CHAPTER IX:Manners And Customs Of The People—Concluded


Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VIII:Manners And Customs Of The People—Continued Next: CHAPTER X:Arrival In Santa Fé


[page 211]

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.


[page 212]

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


[page 213]

a respectable tenor for a double-bass horse-fiddle. some of the wealthiest proprietors have purchased American-made wagons of late years, and only use the clumsy cart for ordinary purposes around the farms. Among the ricos there are a few old-fashioned Spanish carriages, cumbrous and uncouth vehicles, which are drawn by four or six mules, with outriders and postillions. When a Mexican travels he carries with him both bed and board, and encamps on mountain or plain where night overtakes him. He and all his attendants go armed, which is a precaution highly necessary in whatever part of the country you travel. In New Mexico there are no public houses by the wayside in which the traveler can find rest and food for the night, and unless he is able to reach some village where there are friends, he is obliged to encamp out. In some of the towns Americans have opened places of "entertainment for man and beast," where a few can find tolerable accommodations at New York prices. Before the public house in Albuquerque hangs a sign-board, on which is painted, in large letters, "Pacific and Atlantic Hotel," being considered the half-way house between the two oceans.

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


[page 214]

handsome colors, and are quite beautiful. The serape is a leading article of domestic manufacture in Southern Mexico, and the costume of a caballero is hardly considered complete without one. Mier, on the Rio del Norte, in the State of Tamaulipas, is famous for this article, whence they are sold into all parts of the country. The New Mexicans also make an article of wool, called gerga, a stout and coarse twilled stuff; it is woven in checkers and stripes, and is much used for carpeting, and also for clothing among the common people. This has become quite an article of traffic between the merchants and peasantry, and as it is made with little expense, the latter derive considerable profit from the trade. It is retailed in the stores at from twenty-five to forty cents per vara, and is manufactured for less than half that sum. The few articles of domestic manufacture are made wholly of wool, or nearly so, very little cotton being used, and neither flax nor hemp having yet been introduced into the country. Their spinning and weaving apparatus is exceedingly rude, and illy suited to the purpose. A machine, if it can be so called, known as a huso or malacate, is in common use; the spindle is kept whirling in a bowl with great dexterity, while the operator draws the thread and weaves the fabric. The peasantry also make earthenware for domestic use, and carry considerable quantities of it to the towns to be sold. It consists principally of jars—tinajas—which are light and porous, and well adapted for refrigerators for cooling water.

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


[page 215]

been conquered, many of their manners and customs, which, during their residence in the country, had become firmly ingrafted into society. They had intermarried with the Spaniards, and thus formed a mixed race, in whose veins flowed the blood of both ancestors. Among the early adventurers who came in quest of gold and fame into Mexico were many who had sprung from this union of the Moor and Spaniard, and whose manners and customs assimilated, to a considerable degree, with those of their Moslem ancestors. A portion of that gallant band of men who assisted Hernando Cortez in the subjection of the Aztec empire, or those who followed in his footsteps, in the course of time found their way into New Mexico. A thirst for further conquest, coupled with religious zeal, invited them thither, a distance of two thousand miles from the seat of Spanish power in America. They streamed up the valley of the Del Norte, and formed settlements upon the banks at the most favorable points that presented themselves, where they also established missions to convert the native heathen, and military posts for defense, and became themselves permanent settlers. The Good Book as well as Nature taught them that "it is not good for man to be alone," and so they considered the propriety of taking partners to share their exile and hardships. In this domestic emergency there was but one alternative; their own fair countrywomen, "the dark-eyed maids of Castile," were thousands of miles away, and could not be obtained for wives, and they were therefore compelled, by force of circumstances, to look to the daughters of their Indian neighbors for help-meets. This course was adopted, and all the settlers and gay cavaliers who were in want of the gentler sex to smooth the pathway of life and keep their houses in order took to their bed and board Indian maidens. Here was a second blending of blood and a new union


[page 216]

of races; the Spaniard, Moor, and the aboriginal were united in one and made a new race, the Mexicans.

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 stature they are below the medium height, both male and female, but are well made, with sound constitutions, and are graceful and athletic. They have, with


[page 217]

but few exceptions, black hair and dark eyes. The females exhibit, in some instances, the features of the Indian, high check-bones and thick lips, and many of them possess considerable personal beauty. Their fine eyes, small hands and feet, and graceful carriage, are distinguishing traits. The males have generally finely-developed chests, and possess much more personal strength than is generally conceded to them. As would naturally be the case, a people so various in their origin as the Mexicans, and in whose veins flows the blood of three distinct races, would present a corresponding diversity of character. They possess the cunning and deceit of the Indian, the politeness and spirit of revenge of the Spaniard, and the imaginative temperament and fiery impulses of the Moor. They have a great deal of what the world calls smartness and quickness of perception, but lack the stability of character and soundness of intellect that give such vast superiority to the Anglo-Saxon race over every other people. They have inherited a portion of the cruelty, bigotry, and superstition that have marked the character of the Spaniards from the earliest times. These traits seem constitutional and innate in the race, and the more generous and enlightened sentiments that characterize the present age appear not to have penetrated the veil that shuts from the human heart the noblest impulses of our nature. The fault, no doubt, lies in some measure with their spiritual teachers, who have never instructed them in that beautiful doctrine which teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Their want of tolerance and their cruelty may also be excused to a degree, because of their impulsive nature, and the easy sway their superiors have always exercised over them, and to whom they have ever yielded the most implicit obedience.

I believe the Mexicans have been unjustly accused of


[page 218]

cowardice as a race, and denied the attributes of personal courage that belong to every other people. In looking at the source whence they sprung, we see no reason why they should not possess all the physical virtues that belong to the human race. In former times the Spaniard was justly celebrated for his gallantry and courage, for proof of which we need only cite his conquest of a large portion of the two Americas, in which he encountered every hardship that falls to the lot of a soldier. In those days the Spanish infantry was among the best soldiery in the world. The history of the Moorish battle-fields establishes the courage of that race beyond a doubt; and the manner in which the American Indians have ever resisted the approach of white settlers settles the question as to them. Hence we find the blood of three brave races uniting in their veins, and there is every reason why they should possess the ordinary amount of courage.

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


[page 219]

to have confidence in themselves. With American officers to lead them, they will make excellent troops; and they possess a power of endurance under fatigue which excels most other people.

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


[page 220]

the creatures of those in power, who in a great number of instances receive their commission as a reward for having pampered to the vice and peculations of their superiors. Officers of this class can not possess an elevated standard of honor, and have no reputation to make. With such leaders, the rank and file can not be expected to make good soldiers.

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


[page 221]

the shores of the Mediterranean, where morals were never deemed an essential to respectability and good standing in society, and laches in this respect had no visible effect upon their social position. The people of New Mexico have inherited all the vices of their ancestors, which they have continued to practice to this day. They have never received any moral training, in the American sense of the word, and have been allowed to grow up from infancy to manhood without being taught that it is wrong to indulge in vicious habits. The standard of female chastity is deplorably low, and the virtuous are far outnumbered by the vicious. Prostitution is carried to a fearful extent; and it is quite common for parents to sell their own daughters for money to gratify the lust of the purchaser, thus making a profit from their own and their children's shame. It is almost a universal practice for men and women to live together as husband and wife, and rear a family of children, without having been married. One thing which has greatly conduced to this condition of life in times gone by was the high price of the marriage fee. The peasantry could not afford to be married according to the rites of the Church, and as no other ceremony was legal, they were, in a measure, driven into this unlawful and sinful intercourse. This irregular mode of life is also encouraged by the matrimonial system practiced, which results in illy-advised matches, which, in a large number of instances, drives the parties to a separation, when one or both assume an illicit connection.

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.


[page 222]

The marriage vow is held sacred by a very few, and the ceremony is more a matter of convenience than any thing else. The custom of keeping mistresses appears to be part of the social system, and the feelings of society are in no manner outraged by it, because the public opinion of the country sanctions it; and what seems to argue an exceedingly liberal code of morals is the fact that the standing of neither party is injured in the community in which they live, but they seem to maintain the same degree of respectability as though they did not thus violate the rules of propriety and decency. This mode of life is practiced openly and without shame. The parties keep up a regular domestic establishment, receive their friends, and appear together in public, as though their union was sanctioned by the holy rites of marriage, and blessed by the laws of God and man.

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


[page 223]

adopting this degraded mode of life, which, not being considered in the least disreputable, neither driving them from society nor injuring their prospect of a subsequent marriage, is most generally embraced. In other respects society is not as refined as would be desirable. I have already mentioned that gambling is almost universal, and is considered a gentlemanly and respectable calling. The practice of carrying deadly weapons is nearly as common, and most of the inhabitants go armed at all times: they wear knives or pistols girded around them during the day, and sleep with them under the head at night. The merchant behind the counter waits upon his customer with a six-shooter or a big knife at his side; and when the lawyer goes into court to try a cause, he too is armed to the teeth. These "peace-makers" also accompany the owner to the ball-room and the evening party; and even when they enter the house of God on the Sabbath they go better prepared to resist assassins than to worship their Maker. There is some necessity to wear arms, but not to the extent practiced, and the consequence is that many unfortunate affrays take place.

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


[page 224]

that could not fail to bring them great success in any honest pursuit. Each one has his favorite set of orisons, which he sings at the top of his voice, and which call down untold blessings upon the heads of those who contribute to them. Begging is not always adopted and pursued from necessity, as the last resort before starvation, but in many instances is followed as a regular profession. Children from their earliest infancy are trained up to this way of life, and duly initiated into all the arts and mystery that belong to the calling. Instances have been known of parents maiming their children in order that they might be more able to move the feelings of almsgivers; and these poor little mendicants are sent into the world to beg a living for the lazy parents who remain at home.

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,


[page 225]

and many a dime found its way into his supplicating hand. One day, when on his customary rounds, he was sitting in the street imploring alms in the most piteous manner, when a furious bull came tearing down the street in the direction where he sat, and without the least disposition to pay any respect to the mendicant, who must either beat a retreat or be run over. He resolved upon the former, and, forgetting his decrepitude, he sprang to his feet and took to his heels in a manner that would have done honor to Gildersleeve. This closed his professional adventures in that locality. In Mexico the law makes no provision for paupers, hence all the aid they receive is from the generosity of the public.

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


[page 226]

a few coals of fire were brought from the kitchen and put in the vessel that contained the incense, which ignited and filled the room with its odor, the whole party the while performing some ceremony that I did not understand. I left them in the midst of their semi-heathen incantations, neither being able to appreciate the service nor being willing longer to witness what I looked upon as a senseless and unmeaning performance. The sick person recovered, and I have no doubt another miraculous cure was placed to the credit of the dingy little image. The number of saints in the religious calendar makes up a long array, and to all the leading ones particular days are devoted, and observed with appropriate ceremonies. The Virgin of Guadalupe, who heads the list, appears to be the key-stone of the whole system of worship in Mexico.

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


[page 227]

other sects, except by a few Protestant missionaries, who have been located there since the Territory came into the possession of the United States. When first established, it was with all the rigor practiced in Old Spain, and the Indians were forced "to come quietly to the acknowledgment of the true Christian faith, and listen to the evangelical word" at the point of the bayonet and under blows from the halberd. Under the Spanish and Mexican governments no other religion was tolerated, and the rites of the Church were administered with a degree of bigotry and fanaticism almost incredible. The natural consequence of this undisputed sway for near three centuries was the growth of many and serious abuses, some of which have remained to this day, and call loudly for redress. I have nothing to say about the peculiar tenets of Catholicism, whether the belief of those who profess this religion is right or wrong, the creed true or false, because this is a matter which lies wholly between the professor and his Maker, and with which I have nothing to do. Every man is responsible for his own religious belief, and it would be exceedingly unjust for me to arraign others before the bar of public opinion for what I might consider heresy. But, while I have nothing to do with the religion itself, I deem the abuses that have grown up under it, and are still practiced, just and rightful subjects of animadversion.

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


[page 228]

all the yearly increase of their flocks, and herds, and whatever else they raise, while the rich compound their tithes, and are let off by paying a comparatively small sum of money. The people are beginning to understand that the Church can not collect these diezmos by law, and in some instances they have refused payment. This is the first step toward a reformation in this particular, and, in the course of time, an entire change will be made in the mode of paying the priests, and each person will be allowed to give such an amount as he can afford and feels disposed to contribute. I was informed by a former mayor domo of the Bishop of Santa Fé that the tithes of the whole Territory which come to his hands amount to about eighteen thousand dollars annually. He receives one half, the other half being divided into two parts, one of which goes to the various parish priests, while the balance is appropriated to the repair of the churches. In the country of Santa Fé, in which the bishop resides, he receives his tithes in kind, but in other counties his half is sold and the money paid him. They are collected by an authorized agent, who receives about fifteen per cent. for collection. Notwithstanding the large revenue the bishop receives, he does not spend it in sumptuous and extravagant living, but appropriates a large portion in repairing the churches and other religious buildings in Santa Fé. His establishment is modest in its appointments, and by no means in keeping with his income.

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


[page 229]

people in matrimony. In former years it was more expensive to die than to live; and poor parents have been known to abandon their dead children because they could not afford to pay the cost of interment by the Church. The regular fees for marriage and burial service have in some instances been known to be as high as four and five hundred dollars, the price always being regulated by the length and kind of ceremony, and, in the case of burial, by the number of masses said for the repose of the soul. It sometimes costs the poor peasant the greater part of his worldly store to have his children baptized. This ceremony becomes a matter of great solicitude with the mother, since those who are not baptized are supposed to dwell in Limbo when they die, while those who receive this rite of the Church are placed in the regions of eternal happiness. The fees for these respective rites have been decreased somewhat, but are yet too high for the public good; and a further reduction, particularly as regards marriage, would have a tendency to lessen illicit intercourse between the sexes.

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


[page 230]

in their transgressions, and to replace them with better men. I am personally acquainted with several of the new incumbents, and believe them to be men of spotless reputations and blameless lives. Notwithstanding this improvement in the morals of the priesthood, there is a margin left for further reformation, which must be made before the Church can be at all purified. Among other practices that have been abolished is the procession of the Host, at least with the parade and show that accompany it in Southern Mexico; and when the holy sacrament is carried to be administered to a sick or dying person, it is done in a quiet manner.

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


[page 231]

that much reformation will be made in the morals and religion of a people.

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.

Another peculiar feature of New Mexico is the system of domestic servitude called peonism, that has existed, and still exists, in all the Spanish American colonies.


[page 232]

It seems to have been an institution of the civil law, and in New Mexico is yet recognized by statute. The only practical difference between it and negro slavery is, that the peones are not bought and sold in the market as chattels; but in other respects I believe the difference is in favor of the negro. The average of intelligence among the peones is lower than that among the slaves of the Southern States; they are not so well cared for, nor do they enjoy so many of the blessings and comforts of domestic life. In truth, peonism is but a more charming name for a species of slavery as abject and oppressive as any found upon the American continent.

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


[page 233]

master. When parents are, as the statute terms it, "driven into a state of slavery," they have the right to bind their children out as peones, and with this beginning they become slaves for life. When a servant runs away from his master, the latter goes before a justice of the peace, or some other civil magistrate, and takes out a "warrant of the debt," which authorizes the arrest of the peon in any part of the Territory. One of the most objectionable features in the system is, that the master is not obliged to maintain the peon in sickness or old age. When he becomes too old to work any longer, like an old horse who is turned out to die, he can be cast adrift to provide for himself. These are the leading features of peonism, and, in spite of the new name it bears, the impartial reader will not be able to make any thing else out of it than slavery.

Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VIII:Manners And Customs Of The People—Continued Next: CHAPTER X:Arrival In Santa Fé




© Arizona Board of Regents