CHAPTER IX:Manners And Customs Of The People—Concluded
Mechanic Arts.—Carts.—Silversmiths.—Domestic Manufactures.—Serapes.—Gerga.—Tinajas.—Mexican People.—Intermarriage with Indians.—Character.—Courage.—Morals.—Vice.—Cause of Prostitution.—Carrying Weapons.—Beggars.—The Beggar and Bull.—Religion.—Superstition.—Saints.—Diezmos. —Marriage Fees, etc.—Revenue of the Bishop.—Priests.—Corruptions of Church.—Peonism. —Law upon the subject.
The state of the mechanic arts among the New Mexicans is very low, and apparently without improvement since the earliest times. There are a few carpenters, blacksmiths, and jewelers among the natives, but, if ever so well skilled, it would be impossible for them to accomplish much with the rough tools they use. The gold and silver smiths excel all the other workmen, and some of their specimens, in point of ingenuity and skill, would do credit to the craft in any part of the world. Nearly all the lumber used for cabinet-making and building is sawed by hand, and carried to market on burros, two or three sticks or boards at a time, and sold by the piece. The heavier scantling is dressed with an axe, and sold in the same manner. Before the Americans occupied the Territory saw-mills were unknown, and their place was entirely supplied by hand-labor; but since that time two or three mills have been erected, which do a good business. A few flour-mills have also been built, and the grain is better ground than formerly. In building they have no idea of architectural taste, but they construct their houses in the same style as their ancestors—rather comfortable, but very homely affairs.
All the implements used in husbandry are of the rudest description, and until within a few years the hoes and spades were made of wood. I do not recollect to have ever seen a wagon of Mexican manufacture. The vehicles in common use for farm purposes, and for hauling produce to market when burros and pack-mules are dispensed with, are called carretas, a rude cart, made in the style of two centuries ago among the first settlers. If exhibited in the States they would attract as much attention as the hairy horse or the sea-serpent. They are generally made without iron, being fastened together with strips of raw-hide or wooden pegs. The wheels are frequently solid pieces of wood, being a section of a large cottonwood-tree, with a hole through the centre for the axle. Sometimes they consist of three parts, the middle one with a hole through it, and the two sides, segments of a circle pegged on to the first. An undressed pole of the proper length is fastened to the axle for a tongue. The body of the carreta consists of a frame-work of poles, much like a crockery-ware crate, which is made fast by being tied to the tongue and axle. The machine has no bottom, and, when necessary to prevent the load falling out, a bull-hide is spread down. These carts are universally drawn by oxen, and sometimes three or four yoke are hitched to one at the same time. The ox-yoke is in keeping with the vehicle, and consists of a straight piece of wood laid across the head of the oxen behind the horns, lashed fast with raw-hide, and is secured to the tongue in the same manner. For the peasantry of the country these primitive carts answer every purpose, and on feast and holy days you will often see the whole family pleasuring in them, or driving to the nearest town to attend mass. The wheels are never greased, and as they are driven along they make an unearthly sound, which echoes through the mountains far and near, being
There is no capital invested in domestic manufactures, which do not exist as a separate branch of industry. The few articles that are made are of a coarse texture, and are manufactured in families. The leading fabric is a coarse woolen blanket called serape, which is made to some extent for domestic use and sale. At times a considerable trade is carried on in it with the neighboring Mexican States and the Indian tribes. It forms an important article of clothing among the peasantry, and many of the better classes use it instead of cloaks and overcoats. A few of a finer texture, in imitation of the serape saltillero, are also manufactured, some of which sell for forty and fifty dollars each. They are woven in bright and
In some respects the New Mexicans are a peculiar and interesting people. They are of Eastern origin, and in general possess all the vices of those whose homes are washed by the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, whence a branch of their ancestors originally came. When the Moors were expelled from Spain, they left behind them, as a legacy to the people by whom they had
The new people who sprung from this intermarriage between the conquerors and the conquered were dark and swarthy in appearance, and so have remained, through the change of generations, for nearly three hundred years. Among the present population there is found every shade of color, from the nut-brown, which exhibits a strong preponderance of the aboriginal blood, to the pure Castilian, who is as light and fair as the sons and daughters of the Anglo-Saxon race. Of the latter there are only a few families among the ricos who pride themselves upon not having Indian blood in their veins. The great mass of the population are very dark, and can not claim to be more than one fourth or one eighth part Spanish. The intermixture between the peasantry and the native tribes of Indians is yet carried on, and there is no present hope of the people improving in color. The system of Indian slavery which exists in the country conduces to this state of things. The people obtain possession of their children by purchase or otherwise, whom they rear in their families as servants, and who perform a life-time servitude to hard task masters and mistresses. When they grow up to man's and woman's estate, many of them marry with the lower class of Mexicans, and thus a new stream of dark blood is constantly added to the current. Tawny skins are seen in all ranks in society, and some of the most intelligent and wealthy of the native population exhibit the most enduring traces of their Indian origin. From these causes there exists an amalgamation in color that is found in no quarter of the world except in the Spanish portions of the American continent.
In the late war between the United States and Mexico, the rank and file of the Mexican army, in many instances, exhibited a bravery that would have done honor to any troops in the world; and upon the frontiers of New Mexico, in their conflicts with the Indians, the peasantry have frequently behaved in the most gallant manner. That which has given the appearance in the field of cowardice has been a lack of confidence in their officers, which begat a want of reliance in themselves. The great body of the population have ever been an oppressed and down-trodden people, and have never received from their superiors that kind of treatment which fosters courage. At home, their manhood has been almost crushed out of them; and when led to the field, they had no interest in the contest, and nothing to fight for. They had been so long taught to believe themselves an inferior race, and destitute of manly attributes, that they came to believe this their condition, and ceased
An evidence both of their patriotism and courage came under my observation. In the month of January, 1855, the governor of the Territory called for a battalion of mounted volunteers to assist the regulars in chastising the indian tribes who were in hostile array, and in a very few days more companies offered their services than could be accepted. They served for a period of six months; and it is the unanimous testimony of the United States officers who were on duty with them, that in all the conflicts with the enemy they exhibited a courage equal to, and power of endurance greater than, the troops of the line. They were ever among the foremost in the fight, and were noted for their good order and discipline; and I am justified in saying that a desire to serve the country sent them into the field, since the greater part of them had nothing to lose from Indian depredations.
The composition of the Mexican army is such that, under the most favorable view of the case, the conduct of the soldiers should not be made a criterion of their valor. The ranks are filled up by what Kendall calls the "involuntary volunteer system," which is pretty much the same as the impressment system in England. Recruiting officers are sent out into the country, who seize the peasantry, take them by force from their homes, and march them under a strong guard to the rendezvous. They are enlisted by force, kept in service by force, have nothing to fight for, receive little or no pay, and, of course, there is no inducement to exhibit bravery. Such was the mode of recruiting for the Mexican army a few years ago, and I presume no change has taken place in this particular. The officers are inferior to the men, being
While the Mexicans lack the courage and enterprise of our own people, they neither possess their turbulent and uneasy spirit. They are a peaceful and quiet race of people, and in their general disposition are rather mild and amiable. They are prone to order, and riots and kindred disturbances are almost unknown among them. They are temperate in their habits, and it is seldom that one becomes an habitual drunkard. When their passions are not aroused by anger they are universally kind, and in an intercourse of some years with them I have never received other than the most polite treatment from all classes. They bear a deadly hatred toward their enemy, and will manifest it whenever the opportunity offers. If they obtain an advantage over an enemy, they will oppress him beyond measure, and deem it a virtue; and, in return, they look for the same treatment when they are brought under in the wheel of fortune. They possess great talent for intrigue and chicanery, but lack stability and firmness of purpose. With all their faults, they are easily governed if they are treated with kindness and justice.
I regret that I am not able to speak more favorably of the morals of New Mexico, but in this particular the truth must be told. Probably there is no other country in the world, claiming to be civilized, where vice is more prevalent among all classes of the inhabitants. Their ancestors were governed in this matter by the standard of morality that prevailed in Southern Europe and along
It is the custom for married men to support a wife and mistress at the same time, and but too frequently the wife also has her male friend. A gentleman of many years' residence in the country, and who has a thorough acquaintance with the people, assured me that such practices are indulged in by three fourths of the married population.
There are two or three causes for the almost universal looseness of morals among the native population, the principal of which is the entire absence of that necessary moral training which children receive in the States. In times gone by the Church conduced much to this state of things; a majority of the priests themselves lived in open prostitution, and the most abandoned characters retained their standing in the Church, if they were regular at the confessional, and paid the customary dues without fail. The organization of society is such that a large number are driven into this mode of life by sheer poverty. There are no employments to which indigent females can resort to make a respectable living, as in the States. All domestic labor is performed by Indian slaves, and women can find no occupation in housework for their own maintenance. Thus, when their parents die, and they are thrown upon their own resources for support, they have but the alternative of starving or
In all Spanish countries beggars abound in large numbers, who appear to form an estate of the social system. They are quite numerous in New Mexico, but much more so in Southern Mexico, where they swarm in crowds in all the large towns and cities, and beset your steps with appeals for alms whithersoever you turn. The mendicant race are known by the name of Limosneros, who are the most wretched and repulsive people imaginable. They are covered with abominations from head to foot, and their whole appearance indicates the most abject poverty. In some parts of Mexico Saturday is set apart by custom as the day for almsgiving, when you will see the profession out in full strength. There is a deal of system in their begging, and they exhibit a perseverance
In the city of Mexico, where they abound in thousands, I have frequently seen a whole family upon the same street corner. Some have customary stands, where they may be seen year after year, with sightless eyes and outstretched hands, imploring alms of the passer-by in the name of God, until death relieves them; and then, when the father is gone, the son is ready to take his place. Sometimes they feign decrepitude, and other infirmities which incapacitate them for labor, and on hands and knees drag themselves from door to door during the day, and at night they enjoy the fruits of their labor in some quiet corner. Such rascals now and then get picked up handsomely. Gregg tells an amusing story of a fellow of this character in Chihuahua, who experienced a remarkable recovery of the use of his limbs after being an apparent cripple for many years. He was in the daily habit of sliding around the town on a begging tour, and had, to all appearances, entirely lost the use of his lower extremities, but was otherwise a hale, hearty man. He was looked upon by the citizens as an object of pity,
As a race, the people of New Mexico are extremely superstitious, and which prevails to a greater or less degree among all classes, the intelligent as well as the most ignorant. They have an abiding faith in saints and images, and with the mass of the inhabitants their worship appears no more than a blind adoration of these insensible objects. Some of the most intelligent of the better class look upon these bits of wood as all-powerful in every emergency; and upon the occassion of a fire in Santa Fé a few years ago, a prominent Mexican gentleman was anxious that one of the wooden saints should be brought from the church to quench the flames. The second summer of my residence there, there was a severe hail-storm in the month of June, when the people, in order to protect their crops, stuck up crosses in their fields; and it is no uncommon thing for them to have their fields blessed by a priest after the seed is put into the ground, in order that they may bring forth good crops. Upon one occassion, when visiting a family, a member of which was quite ill, a number of friends came in with a small image of a favorite saint, altar, and other necessary apparatus. They were placed in the middle of the room, when
As another evidence of the superstition of the people, I need only mention their general belief in withcraft and every other kind of sorcery, which is not confined alone to the most ignorant portion of the community. In the year 1853 a man was arrested in Taos for this imagined offense, and bound over by an alcalde to answer at the next term of the United States District Court. When the cause came up for trial it was at once dismissed, and the prosecutor was made to understand that there were no such offenses under our laws. Subsequently two Indians of Nambé were put to death for a similar offense. These facts exhibit a fearful amount of superstition in the middle of the nineteenth century, when knowledge, in every department of learning, is making such rapid strides toward universal intelligence.
The religion of New Mexico is that of the Roman Catholic creed, which was introduced into the country at the time of the first conquest by the Spaniards, and has prevailed up to the present time, without opposition from
One of the greatest abuses that belongs to the Church is the system of tithes, which still remains, and to the Church is contributed one tenth of the worldly increase of the people for the maintenance of the priests, repairs of the buildings, etc. There is no legal enactment to sustain the system and compel payment, and, as far as the law is concerned, the contributions are voluntary; but, nevertheless, it exists in full force. It falls heavily upon the poor people, who are obliged to give a tenth of
Another abuse that should be remedied is the high price of marriage, baptismal, and burial fees that the Church exacts from the people. In the case of marriage the high rates have heretofore prevented lawful wedlock, and driven a large portion of the population into licentiousness. They were not able to pay the fees demanded by the priest, and no civil officer had power to unite
In no country have the evils of celibacy in the clergy been so clearly made manifest, and such great harm done to the cause of religion. Until within a recent period, the priests of New Mexico were noted for their corruption and profligacy, and instead of being teachers in morals they were leaders in vice. Their lascivious pleasures were quite as public and notorious as their priestly duties, and there was hardly a priest in the country who did not rear a family of illegitimate children, in direct violation of his holy vows and the laws of religion and morality. I am pleased to mention that a reformation has taken place in this particular since Bishop Lamy has been at the head of the Church in New Mexico. One of his first acts in assuming the duties of the bishopric was to dismiss those who had been the most notorious
Of late, an important step has been taken toward a further reformation in the Church, and which, in time, will have a good effect. The bishop has directed that the confessional and communion be denied to all females who are known to lead immoral lives; and such are not buried according to the rites of the Church if they die while in sin and before confession. Still, many of the old corruptions of the Church remain in full force, and either no attempt has been made to cure them, or the remedy, if applied, has failed to have the desired effect. The vice of prostitution has become so prevalent that the whole moral frame-work of society is rotten and undermined, and a great revolution of feeling must take place before the evil can be remedied. The priesthood have an important work before them, and they should join with one voice and mind, and teach their parishioners that such practices are contrary to the precepts of their religion and the doctrines of Christianity. Even to this day, in the sacred processions of the Church upon feast and saint days, the most abandoned characters are allowed to unite and bear a leading part, and the "ten virgins" have been personated by the most vicious females in the city. While vice is thus openly smiled upon, we can not expect
In speaking of the vice and immorality of New Mexico, I must not be understood as including the whole population in the same category. Amid so much that is corrupt, there are some as pure in mind and morals as can be found in any country, and who are as much alive to all the amenities and proprieties of life. Many of the mothers and daughters are as virtuous as can be found in any section of our extended and happy land, and the fathers, sons, and brothers as high-minded and honorable men. The vices that prevail are constitutional and national—more the result of habit, example, and education—or, rather, the want of it—than from natural depravity. We should bear in mind that such have been the habits of the Spanish race from time immemorial, and charity should induce us to make a reasonable allowance for their infirmities. They should be compassionated rather than shunned because of their degraded condition, and an efficient effort should be made to raise them to the standard of enlightenment that is found in other sections of our land; and they should be none the less kindly welcomed to our great political brotherhood because they do not bring with them all the virtues and wisdom possessed by our own people, who have been reared under a purer code of morals and a wiser system of laws. We claim that our free institutions make men better, wiser, and happier; then let us endeavor, through their agency, to work out the regeneration of the people of New Mexico, morally, socially, and religiously, and the triumph will be a greater one than any we can achieve upon the field or in the cabinet.
The statutory law recognizing its existence in the Territory is dignified with the title of "Law regulating contracts between masters and servants." This is all well enough on paper, as far as it goes, but the statute is found to be all upon the side of the master. The wages paid is the nominal sum of about five dollars per month, out of which the peon has to support himself and family. The act provides, among other things, that if the servant does not wish to continue in the service of the master, he may leave him upon paying all that he owes him; this the poor peon is not able to do, and the consequence is that he and his family remain in servitude all their lives. Among the proprietors in the country, the master generally keeps a store, where the servant is obliged to purchase every article he wants, and thus it is an easy matter to keep him always in debt. The master is required to furnish the peon with goods at the market value, and may advance him two thirds the amount of his monthly wages. But these provisions, made for the benefit of the peon, are in most instances disregarded, and he is obliged to pay an enormous price for every thing he buys, and is allowed to run in debt beyond the amount of his wages, in order to prevent him leaving his