COMMERCE OF THE PRAIRIES, by Josiah Gregg: Volume I



The Pueblos Their Character for Sobriety, Honesty, and Industry Traditional Descent from Montezuma Their Languages Former and present Population The Pueblo of Pecos Singular Habits of that ill-fated Tribe Curious Tradition Montezuma and the Sun Legend of a Serpent Religion and Government Secret Council Laws and Customs Excellent Provisions against Demoralization Primitive Pastimes of the Pueblos Their Architecture Singular Structures of Taos, and other novel Fortifications Primitive state of the Arts among the Pueblos Style of Dress, Weapons, etc. Their Diet The Guayave.

     ALLUSION has so frequently been made to the aboriginal tribes of New Mexico, known as Los Pueblos, that I think I shall not be trespassing too much upon the patience of the reader, in glancing rapidly at some of the more conspicuous features of their national habits and character.

     Although the term Pueblo in Spanish literally means the people, and their towns, it is here specifically applied to the Christianized Indians (as well as their villages) - to those aborigines whom the Spaniards not only subjected to their laws, but to an acknowledgment of the Romish faith, and upon whom they forced baptism and the cross in exchange for


the vast possessions of which they robbed them. All that was left them was, to each Pueblo a league or two of land situated around their villages, the conquerors reserving to themselves at least ninety-nine hundredths of the whole domain as a requital for their generosity.

     When these regions were first discovered it appears that the inhabitants lived in comfortable houses and cultivated the soil, as they have continued to do up to the present time. Indeed, they are now considered the best horticulturists in the country, furnishing most of the fruits and a large portion of the vegetable supplies that are to be found in the markets. They were until very lately the only people in New Mexico who cultivated the grape. They also maintain at the present time considerable herds of cattle, horses, etc. They are, in short, a remarkably sober and industrious race, conspicuous for morality and honesty, and very little given to quarrelling or dissipation, except when they have had much familiar intercourse with the Hispano-Mexican population.

     Most of these Pueblos call themselves the descendants of Montezuma, although it would appear that they could only have been made acquainted with the history of that monarch, by the Spaniards; as this province is nearly two thousand miles from the ancient kingdom of Mexico. At the time of the conquest they must have been a very powerful people numbering near a hundred villages, as exist-


ing ruins would seem to indicate; but they are now reduced to about twenty, which are scattered in various parts of the territory.

     There are but three or four different Languages spoken among them, and these, indeed, may be distantly allied to each other. Those of Taos, Picuris, Isleta, and perhaps some others, speak what has been called the Piro language. A large portion of the others, viz., those of San Juan, Santa Clara, Nambe, Pojuaque, Tezuque, and some others, speak Tegua, having all been originally known by this general name; and those of Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, and perhaps Sandia, speak the same tongue, though they seem formerly to have been distinguished as Queres. The numerous tribes that inhabited the highlands between Rio del Norte and Pecos, as those of Pecos, Cienega, Galisteo, etc., were known anciently as Tagnos, but these are now all extinct; yet their language is said to be spoken by those of Jemez and others of that section. Those further to the westward*

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* Of these, the Pueblo of Zuni has been celebrated for honesty and hospitality. The inhabitants mostly profess the Catholic faith, but have now no curate. They cultivate the soil, manufacture, and possess considerable quantities of stock. Their village is over 150 miles west of the Rio del Norte, on the waters of the Colorado of the West, and is believed to contain between 1,000 and 1,500 souls. The "seven Pueblos of Moqui" (as they are called) are a similar tribe living a few leagues beyond. They formerly acknowledged the government and religion of the Spaniards, but have long since rejected both, and live in a state of independence and paganism. Their dwellings, however, like those of Zuni, are similar to those of the interior Pueblos, and they are equally industrious and agricultural, and still more ingenious in their manufacturing. The language of the Moquis or Moquinos is said to differ but little from that of the Navajoes.


     Though all these Pueblos speak their native languages among themselves, a great many of them possess a smattering of Spanish, sufficient to carry on their intercourse with the Mexicans.

     The population of these Pueblos will average nearly five hundred souls each (though some hardly exceed one hundred), making an aggregate of nine or ten thousand. At the time of the original conquest, at the close of the sixteenth century, they were, as has been mentioned, much, perhaps ten-fold, more numerous. Ancient ruins are now to be seen scattered in every quarter of the territory: of some, entire stone walls are yet standing while others are nearly or quite obliterated, many of them being now only known by their names which history or tradition has preserved to us. Numbers were no doubt destroyed during the insurrection of 1680, and the petty internal strifes which followed.

     Several of these Pueblos have been converted into Mexican villages, of which that of Pecos is perhaps the most remarkable instance. What with the massacres of the second conquest, and the inroads of the Comanches, they gradually dwindled away, till they found themselves reduced to about a dozen, comprising all ages and sexes; and it was only a few years ago that they abandoned the home of their fathers and joined the Pueblo of Jemez.

     Many curious tales are told of the singular habits of this ill-fated tribe, which must no


doubt have tended to hasten its utter annihilation. A tradition was prevalent among them that Montezuma had kindled a holy fire, and enjoined their ancestors not to suffer it to be extinguished until he should return to deliver his people from the yoke of the Spaniards. In pursuance of these commands, a constant watch had been maintained for ages to prevent the fire from going out; and, as tradition further informed them, that Montezuma would appear with the sun, the deluded Indians were to be seen every clear morning upon the terraced roofs of their houses, attentively watching for the appearance of the 'king of light,' in hopes of seeing him 'cheek by jowl' with their immortal sovereign. I have myself descended into the famous estufas, or subterranean vaults, of which there were several in the village, and have beheld this consecrated fire, silently smouldering under a covering of ashes, in the basin of a small altar. Some say that they never lost hope in the final coming of Montezuma until, by some accident or other, or a lack of a sufficiency of warriors to watch it, the fire became extinguished; and that it was this catastrophe that induced them to abandon their villages, as I have before observed.

     The task of tending the sacred fire was, it is said, allotted to the warriors. It is further related, that they took the watch by turns for two successive days and nights, without partaking of either food, water, or sleep; while some assert, that instead of being restricted to


two days, each guard continued with the same unbending severity of purpose until exhaustion, and very frequently death, left their places to be filled by others. A large portion of those who came out alive were generally so completely prostrated by the want of repose and the inhalation of carbonic gas that they very soon died; when, as the vulgar story asseverates, their remains were carried to the den of a monstrous serpent, which kept itself in excellent condition by feeding upon these delicacies. This huge snake (invented no doubt by the lovers of the marvellous to account for the constant disappearance of the Indians) was represented as the idol which they worshipped, and as subsisting entirely upon the flesh of his devotees: live infants, however, seemed to suit his palate best. The story of this wonderful serpent was so firmly believed in by many ignorant people, that on one occasion I heard an honest ranchero assert, that: upon entering the village very early on a winters morning, he saw the huge trail of the reptile in the snow, as large as that of a dragging ox.

     This village, anciently so renowned, lies twenty-five miles eastward of Santa Fe, and near the Rio Pecos, to which it gave name. Even so late as ten years ago, when it contained a population of fifty to a hundred souls, the traveller would often times perceive but a solitary Indian, a woman, or a child, standing here and there like so many statues upon the roofs of their houses, with their eyes fixed on


the eastern horizon, or leaning against a wall or a fence, listlessly gazing at the passing stranger; while at other times not a soul was to be seen in any direction, and the sepulchral silence of the place was only disturbed by the occasional barking of a dog, or the cackling of hens.

     No other Pueblo appears to have adopted this extraordinary superstition: like Pecos, however, they have all held Montezuma to be their perpetual sovereign. It would likewise appear that they all worship the sun; for it is asserted to be their regular practice to turn the face towards the east at sunrise. They profess the Catholic faith, however, of which, nevertheless, they cannot be expected to understand anything beyond the formalities; as but very few of their Mexican neighbors and teachers can boast of more.

     Although nominally under the jurisdiction of the federal government, as Mexican citizens, many features of their ancient customs are still retained, as well in their civil rule as in their religion. Each Pueblo is under the control of a cacique or gobernadorcillo, chosen from among their own sages, and commissioned by the governor of New Mexico. The cacique, when any public business is to be transacted, collects together the principal chiefs of the Pueblo in an estufa, or cell, usually under ground, and there lays before them the subjects of debate, which are generally settled by the opinion of the majority. No Mexican is admitted to these councils, nor do the


subjects of discussion ever transpire beyond the precincts of the cavern. The council has also charge of the interior police and tranquility of the village. One of their regulations is to appoint a secret watch for the purpose of keeping down disorders and vices of every description, and especially to keep an eye over the young men and women of the village. When any improper intercourse among them is detected, the parties are immediately carried to the council, and the cacique intimates to them that they must be wedded forthwith. Should the girl be of bad character, and the man, therefore, unwilling to marry her, they are ordered to keep separate under penalty of the lash. Hence it is, that the females of these Pueblos are almost universally noted for their chastity and modest deportment.

     They also elect a capitan de guerra, a kind of commander-in-chief of the warriors, whose office it is to defend their homes and their interests both in the field and in the council chamber. Though not very warlike, these Pueblos are generally valiant, and well skilled in the strategies of Indian warfare; and although they have been branded with cruelty and ferocity, yet they can hardly be said to surpass the Mexicans in this respect: both, in times of war, pay but little regard either to age or sex. I have been told that when the Pueblos return from their belligerent expeditions, instead of going directly to their homes, they always visit their council cell first. Here


they undress, dance, and carouse, frequently for two days in succession before seeing their families.

     Although the Pueblos are famous for hospitality and industry, they still continue in the rudest state of ignorance, having neither books nor schools among them, as none of their languages have been reduced .to rules, and very few of their children are ever taught Spanish. A degree of primitiveness characterizes all their amusements, which bear a strong similarity to those of the wilder tribes. Before the New Mexican government had become so much impoverished, there was wont to be held in the capital on the 16th of September of every year, a national celebration of the declaration of Independence, to which the Pueblos were invited. The warriors and youths of each nation with a proportionate array of dusky damsels would appear on these occasions, painted and ornamented in accordance with their aboriginal customs, and amuse the inhabitants with all sorts of grotesque feats and native dances. Each Pueblo generally had its particular uniform dress and its particular dance. The men of one village would sometimes disguise themselves as elks, with horns on their heads, moving on all fours, and mimicking the animal they were attempting to personate. Others would appear in the garb of a turkey, with large heavy wings, and strut about in imitation of that bird. But the Pecos tribe, already reduced to seven men, always occasioned most diversion.


Their favorite exploit was,each to put on the skin of a buffalo, horns, tail, and all, and thus accoutred scamper about through the crowd, to the real or affected terror of all the ladies present, and to the great delight of the boys.

     The Pueblo villages are generally built with more regularity than those of the Mexicans, and are constructed of the same materials as were used by them in the most primitive ages. Their dwelling-houses, it is true, are not so spacious as those of the Mexicans, containing very seldom more than two or three small apartments upon the ground floor, without any court-yard, but they have generally a much loftier appearance, being frequently two stories high and sometimes more. A very curious feature in these buildings, is, that there is most generally no direct communication between the street and the lower rooms, into which they descend by a trap-door from the upper story, the latter being accessible by means of ladders. Even the entrance to the upper stories is frequently at the roof. This style of building seems to have been adopted for security against their marauding neighbors of the wilder tribes, with whom they were often at war. When the family had all been housed at night, the ladder was drawn up, and the inmates were thus shut up in a kind of fortress, which bid defiance to the scanty implements of warfare used by the wild Indians.

     Though this was their most usual style of architecture, there still exists a Pueblo of Taos,


composed, for the most part, of but two edifices of very singular structure one on each side of a creek and formerly communicating by a bridge. The base-story is a mass of near four hundred feet long, a hundred and fifty wide, and divided into numerous apartments, upon which other tiers of rooms are built, one above another, drawn in by regular grades, forming a pyramidal pile of fifty or sixty feet high, and comprising some six or eight stories. The outer rooms only seem to be used for dwellings, and are lighted by little windows in the sides, but are entered through-trapdoors in the azoteas or roofs. Most of the inner apartments are employed as granaries and store-rooms, but a spacious hall in the centre of the mass, known as the estufa, is reserved for their secret councils. These two buildings afford habitations, as is said, for over six hundred souls. There is likewise an edifice in the Pueblo of Picuris of the same class, and some of those of Moqui are also said to be similar.

      Some of these villages were built upon rocky eminences deemed almost inaccessible: witness for instance the ruins of the ancient Pueblo of San Felipe, which may be seen towering upon the very verge of a precipice several hundred feet high, whose base is washed by the swift current of the Rio del Norte. The still existing Pueblo of Acoma also stands upon an isolated mound whose whole area is occupied by the village, being fringed all around by a precipitous ceja or cliff.


     The inhabitants enter the village by means of ladders, and by steps cut into the solid rock upon which it is based.

     At the time of the conquest, many of these Pueblos manufactured some singular textures of cotton and other materials; but with the loss of their liberty, they seem to have lost most of their arts and ingenuity; so that the finer specimens of native fabrics are now only to be met with among the Moquis and Navajoes, who still retain their independence. The Pueblos, however, make some of the ordinary classes of blankets and tilmas, as well as other woollen stuffs. They also manufacture, according to their aboriginal art, both for their own consumption, and for the purposes of traffic, a species of earthenware not much inferior to the coarse crockery of our common potters. The pots made of this material stand fire remarkably well, and are the universal substitutes for all the purposes of cookery, even among the Mexicans, for the iron castings of this country, which are utterly unknown there. Rude as this kind of crockery is, it nevertheless evinces a great deal of skill, considering that it is made entirely without lathe or any kind of machinery. It is often fancifully painted with colored earths and the juice of a plant called guaco, which brightens by burning. They also work a singular kind of wicker-ware, of which some bowls (if they may be so called) are so closely plat-

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* The tilma is a sort of small but durable blanket, worn by the Indians as a mantle.


ted, that, once swollen by dampness, they serve to hold liquids, and are therefore light and convenient vessels for the purposes of travellers.

     The dress of many of the Pueblos has become assimilated in some respects to that of the common Mexicans; but by far the greatest portion still retain most of their aboriginal costume. The Taosas and others of the north somewhat resemble the prairie tribes in this respect; but the Pueblos to the south and west of Santa Fe dress in a different style, which is said to be similar in many respects to that of the aboriginal inhabitants of the city of Mexico. The moccasin is the only part of the prairie suit that appears common to them all, and of both sexes. They mostly wear a kind of short breeches and long stockings, the use of which they most probably acquired from the Spaniards. The saco, a species of woollen jacket without sleeves, completes their exterior garment; except during inclement seasons, when they make use of the tilma. Very few of them have hats or headdress of any kind; and they generally wear their hair long commonly fashioned into a queue wrapped with some colored stuff. The squaws of the northern tribes dress pretty much like those of the Prairies; but the usual costume of the females of the southern and western Pueblos is a handsome kind of small blanket of dark color, which is drawn under one arm and tacked over the other shoulder, leaving both arms free and naked. It is gene-


rally worn with a cotton chemise underneath and is bound about the waist with a girdle. We rarely if ever see a thorough-bred Pueblo woman in Mexican dress.

     The weapons most in use among the Pueblos are the bow and arrow, with a long-handled lance and occasionally a fusil. The rawhide shield is also much used, which, though of but little service against fire-arms, serves to ward off the arrow and lance.

     The aliment of these Indians is, in most respects, similar to that of the Mexicans; in fact, as has been elsewhere remarked, the latter adopted with their utensils numerous items of aboriginal diet. The tortilla, the atole, the pinole,* and many others, together with the use of chile, are from the Indians. Some of the wilder tribes make a peculiar kind of pinole, by grinding the bean of the mezquite tree into flour, which is then used as that of corn. And besides the tortilla they make another singular kind of bread, if we may so style it, called guayave, a roll of which so much resembles a 'hornets' nest,' that by strangers it is often designated by this title. It is usually made of Indian corn prepared and ground as for tortillas, and diluted into a thin paste.

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* Pinole is in effect the cold-flour of our hunters. It is the meal of parched Indian corn, prepared for use by stirring it up with a little cold water. This food seems also to have been of ancient use among the aborigines of other parts of America. Father Charlevoix, in 1721, says of the savages about the northern lakes, that they "reduce [the maize] to Flour which they call Farine froide (cold flour), and this the best Provision that can be made for Travellers."


     I once happened to enter an Indian hut where a young girl of the family was baking guayaves. She was sitting by a fire, over which a large flat stone was heating, with a crock of prepared paste by her side. She thrust her hand into the paste, and then wiped it over the heated stone. What adhered to it was instantly baked and peeled off. She repeated this process at the rate of a dozen times or more per minute. Observing my curiosity, the girl handed me one of the 'sheets,' silently; for she seemed to understand but her native tongue. I found it pleasant enough to the taste; though when cold, as I have learned by experience, it is, like the cold tortilla, rather tough and insipid. They are even thinner than wafers; and some dozens, being folded in a roll, constitute the laminate composition before mentioned. Being thus preserved, they serve the natives for months upon their journeys.

southwestern-style woven rope chain

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