CHAPTER VIII:Manners And Customs Of The People—Continued


Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VII:Santa Fé, With Some Account Of The Manners And Customs Of The People. Next: CHAPTER IX:Manners And Customs Of The People—Concluded


[page 188]

Correr el Gallo.—El Coleo.—Costume.—Mounted Caballero.—Horse Furniture.—Education.—Agriculture.—Soil.—Acequias. —How Water distributed.—Land cultivated.—Mode of Cultivation.—Plow.—Productions.—Pasturage.—Sheep Grazing.—Goats.—Sale of Animals.—Pack Mules.—Arrieros.—Lazo.

Among the country people there are various primitive sports, some of which afford much amusement to both the lookers-on and the parties engaged. They are not as much indulged in, however, as formerly, and are gradually going out of use. That known as Correr el gallo, running the cock, is thus described by Gregg: ‘‘One of the most attractive sports of the rancheros and the peasantry, and that which more than any other calls for the exercise of skill and dexterity, is called Correr el gallo, practiced generally on St. John's day. A common cock or hen is tied by the feet to some swinging limb of a tree, so as to be barely within the reach of a man on horseback; or the fowl is buried alive in a small pit in the ground, leaving only the head above the surface. In either case, the racers, passing at full speed, grapple the head of the fowl, which, being well greased, generally slips out of their fingers. As soon as some one more dextrous than the rest has succeeded in tearing it loose, he puts spurs to his steed, and endeavors to escape with the prize. He is hotly pursued, however, by the whole sporting crew, and the first who overtakes him tries to get possession of the fowl, when a strife ensues, during which the poor chicken is torn into atoms. Should the


[page 189]

holder of the trophy be able to outstrip his pursuers, he carries it to the crowd of fair spectators and presents it to his mistress, who takes it to the fandango which usually follows as a testimony of the prowess of her lover.’’ This sport is not confined to the rancheros and peasantry, but the young bloods of the capital also indulge in it, and on the afternoon of St. John's day the Plaza is thronged with caballeros riding to and fro, and testing the stretching qualities of the chickens' necks.

The vaqueros, or cow-herders, have another sport more amusing, and at the same time more manly. It is called el coleo, or tailing, and is practiced on days of festivity. A wild ox is obtained and turned loose upon a level plain, where the parties are assembled on horseback ready for the fun. The poor animal sets off at full speed to escape, pursued by the whole crowd, when the foremost horseman, as soon as he comes within reach of the ox, seizes him by the tail, and, by a sudden jerk, lays him sprawling upon the ground. This sport is not unattended with danger, and not unfrequently the rider finds himself and horse making the topsy-turvy evolutions he intended for the ox, and he is fortunate if he is not mashed into a jelly. This amusement should rank next in order to that of catching a pig with his tail well greased, both of which are reckoned intellectual performances.

The national costume of the Mexicans is fast disappearing among the better classes, who are learning to adopt the American style of dress. The females conform themselves to the fashions of Paris and New York with greater facility than the men, but they are so far removed from the world of dress as to be a year or two behind the times. The bonnet they discard entirely, and wear instead the rebozo, which appears to be a fixture in the toilet of a New Mexican lady. It consists of a long scarf, made of silk or cotton, according to the


[page 190]

taste of the wearer, which is worn over the head, with one end thrown across the left shoulder. A lady is never seen in the street without her rebozo, and it is rarely laid aside within doors, when it is drawn loosely around the person. When promenading, the face is so much muffled up that not more than one eye is visible, and it is almost impossible to recognize your most intimate friend in the street. The dress of the peasant-women seldom consists of more than a chemise and enaguas, or petticoat of home-made flannel, generally of bright colors. They usually go barefooted, and wear the rebozo upon the head. The common people have also improved in their style of dress since the Americans have had possession of the country. A few years ago the serape, or blanket, was universally worn, and that which served for a bed at night made a suit of clothes during the day. The head is thrust through a hole in the middle, and the whole person is enveloped in its ample folds. This article of clothing is gradually disappearing, and its place is being supplied with shirts and coats. A large proportion of the peasantry in the country still dress in tanned deer-skin, and wear moccasins upon the feet. Among all classes, the females are extremely fond of jewelry, and when they appear in public they wear a profusion of ornaments, if they can obtain them. In dress they like bright colors, and are more fond of making a show than a neat and genteel appearance; and those who can afford it wear the most expensive articles of dress, but display little or no taste in the adornment of their persons.

The Spanish costume of the mounted caballero is a dress at once striking and handsome. The head is covered with a sombrero with a very wide brim, and a high or low crown, to suit the fancy of the wearer; a band of tinsel cord surrounds it, and on each side is an ornament


[page 191]

of silver. It is made of plaited grass covered with oiled silk, and is a heavy and homely affair. At the present day many are made of felt, and are a more comfortable covering for the head. The jacket is of blue or brown cloth, handsomely embroidered, and adorned with silver buttons. The pantaloons, called calzones, are the most stylish article of a caballero's wardrobe, and are really a dashing garment. They are also made of cloth, and foxed with the same material, of a different color. The legs are ornamented with silver buttons on the outer seams from the hips down, besides two or three silver clasps on each side near the waistband. Suspenders are dispensed with, and in their stead a silk sash or scarf is drawn tightly around the waist, with the ends hanging down. A pair of embossed leather leggins, called botas, are fastened around the leg below the knee, to protect the pantaloons. They are often richly embroidered, and are ornamental as well as useful. The personal costume is complete with a beautiful serape thrown over the shoulder or laid across the saddle-bow. They are made wholly of wool, woven in gay colors, and some of them cost a hundred dollars. They are always carried when mounted, and afford the wearer good protection from the weather.

The furniture of the horse is in perfect keeping with the equipments of the rider, and is gotten up in a manner only seen among the Spanish race. The style of saddle is peculiar to this people, and some of them cost several hundred dollars. The pommel is high, and the tree deep, which affords a firm and easy seat to the rider. The stirrups are of wood, at least four inches wide, and are suspended from the tree by a broad strip of leather, embossed and ornamented. They are frequently fancifully carved and ornamented with silver rosettes; and hanging down at the sides are two long leathern flaps,


[page 192]

with a piece of stiff leather in front, that affords protection to the foot. A quilted cushion of leather, oftentimes wrought in silver, covers the seat of the tree, and attached to the hind tree is an ornamented housing of leather of deer or wild-cat skin, tanned with the hair on. This is called cola de pato, and is made to correspond with the coraza or cushion. The saddle is richly trimmed with silver. The head of the pommel is covered with it, as also the hind tree and other parts. The bridle is fairly loaded down with silver ornaments, and sometimes the bit is made of the same material. The latter is an uncouth and barbarous article, and is of such power that the rider can guide the most restive horse with ease, and he can, at any time, bring him upon his knees without exerting half his strength. The spurs are frequently made of silver, but most generally of steel, and are provided with rowels two or three inches long. The equipments of man and horse are complete with the armas de palo, which are made of goat-skins tanned with the shaggy hair on. They are drawn over the legs when it rains, and buckled around the waist; they afford complete protection to the lower extremities.

In Southern Mexico the horses are often equipped in a kind of harness made of thick leather, which covers them from the saddle backward, and reaches down as low as the mid-thigh. It is ornamented with silver rosettes, and around the lower edge is a fringe of steel tags, which keep an incessant jingling as the horse moves, and announces the approach of a mounted caballero. It is said by some that this article was used by Cortez at the time of the conquest as a defense for the horse against the arrows of the Aztecs, while others contend that it is worn to give the horse an ambling gate, half pace and half canter. Thus equipped, we behold a Mexican gentleman of the first water, who, mounted upon his gay little steed,


[page 193]

presents a gallant appearance; and with all the "sounding brass and tinkling cymbals" that make up his trappings, when in motion he creates quite as great a sensation as the old lady poetized in childrens' story-books, who, ‘‘
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She makes music wherever she goes.
’’

The standard of education in New Mexico is at a very low ebb, and there is a larger number of persons who can not read and write than in any other Territory in the Union. The census of 1850 shows a population of 61,547 inhabitants, of whom 25,089 are returned as being unable to read and write. I feel confident that this ratio is too low, and that the number may safely be set down at one half the whole population who can not read their catechisms and write their names. The number attending school is given as 460, which is about one scholar to every one hundred and twenty-five inhabitants. This exhibits a fearful amount of ignorance among the people, and is enough to make us question the propriety of intrusting them with the power to make their own laws. It was always the policy of Spain and Mexico to keep her people in ignorance, and, so far as New Mexico was concerned, they seem to have carried out the system with singular faithfulness; and in no country in the world, that lays the least claim to civilization, has general education and a cultivation of the arts been so entirely neglected. The few who received any education at all, except those destined for the Church, and the sons of some of the ricos who were sent into Southern Mexico, had to be content with the simplest rudiments, and if they were able to read and write, and had a smattering of arithmetic, they were considered learned. There is not a native physician in the country, nor am I aware that there has ever been one.


[page 194]

The education of the females has, if any thing, been more neglected than that of the males, and the number of them who can not read and write is greater. Gregg, who wrote ten years ago, in speaking of female education in New Mexico, says, ‘‘Indeed, until very recently, to be able to read and write on the part of a woman was considered an indication of very extraordinary talent; and the fair damsel who could pen a billet-doux to her lover was looked upon as almost a prodigy.’’ This picture is a little overdrawn, but, at the same time, except among the few wealthy families, it is a rare thing to see a woman who possesses these useful accomplishments. Those who have received any education at all have been taught in the most superficial manner, and it proves of little benefit to either head or heart.

A slight change for the better has taken place, in an educational point of view, since the country fell into the hands of the United States. The boarding and day schools at Santa Fé, under the care of Bishop Lamy, will, in time, produce a good effect in the Territory. The pupils come from various sections of the country, who, when they shall return to their families and friends, will carry with them enlarged ideas, and be the means of disseminating, to some extent, a knowledge of our country and institutions. They will make a new generation of youth of both sexes, and, if so disposed, can do much toward the regeneration of New Mexico. The American missionaries who have come into the country have also taken an interest in the cause of education, and, wherever stationed, have endeavored to establish schools. In some instances they have been able to gather together a few scholars, but the opposition of the priesthood to the children being educated in Protestant schools is so great that they could not accomplish much. It is to be hoped, however, that the few seeds they have sown will in due


[page 195]

season spring up and bring forth good fruit. The Reverend Mr. Gorman has extended his labors into a new vineyard, and established himself in the Indian pueblo of Laguna, some fifty miles west of the Rio del Norte. He has opened a little school which some of the children attend, and a few of the adults seem desirous to be instructed in the knowledge of the white man.1

No branch of industry in New Mexico has been more neglected than that of agriculture, which seems to be in about the same condition as when the Spaniards first settled the country. It has been pursued merely as the means of living, and no effort has been made to add science to culture in the introduction of an improved mode of husbandry. There are causes which must always operate as a serious drawback upon the agricultural advancement of the country, the principal of which is the absence of regular and frequent rains. Except in the rainy season, which extends from August to October, very little rain falls, not enough to be of service to the


[page 196]

growing crops, and therefore all cultivation is carried on by means of irrigation. From this cause there is comparatively a small quantity of land under tillage; and it has been estimated that, of the whole surface of the Territory, not more than one hundredth part, or eight hundred square miles, is susceptible of irrigation. A large portion of the land thus lying unproductive is naturally as good as any that is cultivated, and, if water could be carried to it, would yield good crops. The valleys of the streams can alone be cultivated, while the upland is used for grazing.

The appearance of the soil indicates barrenness and unfertility, but in reality it is much better than appearances indicate. The dull reddish hue which prevails in most parts is imparted to the earth by the iron with which it is impregnated; and that which looks like pure silicious earth is found to be, upon closer examination, decomposed feldspar, a quality of soil which, if properly cultivated, is highly productive.

The system of acequias, or irrigating ditches, is a subject so new to the American farmer, that an explanation at some length of the manner in which the land is cultivated by means of them may not be uninteresting. It must be borne in mind, as we have already remarked, that all the land capable of being farmed lies in the valleys through which runs a river or other stream large enough to supply the necessary quantity of water. Now, supposing the arable land to lie on both sides of the stream, as is the case in the valley of the Del Norte, the first thing for the proprietors to do is to dig a large ditch on each side of the river, called acequia madre, or mother ditch, from three to five yards wide, and from two to six feet deep, with strong banks. It is necessary to tap the river sufficiently high up, so that the level of the water in the acequia will always be above the land to


[page 197]

be irrigated, else it could not be overflowed. The valleys are generally narrow, approached on either side by hills, and it is customary to cut the ditch along their base, when only one is required for a given tract of country, so that after the water shall have been distributed, the surplus can find its way back to the river. The main ditch is sometimes several miles in length, and resembles a miniature Erie Canal; and it is dug by the joint labor of all the proprietors along the line, each one being required to furnish a number of hands in proportion to his land to be irrigated.

The acequia madre being completed, in the next place the inferior proprietors dig smaller ditches tapping the main one, for the overflow of their lands that lie adjacent to the point of junction. These are called contre acequias, or cross ditches. Still smaller ditches are constructed to convey the water on to the land of the individual owners, being always dug upon the highest part of that intended to be irrigated. The distribution of the water is governed mainly by circumstances. The secondary canals are provided with flood-gates, to regulate the flow of water into them from the mother ditch, so that the quantity can be increased or decreased at pleasure. When the main ditch is full, each proprietor lets upon his land as much water as he wants; but in time of scarcity from drought, or, as is often the case, the supply is limited along the smaller streams, application has to be made to the "overseer of ditches," who grants a permit for the applicant to use the water for a limited time. Under such circumstances, each farmer is allowed to flow the water upon his land for a day or part of a day, but at no other time without license. The land is made ready for irrigation by dividing it into small beds about sixty by forty feet, the earth being heaped up around the edge of the beds, so as to form a series of


[page 198]

water-courses among them. The minor ditch that conveys the water upon the fields of the respective farmers is now tapped at various points, and the water is let out upon the beds at the highest point, so that it will overflow the whole. Thus bed after bed is watered in rotation, until the whole cultivated plat has been served. The operation is slow and tedious, and one man will not be able to water more than five acres a day under the most favorable circumstances. If the land is uneven, or water scarce, he can not water much more than one third the quantity. Land that is to be planted with corn is usually watered a week beforehand, to mellow the soil to receive the grain; and both corn and wheat are watered three or four times after the seed is in the ground, according to the season.

That section of the Territory where the system of irrigation is more extensive and perfect, and where the land is under a higher state of cultivation, is known as the Rio Abajo (the country down the river). It lies on both sides of the Del Norte, and is considered the most productive section of the country. Here the proprietors own larger tracts of land, and in some parts of the valley several thousand acres in one body are watered by the same acequia madre. The original grants under which most of the land is holden were made to villages and communities which held as proprietary occupants of those portions cultivated, and the lapse of time has given them an individual title. This rendered the supply of water necessary for cultivation a matter of public interest; and as no one individual was likely to procure a supply for the whole, nor would the community do it effectually of their own free will, the subject was taken under the control of the town authorities, and has been so regulated ever since.

The whole management of irrigating ditches is now


[page 199]

governed by a law of the Territory in pretty much the same manner as roads in the States. The several justices of the peace are authorized to call together annually the owners of ditches, and the proprietors of the land watered by them, to elect one or more overseers, whose salary is determined by the landowners interested. It is made the duty of the overseers to superintend the erection and repairs of ditches; to regulate the number of laborers to be furnished by each proprietor, according to the quantity of land watered; to distribute and apportion the water among the several proprietors, and see that no one gets more than his share; and to enforce all the regulations upon the subject. If a landowner should refuse to furnish the number of workmen called for by the overseer, he is subject to a fine of ten dollars for the use of the ditch; and every person who interferes in any manner with a ditch, or obstructs the flow of water in the same, is liable to a like fine. If, in constructing a new ditch, the land of any person is infringed upon, and he demands damages, they shall be assessed and paid by the joint owners of the land. Every person is prohibited by law from erecting mills upon any stream so that it will interfere with the supply of water for the acequias, because, in the words of the statute, "the irrigation of the fields should be preferable to all others." In all that devolves upon the overseer of ditches, he has about the same duties to discharge as a supervisor of roads in the several states. Hence it will be seen how much importance is attached to the system of irrigation; and, inasmuch as the entire cultivation of the country depends upon the ditches and the supply of water they furnish, they are deserving of great attention.

The landowners and overseers watch the acequias during the watering season with great care, lest some accident should happen to them, and their crops be injured.


[page 200]

They need frequent repairs besides those required by the ordinary wear and tear of the water. A sudden rise in the stream is likely to overflow the ditch and deluge the fields; or a sudden fall will leave them entirely dry, when the crops will perish for the want of water. In the case of a freshet the people have to be on the alert, or extensive damages will be done to the crops before assistance is rendered. Upon such occasions the overseers summon the people from their beds at night, and from every other occupation during the day; all other kinds of work must cease, and the whole disposable force rushes to the ditches. In some cases the alarm is sounded by the ringing of church bells. The water is shut out of the acequias during the winter, and let in again in the spring as early as they can be put in a state of repair, and the ground is ready for irrigation. It sometimes requires fifteen or twenty days' labor, with a full force of hands, to place the acequia madre in good order.

The quantity of land cultivated by the respective proprietors is rarely more than a few acres. By the last census, the average to each farmer under cultivation did not much exceed ten acres, and the majority of them did not cultivate half that quantity. The highest return of improved land in a single tract was in the county of Berralillo, which contained seventeen hundred and twenty-one acres. In New Mexico there is no land-measure equivalent to the American acre, and it is the custom to rate the quantity under cultivation by the amount of grain they sow. They will mention growing a fanega of corn, which means that the seed they sowed was of that measure, equal to about two bushels and a peck. In buying and selling land, it is generally reckoned at so much per vara—a Spanish measure of thirty-three inches and a third—or the square league. The former is the standard measure for cultivated land, and they buy


[page 201]

or sell so many hundred or thousand varas fronting on a stream and running back to the hills. The price is regulated by the facility with which it can be irrigated. Very few of the cultivated fields are inclosed, except a chance one surrounded by poles or a low adobe wall. A regular system of fencing or hedging is unknown; hence, to prevent cattle trespassing upon the cultivated fields, the owners are obliged to have herdsmen with them constantly, and if they chance to do any injury to the crops, the owners are compelled to make good all damage.

The manner of cultivation is exceedingly rude and primitive. Until within a very few years all their agricultural implements were wooden, and the use of iron for this purpose was hardly known. At the present day many of the peasantry cultivate with the hoe only, and plows are alone seen among the larger proprietors. The native plow is a unique affair, and appears to be identical with the homely implement used in the time of Moses to turn up the soil of Palestine. The following description of one of them is a true picture to the very life. "The Mexican plow is an implement of a very primitive pattern, such as perhaps was used by Cincinnatus or Cato; in fact, it is probably a ruder instrument than the plow used by these great ancients. It is not seldom the swell crotch or knee timber of a tree, one branch of which serves as the body or sale of the plow, and the other as the handle; or, still more frequently, it is made out of two sticks of timber. The body is beveled at the point, which is shod with a piece of sharp iron, which answers for a share. It has also, mortised into its upper surface about midway of its length, an upright shaft, called a tranca, which plays vertically through the plow-beam. This beam, which is a ponderous piece of timber not unlike a wagon-tongue, is fastened


[page 202]

to the plow at the junction of the handle with the body, and, being raised or lowered at pleasure upon the tranca, serves to regulate the dip of the share-point. To this beam is attached a yoke of oxen, no other plow-beasts being known here." The above implement is in general use where the hoe has been laid aside, except with the wealthy proprietors, who have purchased more modern plows from the United States, but not of the latest pattern. In some instances as many as twelve or fifteen of these homely affairs, drawn by as many yoke of oxen, will be in use at the same time in a single field. Two men are required to each plow, one to hold up the handle and guide the machine, while the other is employed in goading up the oxen with a long pole shod with a piece of sharp iron. Such is plowing in New Mexico.

The staple grains are corn and wheat, which are raised in considerable abundance. The corn is a species of the flint, is very hard, and, when shelled, will weigh about fifty-six pounds to the bushel. The grains are yellow, or a bluish black and red, and very frequently a variety of colors is blended upon the same cob. The stalk does not grow so high as in the States, and, as it is not planted and cultivated with the same care, the yield per acre is less. The wheat resembles the red and white flint wheat of the Northern States, and is very hard and firm. The grain is large and plump, and, when well ground and bolted, the flour makes excellent bread and very white. The wheat is cut down with the sickle, and allowed to remain on the ground until it is well dried before gathering, and when gathered the grain shatters but little, owing to the manner in which it adheres to the chaff. In the northern section of the Territory frost comes very early in the fall, on which account the farmers are in some instances obliged to cut their corn before


[page 203]

it is ripe. There are no barns among the rancheros, and the grain is stacked out, or housed under a kind of barrack built of poles, and covered with brush and grass. Flails and thrashing-machines are unknown, and all the grain is trod out by mules upon the ground. Sometimes a thrashing-floor is constructed of lime and sand, but it is most generally made in the field where the grain is gathered, by treading or pounding down the earth to make it solid. When the crop is thrashed out, it is carried on burros or mules to the nearest trader, each animal carrying a leathern or buckskin sack across his back. Beans are also raised in large quantities, and with some farmers they are the principal crop. A little tobacco and sugar are cultivated, and in times past some cotton was grown, all of which would thrive well in the southern part of the Territory if proper attention was paid to their cultivation.

The pasturage of New Mexico excels every other branch of agriculture. While the scarcity of water renders the great plains entirely useless for ordinary farming purposes, they afford good grazing, probably among the finest in the world. They are covered with a species of grass exceedingly nutritious, and which grows with a very limited amount of moisture. During the rainy season it springs up to some height, and after being frost-bitten it withers down and cures upon the ground. Cattle are seldom housed in the winter season, or fed on grain, but are turned loose upon the plains, and subsist upon the dry pasturage furnished by the withered grass. Greater attention has been paid to sheep-grazing than any other branch of husbandry, and they may be considered the grand staple production of the country. In former years this occupation was in a much more prosperous condition than at the present time, being greatly retarded by the hostile incursions of


[page 204]

the numerous bands of Indians who live in and around the Territory. Many farmers have had their entire flocks run off, and in but few instances have they received any remuneration from the government, although there is a law to that effect. When this business was in its prime some fifteen or twenty years ago, it is said that half a million of sheep were annually driven to the markets of Southern Mexico, and a single proprietor has been known to own as many as three hundred thousand head at one time.

A flock of several thousand sheep are placed under the care of a single shepherd, who is accompanied by three or four large dogs trained for the purpose. They are driven out upon the plains, and when no immediate apprehension is felt from the Indians, they venture a considerable distance from the settlements. They wander several miles from water, and are driven to a pond or stream every two or three days, the shepherds supplying themselves in the mean time with water from gourds or kegs which are carried upon a burro. The shepherds, with their sheep and dogs, pass the night upon the plains, some suitable place being selected for the temporary sheepfold, and thus for weeks they traverse the country seeking the best pasturage. The dogs which accompany the flocks render important services, and it would be impossible for a single person to manage so large a number without their assistance. They exhibit an intelligence and sagacity truly astonishing. At times two or three will be sent out alone with a large flock, which they conduct for miles in as orderly a manner as the shepherd could do himself. They tend them while they graze during the day, and drive them back home again at night. When the flock passes the night upon the plains, the dogs stand sentinel over them, and are good protection against the attack of wolves and other


[page 205]

animals of prey. In all these particulars the shepherd-dogs render invaluable service. The sheep of New Mexico are of a smaller breed than those raised in the States, and are somewhat remarkable for their large horns; the flesh is finely flavored, and is the principal article of food of the inhabitants. Notwithstanding the great number of sheep in the country, wool has never yet become a staple article in trade. That produced is a very coarse, inferior article, and at the ranchos does not sell for more than four or five cents per pound, and but a small quantity has found its way to the United States market.

The farmers have retained the original stock of sheep, and have made no effort to improve the breed. There has never been enough encouragement at home to warrant the importation of a better class of sheep, and to the present day they have been raised for their flesh alone. Since the settlement of California, a considerable trade in sheep has sprung up between the two countries. Large flocks have been annually driven across the deserts from New Mexico, and which have commanded in California a price that remunerates the owners for the risk, trouble, and expense of driving them thither. They cost from two to three dollars a head at home, and bring from six to eight in the market of San Francisco and other places. By reason of the fine climate and the good pasturage that most generally abounds upon the tablelands, New Mexico is probably better adapted to the raising of sheep than any other portion of our country. The expense is merely nominal. The year round they can feed upon the natural grass of the plains, and four or five shepherds, with as many dogs, can manage several thousand. When New Mexico shall have become connected with the States by rail-road, the woolen manufacturers will find it to be to their interest to raise their own wool there instead of importing so much from abroad.


[page 206]

They can pasture their flocks at a very small expense; in shearing season drive them near the line of rail-road, where they can be sheared and the wool shipped to their mills, and all at less cost than they can import it or raise it at home. This subject is worthy of consideration.

Goats are also numerous in the country, but they are not raised in such numbers as sheep. Their milk, which is sweeter and richer than that of the cow, is in very common use among the inhabitants. In one respect they are a very desirable domestic animal, inasmuch as they can live upon the most sparse pasturage, where a cow could hardly subsist, at least to be worth much. The flesh is also in quite common use; it is cheaper than mutton, but is not so well flavored. The horses of New Mexico are small, but hardly and serviceable animals, and are seldom used for any other purpose than the saddle. Mules and burros are the beasts of burden, and the former are used for draught. Oxen are also much used for draught, and the greater part of the heavy teams that annually cross the extensive plains that lie between the United States and New Mexico are drawn by them.

In all Spanish countries there is a peculiar custom in relation to the buying and selling of domestic animals. Each person has his own brand, with which he marks all his mules, horses, and other animals as soon as they come into his possession, and they are rebranded as soon as they change hands. This is called the fierro, or buying brand, and when an animal is sold the old marks are obliterated with another brand called the venta, and in the absence of this the sale is not a valid one. When a man loses an animal, in order to claim him, under the Mexican law, he is only required to show a fierro that corresponds with the marks upon him, without any other evidence of property. Since New Mexico was erected


[page 207]

into a Territory, the law has been altered in this respect, and now ownership of this description of property is proved in the usual manner.

The Legislative Assembly, at their session of 1851, passed an act upon this subject which modifies the old law in several particulars. All persons are required to have their horses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs branded with their respective brands, which they are obliged to have registered in the office of the clerk of the Probate Court in the country in which they reside. When a branded animal changes hands, the late owner is required to give the purchaser a certificate of sale in the presence of two witnesses, stating the price and describing the animal, and also to rebrand it with the brand reversed. Fine and imprisonment is fixed by the act as the punishment for counterfeiting a brand. If a person has in his possession an animal thus marked, and has neither a brand nor a bill of sale, he will be obliged to prove his ownership if it should be claimed by a third person. Under the old Mexican law, a great deal of imposition was practiced upon strangers in case the venta or sale-brand had not been put upon animals when they changed owners. It is not an uncommon thing in Southern Mexico, when a fine horse is seen without the venta upon it, for some one to hunt up a branding-iron that will match the old marks, and then lay claim to the animal; and, in such cases, they most generally succeed in making their claim valid.

I have remarked elsewhere that the greater part of the transportation in the country is carried on by means of pack-mules, on account of the badness of the roads and the absence of wheeled carriages. The mule and the burro are of as much service to the people of New Mexico as the camel to the Arab. The pack-mules, with their loads of near three hundred pounds each, travel in


[page 208]

droves of several hundred, and sometimes thousands; and their hardy endurance enables them to cross rugged mountains and sandy deserts, where it would be almost impossible for horses to convey burdens. The loads are carried on pack-saddles of a peculiar shape, made for the purpose, and, in the language of the country, are called caparejo. They consist of a wide leather pad, stuffed with hay or grass, which fits across the back of the animal, and extends some distance down the sides. They are secured with a wide bandage of sea-grass or leather, and are drawn as tight around the mule as can be borne. The packages, sometimes one and at others two upon each animal, are bound upon the pack-saddle with ropes of grass or raw-hide. Each load is called a carga. When there is but one package it is fastened on the top of the saddle, but when there are two they are secured one upon each side. The train of pack-mules is generally led by a steady old animal with a bell around the neck, and is called the mulera; the train is called an atajo, and those who conduct it and take care of the animals are called arrieros or muleteers. There is generally one man to about every ten mules; the train is conducted with much order and system, each arriero having his particular place and a specified duty to perform.

During the march all the muleteers are busily employed. The packs constantly require adjusting, the bandages which secure them becoming loosened; and very frequently the animals become fatigued and lie down, when they have to be helped up, as they can not rise with the load on without assistance. A usual day's travel of an atajo is twelve or fifteen miles, and the mules are not unloaded until they stop for the night. The arrieros load and unload the mules with great dexterity, and one who is master of his business can adjust the pack in a few minutes. When they have finished


[page 209]

the day's travel a convenient camping-place is selected, when the mules are relieved of their burdens, and turned out to graze under the care of the subanero, always being accompanied by the old mulera, which keeps them from wandering away. The packs and saddles are piled up in a row upon the ground, and, when required, are so arranged as to form a kind of inclosed camp, to afford protection against the Indians. If it should rain, they are covered with a grass-cloth, carried along for that purpose. This mode of transportation is less expensive, and nearly as rapid as upon wheels. The muleteers are generally mounted upon good horses, which enables them the more easily to manage a large mule-train.

The people of New Mexico are fine horsemen, as the most usual way of traveling is mounted, and boys are taught to ride from their infancy. The arrieros and vaqueros can be classed among the most accomplished horsemen in the world, and can not be excelled by the Tartars and Cossacks of the Don. The inhabitants of Southern Mexico are also exceedingly fine riders. When riding at full speed, they will stoop from the saddle and pick a pocket-handkerchief from the ground without checking the horse; and they will also, in the twinkling of an eye, turn their horse upon his haunches when going at full speed, and ride off at the same gait in an opposite direction. The muleteers and cow-herds are remarkably skillful in throwing the lazo. This consists of a long rope, made of horse-hair or raw-hide, with a running noose at one end, and the other made fast to the pommel of the saddle. With this is their favorite mode of catching the animals that stray away from the herd, and when one of them makes chase after a truant beast, with his unerring lazo he is sure to be made captive. The noose is thrown over the horns or neck, and so certain is the aim that they rarely miss, even when both animals are going


[page 210]

at full speed. As soon as the noose has dropped, the horseman gives the lazo two or three turns around the pommel of the saddle, and stops his horse suddenly, which seldom fails to throw the captive. In this manner they capture the wildest horses upon the plains, and make prisoner and subdue the fiercest bulls.

The lazo is more or less in use among all classes of the country people, and practice with it grows up with them from childhood. The little boys take to it as readily as American children incline to the gun, and begin to use it at a much more tender age. I have frequently been amused to see the boys trying their "prentice hand" on the geese, chickens, and turkeys that live around the house; and many a time have I seen an old gobbler, strutting with all his state and pride, suddenly brought to a dead halt by the lazo of some mischievous little urchin catching him around the legs. The pigs, ducks, and other domestic creatures come under their annoyance as legitimate and appropriate prey. The people sometimes employ it as a weapon of attack in their encounter with their enemies. They have been known to noose Indians around the neck or body, and afterward drag them at full speed over the rough ground until so much stunned that they could dispatch them at pleasure. In their fights with bears and other wild beasts they often make the lazo do good service, and many a fierce inhabitant of their mountains and plains have thus been made prisoner and dispatched without the aid of powder or ball.


Notes

1. The territorial Legislature, at the session of 1855 and 1856, passed an act establishing a system of common schools, to be supported by a tax levied upon the property of the inhabitants. Four counties were exempted from the general operation of the law, and the citizens thereof were allowed to vote upon its acceptance or non-acceptance. The election was ordered by the proclamation of the governor, and was held on the 31st day of March, 1856, with the following result, viz.:

Counties. For the law. Against the law.
Taos… 8… 2150
Rio Arriba… 19… 1928
Santa Ana… 8… 456
Socorro… 2… 482
37 5016
The returns show that, in a popular vote of 5053, there were only 37 men to be found in favor of public schools, a fact which exhibits an opposition to the cause of education truly wonderful. This great enmity to schools and intelligence can only be accounted for as follows: that the people are so far sunk in ignorance that they are not really capable of judging of the advantages of education. From this result the cause of education has but little to hope for from the popular will, and the verdict shows that the people love darkness rather than light.

Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VII:Santa Fé, With Some Account Of The Manners And Customs Of The People. Next: CHAPTER IX:Manners And Customs Of The People—Concluded




© Arizona Board of Regents