CHAPTER VIII:Manners And Customs Of The People—Continued
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
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
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
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,
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,
|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.
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 due1
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.|