Chapter V. Of the Three Pueblos of the Jemez River Valley, and Somewhat of John Paul, the Cowhead

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter IV. Of the Pueblos of the Railroad Side, Laguna and Isleta, and how Manuel Carpio Sang in the Sun Next: Chapter VI. Of Other Pueblos of the Upper Rio Grande, and how Santiago Quintana Travelled for Shells

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IT was a little after seven on a frosty October morning when the Overland deposited me at Bernalillo and I looked into the welcoming Spanish face of Juan Pablo Cabeza de Vaca, who was there in response to my telegram sent the day before. Nearby stood his team of two natty little mares and an open buggy. Juan Pablo himself was attired in his Sunday best and wore a new, wide-brimmed sombrero with a wonderful hat-band. He was about to make ten dollars or possibly fifteen, and the occasion warranted some outlay for personal adornment.

‘‘Little cold weather this morning’’, he observed affably, as we climbed into the buggy. ‘‘You want to Jemez1 —no?’’

I answered: ‘‘Yes, by way of Santa Ana and Sia.’’

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‘‘Bueno, ’’he replied, pulling on his gauntlets and picking up the lines. ‘‘Let's go!’’

Trotting jauntily through the wide, leisurely streets of the picturesque old county town, where no one was yet stirring, past the court-house, and down the shady lane behind the padre's, we came out upon a bleak little bridge that here spans the treacherous current of the Rio Grande. Crossing upon this and climbing a steep grade, we topped a broad mesa, sunburnt and wind-swept. There before us, mile upon mile, stretched white, desert sands, and far on the north horizon Cabezon lifted his dim, round head by the Rio Puerco of the Navajos.

Somewhere at our backs along the willow-fringed river, not far from where we had crossed, Coronado's army, three hundred and seventy years ago, spent their first New Mexico winter, quartering themselves in an Indian pueblo, from which the inhabitants were obliged to turn out and double up with their friends in an adjoining village. According to the Spanish chronicles, there were at that time a dozen pueblos in that vicinity, the largest being known as Tiguex. The result of an idle army of adventurers wintering in their midst

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was what the reader of American history will know without being told—first rapine and ravishment by the whites, then retaliation by the outraged Pueblos, and finally a wholesale slaughter of Indians to teach the rest a lesson.

Coronado's lieutenant, Alvarado, the first white man to see the Tiguex country, which this October morning I looked down upon, described the region as a broad plain by the river, "sown with corn plants"—a description measurably apt to-day, as Juan Pablo showed me. Pointing with his whip up-stream, where the river came flowing out of the east through yellowing willows and cottonwoods, as between ribbons of gold, he said,

‘‘You see some corn stalks? That is Ranchitos de Sant' Ana—the little ranches of Santa Ana, you say. The Sant' Ana Indians they have a summer pueblo there along the river, and raise everything they eat, because the old pueblo land back in the desert where we go, no good for crops. They haul everything back to the old pueblo to eat up in winter time; then, in the spring, move down again at the river and raise some more. Pretty soon we see people hauling corn for old pueblo. Afterwhile come winter’’ —and Juan Pablo shivered

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dramatically— ‘‘and everybody from Ranchitos go to old pueblo for stay. Lots of work that makes, no? but what else can they do? Old pueblo good for stay in. Ranchitos good for crops. You see?’’

As we passed over the next hill and down into a huge basin in the sand-dunes, waterless as Sahara, Juan Pablo's prediction was realised and we overhauled a train of laden Studebaker waggons at which teams of scrawny Indian ponies were tugging, urged on by the cracking whips of half a dozen picturesque Pueblos in flapping shirts and red bandas, plunging afoot through the sand alongside. There was a joke in the situation somewhere, and Juan Pablo and the Indians bandied it about among them with good-humoured laughter, until we left them in the rear. As the talk was an unintelligible mixture of Indian and Mexican, I could only guess how funny it was; but doubtless it was only a bit of the elemental joy of childhood, which the Pueblo Indian never outgrows.

In an hour our wheels were crunching over the broad flats of the Jemez River at Santa Ana, where the white alkali fringed the river sides like a snow-fall. Fording the thread of a stream, we mounted

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the hill past the picturesque Spanish church, and halted in the deserted pueblo. Doors were padlocked, windows boarded up, and the silence was so oppressive that even the barking of the mongrel dogs, which are the sentinels and scavengers of every live Indian village, would have been welcome.

‘‘Everybody away at Ranchitos, like I said’’, observed Juan Pablo. ‘‘You like to walk around?’’

When I returned from an uneventful pasear, Juan Pablo had found a gossip—an old Indian who, it seems, was the village caretaker in the absence of the population. He appeared anything but easy with our presence there, even the solace of a gift of tobacco failing to quiet him, and when, as we were starting away, I opened my kodak to take a picture of the village estufa, his suspicions were thoroughly awakened. He put his finger hesitatingly on the camera and, leaning into the buggy, asked in excited Spanish what we were doing.

‘‘Brujeando’’, replied Juan Pablo calmly.

The poor Indian leaped back as if he were shot, and flinging his arms up, cried, with fear depicted on every line of his countenance: ‘‘Vamos, vamos, vamos!’’

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‘‘What's it all mean?’’ I asked of Juan Pablo, as we drove off. ‘‘What did you tell him?’’

The descendant of the Cowhead grinned.

‘‘He want to know what you do with that machine. I told him you going to make witches in the pueblo. He thought I was tell' the truth and was scare'. Then he say get out!’’

Which was to be expected; for belief in witchcraft is as active an influence among Pueblo Indians to-day as it was among our own respected forbears two or three centuries ago.

That the Santa Anas should shut up their pueblo every spring and summer, as a millionaire closes his city house, transport themselves, bag and baggage, to their farming village by the river, and every autumn haul their gathered crops laboriously across ten miles of sandy, sun-scorched desert to the pueblo again, is a striking illustration of the love of home ingrained in the Indian nature. To the Yankee mind, the obvious dictate of commonsense would be to quit the worn-out desert land, and settle permanently by the river, where soil is tillable and water abundant. That would mean, however, the severance of old associations, sacred and personal, which bind their spirits mightily to the crumbling old pueblo where the desert voices call. Of course, the Pueblo, under stress, does leave his dead—the South-West is marked with ruined terraced towns, which attest his rovings long centuries since; but adverse circumstance has not yet been strong enough to make the people of Santa Ana abandon the spot where their fathers lived, died, and are buried. Thither they return not only with the winter frosts, but on occasions throughout the summer to bury their dead, and to render thanksgiving and praise to the gods of their destinies.

Saline flats of the Jemez River at Santa Ana pueblo, which lies unseen under the mesa. The pueblo farms are ten miles distant across a desert over which the crops are hauled each autumn to the home pueblo.

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From Santa Ana it is six miles or so of desert travelling to Sia, perched upon a Moqui-like promontory jutting out above the Jemez River. This is the most pathetic of all the pueblos, for it knows it is fighting extinction. The ground upon which it stands is a barren hill strewn with dark, round stones of malpais, and before it and below, extends the broad Jemez wash, winding mile after mile, leprous white with alkali, among the dunes of the desert. Far away on the north-eastern horizon stretches the long chain of the Jemez Mountains with their romance of the Cliff Dwellers' buried cities, and ancient shrines of a vanished people.

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Once among the finest and most populous of all the pueblos, according to the chronicles of the Conquistadores, who set it down as Chia, Sia is now desolate, its population dwindled through wars and epidemics to a bare hundred, its buildings in partial ruin, and its light all but gone out. As we drove in, the Governor, a fine-looking man in orthodox Pueblo costume—flapping, white, cotton trousers and cotton shirt, worn blouse-like outside of them, his head encircled with a red banda and without a hat, his feet encased in home-made moccasins—came down to meet us and shook hands hospitably. Most of the dwellings are tenantless and, to the casual visitor, the place seems hopelessly lifeless and uninteresting. Yet here in moribund Sia a Government ethnologist, not long ago, spent a year with the richest results, enabling her to write one of the most illuminating and readable scientific reports extant upon any of the Pueblo communities.2

Apart from the pueblo at the foot of the mesa, stands a small American building with a flagstaff before it, betokening a schoolhouse. Government Indian teachers, in my experience, are rather curt towards self-invited visitors; but the one at Sia, to my surprise, proved to be a real lady, who extended me, stranger that I was, as cordial a welcome as any Pueblo ever offered me, and that is the best praise I know. Moreover, she possessed unusual qualification, by virtue of sympathy with Pueblo Indian nature, to teach this sensitive people.

Ysidro, Governor of Sia, in native attire.

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‘‘But it is sad business teaching here at Sia,’’ she remarked, ‘‘and watching the dying of a race. They are so reduced in numbers, it is no longer possible for them to keep up their institutions and their healthfulness in the way their traditions require them to do; yet they would rather die out as Sias than amalgamate with another pueblo. The Santa Ana people would like them to go over there, which would seem a sensible course, strengthening both peoples; but the Sias cannot bring themselves to the surrender. It shows a fine spirit, I think, and I cannot help honouring them for it, suicidal as it is. At evening, as I sit here on my porch, looking up at the pueblo there, I often watch the old men walk along to that point jutting into the river, and there they stand for the longest time, looking pathetically out over the desert and up and down the river, until the darkness

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shuts down on them. I always wonder what their thoughts are: whether it is despair brooding over a prosperous past—for Sia was a great pueblo once—or hope in some promised saviour of their people, whose coming may any time gladden their eyes. But I am afraid it is only despair.’’

The sun was near its setting as our brisk little team splashed through the swift waters of the upper Jemez River, seven miles beyond Sia, and bore us into Jemez Pueblo, a homelike village with a picturesque setting of mountains at its back and a pleasant green valley dropping away before it. The peaceful evening scene was typical Pueblo. The smoke from indoor fires, where the evening meals were preparing, rose straight from scores of chimneys into the sweet, still air; fathers and grandfathers sat at their doorways, nursing little red babies as tenderly as ever women did, for to the masculine Indian heart nothing is more precious than the dimpled flesh of childhood; girls, bearing water-jars upon their heads, pattered into the pueblo from the river, and glad burros, discharged of their burdens, tripped it lightly into their corrals. In the street before many houses men were chopping wood, while from open doors

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came the pleasant hum of the metate and the fragrance of grinding corn; and through all rippled the soft laughter of romping children, mingled, now and then, with a scrap of song from some grown-up's lips.

Jemez enjoys the blessing of a bountiful water supply, which issues from the cañons at its back. Fruit orchards and vineyards extend down to the river side, so that the menus of Jemez are as varied as Isleta's, and in good years there is a surplus of agricultural products to sell. To the tourist, a picturesque feature of the pueblo is an establishment of Franciscan Brothers, set up here for the conversion of the Indians, both Pueblo and Navajo, in that corner of New Mexico. The Brothers, clad in their brown gowns and cowls and wearing the white cord of the order around their waists, work in the fields and about the mission buildings, and help us to picture that early day of the Spanish occupancy which was for the avowed purpose of seeing "that the Indians should become Christians and know the true God for their Lord and His Majesty the King of Spain for their earthly sovereign." In return for their spiritual offices, the Brothers collect from the Indians a tax in kind—that

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is, chili, wheat, corn, etc.—which is readily converted into money at the trader's.

The trader, who has a room or two at the disposal of travellers, was eloquent to me in his estimation of his red clientèle. He said that, in the thirty years he had lived in the neighbourhood, he had never heard of a man being killed in Jemez pueblo,—a record not likely to be equalled in any American town of the same size, he thought.

‘‘Of course’’, he remarked, ‘‘

they have their spats; but they talk it out, make up, and forget about it. When it comes to farming, they are just natural-born farmers and irrigators. There was a government farmer here, paid to teach them; but he couldn't tell them much that would stick. And when it comes to work in irrigating land, no white man can stand up with them. The Indians just take off all their clothes, except a breech-clout, and wade right in. There is nothing about water that buffaloes them and they don't want no dinky hoe, neither. Why, bless you! you can't get a hoe too big for them. There was an old scoop shovel that I had here, lying about the place, which was just naturally rusting away, and one of them Indians come in one day and asked me if I wouldn't

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let him have it. I said: ‘‘Why, what in thunder do you want of that?’’ ‘‘Why,’’ he says, ‘‘it's 'ueno for hoe.’’ Why, you know, the thing was nearly three feet across and I couldn't see how he could lift it; but he could and, next thing I knew, he'd made a peach of a hoe out of it.

Religious? Well, they don't mind belongin' to the Catholic Church. You see, the Catholics don't particularly interfere with their native religion, which is the only religion that really goes down with them, and they never let up on that. All through the year, they have their own religious dances. There is one that comes in January that would pay you to come out to see. It is a dance of animals—buffaloes, antelopes, and turkeys. They call it 'Los Reyes'—that's Spanish for Kings. There is a story that once some dancers, way back, turned into animals, and these Jemez folks think that they are liable to come home every year; so they go out at the time of this dance early in the morning, before sunrise, and after watching a bit on the mesa back of the pueblo, they come down to the plaza and dance all day. Every morning there's something doing out on that mesa, I think; because the Indian priests go up

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there and what goes on we white folks don't know; but it has something to do with their religion. The Presbyterians started a mission here once and they sure worked hard for several years; but all it netted them was one convert. He was a blacksmith here—was n't no good, anyhow, and finally stole a man's gun and got arrested, and then the Presbyterians excommunicated him. After that, they decided to let Jemez go to Hades its own way.

Drinking? Well, of course they do some drinking; but it is mostly their own wine. They have lots of vineyards around here and make wine and barrel it up, and as long as it lasts, of course, they drink it. But I don't know as it harms them much. It certainly is n't as bad as sulphuric acid whiskey that they would get from the bootleggers. The big fiesta that they have on the twelfth of November, which is their Saint's Day, is very apt to wind up in a jollification when they all get drunk, and I suppose it would be better if they did n't; but I don't know how it is going to be stopped. That is a big show—you ought to see it: all sorts here,—Navajos, Apaches, Mexicans, and Indians from other pueblos.


Shortly after supper, the trader closed up his

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store and he and I adjourned to his living room to enjoy the warmth of an open wood fire. There we were joined by an itinerant chili buyer who had been over at the Brothers' house negotiating for their stock of chili.

‘‘They're sports all right’’, he said, as he bit off the end of a cigar and stretched out his feet toward the grateful warmth. ‘‘They don't stand on no two-and-a-half cents a string like some folks I know ’’(with a wink at me and a jerk of his head toward the imperturbable trader), ‘‘and they always set out a bottle of wine.’’

‘‘You bet these Pueblo Indians ain't half a bad lot’’, said the trader, as though he had not heard. ‘‘I say they're one o' the best assets that this country has. They're hard workers by night just the same as by day, when the moon's right an' the crops need it; and then, when they can be spared from the pueblo, lots of 'em go up to Colorado and work in the fields there at wages. I sometimes think they just naturally like to work, the way they joke and laugh about it when a white man 'd just swear and sweat sulphur; but, say, they sure are funny to trade with. You know, it's Indian nature to be close-mouthed. If you

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want to get any information out of an Indian, it's no use asking him straight questions like you would a white man. He just plumb shuts up. And it's the same way when he comes to trade with you. You got to let him tell what he has to tell when he's ready. Just for instance—one come into the store to-day and asked for a spool o' thread. I knew it was n't no use to ask him what kind of thread he wanted; so I guessed black fifty and set it out. He shook his head and said he wanted big thread. So I guessed again and put out black number eight. ‘‘No bueno, ’’he said and handed it back. ‘‘Blanco, ’’he says, meaning white. So I handed him out a spool o' white thread and that stuck. You see, that took up about five minutes of my time and his; but it was interestin' and time's nothing to an Indian.’’

Eagle cage on housetop, Jemez. Eagles are kept in captivity for the sake of the feathers for ceremonial use.


1. Pronounced Hā'-mess.

2. The Sia, by Matilda Coxe Stevenson.

Up: Contents Previous: Chapter IV. Of the Pueblos of the Railroad Side, Laguna and Isleta, and how Manuel Carpio Sang in the Sun Next: Chapter VI. Of Other Pueblos of the Upper Rio Grande, and how Santiago Quintana Travelled for Shells

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