Chapter XXV. Of What Our Government is Doing with the Pueblo

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter XXIV. Of What the United States Possesses in the Pueblo Indian—Being a Brief Summing Up Next: Chapter XXVI. Of the Future of the Pueblo, if He Has Any

[page 253]

IN considering the activities of the United States Government towards the Pueblos, it is necessary to bear in mind that the case of the Pueblos is essentially a different one from that of the at one time nomadic tribes of the plains and forests,—that is, the Reservation tribes of to-day. The latter, the red men of Fenimore Cooper and the Wild West Show, have for generations been gradually pushed off their native hunting-grounds by the ever-advancing line of the white man's settlements, have been fought and cheated, bargained with and broken faith with, until now they are as men without a country in surroundings totally different from those in which nature placed them and in which nature fitted them to live. That this aboriginal remnant should have something done for it by the race that has

[page 254]

crowded it off its earth is just, and that that something should be in the nature of an education to equip it to cope with alien conditions of life is reasonable. That, roughly summed up, is the theory of the Government's educational policy towards the Indian, and it is not within the province of this book to discuss it in practice.

The Pueblo case, however, is not that at all. A sedentary people, advanced in the arts and practices of a native civilisation, the Pueblos, thanks to Spanish prevision, have not been dispossessed of their lands; they still inhabit their Syrian-like towns, that are older than anything of white men's building on this continent, and they still till the self same ground which their fathers' fathers worked long ago, and which is hallowed to them with associations that reach back to the days when the gods walked the earth and the animals talked with men. Unlike the Plains Indians, whose main source of livelihood was the chase and who have to be taught to be farmers, the Pueblos are born agriculturists who, from inherited experience, are singularly capable of raising crops under the exacting climatic conditions of their semi-desert home. They have, of course, learned much from their association with Spaniard and Anglo-Saxon; from both they have adopted improvements, which they apply in their own way, and they are still in every respect in a position to live out their quiet, useful lives after the fashion of the red nature which the Lord of Life implanted in them. When unspoiled by too much white interference, their communities are entirely self-supporting and law-abiding, and as contented as humanity ever gets to be here below—the most picturesque and natural class of people in our artificial, dead-level, dollar-driven United States.

A man of Taos, in native dress. Sheets are worn in lieu of blankets in warm weather.

[page 255]

In the mechanical application to the Pueblos of an Indian policy which was framed for all the Indians, the Government has—to give the devil his due—done some commendable things. It has, for instance, exempted the Pueblo lands from taxation; it has sought to keep the whisky-seller away from the pueblos; and it undertakes to provide medical care for the prevention of the epidemics of such diseases as smallpox, diphtheria, measles, and the like, which, more than any other one cause, nowadays, keep down the growth of the population. On the other hand,

[page 256]

however,—and this is the crux of the case as between Government and Pueblo,—the Indian Office lumps the Pueblo with the rest of the Indians and drops him into the common educational melting-pot prepared by Congress for all red men. Day schools have been established in most of the pueblos and the children are forced into them, unless the parents prefer to send them to some boarding-school. In the more important pueblos, field matrons are quartered for the purpose of teaching housekeeping to the Pueblo women, who have been skilful housekeepers from the dawn of time; farmers, also, are sent to some to acquaint this race of farmers, who have no memory of a time when their ancestors were not farmers and who practised irrigation before any one in the United States ever heard of such a thing, how to raise corn and beans.

At Santa Fé, at Albuquerque, at Black Rock, at Keam's Cañon, large boarding-schools are maintained and paid for by the taxpayers of the United States, where white education, in part literary and in part industrial, is crammed down the young Pueblo throat in steam-heated rooms and in an atmosphere often foul to suffocation.

[page 257]

The agents of more distant schools, as at Riverside in California, Grand Junction in Colorado, Carlisle in Pennsylvania, are busy in season drumming up recruits, that their institutions, too, may have part in the same educational game. It is the boarding-schools, the more distant from the pueblo the better, that nearest meet the ideal of the Indian educator; for thereby the child is most thoroughly separated from his "tribal relations" and is more perfectly at the mercy of the Great White Father, who has so benevolently undertaken to undo the Creator's handiwork and turn these "benighted" red people into white.

When you ask the gentlemen of the Indian Office for the reason of this active onslaught of education, they will doubtless tell you, as they have told the present writer, that, in its capacity as a civilising agent, the Office has a special educational duty to discharge towards the children of these Indians, who must be prepared for the future and to adjust themselves finally as citizens to our modern civilisation. This statement appears to be part of the Office fixtures, passed down from Commissioner to Commissioner and, so far as it is not buncombe, doubtless applies well enough

[page 258]

to the Reservation Indian. It is not plain, however, that it does fit the case of the Pueblo, who is already a citizen, and quite as well able in his pueblo to take care of himself and be a useful member of society as a Shaker or a Dunkard, an Amishman, a Franciscan friar, or any other member of a score of peculiar sects in the United States who are given to clannishness of living and are freely conceded the right to do so.

As a matter of fact, the Government's educational activities towards the Pueblos are making practically to this end: the destruction of the characteristic features of a very wonderful and interesting communal life, racy of our soil, and the wiping of the Pueblos as a people out of existence. Such a proceeding is not only cruel and un-American, but it is needless; for the Pueblo has a very good system of education of his own, though it is not literary.

In the normal life of the Pueblo, the native education of the child begins as soon as it can talk, and continues daily by precept and example until it is grown; for the children are constant companions of their elders, and having no thought but to respect them, are constantly learning

[page 259]

from them. For instance, at an age when little white girls are making mud pies, their small Pueblo sisters are having just as much enjoyment in learning, of their own volition, to copy in clay the beautiful bowls and water-jars which their potter mothers are experts in making. The boys follow their fathers and grandfathers to the field, and gather with them in the estufas, or private council chambers of the men, and there little by little become familiar with the ancient traditions of their people. In the ceremonial dances which are one of the outward forms of worship practised by the Pueblos, boys and girls, sometimes hardly more than infants, take their little parts with earnestness and solemnity. So by degrees, the elements of the simple, sunny, wholesome life are acquired and the young fitted to carry it forward, if the Indian way is allowed to prevail.

But, when the Pueblo children are sent to the white school, as by hook and by crook the Government is seeing to it that they are, all this is changed as it is designed that it should be. The children are being taken at as near the age of four as they can be gotten hold of, and by being inhumanly kept away from their parents as long as possible,

[page 260]

lose, during the most formative years of their life, the advantage of the parental training and companionship. As a nation, we have never been a success at raising children, and certainly the case of this Congressional fathering of the Pueblo youth has added no lustre to our crown. I have visited every one of the Pueblo communities and have lived in several for longer or shorter periods, and I can say unqualifiedly that their most disheartening feature to-day is furnished by returned scholars. One knows the young men of this class by their short hair, their slouchy ways, and their ill manners; the girls are disposed to indolence, and distinguished by rats in their hair and peek-a-boo shirt-waists, unless they have resumed their native, comfortable, and suitable Pueblo dress.

The minds of both sexes, bright enough on subjects of Indian lore, are as a rule slow to stupidity in matters of the white man's curriculum, and it is amazing to see how little has really been assimilated in the years of labour which their generally conscientious teachers have bestowed upon them. Far from "uplifting their people"—the favourite dream of their educators—they are not only lacking in initiative, but helpless to teach what they have but imperfectly learned, and they hang around the pueblo, a positive drag upon its busy life. Rare, indeed, is it to find one at all qualified to compete with the white man in any walk of life above that of day labourer; while they have lost irretrievably years of a native education that would really have helped them in the life for which nature has peculiarly adapted them. Furthermore, these educated ones are often handicapped by a substantial start in tuberculosis, contracted in the confined life of the school; are more or less pauperised by their years of being boarded and lodged gratis, and are pretty sure to be tinctured with an assortment of white vices.

A "little mother" of the pueblo. It is a duty of the little Pueblo girls to attend their baby brothers and sisters, when the parents are busy.

[page 261]

The lot of these young people is, indeed, hard. Unfitted by nature to meet the keen competition of the white man's world, and unfitted by education for the life of the pueblo, there is nothing for them but to begin afresh and learn to live as their fathers lived, or else go to the bad generally. As a matter of fact, some follow one course, and some the other; but in either case, the net result of the American education to the Pueblo is a moral drop. The

[page 262]

elders of the Pueblos, knowing from hard experience the inevitable result, seek persistently to keep their children from the contamination of the schools; and in several instances have run the day schools from the pueblo. It is to no purpose, however, for the Government agents hunt down the children under the very skirts of their mothers, and by one argument or another secure them and pack them off to the boarding-schools.

The Government—still regarding the Pueblos as ignorant of the conditions of a fixed life as though they were Apaches or Comanches fresh from the warpath, instead of the peaceful, immemorial town-dwellers that they are—assumes furthermore that they need the white point of view in their housekeeping. Hence the field matron referred to above. Her uplifting influence is directed at the women of the pueblo, whom she is expected to instruct in the care of the house, personal cleanliness, the adornment of the home, the care of the sick, and incidentally to brighten the darkness of the "benighted" by introducing among the little folks of the Pueblos" the sports of white children."

In spite of some absurdities as regards the

[page 263]

Pueblos in the Government regulations, there is some under current of sense in the field matron's office, if it were possible to have it administered by a woman of tact and experience, in sympathy with Indian nature; for the need of better knowledge of some fundamentals of sanitation, for instance, and the care of the sick, is a real need in the pueblos. In practice, however, the field matron is a more or less conscientious lady of mature age, who may or may not speak her native tongue grammatically, and who has, as likely as not, been transferred to her pueblo from the Comanche Reservation, or the Piutes, or some other distant place, and does not in the least know the essential difference between such tribes and the Pueblos.1

[page 264]

Finding the Pueblo women leisurely with their work instead of rushing about it like victims of Americanitis, such an official sets them down as lazy; and because their dress bears the stain of the prevailing dust of the Southwest, they are, in her eyes, dirty. So, perfectly convinced that Pueblo women are as "benighted" as the authorities in Washington think they are, she proceeds to revolutionise the Pueblo household.

Take the matter of cooking, for instance: The Pueblo woman has inherited from her forbears a really admirable system of cookery, which, if the baking-powder and cheap coffee of the border whites can be kept out of it, produces results which are both simple and nutritious. There are in most households two meals a day, breakfast about ten or eleven in the morning, and supper or dinner about sunset or later, after the labours of the day are concluded. These meals are prepared in four principal ways:

First: In the open fireplace which is an essential feature of the Pueblo living-room. Here all stews are set to simmer and beans to cook in a clay cooking-pot of native make. This fireplace serves further the double purpose of insuring good ventilation in the room, and of providing a means always at hand of doing away with scraps and dirt, which the Pueblo housewife many times a day sweeps with her broom of dried grasses into the blaze of the hearth.

Piki-bread maker, Sichumovi. The bread is baked on a flat, griddle-like stone over a small fire.

[page 265]

Secondly: Upon a large, flat stone resting on four short ones and heated by a fire beneath, she bakes as upon a griddle the wafer bread of cornmeal and water, known variously as piki, héwé, or wa-yah'-vi. Folded in packets or rolled into sticks, this is a staple of Pueblo diet, sweet to the taste and not excelled in digestibility by the twice-baked breads of our modern hospitals.

Thirdly: In the New Mexico pueblos, the dome-shaped, adobe bake-ovens are a striking feature, built always outdoors, either in front of the house or on the roof. This makes it imperative for the housewife to be in the health-giving air during the entire time of heating the oven and baking the bread. In these ovens yeast-risen wheat bread is baked in an even heat with the thoroughness that distinguished

[page 266]

the loaves which our grandmothers baked in their great brick ovens.

Fourthly: In the Arizona pueblos, there is a permanent pit, sunk to the depth of a couple of feet in the ground near the house. In this the housewife builds a hot fire, and when the sides and bottoms of the pit are thoroughly heated, she takes out the embers, sets a vessel within filled with cornmeal batter, covers the mouth of the pit with a flat stone, seals it up with adobe mud, and leaves it for hours. The result is a thoroughly cooked, nutritious mush, prepared exactly on the theory of the fireless cooker of our civilisation. No better system could be desired.

The culinary methods above described serve two noteworthy ends—they insure wholesome, thorough cooking, and they conserve that open-air life essential to Indian well-being, which existence in permanent towns is prone to curtail.

Now, what generally happens when a field matron, acting under orders from Washington, gets under way, is the introduction of the American cook-stove—an article in every way unsuited to that land whose almost perpetual sunshine is ever calling to life under the sky. Then the Pueblo woman closes up her indoor fireplace, abandons her outdoor cooking-pit, kindles a furious fire in her new stove indoors, and puts into the oven a quantity of bread, which scorches on the outside while still underdone in the middle. Upon this she feeds her family, as well as with other dyspeptic matters, which are sure to follow under the tuition of the dyspeptic nation which has undertaken the uplifting of the "benighted" Pueblos. The continually close air, following upon the overheating of the room and the closing up of the self-ventilating fireplace, develops coughs and colds. Expectoration is on the floor, which remains unswept longer now that there is no convenient fireplace to brush litter into, and consumption enters. So the national work of "civilising" the Indian out of existence is helped along.

Pueblo women baking wheaten bread at the outdoor ovens.

[page 267]

I have dwelt upon the cook-stove episode at considerable length, because it affords a concrete instance of what is persistently ignored by our nation, namely, the fact that the Pueblo Indians have as systematically developed a domestic economy as we ourselves have; one which is

[page 268]

peculiarly fitted to their nature and environment; and one to which white interference is distinctly prejudicial, besides being impertinent.

What has been said of the cooking is true of other innovations which are stupidly being forced upon the Pueblos by our Government. Their distinctive dress, for instance, is as picturesque as that of the Swiss peasantry; but it has, besides picturesqueness, a side of comfort and especial adaptation to the people's habit of life, not so apparent, until studied. It is really scientific in its looseness and openness, which besides allowing the free play of the limbs in exercise, admits between the body and clothing, in a way that our dress does not, the circulation of that wonderful south-western air to whose cleansing and antiseptic qualities the Indian largely owes his health. Yet white agencies are too dense to understand this, and must needs treat the Pueblo as though he were clothed in the conventional G string and paint of savagery. His dress must be Americanised, and the beginning is with the children, who, as fast as they are rounded up in the schools, have their hair shorn, and their bodies divested of Pueblo garb and are all put into variously fitting abominations, including underclothing, of the one and only civilisation. In a community without bathtubs and laundries, living in a country where rain is the rarest of Heaven's gifts, is it any wonder that the result of such sartorial revolution is a degree of uncleanness both of body and clothing never known under the native régime, and at times unspeakable? There would be some sense in encouraging neatness and cleanliness in the native dress where laxity was apparent, but there is none at all in abolishing that perfectly adequate native attire for another designed for a people of other traditions, living under different conditions.

A little maid of Taos in native attire.

[page 269]

In every other instance which I have seen of the attempt to make this people's customs conform to white standards, the result is equally detrimental. Assuming that there is only one right way and that is our way, we have taken it for granted that these communities are undisciplined savages and, knowing nothing, must be taught what is good for them.

Nobody better understands the fundamental error of this than the Government employés at the pueblos, when they think for themselves.

[page 270]

Of course it is their business to carry out the Department regulations; but, time and time again, I have heard them deprecate the policy of sending teachers to a people like the Pueblos, who are already as good citizens as their neighbour whites. ‘‘Yet,’’ they add, ‘‘what can we do about it? The work means our bread and butter.’’

It is not the purpose of this chapter to advocate holding back any Indians who really desire to participate in the white man's education. Now and then one finds a Pueblo whose native bent is such as to enable him to assimilate something from our present-day American civilisation, just as generations ago his ancestors adopted somewhat from their Spanish conquerors' mode of life. While it is the present writer's conviction, based on observation, that even in such cases what the man loses in his lapse from native ways is greater than his gain, yet to such an one he would cordially say, ‘‘Go ahead, and if you can find anything to your liking, in jumpers and overalls and cowhide brogans, in simplified spelling and in ability to read about the latest murder in Chicago or the graft cases in San Francisco, and if with this

[page 271]

equipment you think you can beat the white man at his own trade, for goodness' sake go to school and be educated.’’ The plea made is solely for those—and they are the large majority—who do not desire this whitewash on their red skin, who protest vehemently against being trained as white men when the Lord created them red for evermore, and yet on whom the United States Government is sedulously forcing an education which in practical results experience shows to be productive of more harm to the Pueblo than good—an education which too often sharpens the young people's wits at the expense of their morals, so that they even overreach their parents. Is it any wonder that the old people resist the schools?


1. At a pueblo which the writer visited recently, he found a field matron of this sort in charge, transferred thither from an Oklahoma Reservation. She was absolutely ignorant of the Pueblo manner of life, and had from the Government a printed blanket form of instructions, which, of course, gave no hint of one Indian's differing from another. The lady was low in her spirits as to the transfer. ‘‘They won't talk any English to me hardly,’’ she complained of her new charges, ‘‘and I don't know any more Spanish than a goat.’’ To a Pueblo man who came in to do some sewing on a sewing-machine, she granted permission, but added very distinctly, so he could catch the full import, ‘‘And if you break that machine, brother, I'll string you up by the neck.’’ It is not to be inferred that her bite would have been as bad as her bark, but it seems hardly needful to comment upon the "uplifting influence" of such association upon a sensitive, amiable race like the Pueblos.

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter XXIV. Of What the United States Possesses in the Pueblo Indian—Being a Brief Summing Up Next: Chapter XXVI. Of the Future of the Pueblo, if He Has Any

© Arizona Board of Regents