CHAPTER XVIII: Trip To The Nabajo Country—Concluded
Religious Belief of the Nabajos.—Woman in the Sun.—Houses.—Superstition.—Form of Marriage.—Appearance.—Who are the Nabajos?—Speculation.—Mr. Gregg's Opinion.—Are they Aztec or Toltec?—Author's Opinion.—Cañon of Chelly.—Vocabulary of Words.—The Moquis.—Position.—Their Manufactures.—Houses.— Character.— Albinos.—Zuñi.—Situation.—Inscription Rock.—Leave Fort Defiance.—Stampede.—Arrive in Santa Fé.—New Mexico.—Gold Mines. —Richness.—Diggings.—Silver.—Other Metals.—Wealth of Country.—Education.—Expense of Living.—Trade.—Value of Goods introduced.—Circulating Medium.—Americans in the Country.—Improvement of the People.—Conclusion.
The religious belief of the Indians is somewhat unusual for Indians. Their god is a woman, who they believe places the sun in the heavens every morning, and they say that the moon is carried around the sky upon the back of a mule, whose ears they can plainly see. They have a number of prophets, who profess to receive revelations from the woman who has charge of the sun, and which, at stated periods, they communicate to the people. They also prophesy as in olden times, and thus exercise a considerable influence in the tribe. They have certain fast-days, during which they neither eat nor drink, but strictly observe the practice of total abstinence. Their habitations are a kind of lodge, made of poles and grass in a very rude manner, and the reason they give for not living in houses is, that when they first came up out of the water, they left this matter with the women, who preferred to live in lodges. When a person dies in a lodge, they pull or burn it down; and when a
Their form of marriage ceremony is peculiar and primitive. When a man and woman desire to become "bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh," they sit down on opposite sides of a basket, made to hold water, filled with atole or some other food, and partake of it. This simple proceeding makes them husband and wife; but the contract sits so lightly upon them that they have the privilege of separating and seeking new companions the next day. The husband, at the time of marriage, makes a present of horses to the bride's father, and she takes him home to live with her. In person they are a little above the medium height, and well made; their complexion is a dark brown, but they have not the same high cheek-bones as the Indians of other tribes. They have several native blacksmiths, who work in iron with considerable skill. The rich men own a number of peones, generally Mexican captives, whom they employ in tending their flocks and herds. Some of them marry into the tribe, and from choice remain with them all their lives. Every thing connected with their religion is of the most primitive and crude belief imaginable, and I have serious doubts whether they have any tangible conception of a Supreme Being, nor have I been able to learn that there is any word in their language which means God.
The reader has probably queried ere this as to the origin of these Indians, so far in advance of all the other nomadic tribes in the arts and civilization. Were I disposed to indulge in speculation alone, I might, with some
Speculation aside, who are probably the Nabajos? Mr. Gregg, in his excellent work upon New Mexico, gives it as his opinion that they are the remnant of the Aztec race which remained in the north when that people migrated toward Anahuac. Among the reasons he advances in support of this position are their superiority in the manufacture of blankets, cotton textures, and embroidering in feathers. Their blankets are unquestionably a fine article, and they excel in making them because they have particularly cultivated this branch of
I regret that I had not leisure to examine the ruins found in various parts of the Nabajo country, and other interesting objects to be found there. The principal remains of ancient pueblos are found in the Valley of the Rio Chaco, a southern tributary of the San Juan. Some of the ruins are quite extensive, with chambers in a tolerably good state of preservation, and exhibit skill in the mechanic arts superior to that possessed by the Nabajos at the present day, and which are undoubtedly the remains of some of the pueblos which Coronado's people
In conclusion of my notice of the Nabajos, I give a vocabulary of a few of the words in most common use among them. The spelling of the syllables is, of course, entirely arbitrary, but I have endeavored, as far as possible, to make them represent the true sound of the words. Their language has never been reduced to writing, and therefore we can do no more than approximate to the proper pronunciation in English. The list of words here embraced was furnished to me by Captain H. L. Dodge, the agent for the Nabajos, and a young Indian named Armijo, a son of one of the principal men of the nation, and may be relied upon as mainly correct.
|Eh-ki …||white shirt.|
|Klong …||prairie dog.|
|Claj-ek-la-ki …||white drawers.|
|A-ja-lan-siques.||how do you do?|
|Ya-dey-uh …||good evening.|
|Ja-da-nagan …||where do you live?|
|Za-sho-se-kis…||are you well, my friend?|
|Tah-tol-geh …||what is the name of this place?|
About a hundred miles west of the Nabajos, and upon the great tableau between the rivers San Juan and the Colorado Chiquito, are found the seven villages of the Moqui Indians. They are about midway in the wilderness between the Rio Colorado of the west and the Del Norte. A bute or mesa, with a flat top, rises up several hundred feet, upon which the Moquis have built their villages. The sides of the mesa are nearly perpendicular, and the top can only be reached by means of a stairway cut in the rock. Around the base lies their arable land, where they cultivate grains, fruits, and vegetables, and pasture their flocks and herds. During the day they attend their crops, and watch their sheep and goats in
The houses are built much in the same manner as those of the other pueblos, some being constructed of stone and mortar, and others of mud; they are two and three stories high, and comfortable. They cultivate by means of irrigation, and their crops sometimes fail by reason of the mountain streams giving out; but, to avoid a famine, they always keep on hand a considerable supply of provisions. They are kind and hospitable to strangers, and when one approaches their villages they watch his movements from the tops of the rocks and houses. Now and then their more warlike neighbors, the Nabajos, come sweeping down upon them, and drive off their flocks. They offer but little resistance, but, gathering up all the movables they can carry, they retreat to their strongholds upon the mesa height. Among them are a few albinos, with perfectly white hair and
The Moquis have had but little intercourse with the American or Spanish population of New Mexico, and retain their aboriginal manners, customs, and religion. It is supposed by those who have examined the subject with the most care that they are the remains of the province of Tusayan, which was visited by a portion of the command of Coronado in the winter of 1540–41, on their way to the great cañon of the Rio Colorado. From the investigation I have bestowed upon the question, I am of the opinion that Moqui is identical with ancient Tusayan, for which conclusion reasons are given more at length in a previous chapter.
Some sixty miles to the south-southeast of Fort Defiance is situated the pueblo of Zuñi, on a small tributary of the Colorado Chiquito. The village contains some fifteen hundred inhabitants, and in all essential particulars does not differ from the other pueblos in the Territory. The houses are two and three stories high, and terraced, and the streets are narrow. It contains a Catholic church. The inhabitants cultivate the soil, raising a good deal of grain, and they possess numerous flocks and herds. There are several albinos in the village. The present town is in the valley, but the old pueblo was built on the top of a high mesa, almost inaccessible from below. A few miles to the east of Zuñi is a noted quadrangular mass of white sandstone, known as Inscription Rock, which has attracted much attention. It is nearly a mile in length, and more than two hundred feet in height. On the north and south faces are numerous inscriptions in Spanish of the names of persons who passed that way, with the dates. Some of them are deeply and beautifully cut into the plane surface of the rock, and reach back as far as 1606, two hundred and
We left Fort Defiance to return home on the afternoon of Wednesday, the eighteenth of July, and traveled through the rain twelve miles before we encamped. We halted about sundown in a boggy valley, where we sank shoe-top deep in mud at every step. As we had about arranged our camp for the night, the mules and dragoon horses, near a hundred in number, became frightened at some imaginary scarecrow, and stampeded in the most approved style, and made their way back to the fort. A party of soldiers were sent in pursuit, who returned with the truant animals about three o'clock the next morning. Fortunately, none were injured, but all were greatly jaded. The rain continued to fall in torrents, and, take it all in all, it was one of the most uncomfortable nights I ever remember to have passed in camp. The next morning the clouds broke away soon after sunrise, and it remained clear the balance of the day. That evening we encamped at the laguna. During the day we passed, near the Ojita, one of the finest natural meadows I have ever seen. It must have contained several
The next day we lunched at Agua Azul, and encamped for the night at the Gallo. As we drew near the Gallo we saw a number of Indians about the valley whose conduct created the suspicion that they were returning from a marauding expedition, and had stolen property in their possession. When they got sight of us they began catching up their animals and flocks, and made for the mountains. Captain Ewell, with a detachment of dragoons, was sent in pursuit, but found, when he overtook them, that they were a party of Sandoval's Nabajos, who were about leaving the watering-place as we drew near. The next day we encamped near the Sulphur Spring, five miles east of Laguna. We halted a while at the pueblo, and partook of the hospitalities of Mr. Gorman and family; and the governor held a talk with delegations of Laguna and Acoma Indians, to endeavor to reconcile a long-standing difficulty between them.
The following morning our party divided, the general and escort proceeding to Los Lunas, while the governor and myself continued the direct route homeward. That night we encamped on the west bank of the Del Norte, a high wind preventing us from crossing. We passed over the next morning with no other mishap than my horse tumbling overboard into the river. Thence we continued up the Valley of the Del Norte, and arrived in Santa Fé on the afternoon of the twenty-third instant.
New Mexico, with all her barrenness of soil and unforbidding aspect to the stranger and new settler, is not entirely void of attractions. She has within her limits resources which, if properly developed, would vastly increase her importance to the rest of the Union, and add greatly to her wealth. If Nature has denied to her
Gold abounds in several localities, but the mines that have been worked with most success, and are supposed to be the richest, are in the Placer Mountains, thirty miles southwest of Santa Fé. In the same region are washings which have been worked for some years, and a large amount of gold taken out. The mines at El Placer are said to have been accidentally discovered about thirty years ago, when work was immediately commenced in them. Mr. Gregg says that, from 1832 to 1835, when mining operations were the most flourishing, from sixty to eighty thousand dollars per annum were taken from them, and that, from the first discovery up to 1844, they yielded about half a million of dollars. There has been but little work done in them since the war with Mexico.
These mines, when in operation, were worked by the old-fashioned Spanish toroner, the rudest of all mining machinery, which consists in nothing more than two large flat stones attached to a horizontal beam, and drawn round by a mule upon a bed of flat stones. The process of grinding the ore, as well as that of amalgamating, was slow and imperfect, and not more than one third of the gold could be obtained. Yet, with this primitive
The diggings known as the New Placer, where gold is taken out by washing, are on the opposite side of the same range of mountains. In 1844 a piece of gold was found there which weighed at the Mint the value of $1213, and other pieces have weighed as many as three and four pounds when taken from the earth; and I have seen several lumps in almost a pure state that weighed within a fraction of three quarters of an ounce after all the dirt was washed off. The gold of New Mexico is worth about nineteen dollars at the Mint, being of a finer
Silver is found in various parts of the country. The most valuable mines that have yet been explored are in the country of Doña Ana, near the little town of Las Cruces, which have been worked to some extent. The ore is obtained from a range of mountains to the east, where it can be extracted with ease and at small expense, and has been pronounced exceedingly rich. Silver is also found in the Saudia Mountains.
Besides the precious metals, copper, iron, lead, coal, and some zinc are found in the country. Some of the copper contains gold in sufficient quantities to pay for the extracting. The lead is much blended with copper and other hard metals. Iron ore has been discovered in various localities, but I am not aware that it has ever been manufactured. The coal is hard, burns well, and is found cropping out upon the surface in various places. Salt lakes are numerous in New Mexico, but the largest are not more than a few miles in circumference. The salt is deposited in immense cakes, and is obtained by scooping it up from the bottom. The dry season is the best time to gather it, and after being dried in the sun it is ready for market. Nearly all the salt used in the Territory
These minerals compose the natural wealth of the country, and, in the absence of all commercial advantages, must be the basis of its future prosperity. To develop them to any considerable extent would be a laborious and expensive task under existing circumstances, and, indeed, it can hardly be looked for at present. The remote situation of the country, difficulty of access, and the few advantages it possesses combine to keep capital and enterprise away from New Mexico. Compared with other Territories, there are few inducements for emigrants to go there to seek new homes. There is but one thing that can possibly open a new era in the prosperity of New Mexico, which is the building of a rail-road through the Territory to the Pacific. It would give a new impetus to all her interests, and do more to develop her resources than all other causes combined.
Compared with the rest of the Union, New Mexico may be called a desert land, and a large portion of it is almost as unfitted for agricultural purposes as the plains of Arabia. In appearance it is the most ancient country I have ever seen, and looks as though it might have been worn out long before the rest of our earth was made. The mountains are mostly barren, barring a stunted growth of pine-trees; the plains are almost as sterile, and the small fertile valleys are like angels' visits, "few
The mere expense of living is greater in New Mexico than in any other section of the United States, and prices are generally much higher than in California. Many articles of food, and every description of clothing, are brought from the States in wagons, a distance of nearly a thousand miles from the frontiers of Missouri. The trains arrive out in the summer, from June to August, and the wagons are usually drawn by oxen, six and eight yoke making a team. The trip is made in from forty-five to sixty days, and a large number of wagons usually travel together, for the sake of protection from the Indians. The usual freight is nine and ten cents per round. There is no insurance upon the goods thus transported, because of the great risk. Some trains return to the States the same season, while others, which belong to
The Americans in the Territory do not exceed five hundred, exclusive of the troops, and are found in all parts of the country. They are engaged in every branch of business, and exhibit the energy always manifested by our countrymen wherever met with. It may be asked whether the native Mexicans have been benefited by the country coming into the possession of the United States, and having our institutions extended over them. From my observation, I believe they have been improved in both a social and political point of view. They live under certain and written laws, and are protected in the enjoyment of all their rights, instead of trusting to the caprice of an irresponsible individual as before. There is a decided improvement in the style of dress and mode of living; they wear a greater quantity of American goods, and tea, coffee, and sugar are becoming more common in use among the peasantry. Many are dispensing with the serape (blanket) as an every-day garment, and are wearing coats instead; and buckskin in giving way
I am now about to draw the volume to a close, and take leave of you, my readers. I have endeavored to give you a faithful picture of New Mexico as it now is, with its vices and its virtues. I have written nothing in malice, because I have no such feelings to gratify; and my only desire is to present a correct knowledge of the country and the people. Some of the sketches show a dark picture in a moral point of view, but they are nevertheless true. Let us hope that a brighter day may soon dawn upon this distant and benighted portion of our happy land.