first.

We are off before noon of June 18th, the whole white population
joining us in a "stirrup cup," and white, brown, and red waving a
good-bye. John, as I christened my Navajo, led the way up Cafion
Benito, and over a low spur of red hills into a beautiful green valley
about a mile square, quite level, and covered with grass a foot high.
On every side of it rose bare columns and ridges of sand-rock, but
from their base trickled here and there tiny rills of water enough to
keep the valley fertile. Herds of sheep and goats, attended by Nava-
jo girls, and some horses attended by boys, enlivened the scene.
Through this, and on to another sand-ridge, then three miles more,
brought us to a long narrow valley, winding for miles among the hills,
and looking as if it had once been the bed of a river, and been heaved
up by some convulsion. For hours we crossed such valleys every two
or three miles, none of them more than a hundred yards wide, and
separated by barren ridges. The grass in the valleys was rank and
thrifty ; the ridges had nothing but an occasional sprig of sage-brush
or cactus. Every-where along the grass-plats were shepherd girls
with considerable flocks, each girl carrying a set of Navajo spools and
spindle and a bunch of wool, on which she worked in the intervals of
watching. These spools are very similar in shape to those used in our
rural districts, but large and clumsy. "With a pointed stick, turned in
the right hand, the spinner runs the wool on to the larger spool in


rolls somewhat smaller than the little finger. Having filled it, and
transferred to a smaller stick, she runs it to the smaller spool in the
form of a very coarse yarn, when it is ready for the "filling" in a
blanket. Herding is the most laborious work the Navajo girls have
to do. They have all the advantages of the healthful climate, without
the fatigue of long expeditions, and are, as a rule, stronger and health-
ier than the men. They are the only Indian girls I ever saw who
even approximate to the Cooper ideal. Their dress is picturesque, con-
sisting of separate waist and skirt; the former leaves the arms bare,
and is made loose above and neat at the waist; the latter is of flowered
calico, with a leaning to red and black, and terminates just below the
knee in black border or frills. Neat moccasins complete the costume,
the limbs being left bare generally in the summer. They are very
shapely and graceful, and their strength is prodigious.

This plateau, the ridges being of sandstone and the narrow valleys of
mixed sand and black earth, is at least 7,000 feet above the sea.
Thence we descended to a wooded hollow, again toiled up to the
plateau level, and soon entered the most magnificent forest I have seen
outside of California. A cold wind had chilled us on the ridges, but
in the forest there was a dead calm, though we could hear the breeze
sighing far above us. This splendid park continued for ten miles;
then we descended to another valley, where the soil was evidently rich,
though perfectly bare for want of water; but around the edges was a
bordering meadow of good grass, spangled with Ved and yellow flow-
ers. This valley is an oval some five miles long, opening northward,
and lacks only water to become a little Eden. From this we rose to
another forest, also of sugar-pines, but not so large or thrifty as the
first. My guide informs me that these forests are as long as they are
wide, and, as we traveled twelve or fifteen miles through them,
they must cover some two hundred square miles. This will be a great
source of wealth to the Navajoes, if they learn how to use it.

The timber continued to the entrance of Bat Canon, by which we
enter the De Chelley. There my guide points to a side -gulch, exclaim-
ing, " Tohh klohh no mas," and we stop for the night. Hoppling the
horse for a night's grazing, we sample our provisions, with satisfactory
results, and retire. Navajo blankets will not admit the moisture of
the ground, even if there had been any, which there was not ; and with
two over me, and the saddle-blanket below me, I was comfortable till
towards morning, when the cold was intense. We hasten to descend
into the cafion before the sun is hot, and go down from the grove upon
a sandy plain, dotted with scrubby hemlocks, and sometimes with tim-


ber of larger growth. The surroundings all show that we are on the
Pacific coast; the dry, gray and yellow grass, straight sugar-pines and
scraggy hemlocks, and the soft airs loaded with resinous odors. We
enter next upon a vast flat of sandstone, on which the little feet of
Navajo burros have cut the trail into a groove two inches deep, and
cross it to the head of Bat Caflon. The first view is discouraging.
We come suddenly to an abrupt break in the sandstone, no more than
a rod wide, down which we can look a thousand feet perpendicular to
the yellow bottom. A few hundred yards beyond we find a side
groove, which lets us down to the first offset, and thence, by a succession
of rocky grooves, we work our way with cautious steps to the bottom.

W r e appear to be at the bottom of a vast funnel, but there is a pass
three rods wide, still leading downward. Soon the cliffs above us
overhang, and we pass through a gorge where the sun never shines,
and thousands of gaunt bats, of a strange species, inhabit the crevices
of the cliffs, and flit about in midday twilight. According to my
guide, this is the place by way of which cowardly Navajoes must enter
the spirit-land after death.

Passing this the narrow walls give back, and we are in a little
valley with running water and occasional clumps of grass, and
bounded by perpendicular cliffs. As we proceed, the valley gets wider,
but the walls appear to overhang rather than maintain a plumb line.
Occasionally, an entirely detached rock is seen standing out from some
sharp corner where there is a turn in the canon, a sort of tower sev-
eral hundred feet high, and no more than a hundred thick, its sides
and summit cut into a thousand fanciful shapes by the action of sand
and wind. Other pieces of the cliff appear to have been loosened, and
to have slipped down ; and in many places there were enormous slabs
two or three hundred feet high leaning against the wall. Wind and
loose sand had cut the face of the cliff into ten thousand fanciful
shapes: elephants, hippopotami, alligators, and most ludicrous human
heads looked down upon us, and from a peak two thousand feet over-
head a gigantic bear appeared just plunging from the summit.

" Mahloka ! " exclaimed the guide, and following .the direction of
his finger, I saw the " woman," a shepherd girl, springing down over
the rocks in a narrow side gulch. She showed me, through the
narrow opening into the gulch, that the latter widened out behind the
cliffs into a rocky valley where her herd of goats were feeding. She
preferred the common request for chin-ne-ah-go (bread), and in return
for a small gift, conducted us to a plat of good grass, near the junc-
tion of Caflon de Chelley, where we let our animals graze two hours,


as I intended remaining in the cafion all day. We had scarcely got
our baggage piled, before the whole community of three families were
about us. I pacified them with tobacco, preferring, if we got into a
strait, to do without that, rather than bread.

Bat Canon there runs nearly straight west, and is joined by Caflon
de Chelley from the north-east ; the meeting of the two and the turn
below produces three grand peaks, facing to one center, some fifteen
hundred feet high, and quite perpendicular. But the most remarkable
and unaccountable feature of the locality is where the two cailons
meet. There stands out a hundred feet from the point, entirely iso-
lated, a vast leaning rock tower, at least twelve hundred feet high,
and not over two hundred thick at the base, as if it had originally
been the sharp termination of the cliff, and been broken off and
shoved further out. It almost seems that one must be mistaken, that
it must have some connection with the cliff, until one goes around it
and finds it a hundred feet or more from the former. It leans at an
angle from the perpendicular of at least fifteen degrees ; and lying
down at the base on the under side, by the best " sighting " I could
make, it seemed to me that the opposite upper edge was directly ovec
me. That is to say, mechanically speaking, its center of gravity
barely falls within the base, and a heave of only a yard or two more
would cause it to topple over. Appearances indicate that it was
originally connected with the point of the cliff, but the intermediate
and softer sand-rock has fallen, been reduced to sand, and wafted
away down the cafion. Climbing to some of the curious round holes
in the cliff I could see the process of wear going on ; the harder parti-
cles of the sand blown into the holes, were being whirled about by the
wind, slowly and steadily boring into the cliffs, and beginning that
carvkig which is to result in more of the grotesque 'shapes.

It was but a few miles now, the guide informed me, till we should
reach the celebrated " cliff cities " which have made this cafion so
famous. While leaning on the pommel of my saddle in an after-din-
ner rest, I was startled by a shout from my guide of "Ah-yee ! Ah-
yee, Melicano, ettah-hof/anday ! " (" There, there, sir American ; the
mountain-houses.") Looking, I saw the first hamlet, a small collec-
tion of stone huts some fifteen hundred feet above the cafion bed, and
perhaps three hundred feet below the summit. One glance served to
disprove many of the theories advanced about rope ladders and the
like. It could not have been reached thus, for the cliff overhung
considerably both above and below it. Indeed, a rope dropped from
the brow of the cliff above would have swung over the canon a


hundred feet farther out than the ledge on which the houses stood.
As near as I could judge at the distance, the ledge was fifty feet
wide, and the houses some twenty feet square. Evidently the
" Aztecs" who boarded there did not go to bed by means of a rope-

My guide was now all life and animation, shouting and calling my
attention to every thing of note on the cliffs as we walked our horses
slowly down the sandy stream. He seemed to take as much interest
in the ettah-hoganday as I did. An hour more brought us to a better
object of study : the ruins of a considerable village were on the bottom
of the canon, by the foot of the cliff, and about a hundred feet
straight above them, ten or a dozen houses in perfect preservation,
standing all together on a ledge a hundred feet wide, and completely
inaccessible. Above the village the cliff was perpendicular for a
hundred feet or more, then gradually swelled outwardly till it ex-
tended considerably over the houses, leaving them thus actually in a
great crevice in the rock. Here was a wonder. My Navajo ran
about with the activity of a cat, and in several places managed to
climb up twenty feet or so, then the smooth Avail cut off further prog-
ress. Hunting along the rock he found and called my attention to
some holes looking like steps cut into the stone, which seemed to
lead up to a point where one of the peculiar stone slabs I have de-
scribed leaned against the cliff. The opposite side of the canon was
accessible, and not more than two hundred yards distant, so we went
over there and climbed to a point somewhat higher than the pueblo.
I then saw that the ledge or groove in the rock, in which the pueblo
was built, ran along the cliff for a quarter of a mile, some distance
beyond where we found the stone steps; and thought I saw indications
of steps, leading down from it a little way to ward* the detached -slab.
Possibly, I thought, this slab may have been fast above when the vil-
lage had inhabitants, and furnished them a winding stairway. I saw,
also, that the houses were of a most admirable construction, built of
flat stones laid in mortar, and neatly .whitewashed inside; and that the
joists were of massive timber, round, nearly a foot thick, and dressed
with some care. At the distance of seven or eight hundred feet there
was much uncertainty, but I fancied I also saw fragments of iron and
leather on the floor of one house the only one into which the sun-
shine fell directly. From the situation of the cliffs, I judge that about
10 o'clock in the morning the sun would be shining directly in the
front doors.

A remarkable echo is observable here. A sentence of ten words


shouted from the south side, is returned clearly and distinctly. Not
far below we found the ruins of another house, not more than forty
feet high, with shelving rock below. The Navajo found steps to lead
half way up. He then walked along a flat offset five or six feet be-
flow the house, and held his hands against my feet while I climbed a
shelving rock and reached it. It was in ruins, and most of the ma-
terial lay in a heap in the cafion below. Only the fire-place and
chimney, built against the cliff, remained whole ; they were of the
common Pueblo pattern, and showed dabs of whitewash. I sustained
one serious disappointment. Through some blunder of my guide or
the interpreter who instructed him at Defiance, I missed the greatest
wonder. We ought to have turned up the Cafion de Chelley from

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 25 of 62)