James Cox.

My Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th online

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Online LibraryJames CoxMy Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th → online text (page 11 of 24)
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killed several head of cattle. Without delay the Señor and his men
coralled and killed a corresponding number of the Seris. Then there was
war. The savages made ambushes, but they had only bows and arrows, and
the vaqueros fought bravely with their guns. Every ambush turned out
disastrously for the Indians. Finally, the Seris made a great ambush,
and there was a battle which resulted in the killing of sixty-five
savages. The lesson proved sufficient, and the Indians were glad to
conclude a permanent peace, agreeing that no further depredations
against the Señor or his property should be attempted. From beginning to
end the fighting lasted ten years.

After the killing of the two Americans, the Seris were very much afraid
of reprisals. For a good while they did not dare to come to the ranch of
Señor Encinas, but at length one old woman came for the philosophical
purpose of seeing if she would be killed. She was well treated and went
away. Eventually confidence was restored, and about sixty of the savages
were visiting on the premises.

No other people in North America have so few conceptions of civilization
as the Seris. They have absolutely no agriculture. As well as can be
ascertained they never put a seed into the ground or cultivate a plant.
They live almost wholly on fish, water fowl, and such game as they kill
on the main land. The game includes large deer, like black tails, and
exquisite species of dwarf deer, about the size of a three months' fawn,
pecarries, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, rabbits and quail. They take very
large green turtles in the Gulf of California. Mesquite beans they eat
both cooked and raw. The mesquite is a small tree that bears seeds in
pods.

The snake dance is another evidence of the comparative failure of
civilization to civilize. This is seen chiefly in the vicinity of the
Grand Cañon of the Colorado. Venomous rattlesnakes are used in the
dance, which is an annual affair. Hundreds of snakes are caught for the
occasion, and when the great day arrives the devotees rush into the
corral and each seizes a rattler for his purpose. Reliable authorities,
who have witnessed this dance, vouch for the fact that the snakes are
not in any way robbed of their power to implant their poisonous fangs
into the flesh of the dancers. It even appears as though the greater the
number of bites, the more delighted are the participants, who hold the
reptiles in the most careless manner and allow them to strike where they
will, and to plant their horrible fangs into the most vulnerable parts
with impunity. When the dance is over, the snakes are taken back to the
woods and given their liberty, the superstition prevailing that for the
space of one year the reptiles will protect the tribe from all ill or
suffering.

The main interest attached to this dance is the secret of why it is the
dancers do not die promptly. No one doubts the power of the rattlesnake
to kill. Liberal potations of whisky are supposed by some people to
serve as an antidote, while Mexicans and some tribes of Indians claim to
have knowledge of a herb which will also prolong the life of a man stung
by a snake and apparently doomed to an early death. Tradition tells us
that for the purposes of this dance, a special antidote has been handed
down from year to year, and from generation to generation, by the
priests of the Moquis. It is stated that one of the patriarchs of old
had the secret imparted to him under pledges and threats of inviolable
secrecy. By him it has been perpetuated with great care, being always
known to three persons, the high priest of the tribe, his vice-regent
and proclaimed successor, and the oldest woman among them. On the death
of any one of the three trustees of the secret, the number is made up in
the manner ordered by the rites of the tribal religion, and to reveal
the secret in any other way is to invite a sudden and an awful death.

During the three days spent by the dancers in hunting snakes, it is
stated that the secret decoction is freely administered to them, and
that in consequence they handle the reptiles with perfect confidence.
When they are bitten there is a slight irritation but nothing worse. On
the other hand, there is often a heavy loss of life during the year from
snake bites, for the sacred antidote is only used on the stated occasion
for which it was, so the legend runs, specially prepared or its nature
revealed.

The people living within almost sight of the Grand Cañon vary as much in
habits and physique as does the scenery and general contour of the cañon
vary in appearance. The Cliff Dwellers and the Pueblos do not as a rule
impress the stranger with their physical development, nor are they on
the average exceptionally tall or heavy. There are, however, small
tribes in which physical development has been, and still is, a great
feature. Unlike the Pueblos, these larger men wear little clothing, so
that their muscular development and the size of their limbs are more
conspicuous. Naturally skilled hunters, these powerful members of the
human race climb up and down the most dangerous precipices, and lead an
almost ideal life in the most inaccessible of spots.

The Maricopa Indians must be included among those whose general
appearance seems to invite admiration, however much one may regret the
absence of general civilization and education. These men are for the
most part honest, if not hard working, and they are by no means
unpleasant neighbors. Right near them are the homes of smaller Indians,
who have reduced peculation to a fine art, and who steal on general
principles. We have all heard of the little boy who prefers to steal
poor apples from his neighbor's tree to picking up good ones in his
father's orchard. Much the same idea seems to prevail among these
Indians. They will frequently spend several hours and even the greater
portion of a day, maneuvering to secure some small article worth but a
few cents to any one.

They have a way of ingratiating themselves with white tourists, and
offering to act as guides not only to spots of special beauty, but also
to mines of great value. When they succeed in convincing strangers of
their reliability, they are happy, and at once proceed to exhibit the
peculiar characteristics of their race. Pocket handkerchiefs, stockings
and hats are believed to be the articles after which they seek with the
most vigor. They are, however, not particular as to what they secure,
and anything that is left unguarded for but a few hours, or even
minutes, is certain to be missed. The perquisites thus obtained or
retained are regarded as treasure trove. When first charged with having
stolen anything, they deny all knowledge of the offense, and protest
their innocence in an amusing manner. When, however, convincing proof is
obtained, and the missing article discovered, the convicted thief thinks
the matter a good joke, and laughs most heartily at the credulity and
carelessness of the white man.





CHAPTER X.


OLD TIME COMMUNISTS.

Houses on Rocks and Sand Hills - How Many Families Dwelt Together in
Unity - Peculiarities of Costumes - Pueblo Architecture and Folk Lore - A
Historic Struggle and How it Ended - Legends Concerning
Montezuma - Curious Religious Ceremonies.


Perhaps the most peculiar people to be found in our native land are the
Pueblos, who live in New Mexico between the Grande and Colorado Rivers.
When Coronado, the great explorer, marched through the territory 450
years ago, he found these people in a condition of at least comparative
civilization. They were living in large houses, each capable of
accommodating several families, and solidly built. Although they had
wandering bands of robbers for their nearest neighbors, they were able
to defend themselves against all comers, and were content and
prosperous. Their weapons, although primitive, were quite scientific,
and were handled with much skill as well as bravery.

For two years they were able to withstand the Spanish invaders in their
"casas-grandes." It had been reported to the Spanish commanders that
several hundred miles in the north lay a great empire named Cibola,
which had seven large cities. In these were long streets, on which only
gold and silversmiths resided; imposing palaces towered in the suburbs,
with doors and columns of pure turquoise; the windows were made of
precious stones brilliantly polished. At the sumptuous feasts of the
prince of the land, enchanting slaves served the most delicate dainties
on golden dishes. There were mountains of opal rising above valleys
reveling in jewels, with crystal streams, whose bottom consisted of pure
silver sand.

The disappointment of the Spaniards was great. A number of large Indian
villages were found, whose inhabitants subsisted upon the fruits of a
primitive agriculture. The frugality and thrift of the Pueblos excited
the interest of the voluptuous Spaniards. The peculiar architecture of
the villages and houses also drew their admiration. Taken as a whole,
the circles of houses resembled the cells of a wasp's nest, of which the
upper stories were reached on a crude ladder. Entrance could be gained
only through a small opening in the roof, not even the sides facing the
streets containing doors. A few heavily grated windows served as
port-holes for their arrows. These peculiar constructions of baked clay
are still fashionable in such old towns as Suni, Taos and others.

Situated as the Moqui villages and Acoma were, on the top of an
inaccessible rock, the Spaniards despaired of conquering them. The
supposed Cibola not panning out according to expectation, they did not
seek reinforcement, and left the Pueblos in peace. Only near the end of
the Sixteenth Century the Pueblos had to submit to Spanish rule, under
which they remained until 1848, when the territory embracing New Mexico
and Arizona was ceded to the United States.

In some respects the Spanish supremacy proved beneficial to the Indians.
They virtually maintained their independence. Many innovations in their
life and customs can be traced from this period. The only domestic
creatures in their villages were large turkeys, whose feathers served as
head ornaments for the warriors; but horses, cows, sheep, goats, dogs
and last, but not least, the indispensable burros were added to their
domestic stock.

The most important change in their communistic mode of living dates from
the annexation of New Mexico to the United States, and the introduction
of railroads. Their unfriendly neighbors, the Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas
and Navajos, were restricted to their own reservations.

Feeling safe under the powerful protection of the Government, these
peaceable people have begun to relinquish their old mode of communistic
existence in their strange dwellings. Until recently, there was a
promiscuous living together of large families in the numerous apartments
of a single house, to which access could be only obtained through a
small aperture in the roof. More modern cottages are being built for
single families now; farming is also carried on on a large scale, and in
some parts grape and fruit culture is attempted with good results.

All the villages are characterized by a certain industrial monopoly. In
one of them, for instance, the pottery for all the Pueblos is
manufactured; in others, like the Moqui villages, all the people are
employed in the making of finely woven goats' hair blankets, in which
occupation many are great experts. Although a large number are engaged
in the sale of blankets and Indian goods in the southwestern part of the
Union, in the gold diggings of California, in Mormon settlements, in the
small railroad stations of Arizona, the average Pueblo Indian prefers a
settled life. He is domestic in his habits, and loves his family, his
cattle, his farm and his neighbors as dearly as does his pale-faced
brothers. And has he not good cause to rejoice and be contented with his
lot? Has he not a faithful and charming wife? There are some pretty
girls of perfect contour among the Pueblo Indians, especially in the
Tigua villages. Are not his gleeful children, who are enjoying a romp on
the huge sand hills, obedient and reverential in his presence? The
impudent spirit of young America has not yet exerted its baneful
influence here.

How scrupulously clean are the households! The good housewives of the
Netherlands do not excel the Pueblo squaws in cleanliness. Floors are
always carefully swept; all along the walls of the spacious rooms seats
and couches are covered with finely variegated rugs; the walls are
tastefully decorated with pictures and mirrors, and the large cupboards
are filled with luxurious fruits, meats, pastry and jellies. Thousands
of white bread-winners in the large cities would envy these Indians if
they could behold their comparative affluence and their obviously
contented state. Nor do they obtain all this without fatiguing toil. The
land is barren and dry, which compels them to induce irrigation through
long canals from far away streams, and the men are never afraid of work.

The Pueblo pottery of to-day differs but little from that of the
Sixteenth Century. In the pottery villages the work is done mostly by
men, who sit on the broad, shaded platform and shape their immense
vessels in imitation of human beings and every imaginable animal shape.
The grotesquely shaped mouth is generally intended for the opening,
through which the water, soup or milk is poured.

The squaws are assuming more and more the occupations of the modern
housewife, though they still grind their corn in the stone troughs used
hundreds of years ago, and they still bake their bread in thin layers on
hot, glowing stones. Dressmakers and tailors still go a-begging among
the Pueblo people, and no attention whatever is paid to Parisian
dictators of fashion. The good Pueblo squaw cuts, fits, and sews all the
clothing for the family, which used to be composed mostly of leather.
Her husband's wardrobe consists now of a few multi-colored shirts, a
pair or two of leather pantaloons, with silver buttons, mocassins and a
shoulder blanket.

The head gear, if any be worn, as is often the case, is simply a large
colored handkerchief. Girls are usually dressed like the daughters of
Southern farmers, but they refuse to discard the bloomers, over which
the petticoats are worn a little below the knees. These leather
pantalettes are a necessity in a country where poisonous snakes and
insects abound in gardens and fields. To see a Pueblo girl at her best,
she must be surprised in animated gossip in a bevy of girl friends, or
when engaged in mirthful laughter while at work. Then the expressive,
deep black eyes sparkle and the white teeth offer a glittering contrast
to her fine black tresses, eyes and eyebrows. The Pueblo Indians are to
be congratulated on one fact especially, that they permitted their moral
improvement through the agency of the black-frocked missionaries and
school teachers who came from the East, but also that they are one of
the few tribes who resisted the conscienceless rascals who would wreck
their homes through "fire water" and gambling devices.

A large number of ancient many-storied, many chambered communal houses
are scattered over New Mexico, three of the most important of which are
Isletta, Laguna and Acoma. Isletta and Laguna are within a stone's throw
of the railroad, ten miles and sixty-six miles, respectively, beyond
Albuquerque, and Acoma is reached from either Laguna or Bubero by a
drive of a dozen miles. The aboriginal inhabitants of the pueblos, an
intelligent, complex, industrious and independent race, are anomalous
among North American natives. They are housed to-day in the self-same
structures in which their forefathers were discovered, and in three and
a half centuries of contact with Europeans their manner of life has not
materially changed.

The Indian tribes that roamed over mountain and plain have become wards
of the Government, debased and denuded of whatever dignity they once
possessed, ascribe what cause you will for their present condition. But
the Pueblo Indian has absolutely maintained the integrity of his
individuality, and is self-respecting and self-sufficient. He accepted
the form of religion professed by his Spanish conquerors, but without
abandoning his own, and that is practically the only concession his
persistent conservatism has ever made to external influence.

Laborious efforts have been made to penetrate the reserve with which the
involved inner life of this strange child of the desert is guarded, but
it lies like a dark, vast continent behind a dimly visible shore, and he
dwells within the shadowy rim of a night that yields no ray to tell of
his origin. He is a true pagan, swathed in seemingly dense clouds of
superstition, rich in fanciful legend, and profoundly ceremonious in
religion. His gods are innumerable. Not even the ancient Greeks
possessed a more populous Olympus. On that austere yet familiar height,
gods of peace and of war, of the chase, of bountiful harvest and of
famine, of sun and rain and snow, elbow a thousand others for standing
room. The trail of the serpent has crossed his history, too, and he
frets his pottery with an imitation of its scales, and gives the
rattlesnake a prominent place among his deities. Unmistakably a pagan,
yet the purity and well being of his communities will bear favorable
comparison with those of the enlightened world.

He is brave, honest and enterprising within the fixed limits of his
little sphere; his wife is virtuous, his children are docile. And were
the whole earth swept bare of every living thing, save for a few leagues
surrounding his tribal home, his life would show no manner of
disturbance. Probably he might never hear of so unimportant an event. He
would still alternately labor and relax in festive games, still
reverence his gods and rear his children to a life of industry and
content, so anomalous is he, so firmly established in an absolute
independence.

Pueblo architecture possesses none of the elaborate ornamentation found
in the Aztec ruins in Mexico. The exterior of the house is absolutely
plain. It is sometimes seven stories in height and contains over a
thousand rooms. In some instances it is built of adobe - blocks of mud
mixed with straw and dried in the sun, and in others, of stone covered
with mud cement. The entrance is by means of a ladder, and when that is
pulled up the latch-string is considered withdrawn.

The pueblo of pueblos is Acoma, a city without a peer. It is built upon
the summit of a table-rock, with overhanging, eroded sides, 350 feet
above the plain, which is 7,000 feet above the sea. Anciently, according
to the traditions of the Queres, it stood upon the crest of the superb
Haunted Mesa, three miles away, and some 300 feet higher, but its only
approach was one day destroyed by the falling of a cliff, and three
unhappy women, who chanced to be the only occupants - the remainder of
the population being at work in the fields below - died of starvation, in
view of the homeless hundreds of their people who for many days
surrounded the unscalable mesa with upturned, agonized faces.

The present Acoma is the one discovered by the Spaniards; the original
pueblo on the Mesa Encantada being even then an ancient tradition. It is
1,000 feet in length and 40 feet high, and there is, besides, a church
of enormous proportions. Until lately, it was reached only by a
precipitous stairway in the rock, up which the inhabitants carried upon
their backs every particle of the materials of which the village is
constructed. The graveyard consumed forty years in building, by reason
of the necessity of bringing earth from the plain below; and the church
must have cost the labor of many generations, for its walls are 60 feet
high and 10 feet thick, and it has timbers 40 feet long and 14 inches
square.

The Acomas welcomed the soldiers of Coronado with deference, ascribing
to them celestial origin. Subsequently, upon learning the distinctly
human character of the Spaniards, they professed allegiance, but
afterwards wantonly slew a dozen of Zaldibar's men. By way of reprisal,
Zaldibar headed three-score soldiers and undertook to carry the
sky-citadel by assault. The incident has no parallel in American
history, short of the memorable and similar exploit of Cortez on the
great Aztec pyramid.

After a three days' hand to hand struggle, the Spaniards stood victors
upon that seemingly impregnable fortress, and received the submission of
the Queres, who for three-quarters of a century thereafter remained
tractable. In that interval, the priests came to Acoma and held footing
for fifty years, until the bloody uprisal of 1680 occurred, in which
priest, soldier and settler were massacred or driven from the land, and
every vestige of their occupation was extirpated. After the resubjection
of the natives by De Vargas, the present church was constructed, and the
Pueblos have not since rebelled against the contiguity of the white man.

All the numerous Mexican communities in the Territory contain
representatives of the Penitentes order, which is peculiar by reason of
the self-flagellations inflicted by its members in excess of pietistic
zeal. Unlike their ilk of India, they do not practice self-torture for
long periods, but only upon a certain day in each year. Then, stripped
to the waist, these poor zealots go chanting a dolorous strain, and
beating themselves unsparingly upon the back with the sharp-spined
cactus, or soap-weed, until they are a revolting sight to look upon.
Often they sink from the exhaustion of long-sustained suffering and loss
of blood. One of the ceremonies among these peculiar people is the
bearing of a huge cross of heavy timber for long distances. Martyrs to
conscience and religious devotees frequently carry crosses of immense
weight for miles, and are watched eagerly by crowds of excited
spectators. The man who carries this fanatacism to the greatest length
is the hero of the day, and receives the appointment of Chief of the
Ceremonies for the following year.

Ceremonies such as these point to the extreme antiquity of the people,
and seem to indicate that they must have been descended from tribes
which were prominent in biblical narrative. According to many able
historians, people have resided in this part of the world for at least
twelve hundred years. In other words, when Columbus and Americus
Vespucius discovered and explored the new world or portions of it, these
peculiar people had been living on the then mysterious continent for the
greater part of a thousand years.

According to some authorities these people are aboriginal. According to
others, they migrated from some distant clime. The antiquity of China is
well known, and there is good reason to believe that the Moquis and
Zunis have sprung from Chinese voyagers, or perhaps pirates, who,
hundreds of years ago, were wrecked on the western shores of America.
Another theory is, that on the occasion of one of the numerous
expulsions or emigrations from China, a band of Mongolians turned
northward and came into America by crossing the Behring Strait.

Other antiquarians think that Morocco, rather than China, was the
original home of these races. The traveler is much struck with the
resemblance between the habits and customs of the Moors and of some of
the old established tribes of New Mexico. In dress and architecture the
Moorish idea certainly prevails very prominently. The white toga and the
picturesque red turban are prominent in these resemblances. The jugs
used for carrying water are distinctly Moorish in type, and the women
carry them on their heads in that peculiar manner which is so
characteristic of Moorish habits and customs.

One of the very earliest records of these people has been left us by
Spanish explorers. A writer who accompanied one of the earliest
expeditions from Spain, says: "We found a great town called Acoma,
containing about 5,000 people, and situated upon a rock about fifty
paces high, with no other entrance but by a pair of stairs hewn in the
rock, whereat our people marveled not a little. The chief men of this
town came peaceably to visit us, bringing many mantles and chamois
skins, excellently dressed, and great plenty of victuals. Their
corn-fields were two leagues distant, and they fetched water out of a
small river to water the same, on the brinks whereof there were great
banks of roses like those of Castile. There were many mountains full of
metals. Our men remained in the place three days, upon one of which the
inhabitants made before them a very solemn dance, coming forth in the


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Online LibraryJames CoxMy Native Land The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and th → online text (page 11 of 24)