Chapter I. Of Our First Sight of the Pueblo Indian, of Tesuque Pronounced Te-soo´-kā. and How We Took a Photograph There
IT was November, 1902, and Sylvia and I were sitting at our first breakfast in Santa Fé, when we saw an ancient waggon, drawn by two burros, coming up the street. With that joy which every traveller knows at each fresh incident of a long-planned trip into new territory, we were smiling at the novel sight of the odd little draft animals with their great flapping ears, their nodding white noses, their obvious disinclination to go faster than at a snail's pace, when we were
Our waiter, an English wanderer repairing his broken fortunes in this most un-English of American capitals, flicked his napkin from one arm to the other and patronisingly observed: ‘‘Hindians from Tesuque, sir, come into town to sell their pottery and such like, sir.’’
After breakfast we fared forth, guide-book in hand, to view the conventional sights of the quaint old city; but there kept lingering in the minds of both of us the memory of that glean of colour in a grey land—a touch of the poetic in the driver's way of carrying himself, his primitive stock in
Finally we paused before the cathedral and gazed so intently at its abbreviated towers that two Mexicans, sunning themselves against an adobe wall, nudged each other and remarked one to the other: ‘‘Ah, these American heretics! Well may they admire! What so beautiful a holy church have they in their country?’’
It was a nine-mile drive thither, and as we travelled, we learned incidentally from our driver that Tesuque is a small community of Indians descended from those strange people known as the ancient Cliff Dwellers; that each community has an especial name of its own, like Tesuque for this one, but that all have the same methods of life and are known, generally speaking, as Pueblo Indians, because they live in pueblos.
‘‘Pueblo, you know,’’ he explained, ‘‘is the Mexican way of saying 'town.' All these sort of Injuns live in towns built to stay—of rock and adobe. They do say some date back to Columbus's time and further. They're sure old, all right, and a good job of building.’’
The road was typical of New Mexico—now hardbaked adobe, now sand; now crossing dry arroyos, now climbing water-worn hillsides, where small piñon trees and cedars made a scrubby growth, up to glorious views of majestic mountains, wide plateaus, and valleys with strange Spanish and Indian names, but never a sign of life.
At last we came to a little valley with running water, following which for a couple of miles, we crossed at a ford into a narrow lane fringed with peach trees and wild plums and, in a few minutes, were in our first pueblo.
We had never looked upon the like before, and, had we not felt competent to account for every minute of time since we left our home in the East, we should have been tempted to think that we had somehow been diverted into a trip to Syria. Our vehicle had stopped in a large, open plaza, facing upon the four sides of which was a solid square of adobe houses, excepting that, on one side, the white façade of a church edifice broke the regular line of dwellings. Some of the houses were one-storied in height and some two; but in the latter case, the second story was set back so as to make a terraced effect, the roof of the front room of the first story serving as a front yard to the second-story rooms.
Tesuque plaza and church, on a feast day. The crowd is watching a ceremonial dance.
The attire of both women and men was strangely different from anything we had ever seen and as distinct in its way as the national attire of Norwegian peasants or of people of the Orient—not that it was like any of those, however. The distinctive feature of the men's attire, when the blanket was removed, was a loose, cotton shirt, worn outside the trousers, which, in many cases, were short, wide, and flapping. The women's dress was made of a dark, woollen stuff, neatly belted at the waist. It came only a little below the knees, the lower part of the legs being swathed in buckskin, which formed an appendage to their moccasins. A sort of coloured cape of light material hung from the neck down the back. The women's hair was invariably banged low across the forehead and, like the men's, tied with red yarn into a club at the back.
Our vague thought of all red men and women being lazy savages, unattired save as to odds and ends from missionary boxes, and subsisting upon Government rations, underwent rapid revision as we looked on at this busy scene. Everybody appeared as though dressed for the stage.
‘‘Gosh, no!’’ re replied. ‘‘Fixed up nothing. This is the way these Pueblo Injuns always dress—the women in partic'lar. They seem to think their short skirts and buckskin leggins has the Paris fashions plumb skinned. There's lots of missionaries and Government school teachers and the like that has spent good money tryin' to get them into sensible calico dresses with red and yeller patterns to sort of catch the eye; but they could n't make it stick. The women are great stay-at-home bodies and that makes 'em set in their ways. The men go about more among white folks and some of 'em are bein' shamed into overalls and jumpers; even a hat goes with a good many of 'em now. But, Lord! it's slow changing these Injuns' ways. They have good money to spend, too; but it seems that, when it comes to doing anything with 'em, it's a case of mañana, just as it is with the Mexican Dagos—‘‘nothin' doing to-day, come to-morrow,’’ says they.’’
Suddenly the quiet of the scene was broken upon by the monotonous beating of a hollow-voiced drum. It came from a point behind the buildings, grew rapidly louder, and almost before we could draw our astonished breath, there emerged into the plaza from an alley among the buildings a group of the most startling figures that our eyes had ever beheld. There were some twenty-five or thirty of them, inching along in single file with a curious sort of dance-step, one bringing up the rear with the drum, a primitive affair made from a hollowed log, upon which he pounded without cessation. Some were men and some women. Save for a sort of kilt about the loins, the men were naked, their red bodies smeared with black and vermilion paint. Jingling shells and rattles hung from their knees and wrists and about their necks, and corn husks were twisted fantastically in their streaming hair and about their ankles. The women were dressed in gay attire, each cheek painted with a bright red spot, while upon their heads were fastened grotesquely-patterned tablets of wood that stood upright.
A look of intense seriousness was in the faces of the dancers. Not a glance was cast our way; our existence was apparently ignored. Inch by inch, into the centre of the plaza, the strange dance moved; and now, in rhythm with the untiring drum, there arose from the throats of the dancers a solemn musical chant in unison, the same phrase repeated over and over again; yet, in a way, it was fascinating to us. We had never heard Indian music before, but we knew instinctively that this was the real aboriginal thing. There could be nothing else like it in the heavens or under the earth.
Separating into two lines, facing each other, the dancers footed it sideways up and down the middle space of the plaza, to the unceasing accompaniment of the music and certain movements of the arms performed in precise unison. All the while the busy life of the pueblo continued almost without interruption, as little attention being paid to the dance as though it were an every-day occurrence.
At that time we were in the typical tourist class, understanding neither Indians nor New Mexico. Therefore, with the anticipation of rehearsing this scene to friends on the Atlantic seaboard, who would never in the world believe us, unless we had ocular demonstrations to submit, we drew the kodak from its case. The driver glanced at it.
As if the tiny click had been carried by magic across the wide space and sounded in each dancer's ear above all the chanting, the music had ceased suddenly and the performers had broken into disorder. Everybody was looking—looking, too, anything but agreeably—towards us; and, to our dismay, across the plaza there came running, with whoops that made the chills run down our backs, two of the fantastic dancers with painted faces—more like demons than men. An unintelligible uproar of pagan speech rose from their lips as they pressed their faces close to ours.
Sylvia had a logical mind. It was she who had insisted upon taking the picture, and it was plain to her that now she was to be scalped for it. There was, however, a possibility that her companions might avoid a like fate if she surrendered the offending machine; and, snatching the camera from beneath the cloak, she thrust it tremblingly into the arms of the more ferocious-looking of the savages and, with blanched lips, cried: ‘‘Here, take it—all!’’
1. Pronounced Te-soo´-kā.