CHAPTER XVII: Trip To The Nabajo Country
Excursion to Nabajo Country.—Leave Santa Fé.—Cross the Del Norte.—Foraging.—Route.—Appearance of Country.—Arrival at Laguna.—The Pueblo.—Montezuma.—Mr. Gorman.—Appearance of the God.—Quivera.—Chained Pig.—Current of Lava.—Formation of Country.—Agua Azul.—Back-bone of Continent.—Fatiguing Drive.—Camp at the Laguna.—Sandstone Formation.—Trap Rock.—Arrival at Fort Defiance.—Situation of Fort.—Laguna Negra.—Time for Council fixed.—General Garland arrives.—Council with Indians.—The Indians.—Treatyformed.—Distribution of Presents.—Scramble.—Some Account of the Nabajos.—Dress.—Character.—The Women.—Government.—Tradition of Origin.
One of the most interesting excursions I made in New Mexico was a visit to the country of the Nabajo Indians in the summer of 1855, who inhabit a region that lies between the rivers Colorado and San Juan, about two hundred miles west of Santa Fé. Governor Meriwether had been appointed sole commissioner to make treaties with the various Indian tribes of the Territory, and upon this occasion he went into the Nabajo country to treat with them, whither I accompanied him in the capacity of private secretary.
We left Santa Fé on the afternoon of the fifth of July, and encamped for the night at Delgado's Ranch, fourteen miles from town. Our party numbered five persons, the governor, his son, myself, and two servants. General Garland had made arrangements to accompany us, but, being detained by official business, he did not join us the second night in the bosque (wood) near Algodones,
It was near mid-afternoon when we resumed the road. We drove down the Del Norte three miles to the government ferry, where we crossed to the west bank of the river. The ferry is kept by an old Mexican in the employ of the quarter-master's department at twenty-five dollars per month, but who is allowed to charge for ferrying over citizens. The means of crossing was a rickety old scow, that could accommodate but one wagon at a time. The passage was somewhat difficult on account of the high wind, but we made the opposite shore in safety. We drove about two miles down the river, when we turned to the west, intending to drive to an acequia we supposed ran at the foot of the sand-hills that bound the valley, and encamp. We traveled until about dark, but, finding no water, we retraced our road, and made our camp for the night within a mile of a small Mexican village we had passed soon after we left the river. We were a mile from the river, which distance we had to drive the animals and carry the water we used for drinking.
I was deputed to go on a foraging expedition, and for that purpose returned to the village. I went from house to house, making diligent inquiry for those articles necessary to supply our larder, but received several no hai's (there is none) before I was able to find the objects of my search. I purchased enough eggs to fill my pockets, three half-grown chickens, and a good-sized log of wood for fuel. As I rode back to camp, with the chickens
We broke up camp at five o'clock the next morning. As we were about hitching up, our animals treated us to a stempede, which detained us an hour. From the river bottom we ascended a gradual slope of some four miles to a sandy and undulating mesa, over which we traveled in a direction nearly northwest. By noon we had made about thirty miles, when we halted to lunch and graze near a small sulphur spring. Our camp was in a little dell, inclosed by rocky headlands, in some places showing almost a perpendicular escarpment of rock. Many large rocks lie upon the surface, mostly of a fine sandstone, formed in strata of not more than half an inch in thickness, and placed in as regular layers as though they had been laid by human hands. Nothing could be clearer than their formation in water, according to the modern geological theory, but how they came upon these high headlands, many miles from any stream, I do not pretend to know. We left the mesa before we had traveled half the distance, and entered a valley which had the appearance of having been the bed of a lake. The northeast side, near which ran our road, showed evident signs of having been washed by a large body of water. The rock is a soft laminated sandstone, full of holes and small caverns. Near the top, about where the old water-line appears to run, it has been scooped out underneath, until the upper part forms an overhanging ledge, much the same as we notice in a rock-bound coast upon which the waves incessantly break. The water appears to have subsided to about half its depth and there remained stationary some time, as a second ledge has been formed about midway
We took the road again at five, and traveled ten miles, when we encamped for the night near the bank of the little river. We found a few stagnant pools in the bed of the stream, the water being almost strong enough to turn the stomach of an elephant. We afterward discovered that a crystal spring flowed near us, which at that time would have been more delicious than the nectar of the gods. Near our camp were living a Mexican family, perched in a rude hut upon the rocky bank of the Gallo. A few patches of corn in the valley, and a small flock of goats and sheep, made up their worldly goods and means of living. When we awoke in the morning, we had the satisfaction of knowing that the mules belonging to the baggage-wagon had stampeded during the night, and gone to parts unknown. Their tracks in the sand showed that they had turned their faces homeward. The teamster was dispatched in pursuit, while two men were left in camp to await his return, the governor and myself continuing on our way. Up to this point we had traversed almost a desert country, as dry as powder, sandy, and bare of trees. The only stream we crossed was the Puerco, now without a drop of water in its bed, but at some seasons of the year one of the most rapid and dangerous rivers in the country.
In a drive of five miles from the camp we came to the Indian pueblo of Laguna, where we unhitched and remained until the baggage-wagon came up. As we entered the village, the inhabitants were getting in motion for the day; some of the young maidens were in the
Mr. Gorman is a Baptist missionary, and has resided at the pueblo some two years and a half. They have elected him a member of their community, with all the rights and privileges of a full-born Indian. He sits with them in the estufa in council when affairs of state are discussed, and preaches to them on the Sabbath in the village church, and, upon the whole, he is exercising a good influence over this simple-minded people.
The pueblo of Laguna stands upon a rocky knoll on the west bank of the Gallo, and at the distance of a few hundred yards presents rather a picturesque appearance. The population is reckoned at about a thousand souls. It is built without order, and the houses are generally small; none of them are more than two stories high, and the upper story recedes from the lower, so as to form an uncovered terrace. They are generally of mud, though a few are built of stones. The rooms are small, low, and badly ventilated, and a few small pieces of foliated
The children of Mr. Gorman have acquired the Indian dialect so as to speak it with almost the same fluency as their mother tongue. Taking Master James, about twelve years of age, with me as interpreter and guide, I wended my way to the pueblo on a tour of sight-seeing. We first went to the house of the cacique, which we entered by ascending an outside ladder to the terrace, across which we passed into the building. In the room were seated several Indians upon the floor, all employed in some useful occupation. The cacique himself was painting
Having expressed a desire to see their god Montezuma, my young guide led the way to the house where the famous deity is kept. This is the most cherished, and probably the only one still retained of all their ancient heathen gods. It is greatly in vogue in a dry time, when it is brought forth from the sanctuary, and, with dancing and other rites, they invoke it in favor of rain, but whether it has ever been able to bring refreshing showers to the parched earth is a question open to discussion. We picked up one of the head men on the way, who accompanied us. We ascended a ladder as before, and entered a small and badly-lighted room, where we found a shriveled-up old Indian, entirely naked, except a small cloth about his loins and moccasins upon the feet. Master James made known the object of our visit, and told him we were not Mexicans, and would neither injure nor carry away the god, which assurance was necessary, as none of that race are permitted to look upon it. A conference was now held between the man that accompanied us, the old keeper, and an old hag of a woman who had come in in the mean time, and in a few minutes we were informed that we could see Montezuma. The old woman was dispatched to bring it in, who returned after a short absence, carrying something in her arms, wrapped up in an old cloth, which she placed carefully upon the floor. The cloth was then removed, and their favorite god stood before our eyes. I was much disappointed in its appearance, it being a much
The god Montezuma is made of tanned skin of some sort, and the form is circular, being about nine inches in height, and the same in diameter. The top is covered with the same material, but the lower end is open, and one half is painted red, and the other green. Upon the green side is fashioned the rude representation of a man's face. Two oblong apertures in the skin, in the shape of right-angled triangles, with the bases inward, are the eyes; there is no nose, and a circular piece of leather, fastened about two inches below the eyes, represents the mouth; and two similar pieces, one on each side, opposite the outer corners of the eyes, are intended for the ears. This completes the personnel of the god, with the addition of a small tuft of leather upon the top, which is dressed with feathers when it is brought out to be worshiped upon public days. The three Indians present looked upon it with the greatest apparent veneration, who knelt around it in the most devout manner, and went through a form of prayer, while one of the number sprinkled upon it a white powder. Mateo, the Indian who accompanied us, spoke in praise of Montezuma, and told us that it was God, and the brother of God. After contemplating this singular spectacle for a few minutes, we withdrew, quite astonished at what we had seen. Who would have believed that within the limits of our Union, in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was to be found such a debased form of heathen worship?
We were entertained most hospitably by Mr. Gorman and family, with whom we tarried until about twelve, noon, when we resumed the road. We drove thirty miles that afternoon, and encamped for the night at the Hay Camp, on the banks of the Gallo. We followed up the valley of this stream, the country presenting the same general appearance of having once been submerged in water, in some places the surface being covered with numerous water-washed boulders. We halted at the small Mexican town of Quivera, or Covero, long enough to fill our water-kegs and replenish our failing stock of provisions. A half-grown pig, chained in the cavity of a large rock, appeared to have the best quarters in the village, and in personal appearance he was by far the most respectable-looking inhabitant of the place. Leaving the village, we entered upon an extensive plain, barren except near the town, where a few fields of grain and vegetables are cultivated by means of irrigation. Upon our right loomed up old Mount Mateo, with heavy clouds now and then clustering around his bald peak, threatening to drop down rain upon the traveler beneath. In ten miles we came to the Gallo, which we crossed, and continued up the south bank until we reached our place of camping. Soon after crossing the stream we struck a very remarkable lava formation, probably one of the most curious in the world. It appears to have come down the valley in a broad stream of liquid fire until it became cool and ceased its flow. It follows the general course of the stream, and is many miles in length. In some places some obstruction appears to have dammed it up, at which points the stream has widened. The lava is as black as ink, and in appearance as fresh as though it had just cooled and ceased running. It came from the northwest, and some miles beyond this point are the remains of an old crater, from which this current of fire must have flowed.
The sides of the valley differ in no essential particular from the description already given. The strata are exposed toward the summit, and the opposite sides have such a uniformity of formation as to argue having been forced asunder. Here the action of fire predominates, and the basin does not appear to have been filled with water to a greater depth than about thirty or forty feet. At this height the rocks are water-washed, and those of a soft sandstone have been hollowed into caverns, and some rounded into boulders. The strata have been disrupted in some places, but mostly lie horizontally. The alcalde of Laguna joined us during the evening, having been sent by the governor of the pueblo to guide us to the fort. The interpreter of the Nabajo Indian Agency also came into our camp during the night, and accompanied us the balance of the journey.
We broke up camp at five and a half o'clock the next morning, and continued on up the valley of the Gallo. During the day we saw lava of a much older date than that already mentioned, and of an appearance entirely different. We stopped at Agua Azul (blue water), twenty miles from the Hay Camp, to lunch and graze the animals. Here we found good grass, and purchased a sheep of a Mexican herder, which we cooked for dinner. Thence we traveled that afternoon thirty miles farther to a small laguna, where we arrived about ten o'clock at night. We had intended encamping at a spring twelve miles beyond Agua Azul, but, having passed it undiscovered, we were obliged to continue on to the next water. About sundown we crossed the great backbone of North America, the ridge that divides the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic, and began to descend the western slope. At this place the rise to the culminating point from either side is so gradual that you are hardly aware when you have reached the highest point of the ridge, and, to as
Our afternoon drive was exceedingly fatiguing, and the animals became so much wearied before we reached the camping-ground that it seemed doubtful whether they could hold out until they arrived there. Our two guides went ahead to search for the water, and signal us if they should find it. After a while we saw, far ahead, a small red light, resembling a bloody star, which seemed to recede as we advanced, like the deceitful Will-o-the-Wisp. Finally it appeared to stand still, then grew larger, and at length we made it out to be a fire which the guides had kindled upon a rocky knoll to direct us to the water. We reached the laguna weary and worn, and, after a hasty supper, we laid down to sleep, with the wolves around us howling a lullaby. Our route to-day lay through valleys and depressions in the mountains; on the right the headlands are bold and abrupt, while on the left they have been worn down into gentle slopes, covered with a growth of cedar-trees.
We were on the road by sunrise the next morning, and made the fort by nine the same evening—distance about fifty miles. The country gradually descends as you go west, and the water flows toward the Pacific. In the valleys we saw wild sage and a little short, dry grass growing, and some of the hill and mountain sides are covered with small cedar-trees, but, with this exception, the whole country is a barren waste. About five miles from the fort, and at the entrance of the valley that leads up to it, is seen rather a curious formation of sandstone. There is a whole colony of large pillars and cones, some of which are more than a hundred feet high, with smooth sides, and more or less tapering to the top.
Fort Defiance is built in the heart of the Nabajo country, to keep that numerous tribe of Indians in awe. The location is one of the most eligible ones that can be found in all that region, being at the mouth of Cañoncito bonito (pretty little cañon), a favorite spot with the Nabajos, and near fertile valleys and good water. The cañon is about half a mile in length, with almost perpendicular rocky sides, which in one place are four hundred feet in height. The bottom is not over three hundred feet broad, level and grassy, and a small stream of water flows through it toward the fort, being fed from two springs near the head of the cañon. This post was built some years ago by Major Backus, since much improved by Major Kendrick, and at this time was garrisoned by three companies, one of light artillery and two of infantry. The quarters of the officers and men are built around a large parade, some three hundred by two hundred yards, covered with a fine coat of grass. Some of the buildings are of mud, and others of pine logs, and all comfortable enough, barring occasional leakage in the rainy season. The officers' quarters are upon the north side, and front upon the parade. The stables of the artillery horses are a little to one side, on the west; they are roomy and comfortable, and the horses are cared for in the best manner. Besides the battery of six-pounders, there are also six pieces of mountain howitzers. Every thing about the post appeared in fine order, and bore evidence of good and wholesome discipline.
The next morning after our arrival at the post a party of us rode up to Laguna Negra, fourteen miles, to see the Indian agent, and learn when he could have the Red Men assembled for council. We made the distance in three hours, keeping up the valleys, and saw little of interest on the way. At one point in the route there is a singular formation of trap dike, such as is seldom seen. In a narrow valley there rises up an immense mass of red sandstone, through which runs a perpendicular section of trap not more than four feet in width, and which appears as though it had been placed there by a mechanic. The trap dike can be traced some distance on either side of the valley, like a belt extending across the country.
Laguna Negra (black water) is a pretty little sheet of water among the mountains, and is one of the places much resorted to by the Nabajo Indians. The water is of a dark hue, but cool and deep. We found Agent Dodge with his tent pitched upon an eminence overlooking the lake, and around were about a hundred Indians, some engaged in their usual sports, and others quietly sitting upon their horses. The governor held a short talk with the head men, and Monday, the sixteenth of the month, was fixed upon as the time for meeting them in council, and forming the proposed treaty. The chiefs promised to have their warriors present at the appointed time, the majority of them then being among the mountains within a short distance. We dined with the agent.
General Garland, with Captain Ewell's dragoons, reached the fort on Saturday afternoon, the fourteenth, and was received by a salute from the field battery. The next day the whole garrison was paraded under arms, and reviewed and inspected. The following morning, Monday, the sixteenth, being the day fixed upon for the Indian council, the governor, two or three officers, and myself proceeded to the lake under escort of the dragoons. Before we arrived there a large number of Indians met us and accompanied us in, the throng increasing in numbers as we neared our destination. We pitched our tent near the shore of the lake, and the dragoons were picketed close by. At one o'clock we assembled in council. A small space, intended for the chiefs and Americans, had been inclosed with cedar boughs, but the crowd rushed in, and by the time we had taken our seats it was crammed full. The crowd of Indians upon the ground was very great, being estimated at two thousand, all mounted and armed warriors except a few women and children. As a general thing, they were tolerably well dressed, mostly in buckskin. Before any talking was done, tobacco was passed round to the head men, who quickly made themselves cigarritos, and went to smoking with great gravity and gusto. The Indians of New Mexico never use the pipe, but smoke an ordinary Mexican cigar instead.
The Indians were seen gathering together in great numbers as the morning wore away, and soon there were as many assembled as yesterday. They were galloping to and fro along the valley in tens, and twenties, and fifties, and on the border of the lake, half a mile distant, large groups were collected together, as though engaged in deliberation. Our camp was again surrounded by hundreds, who would sit so immovable upon their horses that man and beast seemed but one animal. Early this morning a delegation of Indians from the pueblo of Zuñi came into camp, as they alleged, to see the governor, but really upon a begging expedition. They were accompanied by the governor, and also the officer whose duty it is to look after the sun and moon, the latter being necessarily an owlish-looking individual. His office is doubtless a sinecure, but, if such a one existed under our government, with a fat salary attached, it would command the first talent in the republic. The general, with the light battery, arrived in camp about nine, and took up a position near us.
The council opened about noon. During the morning the chiefs had been in conference with their people, considering the propositions made to them the day before. Having determined to accept the terms offered, some twenty of them came to our camp and announced the fact, and said they were ready to proceed with the business. They took their seats in a circle upon the ground, appointed one of their number spokesman for the whole, and then lit their cigarritos for a smoke. About the opening of the council, the head chief, named Sarcillas Largas, sent his medal and official staff to the governor, with a message that he was not able to govern his people,
Being ready to proceed to business, Manuelita, in the name of his people, told the governor that his talk of the day before was good, and that they were all agreed to the terms he proposed. The treaty was now read, and interpreted to them article by article; but when they came to the fourth, Manuelita said his people claimed a much larger district of country, and that they were in the habit of going to the mountain of Polonia, outside of the reservation, to worship the spirits of their fathers, and that some were averse to giving up this sacred spot. The governor explained to them, from Park's map, that this mountain would fall within the country reserved to them, with which they were satisfied. They desired permission to get salt from the Salt Lake near Zuñi, which was conceded to them. After the various articles had been read, interpreted, and agreed to, they were duly signed by the chiefs, and witnessed by the officers and a few other Americans present.
After the conclusion of the council, a considerable amount of presents was distributed among the Indians, when a scene of confusion took place that was highly amusing. The chiefs told the governor that they would
In many respects the Nabajos are the most interesting tribe of Indians in our country, and their history, manners, and customs are not unworthy an investigation. They appear superior in intelligence to all the other North American tribes, and differ from them in their habits and traditions. They live in the very heart of the continent, and from time immemorial have roamed over both the Pacific and Atlantic slopes. They have ever been known as a pastoral and peaceful race of men, and live by raising flocks and herds, instead of hunting and fishing. They own some two hundred thousand sheep, and more than ten thousand head of horses, and at times one single chief is worth as much as fifteen thousand dollars in stock, owning thousands of sheep and hundreds of horses. They raise corn, wheat, beans, pumpkins, melons, peaches, wild potatoes, etc. They sometimes grow as many as sixty thousand bushels of corn in a single season, and the present year (1855) they are supposed to have five thousand acres under cultivation. They number about twelve thousand souls, and can muster twenty-five hundred mounted warriors. They are industrious and laborious, and the men, women, and children are generally kept employed. They manufacture all their own wearing apparel, and make their arms, such as bows, arrows, and lances; they also weave a beautiful article of blankets, and knit woolen stockings. They dress with greater comfort than any other tribe, and wear woolen and well-tanned buckskin. The skin breeches come down to the knee, where they are met by blue stockings that cover the lower half of the leg; the breeches fit tight to the limb, and the outer seams are adorned with silver or brass buttons. The coat reaches below the hips, with a hole at the top to thrust the head through, and open at the sides; it is made of wool, woven in bright colors, and is fastened around the waist by
The Nabajo Indian is seldom seen on foot, a horse being as indispensable to him as to an Arab of the desert. They manufacture their own saddles and bridles, bits, stirrups, etc., as also the looms on which they weave their handsome blankets, which are quite an ingenious affair. It is a noted fact that they treat their women with more respect than any other tribe, and make companions of them instead of slaves. A Nabajo never sends his wife to saddle his horse, but does it himself if he has no peon. The modern doctrine of "Woman's Rights" may be said to prevail among them to a very liberal extent. The women are the real owners of all the sheep, and the men dare not dispose of them without their permission, nor do the husbands ever make an important bargain without first consulting their wives. They admit women into their councils, who sometimes control their deliberations; and they also eat with them. They are mild in disposition, and very seldom commit murder; but they consider theft one of the greatest human virtues, and no one is thought to be at all accomplished unless he can steal with adroitness.
Their form of government is so exceedingly primitive as to be hardly worthy the name of a political organization. In this respect they are far behind the other tribes of the country. The democratic doctrine prevails among them, and the will of the majority always governs. They have no hereditary chief, but one is elected from time to time, who surrenders his authority at pleasure, when a new one is chosen in his stead. There are a few rich families in the tribe, who form the aristocracy, and possess