Chapter IV. Of the Pueblos of the Railroad Side, Laguna and Isleta, and how Manuel Carpio Sang in the Sun


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YOU will find them both rather prosy after Acoma; but if you want a glimpse of Pueblo life at a minimum of exertion to yourself, you may have it at either Laguna or Isleta. These are both stations on the Santa Fé Railway, and the traveller has but to step from the train and walk a few rods to be within either pueblo.

If you know a bit of Spanish, you will remember that laguna means a lagoon or lake, and you wonder at such a name for this village, founded on a rock-bound knoll, with not even a duck pond in the surrounding plain. It seems, however, that in olden times, there was really a marshy lake there, due originally to the constriction of the channel of the neighbouring little Rio de San José


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by a lava-flow, supplemented by the work of beavers, which industriously dammed the narrows. The river waters, thus held back, spread out in the form of a lagoon, and hither about the end of the seventeenth century came certain pioneering Pueblos from various villages in the neighbourhood of Santa Fé and set up a new pueblo which was called—and is still called in the Laguna tongue—Kow-ike, meaning, they say, a lake. This unmusical name did not suit the Spanish, who, when they visited the pueblo to exact its oath of vassalage to his Catholic Cæsarian Majesty, the King of Spain, redubbed it, ‘‘San José de la Laguna’’. The proximity of humanity was not agreeable to the beavers which, in the course of time, levanted and left their dams to the Pueblos to maintain. As the latter liked the lake, they accepted the legacy of the beavers and kept up the dams for several generations. About half a century ago, however, internal dissension developed in the community, and while the disputing continued, the communal work was neglected. When peace returned, the lake was gone for ever—vanished through breaches unrepaired.

Laguna enjoys the distinction of being the first


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pueblo to have had a white teacher appointed to it by the United States Government. That was in 1871, and this pueblo has ever since been pretty much under the thumb of the white educationists. A white man, Robert G. Marmon, was even elected governor of the pueblo at one time, and under the irreverent hand of American domination, one old-time custom after another has been swept into the ash-bin. Whatever essential good, if any, may have accrued to Laguna from all this, it cannot be said that it has helped Laguna's manners, if the experience of Sylvia and myself is any criterion; for in no other pueblo were we so thoroughly given the cold shoulder as here, and we visited it several times. Sour looks and turned backs were the features of our reception at most houses, instead of the smile and hospitable "entra" which the average Pueblo extends to a visitor.

‘‘Oh, yes, we've spoiled them both with ill-considered philanthropy and continually dumping impertinent tourists on them from the railroad here to pester them out of their lives," remarked an artist whom we encountered at the outskirts of the village, at work under a big umbrella; for


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Laguna, with its rambling, hilly streets and skyey vistas, is full of picturesque bits for the folk of the brush; "if I were king for a day, I'd have a tight stockade built about every pueblo and put St. Peter at the gate to keep out all school teachers and missionaries whatsoever, and every tourist who had not passed a previous examination in good manners’’1

To Isleta the railway pays the especial compliment of there stopping even its transcontinental limited trains, and travellers are thus afforded a leisurely look at the pueblo and an opportunity to buy pottery and fruit from the picturesque Isleta girls, who, at train time, flock about the station platform with their commodities. The Isleteños are enterprising traffickers and, in a small way, commercial travellers. Not depending on the buyers that come to them, they quite regularly make up bundles of the small pottery knickknackery which tourists love, and boarding the train, travel up to Albuquerque where the chances of sale are more numerous than at Isleta. Isleta pottery, by the way, is only good enough for tourists. The clay of the neighbourhood is not of the kind that makes first-class were, and so, for their own use, the Isletas buy the jars of Acoma.

Pottery seller, Isleta.


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In a land of poco tiempo, like New Mexico, there are more appropriate methods of travel than by train, and if you are at Albuquerque and have a day and six or seven dollars to spare, you will be doing the sensible thing by getting a team, putting a luncheon in your pocket, and driving the dozen miles or so to the pueblo. Do not have a driver; there is no danger of missing the way, and I never knew a hired driver yet that did not spoil a trip—he is always in such haste to get it over. The road is a broad highway skirting the wide waters of the Rio Grande, and is one of the most picturesque in all the South-West, particularly in the late autumn, when the great cottonwoods, in their yellow glory, are lifted against the blue sky like gold on turquoise.


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So, one morning, through the delicious October sunshine did Sylvia and I fare to Isleta, traversing a typical New Mexico farming country, where drying chili-peppers streaked the landscape with scarlet, and ragged shepherds tended bands of sheep. Now and again we jogged through quaint adobe villages, mellowed by time's kindly touch and embowered in trees and shrubbery; and where, about the store porches, groups of Mexicans were lounging picturesquely in the genial sunshine and perhaps, thinking a bit of what they should do on the morrow; for that day was too good to waste in work. Other travellers passed us on the way to Albuquerque, and men driving burros laden with boxes of country produce touched their hats to us and wished us ‘‘Buenos dias. ’’Once a Mexican wedding party filed past us—a string of buggies, farm waggons, and other nondescript vehicles. In the lead were the bride and groom in a buggy to themselves, she looking seriously into a bouquet in her hand and he silently regarding the road between the horse's ears, while the end of the procession was brought up by an open spring waggon in which the orchestra—a violin, a flute, and guitar—sat in chairs and weightily smoked cigarritos.


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It was a taciturn company altogether, and we wondered if there had been a hitch in the proceedings or if it was the fashion with Mexican weddings to begin thus solemnly.

It was the time of the corn harvest and we found Isleta literally buried under the drying ears of many colours, spread out to sun upon the roofs, and in the little plazitas before the houses, each plazita with a neat pathway to the door, left in the midst of the corn. We asked a woman looking out from a doorway for permission to photograph her yard full of corn, and she nodded acquiescence, backing into the shadow of the room. As we wanted her also in the picture, we invited her into the light; but she still held back. American-like, I thought she wanted to be paid.

‘‘Diez centavos, ’’said I, holding out a dime.

‘‘No quiero, ’’from the darkness.

‘‘Dos reales, ’’I bid up, showing a quarter.

‘‘I no wish’’, repeated the darkness.

Then Sylvia stepped into the doorway and, taking a seat that was hospitably proffered, explained carefully our desire to make the picture complete with an Isleta figure. Then the truth came out. The woman, it seems, did not live in


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that house; she was only a visitor and it was not right for her to have her picture taken in another woman's house. By and by, the other woman would come home and maybe she would let us photograph her in the door; for it was her own house and that would be proper.

‘‘But me, no,’’ concluded the woman in a tone that showed further parley hopeless.

On its architectural side, Isleta differs markedly from the conventional pueblo, being built liberally over a wide space, with great trees in and around it, and the houses, as a rule, are of but one story instead of being terraced. They are neat and comfortable homes, furnished more or less on the American plan, with bedsteads, tables, and chairs, and now and then a chest of drawers. In most, however, an Indian flavour is preserved by Navajo rugs spread upon the floors or folded as mattresses upon benches extending along the whitewashed walls. The Isleteños are a thrifty community and everything about their pueblo betokens it. Proud and independent, they are, nevertheless, not averse to American innovations of a certain sort, when convinced of their suitability to Isleta, and they know as much as you and I about mowing-machines, for instance, and baling alfalfa. Like all Pueblos, they work literally night and day when the crops demand it; when nothing is pressing they have abundant leisure and know how to enjoy it.

The estufa, pueblo of Isleta.


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This explains our finding old Manuel Carpio seated in his American chair in the sunshine of his plazita, singing an aboriginal ditty at midday. His corn was all in the house; his melons were sliced and drying on the roof or jacketed in yucca strips and swinging from the rafters indoors to keep till winter; his chili-peppers were sunning in a vivid row above the door; and had not his wife, at that very moment, four fat sacks of wheat safe in the little black storeroom where her wafer-bread stones were set? There was something to sing about; why should he not sing? Seeing us looking through his bit of wicket gate, he beckoned us within, called to his wife to fetch two more chairs, and proceeded to find out, as well as our lame Spanish would let him, where we came from, where we were going, and how much Sylvia would take for the fur boa which she wore about her shoulders and which was evidently very lovely in the eyes of both Manuel and his


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spouse, for their eyes glistened as they handed it from one to the other, stroking it longingly.

We shall always think of Isleta as a very honest place; for, on leaving the Carpio home, Sylvia forgot the boa, and before she had discovered the loss, behold Martinita running laughingly down the street after us, holding out the coveted article in her hand. Her Pueblo nature had merely seen a great joke in what another might have seized as an opportunity for theft of a coveted treasure.2


Notes

1. . Besides their main pueblo of Laguna, these Indians maintain half a dozen farming villages in the neighbourhood, viz.: Seama, Pahuate, Paraje, Mesita, Casa Blanca, and Santana, established to enable the people to be near certain tracts of cultivated land. The jurisdiction of the governor and council at Laguna extends over all these outlying villages, the inhabitants of which consider the mother pueblo their official home and repair thither, from time to time, for the joint celebration of native religious ceremonies. I am indebted to John M. Gunn of Laguna for several facts as to the pueblo and its history, given in this chapter.

2. Isleta has been given a special place in literature through the delightful stories of Charles F. Lummis, who spent some years as an inhabitant of the village and had unusual opportunities to become acquainted with the inner life of this most interesting people. With unusual sympathy he has given expression to this life in several of his books—notably A New Mexico David, and Pueblo Indian Folk Stories.

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter III. Of what Befell Us under the Rock of Acoma, and how We Turned Cliff Dwellers Next: Chapter V. Of the Three Pueblos of the Jemez River Valley, and Somewhat of John Paul, the Cowhead




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