Chapter XVII. Of the Eight Pueblos of Moqui, and the Way Thither

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter XVI. Of the Night Dance of the Shálako Gods Next: Chapter XVIII. Of the Life in Moqui; and a Hint of its Latter Day Troubles

[page 167]

‘‘THE Moquis? What are they to the Hopis? Oh yes, I know, the Snake Dance. Somebody told me of that. And Maria went to a lecture about it once. Not real rattlesnakes? Oh awful! But their fangs must be taken out first—of course. And we sewed for them one winter in our King's Daughters, and sent them a box of nice flannel shirts, poor things. Oh, not for the snakes, you ridiculous thing, for the people! Yes, I really know a great deal about them. How dreadful for them to live way out in Arizona! And now do tell me about the cotillion last night; I heard,’’ etc.

‘‘The Moquis? Where have I heard of them? They're Dakota Indians, are n't they? Arizona? Oh, yes, that's so, I remember. A fellow wanted me once to take a trip to see them, when we were

[page 168]

on our way to California. He said they beat the band for picturesqueness and all that—but Great Scott! it takes two days by waggon across a desert to get to them and carry your own booze. So I said: ‘‘Not on your life, my boy—this train suits me! You go, if you want to, and tell me the features when we meet again.’’ I have n't heard of him since, so maybe he got scalped. Anyhow, it seemed a fool trip to me. How's the fishing at Catalina nowadays?’’

This is what you get when you try to interest the average citizen of the United States in the case of the eight pueblos of Moqui. Shall I gain any more attention by writing it out on paper? Perhaps not. Nevertheless I shall try. At least I shall not be interrupted till I am through with the story I have to tell.

Northward a hundred miles or so from the railroad, beyond the muddy flow of the Rio Colorado Chiquito, beyond the mirages and sand-storms, the unutterable droughts, and the summer cloudbursts of the Painted Desert of Arizona, are the eight pueblos known collectively as Moqui and individually by names of such rare difficulty to pronounce that I shall disturb you with them as little as possible. This Moqui is the region which the ancient Conquistadores called the Province of Tusayan. Coronado, resting on his arms after the conquest of Zuñi in 1540, heard of it and sent one of his lieutenants with half a dozen musketeers up from Zuñi to ascertain what it was like. This lieutenant's name was Pedro de Tobar, or Tovar, and he enjoys a twentieth-century fame, having a great hotel named for him a hundred miles from Moqui on the rim of the Grand Cañon of the Colorado in Arizona.

Shipau'lovi, Moqui, acropolis-like on a hilltop overlooking the Painted Desert.

[page 169]

Little cities of stone, built fortress-like upon the apexes and dizzy edges of four lofty, rocky promontories that just out into the desert, and housing a population of some two thousand Pueblo Indians, the pueblos of Moqui have a sublime outlook, without parallel in America or probably in the world, upon desert, sky, and distant mountains. Silence and sunlight by day, starlight and silence by night, and always the desert's own peculiar mystery, envelope this land of Moqui, where no man—except he be an American office-holder—can live for a day without being sensible of his individual insignificance in the make-up of the universe.

[page 170]

Hither, long centuries ago, came the ancestors of the present dwellers in Moqui, after movings whose course is fairly well marked to this day by ruins of prehistoric towns scattered along the valley of the Little Colorado, in the cañons of the White Mountains of Arizona, and among the Mogollones. There is every reason to believe that they came seeking in this desert fastness an asylum from war and the depredations of their enemies. For the Lord of Life, it seems, had implanted in the hearts of these red children of His, not a spirit of unrest, rapine, and war—qualities which our superior civilisation invariably associates with the unreconstructed red man,—but the love of peace, of home, and of tilling the ground. Indeed, they called themselves, and still do, Hopi,1 meaning "the Peaceful"; and because their settled abodes and ordered lives of industry as agriculturists and artsmen enabled them to gather to themselves property which excited the cupidity of warlike nomads of the South-West, such as the Utes, the Apaches, and the Navajos, their fields and terraced towns would appear to have been the object of attack and spoliation by these enemies. Then, to escape the ceaseless harrying of marauders, came the flight of the Hopis to the desert, taking to themselves the barren waste as an ally and establishing themselves where the hardship of getting at them would minimise the liability to invasion.

Chief Snake Priest of Walpi, hoeing his corn two or three days after the Snake Dance. Note how short the stalks are, yet they are full grown. The man is but five feet high.

[page 171]

So the pueblos of Moqui came to be—no man can say when, but certainly before the coming of the sixteenth-century Spaniards; and to reach them across the long, sun-scorched, waterless leagues was, in old Spanish parlance, literally una jornada de muerte—a journey of death. Here in Moqui, the Hopis planted their corn of many colours and set up altars and shrines that stand to this present day; and with invocations and thanksgiving to the red gods that had brought their fathers up from the darkness of the underworld to this world of light, they wrestled unceasingly with the desert for a living—and won.

In a land where the annual rainfall is but a few inches, and that confined principally to two summer months, and where the sandy ground, shifting continually before the wind, is almost as unstable

[page 172]

as the waves of the sea, this untutored race has scored over adverse nature a victory which wins the admiration of every serious-minded person, scientist or layman, who visits Moqui. The Hopis have searched out every spot in the desert within a score of miles, where moisture lingers long enough to mature a crop of corn or beans or melons, and industriously cultivate it and protect it from burial by shifting sands from seed-time to harvest. Of the desert's resources practically nothing escapes them. Of its rocks and stones they have fashioned implements and built stable towns; of the fibres of its plants and the skins of its animals they have made clothing; of its clay they have moulded serviceable and beautiful pottery; of its grasses they have woven baskets of superior weave and design; upon its bitter shrubs they pasture their flocks; certain saponaceous roots provide them with soap, and many herbs contribute to their vegetable dieting. In fact, their knowledge of the desert plant life is little short of marvellous. Out of one hundred and fifty known species of plants growing wild in Moqui—a white farmer would call them all weeds—the Hopis have found use, it is said, for about a hundred and forty. From

[page 173]

the Spaniards, who sought to Christianise them, but whose iron rule only succeeded in driving these Quakerly-disposed Indians to such desperation that they finally threw the priests over the cliffs and demolished the church, taking its beams for roofing their own pagan fanes—from the Spaniards they got enrichment of their lot in the shape of horses, burros, sheep, iron implements, and peach trees. The peach orchards are to-day a special feature in the environs of every Hopi town, the deep green of the foliage, billowing the yellow sands, being visible to the traveller as he approaches long before the town itself is distinguishable from the rock upon which it is founded.

The nearest railroad to Moqui is the Santa Fé's transcontinental line, and the pueblos lie seventy-five to a hundred miles north of it. To them are four principal waggon routes, and unless you are used to desert travel, whichever one you take, you will likely wish you had chosen another; for, at the best, the trip is a hard one. You may, first of all, set out for Moqui from Cañon Diablo, a flag-station where a lone trading-post has been established for many years; amply capable, however, of fitting you out in thorough style. This

[page 174]

way is the shortest to Oraibi, the westernmost pueblo. Then there is the route from Winslow. This Arizona town has the advantage of superior hotel accommodations; so from there you may count upon starting well-fed. The third route, that from Holbrook, a smaller place thirty-three miles east of Winslow, is a direct one to Walpi. Lastly, there is the Gallup route, the longest of all, taking from three to three and a half days as against two days by either of the other roads. It it, however, the pleasantest from the standpoint of comfort and general interest, with a minimum of desert to cross and a good deal of pine forest to traverse. The latter is very lovely, especially in the autumn, when the resplendent foliage of small oaks scattered through the pines fills the woodlands with a glory of bright colour.

The Gallup road also crosses a considerable part of the great Navajo Reservation, affording the traveller a good opportunity to observe this remarkable tribe at close range. Both the Holbrook and Gallup routes present one important advantage over the other two in that their starting point is north of the Little Colorado River, the fording of which is thus avoided. This is an important

[page 175]

consideration as, in time of rains, the river is not infrequently flooded and impassable for days. As both Cañon Diablo and Winslow lie south of the Little Colorado, this possibility of the risen river's causing delay is to be reckoned with from those points.

It was with the view of including the world-famous Snake Dance at Walpi that we timed our expedition to the Hopi mesas in August. One of the few things we did know about the trip beforehand—and this was confirmed by experience—was that, even in August, we should not encounter any overwhelming heat. Everything else, however, which the midsummer elements could furnish, we had in liberal doses—including wind and cloudbursts, radiant sunshine by day and delicious nights for slumber.

We decided upon the Gallup route. We are not of the robust type of travellers, and previous experience with desert and Indians had taught us our physical limitations. We accordingly made careful provision in advance for a first-class team and competent driver, as well as for as many comforts as could be packed under the seats. On two nights of the journey we knew that lodging accommodations

[page 176]

could be had; but one other night must be spent in the open; while, as to Moqui, we knew not how we should be housed and fed there. So we included in our impedimenta two folding cots; two down quilts folded lengthwise and turned up a few inches at the side and bottom and pinned there with safety-pins, making sleeping-bags, using them by day for cushions in the carriage; a telescope satchel, containing needful changes of clothing; and a box of such provisions—delicacies and the finer grade of necessaries—as we should not likely find in Indian traders' stocks. Furthermore, to relieve the minds of anxious friends, we carried a vial of permanganate of potash crystals, for use in case of getting bitten at the Snake Dance—a very, very remote contingency.

Though one may travel forty miles without sight of a white face, there are no dangers on a trip of this kind any greater than would be met with in motoring from New York to Boston. The stock bugaboos of the tenderfoot, such as venomous snakes, Indians on the war-path, and "bad men" of the shilling shocker type, are negligible factors. Our frontier West develops in its men,

[page 177]

along with some picturesque vices, a broadness of dealing, combined with a certain chivalry where women are concerned, that makes it the safest of regions for travellers who mind their own business, and if these do not put on airs and become condescending or instructive, they will be always in the hands of their friends. At the lonely post of the white trader or in the Navajo hogan, they are welcome without charge to such board and lodging as the place affords. As one hospitable Arizonian put it to us: ‘‘Your coin don't pass here, brother; it's hard enough to have to travel this country without paying out money.’’

Nevertheless, it was somewhat of a strain on our faith when we applied at the livery stable at Gallup for the team we had arranged for some weeks in advance, to be told apologetically by the proprietor that the experienced man whom he had counted on to drive us had sprained his arm, and he would have to put us in charge of his only other driver, a seventeen-year-old boy, who had never been thirty miles from home.

‘‘But he'll pick up the way all right,’’ he continued comfortingly; ‘‘you see, you travel most of the time over the Navajo Reservation and Bob

[page 178]

talks Navajo with a regular Parisian accent. Why, when he talks, I'm here to tell you it just makes the squaws weep, he does it so good: so, if there's ever any doubt about the road, he can ask an Indian, and it's just the same as if he knew the road himself. Accommodating? Yes, sir, you bet; he'll play ball all right. He'd better; his job depends on it. He's over to Fort Defiance today with a party. That's on your road, and he starts back in the morning. So, if you're ready to hit the trail to-morrow, I'll drive you out and we'll meet him fifteen or twenty miles out; then he'll turn in with you, and I will bring his bunch of people on into Gallup. He'll deliver the goods, all right—don't you worry.’’

As there was no alternative, we did not worry, though there seemed some cause for solicitude in being put in the care of a stripling on a two hundred and fifty mile trip through a wilderness that was as unknown to him as to ourselves; and the next morning found us early on the road.

Bob, when we met him, proved to be a tall youth with a serious countenance, an olive complexion, and calf-like eyes. He wore a hat with the crown pinched up into an elevated peak, blue

[page 179]

jumper and overalls, and long-legged, yellow boots. He listened without comment as his employer delivered him his orders.

‘‘This lady and gentleman are going up to the Moqui country and will be gone three or four weeks. You are to take them. Here's twenty dollars for the expenses of the team, and if you need any more, ask the gentleman for it. If you kill one of the horses, buy another, and if you need to pay any cash down, he'll give you a bunch of money. And here's your war-bag’’ (holding up to view a small telescope some eighteen inches long). ‘‘Your mother packed it for you. There's a couple o' pair o' socks and a bunch of cigarette papers in it; that will keep you for a month. Now, you get aboard here, and adios everybody.’’

So, without more formality, the transfer of Bob was effected, and we drove off over a piñon ridge and down into a wide, solitary waste of sagebrush, where all the world was as new and fresh to us as to our first parents when they stepped forth into the great world without Eden.

It was through a country of wild beauty—that three days' trip. Every day our Jehu lost the way; but, through the goodness of Providence that

[page 180]

watches over infants, found it again; every day were hard thunder-showers of an hour or two, succeeded by a radiant glory of clearing; and every day there were such bursts of sunshine out of a turquoise sky, where huge, cumulus clouds gathered and moved in stately procession, as only the South-West knows. Wild flowers bloomed on every hand—tangles of yellow sunflowers and forests of purple cleome, sometimes as high as the horses' heads; and always ahead of us long, flat-topped mesas, bathed in soft tones of pink and mauve and amethyst, stretched themselves into the plain, beckoning us on. Hills of mystery, they seemed like the ramparts of some heavenly city let down into this world of sense, awakening in us, far from all things, the hope of all things. No wonder the old Conquistadores kept striving towards them! There is that in the alluring, warm-toned, cañon-gashed steeps that makes the presence of a pot of gold there or a pocket of precious stones seem the most natural thing in the world. Of human life, there were only occasional Navajos, men and women, always ahorseback and often driving before them great bands of sheep. Bob never missed the opportunity of intimate conversation

[page 181]

with them to assure himself of the road and the location of water for his team. For ourselves, we had in the carriage two canteens fresh-filled every morning. And, by and by, we came out of this semi-desert upon pure desert and caught our first sight of Moqui—the pueblo of Walpi, perched upon a lofty, outstretched promontory, silhouetted against a streak of light in the western sky, the long streamers of the rain descending waveringly out of black clouds upon the town.


1. They are also quite generally called Moquis (or Mokis); but this is really a term of contempt, as Dago for an Italian or Mick for an Irishman. In this book the word "Moqui" is used in its geographic sense, meaning the locality in which the Hopis live.

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter XVI. Of the Night Dance of the Shálako Gods Next: Chapter XVIII. Of the Life in Moqui; and a Hint of its Latter Day Troubles

© Arizona Board of Regents