CHAPTER XIII:Riding The Circuit
Duty of United States Attorney.—Arrangements for Travel.—Leave Santa Fé.—Pojuaque Creek.—La Cañada.—Los Luceros.—Crossing the Mountains.—Arrival at Taos.—Baile.—Situation of Taos.—Indian's Bride.—Revolution of 1847.—Court-house and Jail.—Lawyer smoking.—Kiowah.—Excursion to Taos Pueblo.—Kiowah's House.—Deputation of head Men.—Vaccination of Children: how they bore it.—We look at the Village.—Inside of Building.—Estufa.—Invited to Baile.—Fandangos and Music.—What took place at the Baile.—Egg-shells and Cologne.—Kit Carson.—Court adjourned.—We leave Taos.—Geological Formation of the Mountains.—View of the Valley of the Del Norte.—Arrival at Los Luceros.
The United States Attorney for New Mexico is obliged to make the circuit of the Territory twice a year—spring and fall—to attend the sittings of the District Court in the respective counties, and look after the interests of his dear old "Uncle Sam." The spring term, the present year, was to begin at the town of Don Fernandez de Taos, seventy-five miles north of Santa Fé, the first Monday of March. The usual mode of travel is on horseback, as the roads in many places are quite impassable for carriages.
The evening before the day of starting I made the necessary preparations for the trip. Every thing that circumstances permitted me to carry were stowed away into a pair of ordinary-sized saddle-bags, consisting of law library, wardrobe, and barber-shop, which, being inventoried upon the spot, amounted to two shirts, two law-books, small Bible, two pairs of socks, writing materials, and shaving apparatus. These articles made up my outfit for a journey of near a thousand miles and an absence of three months. These duties having been satisfactorily conducted, I threw myself upon the tender mercies of the God of Sleep, and was quickly captive in the land of dreams.
DON FERNANDO DE TAOS.
The next morning was as bright and clear as the most fastidious traveler could desire, and about nine o'clock our little cavalcade turned out of the Plaza and took the road to Taos. Our party numbered five persons: the governor, Judge Houghton, the United States marshal, your humble servant, and a Mexican, all well mounted. Giving the rein to our horses, we journeyed on at an easy pace through a sandy and hilly country. The sides of the hills are covered with a scanty growth of pine-trees, which cling with the tenacity of life itself to the barren soil. The sand lay deep and loose in the road, and for several miles we were not able to travel faster than a walk. On the way-side I noticed a feature peculiarly Mexican—a number of rude crosses, each with a pile of stones around it, thrown there by pious hands; some had been erected to mark the spot where solitary travelers had been waylaid and murdered, and others pointed out the place where persons fell in the revolution of 1837.
In a ride of three hours we made the Pojuaque Creek, near the Indian pueblo of the same name—a little mountain stream that falls into the Del Norte. We halted here a few minutes to slake the thirst of man and beast, and to partake of a lunch of bread and meat, when we mounted and rode on. To the right of the road were observed some interesting sandstone formations, which, in the distance, looked not unlike the ruins of a town; some resembled broken columns, single and in rows, ruined porticoes, and fallen pilasters. One locality, from its resemblance to a decayed building, had received the name of The Church: three sides were still standing, while the
We arrived at La Cañada—a mud village twenty-five miles from Santa Fé—about midday. The population is near three hundred. A small adobe church stands upon the Plaza, and a priest resides in an adjoining house to minister at the altar. In the history of New Mexico this little village has played a conspicuous part. It was always made the rallying-point for the Northern Indians in the various rebellions, and several severe battles have been fought in its vicinity. We tarried here but a few moments. We passed the two Indian pueblos of San Juan and Nambé, the latter lying a little distance off the road to the right, near mountains. We learned that, a few days before, the council of Nambé had caused two of their number to be put to death for the supposed offense of witchcraft. The murderers were afterward arrested and tried at Santa Fé, of which a more extended notice will be given hereafter.
We continued up the valley until nearly dark, when we arrived at the hospitable ranch of Mr. Clark, at Los Luceros, where we stopped for the night. He welcomed us with genuine hospitality. We were ushered into the sala, where we found a cheerful fire blazing upon the hearth, which put new life into our benumbed bodies. For me the ride was unusually fatiguing, and when I dismounted it was with difficulty that I could walk into the house. For the first time I had backed a Mexican saddle, which, though pleasant to ride upon when you have become accustomed to them, generally punish the uninitiated for a few days. I thought to myself that, if thus crippled in the first day's ride, there would be nothing of me left long before the circuit should be completed.
We were in the saddle betimes the next morning and on the road to Taos, yet forty miles distant. We continued up the valley for six or eight miles, when the road inclines to the right to pass the mountains, while the river turns to the left and is soon lost from view. The wagon-road winds round through the depressions in the mountains, while the bridle-path, which we followed, leads in a more direct route over some of the highest peaks. The first four miles of the way was through a little valley, until we arrived at the village of El Embudo, when we commenced the ascent in earnest, here steep and difficult. The distance across is about six miles by a single mule-path; and, in many parts of the way, a slip of two or three feet would send the unfortunate wight tumbling headlong hundreds of feet below. The path is winding in its course, and in some places too steep for the rider to keep the saddle.
From the summit of the peak we crossed the view is neither romantic nor picturesque, but dreary and forbidding in the extreme. All around lie piled rugged mountains, then covered with snow, and the wind howled in dismal and piercing blasts through the dwarf pines. We found the descent much more difficult than the ascent, the path being filled with ice, and very slippery; and not feeling safe in the saddle, we dismounted, and led our horses down the slope. We reached the valley below in safety, and halted to lunch on the bank of a small stream that flows through it.
The governor and myself dismounted at the quarters of Major Blake, U.S.A., upon the faith of a previous invitation, and threw ourselves upon his hospitalities. In a short time a welcome supper was spread for us, of which we partook with a hearty good-will. We had hardly swallowed our meal when we received a pressing invitation to attend a baile a few doors distant, and though neither of us could more than walk, we wended our way thither under the escort of the gallant major. Arriving there, we were ushered into a crowded room, where we found all the fun-loving people of Don Fernandez assembled, including the gente fina, 1 and those that were any thing else than fina. The floor was filled with merry dancers, and the two-handed orchestra was dealing out to them a terrific compound of catgut and rosin. Those who tripped upon the "light fantastic" appeared to enjoy the fun amazingly, and half the strength and suppleness expended in any business of life could not fail to make a fortune in quick time. I observed no difference between this and numerous similar gatherings I had witnessed in the country, if we except the new faces
The town of Don Fernandez de Taos, the county seat of the county of Taos, is situated in the beautiful valley of the same name. The valley is one of the most productive in the Territory, and yields a large surplus of grain. It is mountain locked upon every side. The town was settled by the Spaniards at a much later period than many other portions of the Territory. The name of the first settler is said to have been Pando, who for some time was the only inhabitant of the valley. It is related of him that, in order to obtain the friendship of the wild Indians, who were troublesome, he promised his infant daughter to one of the chiefs in marriage. When she grew up the Indian came for his bride, but the maiden did not fancy her red lover, and refused to marry him. This so much incensed the tribe that they attacked the settlement, and killed all but the young woman, whom they carried into captivity. She lived with these Indians (said to have been the Camanches) several years, when she fell into the hands of the Pawnees, who sold her to a trader of Saint Louis, at which city she died some years ago. Ten thousand acres are said to be under cultivation in the valley, the whole of which is irrigated by small streams that come down from the mountains. The town has a population of near two thousand, and is built of adobes without order. In the centre is a plaza, upon which the best houses and most of the stores front.
The District Court commenced the next morning after our arrival, and here, for the first time, I had an opportunity of witnessing the working of our judicial system among a strange people. At the hour of eleven I wended my way to the court-house, which I found to be a low, rude mud building, and less comfortable than the cow-stables in some of the States. I entered the sanctuary of justice, and took my seat upon one of the three chairs that had been provided for the officers of the court. Being now inside and fairly seated, the first thing to be done was to take a survey of the premises, which was
While we are about it we might as well examine all the county buildings; and as we have a moment's leisure before operations commence, we will peep into the jail, and see what kind of a place is provided for those who are lucky enough to be boarded and lodged at the public expense. This necessary appendage to a court-house is a small room adjoining it upon the east side, and a prisoner confined there would be about as safe as when picketed out on the Plaza. The county at this time must have been minus both funds and credit, for the door, instead of being locked, was securely fastened with a twine string. Opposite the jail was another small room for the use of the grand and petit juries, and if both should have occasion to sit at the same time, one would be obliged to hold its session on the Plaza. With such a place to secure criminals, there were frequent jail deliveries, and it was but seldom offenders had justice meted out to them.
We have now seen all the sights, and will return into the house. The judge is upon the bench officially, and the wheels of justice are set in motion. The proceedings were in the same routine as in the courts of the States, except the use of a sworn interpreter to render all that was said into both languages. During the trial of a cause, I was considerably amused to see a member of the bar arise and ask permission of the judge to smoke in court; leave was granted him, when he pulled from his pocket a very Democratic-looking pipe, filled it with the noxious weed, and puffed away, apparently very happy.
On Tuesday the governor was visited by Kiowah, the war-chief of the Pueblo of Taos, and received a pressing invitation to come out to his village and see his people, which was accepted, and the following day was fixed
We had not long been seated when a delegation of the head men of the village came in to pay their respects to the governor, and a greasier and more Indian-fied set of notables it was never my good fortune to behold. They had donned their comeliest attire for the occasion. Each one was wrapped up in a buffalo robe, covering him from his head to his heels, and made fast by a cord around the waist; and the costume was complete with the addition
The war-captain was now requested to have the children brought in, in order that they might be vaccinated. Notice to this effect was sent around the village, and in almost less time than is required to write it the room was crowded with anxious mothers, bearing their unwashed jewels to offer up to the Great Medicine. The operation commenced immediately. At first the little vagabonds seemed to vie with each other as to who should be first operated upon—their native curiosity creating the desire. They seemed not to have imagined that the operation could possibly hurt, but they very shortly received a lesson that opened their eyes as well as their mouths. The first delegation stood it like young heroes—pride or something else keeping them from crying—and matters seemed to be moving along with great harmony. Presently, however, a dirty little chap, whose tear-bags were hung close to his eyes, came up to be operated upon, and at the first entrance of the needle into his arm he broke out into a regular white-baby yell, that fairly made the room echo. Silence was now at an end. The cries of this one seemed to have a magic effect upon the others, and in almost less than no time there was a convocation of human sounds which embraced every possible
The vaccination being concluded, we accompanied Kiowah to take a look at the village. The population is near fifteen hundred, and, except the war-captain and a few others of the head men, they all live in two large buildings, of which a description has already been given in chapter sixth. We wended our way to the building that stands upon the west side of the creek that runs through the pueblo. As we approached, the several stories were covered with Indians, young and old, who swarmed from within like bees from a hive. On the very top was a sentinel pacing his rounds, whose duty it is to keep a sharp look-out day and night.
Not satisfied with an outside view, I determined to enter to see what was going on in the interior of this half fortification and half dwelling-house. With this object in view, I mounted the first ladder I came to, and ascended to the terrace above. This was covered with poles, and the room below did not appear to be used as a dwelling. I then ascended a second ladder to the next higher terrace, which was covered with mud, and dried hard, and on the top was a small hole, the only entrance to the apartments below. I squeezed myself through it, and, passing down a ladder, landed in the middle of a room about eight feet square, which seemed to be the shoemaker-shop of the village; and the mender of soles, with his better half by his side, was hard at work about finishing a job. A small hole in the side of the wall let in a little additional light and air to that which came down the companion-way. In one corner was a small fireplace, and a chimney that extended four feet above
Near this building, and a little way to the north, stands the estufa, or council-chamber, where grave affairs of state are discussed. It is a large single room, and is set apart for this purpose. The other large building stands on the opposite side of the creek, and the old church, where the severe battle was fought during the rebellion of 1847, is a few hundred yards to the west. Scattered around are a number of conical-shaped ovens, with a small hole near the top and a larger one at the bottom. Having now completed the object of our visit, and thanked Kiowah for his kindness, we mounted our horses and rode back to Taos, where we arrived in time to dine.
During the afternoon session of court, a nicely-folded billet was placed in my hands, which politely informed me that my services were needed that evening at a baile to come off at the house of one Señor Martinez, who, being the brother of the Cura of Taos, is reckoned to rank among the gente fina pretty high up on the list. My first thought was not to accept the invitation, inasmuch as I am of no earthly use in such an assemblage, the education of my heels, unfortunately, having been neglected in my youth, and, consequently, I lack all knowledge of the Devil's Hornpipe, Pigeon Wing, and kindred
In New Mexico the general name of all assemblies where dancing is the principal amusement is fandango, which is not, as many suppose, a particular dance. Those gatherings where the better classes "most do congregate" are called baile, or ball, which differs in no other particular from the fandango. All New Mexicans are exceedingly fond of dancing, and, in fact, it seems almost as much a passion with them as with the French. Every class and rank in society participate in the amusement, and very small children are seen whirling in the waltz and tripping in the dance with the same gusto as their more mature companions. They dance and waltz with beauty and ease to the music of the guitar and violin, and sometimes these instruments are accompanied by a small drum, called a tombé. Some of the musicians play with considerable skill, and at times I have listened to performers who would have been deemed respectable any where. It is customary for one or more of the players to accompany the instruments with his voice, singing impromptu words which he adapts to the music and the occasion. Most of the persons in the room receive in turn a passing compliment in his doggerel, and when the notice is particularly flaterring he expects a real (twelve and a half cents) in return, and will not refuse a quarter. They have a happy faculty of rhyming, and sometimes convulse the room with the aptness of their hits.2 The host met us at the door, and, bidding us welcome, conducted us to seats at the head of the room.
There are manners and customs prevailing at these bailes at some periods of the year very different from any practiced in other sections of the Union, and this evening I saw a performance so entirely new that I became more convinced than ever that I was a Gringo. During the season of Lent there prevails a custom of the baile-going people providing themselves with egg-shells filled with Cologne water, and other sweet-smelling articles, which they break over the heads of their friends as a matter of fun, and the operation is looked upon as a capital joke. I had not been long in the room, and in the recess of dancing, when I observed three pretty girls coming toward the place where the governor and myself were sitting, with countenances beaming with fun, as though they were bent on some mischief. They approached within touching distance, and before we had time to stand on the defensive, or were even aware of their object, smash! dash! went the egg-shells over our heads in quick succession, and down our faces streamed the eau de Cologne. Like the episode of the boys and the
There is a twin custom upon such occasions, which is, that you may kiss the fair assailants, provided you can catch them and inflict the penalty before they regain their seats. But in this instance they were out of harm's way before I had time to take any steps toward so delicate a performance, or even the deluge of Cologne permitted to open my eyes. As there was no help for such a misfortune, I submitted to my fate with the most commendable resignation, wiped away the flowing Cologne, and straightened up my drooping shirt-collar. I now thought of making a campaign into the enemy's country, by way of retaliation for the foray just related, and began to look around to see how the land lay. I had no difficulty in singling out one of the three who had just paid us a visit, and accordingly made my arrangements "to carry the war into Africa." Armed and equipped as the custom in such matters required, I marched boldly up to the point of assault, and, in a manner that should become a gallant knight, broke the egg-shell over her head, much to the detriment of sundry lace furbelows, and she, too, was soon afloat in a sea of Cologne. I had not the pleasure of any further acquaintance with the fair maiden than the rather abrupt introduction forced upon me just before; but want of ceremony seemed not to make any difference, and she bore the operation like a heroine, and welcomed the egg-shell with a musical esta bueno—it is good. During the course of the evening a second deputation of beauties paid me a visit for a similar purpose; but by this time I had become some
The musician occupied a platform in one corner of the room a little raised above the floor, and the dancers, when not participating in the amusement, were seated on benches ranged around the wall. From some cause, the old guitarero, the leader of the orchestra, did not this evening, as usual, accompany the instrument with his voice, chanting his impromptu verses, and, unless his reputation had gone before him, no one would have judged him to be the poet laureate of the village. The first evening of our arrival in Taos, at the ball we attended for a few minutes, when this old musician saw the governor in the room, he made him the subject of his most eloquent verses. The substance of his eulogy was that he had known and played before many governors in his day, but that the one then present was a little ahead of them all, and was just the greatest governor that had ever been in New Mexico. Such a complimentary notice could not be overlooked nor go unrewarded, and his excellency had to pay a fee according to the terms of the panegyric.
While at Taos, I saw for the first time and made the acquaintance of Kit Carson, the celebrated mountaineer. I was standing in front of Major Blake's quarters, when I saw a small-sized, modest-looking person approaching, who, I was told, was the famous mountain-man of whom I had heard so much. He is about five feet eight inches in height, rather heavy set, and a little bow-legged; he is a mild, pleasant man in conversation, with a voice almost as soft as that of a woman. He has brown eyes and dark hair, with a face somewhat hard-featured from
The court adjourned Saturday morning, and as I had nothing more to detain me, I made preparations to return to Los Luceros, whence I must go the following Monday morning to Chamita to attend the court at that place. The governor and myself started off in advance of the balance of our party, who were not yet ready to leave town. We missed our way riding out of Taos, and for more than an hour were wandering through the valley, crossing arroyo after arroyo, and uncertain in what direction to turn, when at last we struck the main road, and journeyed on without interruption. We were soon overtaken by three Mexicans, who traveled with us, whose accession was quite welcome, inasmuch as the road was considered dangerous, being within the track of the Jicarilla Apache Indians. We lunched beside the same stream, near La Cieneguilla, and then commenced the passage of the mountains. We found the road less difficult than before. The weather had moderated meanwhile, and thawed away much of the ice and snow; we
I had better opportunity on my return to notice more particularly the mountains, and amid the almost universal desolation that presented itself, I saw some things that were interesting. They exhibit many signs of having, in past time, undergone great changes. In some places there are the remains of large craters of extinct volcanoes, with scoria and lava lying round about; at other points were strong indications of eruptions, where the primary formations had been thrown up upon the surface. At one place clay slate—an early formation—had been disrupted, and the strata now lie at every possible angle to the horizon. Some of the highest peaks are covered with boulders great and small, besides other water-washed stones, which indicate a previous submergence, or else these stones were cast up by volcanic action from a lake beneath. Here is a rich and interesting field for the skillful geologist, and as yet wholly unexplored.
In the immediate vicinity of El Embudo there are found some curious sandstone formations, caused by the action of the rain and atmosphere, and similar to those near La Cañada. On the right of the valley, passing south, stands a natural sandstone pillar, near a high ledge of the same material. It appeared about forty feet in height, circular, at least six in diameter, and from the road resembled a piece of chiseled work. The main ledge
Looking south from the highest point of the mountains as we crossed near La Holla, we obtained a fine view of the valley for some miles. It was almost the close of day, and right in front, like a ball of crimson and gold, the sun hung suspended near the mountain top, over which it reflected a thousand rays as it was about to bid the world good night. The glistening river flowed on at the base of the rugged mountain range, and the noise of water, falling over ledges of rocks in the stream, came up to us in soft murmurs, like nature's own music. Dotted here and there down the valley were the rustic houses of the rancheros, and an occasional cluster marked a small hamlet. Since we had passed up, the people had commenced preparations for the spring crops, and some were yet at work in the fields. The acequias had been opened for irrigation, and here and there, like veins on the bosom of mother earth, we could trace the little silver-like threads of water meandering through the freshly-plowed ground, carrying life to the newly-sown grain. The dead silence around impressed the scene favorably upon the mind, and gave evidence of the close of the busy week, and the approach of that day of rest when
1. This expression has the same meaning in Spanish as the word élite in French.
2. A favorite Spanish waltz.