Chapter VIII. Of Taos and the Way Thither


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THOUGH you are a native-born American and though you may have travelled from Maine to Florida and from New York to California, and though you may have encircled the entire globe a time or two, I wonder if you have ever heard of the Taos1 country. The chances are that you have not; yet it is one of the most delightful regions of our delightful country.

Not the least interesting part of a visit to Taos, lapped in the heart of the Southern Rockies, one hundred miles north of Santa Fé, is the getting there. The nearest railroad is the Denver & Rio Grande's Santa Fé branch, which binds Colorado's capital to New Mexico's. You leave this line at a choice of stations, Servilleta being as good as any, having first written or telegraphed the livery at Taos to meet you with a team; for the little way-station


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in the wilderness has no accommodations for travellers. A drive of thirty glorious miles is now before you, across a sunny, open mesa country, rimmed about with magnificent mountains, which the declining sun touches with fascinating colours—pink and red and wine, amethyst and violet and purple. Half-way on your journey and without warning, the highway runs out to the brink of a narrow, precipitous gorge, and six hundred feet below you, the current of the Rio Grande plunges and roars. Down it, into the depths, your team picks its way gingerly by a road cut out of the perpendicular cañon sides to meet the river and to cross it. There is a little riverside stopping-place down there where you may break your journey, if you wish; then, climbing out of the gorge by the cañon of the Arroyo Hondo, where a hurrying stream of clear mountain water flashes and bounds down among rocks, you are again upon the wide plain. Before you is the ineffable splendour of the Rockies, their sides all splashed, if it be autumn, with the orange and gold of the aspen groves, and yonder, at the mountains' foot where one cañon, the Glorieta, more noble than the rest, pours a flood of crystal water out into the plain, lies Taos.

North Pueblo, Taos. The governor stands on the uppermost roof making an announcement to the people.


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Speaking of Taos one must discriminate; for there are three of it. First in point of size, there is Fernandez de Taos, a Mexican village with its adobe houses and gardens half-hidden behind adobe walls, its picturesque lanes and its shady plaza, its shops with their signs in Spanish and its Spanish newspaper, its memories of Kit Carson, and its summer colony of Eastern artists, who find the place as foreign of atmosphere as Egypt is; then there is Ranchos de Taos, into which the first village merges in one direction; and, lastly, there is Taos pueblo, which lies a couple of miles beyond the village in another. Of the three, the oldest is the pueblo, the most northern of all pueblos and, in old times, the most exposed to harassment from the Comanches and other predatory tribes of the buffalo plains. So hard, indeed, did those savages press the Taos Pueblos, some after scalps and some after horses, that the Taos people, to save themselves from extermination, offered grants of their fertile and well-watered lands to Mexican immigrants to help keep the marauders in check. So the Mexican settlements came to be and Taos pueblo remains on the map.

The last mile of the road to the pueblo is a shady


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lane banked high with wild roses, wild plum trees, and clambering clematis. Off to one side a line of willows marks the course of a stream, and out of the tangle of bushy growths comes the music of hidden waters rippling over stones. Openings, here and there in the wild hedge, reveal little fields of wheat and tasselled corn, fringed about with masses of purple asters, yellow sunflowers, and bigelovia, and here groups of bareheaded Taos Indian men are at work, their blankets wrapped about their waists and falling to their knees, resembling skirts. This sort of attiring, combined with a fashion of wearing the hair parted in the middle, the divisions braided and hanging down in long side-locks in front of each shoulder, gives the men a remarkably feminine look. They are a tall, athletic-looking lot, as a class, however, and thoroughly masculine, though the Pueblo gentleness shows in their faces.

All this while we see nothing of any Indian village, but now a turn in the road brings us into the open and there, ahead of us, through trees, we catch sight of some outdoor threshing floors where horses, driven around and around by Indians, are treading out the grain, like the unmuzzled


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oxen of Scripture, and beyond rise the two great pyramids that constitute Taos pueblo. Between them flows a broad, never-failing stream, issuing in transparent purity out of the Glorieta Cañon at the pueblo's back. It is a poetic situation, and in the morning, when the smoke of a hundred hearth-fires rises into the crisp air, or at evening, when the mountains that look protectingly down on the peaceful village glow in the sunset like altars alight, the sight is an unforgettable one. To the scientifically inclined, Taos is fascinating as an architectural study, being, among contemporary pueblos, the most perfect specimen of the terraced style of house-building, the stories of one pyramid numbering five and of the other seven. These structures are, indeed, not communal residences in the sense of their being common to all, but rather are aboriginal apartment houses. Each family has its suite of two or three rooms opening out on its terrace, and maintains its own individual privacy of life, as though living in a separate structure.

The governing powers in Taos have very old-fashioned views as to conduct, and it is law here that all the men, whatever they may do when


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working outside, shall, within the pueblo, go without hats and shall enter no house without their blankets on. Perhaps it is this edict which has given rise to the prevalent fashion among men in summer weather of wrapping themselves in white sheets; for woollen blankets would at that season be uncomfortably warm during the daytime. White, however, is a favourite among colours and blankets of white flannel or wool are cherished possessions.

In its way, Taos is quite progressive. The hum of the sewing-machine is heard from many an open door. McCormick harvesters reap the wheat that, not long ago, was pulled by hand. Studebaker waggons and sturdy horses have largely supplanted the burro, and the postmaster at Fernandez de Taos will tell you that Taos pueblo trades by mail with the Cheyennes and Utes beyond the mountains. Yet, when Pablito Antonito went a step farther in progressiveness and, as an American citizen, appealed to the country court for redress in a dispute with a fellow Indian of Taos, he became disgraced in the eyes of the pueblo for carrying his quarrel outside. So, too, when Marquitos and Felipa, fresh returned from Carlishe—or it may have been Grand Junction or Riverside,—married and put a big American window, sash and all, in their front room, public sentiment made matters so warm for them that they had to remove it and restore the little old peep-hole which conservative Taos believes in. You may see the very window yet, where the walling-up of the enlargement is still plain. There is progress and progress.

South pueblo of Taos, early morning.


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While no Pueblo Indians, as a tribe, have ever been at war with the United States, Taos has the distinction of having been pretty close to it. There has always been a certain masterful quality in the make-up of the Taos Indians, which has made them prone to be on hand when a fight was in progress. Popé of San Juan, who headed the red rebellion of 1680, was a resident of Taos for some time before he launched the trouble, and undoubtedly had strong counselling there. In the turbulent decade or two prior to the Mexican War and the gathering of New Mexico into the fold of the United States, the co-operation of Taos Indians was often asked and obtained by the New Mexicans in the carrying out of their plots. One of the New Mexico governors, under the pre-American régime, was a Taos man, José Gonzalez (1837–8),


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and the first American governor, Bent, was murdered in cold blood as the result of a conspiracy of revolutionary Mexicans, aided by Taos Indians. Mute testimony to the avenging of this atrocity is the ruin of the old Catholic church in Taos, battered down in the attack on the pueblo by American troops seeking the murderers. All this Taos obstreperousness, however, was individual work. It is so contrary to what we know of the Pueblo mildness of character when even half-decently treated that one is inclined to believe that, at Taos, as at Santa Clara, there has been some admixture of Plains Indian blood, Comanche or Apache, and that it crops out now and again in the love of a fight.


Notes

1. Pronounced Towss.

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