"His clothes are few and substantial, scarce in number and often of a gaudy pattern. The 'sombrero' and large spurs are inevitable accompaniments. Every house has the appearance of lack of convenience and comfort, but the most rude and primitive modes of life seem to be satisfactory to the cowboy. His wages range from $15.00 to $20.00 a month in specie. Mexicans can be employed for about $12.00 per month. The cowboy has few wants and fewer necessities, the principal one being a full supply of tobacco.
"We will here say for the benefit of our Northern readers, that the term 'ranch' is used in the Southwest instead of 'farm,' the ordinary laborer is termed a 'cowboy,' the horse used a 'cow horse,' and the herd of horses a 'cavvie yard.'
"The fame of Texas as a stock-growing country went abroad in the land, and soon after her admission to the Union, unto her were turned the eyes of many young men born and reared in the older Southern States, who were poor in this world's goods, but were ambitious to make for themselves a home and a fortune. Many of this class went to Texas, then a new and comparatively thin and unsettled country, and began in humblest manner, perhaps for nominal wages, to lay the foundation for future wealth and success."
This is a very severe description, and relates to a class of men who were found in the wildest parts of Texas shortly after the war. It certainly does not adequately describe the cowboy of the last twenty years. Another writer, who was himself for more than a quarter of a century engaged in the work of herding cattle, gives a much fairer description of the cowboy. He divides those entitled to this name into three classes, and argues that there is something noble about the name. He also claims that in view of the peculiar associations, privations, surroundings and temptations of the cowboy, he is entitled to much credit for the way in which he has retained the best characteristics of human nature, in spite of his absence from the refining influences of civilization.
According to this authority, the first class of cowboys include the genuine, honest worker on the prairie, the man who has due respect for the rights of all. He is scrupulously honest, but yet charitable enough to look leniently on the falling away from grace of his less scrupulous brothers, and he is loyal to a remarkable extent to every one who has a right to claim his friendship. In the second class is placed the less careful cowboy, who is not quite so strict in his moral views, although no one would like to class him as a thief. The story is told of the Irishman who found a blanket bearing upon it the Government mark "U. S." Paddy examined the blanket carefully and on finding the mark shouted out: "U. for Patrick and S. for McCarty. Och, but I'm glad I've found me blanket. Me fayther told me that eddication was a good thing, and now I know it; but for an eddication I never would have found the blanket."
Reasoning of this kind is quite common among this second class or division of the cowboy. It is not suggested that he is exactly a thief, because he would scorn the acts of the city light-fingered gentleman, who asks you the time of day, and then, by a little sleight-of-hand, succeeds in introducing your watch to a too obliging and careless pawnbroker at the next corner. But he is a little reckless in his ideas of what lawyers call the rights of individuals, and he is a little too much inclined, at times, to think that trifles that are not his own ought to be so.
The writer, to whom we are referring, includes in class three the typical cowboy, and the man used by the fiction writer as a basis for his exaggerations and romances. Into this class drifts the cowboy who is absolutely indifferent as to the future, and who is perfectly happy if he has enough money to enable him to buy a fancy bridle or a magnificent saddle. These are about the beginning and the end of his ideas of luxury; although he enjoys a good time, he looks upon it rather as incidental and essential to pleasure. A steady position at a small salary, a reasonable amount to do, and fairly good quarters, constitute all he looks for or expects. He is perfectly honest with all his indifference. He is often whole-souled and big-hearted, constantly allows himself to be imposed upon, but has an inconvenient habit of occasionally standing up for his rights and resenting too much oppression. He is exceedingly good-natured, and will often drive some stray cattle several miles for the convenience of a perfect stranger, and a man to whom he owes no obligation whatever.
It is said that such a thing as distress among the relatives or descendants of cowboys was impossible, because of the delightful tenderheartedness of men with rough exterior and whose daily life makes them appear hardened. The working cowboy is seldom rich, even in the most generous acceptation of the term. The small wages he earns are expended almost entirely on decorations for his horse or himself. Even when he succeeds in saving a few dollars, the money seems to burn a hole in his pocket, and he generally lends it to some one in greater need than himself. But every man working on a ranch has something to spare for the widow or children of a deceased brother, especially if he was killed in the course of his duties. An instance of this generous-hearted disposition might well be given, but it is sufficient to say that the rule is invariable, and that a promise made to a dying man in this respect is never forgotten.
Leaving for a moment the personal characteristics of the much-maligned cowboy, who has been described as everything from a stage-robber to a cutthroat, we may with profit devote a little space to a consideration of his attire as it was, and as it is. In the picture of a cowboy in this work the modern dress is shown very accurately. It will be seen that the man is dressed conveniently for his work, and that he has none of the extraordinary handicaps to progress, in the way of grotesque decorations, which he had been thought to believe were, at least, part and parcel of the cowboy's wardrobe and get up. Certainly at the present time men engaged in feeding and raising cattle are almost indifferent as to their attire, wearing anything suitable for their purpose, and making their selections rather with a view to the durability, than the handsomeness, of the clothing.
But in years gone by, there was almost as much fashion changing among the men on the prairie as among the woman in the drawing-room. At the close of the war the first of the arbitrary dictates of fashion went out. A special form of stirrup was introduced. It was very narrow and exceedingly inconvenient, but it was considered the right thing, and so everybody used it. Rawhide was used in place of lines, and homespun garments were uniform. Calfskin leggings, made on the prairie, with the hair on the outside, were first worn, and large umbrella-like straw hats came into use. A little later it was decided the straw hat was not durable enough for the purpose. When excited a cowboy frequently starts his horse with his hat, and when he is wearing a straw, four or five sharp blows knock out of the hat any semblance it may ever have had to respectability and symmetry. The wide brim woolen hat was declared to be the correct thing, and every one was glad of the change. The narrow stirrup gave place to a wider one, and the stirrup leather was shortened so as to compel the rider to keep his knees bent the whole time. The most important change in fashion twenty years ago, was the introduction of tanned leather leggings and of handsome bridles. Many a man now pays two or three months' wages for his bridle, and since the fashion came in, it is probable that many thousand dollars have been invested in ornamental headgear for prairie horses and ponies. A new saddle, as well as bow and tassel decorations, also came in at this period, and it is to be admitted that for a time exaggeration in clothing became general. It is an old joke on the prairie that the average man's hat costs him more than his clothes.
Many a cowboy earning $30.00 a month has spent three times that sum on his saddle alone. More than one man earning $25.00 a month has invested every cent of his salary in silver buckles for his strange looking hat. Equally extravagant is the average man as to his saddle, bridle, and even spurs and bit. Those who talk so much about the bad habits of these people, will hardly credit the fact that many a cowboy abstains from liquor and tobacco for an entire year at a stretch, simply because he wants to purchase some article of attire, which he thinks will make him the envy of the entire ranch.
The cow pony is worthy of as much attention and thought as the cowboy. It is often said that the latter is hard and cruel, and that he uses his pony roughly. This is far from being correct. Between the cowboy and his pet pony there is generally a bond of sympathy and a thorough understanding, without which the marvelous feats of horsemanship which are performed daily would be impossible. Perhaps in the preliminary breaking in of the pony there is more roughness than is quite necessary. At the same time, it should be remembered that to subdue an animal which was born on the prairie and has run wild to its heart's content, is not a very simple matter. The habit of bucking, which a Texas pony seems to inherit from its ancestors, is a very inconvenient one, and an expert rider from the East is perfectly helpless upon the back of a bucking pony. The way in which he mounts assures the animal at once that he is a stranger in those parts. A natural desire to unseat the daring stranger becomes paramount, and the pony proceeds to carry out the idea.
At first it moves quietly and the rider congratulates himself on having convinced the animal that resistance will be ill vain. But just as he begins to do this the animal gets down its head, arches up its back, something after the manner of an angry cat, leaps into the air and comes down on the ground with its four legs drawn together under it, perfectly stiff and straight. The rider seldom knows how it happened. He only knows that it felt as though a cannon ball had struck him, and that he fell off most ungracefully.
A pony never bucks viciously when a cowboy is riding it. It has learned by long experience that the process is distinctly unprofitable. Breaking in a pony and convincing it that the way of the transgressor is hard, is one of the difficulties of prairie life. When, however, it is once accomplished, an almost invaluable assistant has been secured. The staying powers of the cow pony are almost without limit. He will carry his master 100 miles in a day, apparently with very little fatigue. In point of speed he may not be able to compete with his better bred Eastern cousin, but in point of distance covered he entirely outclasses him. Assuming an easy gait within its powers of endurance, a pony of the prairie will keep it up almost indefinitely. At the end of a very long ride, the man is generally more fatigued than his steed. The latter, after being relieved of its saddle and bridle, rolls vigorously to get rid of the stiffness, and, after an hour or two, is apparently in as good condition as ever.
The charm connected with cowboy life is found in the disregard of strict rules of etiquette and ceremony, and in the amount of fun which is considered to be in place around the prairie fire. We have already seen that the wages paid to cowboys are, and always have been, very small. The hours that have to be worked, and the hardships that have to be encountered, seem to combine together to deter men from leading the life at all. We know that it does neither, and that it is seldom there is really any dearth of help on the prairie or among the cattle herds. The greatest delight is derived from jokes played at the expense of smart tenderfeet, who approach the camp with too much confidence in themselves. The commonest way of convincing the newcomer that he has made a mistake is to persuade him to ride an exceptionally fractious pony. The task is generally approached with much confidence, and almost invariably ends in grief. If the stranger can retain his seat and thus upset the rehearsed programme, the delight of the onlookers is even greater than their disappointment, and the newcomer is admitted at once into the good fellowship of the crowd.
Nothing aggravates a cowboy so much, or makes him more desperate in his selection of tricks, as the affectation of badness on the part of a newcomer. A year or two ago a young man, who had been saving up his money for years in order to emulate the deeds of some of the heroes described in the cheap books he had been reading, arrived in the Southwest, and proceeded to introduce himself to a number of employes of a cattle ranch who, a few years ago, would have been known as regulation cowboys. The unlimited impudence and the astounding mendacity of the youth amused the cowboys very much, and they allowed him to narrate a whole list of terrible acts he had committed in the East. Before he had been in his new company an hour, he had talked of thefts and even killings with the nonchalance of a man who had served a dozen years in jail. His listeners enjoyed the absurdity of the situation, and allowed him to talk at random without interruption.
The story telling was brought to an end in a very sensational manner indeed. One of the listeners knew that a deputy sheriff was in the neighborhood looking out for a dangerous character. Skipping out from the party, he hunted up the deputy, and told him that one of the hunted man's confederates was in the camp. The deputy, who was new to the business and anxious to make a reputation for himself, rushed to the camp and arrested the storyteller in spite of his protests. The young man, who had been so brave a few minutes before, wept bitterly, and begged that some one would telegraph his mother so as to have his character established and his liberty assured. The joke was kept up so long that the young man was actually placed in safe keeping all night. The following morning he was released, as there was nothing whatever against him except artistic lying. The speed that he managed to attain while hurrying to the nearest railroad station showed that with proper training he might have made a good athlete.
He waited around the station until the next train went East, and no passenger was more delighted when the conductor said "All aboard," than was the youth who was going back home very much discouraged, but very considerably enlightened.
On another occasion a typical cowboy was traveling on the cars, and as is quite common with members of his profession, had been approached by a sickly looking youth, who asked him dozens of questions and evinced a great anxiety to embark upon prairie life. There was very little to interest the cattle-worker, and after awhile he determined to get rid of his not overwelcome, self-introduced friend. He accordingly pointed, out a rough-looking man at the far end of the car, and told the questioner that he was the leader of a dangerous band of train robbers. The individual was probably some hard-working man of perfectly honest habits, but the would-be brave young man, who a few moments before had been a candidate for a life of danger and hardship, was so horrified at the bare idea, that he decided in a moment to emulate the Irishman who said he had left his future behind him, and jumped from the moving train, preferring a succession of knocks and bruises to actual contact with a man of the character he had schooled himself into admiring.
Every man who creates a disturbance, defies the law, and discharges fire-arms at random is spoken of as a cowboy, although in a majority of instances he has never done a day's work to justify the name. The tough man from the East who goes West to play the bad cowboy, is liable to find that he has been borrowing trouble. He finds out that an altercation is likely to bring him up facing the muzzle of a pistol in the hands of a man much more ready to pull the trigger off-hand than to waste time in preliminary talk. He soon learns the lesson of circumspection and, if he survives the process, his behavior is usually modified to fit his new surroundings. A tragic illustration of the results that may come from a tenderfoot's attempt to masquerade as a bad man west of the Mississippi River, took place in the winter of 1881-82 in New Mexico, on a southward-bound Atchison train. One of the strangers was terrorizing the others. He was a tough-looking fellow from some Eastern city; he had been drinking, and he paraded the cars talking loudly and profanely, trying to pick quarrels with passengers and frequently flourishing a revolver. The train hands did not seem inclined to interfere with him, and among the people aboard whom he directly insulted, he did not happen to hit upon any one who had the sand or the disposition to call him down.
Toward the members of a theatrical company, traveling in one of the coaches, he particularly directed his violence and insults. His conduct with them at last became unbearable, and when, after threatening two actors with his revolver and frightening the women to the verge of hysterics, he passed onward into another car, a hurried council of war was held in the coach be had just vacated, and every man who had a pistol got it in readiness, with the understanding that if he returned, he was to be shot down at the first aggressive movement. But that phase of trouble was averted, for, as it happened, he remained in the car ahead until, at dusk, the train rolled into Albuquerque.
Here the proprietor of the Armijo House was at the station with his hackman awaiting the train's arrival. He called out the name of his house at the door of one car, and then turning to the hackman said: "You take care of the passengers in this car, and I will go to the next."
These inoffensive words caught the ear of the tough man from the East, who was pushing his way to the car platform. He drew his pistol and started for the nearest man on the station platform, shouting:
"You'll take care of us, will you? I'll show you smart fellows out here that you are not able to take care of me."
He flourished his revolver as he spoke and, just as his feet struck the second step of the car, he fired, the ball passing over the head of the man on the station platform. The sound of his pistol was quickly followed by two loud reports, and the tough man fell forward upon the platform dead. The man at whom he had apparently fired had drawn his revolver and shot him twice through the heart.
A crowd gathered as the train rolled on, leaving the tough man where he had fallen. Of course the man who killed him, a gambler of the town, was fully exonerated at the inquest, and was never even indicted for the killing.
WARDS OF OUR NATIVE LAND.
The Indians' Admirers and Critics—At School and After—Indian Courtship and Marriage—Extraordinary Dances—Gambling by Instinct—How "Cross-Eye" Lost his Pony—Pawning a Baby—Amusing and Degrading Scenes on Annuity Day.
Opinions differ materially as to the rights and wrongs, privileges and grievances, and worthiness and worthlessness of the North American Indian. Some people think that the red man has been shamefully treated and betrayed by the white man, and that the catalogue of his grievances is as long as the tale of woe the former is apt to tell, whenever he can make himself understood by a sympathetic listener.
Holders of this opinion live for the most part in districts where there are no Indians located.
There are others who think that the Indian has been absurdly pampered by the Government, and that it would be as sensible to try to change the arrangement of seasons as to attempt to prevent the survival of the fittest, or, in other words, to interfere with the gradual, but in their opinion inevitable, extermination of the Indian.
Those holding this extreme view are for the most part those who live near Indian reservations, and who have had opportunities of studying the red man's character.
Both views are of course unduly severe. As a useful citizen the Indian varies considerably, and it is rather as an interesting study that we approach the subject.
Civilization has a very peculiar effect upon the American Indian. The schools for Indian children are well managed, and the education imparted should be sufficient to prevent the possibility of a relapse into the unsatisfactory habits and the traditional uncleanliness of the different tribes. Sometimes the effect of education is excellent. There are many Indians to be found who have adopted civilized modes of living, and who have built up homes and amassed little fortunes by farming, raising cattle and trading. Some of the Indians, notably those of the five civilized tribes or nations in Indian Territory, resemble white men in appearance very much. They will sometimes work side by side with swarthy Caucasians, whose skin has been tanned by exposure to the sun, and except for the exceptionally high cheek bone and the peculiarly straight hair, there is little to distinguish the Indian from the white man.
But these cases are exceptions to the general rule, which is that education is looked upon by Indians as a degradation rather than otherwise. Great difficulty is often experienced in persuading parents to allow their children to be taken to the training schools at all, and so much compulsion is often necessary that an appearance of kidnaping is imparted. The first thing that is done with an Indian boy or girl admitted to one of these schools, is to wash the newcomer with considerable vigor from head to foot, and to cut off the superfluous, and, generally speaking, thickly matted hair.
The comfort of short hair, neatly combed and brushed, seldom impresses itself upon the youthful brave. For obvious reasons this is, however, insisted upon, and while the boy is at school he is kept neat and clean. Directly, however, he returns to his tribe he is in danger of relapsing into the habits of his forefathers. Too often he is sneered at for his neatness. His short hair is looked upon as an offense, and he is generally willing to fall in with tribal fashions, abandon his neat clothing, and let his hair grow and his face accumulate the regulation amount of dust and dirt.
The Indian trader and the pioneer generally will tell you that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. He will repeat this adage until it becomes wearisome in its monotony. Then, perhaps, he will vary it by telling you that of all the mean Indians the educated one is the meanest. This is only true in some instances, but it is a fact that education does not invariably benefit the Indian at all.
Almost all Indians are passionately fond of dancing. Several books have been written descriptive of the various dances of different tribes. Some of them have a hidden meaning and dangerous significance, while others are merely for the purpose of amusement and recreation. For these dances the Indians generally put on the most fancy costumes they have, and their movements are sometimes graceful and sometimes grotesque. The sign dance, as seen in some of the Southwestern tribes, is a curious one. One of the belles of the tribe leads a man into the dancing apartment, which consists of one of two tepees thrown together. In one are the tomtom beaters, in the other the dancers. In this room the couple begin to dance, making signs to each other, the meaning of which may be: "Well, what do you think of me? Do you like me? Do you think me pretty? How do I affect you?" and so on, the signs all being closely watched by the spectators, who applaud, giggle, chuckle or laugh uproariously by turns, as the case may be. Such a dance is a questioning bee, a collision of wits on the part of two really facetious Indians.
Wit is a universal trait of the savage. Some white men draw. All Indians draw. Some white men are cunning. All Indians are cunning. Some white men are humorous. All Indians are witty. Dry wit, with a proverbial philosophy in it which would have delighted the soul of Tupper, is indigenous to the Indian. The Indian is the finest epigrammist on earth. His sentences are pithy and sententious, because short—never long and involved. A book of Indian wit and wisdom would have an enormous sale, and reveal the very core of his thought on a typical scale.
The Indian flirt is sweet, saucy, subtle, seductive. She has the art of keeping in stock constantly about her a score of bucks, each one of whom flatters himself that he, and he alone, is the special object of her admiration. Every tribe has had its belle. Poquite for the Modocs, Ur-ska-te-na for the Navajos, Mini-haha for the Dakotas, Romona for the neighboring bands. These belles have their foes among Indian women, but, however cordially hated, they never brawl or come to blows.
Love-making is one of the interesting night scenes in an Indian camp. When a young man wants to court a pretty red couquette, he stands at the door of his lodge on a bright day and flashes a ray of light from his sun-glass on the face of his sweetheart far away. She sees the ray as it falls on her, and follows in the direction whence it is thrown, right or left. She understands the secret of these flash lights. Soon the lovers meet, each under a blanket; not a word, not a salutation is exchanged; they stand near each other for a time and then retire, only to repeat the affair day after day.
At last, upon some favorable night, the Indian youth visits the door of her lodge; she comes out and sits down on the ground beside him; still no word is spoken. At last she arises from the ground; he also rises, and standing before her, throws his blanket over both of them. No sooner has he done so than she doffs her blanket, letting it fall upon the ground, which is the admission on her part that she loves him, and does him obeisance as her future lord and master.
Every Indian camp at night is full of such lovers, with wooings as sweet, lips as willing, embraces as fond, lives as romantic, hearts as true, and elopements as daring and desperate as ever graced a Spanish court. The old people come together with their friends and hold a council. "How many ponies can he pay for her?" has a good deal to do with the eligibility of the suitor. That night he brings his articles of dowry to the door of his fiancee. If they are still there next morning, he is rejected; if not, accepted.
No formal marriage ceremony is gone through as a rule. The heart is the certificate and the Great Spirit the priest. Under the tribal government of the Indians, the rights of women were respected and clearly defined. She was the head of the house, and all property, save an insignificant amount, descended at death to her. She was in many tribes personified as the principal object of worship, prayer and adoration, in the tutelary goddess of the tribe. Now all is changed. The Indian of to-day is not the Indian of fifty years ago, and cannot be studied in the same light. His manners, customs and habits are all changed, and polygamy, more and more, creeps in with all its appalling degradations.
On special occasions an entire tribe is gathered under an open space in the cottonwoods to celebrate their principal dances. Hands are wildly waved above the heads of the dancers around a central fire of logs, piled in a conical heap. Around this blazing pile runs the dark circle which was built at sunset, inclosing sacred ground, which must not be trespassed on. The old chanter stands at the gate of the corral and sings. The men built the dark circle in less than an hour. When done, the corral measures forty paces in diameter. Around it stands a fence eight feet high, with a gate in the east ten feet wide.
At night-fall many of the Navajo people move, temporarily, all their goods and property into the corral, and abandon their huts or hogans. Those who do not move in are watchers to protect their property, for there are thieves among the Navajos. At 8 o'clock a band of musicians enters, and, sitting down, begins a series of cacophonous sounds on a drum. As soon as the music begins, the great wood pile is lighted. The conflagration spreads rapidly and lights the whole landscape and the sky. A storm of red, whirling sparks fly upward, like bright golden bees from out a hive, to a height of a hundred feet. The descending ashes fall in the corral like a light shower of snow. The heat soon grows so intense that in the remotest parts of the enclosure it is necessary for a person to screen his face when he looks towards the fire.
Suddenly a warning whistle is heard in the outer darkness, and a dozen forms, lithe and lean, dressed only with the narrow white breech-clout and mocassins, and daubed with white earth until they seem a group of living marbles, come bounding through the entrance, yelping like wolves, and slowly moving round the fire. As they advance, in single file, they throw their bodies into diverse attitudes, some graceful, some strained, some difficult, some menacing, and all grotesque. Now they face the east, now the west, now the south, now the north, bearing aloft their slender wands, tipped with eagle down, holding and waving them with surprising effects. Their course around the fire is to the left, east, west, south, north, a course invariably taken by all the dancers of the night.
When they have circled the fire twice, they begin to thrust their wands toward it. Their object is to try to burn off the tip of eagle down. They dash up to the fire, crawl up to it on their faces, run up holding their heads sidewise, dart up backward and approach it in all sorts of attitudes. Suddenly, one approaching the flaming pile throws himself on his back, with his head to the fire, and swiftly thrusts his wand into the flames. Many are the unsuccessful attempts, but at length, one by one, they all succeed in burning the downy balls from the end of their wands. As each accomplishes his feat, it becomes necessary, as the next duty, to restore the ball of down, which is done by refitting the ring held in the hand with down upon it, and putting it on the head of the aromatic sumac wand.
The dance customs and ideas differ with the tribes and localities. Sometimes the dance is little more than an exhibition of powers of endurance. Men or women, or both, go through fatiguing motions for hours and even days in succession, astounding spectators by their disregard of the traditions of their race, so far as idleness is concerned. Other dances are grotesque and brutal. On special occasions weird ceremonies are indulged in, and the proceedings are sensational in the extreme.
Of the ghost dance and its serious import, readers of the daily papers are familiar. Of the war dances of the different tribes a great deal has also been written, and altogether the dance lore of the American Indian is replete with singular incongruities and picturesque anomalies. Dancing with the Indian is often a religious exercise. It involves hardship at times, and occasionally the participants even mutilate themselves in their enthusiasm. Some of the tribes of the Southwest dance, as we shall see later, with venomous snakes in their hands, allowing themselves to be bitten, and relying on the power of the priests to save them from evil consequences.
The Indians gamble as if by instinct. On one occasion the writer was visiting a frontier town just after its settlement. Indians were present in very large numbers, and in a variety of ways they got hold of a good deal of money. The newcomers from the Eastern States were absolutely unprepared for the necessary privations of frontier life. Hence they were willing to purchase necessary articles at almost any price, while they were easily deluded into buying all sorts of articles for which they had no possible need. The Indians, who are supposed to be civilized, took full advantage of the situation, and brought into town everything that was of a salable character, frequently obtaining three or four times the local cash value.
With the money thus obtained they gambled desperately. One Indian, who boasted of the terrible name of "Cross-Eye," brought in two ponies to sell. One of them was an exceptionally ancient-looking animal, which had long since outlived its usefulness, and which, under ordinary local conditions, could certainly have been purchased for $4.00 or $5.00. A friendly Indian met Mr. "Cross-Eye", and a conversation ensued as to the value of the pony and the probable price that it would realize. The two men soon got angry on the subject, and finally the owner of the pony bet his animal's critic the pony against $20.00 that it would realize at least the last-named sum.
With this extra stimulus for driving a good bargain, the man offered his pony to a number of white men, and finally found one who needed an animal at once, and who was willing to pay $20.00 for the antiquated quadruped. "Cross-Eye" made a number of guttural noises indicative of his delight, and promptly collected the second $20.00.
He had thus practically sold a worthless pony for $40.00, and had it not been for his innate passion for gambling, would have done a very good day's business. A few hours later, however, he was found looking very disconsolate, and trying very hard to sell some supposed curiosities for a few dollars with which to buy a blanket he sorely needed. His impecuniosity was easily explained. Instead of proceeding at once to sell his second pony, he turned his attention first to gambling, and in less than an hour his last dollar had gone. Then, with the gamester's desperation, he had put up his second pony as a final stake, with the result that he lost his money and his stock in trade as well. He took the situation philosophically and stoically, but when he found it impossible in the busy pioneer town to get even the price of a drink of whisky for his curiosities, he began to get reckless, and was finally escorted out of the town by two or three of his friends to prevent him getting mixed up in a fight.
When the Indians have enough energy they gamble almost day and night. The women themselves are generally kept under sufficient subjection by their husbands to make gambling on their part impossible, so far as the actual playing of games of chance is concerned. But they stand by and watch the men. They stake their necklaces, leggings, ornaments, and in fact, their all, on the play, which is done sometimes with blue wild plum-stones, hieroglyphically charactered, and sometimes with playing bones, but oftener with common cards. Above the ground the tom-tom would be sounded, but below ground the tom-tom was buried.
An Indian smokes incessantly while he gambles. Putting the cigarette or cigar to his mouth he draws in the smoke in long, deep breaths, until he has filled his lungs completely, when he begins slowly to emit the smoke from his nose, little by little, until it is all gone. The object of this with the Indian is to steep his senses more deeply with the narcotizing soporific. The tobacco they smoke is generally their own raising.
"The thing that moved me most," writes a traveler, describing a visit to an Indian gambling den, "was the spectacle in the furthest corner of the 'shack' of an Indian mother, with a pappoose in its baby-case peeping over her back. There she stood behind an Indian gambler, to whom she had joined her life, painted and beaded and half intoxicated. The Indian husband had already put his saddle in pawn to the white professional gambler for his $5.00, and it was not five minutes before the white gambler had the saddle and $5.00 both. Then, when they had nothing else left to bet, so intense was their love for gambling, they began to put themselves in pawn, piecemeal, saying: 'I'll bet you my whole body.' That means 'I'll put myself in pawn to you as your slave to serve you as you will for a specified time.'
"So it was that this Indian mother stood leaning back wearily against the wall, half drunk and dazed with smoke and heat, when all at once the Indian who lived with her said to her in Indian: 'Put in the baby for a week. Then pay-day will come.' It was done. The baby was handed over. That is what civilization has done for the Indian. Its virtues escapes him; its vices inoculate him."
One of these vices is gambling. The Indian is kept poor all the year round and plucked of every pinfeather. That is the principal reason why he steals, not only to reimburse himself for loss, but also to avenge himself upon the white man, who he knows well enough has constantly robbed him.
Gambling, as witnessed in the Indian camp at night, is a very different affair from the cache. The tom-tom notifies all that the bouts with fortune are about to begin. During the game the music is steadily kept up. In the intervals between the games the players all sing. Crowds surround the camp. When a man loses heavily the whole camp knows it in a few minutes, and not infrequently the wife rushes in and puts a stop to the stake by driving her chief away. Gambling is the great winter game. It is often played from morning till night, and right along all night long. Cheating and trickery of every sort are practiced.
"Lizwin" or "mescal" are the two drinks made by the Indians themselves, one from corn and the other from the "maguay" plant. The plains Indians drink whisky. To gamble is to drink, and to drink is to lose. Gambling is the hardest work that you can persuade an Indian to do, unless threatened by starvation. Different tribes gamble differently.
The Comanches, undoubtedly, have by far the most exciting and fascinating gambling games. The Comanche puzzles, tricks and problems are also decidedly superior to those of any other nation. The gambling bone is used by the Comanches. The leader of the game holds it up before the eyes of all, so that all can see it; he then closes his two hands over it, and manipulates it so dexterously in his fingers that it is simply impossible to tell which hand the bone is in. In a moment he suddenly flings each closed hand on either side of him down into the outreaching hand of the player next to him.
The game commences at this point. The whole line of players passes, or pretends to pass, this bone on from one to another, until at last every hand is waving. All this time the eyes along the opposite line of gamblers are eagerly watching each shift and movement of the hands, in hopes of discovering the white flash of the bone. At last some one descries the hand that holds the bone, or thinks so. He points out and calls out for his side. The hand must instantly be thrown up. If it is right, the watching side scores a point and takes the bone. The sides change off in this way until the game is won. The full score is twenty-one points. The excitement produced by this game is at times simply indescribable.
The Utes play with two bones in each hand, one of which is wrapped about with a string. The game is to guess the hand that holds the wrapped bone. The plum-stone game is played by the plains Indians. It is only another name for dice throwing. The plum-stones are graved with hieroglyphics, and counts are curiously made in a way that often defies computation by white men. The women gamble quite as much as the men, when they dare, and grow even more excited over the game than their lords. Their game, as witnessed among the Cheyennes, is played with beads, little loops and long horn sticks made of deer foot.
The children look on and learn to gamble from their earliest childhood, and soon learn to cheat and impose on their juniors. Their little juvenile gambling operations are done principally with arrows. Winter breeds sloth, and sloth begets gambling, and gambling, drink. There is no conviviality in Indian drinking bouts. The Indian gets drunk, and dead drunk, as soon as he possibly can, and finds his highest enjoyment in sleeping it off. His nature reacts viciously under drink, however, in many cases, and he is then a dangerous customer.
The women of many tribes are a most pitiable lot of hard working, ragged and dirty humanity. Upon them falls all the drudgery of the camp; they are "hewers of wood and drawers of water," and bend under immense burdens piled upon their backs, while thousands of ponies browse, undisturbed, in every direction. As the troops are withdrawn, the squaws swoop down upon the deserted camps, and rapidly glean them of all that is portable, for use in their domestic economy. An Indian fire would be considered a very cheerless affair by the inmates of houses heated by modern appliances; but such as it is—a few sticks burning with feeble blaze and scarcely penetrating the dense smoke filling the tepee from the ground to the small opening at the top—it consumes fuel, and the demand is always greater than the supply, for the reason that an Indian has no idea of preparation for future necessities. If the fire burns, all right; when the last stick is laid on, a squaw will start for a fresh supply, no matter how cold and stormy the weather may be.
The poetical Indian maiden may still exist in the vivid imagination of extreme youth, but she is not common to-day. The young girls affect gay attire, and are exempt from the hardships of toil which are imposed on their elder sisters, mothers and grandams, but their fate is infinitely worse. Little beauty is to be discerned among them, and in this regard time seems to have effaced the types which were prevalent a few years ago.
Annuity day is a great event in the life of every Agency Indian, and if the reader would see Indian life represented in some of its most interesting features, there is no more suitable time to select for a visit to any Agency. It is a "grand opening," attended by the whole tribe; but the squaws do not enjoy quite the freedom of choice in the matter of dress goods, or receive such prompt attention from the clerks as our city ladies are accustomed to. Even at 9 o'clock in the morning, notwithstanding the fact that the actual distribution would not take place until noon, the nation's wards are there, patiently waiting for the business of the day to begin. Stakes have been driven into the ground to mark the space to be occupied by each band, and behind them, arranged in a semicircle, are the different families, under the charge of a head man. The bands vary in numbers, both of families and individuals, but they all look equally solemn as they sit on the ground, with their knees drawn up under their chins, or cross-legged like Turks and tailors.
The scene now becomes one of bustle and activity on the part of the Agency people, who begin rapidly filling wagon after wagon with goods from the store-houses. Blankets of dark blue material, cotton cloth, calico of all colors and patterns, red flannel, gay woolen shawls, boots and shoes that make one's feet ache to look at them, coffee pots, water buckets, axes, and numerous other articles, are piled into each wagon in the proportion previously determined by conference with the head men. A ticket is then given to the driver, bearing the number of the stake and the name of the head man. Away goes the wagon; the goods are thrown out on the ground in a pile at the proper stake, and that completes the formal transfer to the head man, who then takes charge of them, and, with, the assistance of a few of the bucks designated by himself, divides the various articles, according to the wants of the families and the amount of goods supplied.
During the rush and fury of the issue and division of the goods, the sombre figures in the background have scarcely moved. Not one has ventured to approach the center where the bucks are at work, measuring off the cloth, etc.; they are waiting for the tap of the bell, when they will receive just what the head man chooses to give them. There is no system of exchange there; it is take what you get or get nothing. In a great many cases they do not use the goods at all, but openly offer them for sale to the whites, who, no doubt, find it profitable to purchase at Indian prices.
As soon as the issue is completed, a crowd of Indians gather in front of the trader's store to indulge their passion for gambling, and in a short space of time a number of blankets and other articles change hands on the result of pony races, foot races or any other species of excitement that can be invented. There is a white man on the ground who is, no doubt, a professional runner, and the Indians back their favorite against him in a purse of over $30.00, which the white man covers, and wins the race by a few inches. The Indians will not give up, and make similar purses on the two succeeding days, only to lose by an inch or two. There is a master of ceremonies, who displays a wonderful control over the Indians. He makes all the bets for the red men, collecting different amounts for a score or more, but never forgetting a single item or person.
Ration day brings out the squaws and dogs in full force; the one to pack the rations to camp, and the latter to pick up stray bits. A few at a time the squaws enter the store-house and receive their week's supply of flour, coffee, sugar, salt, etc., for themselves and families. The beef is issued directly from the slaughter-house, and the proceeding is anything but appetizing to watch. The beeves to be killed are first driven into a corral, where they are shot by the Indian butchers; when the poor beasts have been shot to death, they are dragged to the door of the slaughter-house and passed through the hands of half-naked bucks, who seem to glory in the profusion of blood, and eagerly seek the position on account of the perquisites attached to it in the way of tempting (?) morsels which usually go to the dogs or on the refuse heap. The beef is issued as fast as it can be cut up, at the rate of half a pound a day for each person, regardless of age; bacon is also issued as a part of the meat ration.
CIVILIZATION—ACTUAL AND ALLEGED.
Tried in the Balances and Found Wanting—Indian Archers—Bow and Arrow Lore—Barbarous Customs that Die Slowly—"Great Wolf," the Indian Vanderbilt—How the Seri were Taught a Valuable Lesson—Playing with Rattlesnakes with Impunity.
Does Prohibition prohibit? is a question politicians and social reformers ask again and again. Does civilization civilize? is a question which is asked almost exclusively by persons who are interested in the welfare of the American Indian, and who come in daily contact with him.
In the preceding chapter we have seen some little of the peculiar habits of the American Indian, civilized and otherwise, and it will be interesting now to see to what extent the white man's teaching has driven away primeval habits of living, hunting and fighting. Within the last few weeks, evidence of a most valuable character on this question has been furnished by the report submitted to the Secretary of the Interior by the Commission sent to investigate matters concerning the five civilized tribes of Indians in the Indian Territory. This says that they have demonstrated their incapacity to govern themselves, and recommends that the trust that has been reposed in them by the Government should be revoked.
The courts of justice have become helpless and paralyzed. Murder, violence and robbery are an every-day occurrence. It was learned by the Commission that fifty-three murders occurred in the months of September and October in one tribe only, and not one of the culprits was brought to justice. The Dawes Commission recommends that a large portion of the Indian reservation be annexed to Oklahoma; this action to be followed by forming that country into a Territory. But to accomplish this, it would be necessary that the consent of the Indians be obtained, and this is doubtful.
The statement that the Indians have cast aside their ancient weapons and adopted more modern ones, and that through the use of them, they are gradually extending their hunting grounds beyond the lines of their reservations, is false. The report of the Commission makes this clearly known. Throughout the West the Indians still trust to their bows and arrows. On the northwest coast most of the Indians live by hunting and fishing. They use principally the bow and arrow, knife, war club and lance. In the North Pacific Ocean are several islands inhabited only by Indians. In the Queen Charlotte and the Prince of Wales Archipelago is found one of the most remarkable races of aborigines on the American continent. These are the Haida tribes, and consist of strikingly intelligent Indians. They acquire knowledge readily; learn trades and exhibit much ingenuity in following the teachings of missionaries and traders. But for all that, they still cling with something bordering upon affection to the primitive weapons of their race.
During the long winter nights the old Indians seat themselves before the fire and carve bows, ornament club handles, and feather and point arrows. Perhaps in some of the tepees hang polished guns furnished by the Government, but they are more for ornament than use. This evening work is accompanied by the low croaking of some old Indian, who tells over again the legends, folk-lore and nursery tales of their grandfathers and grandmothers.
The Haida tribe is more rapidly advancing in civilization than any of its neighbors, yet they still carve and paint bows, arrows, club handles and paddles. The Indians still cling to other rude implements and take not kindly to metal ones. Rude knives are still used for skinning deer, especially by the old Indians. The axe, of course, is employed for cutting trees and excavating canoes and mortars. It has really taken the place of the stone chisel, yet many old men prefer burning the roots of the tree until it can be made to fall by giving it a few hacks with the rude stone hatchet.
In archery, the Indian has scarcely been excelled. With a quick eye and a powerful muscle, he sends the arrow as unerringly as the archers of olden time.
The Indian bow is usually from three and one-half to four feet in length, with such a difficult spring that one with no experience can scarcely bend it sufficiently to set the string. Different tribes, of course, carry bows of different lengths, the Senecas having the longest. The best of woods for making bows are Osage orange, hickory, ash, elm, cedar, plum and cherry; some of these are strengthened with sinews and glue. Almost every tribe has three sizes, the largest being used for war purposes, and until an Indian can handle this war bow, he is not considered entitled to be called a warrior.
Some claim the Sioux and the Crows make the best bows, although the Apaches come close in the rank. When the Sioux bow is unstrung, it is a straight piece of wood, while the Apaches and the Southern Indians make a perfect Cupid's bow. The Crows often use elk horns as material, and carve them beautifully. The Sioux, to make the straight piece of wood more elastic, string the backs with sinews. Often these are beautifully beaded and leathered, quite equaling, as a piece of art, the elaborate elk horn bows made by the Crows. The Comanches' bows are covered with sinew, much like those of the Apaches. The object of practice is to enable the bowman to draw the bow with sudden and instant effect. It is seldom that the Indian has need of throwing the arrow to a great distance.
The bow of the Western Indian is small and apparently insignificant, though its owner makes it very powerful, indeed. From his babyhood days he has habituated it to his use, until it has become, as it were, a very part of his nature. The Indian studies to get the greatest power out of the smallest possible compass, and he finds a short bow on horseback far more easily used and much more reliable in its execution. In the Far West, bows are made largely of ash, and are lined with layers of buffalo or deer sinews on the back. The Blackfeet have in use very valuable bows of bone. Other tribes make use of the horns of mountain sheep. Sometimes the bone bows will fetch very large sums of money, and deals have been noticed in which the consideration for one of them was a pair of ponies, with five pounds of butter thrown in as make-weight.
An athletic Indian on a fleet horse can do terrible execution with one of these bows, which, even in these days of repeating rifles, is by no means to be despised as a weapon. No one can estimate the force of a throw from one of them when an artistic archer is in charge. The effects from a wound from an arrow are so distressing that it is quite common to accuse an Indian of using poisoned arrows, when possibly such a fiendish idea never entered his head. Only those who have ridden side by side with an Indian hunter really know how much more powerful an arrow shot is than the average man supposes.
In war the Indians would even now arm themselves in part with bow, quiver, lance, war club and shield. The Northwestern tribes are partial to fighting with the bow and lance, protected with a shield. This shield is worn outside of the left arm, after the manner of the Roman and Grecian shield.
The Western Indians are fonder of horseback riding than the Eastern tribes, and have learned to wield their weapons while mounted. They are taught to kill game while running at full speed, and prefer to fight on horseback. Some of them are great cowards when dismounted, but seated on an Indian pony they are undaunted.
It is a mistake to suppose that arrow-heads are no longer manufactured; the art of fashioning them is not lost. Almost every tribe manufactures its own. Bowlders of flint are broken with a sledge-hammer made of a rounded pebble of hornstone set in a twisted withe. This bone is thought to be the tooth of the sperm whale. In Oregon the Indian arrow is still pointed with flint. The Iroquois also used flint until they laid aside the arrow for the lack of anything to hunt. The Iroquois youth, though the rifle has been introduced largely into his tribe, will have none of it, but takes naturally to the bow and arrow. Steel for arrow-heads is furnished by the fur-traders in the Rocky Mountains, and iron heads are often made from old barrel hoops, fashioned with a piece of sandstone. In shooting with the bow and arrow on horseback, the Indian horse is taught to approach the animal attacked on the right side, enabling its rider to throw the arrow to the left. Buffalo Bill was an adept at slaughtering game on horseback, and he won his great bet at killing the greatest number of buffaloes, by following the custom of the Indians and shooting to the left. The horse approaches the animal, his halter hanging loose upon his neck, bringing the rider within three or four paces of the game, when the arrow or rifle ball is sent with ease and certainty through the heart.
Indians who have the opportunity to ride nowadays, still exercise with a lance twelve or fifteen feet in length. In their war games and dances they always appear with this lance and shield. The spears are modern and have a blade of polished steel, and the shields are made of skin. Those of old make are of buffalo neck. The skin is soaked and hardened with a glue extracted from the hoofs. The shields are arrow-proof, and will throw off a rifle shot if held obliquely, and this the Indian can do with great skill. Since there is no war or the occasion for the use of these arms, except in games of practice, many of the Indians, for a few bottles of "fire water," have sold their best shields, and now they are seen scattered over the country, preserved as curios.
It is folly to assume that the Indians have wholly or partly done away with their barbaric customs. In their celebrations it is their great joy to cast off their clothing and to paint their bodies all colors of the rainbow, wear horns on their heads and make themselves look as hideous as possible. The arrow game is introduced—never are there demonstrations with the modern weapons—and the man is esteemed above all others who can throw the greatest number of arrows in the sky before the first one falls. In hunting, the Sioux kill muskrats with spears, as they did in early days spear the buffaloes, managing to get close to them by being dressed in wolf skin, and going on all fours. There are Indians who would, on horseback, attack and kill a bear with a lance, but are afraid to molest the animal unless they have the Indian pony as a means of escape.
The arrow-heads of chert used for hunting are peculiarly fastened, in order to make the arrow revolve. The Indian feathers the arrow for the same purpose, and also carves the arrow shaft with a spiral groove. This is not, as has been supposed, to let the blood out of the wound, but to make the arrow carry.
Every tribe has its own arrow. It is claimed that the Pawnees are the best manufacturers. The Comanches feather their arrows with two feathers; the Navajos, Utes and all Apaches, except the Tontos, have three feathers—the Tontos using four feathers for each shaft. The bird arrow is the very smallest made.
"I have practiced" says one traveler, "for hours with the Utes, uselessly trying to blame the twist of the feathered arrow for my bad shots. The Indians say the carving and feathers are so arranged as to give the arrow the correct motion, and one old chief on seeing the twist in the rifle barrel by which the ball is made to revolve in the same manner, claimed that the white man stole his idea from the Indian."
Stones, with grooves around their greatest circumference, are secured to a handle by a withe or thong and become war clubs. They are dangerous weapons in the hand of an Indian. Tomahawks, manufactured by white men, have succeeded the war club in a way, as it is claimed the rifle has the bow and arrow. Recent tomahawks taken from the Indians bear an English trade-mark. They originally cost about 15 cents, and were sold to the Indians for nothing less than a horse, and perhaps two.
Chief "Wolf," an Indian Croesus, and the Vanderbilt of the red men, though he is worth over $500,000 and drives at times in an elegant coach, clings closely to his tepee, ever demonstrating the savage part of his life.
He lives at Fishhook Bay, on the Snake River, in the State of Washington. He is of the Palouse Snake Indians, and though he has a comfortable house, he never sleeps there, but goes to the tepee, no matter how inclement the weather. In the days when the buffalo were plenty, "Wolf" was a great hunter. He tells a tale of driving 3,000 bison over a bluff near the Snake, where they were all killed by the fall. This is supposed to be true, because until late years the place was a mass of bones. Though he has his guns and all the modern fire-arms, both he and his children cling to the primitive weapons of war.
The correspondence between the Governments of the United States and Mexico over the brutal murder of two men by the Seri Indians, seems to show that some at least of the North American Indians have gained nothing at all from the civilizing influences which are supposed to have extended for so many years. The deed had no other motive than pure fiendishness. Small as is the tribe of Seris—they number only about 200 souls—these savages are the most blood-thirsty in North America. For a long time they have terrorized Sonora, but the Mexican Government seems powerless to control them.
The tribe was visited recently by an expedition from the Bureau of Ethnology, which has just returned to Washington with some very interesting information. Prof. W. J. McGee, who led the party, says: "It is understood that the Seris are cannibals—at all events they eat every white man they can slay. They are cruel and treacherous beyond description. Toward the white man, their attitude is exactly the same as that of a white man toward a rattlesnake—they kill him as a matter of course, unless restrained by fear. Never do they fight in open warfare, but always lie in ambush. They are copper-colored Ishmaelites. It is their custom to murder everybody, white, red or Mexican, who ventures to enter the territory they call their own."
In many respects the Seris are the most interesting tribe of savages in North America. They are decidedly more primitive in their way than any other Indians, having scarcely any arts worth mentioning. In fact, they have not yet advanced as far as the stone age. The only stone implement in common use among them is a rude hammer of that material, which they employ for beating clay to make a fragile and peculiar kind of pottery. When one of the squaws wishes to make meal of mesquite beans, and she has no utensil for the purpose, she looks about until she finds a rock with an upper surface, conveniently hollow, and on this she places the beans, pounding them with an ordinary stone.
The Seris live on the Island of Tiburon, in the Gulf of California. They also claim 5,000 square miles of the mainland in Sonora. Their dwellings are the rudest imaginable. A chance rock commonly serves for one wall of the habitation; stones are piled up so as to make a small enclosure, and the shell of a single great turtle does for a roof. The house is always open on one side, and is not intended as a shelter from storms, but chiefly to keep off the sun. The men and women wear a single garment like a petticoat, made of pelican skin; the children are naked. Not far from Tiburon, which is about thirty miles long by fifteen miles wide, there is a smaller island where pelicans roost in vast numbers. The Seris go at night and with sticks knock over as many birds as they require.
These Indians are fond of carrion. It makes no difference to them whether a horse has died a natural death a week or a month ago, they devour the flesh greedily. The feet of the animal they boil until those parts are tender enough to bite. The Seris are among the very dirtiest of savages. Their habits in all respects are filthy. They seem to have almost no amusements, though the children play with the very rudest dolls. Before the whites came they used pieces of shells for cutting instruments. They are accustomed to killing deer by running and surrounding the animals. No traditions of sufficient interest to justify recording in print appear to exist among these people. The most interesting ornament seen on any member of the tribe was a necklace of human hair, adorned with the rattles of rattlesnakes, which abound in the territory infested with these remnants of all that is most objectionable among the aboriginal red men of this continent.
Physically speaking, the Seris are most remarkable. They are of great stature, the men averaging nearly six feet in height, with splendid chests. But the most noticeable point about them is their legs, which are very slender and sinewy, resembling the legs of the deer. Since the first coming of the Spaniards they have been known to other tribes as the runners. It is said that they can run from 150 to 200 miles per day, not pausing for rest. The jack rabbit is considered a very fleet animal, yet these Indians are accustomed to catch jack rabbits by outrunning them.
For this purpose, three men or boys go together. If the rabbit ran straight away from the pursuer it could not be taken, but its instinct is to make its flight by zigzags. The hunters arrange themselves a short distance apart. As quickly as one of them starts a rabbit, a second Indian runs as fast as he can along a line parallel with the course taken by the animal. Presently the rabbit sees the second Indian, and dashes off at a tangent. By this time the third hunter has come up and gives the quarry another turn. After the third or fourth zigzag, the rabbit is surrounded, and the hunters quickly close in upon him and grab him.
It is an odd fact that this method of catching jack rabbits is precisely the same as that adopted by coyotes, which work similarily by threes. By this strategy, these wild dogs capture the rabbits, though the latter are more fleet by far. It is believed that no other human being approaches the Seris in celerity of movement. A favorite sport of the boys is lassoing dogs. Mongrel curs are the only animals domesticated by these wild people. For amusement sake, the boys take their dogs to a clear place and drive them in all directions, then they capture the frightened animals by running and throwing the lassos, which are made of human hair. They have no difficulty in overtaking the dogs.
One day, a party of boys returning with their dogs after a bout of this sport, passed near a bush in which there were three or four blackbirds; on spying the birds, they dashed toward the bush and tried to catch them with their hands; they did not succeed, though one of the birds only escaped with the loss of several feathers. Some women of the tribe were watching, and they actually jeered at the boys for their failure. The boys were so mortified that they did not go into camp, but went off and sat by themselves in the shade of a greasewood bush. What white man or boy would think of catching blackbirds in such a way? Yet non-success in an attempt of that kind was the exception and not the rule. The Seris often take birds in this fashion.
Senor Encinas was the pioneer in that region. He found good grazing country in the territory claimed by the Seris, and so established his stock farm there. He brought priests with him to convert the savages, and caught a couple of the latter to educate as interpreters. The plan for civilizing the Indians proved a failure. They did not care to become Christians, and they killed the Senor's stock. So, finally, the Senor decided to adopt a new course of procedure. He summoned the Indians to a council, as many of them as would come, and informed them that from that time on he and his vaqueros would slay an Indian for every head of cattle that was killed. At the same time he sent away the priests and engaged an additional number of vaqueros.
The Indians paid no attention to the warning, and a few days later they killed several head of cattle. Without delay the Senor and his men coralled and killed a corresponding number of the Seris. Then there was war. The savages made ambushes, but they had only bows and arrows, and the vaqueros fought bravely with their guns. Every ambush turned out disastrously for the Indians. Finally, the Seris made a great ambush, and there was a battle which resulted in the killing of sixty-five savages. The lesson proved sufficient, and the Indians were glad to conclude a permanent peace, agreeing that no further depredations against the Senor or his property should be attempted. From beginning to end the fighting lasted ten years.
After the killing of the two Americans, the Seris were very much afraid of reprisals. For a good while they did not dare to come to the ranch of Senor Encinas, but at length one old woman came for the philosophical purpose of seeing if she would be killed. She was well treated and went away. Eventually confidence was restored, and about sixty of the savages were visiting on the premises.
No other people in North America have so few conceptions of civilization as the Seris. They have absolutely no agriculture. As well as can be ascertained they never put a seed into the ground or cultivate a plant. They live almost wholly on fish, water fowl, and such game as they kill on the main land. The game includes large deer, like black tails, and exquisite species of dwarf deer, about the size of a three months' fawn, pecarries, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, rabbits and quail. They take very large green turtles in the Gulf of California. Mesquite beans they eat both cooked and raw. The mesquite is a small tree that bears seeds in pods.
The snake dance is another evidence of the comparative failure of civilization to civilize. This is seen chiefly in the vicinity of the Grand Canon of the Colorado. Venomous rattlesnakes are used in the dance, which is an annual affair. Hundreds of snakes are caught for the occasion, and when the great day arrives the devotees rush into the corral and each seizes a rattler for his purpose. Reliable authorities, who have witnessed this dance, vouch for the fact that the snakes are not in any way robbed of their power to implant their poisonous fangs into the flesh of the dancers. It even appears as though the greater the number of bites, the more delighted are the participants, who hold the reptiles in the most careless manner and allow them to strike where they will, and to plant their horrible fangs into the most vulnerable parts with impunity. When the dance is over, the snakes are taken back to the woods and given their liberty, the superstition prevailing that for the space of one year the reptiles will protect the tribe from all ill or suffering.
The main interest attached to this dance is the secret of why it is the dancers do not die promptly. No one doubts the power of the rattlesnake to kill. Liberal potations of whisky are supposed by some people to serve as an antidote, while Mexicans and some tribes of Indians claim to have knowledge of a herb which will also prolong the life of a man stung by a snake and apparently doomed to an early death. Tradition tells us that for the purposes of this dance, a special antidote has been handed down from year to year, and from generation to generation, by the priests of the Moquis. It is stated that one of the patriarchs of old had the secret imparted to him under pledges and threats of inviolable secrecy. By him it has been perpetuated with great care, being always known to three persons, the high priest of the tribe, his vice-regent and proclaimed successor, and the oldest woman among them. On the death of any one of the three trustees of the secret, the number is made up in the manner ordered by the rites of the tribal religion, and to reveal the secret in any other way is to invite a sudden and an awful death.
During the three days spent by the dancers in hunting snakes, it is stated that the secret decoction is freely administered to them, and that in consequence they handle the reptiles with perfect confidence. When they are bitten there is a slight irritation but nothing worse. On the other hand, there is often a heavy loss of life during the year from snake bites, for the sacred antidote is only used on the stated occasion for which it was, so the legend runs, specially prepared or its nature revealed.
The people living within almost sight of the Grand Canon vary as much in habits and physique as does the scenery and general contour of the canon vary in appearance. The Cliff Dwellers and the Pueblos do not as a rule impress the stranger with their physical development, nor are they on the average exceptionally tall or heavy. There are, however, small tribes in which physical development has been, and still is, a great feature. Unlike the Pueblos, these larger men wear little clothing, so that their muscular development and the size of their limbs are more conspicuous. Naturally skilled hunters, these powerful members of the human race climb up and down the most dangerous precipices, and lead an almost ideal life in the most inaccessible of spots.
The Maricopa Indians must be included among those whose general appearance seems to invite admiration, however much one may regret the absence of general civilization and education. These men are for the most part honest, if not hard working, and they are by no means unpleasant neighbors. Right near them are the homes of smaller Indians, who have reduced peculation to a fine art, and who steal on general principles. We have all heard of the little boy who prefers to steal poor apples from his neighbor's tree to picking up good ones in his father's orchard. Much the same idea seems to prevail among these Indians. They will frequently spend several hours and even the greater portion of a day, maneuvering to secure some small article worth but a few cents to any one.
They have a way of ingratiating themselves with white tourists, and offering to act as guides not only to spots of special beauty, but also to mines of great value. When they succeed in convincing strangers of their reliability, they are happy, and at once proceed to exhibit the peculiar characteristics of their race. Pocket handkerchiefs, stockings and hats are believed to be the articles after which they seek with the most vigor. They are, however, not particular as to what they secure, and anything that is left unguarded for but a few hours, or even minutes, is certain to be missed. The perquisites thus obtained or retained are regarded as treasure trove. When first charged with having stolen anything, they deny all knowledge of the offense, and protest their innocence in an amusing manner. When, however, convincing proof is obtained, and the missing article discovered, the convicted thief thinks the matter a good joke, and laughs most heartily at the credulity and carelessness of the white man.
OLD TIME COMMUNISTS.
Houses on Rocks and Sand Hills—How Many Families Dwelt Together in Unity—Peculiarities of Costumes—Pueblo Architecture and Folk Lore—A Historic Struggle and How it Ended—Legends Concerning Montezuma—Curious Religious Ceremonies.
Perhaps the most peculiar people to be found in our native land are the Pueblos, who live in New Mexico between the Grande and Colorado Rivers. When Coronado, the great explorer, marched through the territory 450 years ago, he found these people in a condition of at least comparative civilization. They were living in large houses, each capable of accommodating several families, and solidly built. Although they had wandering bands of robbers for their nearest neighbors, they were able to defend themselves against all comers, and were content and prosperous. Their weapons, although primitive, were quite scientific, and were handled with much skill as well as bravery.
For two years they were able to withstand the Spanish invaders in their "casas-grandes." It had been reported to the Spanish commanders that several hundred miles in the north lay a great empire named Cibola, which had seven large cities. In these were long streets, on which only gold and silversmiths resided; imposing palaces towered in the suburbs, with doors and columns of pure turquoise; the windows were made of precious stones brilliantly polished. At the sumptuous feasts of the prince of the land, enchanting slaves served the most delicate dainties on golden dishes. There were mountains of opal rising above valleys reveling in jewels, with crystal streams, whose bottom consisted of pure silver sand.
The disappointment of the Spaniards was great. A number of large Indian villages were found, whose inhabitants subsisted upon the fruits of a primitive agriculture. The frugality and thrift of the Pueblos excited the interest of the voluptuous Spaniards. The peculiar architecture of the villages and houses also drew their admiration. Taken as a whole, the circles of houses resembled the cells of a wasp's nest, of which the upper stories were reached on a crude ladder. Entrance could be gained only through a small opening in the roof, not even the sides facing the streets containing doors. A few heavily grated windows served as port-holes for their arrows. These peculiar constructions of baked clay are still fashionable in such old towns as Suni, Taos and others.
Situated as the Moqui villages and Acoma were, on the top of an inaccessible rock, the Spaniards despaired of conquering them. The supposed Cibola not panning out according to expectation, they did not seek reinforcement, and left the Pueblos in peace. Only near the end of the Sixteenth Century the Pueblos had to submit to Spanish rule, under which they remained until 1848, when the territory embracing New Mexico and Arizona was ceded to the United States.
In some respects the Spanish supremacy proved beneficial to the Indians. They virtually maintained their independence. Many innovations in their life and customs can be traced from this period. The only domestic creatures in their villages were large turkeys, whose feathers served as head ornaments for the warriors; but horses, cows, sheep, goats, dogs and last, but not least, the indispensable burros were added to their domestic stock.
The most important change in their communistic mode of living dates from the annexation of New Mexico to the United States, and the introduction of railroads. Their unfriendly neighbors, the Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas and Navajos, were restricted to their own reservations.
Feeling safe under the powerful protection of the Government, these peaceable people have begun to relinquish their old mode of communistic existence in their strange dwellings. Until recently, there was a promiscuous living together of large families in the numerous apartments of a single house, to which access could be only obtained through a small aperture in the roof. More modern cottages are being built for single families now; farming is also carried on on a large scale, and in some parts grape and fruit culture is attempted with good results.
All the villages are characterized by a certain industrial monopoly. In one of them, for instance, the pottery for all the Pueblos is manufactured; in others, like the Moqui villages, all the people are employed in the making of finely woven goats' hair blankets, in which occupation many are great experts. Although a large number are engaged in the sale of blankets and Indian goods in the southwestern part of the Union, in the gold diggings of California, in Mormon settlements, in the small railroad stations of Arizona, the average Pueblo Indian prefers a settled life. He is domestic in his habits, and loves his family, his cattle, his farm and his neighbors as dearly as does his pale-faced brothers. And has he not good cause to rejoice and be contented with his lot? Has he not a faithful and charming wife? There are some pretty girls of perfect contour among the Pueblo Indians, especially in the Tigua villages. Are not his gleeful children, who are enjoying a romp on the huge sand hills, obedient and reverential in his presence? The impudent spirit of young America has not yet exerted its baneful influence here.
How scrupulously clean are the households! The good housewives of the Netherlands do not excel the Pueblo squaws in cleanliness. Floors are always carefully swept; all along the walls of the spacious rooms seats and couches are covered with finely variegated rugs; the walls are tastefully decorated with pictures and mirrors, and the large cupboards are filled with luxurious fruits, meats, pastry and jellies. Thousands of white bread-winners in the large cities would envy these Indians if they could behold their comparative affluence and their obviously contented state. Nor do they obtain all this without fatiguing toil. The land is barren and dry, which compels them to induce irrigation through long canals from far away streams, and the men are never afraid of work.
The Pueblo pottery of to-day differs but little from that of the Sixteenth Century. In the pottery villages the work is done mostly by men, who sit on the broad, shaded platform and shape their immense vessels in imitation of human beings and every imaginable animal shape. The grotesquely shaped mouth is generally intended for the opening, through which the water, soup or milk is poured.
The squaws are assuming more and more the occupations of the modern housewife, though they still grind their corn in the stone troughs used hundreds of years ago, and they still bake their bread in thin layers on hot, glowing stones. Dressmakers and tailors still go a-begging among the Pueblo people, and no attention whatever is paid to Parisian dictators of fashion. The good Pueblo squaw cuts, fits, and sews all the clothing for the family, which used to be composed mostly of leather. Her husband's wardrobe consists now of a few multi-colored shirts, a pair or two of leather pantaloons, with silver buttons, mocassins and a shoulder blanket.
The head gear, if any be worn, as is often the case, is simply a large colored handkerchief. Girls are usually dressed like the daughters of Southern farmers, but they refuse to discard the bloomers, over which the petticoats are worn a little below the knees. These leather pantalettes are a necessity in a country where poisonous snakes and insects abound in gardens and fields. To see a Pueblo girl at her best, she must be surprised in animated gossip in a bevy of girl friends, or when engaged in mirthful laughter while at work. Then the expressive, deep black eyes sparkle and the white teeth offer a glittering contrast to her fine black tresses, eyes and eyebrows. The Pueblo Indians are to be congratulated on one fact especially, that they permitted their moral improvement through the agency of the black-frocked missionaries and school teachers who came from the East, but also that they are one of the few tribes who resisted the conscienceless rascals who would wreck their homes through "fire water" and gambling devices.
A large number of ancient many-storied, many chambered communal houses are scattered over New Mexico, three of the most important of which are Isletta, Laguna and Acoma. Isletta and Laguna are within a stone's throw of the railroad, ten miles and sixty-six miles, respectively, beyond Albuquerque, and Acoma is reached from either Laguna or Bubero by a drive of a dozen miles. The aboriginal inhabitants of the pueblos, an intelligent, complex, industrious and independent race, are anomalous among North American natives. They are housed to-day in the self-same structures in which their forefathers were discovered, and in three and a half centuries of contact with Europeans their manner of life has not materially changed.
The Indian tribes that roamed over mountain and plain have become wards of the Government, debased and denuded of whatever dignity they once possessed, ascribe what cause you will for their present condition. But the Pueblo Indian has absolutely maintained the integrity of his individuality, and is self-respecting and self-sufficient. He accepted the form of religion professed by his Spanish conquerors, but without abandoning his own, and that is practically the only concession his persistent conservatism has ever made to external influence.
Laborious efforts have been made to penetrate the reserve with which the involved inner life of this strange child of the desert is guarded, but it lies like a dark, vast continent behind a dimly visible shore, and he dwells within the shadowy rim of a night that yields no ray to tell of his origin. He is a true pagan, swathed in seemingly dense clouds of superstition, rich in fanciful legend, and profoundly ceremonious in religion. His gods are innumerable. Not even the ancient Greeks possessed a more populous Olympus. On that austere yet familiar height, gods of peace and of war, of the chase, of bountiful harvest and of famine, of sun and rain and snow, elbow a thousand others for standing room. The trail of the serpent has crossed his history, too, and he frets his pottery with an imitation of its scales, and gives the rattlesnake a prominent place among his deities. Unmistakably a pagan, yet the purity and well being of his communities will bear favorable comparison with those of the enlightened world.
He is brave, honest and enterprising within the fixed limits of his little sphere; his wife is virtuous, his children are docile. And were the whole earth swept bare of every living thing, save for a few leagues surrounding his tribal home, his life would show no manner of disturbance. Probably he might never hear of so unimportant an event. He would still alternately labor and relax in festive games, still reverence his gods and rear his children to a life of industry and content, so anomalous is he, so firmly established in an absolute independence.
Pueblo architecture possesses none of the elaborate ornamentation found in the Aztec ruins in Mexico. The exterior of the house is absolutely plain. It is sometimes seven stories in height and contains over a thousand rooms. In some instances it is built of adobe—blocks of mud mixed with straw and dried in the sun, and in others, of stone covered with mud cement. The entrance is by means of a ladder, and when that is pulled up the latch-string is considered withdrawn.
The pueblo of pueblos is Acoma, a city without a peer. It is built upon the summit of a table-rock, with overhanging, eroded sides, 350 feet above the plain, which is 7,000 feet above the sea. Anciently, according to the traditions of the Queres, it stood upon the crest of the superb Haunted Mesa, three miles away, and some 300 feet higher, but its only approach was one day destroyed by the falling of a cliff, and three unhappy women, who chanced to be the only occupants—the remainder of the population being at work in the fields below—died of starvation, in view of the homeless hundreds of their people who for many days surrounded the unscalable mesa with upturned, agonized faces.
The present Acoma is the one discovered by the Spaniards; the original pueblo on the Mesa Encantada being even then an ancient tradition. It is 1,000 feet in length and 40 feet high, and there is, besides, a church of enormous proportions. Until lately, it was reached only by a precipitous stairway in the rock, up which the inhabitants carried upon their backs every particle of the materials of which the village is constructed. The graveyard consumed forty years in building, by reason of the necessity of bringing earth from the plain below; and the church must have cost the labor of many generations, for its walls are 60 feet high and 10 feet thick, and it has timbers 40 feet long and 14 inches square.
The Acomas welcomed the soldiers of Coronado with deference, ascribing to them celestial origin. Subsequently, upon learning the distinctly human character of the Spaniards, they professed allegiance, but afterwards wantonly slew a dozen of Zaldibar's men. By way of reprisal, Zaldibar headed three-score soldiers and undertook to carry the sky-citadel by assault. The incident has no parallel in American history, short of the memorable and similar exploit of Cortez on the great Aztec pyramid.
After a three days' hand to hand struggle, the Spaniards stood victors upon that seemingly impregnable fortress, and received the submission of the Queres, who for three-quarters of a century thereafter remained tractable. In that interval, the priests came to Acoma and held footing for fifty years, until the bloody uprisal of 1680 occurred, in which priest, soldier and settler were massacred or driven from the land, and every vestige of their occupation was extirpated. After the resubjection of the natives by De Vargas, the present church was constructed, and the Pueblos have not since rebelled against the contiguity of the white man.
All the numerous Mexican communities in the Territory contain representatives of the Penitentes order, which is peculiar by reason of the self-flagellations inflicted by its members in excess of pietistic zeal. Unlike their ilk of India, they do not practice self-torture for long periods, but only upon a certain day in each year. Then, stripped to the waist, these poor zealots go chanting a dolorous strain, and beating themselves unsparingly upon the back with the sharp-spined cactus, or soap-weed, until they are a revolting sight to look upon. Often they sink from the exhaustion of long-sustained suffering and loss of blood. One of the ceremonies among these peculiar people is the bearing of a huge cross of heavy timber for long distances. Martyrs to conscience and religious devotees frequently carry crosses of immense weight for miles, and are watched eagerly by crowds of excited spectators. The man who carries this fanatacism to the greatest length is the hero of the day, and receives the appointment of Chief of the Ceremonies for the following year.
Ceremonies such as these point to the extreme antiquity of the people, and seem to indicate that they must have been descended from tribes which were prominent in biblical narrative. According to many able historians, people have resided in this part of the world for at least twelve hundred years. In other words, when Columbus and Americus Vespucius discovered and explored the new world or portions of it, these peculiar people had been living on the then mysterious continent for the greater part of a thousand years.
According to some authorities these people are aboriginal. According to others, they migrated from some distant clime. The antiquity of China is well known, and there is good reason to believe that the Moquis and Zunis have sprung from Chinese voyagers, or perhaps pirates, who, hundreds of years ago, were wrecked on the western shores of America. Another theory is, that on the occasion of one of the numerous expulsions or emigrations from China, a band of Mongolians turned northward and came into America by crossing the Behring Strait.
Other antiquarians think that Morocco, rather than China, was the original home of these races. The traveler is much struck with the resemblance between the habits and customs of the Moors and of some of the old established tribes of New Mexico. In dress and architecture the Moorish idea certainly prevails very prominently. The white toga and the picturesque red turban are prominent in these resemblances. The jugs used for carrying water are distinctly Moorish in type, and the women carry them on their heads in that peculiar manner which is so characteristic of Moorish habits and customs.
One of the very earliest records of these people has been left us by Spanish explorers. A writer who accompanied one of the earliest expeditions from Spain, says: "We found a great town called Acoma, containing about 5,000 people, and situated upon a rock about fifty paces high, with no other entrance but by a pair of stairs hewn in the rock, whereat our people marveled not a little. The chief men of this town came peaceably to visit us, bringing many mantles and chamois skins, excellently dressed, and great plenty of victuals. Their corn-fields were two leagues distant, and they fetched water out of a small river to water the same, on the brinks whereof there were great banks of roses like those of Castile. There were many mountains full of metals. Our men remained in the place three days, upon one of which the inhabitants made before them a very solemn dance, coming forth in the same gallant apparel, using very witty sports, wherewith our men were exceedingly delighted."
Among the ruins found here, the early use of stone for architectural purposes is clearly manifested, and there are innumerable relics of ingenuity in periods upon which we are apt to look with great contempt. Arrow-heads made of flint, quartz, agate and jaspar, can easily be found by the relic hunter. Hatchets made of stone, and sharpened in a most unique manner, are also common, and the ancestors of the Pueblos undoubtedly used knives made of stone hundreds of years ago.
One of the most interesting of the ancient houses is in the Chaco Canon. This edifice was probably at one time 300 feet long, about half as wide and three stories high. From the nature of the rooms, it is evident that the walls were built in terrace-form out of sandstone. There were about 150 rooms, and judging from the present habits of the people, at least 500 human beings lived in this mammoth boarding-house. Another very interesting structure of a similar character is found on the Upper Grande River, about two hours' drive from Santa Fe. It was about 300 feet square originally, and most of the foundations are still in fairly good condition, though much of the exposed portion of the stone has yielded by degrees to the friction caused by continual sandstorms. It is believed that more than 1,000 people lived in this one house.
Of recent years a good deal has been written concerning the possibilities of the future in regard to saving expense by large numbers of families occupying one house. Most of these ideas have been ridiculed, because experience has proved that families seldom reside comfortably in crowded quarters. The tribes of which we are writing, while they destroy the originality of the communistic ideas of the Nineteenth Century, also disprove the arguments which are principally brought against them. In these singular houses or colonies, several families live together in perfect harmony. There are no instances on record of disputes such as are met with in boarding-houses patronized by white people, and in this one respect, at any rate, quite a lesson is taught us by the Pueblo tribes. The people are quiet and peaceable in disposition, and one secret of their peaceful dwelling together is found in the absence of jealousy, a characteristic or vice which does not seem to have penetrated into the houses on the cliffs, or to have sullied the dispositions of these people with such a remarkable and creditable history. It requires a good deal of dexterity and agility to enter or leave a communal house of this character, and a door, from what we are apt to term a civilized point of view, is unknown.
The visitor is told a number of legends and stories about these houses and the people who live in them. The coming of Montezuma is the great idea which permeates all the legends and stories. According to many of the people, Montezuma left Mexico, during the remote ages, in a canoe built of serpent-skins. His object was to civilize the East and to do away with human sacrifice. He communicated with the people by means of cords in which knots were tied in the most ingenious manner. The knots conveyed the meaning of the Prophet, and his peculiar messages were carried from pueblo to pueblo by swift messengers, who took great delight in executing their tasks.