COMMERCE OF THE PRAIRIES, by Josiah Gregg: Volume I



Geographical Position of New Mexico — Absence of Navigable Streams — The Rio del Norte — Romantic Chasm — Story of a sunken River — Mr. Stanley's Excursion to a famous Lake — Santa Fe and its Localities — El Valle de Taos and its Fertility — Soil of N. Mexico — The first Settler at Taos and his Contract with the Indians — Salubrity and Pleasantness of the Climate of New Mexico — Population — State of Agriculture — Staple Productions of the Country — Corn-fields and Fences — Irrigation and Acequias — Tortillas and Tortilleras — Atole, Frijoles and Chile —Singular Custom — Culinary and Table Affairs — Flax and the Potato indigenous — Tobacco and Punche — Fruits — Peculiar Mode of cultivating the Grape — Forest Growths — Pinon and Mezquite — Mountain Cottonwood — Palmilla or Soap-plant — Pasturage.

     NEW MEXICO possesses but few of those natural advantages, which are necessary to anything like a rapid progress in civilization. Though bounded north and east by the territory of the United States, south by that of Texas and Chihuahua, and west by Upper California, it is surrounded by chains of mountains and prairie wilds, extending to a distance of 500 miles or more, except in the direction of Chihuahua, from which its settlements are separated by an unpeopled desert of nearly two hundred miles — and without a single means of communication by water with any other part of the world.


     The whole nominal territory, including those bleak and uninhabitable regions with which it is intersected, comprises about 200,000 square miles — considered, of course, according to its original boundaries, and therefore independently of the claims of Texas to the Rio del Norte. To whichsoever sovereignty that section of land may eventually belong, that portion of it, at least, which is inhabited, should remain united. Any attempt on the part of Texas to make the Rio del Norte the line of demarcation would greatly retard her ultimate acquisition of the territory, as it would leave at least one third of the population accustomed to the same rule, and bound by ties of consanguinity and affinity of customs wholly at the mercy of the contiguous hordes of savages, that inhabit the Cordilleras on the west of them. This great chain of mountains which reaches the borders of the Rio del Norte, not far above El Paso, would, in my opinion, form the most natural boundary between the two countries, from thence northward.

     There is not a single navigable stream to be found in New Mexico. The famous Rio del Norte is so shallow, for the most part of the year, that Indian canoes can scarcely float in it. Its navigation is also obstructed by frequent shoals and rippling sections for a distance of more than a thousand miles below Santa Fe. Opposite Taos, especially, for an uninterrupted distance of nearly fifteen miles, it runs pent up in a deep canon, through which

Page 139 — CHASM.

it rushes in rapid torrents. This frightful chasm is absolutely impassable; and, viewed from the top, the scene is imposing in the extreme. None but the boldest hearts and firmest nerves can venture to its brink, and look down its almost perpendicular precipice, over projecting crags and deep crevices, upon the foaming current of the river, which, in some places, appears like a small rippling brook; while in others it winds its serpentine course silently but majestically along, through a narrow little valley; with immense plains bordering and expanding in every direction, yet so smooth and level that the course of the river is not perceived till within a few yards of the verge. I have beheld this canon from the summit of a mountain, over which the road passes some twenty miles below Taos, from whence it looks like the mere fissure of an insignificant ravine.

     Baron Humboldt speaks of an extraordinary event as having occurred in 1752, of which he says the inhabitants of Paso del Norte still preserved the recollection in his day. "The whole bed of the river," says the learned historian, "became dry all of a sudden, for more than thirty leagues above and twenty leagues below the Paso: and the water of the river precipitated itself into a newly formed chasm, and only made its reappearance near the Presidio of San Eleazeario.... At length, after the lapse of several weeks, the water resumed its course, no doubt because the chasm and the subterraneous con-

Page 140 — RIO DEL NORTE.

ductors had filled up." This, I must confess, savors considerably of the marvellous, as not the least knowledge of these facts appears to have been handed down to the present generation. During very great droughts, however, this river is said to have entirely disappeared in the sand, in some places, between San Elceario and the Presidio del Norte.

     Notwithstanding the numerous tributary streams which would be supposed to pour their contents into the Rio del Norte, very few reach their destination before they are completely exhausted. Rio Puerco, so called from the extreme muddiness of its waters, would seem to form an exception to this rule. Yet this also, although at least a hundred miles in length, is dry at the mouth for a portion of the year. The creek of Santa Fe itself, though a bold and dashing rivulet in the immediate vicinity of the mountains, sinks into insignificance, and is frequently lost altogether before it reaches the main river. Pecos and Conchos, its most important inlets, would scarcely be entitled to a passing remark, but for the geographical error of Baron Humboldt, who set down the former as the head branch of 'Red River of Natchitoches.' These streams may be considered the first constant-flowing inlets which the Rio del Norte receives from Santa Fe south — say for the distance of five hundred miles! It is then no wonder that this 'Great River of the North' decreases in volume of water as it descends. In fact, above the region of tide-water, it is al-


most everywhere fordable during most of the year, being seldom over knee-deep, except at the time of freshets. Its banks are generally very low, often less than ten feet above low water mark; and yet, owing to the disproportioned width of the channel (which is generally three or four hundred yards), it is not subject to inundations. Its only important rises are those of the annual freshets, occasioned by the melting of the snow in the mountains.

     This river is only known to the inhabitants of Northern Mexico as Rio del Norte, or North river, because it descends from that direction; yet in its passage southward, it is in some places called Rio Grande, on account of its extent; but the name of Rio Bravo (Bold or Rapid river), so often given to it on maps, is seldom if ever heard among the people. Though its entire length, following its meanders from its source in the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, must be considerably over two thousand miles, it is hardly navigable to the extent of two hundred miles above its mouth.

     The head branch of Pecos, as well as the creeks of Santa Fe and Tezuque, are said to be fed from a little lake which is located on the summit of a mountain about ten miles east of Santa Fe. Manifold and marvellous are the stories related of this lake and its wonderful localities, which although believed to be at least greatly exaggerated, would no doubt induce numbers of travellers to visit this


snow-bound elysium, were it not for the laboriousness of the ascent. The following graphic account of a 'pleasure excursion' to this celebrated 'watering place,' is from the memoranda of Mr. E. Stanley, who spent many years in the New Mexican capital.

     "The snow had entirely disappeared from the top of the highest mountains, as seen from Santa Fe before the first of May, and on the eighteenth we set off on our trip. All were furnished with arms and fishing-tackle — well prepared to carry on hostilities both by land and water. Game was said to be abundant on the way — deer, turkeys, and even the formidable grizzly bear, ready to repel any invasion of his hereditary domain. Santa Fe creek, we knew, abounded with trout, and we were in hopes of finding them in the lake, although I had been told by some Mexicans, that there were no fish in it, and that it contained no living thing, except a certain nondescript and hideously misshapen little animal. We travelled up the course of the creek about eight miles, and then began to climb the mountain. Our journey now became laborious, the ascent being by no means gradual — rather a succession of hills some long, others short — some declivitous, and others extremely precipitous. Continuing in this way for six or seven miles, we came to a grove of aspen, thick as cottonwoods in the Missouri bottoms. Through this grove, which extended for nearly a mile, no sound met the ear; no sign of life — not even an insect was

Page 143 — SANTA FE.

to be seen; and not a breath of air was stirring. It was indeed a solitude to be felt. A mile beyond the grove brought us near the lake. On this last level, we unexpectedly met with occasional snow-banks, some of them still two or three feet deep. Being late, we sought out a suitable encampment, and fixed upon a little marshy prairie, east of the lake. The night was frosty and cold, and ice was frozen nearly an inch thick. Next morning we proceeded to the lake; when, lo — instead of beholding a beautiful sheet of water, we found an ugly little pond, with an area of two or three acres frozen over, and one side covered with snow several feet deep. Thus all our hope of trout and monsters were at an end; and the tracks of a large bear in the snow, were all the game we saw during the trip."

     SANTA FE, the capital of New Mexico, is the only town of any importance in the province. We sometimes find it written Santa Fe de San Francisco (Holy Faith of St. Francis), the latter being the patron, or tutelary saint. Like most of the towns in this section of country it occupies the site of an ancient Pueblo or Indian village, whose race has been extinct for a great many years. Its situation is twelve or fifteen miles east of the Rio del Norte, at the western base of a snow-clad mountain, upon a beautiful stream of small mill-power size, which ripples down in icy cascades, and joins the river some twenty miles to the southwestward. The population of the city itself


but little exceeds 3000; yet, including several surrounding villages which are embraced in its corporate jurisdiction, it amounts to nearly 6,000 souls.*

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* The latitude of Santa Fe, as determined by various observations, is 35° 41' (though it is placed on most maps nearly a degree further north); `and the longitude about 106° west from Greenwich. Its elevation above the ocean is nearly 7,000 feet; that of the valley of Taos is no doubt over a mile and a half. The highest peak of the mountain (which is covered with perennial snow) some ten miles to the northeast of the capital, is reckoned about 5,000 feet above the town. Those from Taos northward rise still to a much greater elevation.

     The town is very irregularly laid out, and most of the streets are little better than common highways traversing scattered settlements which are interspersed with corn-fields nearly sufficient to supply the inhabitants with grain. The only attempt at anything like architectural compactness and precision, consists in four tiers of buildings, whose fronts are shaded with a fringe of portales or corredores of the rudest possible description. They stand around the public square, and comprise the Palacio, or Governor's house, the Custom-house, the Barracks (with which is connected the fearful Calabozo), the Casa Consistorial of the Alcaldes, the Capills de los Soldados or Military Chapel, besides several private residences, as well as most of the shops of the American traders.

     The population of New Mexico is almost exclusively confined to towns and villages, the suburbs of which are generally farms. Even most of the individual ranchos and haciendas have grown into villages, — a result al-

Page 145 — VALLEY OF TAOS.

most indispensable for protection against the marauding savages of the surrounding wilderness. The principal of these settlements are located in the valley of the Rio Del Norte, extending from nearly one hundred miles north to about one hundred and forty south of Santa Fe.* The most important of these, next to the capital, is El Valle de Taos,** so called in honor of the Taosa tribe of Indians, a remnant of whom still forms a Pueblo in the north of the valley. No part of New Mexico equals this valley in amenity of soil, richness of produce and beauty of appearance. Whatever is thrown into its prolific bosom, which the nearly frosts of autumn will permit to ripen, grows to a wonderful degree of perfection.

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* The settlements up the river from the capital are collectively known as Rio-Arriba, and those down the river as Rio Abaja. The latter comprises over a third of the population, and the principal wealth of New Mexico.
** The 'Valley of Taos,' there being no town of this name. It includes several villages and other settlements, the largest of which are Fernandez and Los Ranchos, four or five miles apart.

     Wheat especially has been produced of a superlative quality, and in such abundance, that as is asserted, the crops have often yielded over a hundred fold. I would not have it understood, however that is a fair sample of New Mexican soil; for, in point of fact, though many of the bottoms are of very fertile character, the uplands must chiefly remain unproductive; owing, in part, to the sterility of the soil, but as much, no doubt, to want of irrigations; hence nearly all the farms and settlements are located in those valleys which may be watered by some constant-flowing stream.*

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* For the generally barren and desolate appearance which the uplands of New Mexico present, some of them have possessed an extraordinary degree of fertility; as is demonstrated by the fact that many of the fields on the undulating lands in the suburbs of Santa Fe, have no doubt been in constant cultivation over two hundred years, and yet produce tolerable crops, without having been once renovated by manure.


     The first settler of the charming valley of Taos, since the country was reconquered from the Indians, is said to have been a Spaniard named Pando, about the middle of the eighteenth century. This pioneer of the North, finding himself greatly exposed to the depredations of the Comanches, succeeded in gaining the friendship of that tribe, by promising his infant daughter, then a beautiful child, to one of their chiefs in marriage. But the unwilling maiden having subsequently refused to ratify the contract, the settlement was immediately attacked by the savages, and all were slain except the betrothed damsel who was led into captivity. After living some years with the Comanches on the great prairies, she was bartered away to the Pawnees, of whom she was eventually purchased by a Frenchman of St. Louis. Some very respectable families in that city are descended from her; and there are many people yet living who remember with what affecting pathos the old lady was wont to tell her tale of woe. She died but a few years ago.

     Salubrity of climate is decidedly the most interesting feature in the character of New


Mexico. Nowhere — not even under the much boasted Sicilian skies can a purer or a more wholesome atmosphere be found. Bilious diseases — the great scourge of the valley of the Mississippi — are here almost unknown. Apart from a fatal epidemic fever of a typhoid character, that ravaged the whole province from 1837 to 1839, and which, added to the smallpox that followed in 1840, carried off nearly ten per cent of the population, New Mexico has experienced very little disease of a febrile character; so that as great a degree of longevity is attained there, perhaps, as in any other portion of the habitable world. Persons withered almost to mummies, are to be encountered occasionally, whose extraordinary age is only to be inferred from their recollection of certain notable events which have taken place in times far remote.

     A sultry day, from Santa Fe north, is of very rare occurrence. The summer nights are usually so cool and pleasant that a pair of blankets constitutes an article of comfort seldom dispensed with. The winters are long, but not so subject to sudden changes as in damper climates; the general range of the thermometer, throughout the year, being from 10 to 75 degrees above zero, of Fahrenheit. Baron Humboldt was led into as great an error with respect to the climate of New Mexico as to the rivers; for he remarks, that near Santa Fe and a little further north, "the Rio del Norte is sometimes covered for a succession of several years, with ice thick enough to admit the

Page 148 — RAINY SEASON.

passage of horses and carriages:" a circumstance which would be scarcely less astounding to the New Mexicans, than would the occurrence of a similar event in the harbor of New York be to her citizens.

     The great elevation of all the plains about the Rocky Mountains, is perhaps the principal cause of the extraordinary dryness of the atmosphere. There is but little rain throughout the year, except from July to October — known as the rainy season; and as the Missouri traders usually arrive about its commencement, the coincidence has given rise to a superstition, quite prevalent among the vulgar, that the Americans bring the rain with them. During seasons of drought, especially, they look for the arrival of the annual caravans as the harbinger of speedy relief.

     There has never been an accurate census taken in New Mexico. Of the results of one which was attempted in 1832, the Secretary of State at Santa Fe speaks in the following terms: "At present (1841) we may estimate the Spanish or white population at about (50,000 souls or more, being what remains of 72,000, which the census taken seven or eight years ago showed there then existed in New Mexico." He supposes that this great diminution resulted from the ravages of the frightful diseases already alluded to. The decrease of population from these causes, however, is thus greatly overrated. The discrepancy must find its explanation in the original inaccuracy of the census referred to.

Page 149 — POPULATION.

     If we exclude the unsubjugated savages, the entire population of New Mexico, including the Pueblo Indians, cannot be set down, according to the best estimates I have been able to obtain, at more than 70,000 souls. These may be divided as follows: white creoles, say 1,000; Mestizos, or mixed creoles, 59,000; and Pueblos, 10,000. of naturalized citizens, the number is inconsiderable, scarcely twenty; and if we except transient traders, there are not over double as many alien residents. There are no negroes in New Mexico, and consequently neither mulattoes nor zambos. In 1803, Baron Humboldt set down the population of this province at 40,200, so that according to this the increase for forty years has barely exceeded one per cent. per annum.

     Agriculture, like almost everything else in New Mexico, is in a very primitive and unimproved state. A great portion of the peasantry cultivate with the hoe alone — their plows (when they have any) being only used for mellow grounds, as they are too rudely constructed to be fit for any other service. Those I have seen in use are mostly fashioned in this manner: — a section of the trunk of a tree, eight or ten inches in diameter, is cut about two feet long, with a small branch left projecting upwards, of convenient length for a handle. With this a beam is connected to which oxen are yoked. The block, with its fore end sloped downwards to a point, runs flat, and opens a furrow similar to that of


the common shovel plow. What is equally worthy of remark is, that these plows are often made exclusively of wood, without one particle of iron, or even a nail to increase their durability. The labores and milpas (cultivated fields) are often, indeed most usually, without any enclosure. The owners of cattle are obliged to keep herdsmen constantly with them, else graze them at a considerable distance from the farms; for if any trespass is committed upon the fields by stock, the proprietor of the latter is bound to pay damages: therefore, instead of the cultivator's having to guard his crop from the cattle as with us, the owners of these are bound to guard them from the crops. Only a chance arm is seen fenced with poles scattered along on forks, or a loose hedge of brush. Mud-fences, or walls of very large adobes, are also occasionally to be met with.

     The necessity of irrigation has confined, and no doubt will continue to confine agriculture principally to the valleys of the constant-flowing streams. In some places the crops are frequently cut short by the drying up of the streams. Where water is abundant, however art has so far superseded the offices of nature in watering the farms, that it is almost a question whether the interference of nature in the matter would not be a disadvantage. On the one hand the husbandman need not have his grounds overflowed if he administers the water himself, much less need he permit them

Page 151 — IRRIGATION.

to suffer from drought. He is therefore more sure of his crop than if it were subject to the caprices of the weather in more favored agricultural regions.

     One acequia madre (mother ditch) suffices generally to convey water or the irrigation of an entire valley, or at least for all the fields of the town or settlement. This is made and kept in repair by the public, under the supervision of the alcaldes; laborers being allotted to work upon it as with us upon our county roads. The size of this principal ditch is of course proportioned to the quantity of land to be watered. It is conveyed over the highest part of the valley, which, on these mountain streams, is, for the most part, next to the hills. From this, each proprietor of a farm runs a minor ditch, in like manner, over the most elevated part of his field. Where there is not a superabundance of water, which is often the case on the smaller streams, each farmer has his day, or portion of a day allotted to him for irrigation; and at no other time is he permitted to extract water from the acequia madre. Then the cultivator, after letting the water into his minor ditch, dams this, first at one point and then at another, so as to overflow a section at a time, and with his hoe, depressing eminences and filling sinks, he causes the water to spread regularly over the surface. Though the operation would seem tedious, an expert irrigator will water in one day his five or six acre field, if level, and everything well arranged; yet on


uneven ground he will hardly be able to get over half of that amount.*

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* There is no land measure here correspondent to our acres. Husbandmen rate their fields by the amount of wheat necessary to sow them; and thus speak of a fanega of land — fanega being a measure of about two bushels — meaning an extent which two bushels of wheat will suffice to sow. Tracts are usually sold by the number of leguas (leagues), or varas front of irrigable lands; for those back from the streams are considered worthless. The vara is very nearly 33 English inches, 5,000 of which constitute the Mexican league — under two miles and two-thirds.

     All the acequias for the valley of the Rio del Norte are converted from the main stream, except where a tributary of more convenient water happens to join it. As the banks of the river are very low, and the descent considerable, the water is soon brought upon the surface by a horizontal ditch along an inclined bank, commencing at a convenient point of constant-flowing water — generally without dam, except sometimes a wing of stones to turn the current into the canal.

A Kitchen Scene     The staple productions of the country are emphatically Indian corn and wheat. The former grain is most extensively employed for making tortillas — an article of food greatly in demand among the people, the use of which has been transmitted to them by the aborigines. The corn is boiled in water with a little lime: and when it has been sufficiently softened, so as to strip it of its skin, it is ground into paste upon the metate,* and formed into a thin cake. This is afterwards spread on a small sheet of iron or copper, called

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* From the Indian word metatl, a hollowed, oblong stone, used as a grinding machine.


comal (comalli, by the Indians), and placed over the fire, where, in less than three minutes, it is baked and ready for use. The thinness of the tortilla is always a great test of skill in the maker, and much rivalry ensues in the art of preparation. The office of making tortillas, from the earliest times, pertained chiefly to the women, who appear to be better adapted to this employ than the other sex, both as regards skill and dexterity, in preparing this particular food for the table. I perfectly agree with the historian Clavigero, however, in the opinion that "although this species of corn-bread may be very wholesome and substantial, and well-flavored when newly made, it is unpleasant when cold."

     A sort of thin mush, called atole, made of


Indian meal, is another article of diet, the preparation of which is from the aborigines; and such is its nationality, that in the North it is frequently called el cafe de los Mexicanos (the coffee of the Mexicans). How general soever the use of coffee among Americans may appear, that of atole is still more so among the lower classes of Mexicans. They virtually 'breakfast, dine and sup' upon it. Of this, indeed, with frijoles and chile (beans and red pepper), consists their principal food. The extravagant use of red pepper among the Mexicans has become truly proverbial. It enters into nearly every dish at every meal, and often so predominates as entirely to conceal the character of the viands. It is likewise ground into a sauce, and thus used even more abundantly than butter. Chile verde (green pepper), not as a mere condiment, but as a salad, served up in different ways, is reckoned by them one of the greatest luxuries. But however much we may be disposed to question their taste in this particular, no one can hesitate to do homage to their incomparable chocolate, in the preparation of which the Mexicans surely excel every other people.

     Besides these, many other articles of diet peculiar to the country, and adopted from the aborigines, are still in use — often of rich and exquisite flavor, and though usually not much relished at first by strangers, they are for the most part highly esteemed after a little use.

     The rancheros, and all the humbler classes of people,


very seldom use any table for their meals, an inconvenience which is very little felt, as the dishes are generally served out from the kitchen in courses of a single plate to each guest, who usually takes it upon his knees. Knives and forks are equally dispensed with, the viands being mostly hashed or boiled so very soft as to be eaten with a spoon. This is frequently supplied by the tortilla, a piece of which is ingeniously doubled between the fingers, so as to assist in the disposal of anything, be it ever so rare or liquid. Thus it may well be said, as in the story of the Oriental monarch, that these rancheros employ a new spoon for every mouthful: for each fold of the tortilla is devoured with the substance it conveys to the mouth.

     The very singular custom of abstaining from all sorts of beverage during meals, has frequently afforded me a great deal of amusement. Although a large cup of water is set before each guest, it is not customary to drink it off till the repast is finished. Should any one take it up in his hand while in the act of eating, the host is apt to cry out, "Hold, hold! there is yet more to come." I have never been able to ascertain definitely the meaning of this peculiarity; but from the strictness with which it is observed, it is natural to suppose, that the use of any kind of drink whilst eating, is held extremely unwholesome.*

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* What also strikes the stranger as a singularity in that country, is that the females rarely ever eat with the males — at least in the presence of strangers but usually take their food in the kitchen by themselves.


     The New Mexicans use but little wine at meals, and that exclusively of the produce of the Paso del Norte.

     But to return to the productions of the soil. Cotton is cultivated to no extent, although it has always been considered as indigenous to the country; while the ancient manufactures of the aborigines prove it to have been especially so in this province. Flax is entirely neglected, and yet a plant resembling in every respect that of the linum usitatissimum, is to be found in great abundance in many of the mountain valleys. The potato (la papa), although not cultivated in this country till very lately, is unquestionably an indigenous plant, being still found in a state of nature in many of the mountain valleys though of small size, seldom larger than filberts: whence it appears that this luxury had not its exclusive origin in South America, as is the current opinion of the present day. Universal as the use of tobacco is among these people, there is very little of it grown, and that chiefly of a light and weak species, called by the natives punche, which is also indigenous, and still to be met with growing wild in some places. What has in a great measure contributed to discourage people from attending to the cultivation of the tobacco plant, is the monopoly of this indispensable by the federal government; for although the tobacco laws are not enforced in New Mexico (there being no Estanquillo, or public store-house), yet the people cannot carry it anywhere else in the

Page 157 — FRUITS — THE GRAPE.

republic for sale, without risk of its being immediately confiscated. A still more powerful cause operating against this, as well as every other branch of agriculture in New Mexico, is the utter want of navigable streams, as a cheap and convenient means of transportation to distant markets.

     Famous as the republic of Mexico has been for the quality and variety of its fruits, this province, considering its latitude, is most singularly destitute in this respect. A few orchards of apples, peaches and apricots, are occasionally met with, but even these are of very inferior quality, being only esteemed in the absence of something better. A few small vineyards are also to be found in the valley of the Rio del Norte, but the grape does not thrive as at El Paso. The mode of cultivating the grape in these parts is somewhat peculiar, and might, I have no doubt, be practised to great advantage in other countries. No scaffold or support of any kind is erected for the vines, which are kept pruned so as to form a sort of shrubbery. Every fall of the year, these are completely covered with earth, which protects them during the winter. Upon the opening of spring the dirt is scraped away, and the vines pruned again. This being repeated from year to year, the shrubs soon acquire sufficient strength to support the heavy crops of improved and superiorly flavored grapes which they finally produce.

     Indigenous wild fruits are not quite so scarce; a clear evidence that the lack of culti-


vated fruit is not so much the fault of nature, as the result of indolence and neglect on the part of the people. The prickly pear is found in greatest abundance, and of several varieties: and though neither very wholesome nor savory, it is nevertheless frequently eaten.

     There is but little timber in New Mexico, except in the mountains and along the watercourses; the table-plains and valleys are generally all open prairie. The forest growths, moreover, of all the north of Mexico, present quite a limited variety of timber, among which the common pitch-pine mostly predominates. The tree which appears to be most peculiar to the country, is a kind of scrub pine called pinon, which grows generally to the height of twenty or thirty feet, with leaves ever-green and pine-like, but scarcely an inch long. From the surface of this tree exudes a species of turpentine resembling that of the pitch-pine, but perhaps less resinous. The wood is white and firm, and much used for fuel. The most remarkable appendage of this tree is the fruit it bears, which is also known by the same name. This is a little nut about the size of a kidney-bean, with a rich oily kernel in a thin shell, enclosed in a chestnut like bur. It is of pleasant flavor and much eaten by the natives, and considerable quantities are exported annually to the southern cities. It is sometimes used for the manufacture of a certain kind of oil, said to be very good for lamps.

     The mezquite tree, vulgarly called muskeet

Page 159 — THE MESQUITE.

in Texas, where it has attained some celebrity, grows in some of the fertile valleys of Chihuahua to the height of thirty and forty feet, with a trunk of one to two feet in diameter. The wood makes excellent fuel, but it is seldom used for other purposes, as it is crooked, knotty, and very coarse and brittle, more resembling the honey locust (of which it might be considered a scrubby species) than the mahogany, as some people have asserted. The fruit is but a diminutive honey-locust in appearance and flavor, of the size and shape of a flattened bean-pod, with the seeds disposed in like manner. This pod, which, like that of the honey locust, encloses a glutinous substance, the Apaches and other tribes of Indians grind into flour to make their favorite pinole. The mesquite seems undoubtedly of the Acacia Arabica species; as some physicians who have examined the gum which exudes from the tree, pronounce it genuine Arabic.

     On the water-courses there is little timber to be found except cottonwood, scantily scattered along their banks. Those of the Rio del Norte are now nearly bare throughout the whole range of the settlements, and the inhabitants are forced to resort to the distant mountains for most of their fuel. But nowhere, even beyond the settlements, are there to be seen such dense cottonwood bottoms as those of the Mississippi valley. Besides the common cottonwood there is another to be found upon the mountain streams of New Mexico, which has been called willow-leaf

Page 160 — THE SOAP-PLANT.

or bitter cottonwood (populus angustifolia?) and has been reckoned by some a species of cinchona, yet for no other reason perhaps than that the bark possesses efficacious tonic qualities. Attached to the seeds of this tree is also a cotton similar to that of the sweet cottonwood, or populus ongulata.

     Among the wild productions of New Mexico is the palmilla — a species of palmetto, which might be termed the soap-plant — whose roots, as well as those of another species known as palma (or palm), when bruised, form a saponaceous pulp called amole, much used by the natives for washing clothes, and is said to be even superior to soap for scouring woolens.

     But by far the most important indigenous product of the soil of New Mexico is its pasturage. Most of the high table-plains afford the finest grazing in the world, while, for want of water, they are utterly useless for most other purposes. That scanty moisture which suffices to bring forth the natural vegetation is insufficient for agricultural productions, without the aid of irrigation. The high prairies of all Northern Mexico differ greatly from those of our border in the general character of their vegetation. They are remarkably destitute of the gay flowering plants for which the former are so celebrated, being mostly clothed with different species of a highly nutritious grass called grama, which is of a very short and curly quality. The highlands, upon which alone this sort of grass is produc-


ed, being seldom verdant till after the rainy season sets in, the grafina is only in perfection from August to October. But being rarely nipt by the frost until the rains are over, it cures upon the ground and remains excellent hay equal if not superior to that which is cut and stacked from our western prairies. Although the winters are rigorous, the feeding of stock is almost entirely unknown in New Mexico; nevertheless, the extensive herds of the country, not only of cattle and sheep, but of mules and horses, generally maintain themselves in excellent condition upon the dry pasturage alone through the cold season, and until the rains start up the green grass again the following summer.

southwestern-style woven rope chain

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