CHAPTER IV. The Bayeta Blanket of the Navaho
IN the preceding chapter practically all the blankets referred to or described were of a superior, indeed superlatively superior, weave, and of great commercial value. I have already quoted from Dr. Lummis where he speaks of the rarity of these older specimens. Here are two other quotations, the first from his book already referred to, and the latter from The Land of Sunshine, for December, 1896.
This red material is from a fine Turkish woolen cloth called balleta. It used to be imported to Mexico, whence the Navahos procured it at first. Later, it was sold at some of the trading-posts in this territory. The fixed price of it was $6 a pound. The Navahos used to ravel this cloth and use the thread for their finest blankets; and it made such blankets as never have been produced elsewhere. Their durability is wonderful. They never fade, no matter how frequently washed—an operation in which amole, the saponaceous root of the Palmilla, should be substituted for soap. As for wear, I have seen the latter blankets which have been used for rugs on the floors of populous Mexican houses for fifty years, which still retain their brilliant color, and show serious wear only at their broken edges. And they will hold water as well as canvas will.
A balleta blanket like that pictured elsewhere1 is worth $200 and not a dozen of them could be bought at any price today. It is seventy-three inches long by fifty-six inches wide and weighs six pounds. You can easily reckon that the thread in it cost something, at $6 a pound, and the weaving occupied a Navaho woman for many months. It is hardly thicker than an ordinary book cover, and is almost as firm. It is too thin and stiff to be an ideal bed-blanket, and it was never meant to be one. All blankets of that quality were made to be worn on the shoulders of chiefs; and most of them were ponchos—that is, they had a small slit left in the center for the wearer to put his head through, so that the blanket would hang upon him like a cape. Thus it was combined overcoat, water-proof, and adornment. I bought this specimen after weeks of diplomacy, from Martin del Valle, the noblefaced old Indian who had been many times governor of the cliff-built ‘‘„City„’’ of Acoma. He bought it twenty years ago from a Navaho war-chief for a lot of ponies and turquoise. He had used it ever since, but it was as brilliant and apparently as strong as the day it was finished.
The Navaho Indian of New Mexico and Arizona cannot vie with the modern Turk in rugs nor with the extinct Yunca in fringes; but when it comes to blankets he can beat the world. Or rather, he could—for it is nearly a generation since a Navaho blanket of strictly first class has been created. Here is a lost art—not because the Navahos no longer know how, but because they will no longer take the trouble. They make thousands of blankets still—thick, coarse, fuzzy things, which are the best camping-blankets to be had anywhere, and most comfortable robes. But of the superb old ponchos and zarapes for chiefs—those iron fabrics woven from vayeta (a Turkish cloth imported specially for them and sold at $6 a pound, unraveled by them, and its thread reincarnated in an infinitely better new body), not one has been woven in twenty years. It is a loss to the world; but the collector who began in time can hardly be philanthropic enough to lament the deterioration which has made it impossible that even the richest rival shall ever be able to match his treasures.
There are still Navahos (20,000 of them), and there is still vayeta; and as there are people who would give $500 for an absolutely first-class vayeta blanket, you might fancy that the three things would pool. But that is to forget the Navaho. He is a barbarian, to whom enough is an elegant sufficiency. By weaving the cheap and wretched blankets of today—wretched, that is, as works of art—he can get all the money he desires. Why then toil a twelve month over a blanket for $500 (which is more coin than he can imagine anyhow) when a week's work will bring $5? You will think the Navaho is a fool, who will not put out his hand for money; but it is to be remembered that he knows you are one who burn your life for it. And a thousand efforts, by the smartest businessmen on the frontier, have absolutely failed to revive this wonderful old industry. They have at most succeeded only in getting some back-slidden marueca2 to weave an Americanized blanket which no connoisseur would have in his house.†3
Some wear short breeches of brownish-colored buckskin, or red baize, buttoned at the knee, and leggins of the same material. A small blanket, or a piece of red baize, with a hole in it, through which the head is thrust, extends a short distance below the small of the back, and covers the abdomen in front, the sides being partially sewed together; and a strip of red cloth attached to the blanket or baize, where it covers the shoulder, forms the sleeve, the whole serving the purpose of a coat. Over all this is thrown a blanket, under and sometimes over which is worn a belt, to which are attached oval pieces of silver, plain or variously wrought.
I have given Dr. Lummis's statements in full, together with both his methods of spelling bayeta, not only because of his great knowledge upon the subject, but more because of his profound and deep interest in
FIG. 16. An Exquisite Bayeta. (Vroman Collection.) [Page 35]
Bayeta is simply the Spanish for baize, a kind of flannel with a nap on one side. Another authority than Dr. Lummis asserts that it was originally made in Spain, and was sold in Mexico as Spanish flannel, and by the Mexicans traded to the Indians.
Some twenty-five years ago I found it a common article of manufacture in certain woolen mills in Yorkshire, England, regularly sold by Manchester wholesalers to the Spanish, Turkish, Mexican, and United States trade, and by these latter dealers distributed to the Indian traders of the United States.
While in the early days there was little of any color but red used by the Navahos, bayeta was made in as many colors as there are dyes—red, green, yellow, pink, blue, orange, purple, etc., and there is no doubt whatever but that bayeta blankets with English yarn of different colors have been made for years by the Navahos. For I have spoken with both Mexican and Indian traders who have dealt in bayeta of different colors for many years, though all agree that the chief demand has always been for red.
The leading manufacturers of baizes in England today contend that they were never made in Spain, and ‘‘„certainly never in Turkey.„’’ It is generally believed that the baize trade was originally introduced into England in the sixteenth century by refugees from France and the Netherlands. It is well known that religious persecutions almost destroyed the weaving industries of these two countries, and that the shrewd and awakening business sense of England took advantage of the situation by gladly offering hospitality to those whose very religious dogmatism and firmness made of them the most desirable kind of artisan citizenship. For over two hundred years one firm to which I have referred has dealt largely in baizes, and ‘‘„Rossendale Valley baizes„’’ are favorably known to the trade throughout the world.
There is a peculiar kind of baize, bearing an extra long nap, or face, with a lustrous and curly finish, which is known to the trade as Pellons. In Halifax, Yorkshire, England, is a lane known for over three hundred years as Pellon Lane, thus clearly indicating to the local antiquarians that a pellon mill was originally situated in this neighborhood, which today is largely occupied by the weaving industry.
Traditions still exist in the minds of the old members of the firms whose chief weaves are baizes, with whom I have conversed and corresponded, to the effect that the woven pieces were shipped to Spain—never direct to Mexico or South America—and by the Spanish dealers distributed to their compatriot customers throughout the world. Even
Another thing also aided in deepening that impression, namely: the names given to the various colors and shades in which these baizepellons were made. Even in the English trade they were and are known by the Spanish labels, as, for instance:Morado Subido, strong violet or purple;Rosa Bajo, dull rose; Oro, gold; Amarillo Tostado, yellow with a light brown tinge; Grana, deep scarlet; Dragon, Sajon Hermosa, and a score of others.
Pellon-baizes were largely used in England in my boy days for making bags for carrying lawyers' briefs. England is a rainy country, and papers and documents that were needed in court must be carried back and forth, despite the weather. It was found that the long curly nap of the pellon threw off the rain very effectively, even when the clerk had to walk farther than usual. Hence when the trade extended to Spain and its North and South American dependencies or colonies, these baizes were much sought after for the making of ponchos which would shed severe rains and thus protect the wearer from becoming drenched by the fierce showers that so often descend unexpectedly in tropical climes. The open weave, under the long nap, also afforded abundant ventilation —a great desideratum in a hot country.
The colors in which baizes and pellons were dyed prior to the discovery of aniline dyes were bright scarlet and varying shades to deep maroon, blues, yellows, greens, etc. The reds were extracted from cochineal, Spanish Cochinilla, which, as is well known, is the female insect Coccus cacti, found in large numbers on various species of cactus in Mexico, Central America, and other tropical countries. These insects are gathered from the plant, killed by heat, and then exposed to the sun to dry. They then appear much like small seeds or berries of a brown or purple color, so for years were scientifically defined as the grain of the Quercus coccifera. The essential coloring matter is carminic acid, a purple red amorphous substance which yields carmine red. The varying colors produced from cochineal depended entirely upon the mordants used.
FIG. 17. A Blanket About Which Experts Differ. (Vroman Collection.) [Page 35]
Modern science—even that of a hundred or more years ago—in England, combined with many years of experimentation with dyestuffs, had led English dyers to the discovery of several excellent mordants, and to these discoveries and the care shown in the exercise of the dyer's art is owing the superlative colors and their unfading qualities in the priceless Navaho bayeta blankets of the early days.
When the Navahos began to dye wool for themselves they were dependent upon the less experienced Mexicans and Pueblo Indians for their knowledge of dyes and mordants; hence their gamut of colors and shades was much limited. Yet is it not remarkable that in a few years they succeeded in making dyes equal to those of the English?
Blue was made from indigo, which is procured from woad and other plants native to Asia, Africa, and America. This is one of the oldest dyestuffs known, and was used to color the faces of the ancient Britons, Queen Boadicea being said to have stained her face with woad after her defeat and capture by the Romans. The indigo, however, does not exist in the plants as such. It is obtained by the decomposition or fermentation of the Glucoside indican. It is a dark blue earthy substance, tasteless and odorless, with a coffee-violet luster when rubbed. It appears in commerce in dark-blue cubical cakes, varying very much in the quality of their composition, some containing indigo-red and indigo-brown, besides moisture, mineral matters, and glutinous substances. Consequently the color varies, especially when used as dye by one who is not an expert. This accounts for the varying shades of blue too often found in the wools dyed by the Navaho, while the older blankets, probably made from bayeta dyed blue by the English experts, is as perfect and almost as full of color today as when first it came from the dye pot.
The most popular of the reds was originally called, even in England (and still is) Brazil baize. As late as twenty-five years ago, ‘‘„Brazil sticks„’’ could be obtained in New Mexico. This is a very heavy wood, the Cesalpinia sapan, brought originally from the Orient, and known long before the discovery of America. It has a reddish color and dyes red and yellow. After the discovery of America it is said that King Emanuel, of Portugal, gave the name Brazil to the country on the Southern Continent on account of its producing this wood. It is now called Cesalpinia Braziliensis, although the best color is produced from the C. echinata, a leguminous tree, the heart-wood of which is used for this purpose. The word brazil is supposed to come from the Spanish
Another red is that produced from the heart of the logwood, Hematoxylon campechianum, another South American wood, which contains a crystalline substance called hematoxylon or hematein. When pure this forms nearly colorless crystals, but on oxidization, especially in the presence of an alkali, it is converted into the coloring matter which is the base for lakes, yielding violets, blues, and blacks, according to the mordant used. Logwood comes into the commerce of today in the form of logs, chips, and extracts. When the chips are used they are moistened with water and exposed in heaps so as to promote oxidization or fermentation, alkalies, etc., being generally added to hasten the process, or ‘‘„curing,„’’ as it is often called. The resultant decoction is a deep reddish-brown color.
The older dyers of ChimayÓ still call for ‘‘„Brazil sticks„’’ when asked to dye wool for a ‘‘„native color„’’ blanket, though the article has generally dropped out of every-day commerce since the introduction of the aniline dyes.
Fustic was the heartwood of certain West Indian trees, Maclura tinctoria, giving a rich lemon yellow. Sometimes the Spanish termed it fustoc. Young rustic is the heartwood of a native sumac of the Mediterranean, Rhus cotinus, which yields an orange-colored lake.
These were the principal colors used by the English in their dyeing of bayetas and pellons in the early days, and even now used occasionally for rare and special orders. But since the great chemical discoveries of Perkin in 1856, Verguin in 1895, and others, the aniline dyes have largely taken possession of the field.
It may be interesting to the curious reader to note that the word ‘‘„aniline„’’ is made from annil, the Arabic, which was the original name for a West Indian plant from which indigo was first made. It goes back even to the Sanskrit, nila, a dark blue, and nili, the indigo plant itself.
In the bayetas of modern make, samples of which I have before me as I write, there are all the original colors such as the reds, crimsons, maroons, black, blues, and greens; and, in addition, magentas, pinks, oranges, lemon-yellows, etc. Yet all of these are made from aniline dyes.
Hence an important question arises in dealing with the subject of bayeta blankets. It must be self-evident to the most casual of readers that, given the bayeta, and the Indian willing to unravel the yarn as was done continuously in the old days, bayeta blankets of modern dye may be made today.
Fig. 18. A Flannel Blanket. (Vroman Collection.) [Page 36]
Fig. 19. The „Playing Card„ Blanket. (Collection of P. G. Gates) [Page 36]
I think I can affirm most positively that there has not been such a blanket made for several decades. There is not an Indian trader or a dealer in the whole Southwest who keeps bayeta of any color in stock. There is no call for it. But even if there were, and the Indian could be found to unravel and use it, it would be an easy matter for any chemist to determine immediately, and with positiveness, whether the dye used were aniline, or one of the old vegetable dyes.
It may then be relied upon that the few blankets offered for sale as old bayeta blankets, are exactly what they profess to be. Yet the following is a question often asked by collectors: Is there any way of definitely, positively, certainly, stating what is and what is not a bayeta blanket? One of the greatest experts in New Mexico asserts that the only test is this: If a thread of a blanket is pulled to pieces and it shows a single strand, then it is bayeta. If twisted and consisting of three strands, it is Germantown yarn.
He seemed to overlook the fact, however, that now and again—not often it must be confessed—a Navaho weaver would take a fine thread of bayeta, and, being desirous of making a thicker and heavier blanket than the fine thread would allow, twisted two or three of them together, thus giving us a two or three-ply yarn of bayeta.
Still another expert insists that the only way to determine whether a blanket is of bayeta is by the feel of the strand. If it is silky and yet hard and with a fuzzy or rough feel it is bayeta, while Germantown has a woolly and soft rather than a silky, hard, and rough feel.
Yet another determines bayeta by microscopic examination. Bayeta being made by machinery, he contends that it must be smooth and even in spinning, whereas all hand-made yarn is uneven and irregular. This seems to be conclusive, yet when I called his attention to these two facts, viz., that much bayeta is retwisted by the Navahos by hand, and, second, that Germantown yarn is made by machinery, and must therefore present the same evenness and regularity of spinning displayed by bayeta, he confessed that the difficulty still remained. For, while it may successfully reveal the difference between a native-spun and a machine-spun yarn, that difference does not always exist between the two machine-spun yarns of Germantown and bayeta.
To my own mind these discussions are more academic than profitable. Chemical analysis can speedily determine whether the dye used in the yarn of a blanket be vegetal or aniline. But even this is not necessary. While it might be hard to convince another, who was not as familiar with
Of this character are the following blankets from three well-known collections—those of the American Museum of Natural History, of Fred Harvey, of Albuquerque, and A. C. Vroman, Pasadena, with added specimens that have been in my own possession for many years.
Fig. 6 is one of the earliest types of Honal-Kladi, referred to later in connection with Fig. 7. Long before any geometrical or other design was introduced into the blanket, the attempt to beautify these chiefs' robes was made by varying the width of the panels, changing their colors, and introducing bands of color across a portion of each panel. The effect, though simple, was pleasing, and made, as many of these blankets are, of the finest material, and woven with consummate skill, they are even more highly prized by collectors than later specimens of more elaborate design.
Fig. 7 is an exquisitely beautiful blanket of soft delicate tones, although the elaborate bands of black and white give it a striking character. The red of the bayeta, which forms the body color of the center design and the outer border, is toned down to a delicate rose tint which harmonizes in exquisite effect with the blue and black stripes introduced therein. It will be observed that this blanket is woven crosswise instead of lengthwise. Blankets of this character are spoken of as ‘‘„Chief's Blankets,„’’ or by the Navahos are called Honal-Kladi, or Honal-Chodi. The peculiar design for this weave is undoubtedly found in the fact that the Navaho chief or leading men of the tribe desired to have their blankets of a different type from those worn by the ordinary men of the tribe. Blankets of this character are wrapped around the body broadside, which shows off the stripes to better advantage than if they had been woven in the other direction, as then the stripes would run up and down and be displeasing to the eye. This type of blanket is undoubtedly from one hundred to two hundred years old, and when made of old bayeta and native-dyed and woven yarn is exceedingly scarce and valuable.
It should be noted, however, that there is such a demand for blankets of this type that some of the traders keep one or more of their best weavers continually at work making them. They are not quite as closely woven as the old ones, but after they have had twenty-five years or so of rough usage on the floor of a living room, or as couch-covers, or in any
Fig. 20(a). Bayeta Blanket. (Matthews Collection) Fig. 21(b). Red Flannel Blanket. (Matthews Collection.) [Page 36]
Another fine chief's blanket is in the Vroman collection, shown in Fig. 8. The body bands are white and black, with the center band composed of red, blue, and black narrower stripes. In the center of this band is the blunt-pointed diamond figure, with the half of a similar figure at each end. The upper and lower edge of the blanket has the same narrower bands of red, blue, and black as the center band. This blanket is a fine old specimen, and its size is forty-seven by sixty-eight inches.
Perhaps one of the most pleasing of the small blankets of the Fred Harvey collection at Albuquerque is the old bayeta blanket, reproduced in Fig. 9. In all my experiences among the Navahos I have seen very few blankets of this type, one of them being in my own collection and illustrated elsewhere. The red of the bayeta has toned down to a soft delicate rose madder, while the blue of the zigzags and the smaller figures of the designs are as rich and as deep undoubtedly as the day the yarn came from the dyeing vessel. The blue of the border stripes has softened down wonderfully until it is almost steel-like in appearance; on the other hand, the white has taken a tone until it is a delicate cream, and where this white has been interwoven, as it is in a number of the stripes and in some of the small figures of the design with the red bayeta, a most pleasing effect is produced.
This blanket is undoubtedly of the very earliest type and will go back fully one hundred and fifty to two hundred years, and although it has seen exceedingly rough usage, as all saddle blankets are subject to, it is almost as perfect today as when it left the hands of the original weaver.
Fig. 10 is a fine specimen of a Navaho squaw dress, although only half of it is here presented. Generally these squaw dresses were woven in two halves, which were sewed together and then worn as shown in various pictures throughout the book in which Navaho women are represented. The body part of this is of black wool, very closely woven, the two ends being of red bayeta, with the design in very deep blue with small stripes of old-gold-green in the geometrical figures. This little tip of green materially enhances the beauty of the blanket, and age has improved it without the slightest marring of the rich perfect color of the bayeta. This is a blanket of the type that would undoubtedly hold water. The battening down has been done so thoroughly by the weaver that it is almost impossible to open a stitch of the weft to reveal the strands of the warp.
A beautiful specimen of an old bayeta saddle blanket is that shown in Fig. 11 from my own collection. The red is fairly harmonious throughout and has retained much of its original brilliancy, as have also the blue and old-gold-green of the design. It is thirty and a half by forty-two and a half inches in size, and its weight is nearly two pounds. It has no other colors than red, blue, and green, though there are a few touches and outlines in white. The groundwork is red, while the zigzag of the larger design is in old-gold-green and blue, the former being outside. The inner designs alternate between green and blue, while some of them contain both colors with touches of white.
The brilliancy of the color of the blanket as a whole has deceived several into believing it was not an old bayeta, yet on careful examination there can be no question of its age. Fortunately, I know its history. It was purchased by an army officer who was in the Navaho country in the early fifties; hence it could not possibly be any other than an old bayeta, or a native-dyed, native-wool blanket, and the Navahos never made so brilliant a red with any of the dyes they were then accustomed to use.
Of greater age still, though entirely different in appearance, is Fig. 4. It is thirty by forty-eight inches in size, and the only colors are red and blue, with considerable of the design (about one-fourth) in white. The red has toned down to a soft and delightful shade of plum red, that is alluring and restful to the eye. It is of much finer weave, though of simpler design than Fig. 11. I secured it in the following unromantic way: On one of my exploring trips in New Mexico I came to an old Mexican jacal. It was getting late at night, raining and cold. My horses were anxious to stop and so was I, so I asked permission to bring my blankets into the rude hut, and place my horses in the scant shelter of the corral. I slept on the floor, cooked my frugal breakfast in the morning, which I prevailed upon my host and hostess to share with me, and then went out into the wet and filthy corral to harness up. Here, kicking about in the dirt, and thick with the accumulated muck of the corral, superposed upon the horse-sweat of many long rides, was something that at first I took for a gunny sack. Preferring its dirt to axle-grease, I picked it up to take hold of the wagon-nut as I greased the axle of my buggy. To my surprise I found it to be a saddle-blanket. With the instinct of the collector always alert, I asked the old man if he would let me have it, and for how much. He laughed at my paying him anything for it; said he had used it as a saddle-blanket ever since he had been married; that it was worthless, and that, if I insisted upon paying for it, fifty cents would be far more than it was worth. I threw it into the conveyance and forgot all about
Fig. 22. Old Style Native Blanket. [Page 37]
Fig. 23. Old Style Native Wool Blanket. (In American Museum of Natural History.) [Page 37]
Fig. 12 is of a rare old bayeta, with body of red, with the design in white and old-gold-green. This is one of a collection of twenty-two of the finest bayetas procurable, sold by A. C. Vroman, of Pasadena, California, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. These were equally divided and there are eleven of them in each museum, Fig. 12 being in the latter.
Fig. 13 is of another bayeta of the Vroman collection. The main body of the blanket is in the shade known as old rose. The steps of the border are in white and black and the color effect is exquisite. Mr. Vroman regarded this as the finest blanket he was ever able to secure, and on one occasion he refused an offer of five hundred dollars for it. It is now hanging over the door of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Another of the Vroman bayetas, now in the Metropolitan Museum, is Fig. 15. The body of this blanket is in soft rose red, the center of the diamond in the center panel, however, being of a rich bright red. The other colors of the diamond are red and old-gold-green. The waving lines at top and bottom are in white, with blue and green, while the two inner waving lines are of blue and green without the white.
Fig. 16 is of an exquisite and delicate bayeta, the property of Mr. Vroman. It is mainly of white, with stripes and connected-diamonds in red and deep blue, with a little rich old-gold-green here and there.
Fig. 17 is of a blanket in the Vroman collection about which experts differ. Some term it a bayeta and others say the body is made from red flannel, unraveled and rewoven without being respun. Red flannel and
A blanket that has become world-famous in a rather remarkable way is that pictured in Fig. 19. Some years ago Mr. Vroman desired to present a novel set of playing-cards to the world. On the corner of each card he had a beautiful engraving of a western scene, and all the backs were adorned with a reproduction, in colors, of this design. It is a small but very fine bayeta, the body in red, and it was purchased by Mr. Vroman in New Mexico, at the little Mexican hamlet of San Rafael. It is now in the P. G. Gates collection.
Fig. 20 is of a bayeta blanket in the Matthews collection.4 It is of the type designated by Father Berard, as honalchodi, and commonly referred to in the trade as a Chief's blanket. Elsewhere I have explained why these were woven broad size instead of long side on. The design of this blanket is antique and it is made entirely of native dyed wool and bayeta. It is six feet six inches by five feet three inches in size, and its colors are black, white, dark blue, and the red of the bayeta, and—in a portion of the stair-like figures—a pale blue.
Fig. 21 is of another Matthews blanket of a tufted character, ‘‘„of a kind not common,„’’ he says, ‘‘„having much the appearance of an Oriental rug„’’; it is made of shredded red flannel, with a few simple figures in yellow, dark blue, and green.
FIG. 24.Double Saddle Blanket of Soft Weave, Native Colors and Native Wool.(Author's Collection.) [PAGE 37]
1. Dr. Lummis here referred to a picture of a fine bayeta blanket which accompanied his article.
2. Navaho woman.
3. I must apologize to Dr. Lummis for quoting him as spelling the word Navaho. He is as emphatic in demanding that it be spelt Navajo as I am that it be Navaho.
4. This collection was made by Dr. Washington Matthews while he was stationed in New Mexico. His authoritative works on the Navaho are largely quoted from elsewhere in these pages.