Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VI: The Pueblo Indians—Concluded Next: CHAPTER VIII:Manners And Customs Of The People—Continued
Situation.—How built.—Houses.—Public Buildings.—Sight-seeing.—Legislative Anecdote.—Burro.—Cock-fighting.—Mexican Family.—Furniture.—Tortillas
and Frijoles.—Reception.—Manners.—Smoking.— Leave-taking.—Gambling.—Monte.—Señora Barcelo.
Santa Fé, or, as it sometimes is written, Santa Fé de San Francisco, the city of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis, is the capital of the Territory of New Mexico, and has been the seat of government
of the province since the Spaniards first settled the country. It is situated in a valley on both sides of the small river
of the same name, and about twenty miles east of the Rio del Norte, into which the former stream empties to the southwest.
The town lies at the western base of a chain of high mountains, some of which are covered with snow most of the year, and
which extend a long distance to the north and south. They are part of the great Rocky chain, and form a barrier that all must
pass who enter the Territory from the east. The valley is mountain-locked on every side, but is more open toward the southwest,
the direction we take to reach the valley of the Del Norte.
A good deal of uncertainty and doubt hang over the first settlement of Santa Fé both as to time and persons. I was informed
by an old resident of the place that six men who belonged to one of the early Spanish expeditions into the Floridas, and which
was wrecked and broken up, wandered, in pursuit of game and adventure, through what is now New Mexico, and were the first
Europeans who passed near where Santa Fé stands. Thence they pursued their way toward the southwest, and met a body of Spaniards
who were coming into the country from Southern Mexico. The six men here referred to must have been Cabeza de Baca and his
ship-wrecked companions, the survivors of the unfortunate expedition of Narvaez, as they are the only white men known to have
passed through the country previous to the expedition of Coronado in 1540–43. Independent of tradition, we have evidence extant
that the country was permanently settled between the years 1580 and 1600, and that Santa Fé was one of the first points at
which a settlement was made. It was the capital before the year 1680, as we learn from the journals of the Spanish officers
who served in the country, and particularly from that of Don Antonio de Otermin, who was at that time, and had been for some
years, the governor and military commandant of the province. The latitude is 35° 41' north, and the longitude 106° west from
Greenwich, and the elevation is more than seven thousand feet above the level of the sea.
The city occupies very nearly the same site as the ancient capital of the Pueblo Indian kingdom. Here upon the surrounding
hills these people had constructed several of their quaint-looking buildings, and when the Spaniards first came to the country
they found this point the centre of their strength. In the vicinity of the town pieces of painted pottery are still found,
and parts of two of the old buildings are standing on the west side of the river, on the road leading to San Miguel. The Indians
resided here many years after the Spaniards made a settlement, but in course of time the pueblos fell into decay, the inhabitants
seeking new homes in other parts of the country. The modern town of Santa Fé, like its
great namesake and prototype, Timbuctoo, is built of mud, and the inhabitants, with great truth, can call their houses "earthly
tabernacles." The population, according to the census of 1850, was between four and five thousand, and may be set down about
the same at this time, but this number includes all the little settlements along the river up to the foot of the mountains.
It is laid out with considerable regularity in the manner of all Spanish-built towns. In the centre is a public square or
plaza, some two or three acres in extent, from the four corners of which lead the main streets, at right angles to each other.
The streets are of medium width and wholly unpaved; and but for the shelter afforded by the portales (the side-walks) in the
rainy season, they would become almost impassable for foot-passangers. In the middle of the Plaza stands a flag-staff, erected
by the military authorities some years ago, from the top of which the star-spangled banner daily waves to the breeze.
The houses are built of adobes, or mud bricks dried in the sun, and are but one story in height; and there are only two two-story houses in the place, neither
of which was erected by the Mexicans. The walls are much thicker than those of a stone or brick house, and, being of a drier
material, they are cooler in summer and warmer in winter than the former. The almost universal style of building, both in
town and country, is in the form of a square, with a court-yard in the centre. A large door, called a zaguan, leads from the
street into the patio or court-yard, into which the doors of the various rooms open. A portal, or, more properly, according to the American understanding
of the same, a porch, runs around this court, and serves as a sheltered communication between different parts of the house.
The roof is flat, with a slight parapet running around it, which adds somewhat to the appearance of the building; and
the water which collects upon it is carried off by means of wooden spouts that extend into the street, and which look not
unlike the guns of a small fortress looking through the embrasures. The only wood used about the roof is the sleepers, and
the boards laid across them to hold the earth, because of the high price of timber. They cover the sleepers with a foot or
eighteen inches of dirt, which they pack down, and then besmear it with a top coating of mud to make it water proof. In time
it becomes hard, and unless there should be a heavy fall of rain, it will turn water very well. Sometimes a single roof will
weigh several tons, the load of dirt accumulating from year to year. This seems a very primitive way of roofing a house, but
it is the best arrangement that can be made under the circumstances. When a roof begins to leak, it is repaired by putting
a few sacks of dirt upon it; and after a heavy dash of rain, it is usual to see every family upon the roof giving it a thorough
examination, and carrying up fresh earth to mend the breaches. The greater part of the year being dry, the mud roof answers
very well, but it would soon be washed down if as much rain should fall annually as is the case in other parts of the United
Along the principal streets the houses have portales in front, after the plan of colonnades in some of the European cities.
They are of very rough workmanship, but are an ornament to the place, and a convenience to the inhabitants, as they afford
a sheltered promenade around the town in the rainy season. A row of portales extends around the public square. The Plaza is
the main thoroughfare, as well as the centre of the business of the city, and fronting upon it are most of the stores and
shops of the merchants and traders, and some of the public buildings. The public edifices in Santa Fé are few in number and
of rude construction. The government
palace, a long, low mud building, extends the entire north side of the Plaza, and is occupied by the officers of the territorial
government, and is also made use of for purposes of legislation. Near by, and on the street that leads out at the northeast
corner of the square, is the court-house, where the United States, District, and Supreme Courts hold their sessions. On the
south side, and opposite the palace, stands the old Mexican Military Chapel, now in the possession of the Catholic Church,
and in which the bishop of the diocese officiates. About one square to the east of the Plaza is the parochial church, much
improved within two years, and adjoining are convenient buildings for a boarding-school for boys; and on the north bank of
the Rio Chiquito is situated the boarding and day school for girls, under the management of the Sisters of Charity. The building
is a large two-story house, and was erected a few years ago for a hotel. Both the institutions were established by Bishop
Lamy, and are in as flourishing a condition as could be expected. They number forty or fifty pupils each, who are instructed
in ancient and modern languages, music, drawing, and other branches of a useful and polite education.
Three years ago the American Baptist Board of Home Missions caused to be erected in Santa Fé a small but neat place of worship.
It is a combination of the Gothic and Grecian styles, built of adobes, and is quite an ornament to the part of the town where
it is situated. The Odd Fellows have erected a new hall for their order, one square from the Plaza, in the street leading
to San Miguel. On a vacant lot north of the palace, and near the American Cemetery, a new state-house is in course of erection,
at a cost of near a hundred thousand dollars, which, when completed, will make a handsome and imposing edifice, and of which
the Territory stands in great need. Near by, and a little to the northeast, is the site
of the new Penitentiary, also in course of erection. Such an institution is badly wanted, and the country abounds with admirable
subjects for it. On a hill to the northeast of the town are the ruins of old Fort Marcy, built during the late war with Mexico,
but which has not been occupied since the conclusion of peace. In addition to the two churches already mentioned, there is
one on the west side of the Rio Chiquito, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a fourth on the street of San Miguel, in
both of which service is held upon certain occasions. The city also contains one hotel, one printing-office, some twenty-five
stores, numerous grog-shops, two tailoring establishments, two shoe-makers, one apothecary, a bakery, and two blacksmith's
shops. The present military garrison of the place is one company of the third United States Infantry, whose barracks are just
in rear of the palace, and it is also the military head-quarters of the department.
Santa Fé has figured somewhat both in the ancient and modern history of New Mexico. As has already been mentioned, during
the governorship of Don Antonio de Otermin in 1680, it was besieged for several days by the Pueblo Indians, who had risen
in rebellion against the Spaniards. The garrison and inhabitants, being unable to defend the town, were obliged to retreat
and let it fall into the hands of the Indians. The town was again attacked by the same people in 1837, and a second time they
acquired possession of it; but they held it for a few days only, when they abandoned it, doing no other damage than confiscating
the goods of some of the Mexican officials who were most obnoxious to them. In the war with Mexico the American army directed
their march upon Santa Fé, which was the first place they took possession of, where head-quarters were established, and whence
operations were directed for the entire conquest of the country.
Having thus given the reader a brief general description of Santa Fé, I will, in order to make him better acquainted with
the localities of the place, and also the manners and customs of the people, ask him or her to accompany me in a perambulatory
visit around the town, and take note of whatever of interest turns up on the way. We will commence our tour of sight-seeing
on a clear summer's morning, and will imagine the place of setting out to be opposite the court-house. This building is nearly
or quite a hundred feet in length, some twenty-five wide, and one story high. It was formerly used as a store-house of the
quarter-master's department, and was fitted up for a court-house after the establishment of the territorial government. We
pass through the large double doors that open toward the street into the court room, some sixty feet long, and which is much
better fitted up than any other one in the territory. The floor is laid with pine boards, and comfortable seats are provided
for the jurors, parties, and witnesses. The many tons of earth that form the roof are supported by a row of square pillars
extending through the middle of the room. The platform of the judge, built in the old pulpit style, is about midway of the
southern wall, and on the side opposite to the place of entrance. The bar for the attorneys occupies the centre of the room,
immediately in front of the "justice seat," with room enough between for the desks of the marshal and clerk. These two officers
have their office in the same building, and adjoining the court-room are rooms for the grand and petit juries.
Having seen all the sights in and about the court-house, we turn our backs upon the casa de justicia, and continue our voyage
of route. We enter the Plaza at the northeast corner, and immediately the eye ranges along the portal of the palace in front
of which we are
now standing. It is not far from three hundred and fifty feet in length, and varies from twenty to seventy-five in width.
The portal or piazza in front is about fifteen feet wide, and runs the whole length of the building, the roof being supported
by a row of unhewn pine logs. As I have already mentioned, the building, from the foundation to the pinnacle of the roof,
is constructed of mother earth, and of an age "whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." It was standing in
1692, but when built no one knows. At each end is a small adobe projection, extending a few feet in front of the main building—that
on the east being occupied by the post-office, while the one on the west was formerly the calabozo, but is now partly in ruins.
The first apartments we come to in going the rounds of the palace are the office of the secretary of the Territory, which
we enter through a quaint little old-fashioned door. The office is divided into two rooms: an inner one, in which the books
and records are kept, and where the secretary transacts his official business, and an outer one, used as an ante-room and
a store-room. The latter is divided by a cotton curtain, hanging down from the beams above, into two compartments, one of
which is stored with the old manuscript records of the Territory which have been accumulating for nearly three hundred years.
The stranger will be struck with the primitive appearance of these ruins: the roof is supported by a layer of great pine beams,
blackened and stained by age; the floors are earthen, and the wood-work is heavy and rough, and in the style of two centuries
We next visit the chamber of the Legislative Council. Passing along under the portal, we again enter the palace about midway
of the front, and, turning from a small vestibule to the right, we find ourselves in the room where a portion of the wisdom
of New Mexico annually
assembles to make laws. The room is a comfortable one, with a good hard floor, and just large enough to accommodate the thirteen
councilmen and the eight officers. The pine desks are ranged round the wall facing inward, and the president occupies a raised
platform at one end, which is ornamented with a little red muslim drapery. Figured calico is tacked to the walls to prevent
the members carrying away the whitewash on their coats—a thing they have no right to do in their capacity of law-makers. The
executive chamber is on the opposite side of the passage-way, into which we step, and find his excellency hard at work. This
room is in keeping with the republican simplicity that marks the appearance of the whole establishment. A few chairs, an old
sofa and bureau, with a pine centre table, make up the furniture. Within the last year the luxury of an American-made carpet
has been indulged in, but before the advent of which the floor was covered by a domestic article called gerga, worth thirty
cents per yard. This change is an evidence of pride in the executive. Bleached muslin is tacked to the beams overhead for
a ceiling, and a strip of flashy calico, about four feet wide, is nailed to the four walls.
Next in order is the House of Representatives—la Camara de Representantes, the door of which opens upon the portal. This room differs in no essential particular from the council-chamber except being
about one half larger, and having a small gallery separated from the body of the room by an adobe wall breast high, where
the "unwashed" and "unterrified" sit and behold the operation of making laws with wonder and astonishment, but fail to discover
whence comes so much wisdom as they imagine presides over the deliberations of this august assembly. Before we leave the room,
it may not be out of place to mention one or two incidents in the
history of early legislation in New Mexico. Upon one occasion, during an election for officers of the House, the vote was
being taken for engrossing clerk, when one of the members, when his name was called, came forward to the speaker's chair and
said, ‘‘Que quieres usted de mi, señor?’’ (What do you want with me, sir?) He was told that his name was called that he might
vote on the question before the House, when he returned to his seat. In a few minutes his name was called again, when, as
before, he demanded, ‘‘Que quieres usted de mi, señor?’’ He was again instructed as to what was required of him, and a second
time took his seat. His name was now called a third time, when, as before, he came forward and demanded why his name was called
so many times. At this stage of the proceedings, a friend caught the obtuse member by the coat-tail, and directed him for
whom to vote. Upon another occasion, when a vote was being taken viva voce, a member, an American, who felt no interest in
the question, replied to the call of the clerk, ‘‘Blank.’’ The next member called was a Mexican, who, supposing that his predecessor
had voted for a bona fide
person, and having confidence in his choice, replied, ‘‘Yo voto para Señor Blank tambien’’ (I also vote for Mr. Blank). These
circumstances are said to have occurred at the first session of the Legislature, but there has been an improvement since that
time in this particular.
Leaving the hall of the House, we enter the territorial library, which opens into a small vestibule leading from the portal.
We find ourselves in a room not more than fifteen feet square, filled with books from the floor to the beams overhead, ranged
around the walls on shelves, and numbering some two thousand volumes. They embrace the standard text-books on the various
branches of common and civil law and equity, the reports of the United
States and the state courts, and the codes of the various states and territories, besides a number of congressional documents.
The judge, other United States officers, and members of the bar have access to the library, and can take out books to keep
a limited time, after they shall have been registered by the librarian, and being responsible for their safe return. Opening
into the same vestibule is the office of superintendent of Indian affairs, which, with another room adjoining, used for a
store-room, occupies the west end of the palace building. Near by is a large vacant room, appropriated to the use of the Indians
when they come in to see the superintendent on business, at which times they are fed by the government.
In passing under the portal to the western end of the palace, we encounter the market on our way, where the country people
sell the meats, fruits, and vegetables they bring to town. The supply is scanty enough, and hardly sufficient to meet the
limited demand of Santa Fé. It consists principally of mutton, an occasional porker, red peppers, beans, onions, milk, bread,
cheese, and, during the proper season, grapes, wild plums, and wild berries. In the winter, Indians and others bring in, almost
daily, fine venison and wild turkeys, and now and then the carcass of a large bear is exposed for sale, all of which are shot
in the mountains a few miles from the town. The various articles are brought in on burros, or carried on the backs of the
Pueblo Indians; and it is often the case that one of them will come several miles with less than a dollar's worth of marketing.
The meats are hung upon a line made fast to two posts of the portal, while the vegetables are put on little mats or pieces
of board on the ground, beside which the vender will sit and wait for customers with a patience that seems to rival Job; and
if they do not sell out to-day, they are
sure to return with the same stock to-morrow. The cultivation of vegetables in New Mexico, except beans, has only been attempted
to any extent and variety since the United States acquired the territory. Onions and beets thrive well, and grow to an enormous
size, but there is something in the climate or soil adverse to the growth of potatoes, which, at the present time, can only
be raised in a few localities. I do not know that Mexicans have yet attempted to cultivate them. They are scarce, and high
in price, ranging from four to six dollars per bushel. The hay and grass market, if the traffic in these articles deserves
to be thus spoken of, is on a narrow street at the southwest corner of the Plaza. During the summer and fall the rancheros
come in from the country every morning with newly-cut grass or hay, each with a bundle of about twelve pounds tied up in a
blanket and carried on a burro. The bundles are ranged side by side along the side of the street, and are sold at twelve and
a half cents each, cash upon delivery, without the blanket.
Continuing on our round of sight-seeing, we cross the Plaza to visit what was formerly known as the Military Chapel, and on
our way we observe a thing or two that arrests our attention. We see before us an uncouth little animal, quite a stranger
to an American who has just entered the country, with a large load of wood strapped to his back, and urged along in a slow
trot by a sharpened stick. His ears vouch for his relationship with the ass, and the name he bears is burro. In every particular
he appears to be patience personified, and has been as highly favored with genuine ugliness as any species of the animal kingdom.
They are small in stature, with a head wholly disproportioned to the body, with a pair of ears that should belong to a first
class mule. But their virtues more than make up for their homeliness; they are the most useful animals in the country, and
services could not be dispensed with. They carry the marketing of the peasant to the towns to be sold, and bear their master
home again; they carry the wife and children to church on Sundays, or whithersoever they desire to go; and if the country
belle wishes to ride into Santa Fé on a shopping tour, she mounts her burro without saddle or bridle, and ambles off to town.
They are capable of long fasting and much fatigue; they bear the most unkind treatment with the resignation of a martyr, and
after a hard day's work will make a comfortable supper on thorn or cedar bushes, and their happiness is complete with a heap
of ashes to roll in. They are made to serve innumerable useful purposes, and not only fulfill the duties of horses and mules
in other countries, but are used instead of all sorts of wheel carriages, from a coach and four to a wheelbarrow. They are
the universal hackney of the country people, who, when they mount the burro, instead of sitting on the back, sit astride the
rump abaft the hips, and guide the docile beast at pleasure with a sharpened stick. When New Mexico shall have become a state,
the faithful burro should be engraven on the coat of arms as an emblem of all the cardinal virtues.
A few steps farther on our way we encounter a crowd of people who have formed a ring on the Plaza, and appear to be witnessing
some amusement. If we take a peep within the circle, we will see that cock-fighting engages their attention. This is a national
and favorite amusement with the Mexican people; all classes indulge in it more or less, from the peon in his blanket to the
rico in his broadcloath, and the priesthood are not entirely free from participating in this elegant pastime. The young bloods of the towns train their chickens for the ring with as much care and assiduity as gentlemen of
the turf bestow upon their favorite horses; and while
in course of training, you will see them tied around the houses by a little cord to one leg, or they will be allowed to walk
about with hopples. Sunday is the favorite day for this pastime, when the best chickens are trotted out and pitted in the
We leave the cock-fighters to their amusement and pass on to the chapel, which we enter through a front door opening upon
the Plaza. The building is in the form of a cross, about a hundred feet long and nearly as many in width. Two plain towers
rise up in front a few feet above the roof, and on the latter are suspended two bells, which are rung by boys ascending the
roof and pulling the clappers from side to side. The style of construction differs from the true Gothic cross in that the
transept runs north and south instead of east and west. The appearance of the building, inside and out, is primitive and unprepossessing.
The altar is in the south transept, and is very plain. The ornaments are few, and not of a costly kind. The wall behind the
altar is inlaid with brown stone-work, wrought in the United States, representing scriptural scenes; and a few old Spanish
paintings hang upon the walls. The choir is over the north transept, and is reached by ascending an old ladder. A tin chandelier
is suspended over the centre of the cross, and engravings of a few saints are seen in various parts of the house. The roof
is supported by large, unpainted pine beams, ornamented with a kind of bracket where the ends enter the wall.
We leave the church and pursue our way. We next call upon a Mexican family, in order to obtain some knowledge of the manners
and customs of the people in their social intercourse. A few steps bring us to the house of a friend, and we stand before
the large door that leads into the patio, knocking for admittance. While the old portero is coming to inquire who is there and to
let us in, I will say a few words more about the houses and their mode of construction. It will be borne in mind that the
material is simple earth in its raw state, and that all, whether in town or country, are built in the form of a square, with
a court-yard in the centre. The style of building was borrowed from the East, and is as ancient as the time of Moses, and
was essential here in early time because of the hostility of the Indians. The roof is called azotea la puerta del zaguan.
is about six times the size of an ordinary brick, and they cost, delivered, from eight to ten dollars the thousand. Neither
skill nor practice are required in order to make them. A piece of ground is selected for the purpose, upon which water can
be turned from an acequia, and the earth is dug up and mixed until about the consistency of mortar. Each adobe maker has a
frame the proper size, which he fills with the soft mud, strikes off the top evenly, when he empties it out upon the ground
to dry in the sun. The adobes are very seldom laid in lime and sand, but with the same kind of mud they are made of. In time
the walls become quite solid, and houses are in use, built in this manner, which have stood for nearly two hundred years;
but they would not last long in the States, amid the great storms that prevail there.
By this time the porter has made his appearance at the door, where we have been standing some two or three minutes. There
is great dread of robbers among the people, and they will not always admit you before you are known. The porter, therefore,
as a matter of precaution, salutes us in the first place with Quien es? (Who is it?) to which we respond, Amigos (friends), when he opens the door sufficiently wide to see who we are, and permits
us to enter. Being now assured that we are not robbers, he conducts us across the patio, and ushers us
into the sala, or reception-hall, where we remain seated until the family come in to welcome us. While they are making their
appearance—which may be some minutes, if the hour is afternoon, and they have not arisen from their siesta (afternoon nap)—we
will, in imagination, make an excursion around the house to notice the locus in quo, as a lawyer would say, or, to speak more
familiarly, to observe the manner in which it is furnished and the style thereof. The internal arrangement of a Mexican house
is as different from that of an American as the building itself. The style is essentially Spanish, blended with which are
observed many traces of the Moors, their early ancestors. As has been remarked before, all the rooms open into the patio,
except some which communicate directly with the sala and with each other. It is a very rare thing to see a board floor in
a Mexican house, the substitute being earth, cheaper in the first place, and more easily repaired. A coating of soft mud is
carefully spread over the earth, which, when dry, makes a firm and comfortable floor. The common covering for the floors,
when they are covered at all, is a coarse article of domestic woolen manufacture, called gerga, which answers the purpose
of a carpet. The inside walls are whitened with calcined yezo or gypsum, which is used instead of lime, but it does not adhere
to the walls with the same tenacity, and comes off upon every article that touches it. To prevent this, the rooms are lined
with calico to the height of four feet, generally of bright colors. The coating of mud and yezo on the inside of the house
is generally put on by females, who make use of their hands and a piece of sheep-skin with the wool on for that purpose, instead
of brushes and plasterers' tools.
The ceiling is never plastered, but in those of the wealthier classes the beams that support the roof are
planed and painted in various colors, and sometimes an artificial ceiling is made by tacking bleached muslin to them. In some
sections of the country, small round sticks are laid from beam to beam in herring-bone style, and painted red, blue, or green;
but it is only a choice room that is ornamented in this manner. The fire-place is built in one corner of the room, and occupies
a small space. The mouth is somewhat in the shape of a horse-shoe, not generally more than eighteen inches or two feet in
height, and the same in width at the bottom. The back is slightly concave instead of being a plane surface, and the little
circular hearth in front is raised a few inches above the level of the floor. The use of andirons is unknown, the wood being
placed on end against the back of the fire-place. These small fire-places appear to give out more heat than the larger ones
in use in American houses, and, being in a corner of the apartment, they occupy less space. I do not remember to have ever
seen shovels or tongs in a Mexican house. When the house becomes dingy, if outside, they besmear it with a new coating of
soft mud; or if inside, the walls are again daubed with yezo, followed by a coat of fresh mud on the floor. This renovation
suffices instead of the semi-annual house-cleaning which causes American housewives so much annoyance.
The furniture, as well as the manner of arranging the same, differs materially from the style in the States. Few chairs or
wooden seats of any kind are used, but in their stead mattresses are folded up and placed around the room, next to the wall,
which, being covered with blankets, make a pleasant seat and serve the place of sofas. This is an Eastern custom, and was
undoubtedly borrowed from the Moors. At night they are unrolled and spread out for beds; and it is customary for the whole
family to sleep in the same room at night that
they sit in during the day. Bedsteads are almost unknown, and if the mattress is raised at all above the floor, it is placed
on a low wooden frame. Bureaus and other furniture of that description, in such common use in American houses to contain the
clothing of the family, are seldom seen among the Mexicans, their place being supplied by an increased number of trunks and
antiquated chests. In the houses of the wealthier classes a few chairs and cumbrous settees are found, generally made of pine,
but among the peasantry such articles of luxury are unknown. This economy in articles of furniture was an absolute necessity
in early times, caused by the almost entire absence of mechanics in the country; and such as they possessed were handed down
from generation to generation as heir-looms in the family. At the present day, although there are American mechanics, but
few of the people have adopted our style of furniture, but cling to that of olden times. Every article of this description
sells at a price enormously high, and ordinary pine furniture costs more than that made of mahogany in the Atlantic States.
The females in particular, prefer the easy colchon—folded mattress—to the straight and stiff-backed chairs and settees; and
frequently they spread a single blanket in the middle of the floor, upon which they sit at work and receive visitors.
The kitchen utensils are equally meagre in their appointment. They cook almost universally in earthen vessels, which bear
the general name of tinaja, and it is a rare thing to see any other description of culinary articles. I have never seen a
stove in a Mexican house. The sala is the largest room about the establishment, and in the colder parts of the country it is only used during warm weather,
when, for the time being, the family literally live there, lounge among the colchons during the day, receive their visitors,
sleep at night, and hold
the baile. The family room is adorned with a number of rude engravings of saints, among which the Virgin of Guadalupe is always
It has been stated elsewhere that the tortilla, a thin cake made of corn, is one of the principal articles of food among all classes of the people. The duty of making them
has devolved upon the women from the earliest times, and they pride themselves upon the skill and rapidity with which they
can prepare them. While we are in the kitchen, should we extend our adventures in that direction, we will see the manner in
which the tortilla is made. The corn is boiled in water with a little lime, to soften the skin so that it can be peeled off,
when they grind it into a paste upon an oblong hollowed stone, called a metate. The operator kneels down behind it, and takes
in both hands another long round stone like an ordinary rolling-pin, between which and the metate she mashes the corn. To
bake, the tortilla is spread upon thin sheets of tin or copper, and in a few minutes they are ready for use. They are quite palatable when warm,
but when cold are almost as tasteless as so much shoe-leather. This, with the bean called frijole, makes the staff of life
of all classes of the population. In Southern Mexico it is the custom for women, with small portable furnaces on their backs
or strapped to a burro, to travel the streets of the large towns making and vending tortillas and frijoles to the passers-by.
By this time the siesta of La Senora has come to an end, and she makes her entrance into the sala where we have awaited her coming. The people of all classes
receive their friends with much genuine affection, and it is customary to embrace each other when they meet. Our hostess upon
this occasion, if perchance I am on intimate terms with herself and family, will encircle me with her fair arms, or, in common
parlance, salute me with
what is vulgarly called a hug
, while you, who are a stranger, must be content with a shake of the hand. To make this distinction between a person and his
friends is certainly aggravating to him who falls in the vocative, but a short acquaintance will place the outsider upon an
equally pleasant footing. If all the family should make their appearance, each one in turn will embrace you, which is by no
means an unpleasant performance when the pretty daughters are a party to the operation, but it is much less agreeable to be
hugged in the brawny arms of the father and brothers. This custom is universal among all classes, and even the filthy beggars
in the streets meet and embrace each other with an affection truly laughable.
The Mexicans are distinguished for their politeness and suavity, and the lepero, covered with abominations, often exhibits
a refinement of manners and address that would well become a prince, and which they as well practice toward each other as
toward strangers. In their houses they are particularly courteous, and in appearance even outdo the most refined code of politeness.
It is customary for them to assure you that you are in your own house the moment you cross their threshold, or to place themselves
entirely at your disposal. If you admire an article, the owner immediately says to you, ‘‘Tomele Vmd., Señor, es suyo’’ (Take
it, sir, it is yours). But in these flattering expressions the stranger must bear in mind that the owner has not the most
remote idea that he will take him at his word—that he will either command his household, lay his personal services under contribution,
or carry off whatever pleases his fancy.
We have already gone through with the hugging and kissing, and are now seated in the presence of our fair hostess. One of
the first acts of courtesy of the mistress of the house is to invite you to smoke. She carries
about her person a small silver tobacco-box, in which she keeps the noxious weed, and also has at hand a little package of
corn-husks, one of which she fills with the fine-cut tobacco, rolls it up into a cigarrito, lights it, and hands it to you
to smoke. The American cigar is rarely used by the men, and never by the females, both substituting the article here named.
The cigarrito is made by each person as he requires them, who always has on hand for that purpose his box of tobacco and package
of husks. Gregg, in his "Commerce of the Prairies," says upon this subject, ‘‘The mounted vaquero will take out his guagito
(his little tobacco-flask), his packet of hojas (or prepared husks), and his flint, steel, etc., make his cigarrito, strike
his fire, and commence smoking in a minute's time, all the while at full speed; and the next minute will perhaps lazo the
wildest bull without interrupting his smoke.’’ Smoking is habitual with all classes, not excepting the most lovely and refined
females in the country. The habit is bad enough in men, but intolerable in women. The cigarrito seems to be an abiding presence,
being handed round at the dinner-table as refreshment, and served up in the ballroom; and it is common to see ladies smoking
while they are engaged in waltzing and dancing, and some even indulge the luxury while they lie in bed. In Southern Mexico
the ladies use a pair of golden tongs to hold the cigarrito while they light it, and the coal of fire is brought by a servant
on a small silver salver.
In the more southern cities of Mexico, next to providing the guest with the means of smoking, chocolate and sweet bread are
served up, the former being a delicious article of domestic manufacture, and the latter a superior quality of sponge-cake.
During our stay, the mistress of the establishment and her daughters will endeavor to make the time pass as agreeably as possible.
great talkers, and we will have enough to do to maintain the negative side of the question, now and then throwing in a word,
in order to draw out the colloquial powers of our fair companions. When we come to take leave, the same ceremony is used as
at the arrival, and you are passed around the family circle to receive an embrace from each member. This custom is as much
a matter of course as that of shaking hands among the Americans, touching noses among the Chinese, or grunting among the North
American Indians; and the most modest lady in the land has no scruples about giving and receiving such salutation. The whole
family accompany us to the door, and wait there until we have fairly made our exit, instead of turning us over to an impudent
lackey, as has become the fashion
in the States.
Among the élite of Spanish society, they are more exact in the observance of etiquette and formalities than the rather primitive people of
New Mexico. In speaking of leave-taking, the Honorable Joel R. Poinsett makes the following remarks: ‘‘Remember, when you
take leave of a Spanish grandee, to bow as you leave the room, at the head of the stairs, where the host accompanies you;
and, after descending the first flight, turn round, and you will see him expecting a third salutation, which he returns with
great courtesy, and remains until you are not of sight; so that, as you wind down the stairs, if you catch a glimpse of him,
kiss your hand, and he will think you a most accomplished cavalier.’’ This is not an overdrawn picture of Spanish politeness,
and frequently have I made the same parade in leaving the house of Mexican gentlemen. At each stage of the above-described
leave-taking, it is customary for the host to say ádios, the last of which is waved to you from the window after you have entered the street.
We are once more in the street, and have resumed our
round of sight-seeing. We next bend our steps to the gaming-houses, as they are part of the social system of the country,
or, to use the language of another, gambling "is impregnated with the constitution in man, woman, and child." This vice seems
to be a national amusement among the Mexican race, and nearly all indulge in it to a greater or less degree. In Southern it
is more prevalent than in New Mexico. There the saintly priest does not deem it in derogation of his holy calling to gamble,
and he is a frequent visitor at the monte table. They also indulge in bull-baiting and cock-fighting. So thoroughly is this
vice ingrafted into the population, that I have frequently seen children of ten years of age playing cards for pennies with
as much apparent interest as professional gamblers. In New Mexico, gambling, in its variety, prevails to an alarming extent
among all classes of the people; but within three or four years a reformation has taken place among the priesthood in this
particular. It is licensed and protected by the laws of the country, hence no one thinks it disreputable to keep a gambling-house
when thus sanctioned and frequented by the most respectable citizens. The principal game is monte, played with cards, in which
chance has more to do with the winnings and losings than in any other game. In Santa Fé there is always one or more public
gambling-houses, where gaming is carried on day and night, and every day in the week.
The modus operandi of gaming is thus described. The proprietor of the house takes out a license, and rents tales to gentlemen
of the profession, who set up a bank and commence operations. Sometimes three or four tables will be in full blast in one
room at the same time, and in the course of an evening thousands of dollars will change hands. We will enter one of these
places, and watch the thing in motion. We see little crowds of
men, in various parts of a long room, collected around the tables. If we approach nearer we will observe that one person sits
behind the table, who is the banker, and deals the cards. The table is covered with a green or red cover divided into four
squares, and as the cards are drawn one is thrown upon each square. The betters place their money upon their favorite cards,
in sums according to their will or means. The money being staked, the cards are now drawn, either by the banker or another
person, and when the result is announced, each one is paid the amount of his winnings, when the pack is again shuffled for
a new game. While the cards are being drawn, it is interesting to watch the parties in interest; each eye and mind is intently
fixed upon the game, and often a breathless silence reigns until the result is known, when the fortunate ones rake their gains
to them, and the losers depart or prepare to try their luck again.
In former times females were frequent visitors at gambling-houses, and lost and won their doubloons at monte and other games
with a sang froid truly masculine. A change for the better has taken place in this particular, and the fairer portion of creation are now seldom
seen at the gaming-table except at the public fairs, when they indulge a little for amusement's sake. A few years ago, quite
a celebrated female, known as Señora Doña Gertrudes Barcelo, led the van in gambling in Santa Fé. She was a Taosite by birth,
but extended her adventures to the capital, where she established her headquarters. Here she struck the tide that "leads on
to fortune," and for a considerable time was known as the most expert monte dealer in the city. Her wealth leavened the social
lump, and gained her admittance into the most fashionable and select circles, and she soon became one of the upper tendom of the city. She died about the year 1851, and was buried with the highest honors
of the Church, at an expense of upward of sixteen hundred dollars for spiritual services in the burial alone, including the
grave. The bill was duly made out by the Bishop of Santa Fé, with his name signed thereto, and was presented to her executors
and paid. Among the items were los deréchos del obispo (the rights of the bishop), one thousand dollars; los posos, each fifty
dollars, which means that each time the procession halted on its way to the burial, and the bier was placed upon the ground,
the Church made a charge of this amount; and the other charges were in proportion.
In the spring of 1856 a young Mexican gentleman was buried in Santa Fé according to the rites of the Catholic Church, and
a friend afterward handed me a copy of the bill the officiating priest presented for the services, which, though considerable
in amount, is quite reasonable compared to that previously mentioned. As a matter of curiosity, I append an exact copy of
the bill of fees, viz.:
|Dobles (tolling the bells)…
|El sepulero (the grave)…
|La cruz alta (the grand cross)…
|La capa (high mass vestments)…
|La aqua bendita (holy water)…
|Los ciriales (candlesticks)…
|El incensario (vessel for incense)…
|Las mesas (resting-places)…
|El entierro (the interment)…
|La misa (mass)…
|El organo (use of the organ)…
|Los cantores (the chanters)…
|El responso del oratorio (the response of the oratory) …
|Mas al diacono (the deacon's fee, additional) …
It must be borne in mind that these charges are solely the dues of the Church for the religious services of the burial, and
the bills are made out in mercantile form and duly presented for payment. From this showing,
it is an expensive matter to die and be buried in New Mexico, and appears to cost quite as much as it does to live. There
is no doubt about the right of the Church to charge for the burial service all the people are willing to pay, but we may fairly
question the propriety of making such simple and necessary religious rites so expensive, the effect of which must be any thing
but beneficial to the parishioners. It is an abuse in the Church that has grown up in the course of two hundred and fifty
years of unlimited sway in the country, but which should not be indulged in in this enlightened age. Facts of this kind are
a strong argument in favor of the abolition of the system of tithing in New Mexico, and in stead giving the priests a fixed
salary, as is the case in other parts of the United States. Religion and the attending rites should not be made a luxury only
to be enjoyed by the rich, but all its offices and consolations should be within the reach of the poorest in the land.
We have now finished our tour of sight-seeing, having taken a peep at all the most notable things in Santa Fé. We will retrace
our steps to the point whence we started, where we will part company, at least so far as physical perambulations are concerned,
but I will ask you to continue with me mentally to the end of the volume.
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