Commerce of the Prairies


Commerce of the Prairies: or, The journal of a Santa Fé trader, 1831–1839 was written by Josiah Gregg (1806–1850), a merchant, explorer, naturalist, and author who described his travels and adventures throughout the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. He is most famous for this book, a classic description of his early travels along the Santa Fe Trail to Santa Fe, then along El Camino Real to Chihuahua, Mexico and further south.

Santa Fe Trail around 1845.

QuotesEdit

This book in two volumes was originally published in 1844[1], two years prior to the outbreak of the Mexican American War, and the year prior to the U.S. annexation of Texas which precipitated the war. The edition from which these quotes are taken was published by A. H. Clark in 1905.

Chapter 12 Government of New Mexico... Fandangoes — CigarritosEdit

  • Prior to the adoption of the Sistema Central in the Mexican republic, the province of New Mexico was under a territorial government. The executive was called Gefe Politico (political chief), and the Diputacion Provincial very inefficiently supplied the place of a legislature. Under the present system, however, New Mexico being a department, the names of these powers have been changed, but their functions remain very nearly the same. The Gobernador (governor) is appointed by the President for eight years. The legislative power is nominally vested in a Junta Departamental, a kind of state council, with very circumscribed powers, somewhat analogous to, and certainly not more extensive than, those of a board of aldermen with us. But even this shadow of popular representation was 'prorogued' by Gov. Armijo soon after his accession to power (five or six years ago), and has never since been convened; so that its functions have been arbitrarily exercised by the governor ever since.
    • p.21
  • The administration of the laws in Northern Mexico constitutes one of the most painful features of her institutions. Justice, or rather judgments, are a common article of traffic; and the hapless litigant who has not the means to soften the claws of the alcalde with a 'silver unction,' is almost sure to get severely scratched in the contest, no matter what may be the justice of his cause, or the uprightness of his character. It is easy to perceive, then, that the poor and the humble stand no chance in a judicial contest with the wealthy and consequential, whose influence, even apart from their facilities for corrupting the court and suborning witnesses, is sufficient to neutralize any amount of plebeian testimony that might be brought against them.
    • p.21
  • The evil consequences arising from maladministration, of justice in New Mexico are most severely felt by foreigners, against whom a strong prejudice prevails throughout the South. Of these, the citizens of the United States are by far the most constant sufferers; an inevitable result of that sinister feeling with which the 'rival republic' views the advancement and superiority of her more industrious neighbors.
    • p.22
  • Few men, perhaps, have done more to jeopard the interests of American traders, or to bring the American character itself into contempt, than Armijo, the present arbitrary governor of New Mexico.
    • p.23
  • With a view of oppressing our merchants, Gov. Armijo had, as early as 1839, issued a decree exempting all the natives from the tax imposed on store-houses, shops, etc., throwing the whole burden of impost upon foreigners and naturalized citizens; a measure clearly and unequivocally at variance with the treaties and stipulations entered into between the United States and Mexico. A protest was presented without effect... But this system of levying excessive taxes upon foreigners, is by no means an original invention of Gov. Armijo. In 1835, the government of Chihuahua having levied a contribucion de guerra for raising means to make war upon the [Native Americans]... foreign merchants ...were taxed twenty-five dollars each per month; while the native merchants... paid only from five to ten dollars each. Remonstrances were presented to the governor, but in vain. In his official reply, that functionary declared, "que el gobierno cree arreglado el reparto de sus respectivas contribuciones,"— the government believes your respective contributions in accordance with justice — which concluded the correspondence...
    • p.27
  • The only tribunals of 'justice' in New Mexico are those of the ordinary alcaldes or justices of the peace; and an appeal from them is carried to the Supreme Court in the department of Chihuahua. The course of litigation is exceedingly simple and summary. The plaintiff makes his verbal complaint or demand before the alcalde, who orders him to summon the defendant, which is done by simply saying, "Le llama el alcalde" (the alcalde calls you) into his presence, the applicant acting thus in the double capacity of constable and complainant. The summons is always verbal, and rarely for a future time — instant attendance being expected. Should the defendant refuse to obey this simple mandate (which, by the bye, is a very rare occurrence), the alcalde sends his baston de justicia, his staff of justice, an ordinary walking-cane, distinguished only by a peculiar black silk tassel. This never fails to enforce compliance, for a refusal to attend after being shown the staff, would be construed into a contempt of court, and punished accordingly. The witnesses are sometimes sworn upon a cross cut on the baston de justicia, or more frequently, perhaps, upon a cross formed with the finger and thumb. Generally speaking, however, the process of examination is gone through without a single oath being administered; and in the absence of witnesses, the alcalde often proceeds to sentence upon the simple statements of the contending parties. By a species of mutual agreement, the issue of a suit is sometimes referred to hombres buenos (arbitrators), which is the nearest approximation that is made to trial by jury. In judicial proceedings, however, but little, or rather no attention is paid to any code of laws; in fact, there is scarcely one alcalde in a dozen who knows what a law is, or who ever saw a law-book. Their decisions, when not influenced by corrupt agencies, are controlled by the prevailing customs of the country.
    • p.28
  • In the administration of justice, there are three distinct and privileged jurisdictions, known as fueros: the eclesiástico, which provides that no member of the clergy, at least of the rank of curate and upwards, shall ever be arraigned before a civil tribunal, but shall be tried by their superiors in the order; the militar, which makes a similar provision in favor not only of commissioned officers, but of every common soldier from the ranks; and the civil or ordinary courts, for all cases in which the defendants are laymen. These fueros have hitherto maintained the ecclesiastical and military classes in perfect independence of the civil authorities. The civil, in fact, remains in some degree subordinate to the other two fueros; for it can, under no circumstances, have any jurisdiction whatever over them; while the lay plaintiff, in the privileged tribunals of these, may, if unsuccessful, have judgment entered up against him: a consequence that can never follow the suits of the ecclesiastical or military orders before the civil tribunals. The judgments of the latter, in such cases, would be void. It is no wonder, then, that the cause of freedom in Mexico has made so little progress.
    • p.29
  • Imprisonment is almost the only sort of punishment resorted to in the North. For debt, petit larceny, highway robbery, and murder, the usual sentence is "A la cárcel" (to jail), where a person is likely to remain about as long for inability to pay dos reales, as for the worst of crimes: always provided he has not the means to pacify the offended majesty of the law. I never heard of but one execution for murder in New Mexico, since the declaration of independence. The most desperate and blood-stained criminals escape with impunity, after a few weeks of incarceration, unless the prosecutor happens to be a person of great influence; in which case, the prisoner is detained in the calabozo at will, even when the offense committed has been of a trivial character. Notwithstanding this laxity in the execution of the laws, there are few murders of any kind committed.
    • p.30
  • In case of debt, as before remarked, the delinquent is sent to jail — provided the creditor will not accept his services. If he will, however, the debtor becomes nolens volens [unwillingly or willingly, willy-nilly, from will-he nil-he i.e., whether he will or whether he will not] the servant of the creditor till the debt is satisfied; and, serving, as he does, at very reduced wages, his expenses for clothing, and other necessaries, but too often retain him in perpetual servitude. This system... acts with terrible severity upon the unfortunate poor, whose condition is but little better, if not worse indeed than that of the slaves of the South. ...Men's wages range from two to five dollars a month, and those of women from fifty cents to two dollars; in payment of which, they rarely receive any money; but instead thereof, articles of apparel and other necessaries at the most exorbitant prices. The consequence is that the servant soon accumulates a debt which he is unable to pay — his wages being often engaged for a year or two in advance. Now, according to the usages, if not the laws of the country, he is bound to serve his master until all arrearages are liquidated; and is only enabled to effect an exchange of masters, by engaging another to pay his debt...
    • p.30
  • Capital crimes and highway robberies are of comparatively rare occurrence in the North, but in smaller delinquencies, such as pilfering and petty rogueries of every shade and description, the common classes can very successfully compete with any other people. Nothing indeed can be left exposed or unguarded without great danger of its being immediately stolen. ...there seems to exist a great deal of repugnance, even among the better classes, to apprehending thieves; as if the mere act of informing against them was considered dishonorable.
    • p.31
  • The impunity with which delinquencies of this description are every day committed is perhaps in some degree, the consequence of those severe enactments, such as the Leyes de las Indias (the laws of the Indies), which rendered many thefts and robberies punishable with death. The magistracy contracted the habit of frequently winking at crime, rather than resort to the barbarous expedients prescribed by the letter of the law. The utmost that can be gained now by public prosecution, is the recovery of the stolen property, if that be anywhere to be found, and occasionally a short period of imprisonment for the culprit. This is more particularly the case when the prosecutor happens to be a foreigner; while on the other hand, if he be the party accused, he is likely to be subjected to very severe treatment.
    • p.32
  • The love of gambling also deserves to be noticed as a distinguishing propensity of these people. ...No one considers it a degradation to be seen frequenting a monte bank: the governor himself and his lady, the grave magistrate and the priestly dignity, the gay caballero and the titled senora may all be seen staking their doubloons upon the turn of a card; while the humbler ranchero, the hired domestic and the ragged pauper, all press with equal avidity to test their fortune at the same shrine. There are other games at cards practiced among these people, depending more upon skill; but that of el monte, being one exclusively of chance, seems to possess an all-absorbing attraction, difficult to be conceived by the uninitiated spectator.
    • p.32
  • Among the multitude of games which seem to constitute the real business of life in New Mexico, that of chuza evidently presents the most attractions to ladies; and they generally lay very heavy wagers upon the result. It is played with little balls, and bears some faint resemblance to what is called roulette. Bull-baiting and cock-fighting, about which so much has been said by every traveler in Mexico, are also very popular 'amusements' in the North, and generally lead to the same excesses and the same results as gaming. The cock-pit rarely fails to be crowded on Sundays and other feast days; on which occasions the church, the ball-room, the gambling-house, and the cock-pit look like so many opposition establishments; for nothing is more common than to see people going from one place to another by alternate fits, just as devotional feeling or love of pleasure happens to prompt them.
    • p.34
  • One of the most attractive sports of the rancheros and the peasantry, and that which, more than any other, calls for the exercise of skill and dexterity, is that called correr el gallo, practiced generally on St. John's day. A common cock or hen is tied by the feet to some swinging limb of a tree, so as to be barely within the reach of a man on horseback: or the fowl is buried alive in a small pit in the ground leaving only the head above the surface. In either case, the racers, passing at full speed, grapple the head of the fowl, which being well greased, generally slips out of their fingers. As soon as some one, more dextrous than the rest, has succeeded in tearing it loose, he claps spurs to his steed, and endeavors to escape with the prize. He is hotly pursued, however, by the whole sporting crew, and the first who overtakes him tries to get possession of the fowl, when a strife ensues, during which the poor chicken is torn into atoms. Should the holder of the trophy be able to outstrip his pursuers, he carries it to a crowd of fair spectators and presents it to his mistress, who takes it to the fandango which usually follows, as a testimony of the prowess of her lover.
    • p.34
  • Among the vaqueros [cowboys], and even among persons of distinction, el coleo (tailing) is a much nobler exercise than the preceding, and is also generally reserved for days of festivity. For this sport the most untractable ox or bull is turned loose upon a level common, when all the parties who propose to join in the amusement, being already mounted, start off in pursuit of him. The most successful rider, as soon as he gets near enough to the bull, seizes him by the tail, and with a sudden maneuver, whirls him topsy-turvy upon the plain — to the no little risk of breaking his own neck, should his horse stumble or be tripped by the legs of the falling bull.
    • p.35
  • Respecting fandangos, I will observe that this term, as it is used in New Mexico, is never applied to any particular dance, but is the usual designation for those ordinary assemblies where dancing and frolicking are carried on; baile (or ball) being generally applied to those of a higher grade. The former especially are very frequent; for nothing is more general, throughout the country, and with all classes than dancing. From the gravest priest to the buffoon — from the richest nabob to the beggar — from the governor to the ranchero — from the soberest matron to the flippant belle — from the grandest señora to the cocinera — all partake of this exhilarating amusement. To judge from the quantity of tuned instruments which salute the ear almost every night in the week, one would suppose that a perpetual carnival prevailed everywhere. The musical instruments used at the bailes and fandangos are usually the fiddle and bandolin, or guitarra, accompanied in some villages by the tombé or little Indian drum. The musicians occasionally acquire considerable proficiency in the use of these instruments. But what most oddly greets, and really outrages most Protestant ears, is the accompaniment of divine service with the very same instruments, and often with the same tunes.
    • p.35
  • Of all the petty vices practiced by the New Mexicans, the vicio inocente [innocent vice] of smoking among ladies, is the most intolerable; and yet it is a habit of which the loveliest and the most refined equally partake. The puro or cigarro (The puro is a common cigar of pure tobacco; but the term cigarro or cigarrito is applied to those made of cut tobacco rolled up in a strip of paper or corn-husk. The latter are by far in the most general use in New Mexico, even among the men, and are those only smoked by the females.) is seen in the mouths of all: it is handed round in the parlor, and introduced at the dinner table — even in the ball-room it is presented to ladies as regularly as any other species of 'refreshment;' and in the dance the señorita may often be seen whirling round with a lighted cigarrito in her mouth.
    • p.36
  • Notwithstanding their numerous vices, however, I should do the New Mexicans the justice to say that they are but little addicted to inebriety and its attendant dissipations. Yet this doubtlessly results to a considerable degree from the dearness of spirituous liquors, which virtually places them beyond the reach of the lower classes.
    • p.37

Chapter 13 Military Hierarchy of Mexico — ...Burial Ground of the HereticsEdit

  • The Mexicans seem the legitimate descendants of the subjects of 'His Most Catholic Majesty;' for the Romish faith is not only the religion established by law, but the only one tolerated by the constitution: a system of republican liberty wholly incomprehensible to the independent and tolerant spirits of the United States. Foreigners only of other creeds, in accordance with treaty stipulations, can worship privately within their own houses [Religious freedom, and entire separation of church and state, were secured in Mexico, after a long and bitter struggle, by the constitution of 1873.—Book Editor].
    • p.37
  • The Mexicans, indeed, talk of a 'union of Church and State:' they should rather say a 'union of Church and Army;' for, as has already been shown, the civil authority is so nearly merged in the military and the ecclesiastical, that the government, if not a military hierarchy, is something so near akin that it is difficult to draw the distinction. As Mr. Mayer [Brantz Mayer (1809-79), a native of Baltimore, Maryland, was a historian and diplomat. In 1843 he was secretary of legation at Mexico. He was the author of several other works, both on Mexico and American history, and founder of the Maryland Historical Society.—Book Editor] very appropriately remarks, you are warned of the double dominion of the army and the church "by the constant sound of the drum and the bell, which ring in your ears from morn to midnight, and drown the sounds of industry and labor."[2]
    • p.37
  • It would fill volumes to relate one-half of the wonderful miracles and extraordinary apparitions said to have occurred during and since the conquest of the Indian Pueblos and their conversion to the Romish faith. Their character may be inferred from the following national legend of La Maravillosa Aparicion de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe — anglicé, the marvellous apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe ...that which has received most currency informs us, that, on the 12th of December, 1531, an Indian called Juan Diego, while passing over the barren hill of Tepeyacac (about a league northward from the city of Mexico), in quest of medicinal herbs, had his attention suddenly arrested by the fragrance of flowers, and the sound of delightful music; and on looking up, he saw an angelic sort of figure directly before him. ...the apparition... ordered him to climb a naked rock hard by, and collect a bouquet of flowers which he would find growing there. ...the Virgin... throwing them into his tilma, commanded him to carry them to the bishop; saying, "When he sees these he will believe..." The humble messenger... sought the bishop's presence, and threw out the blooming credentials of his mission before him; when lo! to the astonishment of all, and to the entire conviction of his Señoría ilustrísima, the perfect image of the apparition appeared imprinted on the inside of the tilma (This is a kind of mantle or loose covering worn by the Indians, which, in the present instance, was made of the coarse filaments of a species of maguey, and a little resembled the common coffee sacks. The painting, as it necessarily must be on such a material, is said to be coarse, and represents the Virgin covered with a blue robe bespangled with stars.). The reverend Prelate now fully acknowledged the divinity of the picture, and... pronounced it the image of La verdadera Vírgen [the true Virgin] and protectress of Mexico. A splendid chapel was soon after erected upon the spot designated in the mandate, in which the miraculous painting was deposited, where it is preserved to the present day. In the suburbs of every principal city in the republic, there is now a chapel specially dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, where coarse resemblances of the original picture are to be seen. Rough paintings of the same, of various dimensions, are also to be met with in nearly every dwelling, from the palace to the most miserable hovel. The image, with an adapted motto, has also been stamped upon medals, which are swung about the necks of the faithful (216,000 were struck at Birmingham in the year 1831, designed for the Mexican market. Similar medals are worn by nearly nine-tenths of the population of Northern Mexico. ...The motto, "Non fecit taliter omni nationi" She "hath not dealt so with any nation) which is found on the reverse of the medal).
    • p.38
  • Now comes the profane version of the story... the name of Guadalupe was already familiar to the Spaniards, the Virgin Mary having, it is said, long before appeared in Spain, under the same title; on which occasion an order of monks, styled Frailes Guadalupanos, had been instituted. One of these worthy fathers who had been sent as a missionary to Mexico, finding the Indians rather stubborn and unyielding, conceived the plan of flattering their national vanity by fabricating a saint suited for the occasion. The Guadalupano had a poor friend who was an excellent painter, to whom he said, one day, "Take this tilma"— presenting him one of the coarsest and most slazy texture (a sort of manta de guangoche); "paste it upon canvass, and paint me thereon the handsomest effigy of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe that your fancy can portray." When this was done according to order, and the tilma separated from the canvass, the picture appeared somewhat miraculous. ...As regards the miracle of the fresh flowers in December the profanos say, that there was nothing very wonderful about it, as flowers were known to bloom in the lowlands, and only a few leagues from the spot where the affair took place, at all seasons of the year; implying that these had been engrafted upon the rock for the occasion. There are some who go so far as to insinuate that the bishop and other ecclesiastics were privy to the whole affair...
    • p.41
  • The apparition having been canonized by the Pope, a belief in it now constitutes as much a part of the religious faith of the Mexicans, as any article of the Apostolic Creed. To judge from the blind and reverential awe in which the Virgin Guadalupe is held by the lowly and the ignorant, one would suppose her to be the first person in the Divinity, for to her their vows are directed, their prayers offered up, and all their confessions made.
    • p.43
  • No people are more punctual in their attendance upon public worship, or more exact in the performance of the external rites of religion, than the New Mexicans. ...In nothing... is their observance of the outward forms of religion more remarkable than in their deportment every day towards the close of twilight, when the large bell of the Parroquia peals for la oration, or vespers [The Parroquia, or cathedral of Santa Fé stands upon the site of, and partially incorporates the early building of 1627. It is built of light brown stone, and flanked by two bell towers.—Book Editor]." All conversation is instantly suspended — all labor ceases — people of all classes, whether on foot or on horseback, make a sudden halt — even the laden porter, groaning under the weight of an insupportable burden, stops in the midst of his career and stands still. An almost breathless silence reigns throughout the town, disturbed only by the occasional sibilations of the devout multitude: all of which, accompanied by the slow heavy peals of a large sonorous bell, afford a scene truly solemn and appropriate. At the expiration of about two minutes the charm is suddenly broken by the clatter of livelier-toned bells; and a buenas tardes (good evening) to those present closes the ceremony: when presto, all is bustle and confusion again — the colloquial chit-chat is resumed — the smith plies upon his anvil with redoubled energy — the clink of the hammer simultaneously resounds in every direction — the wayfarers are again in motion,— both pleasure and business, in short, assume their respective sway.
    • p.46
  • There are very few parents who would stoop to consult a young lady's wishes before concluding a marriage contract, nor would maidens, generally, ever dream of a matrimonial connection unless proposed first by the father. The lover's proposals are, upon the same principle, made in writing direct to the parents themselves, and without the least deference to the wishes or inclinations of the young lady whose hand is thus sought in marriage. ...the sexes are seldom permitted to converse or be together alone. In short, instances have actually occurred when the betrothed couple have never seen each other till brought to the altar to be joined in wedlock.
    • p.49
  • Among the humbler classes, there are still more powerful causes calculated to produce irregularity of life; not the least of which is the enormous fee that must be paid to the curate for tying the matrimonial knot. This system of extortion is carried so far as to amount very frequently to absolute prohibition: for the means of the bridegroom are often insufficient for the exigency of the occasion; and the priests seldom consent to join people in wedlock until the money has been secured to them.
    • p.50
  • At least nine-tenths profess the most profound submission to their religious rulers. Being thus bred to look upon their priests as infallible and holy samples of piety and virtue, we should not be so much surprised at the excesses of the 'flock' when a large portion of the pastores, the padres themselves, are foremost in most of the popular vices of the country: first at the fandango — first at the gaming table — first at the cock-pit — first at bacchanalian orgies — and by no means last in the contraction of those liaisons which are so emphatically prohibited by their vows.
    • p.51
  • The baptismal and burial fees (neither of which can be avoided without incurring the charge of heresy) are also a great terror to the candidates for married life. "If I marry," says the poor yeoman, "my family must go unclad to baptize my children; and if any of them should die, we must starve ourselves to pay the burial charges." The fee for baptism, it is true, is not so exorbitant, and in accordance to custom, is often paid by the padrino or sponsor; but the burial costs are almost equally extravagant with those of marriage, varying in proportion to the age and circumstances of the deceased. A faithful Mexican servant in my employ at Chihuahua, once solicited forty dollars to bury his mother. Upon my expressing some surprise at the exorbitancy of the amount, he replied —"That is what the cura demands, sir, and if I do not pay it my poor mother will remain unburied!" Thus this man was obliged to sacrifice several months' wages, to pamper the avarice of a vicious and mercenary priest. On another occasion, a poor widow in Santa Fé, begged a little medicine for her sick child: "Not," said the disconsolate mother, "that the life of the babe imports me much, for I know the angelito [little angel] will go directly to heaven; but what shall I do to pay the priest for burying it? He will take my house and all from me — and I shall be turned desolate into the street!" — and so saying, she commenced weeping bitterly.
    • p.52
  • Indigent parents are thus frequently under the painful necessity of abandoning and disowning their deceased children, to avoid the responsibility of burial expenses. To this end the corpse is sometimes deposited in some niche or corner of the church during the night; and upon being found in the morning, the priest is bound to inter it gratis, unless the parent can be discovered, in which case the latter would be liable to severe castigation, besides being bound to pay the expenses.
    • p.52
  • As the remains of heretics are not permitted to pollute either the church-yard or Campo Santo, those Americans who have died in Santa Fé, have been buried on a hill which overlooks the town to the northward. The corpses have sometimes been disinterred and robbed of the shroud in which they were enveloped; so that, on a few occasions, it has been deemed expedient to appoint a special watch for the protection of the grave.
    • p.54

Chapter 14 The Pueblos — ...novel FortificationsEdit

  • Although the term Pueblo in Spanish literally means the people, and their towns, it is here specifically applied to the Christianized Indians (as well as their villages)— to those aborigines whom the Spaniards not only subjected to their laws, but to an acknowledgment of the Romish faith, and upon whom they forced baptism and the cross in exchange for the vast possessions of which they robbed them. All that was left them was, to each Pueblo a league or two of land situated around their villages, the conquerors reserving to themselves at least ninety-nine hundredths of the whole domain as a requital for their generosity.
    • p.54
  • When these regions were first discovered it appears that the inhabitants lived in comfortable houses and cultivated the soil, as they have continued to do up to the present time. Indeed, they are now considered the best horticulturists in the country, furnishing most of the fruits and a large portion of the vegetable supplies that are to be found in the markets. They were until very lately the only people in New Mexico who cultivated the grape. They also maintain at the present time considerable herds of cattle, horses, etc. They are, in short, a remarkably sober and industrious race, conspicuous for morality and honesty, and very little given to quarrelling or dissipation, except when they have had much familiar intercourse with the Hispano-Mexican population.
    • p.55
  • At the time of the conquest they must have been a very powerful people — numbering near a hundred villages, as existing ruins would seem to indicate; but they are now reduced to about twenty, which are scattered in various parts of the territory.
    • p.55
  • The population of these Pueblos will average nearly five hundred souls each (though some hardly exceed one hundred), making an aggregate of nine or ten thousand. At the time of the original conquest, at the close of the sixteenth century, they were, as has been mentioned, much, perhaps ten-fold, more numerous. Ancient ruins are now to be seen scattered in every quarter of the territory: of some, entire stone walls are yet standing, while others are nearly or quite obliterated, many of them being now only known by their names which history or tradition has preserved to us.
    • p.56
  • Several of these Pueblos have been converted into Mexican villages, of which that of Pecos is perhaps the most remarkable instance. What with the massacres of the second conquest, and the inroads of the Comanches, they gradually dwindled away, till they found themselves reduced to about a dozen, comprising all ages and sexes; and it was only a few years ago that they abandoned the home of their fathers and joined the Pueblo of Jemez.
    • P.57
  • Each Pueblo is under the control of a cacique or gobernadorcillo, chosen from among their own sages, and commissioned by the governor of New Mexico. The cacique, when any public business is to be transacted, collects together the principal chiefs of the Pueblo in an estufa, or cell, usually under ground, and there lays before them the subjects of debate, which are generally settled by the opinion of the majority. No Mexican is admitted to these councils, nor do the subjects of discussion ever transpire beyond the precincts of the cavern. The council has also charge of the interior police artd tranquility of the village.
    • p.60
  • They also elect a capitan de guerra, a kind of commander-in-chief of the warriors, whose office it is to defend their homes and their interests both in the field and in the council chamber. Though not very warlike, these Pueblos are generally valiant, and well skilled in the strategies of Indian warfare; and although they have been branded with cruelty and ferocity, yet they can hardly be said to surpass the Mexicans in this respect: both, in times of war, pay but little regard either to age or sex.
    • p.61
  • Before the New Mexican government had become so much impoverished, there was wont to be held in the capital on the 16th of September of every year, a national celebration of the declaration of Independence, to which the Pueblos were invited. The warriors and youths of each nation with a proportionate array of dusky damsels would appear on these occasions, painted and ornamented in accordance with their aboriginal customs, and amuse the inhabitants with all sorts of grotesque feats and native dances. Each Pueblo generally had its particular uniform dress and its particular dance. The men of one village would sometimes disguise themselves as elks, with horns on their heads, moving on all-fours, and mimicking the animal they were attempting to personate. Others would appear in the garb of a turkey, with large heavy wings, and strut about in imitation of that bird. But the Pecos tribe, already reduced to seven men, always occasioned most diversion. Their favorite exploit was, each to put on the skin of a buffalo, horns, tail, and all, and thus accoutred scamper about through the crowd, to the real or affected terror of all the ladies present, and to the great delight of the boys.
    • p.61
  • The Pueblo villages are generally built with more regularity than those of the Mexicans... Their dwelling-houses, it is true, are not so spacious as those of the Mexicans... without any court-yard, but they have generally a much loftier appearance, being frequently two stories high and sometimes more. A very curious feature in these buildings, is, that there is most generally no direct communication between the street and the lower rooms, into which they descend by a trap-door from the upper story, the latter being accessible by means of ladders. Even the entrance to the upper stories is frequently at the roof. This style of building seems to have been adopted for security against their marauding neighbors of the wilder tribes, with whom they were often at war. When the family had all been housed at night, the ladder was drawn up, and the inmates were thus shut up in a kind of fortress...
    • p.62
  • Some of these villages were built upon rocky eminences deemed almost inaccessible: witness for instance the ruins of the ancient Pueblo of San Felipe, which may be seen towering upon the very verge of a precipice several hundred feet high, whose base is washed by the swift current of the Rio del Norte. The still existing Pueblo of Acoma also stands upon an isolated mound whose whole area is occupied by the village, being fringed all around by a precipitous ceja or cliff. The inhabitants enter the village by means of ladders, and by steps cut into the solid rock upon which it is based.
    • p.63
  • They also manufacture, according to their aboriginal art, both for their own consumption, and for the purpose of traffic, a species of earthenware not much inferior to the coarse crockery of our common potters. The pots made of this material stand fire remarkably well, and are the universal substitutes for all the purposes of cookery, even among the Mexicans, for the iron castings of this country, which are utterly unknown there. ...it evinces a great deal of skill, considering that it is made entirely without lathe or any kind of machinery. It is often fancifully painted with colored earths and the juice of a plant called guaco, which brightens by burning. They also work a singular kind of wicker-ware, of which some bowls are so closely platted, that, once swollen by dampness, they serve to hold liquids, and are therefore light and convenient vessels for the purposes of travelers.
    • p.64
  • The weapons most in use among the Pueblos are the bow and arrow, with a long-handled lance and occasionally a fusil. The rawhide shield is also much used, which, though of but little service against fire-arms, serves to ward off the arrow and lance.
    • p.66
  • The aliment of these Indians is, in most respects, similar to that of the Mexicans... the latter adopted with their utensils numerous items of aboriginal diet. The tortilla, the atole, the pinole and many others, together with the use of chile, are from the Indians. Some of the wilder tribes make a peculiar kind of pinole, by grinding the bean of the mezquite tree into flour, which is then used as that of corn. And besides the tortilla they make another singular kind of bread, if we may so style it, called guayave, a roll of which so much resembles a hornets' nest... It is usually made of Indian corn prepared and ground as for tortillas, and diluted into a thin paste. I once happened to enter an Indian hut where a young girl of the family was baking guayaves. She was sitting by a fire, over which a large flat stone was heating, with a crock of prepared paste by her side. She thrust her hand into the paste, and then wiped it over the heated stone. What adhered to it was instantly baked and peeled off. She repeated this process at the rate of a dozen times or more per minute. ...I found it pleasant enough to the taste; though when cold... it is, like the cold tortilla, rather tough and insipid. They are even thinner than wafers; and some dozens, being folded in a roll, constitute the laminate composition before mentioned. Being thus preserved, they serve the natives for months upon their journeys.
    • p.66

Chapter 15 The wild Tribes of New Mexico — ...The JicarillasEdit

  • The Navajóes are supposed to number about 10,000 souls... reside in the main range of Cordilleras, 150 to 200 miles west of Santa Fé, on the waters of Rio Colorado of California... they have excelled all others in their original manufactures: and, as well as the Moquis, they are still distinguished for some exquisite styles of cotton textures, and display considerable ingenuity in embroidering with feathers the skins of animals... They now also manufacture a singular species of blanket, known as the Sarape Navajó, which is of so close and dense a texture that it will frequently hold water almost equal to gum-elastic cloth. It is therefore highly prized for protection against the rains. Some of the finer qualities are often sold among the Mexicans as high as fifty or sixty dollars each. Notwithstanding the present predatory and somewhat unsettled habits of the Navajoes, they cultivate all the different grains and vegetables to be found in New Mexico. They also possess extensive herds of horses, mules, cattle, sheep and goats of their own raising, which are generally celebrated as being much superior to those of the Mexicans; owing, no doubt, to greater attention to the improvement of their stocks.
    • p.70
  • On one occasion, a party consisting of several chiefs and warriors of the Navajoes assembled at the Pueblo of Cochiti, by invitation of the government, to celebrate a treaty of peace; when the New Mexicans, exasperated no doubt by the remembrance of former outrages, fell upon them unawares and put them all to death. It is also related, that about the same period, three Indians from the northern mountains having been brought as prisoners into Taos, they were peremptorily demanded by the Jicarillas, who were their bitterest enemies; when the Mexican authorities, dreading the resentment of this tribe, quietly complied with the barbarous request, suffering the prisoners to be butchered in cold blood before their very eyes! No wonder, then, that the New Mexicans are so generally warred upon by their [native] neighbors.
    • p.72
  • About fifteen years ago, the Navajoes were subjected by the energy of Col. Vizcarra, who succeeded in keeping them in submission for some time; but since that officer's departure from New Mexico, no man has been found of sufficient capacity to inspire this daring tribe either with respect or fear; so that for the last ten years they have ravaged the country with impunity, murdering and destroying just as the humor happened to prompt them. When the spring of the year approaches, terms of peace are generally proposed to the government at Santa Fé, which the latter never fails to accept. This amicable arrangement enables the wily Indians to sow their crops at leisure, and to dispose of the property stolen from the Mexicans during their marauding incursions, to advantage; but the close of their agricultural labors is generally followed by a renewal of hostilities, and the game of rapine and destruction is played over again.
    • p.72
  • Towards the close of 1835, a volunteer corps, which most of the leading men in New Mexico joined, was raised for the purpose of carrying war into the territory of the Navajoes. The latter hearing of their approach... mustered a select band of their warriors, who went forth to intercept the invaders in a mountain pass, where they lay concealed in an ambuscade. The valiant corps, utterly unconscious of the reception that awaited them, soon came jogging along... when the war-whoop, loud and shrill, followed by several shots, threw them all into a state of speechless consternation. ...a terrific panic had seized everybody, and some minutes elapsed before they could recover their senses sufficiently to betake themselves to their heels. Two or three persons were killed in this ridiculous engagement, the most conspicuous of whom was a Capt. Hinófos, who commanded the regular troops.[3]
    • p.73
  • I come now to speak of the Apaches... They are supposed to number some fifteen thousand souls, although they are subdivided into various petty bands, and scattered over an immense tract of country. Those that are found east of the Rio del Norte are generally known as Mezcaleros, on account of an article of food much in use among them, called mezcal, but by far the greatest portion of the nation is located in the west, and is mostly known by the sobriquet of Coyoteros, in consequence, it is said, of their eating the coyote or prairie-wolf. The Apaches are perhaps more given to itinerant habits than any other tribe in Mexico. They never construct houses, but live in the ordinary wigwam, or tent of skins and blankets. They... depend almost entirely upon pillage for the support of their immense population, some two or three thousand of which are warriors.
    • p.74
  • It is the practice of the Apache chiefs, as I have understood, whenever a dispute arises betwixt their warriors relative to the ownership of any particular animal, to kill the brute at once, though it be the most valuable of the drove; and so check all further cavil.
    • p.75
  • Such is the imbecility of the local governments, that the [Apaches], in order to dispose of their stolen property without even a shadow of molestation, frequently enter into partial treaties of peace with one department, while they continue to wage a war of extermination against the neighboring states. This arrangement supplies them with an ever-ready market, for the disposal of their booty and the purchase of munitions wherewith to prosecute their work of destruction. In 1840, I witnessed the departure from Santa Fé of a large trading party freighted with engines of war and a great quantity of whiskey, intended for the Apaches in exchange for mules and other articles of plunder which they had stolen from the people of the south. This traffic was not only tolerated but openly encouraged by the civil authorities, as the highest public functionaries were interested in its success — the governor himself not excepted.
    • p.76
  • The depredations of the Apaches have been of such long duration, that, beyond the immediate purlieus of the towns, the whole country from New Mexico to the borders of Durango is almost entirely depopulated. The haciendas and ranchos have been mostly abandoned, and the people chiefly confined to towns and cities.
    • p.77
  • As New Mexico is more remote from the usual haunts of the Apaches, and, in fact, as her scanty ranchos present a much less fruitful field for their operations than the abundant haciendas of the South, the depredations of this tribe have extended but little upon that province.
    • p.82

Chapter 16 Incidents of a Return Trip from Santa Fé — ...the MormonsEdit

  • On our passage this time across the 'prairie ocean' which lay before us, we ran no risk of getting bewildered or lost, for there was now a plain wagon trail across the entire stretch of our route, from the Cimarron to Arkansas river. This track, which has since remained permanent, was made in the year 1834. Owing to continuous rains during the passage of the caravan of that year, a plain trail was then cut in the softened turf, on the most direct route across this arid desert, leaving the Arkansas about twenty miles above the 'Caches.' This has ever since been the regular route of the caravans; and thus a recurrence of those distressing sufferings from thirst, so frequently experienced by early travelers in that inhospitable region, has been prevented.
    • p.91
  • One or two of the Mormon leaders who fell into the hands of the people, were treated to a clean suit of 'tar and feathers,' and otherwise severely punished. The 'Prophet Joseph,' however, was not then in the neighborhood. Having observed the storm clouds gathering apace in the frontier horizon, he very wisely remained in Ohio, whence he issued his naming mandates.
    • p.95
  • These occurrences took place in the month of October, 1833, and I reached Independence from Santa Fé while the excitement was raging at its highest. The Mormons had rallied some ten miles west of the town, where their strongest settlements were located. ...a skirmish actually took place shortly after, in which a respectable lawyer of Independence, who had been an active agent against the Mormons, was killed. In short, the whole country was in a state of dreadful fermentation.
    • p.96
  • Early on the morning after the skirmish just referred to, a report reached Independence that the Mormons were marching in a body towards the town, with the intention of sacking and burning it. ...The note of alarm was sounded far and near, and armed men, eager for the fray, were rushing in from every quarter. Officers were summarily selected without deference to rank or station: the 'spirit-stirring drum' and the 'ear-piercing fife' made the air resound with music, and a little army of as brave and resolute a set of fellows as ever trod a field of battle, was, in a very short time, paraded through the streets. After a few preliminary exercises, they started for a certain point on the road where they intended to await the approach of the Mormons. The latter very soon made their appearance, but surprised at meeting with so formidable a reception, they never even attempted to pull a trigger, but at once surrendered at discretion. They were immediately disarmed, and subsequently released upon condition of their leaving the country without delay.
    • p.96
  • It was very soon after this affair that the much talked of phenomenon of the meteoric shower (on the night of November 12th) occurred. This extraordinary visitation did not fail to produce its effects upon the superstitious minds of a few ignorant people, who began to wonder whether, after all, the Mormons might not be in the right; and whether this was not a sign sent from heaven as a remonstrance for the injustice they had been guilty of towards that chosen sect.
    • p.97
  • Sometime afterward, a terrible misfortune occurred which was in no way calculated to allay the superstitious fears of the ignorant. As some eight or ten citizens were returning with the ferry-boat which had crossed the last Mormons over the Missouri river, into Clay county, the district selected for their new home, the craft filled with water and sunk in the middle of the current; by which accident three or four men were drowned! It was owing perhaps to the craziness of the boat, yet some persons suspected the Mormons of having scuttled it by secretly boring auger-holes in the bottom just before they had left it.
    • p.97
  • Being once more forced to emigrate, they passed into Illinois, where they founded the famous 'City of Nauvoo.'
    • p.98

Chapter 17 A Return to Prairie Life — ...Prairie FuelEdit

  • An unconquerable propensity to return to prairie life inclined me to embark in a fresh enterprise. The blockade of the Mexican ports by the French also offered strong inducements for undertaking such an expedition in the spring of 1839; for as Chihuahua is supplied principally through the sea-ports, it was now evident that the place must be suffering from great scarcity of goods. Being anxious to reach the market before the ports of the Gulf were reopened, we deemed it expedient to abandon the regular route from Missouri for one wholly untried, from the borders of Arkansas, where the pasturage springs up nearly a month earlier. It is true, that such an attempt to convey heavily laden wagons through an unexplored region was attended with, considerable risk; but as I was familiar with the general character of the plains contiguous to the north, I felt little or no apprehension of serious difficulties, except from what might be occasioned by regions of sandy soil. I have often been asked since, why we did not steer directly for Chihuahua, as our trade was chiefly destined for that place, instead of taking the circuitous route via Santa Fé. I answer, that we dreaded a journey across the southern prairies on account of the reputed aridity of the country in that direction, and I had no great desire to venture directly into a southern port in the present state of uncertainty as to the conditions of entry.
    • p.99
  • We had fourteen road-wagons, half drawn by mules, the others by oxen (eight of each to the team); besides a carriage and a Jersey wagon [a large wagon with a cloth top]. Then we had two swivels mounted upon one pair of wheels; but one of them was attached to a movable truckle, so that, upon stopping, it could be transferred to the other side of the wagons. One of these was a long brass piece made to order, with a caliber of but an inch and a quarter, yet of sufficient metal to throw a leaden ball to the distance of a mile with surprising accuracy. The other was of iron, and a little larger. Besides these, our party was well supplied with small arms. The Americans mostly had their rifles and a musket in addition, which they carried in their wagons, always well charged with ball and buckshot. Then my brother and myself were each provided with one of Colt's repeating rifles, and a pair of pistols of the same, so that we could, if necessary, carry thirty-six ready-loaded shots apiece; which alone constituted a capacity of defense rarely matched even on the Prairies.
    • p.104
  • Previous to our departure we had received a promise from the war department of an escort of U. S. Dragoons, as far as the borders of the Mexican territory; but, upon sending an express to Gen. Arbuckle at Fort Gibson to that effect, we were informed that in consequence of some fresh troubles among the Cherokees, it was doubtful whether the force could be spared in time. This was certainly no very agreeable news, inasmuch as the escort would have been very serviceable in assisting to search out a track over the unexplored wilderness we had to pass. It was too late, however, to recede; and so we resolved at all hazards to pursue our journey.
    • p.105
  • We had just reached the extreme edge of the far famed 'Cross Timbers,' when we were gratified by the arrival of forty dragoons, under the command of Lieut. Bowman, who had orders to accompany us to the supposed boundary of the United States.
    • p.106
  • We were now about to launch upon an unknown region — our route lay henceforth across that unexplored wilderness, of which I have so frequently spoken, without either pilot or trail to guide us for nearly 500 miles. We had to depend entirely upon our knowledge of the geographical position of the country for which we were steering, and the indications of a compass and sextant. This was emphatically a pioneer trip; such a one also as had, perhaps, never before been undertaken — to convey heavily laden wagons through a country almost wholly untrod by civilized man, and of which we, at least, knew nothing. We were therefore extremely anxious to acquire any information our visitors might be able to give us; but Tabba-quena being by no means experienced in wagon tactics, could only make us understand, by gestures, mixed with a little wretched Spanish, that the route up the Canadian presented no obstacles according to his mode of traveling. He appeared, however, very well acquainted with the whole Mexican frontier, from Santa Fé to Chihuahua, and even to the Gulf, as well as with all the Prairies. During the consultation he seemed occasionally to ask the opinions of other chiefs who had huddled around him. Finally, we handed him a sheet of paper and a pencil, signifying at the same time a desire that he would draw us a map of the Prairies. This he very promptly executed; and although the draft was somewhat rough, it bore, much to our astonishment, quite a map-like appearance, with a far more accurate delineation of all the principal rivers of the plains — the road from Missouri to Santa Fé, and the different Mexican settlements, than is to be found in many of the engraved maps of those regions.
    • p.109
  • On the following day we were again joined by old Tabba-quena, and another Comanche chief, with five or six warriors, and as many squaws, including Tab's wife and infant son. As we were jogging along in the afternoon, I held quite a long conversation in our semi-mute language with the squinting old chief. He gave me to understand, as well as he could, that his comrades had proceeded on their journey to see the Capitan Grande, but that he had concluded to return home for better horses. He boasted in no measured terms of his friendship for the Americans, and promised to exert his influence to prevent turbulent and unruly spirits of his nation from molesting us. But he could not disguise his fears in regard to the Pawnees and Osages, who, he said, would be sure to run off with our stock while we were asleep at night. When I informed him that we kept a strict night-watch, he said, "Esta bueno" (that's good), and allowed that our chances for safety were not so bad after all.
    • p.110
  • On the night after the first buffalo scamper, we encamped upon a woodless ravine, and were obliged to resort to 'buffalo chips' (dry ordure) for fuel. It is amusing to witness the bustle which generally takes place in collecting this offal. In dry weather it is an excellent substitute for wood, than which it even makes a hotter fire; but when moistened by rain, the smouldering pile will smoke for hours before it condescends to burn, if it does at all. The buffalo meat which the hunter roasts or broils upon this fire, he accounts more savory than the steaks dressed by the most delicate cooks in civilized life.
    • p.114

=== Chapter 18 Travelling out of our Latitude — The Buffalo-gnat — ...Indians Least Dangerous to such as Trade with Them ===

  • As it now appeared that we had been forced at least two points north of the course we had originally intended to steer, by the northern bearing of the Canadian, we made an effort to cross a ridge of timber to the south, which, after considerable labor, proved successful. Here we found a multitude of gravelly, bright-flowing streams, with rich bottoms, lined all along with stately white oak, black-walnut, mulberry, and other similar growths, that yielded us excellent materials for wagon repairs, of which the route from Missouri, after passing Council Grove, is absolutely in want.
    • p.114
  • Although we found the buffalo extremely scarce westward of Spring Valley, yet there was no lack of game; for every nook and glade swarmed with deer and wild turkeys, partridges and grouse. We had also occasion to become acquainted with another species of prairie-tenant whose visits generally produced impressions that were anything but agreeable. I allude to a small black insect generally known to prairie travelers as the 'buffalo-gnat.' It not only attacks the face and hands, but even contrives to insinuate itself under the clothing, upon the breast and arms, and other covered parts. Here it fastens itself and luxuriates, until completely satisfied. Its bite is so poisonous as to give the face, neck, and hands, or any other part of the person upon which its affectionate caresses have been bestowed, the appearance of a pustulated varioloid. The buffalo-gnat is in fact a much more annoying insect than the mosquito, and also much more frequently met with on the prairie streams.
    • p.115
  • We now continued our journey without further trouble, except that of being still forced out of our proper latitude by the northern bearing of the Canadian. On the 30th of May, however, we succeeded in 'doubling' the spur of the Great North Bend [About the ninety-ninth meridian, the Canadian extends above the thirty-sixth parallel, forming the Great North Bend. The Oklahoma town of Taloga is on the southern curve of the bow.—Book Editor]. Upon ascending the dividing ridge again, which at this point was entirely destitute of timber, a 'prairie expanse' once more greeted our view. This and the following day, our route lay through a region that abounded in gypsum, from the finest quality down to ordinary plaster. On the night of the 31st we encamped on a tributary of the North Fork, which we called Gypsum creek, in consequence of its being surrounded with vast quantities of that substance.
    • p.117
  • Being compelled to keep a reckoning of our latitude, by which our travel was partly governed, and the sun being now too high at noon for the use of the artificial horizon, we had to be guided entirely by observations of the meridian altitude of the moon, planets, or fixed stars. At Gypsum creek our latitude was 360° 10' — being the utmost northing we had made. As we were now about thirty miles north of the parallel of Santa Fé, we had to steer, henceforth, a few degrees south of west in order to bring up on our direct course.
    • p.117
  • On the 5th of June, we found ourselves once more traveling on a firm rolling prairie, about the region, as we supposed, of the boundary between the United States and Mexico; when Lieut. Bowman, in pursuance of his instructions, began to talk seriously of returning. While the wagons were stopped at noon, a small party of us, including a few dragoons, advanced some miles ahead to take a survey of the route. We had just ascended the highest point of a ridge to get a prospect of the country beyond, when we descried a herd of buffalo in motion and two or three horsemen in hot pursuit. "Mexican Ciboleros!" [Mexican Buffalo Hunters!] we all exclaimed at once; for we supposed we might now be within the range of the buffalo hunters of New Mexico. Clapping spurs to our horses, we set off towards them at full speed. As we might have expected, our precipitate approach frightened them away and we soon lost sight of them altogether. On reaching the spot where they had last been seen, we found a horse and two mules saddled, all tied to the carcass of a slain buffalo which was partly skinned. We made diligent search in some copses of small growth, and among the adjacent ravines, but could discover no further traces of the fugitives. The Indian rigging of the animals, however, satisfied us that they were not Mexicans.
    • p.119
  • As we sat on our horses, looking at these [prairie dog] 'village transactions,' our Comanche guide drew an arrow for the purpose of cutting short the career of a little citizen that sat yelping most doggedly in the mouth of his hole, forty or fifty paces distant. The animal was almost entirely concealed behind the hillock which encompassed the entrance of his apartment, so that the dart could not reach it in a direct line; but the Indian had resort to a maneuver which caused the arrow to descend with a curve, and in an instant it quivered in the body of the poor little quadruped. The slayer only smiled at his feat, while we were perfectly astounded. There is nothing strange in the rifleman's being able to hit his mark with his fine-sighted barrel; but the accuracy with which these [natives] learn to shoot their feathered missiles, with such random aim, is almost incomprehensible. I had at the same time drawn one of Colt's repeating pistols, with a view of paying a similar compliment to another dog; when, finding that it excited the curiosity of the chief, I fired a few shots in quick succession, as an explanation of its virtues. He seemed to comprehend the secret instantly, and, drawing his bow once more, he discharged a number of arrows with the same rapidity, as a palpable intimation that he could shoot as fast with his instrument as we could with our patent fire-arms. This was not merely a vain show: there was more of reality than of romance in his demonstration.
    • p.121
  • Lieut. Bowman now desired us to broach the subject of peace and amity betwixt the Comanches and our people, and to invite them to visit the 'Capitan Grande' at Washington, and enter into a perpetual treaty to that effect; but they would not then converse on the subject. In fact, the interpreter inquired, "Are we not at war? — how can we go to see the Capitan Grande?" We knew they held themselves at war with Mexico and Texas, and probably had mistaken us for Texans, which had no doubt caused the interpreter to speak so emphatically of their immense numbers. Upon this we explained to them that the United States was a distinct government and at peace with the Comanches. As an earnest of our friendly disposition, we then produced some scarlet cloth, with a small quantity of vermilion, tobacco, beads, etc., which being distributed among them, they very soon settled down into a state of placidness and contentment. Indeed, it will be found, that, with wild Indians, presents are always the corner-stone of friendship. "We are rejoiced," at last said the elder chief with a ceremonious air, "our hearts are glad that you have arrived among us: it makes our eyes laugh to see Americans walk in our land. We will notify our old and young men — our boys and our maidens — our women and children,— that they may come to trade with you. We hope you will speak well of us to your people, that more of them may hunt the way to our country, for we like to trade with the white man." This was delivered in Comanche, but translated into Spanish by the interpreter, who, although a full Indian, had lived several years among the Mexicans and spoke that language tolerably well. Our 'big talk' lasted several hours, after which the Indians retired to sleep. The next morning, after renewing their protestations of friendship, they took their departure, the principal chief saying, "Tell the Capitan Grande that when he pleases to call us we are all ready to go to see him."
    • p.126
  • I have no doubt that the chiefs of the Comanches and other prairie tribes, if rightly managed, might be induced to visit our veritable 'Capitan Grande,' and our large cities, which would doubtless have a far better effect than all the treaties of peace that could be concluded with them for an age to come. They would then 'see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears' the magnificence and power of the whites, which would inspire them at once with respect and fear.
    • p.127
  • This was on the 7th of June. About noon, Lieut. Bowman and his command finally took leave of us, and at the same time we resumed our forward march. This separation was truly painful: not so much on account of the loss we were about to experience, in regard to the protection afforded us by the troops (which, to say the truth, was more needed now than it had ever been before), as for the necessity of parting with a friend... Ah! little did we think then that we should never see that gallant officer more! ...Although he arrived safely at Fort Gibson, in a few short weeks he fell a victim to disease. There were perhaps a few timid hearts that longed to return with the dragoons, and ever and anon a wistful glance would be cast back at the receding figures in the distance. The idea of a handful of thirty-four men having to travel without guide or protection through a dreary wilderness, peopled by thousands of savages who were just as likely to be hostile as friendly, was certainly very little calculated to produce agreeable impressions. Much to the credit of our men, however, the escort was no sooner out of sight than the timorous regained confidence, and all seemed bound together by stronger ties than before. All we feared were ambuscades or surprise; to guard against which, it was only necessary to redouble our vigilance.
    • p. 128
  • We succeeded in purchasing several mules which cost us between ten and twenty dollars worth of goods apiece. In Comanche trade the main trouble consists in fixing the price of the first animal. This being settled by the chiefs, it often happens that mule after mule is led up and the price received without further cavil. Each owner usually wants a general assortment; therefore the price must consist of several items, as a blanket, a looking-glass, an awl, a flint, a little tobacco, vermillion, beads, etc. ...The Santa Fe caravans have generally avoided every manner of trade with the wild Indians, for fear of being treacherously dealt with during the familiar intercourse which necessarily ensues. This I am convinced is an erroneous impression; for I have always found, that [natives] are much less hostile to those with whom they trade, than to any other people. They are emphatically fond of traffic, and, being anxious to encourage the whites to come among them, instead of committing depredations upon those with whom they trade, they are generally ready to defend them against every enemy.
    • p.131

Chapter 19 Ponds and Buffalo Wallows — ...the TexansEdit

  • We had for some days, while traveling along the course of the Canadian, been in anxious expectation of reaching a point from whence there was a cart-road to Santa Fé, made by the Ciboleros; but being constantly baffled and disappointed in this hope, serious apprehensions began to be entertained by some of the party that we might after all be utterly lost. In this emergency, one of our Mexicans who pretended to be a great deal wiser than the rest, insisted that we were pursuing a wrong direction, and that every day's march only took us further from Santa Fé. There appeared to be so much plausibility in his assertion, as he professed a perfect knowledge of all the country around, that many of our men were almost ready to mutiny,— to take the command from the hands of my brother and myself and lead us southward in search of the Colorado, into the fearful Llano Estacado, where we would probably have perished. But our observations of the latitude, which we took very frequently, as well as the course we were pursuing, completely contradicted the Mexican wiseacre. A few days afterwards we were overtaken by a party of Comancheros, or Mexican Comanche traders, when we had the satisfaction of learning that we were in the right track.
    • p.136
  • These men had been trading with the band of Comanches we had lately met, and learning from them that we had passed on, they had hastened to overtake us, so as to obtain our protection against the [natives], who, after selling their animals to the Mexicans, very frequently take forcible possession of them again, before the purchasers have been able to reach their homes. These parties of Comancheros are usually composed of the indigent and rude classes of the frontier villages, who collect together, several times a year, and launch upon the plains with a few trinkets and trumperies of all kinds, and perhaps a bag of bread and may-be another of pinole, which they barter away to the savages for horses and mules. The entire stock of an individual trader very seldom exceeds the value of twenty dollars, with which he is content to wander about for several months, and glad to return home with a mule or two, as the proceeds of his traffic.
    • p.137
  • It was a war-party of this band of Comanches that paid the 'flying visit' to Bent's Fort on the Arkansas river, to which Mr. Farnham[4] alludes in his trip to Oregon. A band of the same Indians also fell in with the caravan from Missouri, with whom they were for a while upon the verge of hostilities.
    • p.138
  • The next day we passed the afternoon upon a ravine where we found abundance of water, but to our great surprise our animals refused to drink. Upon tasting the water, we found it exceedingly nauseous and bitter; far more repugnant to some palates than a solution of Epsom salts. It is true that the water had been a little impregnated with the same loathsome substance for several days; but we had never found it so bad before. The salinous compound which imparts this savor, is found in great abundance in the vicinity of the table-plain streams of New Mexico, and is known to the natives by the name of salitre (Literally saltpeter; but the salitre of New Mexico is a compound of several other salts beside niter). We had the good fortune to find in the valley, a few sinks filled by recent rains, so that actually we experienced no great inconvenience from the want of fresh water. As far as our own personal necessities were concerned, we were abundantly supplied; it being an unfailing rule with us to carry in each wagon a five-gallon keg always filled with water, in order to guard against those frightful contingencies which so frequently occur on the Prairies. In truth upon leaving one watering place, we never knew where we would find the next.
    • p.138
  • On the 20th of June we pitched our camp upon the north bank of the Canadian or Colorado, in latitude 350° 24' according to a meridian altitude of Saturn. On the following day, I left the caravan, accompanied by three Comancheros, and proceeded at a more rapid pace towards Santa Fé. This was rather a hazardous journey, inasmuch as we were still within the range of the Pawnee and Comanche war-parties, and my companions were men in whom I could not repose the slightest confidence, except for piloting; being fully convinced that in case of meeting with an enemy, they would either forsake or deliver me up, just as it might seem most conducive to their own interest and safety. All I had to depend upon were my fire-arms, which could hardly fail to produce an impression in my favor; for, thanks to Mr. Colt's invention, I carried thirty-six charges ready-loaded, which I could easily fire at the rate of a dozen per minute. I do not believe that any band of those timorous [natives] of the western prairies would venture to approach even a single man, under such circumstances. If, according to an old story of the frontier, an Indian supposed that a white man fired both with his tomahawk and scalping knife, to account for the execution done by a brace of pistols, thirty-six shots discharged in quick succession would certainly overawe them as being the effect of some great medicine.
    • p.139
  • In giving directions, these people — in fact, the lower classes of Mexicans generally — are also in the habit of using very odd gesticulations, altogether peculiar to themselves. Instead of pointing with their hands and fingers, they generally employ the mouth, which is done by thrusting out the lips in the direction of the spot, or object, which the inquirer wishes to find out — accompanied by aqui or alli esta. This habit of substituting labial gestures for the usual mode of indicating, has grown from the use of the sarape, which keeps their hands and arms perpetually confined.
    • p.140
  • As I was pursuing a horse-path along the course of the Rio Pecos, near the frontier settlements, I met with a shepherd, of whom I anxiously inquired the distance to San Miguel. "O, it is just there," responded the man of sheep. "Don't you see that point of mesa yonder? It is just beyond that." This welcome information cheered me greatly; for, owing to the extraordinary transparency of the atmosphere, it appeared to me that the distance could not exceed two or three miles. "Está cerquita," exclaimed the shepherd as I rode off; "ahora está V. allá"—"it is close by; you will soon be there." I set off at as lively a pace as my jaded steed could carry me, confident of taking dinner in San Miguel. Every ridge I turned I thought must be the last, and thus I jogged on, hoping and anticipating my future comforts till the shades of evening began to appear; when I descended into the valley of the Pecos, which, although narrow, is exceedingly fertile and beautifully lined with verdant fields, among which stood a great variety of mud cabins. About eight o'clock, I called at one of these cottages and again inquired the distance to San Miguel; when a swarthy-looking ranchero once more saluted mine ears with "Está cerquita; ahora está V. allá." Although the distance was designated in precisely the same words used by the shepherd eight hours before, I had the consolation at least of believing that I was something nearer. After spurring on for a couple of miles over a rugged road, I at last reached the long-sought village.
    • p.142
  • The next day, I hired a Mexican to carry some flour back to meet the wagons; for our party was by this time running short of provisions. In fact, we should long before have been in danger of starvation, had it not been for our oxen; for we had not seen a buffalo since the day we first met with the Comanches. Some of our cattle being in good plight, and able, as we were, to spare a few from our teams, we made beef of them when urged by necessity: an extra advantage in ox teams on these perilous expeditions.
    • p.143
  • On the 25th of June I arrived safely at Santa Fé,— but again rode back to meet the wagons, which did not reach the capital till the 4th of July. We did not encounter a very favorable reception from 'his majesty,' Gov. Armijo. He had just established his arbitrary impost of $500 per wagon, which bore rather heavily upon us; for we had an overstock of coarse articles which we had merely brought along for the purpose of increasing the strength of our company, by adding to the number of our wagons.
    • p.143
  • But these little troubles in a business way, were entirely drowned in the joyful sensations arising from our safe arrival, after so long and so perilous an expedition. Considering the character and our ignorance of the country over which we had traveled, we had been exceedingly successful. Instances are certainly rare of heavily-laden wagons having been conducted, without a guide, through an unexplored desert; and yet we performed the trip without any important accident — without encountering any very difficult passes — without suffering for food or for water.
    • p.143
  • In the winter of 1837-8, a worthy young American, named Daley, was murdered at the Gold Mines, by a couple of villains, solely for plunder. The assassins were arrested, when they confessed their guilt; but, in a short time, they were permitted to run at large again, in violation of every principle of justice or humanity. About this time they were once more apprehended, however, by the interposition of foreigners (Among the New Mexicans, the terms foreigner and American are synonymous: indeed, the few citizens of other nations to be found there identify themselves with those of the United States. All foreigners are known there as Americanos; but south of Chihuahua they are indiscriminately called Los Ingleses, the English): and, at the solicitation of the friends of the deceased, a memorial from the Americans in Santa Fé was presented to Armijo, representing the injustice of permitting the murderers of their countrymen to go unpunished; and praying that the culprits might be dealt with according to law. But the governor affected to consider the affair as a conspiracy; and, collecting his ragamuffin militia, attempted to intimidate the petitioners. The foreigners were now constrained to look to their defense, as they saw that no justice was to be expected. Had Armijo persisted, serious consequences might have ensued; but seeing the 'conspirators' firm, he sent an apology, affecting to have misconstrued their motives, and promising that the laws should be duly executed upon the murderers.
    • p.144
  • But the governor's due execution 0f the laws consisted in retaining them a year or two in nominal imprisonment, when they were again set at liberty. Besides these, other foreigners have been murdered in New Mexico with equal impunity:—all which contrasts very strikingly with the manner our courts of justice have since dealt with those who killed Chavez (refer to p.227-232), in 1843, on the Santa Fé road.
    • p.145

Chapter 20 Preparations for a Start to Chihuahua — ...Derccho de ConsumoEdit

  • I prepared to set out for the Chihuahua market, whither a portion of our stock had been designed. Upon this expedition I was obliged to depart without my brother, who was laboring under the 'home fever,' and anxious to return to his family. ...Men under such bonds are peculiarly unfitted for the checkered life of a Santa Fé trader. The domestic hearth, with all its sacred and most endearing recollections, is sure to haunt them in the hour of trial, and almost every step of their journey is apt to be attended by melancholy reflections of home and domestic dependencies.
    • p.145
  • I deem it proper to make a few observations relative to the general character of the Chihuahua Trade. I have already remarked, that much surprise has frequently been expressed by those who are unacquainted with all the bearings of the case, that the Missouri traders should take the circuitous route to Santa Fé, instead of steering direct for Chihuahua, inasmuch as the greatest portion of their goods is destined for the latter city. But as Chihuahua never had any port of entry for foreign goods till the last six or eight years, the market of that department had to be supplied in a great measure from Santa Fé. By opening the ports of El Paso and Presidio del Norte, the commercial interest was so little affected, that when Santa Anna's decree for closing them again was issued, the loss was scarcely felt at all.
    • p.146
  • Speaking of mails, I beg leave to observe, that there are no conveniences of this kind in New Mexico, except on the route from Santa Fé to Chihuahua, and these are very irregular and uncertain. Before the Indians had obtained such complete possession of the highways through the wilderness, the mails between these two cities were carried semi-monthly; but now they are much less frequent, being mere expresses, in fact, dispatched only when an occasion offers. There are other causes, however, besides the dread of marauding savages, which render the transportation of the mails in New Mexico very insecure: I mean the dishonesty of those employed in superintending them. Persons known to be inimical to the post-master, or to the 'powers that be,' and wishing to forward any communication to the South, most generally either wait for private conveyance, or send their letters to a post-office (the only one besides that of Santa Fé in all New Mexico) some eighty miles on the way; thus avoiding an overhauling at the capital. Moreover, as the post-rider often carries the key of the mail-bag (for want of a supply at the different offices), he not unfrequently permits whomsoever will pay him a trifling douceur, to examine the correspondence. I was once witness to a case of this kind in the Jornada del Muerto, where the entire mail was tumbled out upon the grass, that an individual might search for letters, for which luxury he was charged by the accommodating carrier the moderate price of one dollar.
    • p.148
  • The derecho de consumo (the internal or consumption duty) [of Mexico] is an impost averaging nearly twenty per cent on the United States cost of the bill. It supplies the place of a direct tax for the support of the departmental government, and is decidedly the most troublesome, if not the most oppressive revenue system that ever was devised for internal purposes. It operates at once as a drawback upon the commercial prosperity of the country, and as a potent incentive to fraudulent practices. The country people especially have resort to every species of clandestine intercourse, to escape this galling burden; for, every article of consumption they carry to market, whether fish, flesh or fowl, as well as fruit and vegetables, is taxed more or less; while another impost is levied upon the goods they purchase with the proceeds of their sales. This system, so beautifully entangled with corruptions, is supported on the ground that it supersedes direct taxation, which, in itself, is an evil that the 'free and independent' people of Mexico would never submit to.
    • p.149
  • on the 22d of August we started for Chihuahua. I fitted out myself but six wagons for this market, yet joining in company with several other traders, our little caravan again amounted to fourteen wagons, with about forty men. Though our route lay through the interior of Northern Mexico, yet, on account of the hostile savages which infest most of the country through which we had to pass, it was necessary to unite in caravans of respectable strength, and to spare few of those precautions for safety which are required on the Prairies.
    • p.150
  • The road we traveled passes down through the settlements of New Mexico for the first hundred and thirty miles, on the east side of the Rio del Norte. Nevertheless, as there was not an inn of any kind to be found upon the whole route, we were constrained to put up with very primitive accommodations. Being furnished from the outset, therefore, with blankets and buffalo rugs for bedding, we were prepared to bivouac, even in the suburbs of the villages, in the open air; for in this dry and salubrious atmosphere it is seldom that travelers go to the trouble of pitching tents (How scant soever our outfit of 'camp comforts' might appear, our Mexican muleteers were much more sparely supplied. The exposure endured by this hardy race is really surprising. Even in the coldest winter weather, they rarely carry more than one blanket apiece — the sarape, which serves as a cloak during the day, and at night is their only 'bed and bedding.'). When traveling alone, however, or with but a comrade or two, I have always experienced a great deal of hospitality from the rancheros and villageois of the country. Whatever sins these ignorant people may have to answer for, we must accord to them at least two glowing virtues — gratitude and hospitality. I have suffered like others, however, from one very disagreeable custom which prevails among them. Instead of fixing a price for the services they bestow upon travelers, they are apt to answer, "Lo que guste," or "Lo que le dé la gana" (whatever you please, or have a mind to give), expecting, of course, that the liberal foreigner will give more than their consciences would permit them to exact.
    • p.150
  • In about ten days' drive we passed the southernmost settlements of New Mexico, and twenty or thirty miles further down the river we came to the ruins of Valverde [The precinct of Valverde, on the east bank of the Rio Grande, a few miles below Socorro, has now a population of three hundred. Although of considerable importance in the early nineteenth century, the town has never been rebuilt since Gregg's time. The site was, however, the rendezvous for Doniphan's troops (1846) preparatory to his march into Chihuahua. It was also the field for a battle in the War of Secession (1862), wherein the Texans won a victory over the Federal troops.—Book Editor]. This village was founded about twenty years ago, in one of the most fertile valleys of the Rio del Norte. It increased rapidly in population, until it was invaded by the Navajoes, when the inhabitants were obliged to abandon the place after considerable loss, and it has never since been repeopled. The bottoms of the valley, many of which are of rich alluvial loam, have lain fallow, ever since, and will perhaps continue to be neglected until the genius of civilization shall have spread its beneficent influences over the land. This soil is the more valuable for cultivation on account of the facilities for irrigation which the river affords; as it too frequently happens that the best lands of the settlements remain unfruitful for want of water.
    • p.151
  • On the 12th of September we reached the usual ford of the Rio del Norte, six miles above El Paso; but the river being somewhat flushed we found it impossible to cross over with our wagons. The reader will no doubt be surprised to learn that there is not a single ferry on this 'Great River of the North' till we approach the mouth. But how do people cross it? Why, during three-fourths of the year it is everywhere fordable, and when the freshet season comes on, each has to remain on his own side, or swim, for canoes even are very rare. But as we could neither swim our wagons and merchandise, nor very comfortably wait for the falling of the waters, our only alternative was to unload the vehicles, and ferry the goods over in a little 'dug-out' about thirty feet long and two feet wide, of which we were fortunate enough to obtain possession.
    • p.154
  • We succeeded in finding a place shallow enough to haul our empty wagons across: but for this good fortune we should have been under the necessity of taking them to pieces (as I had before done), and of ferrying them on the 'small craft' before mentioned. Half of a wagon may thus be crossed at a time, by carefully balancing it upon the canoe, yet there is of course no little danger of capsizing during the passage.
    • p.154
  • This river even when fordable often occasions a great deal of trouble, being, like the Arkansas, embarrassed with many quicksand mires. In some places, if a wagon is permitted to stop in the river but for a moment, it sinks to the very body. Instances have occurred where it became necessary, not only to drag out the mules by the ears and to carry out the loading package by package, but to haul out the wagon piece by piece — wheel by wheel.
    • p.154
  • On the 14th we made our entrance into the town of El Paso del Norte (This place is often known among Americans as 'The Pass.' It has been suggested in another place, that it took its name from the passing thither of the refugees from the massacre of 1680; yet many persons very rationally derive it from the "passing" of the river (el paso del Rio del Norte) between two points of mountains which project against it from each side, just above the town.), which is the northernmost settlement in the department of Chihuahua. Here our cargo had to be examined by a stern, surly officer, who, it was feared, would lay an embargo on our goods upon the slightest appearance of irregularity in our papers; but notwithstanding our gloomy forebodings, we passed the ordeal without any difficulty.
    • p.155
  • The valley of El Paso is supposed to contain a population of about four thousand inhabitants, scattered over the western bottom of the Rio del Norte to the length of ten or twelve miles. These settlements are so thickly interspersed with vineyards, orchards, and corn-fields, as to present more the appearance of a series of plantations than of a town: in fact, only a small portion at the head of the valley, where the plaza publica and parochial church are located, would seem to merit this title. Two or three miles above the plaza there is a dam of stone and brush across the river, the purpose of which is to turn the current into a dike or canal, which conveys nearly half the water of the stream, during a low stage, through this well cultivated valley, for the irrigation of the soil. Here we were regaled with the finest fruits of the season: the grapes especially were of the most exquisite flavor. From these the inhabitants manufacture a very pleasant wine, somewhat resembling Malaga. A species of aguardiente (brandy) is also distilled from the same fruit, which, although weak, is of very agreeable flavor. These liquors are known among Americans as 'Pass wine' and 'Pass whiskey,' and constitute a profitable article of trade, supplying the markets of Chihuahua and New Mexico (There is very little wine or legitimate aguardiente manufactured in New Mexico. There was not a distillery, indeed, in all the province until established by Americans some fifteen or twenty years ago. Since that period, considerable quantities of whiskey have been made there, particularly in the vicinity of Taos,— distilled mainly from wheat, as this is the cheapest grain the country affords.).
    • p.155
  • As I have said before, the road from Santa Fé to El Paso leads partly along the margin of the Rio del Norte, or across the bordering hills and plains; but the sierra which separates the waters of this river and those of the Rio Pecos was always visible on our left. In some places it is cut up into detached ridges, one of which is known as Sierra Blanca, in consequence of its summit's being covered with snow till late in the spring, and having all the appearance of a glittering white cloud. There is another still more picturesque ridge further south, called Los Organos, presenting an immense cliff of basaltic pillars, which bear some resemblance to the pipes of an organ, whence the mountain derived its name. Both these sierras are famous as being the strongholds of the much-dreaded Apaches.
    • p.156
  • The mountains from El Paso northward are mostly clothed with pine, cedar, and a dwarfish species of oak. The valleys are timbered with cottonwood, and occasionally with mezquite, which, however, is rarely found higher up than the lower settlements of New Mexico. In the immediate vicinity of El Paso there is another small growth called tornillo (or screw-wood), so denominated from a spiral pericarp, which, though different in shape, resembles that of the mezquite in flavor. The plains and highlands generally are of a prairie character, and do not differ materially from those of all Northern Mexico, which are almost everywhere completely void of timber.
    • p.156
  • After leaving El Paso, our road branched off at an angle of about two points to the westward of the river, the city of Chihuahua being situated nearly a hundred miles to the west of it. At the distance of about thirty miles we reached Los Médanos [The Dunes], a stupendous ledge of sand-hills, across which the road passes for about six miles. As teams are never able to haul the loaded wagons over this region of loose sand, we engaged an atajo of mules at El Paso, upon which to convey our goods across. These Médanos consist of huge hillocks and ridges of pure sand, in many places without a vestige of vegetation. Through the lowest gaps between the hills, the road winds its way.
    • p.157
  • What renders this portion of the route still more unpleasant and fatiguing, is the great scarcity of water. All that is to be found on the road for the distance of more than sixty miles after leaving El Paso, consists in two fetid springs or pools, whose water is only rendered tolerable by necessity.
    • p.157
  • The following day we reached the acequia below Carrizal, a small village with only three or four hundred inhabitants, but somewhat remarkable as being the site of a presidio (fort), at which is stationed a company of troops to protect the country against the ravages of the Apaches, who, notwithstanding, continue to lay waste the ranchos in the vicinity, and to depredate at will within the very sight of the fort.
    • p.158
  • After fording the Rio Cármen, which, though usually without a drop of water in its channel, we now found a very turbulent stream, we did not meet with any object particularly worthy of remark, until we reached the Laguna de Encinillas [Lake of Live-Oaks, the size varies greatly with the season of drouth or rain.—Book Editor]. This lake is ten or twelve miles long by two or three in width, and seems to have no outlet even during the greatest freshets, though fed by several small constantly flowing streams from the surrounding mountains. The water of this lake during the dry season is so strongly impregnated with nauseous and bitter salts, as to render it wholly unpalatable to man and beast. The most predominant of these noxious substances is a species of alkali, known there by the title of tequesquite. It is often seen oozing out from the surface of marshy grounds, about the table plains of all Northern Mexico, forming a grayish crust, and is extensively used in the manufacture of soap, and sometimes by the bakers even for raising bread. Here we had another evidence of the alarming effects of the recent flood, the road for several miles along the margin of the lake being completely inundated. It was, however, in the city of Chihuahua itself that the disastrous consequences of the freshet were most severely felt. Some inferior houses of adobe were so much soaked by the rains, that they tumbled to the ground, occasioning the loss of several lives.
    • p.159
  • We arrived at Chihuahua on the first of October, after a trip of forty days, with wagons much more heavily laden than when we started from the United States. The whole distance from Santa Fé to Chihuahua is about 550 miles,— being reckoned 320 to Paso del Norte, and 230 from thence to Chihuahua. The road from El Paso south is mostly firm and beautiful, with the exception of the sand-hills before spoken of; and is only rendered disagreeable by the scarcity and occasional ill-savor of the water. The route winds over an elevated plain among numerous detached ridges of low mountains — spurs, as it were, of the main Cordilleras, which lie at a considerable distance to the westward. Most of these extensive intermediate plains, though in many places of fertile looking soil, must remain wholly unavailable for agricultural purposes, on account of their natural aridity and a total lack of water for irrigation.
    • p.161

Chapter 21 Trip from Chihuahua to Aguascalientes, in 1835 — ...Robbers...Edit

  • Pardon me for presenting here a brief account of a trip which I made to Aguascalientes, in the interior of Northern Mexico, in the year 1835, and which the arrangement I have adopted has prevented me from introducing before, in its chronological order.
    • p.162
  • I set out from Chihuahua on the 26th of February, 1835. My party consisted of four men (including myself) and two empty wagons — not a very formidable escort to protect our persons as well as specie and bullion (the only transmissible currency of the country) against the bands of robbers which at all times infest that portion of our route that lay south of Durango. From Chihuahua to that city the road was rendered still more perilous by the constant hostilities of the Indians. On the 7th of March, however, we arrived, without accident, at the town of Cerro Gordo, the northernmost settlement in the department of Durango; and the following day we reached La Zarca, which is the principal village of one of the most extensive haciendas in the North. So immense is the amount of cattle on this estate, that, as it was rumored, the proprietor once offered to sell the whole hacienda, stock, etc., for the consideration alone of fifty cents for each head of cattle found on the estate; but that no person has ever yet been able or willing to muster sufficient capital to take up the offer.
    • p.163
  • Durango is one of the handsomest cities in the North, with a population of about 20,000. It is situated in a level plain, surrounded in every direction by low mountains. It presents two or three handsome squares, with many fine edifices and some really splendid churches. The town is supplied with water for irrigating the gardens, and for many other ordinary purposes, by several open aqueducts, which lead through the streets, from a large spring, a mile or two distant; but as these are kept filthy by the offal that is thrown into them, the inhabitants who are able to buy it, procure most of their water for drinking and culinary purposes, from the aguadores, who pack it, on asses, usually in large jars, from the spring.
    • p.164
  • This is the first Northern city in which there is to be found any evidence of that variety of tropical fruits, for which Southern Mexico is so justly famed. ...the market actually teemed with all that is most rich and exquisite in this kind of produce. The maguey, from which is extracted the popular beverage called pulque is not only cultivated extensively in the fields, but grows wild everywhere upon the plains. This being the height of the pulque season, a hundred shanties might be seen loaded with jugs and goblets filled with this favorite liquor, from its sweetest unfermented state to the grade of 'hard cider;' while the incessant cries of "Pulque! pulque dulce! pulque bueno!" added to the shrill and discordant notes of the fruit venders, created a confusion of sounds amidst which it was impossible to hear oneself talk.
    • p.165
  • Durango is also celebrated as being the head-quarters, as it were, of the whole scorpion family. During the spring, especially, so much are the houses infested by these poisonous insects, that many people are obliged to have resort to a kind of mosquito-bar, in order to keep them out of their beds at night. As an expedient to deliver the city from this terrible pest, a society has actually been formed, which pays a reward of a cuartilla (three cents) for every alacran (or scorpion) that is brought to them. Stimulated by the desire of gain, the idle boys of the city are always on the look-out: so that, in the course of a year, immense numbers of this public enemy are captured and slaughtered.
    • p.165
  • Although we were exceedingly well armed, yet so many fearful stories of robberies said to be committed, almost daily, on the Southern roads, reached my ears, that before leaving Durango, I resolved to add to my 'weapons of defense one of those peculiarly terrible dogs which are sometimes to be found in this country, and which are very serviceable to travelers situated as I was.
    • p.166
  • After a few days' march found ourselves once more in the camino real that led from Chihuahua to Zacatecas. All the frightful stories I had heard about robbers now began to flash upon my memory, which made me regard every man I encountered on the road with a very suspicious eye. As all travelers go armed, it is impossible to distinguish them from banditti; so that the unsuspecting traveler is very frequently set upon by the very man he had been consorting with in apparent good-fellowship, and either murdered on the spot, or dragged from his horse with the lazo, and plundered of all that is valuable about him.
    • p.167
  • I have heard it asserted that there is a regular bandit trade organized throughout the country, in which some of the principal officers of state (and particularly of the judicial corps) are not unfrequently engaged. A capital is made up by shares, as for any other enterprise, bandits are fitted out and instructed where to operate, and at stated periods of the year a regular dividend is paid to the stockholders. The impunity which these 'gentlemen of the order' almost everywhere enjoy in the country, is therefore not to be marveled at. In Durango, during my sojourn there, a well dressed caballero was frequently in the habit of entering our meson, whom mine host soon pointed out to me as a notorious brigand. "Beware of him," said the honest publican; "he is prying into your affairs"— and so it turned out; for my muleteer informed me that the fellow had been trying to pump from him all the particulars in regard to our condition and destination. Yet this worthy was not only suffered to prowl about unmolested by the authorities, but appeared to be on familiar terms with many of the principal dignitaries of the city. Notwithstanding all our apprehensions, however, we arrived at our place of destination without even the novelty of an incident to swell our budget of gossip.
    • p.168
  • It had been originally my intention to continue on to Leon, another manufacturing town some seventy or eighty miles from Aguascalientes; but, hearing that Santa Anna had just arrived there with a large army, on his way to Zacatecas to quell an insurrection, I felt very little curiosity to extend my rambles further. Having, therefore, made all my purchases in the shortest possible time, in a few days I was again in readiness to start for the North.
    • p.169
  • Just as the process of shoeing my mules had been completed, a person who proved to be a public officer entered the corral, and pointing to the mules, very politely informed me that they were wanted by the government to transport troops to Zacatecas. "They will be called for to-morrow afternoon," he continued; "let them not be removed!" I had of course to bow acquiescence to this imperative edict, well knowing that all remonstrance would be vain; yet fully determined to be a considerable distance on the road northward before that 'morrow' should be very far advanced.
    • p.170
  • But a new difficulty now presented itself. I must procure a guia or passport for my cargo of merchandise, with a responsible endorser,— an additional imposition I was wholly unprepared for, as I was then ignorant of any law to that effect being in force, and had not a single acquaintance in the city. I was utterly at a loss what to do: under any other circumstances I might have left the amount of the derecho de consumo in deposit, as others have been obliged to do on similar occasions; but unfortunately I had laid out the last dollar of my available means.
    • p.171
  • As I left the custom-house brooding over these perplexities, one of the principal clerks of the establishment slipped a piece of paper into my hand containing the following laconic notice:—"Aguárdeme afuera" (wait for me without);—an injunction I passively obeyed, although I had not the least idea of its purport. The clerk was soon with me, and remarked, "You are a stranger in the city, and ignorant of our severe revenue laws: meet me in an hour from this at my lodgings, and we will devise some remedy for your difficulties." ...I met the obliging officer in his room with a handful of blank custom-house pases. It should be understood that a pase only differs from a guia in requiring no endorser, but the former can only be extended for amounts of goods not exceeding fifty dollars. Taking my bill, he very soon filled me up a pase for every package, directing each to a different point in the North. "Now," observed my amiable friend, "if you are disposed to do a little smuggling, these will secure your safety, if you avoid the principal cities, till you reach the borders of Chihuahua: if not, you may have a friend on the way who will endorse your guia." I preferred the latter alternative. I had formed an acquaintance with a worthy German merchant in Durango, who, I felt convinced, would generously lend his signature to the required document.
    • p.171
  • It was with the greatest difficulty I could obtain a place to lie upon, and clean victuals with which to allay my hunger. I could get a room, it is true, even for a real per day, in one of those great barn-like mesones which are to be met with in all these cities, but not one of them was at all furnished. There is sometimes, in a corner, a raised platform of mud, much resembling a common blacksmith's hearth, which is to supply the place of a bedstead, upon which the traveler may spread his blankets, if he happen to have any. On this occasion I succeeded in borrowing one or two from the stage-driver who was a Yankee, and so made out 'pretty comfortably' in the sleeping way. These mesones are equally ill-prepared to furnish food for the traveler, unless he is willing to put up with a dish of frijoles [beans] and chile guisado [chile stew] with tortillas, all served up in the most filthy manner. I therefore sought out a public fonda kept by an Italian, where I procured an excellent supper. Fondas, however, are mere restaurants, and consequently without accommodations for lodging.
    • p.172
  • Strange as the fact may appear, one may travel fifteen hundred miles, and perhaps more, on the main public highway through Northern Mexico, without finding a single tavern with general accommodations. This, however, may be accounted for, by taking into consideration the peculiar mode of traveling of the country, which renders resorts of this kind almost unnecessary. Arrieros with their atajos of pack-mules always camp out, being provided with their cooks and stock of provisions, which they carry with them. Ordinary travelers generally unite in little caravans, for security against robbers and marauders; and no caballero ever stirs abroad without a train of servants, and a pack-mule to carry his cantinas (a pair of large wallets or leathern boxes), filled with provisions, on the top of which is lashed a huge machine containing a mattress and all the other 'fixings' for bed furniture. Thus equipped, the caballero snaps his fingers at all the hotels garnis of the universe, and is perfectly independent in every movement.
    • p.173
  • The city of Zacatecas... is celebrated for its mining interests. Like all other Mexican towns of the same class, it originated in small, insignificant settlements on the hillsides, in the immediate vicinity of the mines, until it gradually grew up to be a large and wealthy city, with a population of some 30,000 inhabitants. ... Many of the streets are handsomely paved, and two of the squares are finely ornamented with curiously carved jetsd'eau [water fountains], which are supplied with water raised by mule power, from wells among the adjacent hills. From these the city is chiefly furnished with water.
    • p.174
  • Santa Anna reached Zacatecas a few days after my departure. As he had no idea of testing the doubtful mettle of his army, by an attempt to storm the place, which presented so formidable an appearance, he very quietly squatted himself down at the village of Guadalupe, three miles below. From this point he commenced his operations by throwing 'missiles' into the city — not of lead, or cast-iron, or any such cruel agents of warfare, but bombs of paper, which fell among the besieged, and burst with gentle overtures to their commanding officers. This novel 'artillery' of the dictator produced a perfectly electric effect; for the valor of the commandant of the Cívicos rose to such a pitch, that he at once marched his forces out of the fortifications, to attack the besiegers in the open field — face to face, as true bravery required. But on the very first onset, this valiant officer, by some mysterious agency which could not be accounted for, was suddenly seized with a strange panic, and, with all his forces, made a precipitate retreat, fleeing helter-skelter, as if all the engines of destruction that were ever invented, had been brought to bear upon them; when the victorious army of Santa Anna marched into the city without further opposition.
    • p.175
  • This affair is a pretty just sample of most of the successful battles of this 'great general.' ...the soldiery amused themselves by sacking the city, and by perpetrating every species of outrage that their mercenary and licentious appetites could devise. Their savage propensities were particularly exercised against the few foreigners that were found in the place. Meanwhile I was journeying very leisurely towards Durango, where I arrived on the 21st of April.
    • p.175
  • Before leaving Durango I witnessed one of those civil broils which are so common in Mexico. I was not even aware that any difficulty had been brewing, till I was waked on the morning of the 25th by a report of fire-arms. Stepping out to ascertain what was the matter, I perceived the azotea [roof] of the parochial church occupied by armed men, who seemed to be employed in amusing themselves by discharging their guns at random upon the people in the streets. These bravos, as I was afterwards informed, belonged to the bishop's party, or that of the Escoceses, which was openly at war with the liberalists, anti-hierarchists, or Yorkinos ...for at this time the liberal party had the ascendency in the civil government of Durango.
    • p.176
  • As I was proceeding through the streets soon afterward, with a cargo of goods, I received, just after leaving the custom-house, a very warm salutation from the belligerents, which made the dust start from almost under my very feet. The cargadores who were carrying my packages were no doubt as much frightened as myself. They supposed the reason of their shooting at us to be because they imagined we were carrying off the parque (ammunition) of the government, which was deposited in the building we had just left.
    • p.177
  • We were soon under way, and very little regret did I feel when I fairly lost sight of the city of scorpions. But I was not yet wholly beyond the pale of difficulties. Owing to the fame of the Indian hostilities in the North, it was almost impossible to procure the services of Mexican muleteers for the expedition. ...I was of course delighted when I reached Chihuahua, on the 14th of May, in perfect safety.
    • p.177

Chapter 22 Visit to... Town of Jesus-Maria — ...Anti-Masonic Auto de FeEdit

  • Before resuming my regular narrative, I trust the reader will pardon me for introducing here a brief account of an excursion which I made in the fall of the year 1835, to the mining town of Jesus-Maria, one of the most important mineral districts in the department of Chihuahua, situated about a hundred and fifty miles west of the city, in the very heart of the great Cordilleras. I had long been desirous of visiting some of the mining establishments of Mexico... I set out from Chihuahua on the 15th of October. My party consisted of but one American comrade, with a Mexican muleteer — and three or four mules freighted with specie to be employed in the silver trade: a rather scanty convoy for a route subject to the inroads both of savages and robbers.
    • p.178
  • For transportation, we generally pack our specie in sacks made of raw beef hide, which shrinks upon drying, and thus presses the contents so closely as to prevent friction. A pair of these packages, usually containing between one and two thousand dollars each, constitutes an ordinary mule-load on the mountain routes.
    • p.179
  • The road in this direction leads through the roughest mountain passes; and, in some places, it winds so close along the borders of precipices, that by a single misstep an animal might be precipitated several hundred feet. Mules, however, are very surefooted; and will often clamber along the most craggy cliffs with nearly as much security as the goat.
    • p.179
  • The road which leads into the town of Jesus-Maria from the west side of the mountain is also extremely perilous and steep, and seems almost to overhang the houses below. Heavily laden mules have sometimes slipped off the track, and tumbled headlong into the town. This place is even more pent up between ridges than Zacatecas: the valley is narrower and the mountains much higher; while, as is the case with that remarkable city, the houses are sometimes built in successive tiers, one above another; the azoteas [roofs] of the lower ones forming the yard of those above.
    • p.179
  • The first mine I visited consisted of an immense horizontal shaft cut several hundred feet into a hill-side... upon which the proprietors had already sunk, in the brief space of one year, the enormous sum of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars! Such is often the fate of the speculative miner, whose vocation is closely allied to gaming, and equally precarious.
    • p.179
  • The most important mine of Jesus-Maria at this time was one called Santa Juliana, which had been the means of alternately making and sinking several splendid fortunes. This mine had then reached a depth of between eight and nine hundred feet, and the operations were still tending downwards. The materials were drawn up by mule power applied to a windlass: but as the rope attached to it only extended half way down, another windlass had been erected at the distance of about four hundred feet from the mouth of the cavern, which was also worked by mules, and drew the ores, etc., from the bottom. On one occasion, as I was standing near the aperture of this great pit, watching the ascent of the windlass-rope, expecting every moment the appearance of the large leathern bucket which they employ for drawing up the minerals as well as the rubbish and water from the bottom, what should greet my vision but a mule...
    • p.180
  • The ore which is obtained from these mines, if sufficiently rich to justify the operation, is transferred to the smelting furnaces, where the pure metal is melted down and extracted from the virgin fossil. If, on the contrary, the ore is deemed of inferior quality, it is then submitted to the process of amalgamation.
    • p.180
  • The moliendas, or crushing-mills (arrastres, as called at some mines), employed for the purpose of grinding the ores, are somewhat singular machines. A circular (or rather annular) cistern of some twenty or thirty feet in diameter is dug in the earth, and the sides as well as the bottom are lined with hewn stone of the hardest quality. Transversely through an upright post which turns upon its axis in the center of the plan, passes a shaft of wood, at each end of which are attached by cords one or two grinding stones with smooth fiat surfaces, which are dragged (by mules fastened to the extremities of the shaft) slowly around upon the bottom of the cistern, into which the ore is thrown after being pounded into small pieces. It is here ground, with the addition of water, into an impalpable mortar, by the constant friction of the dragging stones against the sides and bottom of the cistern. A suitable quantity of quicksilver is perfectly mixed with the mortar; to which are added some muriates, sulphates, and other chemical substances, to facilitate the amalgamation. The compound is then piled up in small heaps, and not disturbed again until this process is supposed to be complete, when it is transferred to the washing machine. Those I have observed are very simple, consisting of a kind of stone tub, into which a stream of water is made to flow constantly, so as to carry off all the lighter matter, which is kept stirred up by an upright studded with pegs, that revolves in the center, while the amalgamated metals sink to the bottom. Most of the quicksilver is then pressed out, and the silver submitted to a burning process, by which the remaining portion of mercury is expelled.
    • p.180
  • The silver which is taken from the furnace, generally contains an intermixture of gold, averaging from ten to thirty per cent.; but what is extracted by amalgamation is mostly separated in the washing. While in a liquid state, the gold, from its greater specific gravity, mostly settles to the bottom: yet it usually retains a considerable alloy of silver. The compound is distinguished by the name of oroche. The main portion of the silver generally retains too little gold to make it worth separating.
    • p.183
  • Every species of silver is molded into barras or ingots, weighing from fifty to eighty pounds each, and usually worth between one and two thousand dollars. These are assayed by an authorized agent of the government, and stamped with their weight and character, which enables the holder to calculate their value by a very simple rule. When the bullion is thus stamped, it constitutes a species of currency, which is much safer for remittances than coin. In case of robbery, the barras are easily identified, provided the robbers have not had time to mold them into some other form. For this reason, people of wealth frequently lay up their funds in ingots; and the cellars of some of the ricos of the South, are often found teeming with large quantities of them, presenting the appearance of a winter's supply of firewood.
    • p.184
  • As the charge for parting the gold and silver at the Mexican mints, is generally from one to two dollars, and coinage about fifty cents, per pound, this assayed bullion yields a profit upon its current value of nearly ten per cent at the United States Mint; but, if unassayed, it generally produces an advance of about double that amount upon the usual cost at the mines. The exportation of bullion, however, is prohibited, except by special license from the general government. Still a large quantity is exported in this way, and considerable amounts smuggled out through some of the ports.
    • p.184
  • A constant and often profitable business in the 'silver trade' is carried on at these mines. As the miners rarely fail being in need of ready money, they are generally obliged to sell their bullion for coin, and that often at a great sacrifice, so as to procure available means to prosecute their mining operations. To profit by this trade, as is already mentioned, was a principal object of my present visit. Having concluded my business transactions, and partially gratified my curiosity, I returned to Chihuahua, where I arrived, November 24, 1835, without being molested either by robbers or Indians, though the route is sometimes infested by both...
    • p.184
  • I will once more resume my narrative, where it was interrupted at my arrival in Chihuahua, on the first of October, 1839.
    • p.185
  • It is usual for each trader, upon his arrival in that city, to engage a store-room, and to open and exhibit his goods... His most profitable custom is that of the petty country merchants from the surrounding villages. Some traders, it is true, continue in the retail business for a season or more, yet the greater portion are transient dealers, selling off at wholesale as soon as a fair bargain is offered.
    • p.185
  • Before the end of October, 1839, I had an opportunity of selling out my stock of goods to a couple of English merchants, which relieved me from the delays, to say nothing of the inconveniences attending a retail trade: such, for instance, as the accumulation of copper coin, which forms almost the exclusive currency in petty dealings. Some thousands of dollars' worth are frequently accumulated upon the hands of the merchant in this way, and as the copper of one department is worthless in another, except for its intrinsic value, which is seldom more than ten percent of the nominal value, the holders are subjected to a great deal of trouble and annoyance.
    • p.185
  • When compared with Santa Fé and all the towns of the North, Chihuahua might indeed be pronounced a magnificent place; but, compared with the nobler cities of tierra afuera [the outside world], it sinks into insignificance. ...The ground-plan is much more regular than that of Santa Fé, while a much greater degree of elegance and classic taste has been exhibited in the style of the architecture of many buildings; for though the bodies be of adobe, all the best houses are cornered with hewn stone, and the doors and windows are framed in the same. The streets, however, remain nearly in the same state as Nature formed them, with the exception of a few roughly-paved side-walks.
    • p.186
  • The most splendid edifice in Chihuahua is the principal church, which is said to equal in architectural grandeur anything of the sort in the republic. ...This church was built about a century ago, by contributions levied upon the mines (particularly those of Santa Eulalia, fifteen or twenty miles from the city), which paid over a percentage on all the metal extracted therefrom... In this way, about a million of dollars was raised and expended in some thirty years, the time employed in the construction of the building. It is a curious fact, however, that, notwithstanding the enormous sums of money expended in outward embellishments, there is not a church from thence southward, perhaps, where the interior arrangements bear such striking marks of poverty and neglect. ...the turrets are well provided with bells, a fact of which every person who visits Chihuahua very soon obtains auricular demonstration. One, in particular, is so large and sonorous that it has frequently been heard, so I am informed, at the distance of twenty-five miles.
    • p.187
  • Among the few remarkable objects which attract the attention of the traveler is a row of columns supporting a large number of stupendous arches which may be seen from the heights, long before approaching the city from the north. This is an aqueduct of considerable magnitude which conveys water from the little river of Chihuahua, to an eminence above the town, whence it is passed through a succession of pipes to the main public square, where it empties itself into a large stone cistern; and by this method the city is supplied with water. This and other public works to be met with in Chihuahua, and in the southern cities, are glorious remnants of the prosperous times of the Spanish empire. No improvements on so exalted a scale have ever been made under the republican government. In fact, everything in this benighted country now seems to be on the decline, and the plain honest citizen of the old school is not unfrequently heard giving vent to his feelings by ejaculating "Ojalá por los dias felices del Rey!"— Oh, for the happy days of the King! In short, there can be no doubt, that the common people enjoyed more ease — more protection against the savages — more security in their rights and property — more liberty, in truth, under the Spanish dynasty than at present.
    • p.189
  • No better evidence can be found of the extensive operations which have been carried on in this the greatest mining district of Northern Mexico, than in the little mountains of scoria [dregs] which are found in the suburbs of the city. A great number of poor laborers make a regular business of hammering to pieces these metallic excrescences, from which they collect silver enough to buy their daily bread.
    • p.190
  • Balls or reunions... seem not as frequent in Chihuahua as in New Mexico: and to those we hear of, claiming the title of 'fashionable,' Americans are very rarely invited. There is, in fact, but little social intercourse between foreigners and the natives, except in a business way, or with a certain class of the former, at the gambling-table. This want of hospitable feelings is one of the worst traits in the character of the Chihuahueños, and when placed in contrast with the kind and courteous treatment those who visit the United States invariably experience from the lawgivers of fashion among us, their illiberality will appear a hundred fold more ungracious. These exclusive laws are the more severely felt in Chihuahua, because in that city there are no cafés, nor reading rooms, nor in short any favorite public resorts, except of a gambling character, at which gentlemen can meet to lounge or amuse themselves.
    • p.191
  • Besides the cock-pit, the gaming-table, and the Alameda [tree-lined avenue], which is the popular promenade for the wealthy and the indolent, one of the most favorite pastimes of the females generally is shopping; and the most fashionable time for this is by candle-light, after they have partaken of their chocolate and their cigarritos. The streets and shops are literally filled from dusk till nine or ten o'clock; and many a time have I seen the counter of a store actually lined till a late hour, with the fairest and most fashionable señoritas of the city.
    • p.192
  • It may already be generally known perhaps, that the predominant party, in Mexico, (and particularly in the North), is decidedly anti-masonic. During my stay in Chihuahua I had an opportunity to test their antipathy for that mysterious brotherhood. This was evinced in the seizure of a dozen or two cotton handkerchiefs, which, unknown to myself, happened to bear the stamp of the 'masonic carpet.' These obnoxious articles having attracted the attention of some lynx-eyed friars, one day, much to my consternation, my store was suddenly invaded by the alcalde and some ecclesiastics. The handkerchiefs were seized without ceremony, and by an auto de fe [act of faith], condemned to be publicly burned.
    • p.192

Chapter 23 Departure for Santa Fé — ...Arrival at Santa FéEdit

  • Having closed all my affairs in Chihuahua, and completed my preparations for departing, I took my leave of that city for the North, on the 31st of October, 1839. I was accompanied by a caravan consisting of twenty-two wagons (all of which save one belonged to me), and forty odd men, armed to the teeth, and prepared for any emergency we might be destined to encounter: a precaution altogether necessary, in view of the hordes of hostile [natives]...
    • p.193
  • Early on the morning of the 10th, I... took my leave of Chihuahua... On the evening of the next day, now in the heart of the savage haunts, we were not a little alarmed by the appearance of a large body of horsemen in the distance. They turned out, however, to be Paseños, or citizens of the Paso del Norte. They were on their way to Chihuahua with a number of pack-mules laden with apples, pears, grapes, wine, and aguardiente — proceeds of their productive orchards and vineyards. It is from El Paso that Chihuahua is chiefly supplied with fruits and liquors, which are transported on mules or in carretas [carts]. The fruits, as well fresh as in a dried state, are thus carried to the distant markets. The grapes, carefully dried in the shade, make excellent pasas or raisins, of which large quantities are annually prepared for market by the people of that delightful town of vineyards and orchards, who, to take them altogether, are more sober and industrious than those of any other part of Mexico I have visited; and are happily less infested by the extremes of wealth and poverty.
    • p.202
  • On the 13th, I overtook my wagons a few miles south of El Paso, whence our journey was continued, without any additional casualty, and on the 6th of December we reached Santa Fé, in fine health and spirits.
    • p.203

Chapter 24 Preparations for returning Home — ...returning to the Wild DesertsEdit

  • On the 25th of February we set out from Santa Fé; but owing to some delays, we did not leave San Miguel till the 1st of March. As the pasturage was yet insufficient for our animals, we here provided ourselves with over six hundred bushels of corn, to feed them on the way. This time our caravan consisted of twenty-eight wagons, two small cannons, and forty-seven men, including sixteen Mexicans and a Comanche Indian who acted in the capacity of guide. ...We had ...nearly three hundred sheep and goats. The sheep were brought along partially to supply us with meat in case of emergency: the surplusage, however, could not fail to command a fair price in the United States.
    • p.204
  • Instead of following the trail of the year before, I determined to seek a nearer and better route down the south side of the Canadian river, under the guidance of the Comanche; by which movement, we had again to travel a distance of four hundred miles over an entirely new country. We had just passed the Laguna Colorada (Laguna Colorada is in the northeastern part of what is now Quay County, New Mexico, about twelve miles west of Tucumcari Mount.)... when our fire was carelessly permitted to communicate with the prairie grass. As there was a head-wind blowing at the time, we very soon got out of reach of the conflagration: but the next day, the wind having changed, the fire was again perceived in our rear approaching us at a very brisk pace. The terror which these prairie conflagrations are calculated to inspire, when the grass is tall and dry... are sometimes sufficient to daunt the stoutest heart. ...all those who have crossed the Prairies have had more or less experience as to the danger which occasionally threatens the caravans from these sweeping visitations. The worst evil to be apprehended with those bound for Santa Fé is from the explosion of gunpowder, as a keg or two of twenty-five pounds each, is usually to be found in every wagon. When we saw the fire gaining so rapidly upon us, we had to use the whip very unsparingly; and it was only when the lurid flames were actually rolling upon the heels of our teams, that we succeeded in reaching a spot of short-grass prairie, where there was no further danger to be apprehended.
    • p.204
  • The headway of the conflagration was soon after checked by a small stream which traversed our route; and we had only emerged fairly from its smoke, on the following day (the 9th), when our Comanche guide returned hastily from his accustomed post in advance, and informed us that he had espied three buffaloes, not far off. They were the first we had met with, and, being heartily anxious for a change from the dried beef with which we were provided, I directed the Comanche, who was by far our surest hunter, to prepare at once for the chasse. He said he preferred to hunt on horseback and with his bow and arrow... "Don't attempt to kill but one — that will serve us for the present!" I exclaimed, as he galloped off. He soon brought down two of his game,— and shyly remarked to those who followed in his wake, that, had he not feared a scolding from me, he would not have permitted the third to escape.
    • p.206
  • On the evening of the 10th our camp was pitched in the neighborhood of a ravine in the prairie, and as the night was dark and dreary, the watch tried to comfort themselves by building a rousing fire, around which they presently drew, and commenced 'spinning long yarns' about Mexican fandangoes, and black-eyed damsels. All of a sudden the stillness of the night was interrupted by a loud report of fire-arms, and a shower of bullets came whizzing by the ears of the heedless sentinels. ...The savage yells... and the 'Pawnee whistle' which was heard in every quarter, at once impressed us with the idea of its being a band of that famous prairie banditti. ...It was now evident that the Indians had taken possession of the entire ravine, the nearest points of which were not fifty yards from our wagons: a warning to prairie travelers to encamp at a greater distance from whatsoever might afford shelter for an enemy. The banks of the gully were low, but still they formed a very good breastwork, behind which the enemy lay ensconced, discharging valleys of balls upon our wagons, among which we were scattered. ...their yelling was almost continuous, breaking out every now and then in the most hideous screams and vociferous chattering, which were calculated to appall such timorous persons as we may have had in our caravan. All their screeching and whooping, however, had no effect — they could not make our animals break from the enclosure of the wagons, in which they were fortunately shut up; which was no doubt their principal object for attacking us.
    • p.207
  • I cannot forbear recording a most daring feat performed by a Mexican muleteer, named Antonio Chavez, during the hottest of the first onset. Seeing the danger of my two favorite riding horses, which were tethered outside within a few paces of the savages, he rushed out and brought safely in the most valuable of the two, though fusil-balls were showering around him all the while. The other horse broke his halter and made his escape. Although sundry scores of shots had been fired at our people, we had only two men wounded.
    • p.208
  • We had the gratification to believe, however, that they did not get a single one of our animals: the horse which broke away at the first onset, doubtless made his escape; and a mule which was too badly wounded to travel, was dispatched by the muleteers, lest it should fall into the hands of the savages, or into the mouths of the wolves; and they deemed it more humane to leave it to be eaten dead than alive. We also experienced considerable damage in our stock of sheep, a number of them having been devoured by wolves. They had been scattered at the beginning of the attack; and, in their anxiety to fly from the scene of action, had jumped, as it were, into the very jaws of their ravenous enemies.
    • p.210
  • On the 12th of March, we ascended upon the celebrated Llano Estacado, and continued along its borders for a few days. The second night upon this dreary plain, we experienced one of the strongest and bleakest 'northwesters' that ever swept across those prairies; during which, our flock of sheep and goats, being left unattended, fled over the plain, in search of some shelter, it was supposed, from the furious element. Their disappearance was not observed for some time, and the night being too dark to discern anything, we were obliged to defer going in pursuit of them till the following morning. After a fruitless and laborious search, during which the effects of the mirage proved a constant source of annoyance and disappointment, we were finally obliged to relinquish the pursuit, and return to the caravan without finding one of them.
    • p.211
  • These severe winds are very prevalent upon the great western prairies, though they are seldom quite so inclement. At some seasons, they are about as regular and unceasing as the 'trade winds' of the ocean. It will often blow a gale for days, and even weeks together, without slacking for a moment, except occasionally at night. It is for this reason, as well as on account of the rains, that percussion guns are preferable upon the Prairies, particularly for those who understand their use. The winds are frequently so severe as to sweep away both sparks and priming from a flint lock, and thus render it wholly ineffective.
    • p.211
  • The following day we continued our march down the border of the Llano Estacado. Knowing that our Comanche guide was about as familiar with all those great plains as a landlord with his premises, I began to question him, as we traveled along, concerning the different streams which pierced them to the southward. Pointing in that direction, he said there passed a water-course, at the distance of a hard day's ride, which he designated as a Cañada or valley, in which there was always water to be found at occasional places, but that none flowed in its channel except during the rainy season. This cañada he described as having its origin in the Llano Estacado some fifty or sixty miles east of Rio Pecos, and about the same distance south of the route we came, and that its direction was a little south of east, passing to the southward of the northern portion of the Witchita mountains, known to Mexican Ciboleros and Comancheros as Sierra Jumanes. It was, therefore, evident that this was the principal northern branch of Red River. The False Washita, or Rio Negro, as the Mexicans call it, has its rise, as he assured me, between the Canadian and this cañada, at no great distance of the southeastward of where we were then traveling.
    • p.211
  • On the 15th, our Comanche guide, being fearful lest we should find no water upon the plain, advised us to pursue a more northwardly course, so that, after a hard day's ride, we again descended the ceja or brow of the Llano Estacado, into the undulating lands which border the Canadian; and, on the following day, we found ourselves upon the southern bank of that stream.
    • p.212
  • Although, but a few days' travel above where we now were, the Canadian runs pent up in a narrow channel, scarcely four rods [or 22 yards] across, we here found it spread out to the width of from three to six hundred yards, and so full of sand-bars (only interspersed with narrow rills) as to present the appearance of a mere sandy valley instead of the bed of a river. In fact, during the driest seasons, the water wholly disappears in many places. Captain Boone (Nathan Boone, the youngest son of the noted pioneer Daniel.), of the U. S. Dragoons, being upon an exploring expedition in the summer of 1843, came to the Canadian about the region of our western boundary, where he found the channel perfectly dry. Notwithstanding it presents the face of one of the greatest rivers of the west during freshets, yet even then it would not be navigable on account of its rapidity and shallowness. It would appear almost incredible to those unacquainted with the prairie streams, that a river of about 1500 miles in length, and whose head wears a cap of perennial snow (having its source in the Rocky Mountains), should scarcely be navigable, for even the smallest craft, over fifty miles above its mouth.
    • p.212
  • While traveling down the course of the Canadian, we sometimes found the buffalo very abundant. On one occasion, two or three hunters, who were a little in advance of the caravan, perceiving a herd quietly grazing in an open glade, they 'crawled upon' them after the manner of the 'still hunters.' Their first shot having brought down a fine fat cow, they slipped up behind her, and, resting their guns over her body, shot two or three others, without occasioning any serious disturbance or surprise to their companions; for, extraordinary as it may appear, if the buffalo neither see nor smell the hunter, they will pay but little attention to the crack of guns, or to the mortality which is being dealt among them.
    • p.213
  • The slaughter of these animals is frequently carried to an excess, which shows the depravity of the human heart in very bold relief. Such is the excitement that generally prevails at the sight of these fat denizens of the prairies, that very few hunters appear able to refrain from shooting as long as the game remains within reach of their rifles; nor can they ever permit a fair shot to escape them. ...the buffalo killed yearly on these prairies far exceeds the wants of the traveler, or what might be looked upon as the exigencies of rational sport (The same barbarous propensity is observable in regard to wild horses. Most persons appear unable to restrain this wanton inclination to take life, when a mustang approaches within rifle-shot. Many a stately steed thus falls a victim to the cruelty of man.). But in making these observations, I regret that I cannot give to my precepts the force of my own example: I have not always been able wholly to withstand the cruel temptation.
    • p.214
  • Not long after the incident above alluded to, as I was pioneering alone, according to my usual practice, at a distance of a mile or two ahead of the wagons, in search of the best route, I perceived in a glade, a few rods in front of me, several protuberances, which at first occasioned me no little fright, for I took them, as they loomed dimly through the tall grass, for the tops of Indian lodges. But I soon discovered they were the huge humps of a herd of buffalo, which were quietly grazing. I took aim at one that stood broad-side, and 'blazed away.' The buffalo threw up their heads and looked about, but seeing nothing (for I remained concealed in the grass), they again went on grazing as though nothing had happened. The truth is, the one I had shot was perhaps but little hurt; for, as generally happens with the inexperienced hunter — and often with those who know better, the first excitement allowing no time for reflection — I no doubt aimed too high, so as to lodge the ball in the hump. A buffalo's heart lies exceedingly low, so that to strike it the shot should enter not over one-fourth of the depth of the body above the lower edge of the breast bone. The brutes were no sooner quiet, than I took another and more deliberate aim at my former victim, which resulted as before. But believing him now mortally wounded, I next fired in quick succession at four others of the gang. It occurred to me, by this time, that I had better save my remaining three shots; for it was possible enough for my firing to attract the attention of strolling [natives], who might take advantage of my empty gun to make a sortie upon me — yet there stood my buffalo, some of them still quietly feeding. As I walked out from my concealment, a party of our own men came galloping up from the wagons, considerably alarmed. They had heard the six shots, and, not recollecting my repeating rifle, supposed I had been attacked by Indians, and therefore came to my relief. Upon their approach the buffalo all fled, except three which appeared badly wounded — one indeed soon fell and expired. The other two would doubtless have followed the example of the first, had not a hunter, anxious to dispatch them more speedily, approached too near; when, regaining strength from the excitement, they fled before him, and entirely escaped, though he pursued them for a considerable distance.
    • p.214
  • A few days after this occurrence, Mr. Wethered returned to the camp one evening with seven buffalo tongues (the hunter's usual trophy) swung to his saddle.
    • p.216
  • Not long after crossing Dry River, we ascended the high grounds, and soon found ourselves upon the high ridge which divides the waters of the Canadian and False Washita, whose 'breaks' could be traced descending from the Llano Estacado far to the southwest.
    • p.216
  • By an observation of an eclipse of one of Jupiter's satellites, on the night of the 25th of March, in latitude 350° 51' 30", I found that we were very near the 100th degree of longitude west from Greenwich. On the following day, therefore, we celebrated our entrance into the United States territory. Those who have never been beyond the purlieus of the land of their nativity, can form but a poor conception of the joy which the wanderer in distant climes experiences on treading once more upon his own native soil! Although we were yet far from the abodes of civilization, and further still from home, nevertheless the heart within us thrilled with exhilarating sensations; for we were again in our own territory, breathed our own free atmosphere, and were fairly out of reach of the arbitrary power which we had left behind us.
    • p.216
  • As the forest of Cross Timbers was now beginning to be seen in the distance, and fearing we might be troubled to find a passway through this brushy region, south of the Canadian, we forded this river on the 29th, without the slightest trouble, and very soon entered our former trail, a little west of Spring Valley. This gave a new and joyful impulse to our spirits; for we had been traveling over twenty days without even a trail, and through a region of which we knew absolutely nothing, except from what we could gather from our Comanche pilot. This trail, which our wagons had made the previous summer, was still visible, and henceforth there was an end to all misgivings.
    • p.217
  • If we take a retrospective view of the country over which we traveled, we shall find but little that can ever present attractions to the agriculturist. Most of the low valleys of the Canadian, for a distance of five hundred miles, are either too sandy or too marshy for cultivation; and the upland prairies are, in many places, but little else than sand-hills. In some parts, it is true, they are firm and fertile, but wholly destitute of timber, with the exception of a diminutive branch of the Cross Timbers, which occupies a portion of the ridge betwixt the Canadian and the North Fork. The Canadian river itself is still more bare of timber than the upper Arkansas. In its whole course through the plains, there is but little except cottonwood, and that very scantily scattered along its banks — in some places, for leagues together, not a stick is to be seen. Except it be near the Mountains, where the valleys are more fertile, it is only the little narrow bottoms which skirt many of its tributary rivulets that indicate any amenity. Some of these are rich and beautiful in the extreme, timbered with walnut, mulberry, oak, elm, hackberry, and occasionally cedar about the bluffs.
    • p.217
  • We now continued our journey without encountering any further casualty, except in crossing the Arkansas river, where we lost several mules by drowning; and on the 22d of April we made our entrance into Van Buren. This trip was much more tedious and protracted than I had contemplated — owing, in the first part of the journey, to the inclemency of the season, and a want of pasturage for our animals; and, towards the conclusion, to the frequent rains, which kept the route in a miserable condition.
    • p.218
  • As regards the two different routes to Santa Fé, although Missouri, for various reasons which it is needless to explain here, can doubtless retain the monopoly of the Santa Fé trade, the route from Arkansas possesses many advantages. Besides its being some days' travel shorter, it is less intersected with large streams; there are fewer sandy stretches, and a greater variety of wood-skirted brooks, affording throughout the journey very agreeable camping-places. Also, as the grass springs up nearly a month earlier than in Upper Missouri, caravans could start much sooner, and the proprietors would have double the time to conduct their mercantile transactions. Moreover, the return companies would find better pasturage on their way back, and reach their homes before the season of frost had far advanced. Again, such as should desire to engage in the 'stock trade' would at once bring their mules and horses into a more congenial climate — one more in accordance with that of their nativity; for the rigorous winters of Missouri often prove fatal to the unacclimated Mexican animals.
    • p.218
  • This was my last trip across the Plains, though I made an excursion, during the following summer, among the Comanche Indians, and other wild tribes, living in the heart of the Prairies, but returned without crossing to Mexico.
    • p.219
  • I am almost ashamed to confess that scarcely a day passes without my experiencing a pang of regret that I am not now roving at large upon those western plains. Nor do I find my taste peculiar; for I have hardly known a man, who has ever become familiar with the kind of life which I have led for so many years, that has not relinquished it with regret. ...the wild, unsettled and independent life of the Prairie trader, makes perfect freedom from nearly every kind of social dependence an absolute necessity of his being. He is in daily, nay, hourly exposure of his life and property, and in the habit of relying upon his own arm and his own gun both for protection and support. Is he wronged? No court or jury is called to adjudicate upon his disputes or his abuses, save his own conscience; and no powers are invoked to redress them, save those with which the God of Nature has endowed him. He knows no government — no laws, save those of his own creation and adoption. He lives in no society which he must look up to or propitiate. The exchange of this untrammeled condition — this sovereign independence, for a life in civilization, where both his physical and moral freedom are invaded at every turn, by the complicated machinery of social institutions, is certainly likely to commend itself to but few,— not even to all those who have been educated to find their enjoyments in the arts and elegancies peculiar to civilized society; — as is evinced by the frequent instances of men of letters, of refinement and of wealth, voluntarily abandoning society for a life upon the Prairies, or in the still more savage mountain wilds.
    • p.219
  • There is another consideration, which, with most men of the Prairies, operates seriously against their reconciliation to the habits of civilized life. ...a long absence from such society generally obliterates from their minds most of those common laws of social intercourse, which are so necessary to the man of the world. The awkwardness and the gaucheries which ignorance of their details so often involves, are very trying to all men of sensitive temperaments. Consequently, multitudes rush back to the Prairies, merely to escape those criticisms and that ridicule, which they know not how to disarm.
    • p.220
  • It will hardly be a matter of surprise then, when I add, that this passion for Prairie life, how paradoxical soever it may seem, will be very apt to lead me upon the Plains again, to spread my bed with the mustang and the buffalo, under the broad canopy of heaven,— there to seek to maintain undisturbed my confidence in men, by fraternizing with the little prairie dogs and wild colts, and the still wilder Indians — the unconquered Sabæns of the Great American Deserts.
    • p.221

Chapter 25 Conclusion of the Santa Fe TradeEdit

  • The first attempt to introduce American goods into the more southern markets of Mexico from Santa Fé, was made in the year 1824. The amounts were very small, however, till towards the year 1831. For a few of the first years, the traders were in the habit of conveying small lots to Sonora and California; but this branch of the trade has, I believe, latterly ceased altogether.
    • p.223
  • It is difficult to conceive any equitable reason why merchants conveying their goods across the Prairies in wagons, should not be as much entitled to the protection of the Government, as those who transport them in vessels across the ocean. This assistance (with the reopening of the ports) might enable our merchants to monopolize the rich trade of Chihuahua; and they would obtain a share of that of the still richer departments of Durango and Zacatecas, as well as some portion of the Sonora and California trade.
    • p.225
  • It is not an unimportant fact to be known, that, since the year 1831, few or none of the difficulties and dangers which once environed the Santa Fé adventurer have been encountered. No traders have been killed by the [natives] on the regular route, and but few animals stolen from the caravans. On the whole, the rates of insurance upon adventures in this trade should hardly be as high as upon marine adventures between New York and Liverpool. While I declare, however, the serious dangers and troubles to have been in general so slight, I ought not to suppress at least an outline of the difficulties that occurred on the Prairies in 1843, which were attended with very serious consequences.
    • p.226
  • It had been reported in Santa Fé as early as November, 1842, that a party of Texans [the previous year an armed negotiating party had crossed the border] were upon the Prairies, prepared to attack any Mexican traders who should cross the plains the succeeding spring; and as some Americans were accused of being spies, and in collusion with the Texans, many were ordered to Santa Fé for examination, occasioning a deal of trouble to several innocent persons. Than this, however, but little further attention was paid to the report, many believing it but another of those rumors of Texan invasion which had so often spread useless consternation through the country.
    • p.227
  • So little apprehension appeared to exist, that, in February, 1843, Don Antonio José Chavez, of New Mexico, left Santa Fé for Independence, with but five servants, two wagons, and fifty-five mules. He had with him some ten or twelve thousand dollars in specie and gold bullion, besides a small lot of furs. ...about the tenth of April, ...he found himself near the Little Arkansas; at least a hundred miles within the territory of the United States. He was there met by fifteen men from the border of Missouri, professing to be Texan troops, under the command of one John McDaniel. This party had been collected, for the most part, on the frontier, by their leader, who was recently from Texas, from which government he professed to hold a captain's commission. They started, no doubt, with the intention of joining one Col. Warfield (also said to hold a Texan commission), who had been upon the Plains near the Mountains, with a small party, for several months — with the avowed intention of attacking the Mexican traders. Upon meeting Chavez, however, the party of McDaniel at once determined to make sure of the prize he was possessed of, rather than take their chances of a similar booty beyond the U. S. boundary. ...Lots were accordingly cast to determine which four of the party should be the cruel executioners; and their wretched victim was taken off a few rods and shot down in cold blood. ...five of the whole number (including three of the party that killed the man) effected their escape, but the other ten were arrested, committed, and sent to St. Louis for trial before the United States Court. It appears that those who were engaged in the killing of Chavez have since been convicted of murder; and the others, who were only concerned in the robbery, were found guilty of larceny, and sentenced to fine and imprisonment (John McDaniel and his brother David were both executed. ...The Texas government disclaimed all responsibility for McDaniel.).
    • p.227
  • About the first of May of the same year, a company of a hundred and seventy-five men, under one Col. Snively, was organized in the north of Texas, and set out... It was at first reported that they contemplated a descent upon Santa Fé; but their force was evidently too weak... Their prime object, therefore, seems to have been to attack and make reprisals upon the Mexicans engaged in the Santa Fé trade, who were expected to cross the Prairies during the months of May and June. After the arrival of the Texans upon the Arkansas, they were joined by Col. Warfield with a few followers. This officer, with about twenty men, had some time previously attacked the village of Mora (In the revolution of 1847, Mora was involved against the United States whose troops burned the town in reprisal.), on the Mexican frontier, killing five men (as was reported) and driving off a number of horses. They were afterwards followed by a party of Mexicans, however, who stampeded and carried away, not only their own horses, but those of the Texans. Being left afoot the latter burned their saddles, and walked to Bent's Fort, where they were disbanded; whence Warfield passed to Snively's camp, as before mentioned.
    • p.229
  • The Texans now advanced along the Santa Fé road, beyond the sand hills south of the Arkansas, when they discovered that a party of Mexicans had passed towards the river. They soon came upon them, and a skirmish ensuing, eighteen Mexicans were killed, and as many wounded, five of whom afterwards died. The Texans suffered no injury, though the Mexicans were a hundred in number. The rest were all taken prisoners except two, who escaped and bore the news to Gen. Armijo, encamped with a large force at the Cold Spring, 140 miles beyond. As soon as the General received notice of the defeat of his vanguard, he broke up his camp most precipitately, and retreated to Santa Fé. A gentleman of the caravan which passed shortly afterward, informed me that spurs, lariats and other scraps of equipage, were found scattered in every direction about Armijo's camp — left by his troops in the hurly-burly of their precipitate retreat.[5]
    • p.230
  • Keeping beyond the territory of the United States, the right of the Texans to harass the commerce of Mexicans will hardly be denied, as they were at open war: yet another consideration, it would seem, should have restrained them from aggressions in that quarter. They could not have been ignorant that but [only] a portion of the traders were Mexicans — that many American citizens were [also] connected in the same caravans. The Texans assert, it is true, that the lives and property of Americans were to be respected, provided they abandoned the Mexicans. But did they reflect upon the baseness of the terms they were imposing? What American, worthy of the name, to save his own interests, or even his life, could deliver up his traveling companions to be sacrificed? Then, after having abandoned the Mexicans, or betrayed them to their enemy — for such an act would have been accounted treachery — where would they have gone? They could not then have continued on into Mexico; and to have returned to the United States with their merchandise, would have been the ruin of most of them.
    • p.230
  • The unfortunate Chavez (whose murder, I suppose, was perpetrated under pretext of the cruelties suffered by the Texans, in the name of whom the party of McDaniel was organized) was of the most wealthy and influential family of New Mexico, and one that was anything but friendly to the ruling governor, Gen. Armijo. Don Mariano Chavez, a brother to the deceased, is a gentleman of very amiable character, such as is rarely to be met with in that unfortunate land. It is asserted that he furnished a considerable quantity of provisions, blankets, etc., to Col. Cooke's division of Texan prisoners. Señora Chavez (the wife of Don Mariano), as is told, crossed the river from the village of Padillas, the place of their residence, and administered comforts to the unfortunate band of Texans. Though the murder of young Chavez was evidently not sanctioned by the Texans generally, it will, notwithstanding, have greatly embittered this powerful family against them — a family whose liberal principles could not otherwise have been very unfavorable to Texas. The attack upon the village of Mora, though of less important results, was nevertheless an unpropitiatory movement. The inhabitants of that place are generally very simple and innocent rancheros and hunters, and being separated by the snowy mountains from the principal settlements of New Mexico, their hearts seem ever to have been inclined to the Texans. In fact, the village having been founded by some American denizens, the Mexican inhabitants appear in some degree to have imitated their character.
    • p.231
  • The defeat of Armijo's vanguard was attended by still more disastrous consequences, both to the American and Texan interest. That division was composed of the militia of the North — from about Taos... These people had not only remained embittered against Gov. Armijo since the revolution of 1837, but had always been notably in favor of Texas. So loth were they to fight the Texans, that, as I have been assured, the governor found it necessary to bind a number of them upon their horses, to prevent their escape, till he got them fairly upon the Prairies. And yet the poor fellows were compelled to suffer the vengeance which was due to their guilty general!
    • p.232
  • When the news of their defeat reached Taos, the friends and relatives of the slain — the whole population indeed, were incensed beyond measure; and two or three, naturalized foreigners who were supposed to favor the cause of Texas, and who were in good standing before, were now compelled to flee for their lives; leaving their houses and property a prey to the incensed rabble. Such appears to have been the reaction of public sentiment resulting from the catastrophe upon the Prairies!
    • p.233
  • The difficulty of maintaining order among the Texans was perhaps the cause of many of their unfortunate proceedings. And no information of the caravan having been obtained, a detachment of seventy or eighty men left, to return to Texas. The traders arrived soon after, escorted by about two hundred U. S. Dragoons under the command of Capt. Cook (Philip St. George Cooke). Col. Snively with a hundred men being then encamped on the south side of the Arkansas river, some ten to fifteen miles below the point called the 'Caches,' he crossed the river and met Capt. Cook, who soon made known his intention of disarming him and his companions... Having concealed their own rifles, which were mostly Colt's repeaters, they delivered to Capt. Cook the worthless fusils they had taken from the Mexicans; so that, when they were afterwards released, they still had their own valuable arms; of which, however, so far as the caravan in question was concerned, they appear to have had no opportunity of availing themselves. ...the act was evidently the salvation of the Santa Fé caravan, of which a considerable portion were Americans.
    • p.233
  • Capt. Cook with his command soon after returned to the United States (As U. S. troops cannot go beyond our boundary, which, on this route is the Arkansas river, these escorts afford but little protection to the caravans. Such an extensive, uninhabitable waste as the great prairies are, ought certainly to be under maritime regulations. Some international arrangements should be made between the United States and Texas or Mexico (accordingly as the proprietorship of the region beyond our boundary may be settled), whereby the armies of either might indiscriminately range upon this desert, as ships of war upon the ocean.), and with him some forty of the disarmed Texans... A large portion of the Texans steered directly home from the Arkansas river; while from sixty to seventy men, who elected Warfield their commander, were organized for the pursuit and capture of the caravan, which had already passed on some days in advance towards Santa Fé. They pursued in the wake of the traders, it is said, as far as the Point of Rocks (twenty miles east of the crossing of the Colorado or Canadian), but made no attempt upon them — whence they returned direct to Texas. Thus terminated the 'Second Texan Santa Fé Expedition,' as it has been styled; and though not so disastrous as the first, it turned out nearly as unprofitable.
    • p.234
  • The most unfortunate circumstance attending this invasion of the Prairies — unfortunate at least to the United States and to New Mexico — was the closing of the Northern ports to foreign commerce, which was doubtless, to a great degree, a consequence of the before-mentioned expedition, and which of course terminated the Santa Fé Trade, at least for the present. I am of the impression, however, that little apprehension need be entertained, that this decree of Gen. Santa Anna will be permitted much longer to continue, unless our peaceful relations with Mexico should be disturbed; an event, under any circumstances, seriously to be deprecated. With the continuation of peace between us, the Mexicans will certainly be compelled to open their northern frontier ports, to avoid a revolution in New Mexico, with which they are continually threatened while this embargo continues. Should the obnoxious decree be repealed, the Santa Fé Trade will doubtless be prosecuted again with renewed vigor and enterprise.
    • p.236

Chapter 26 Geography of the PrairiesEdit

  • The most notable of the great plateaus of the Prairies is that known to Mexicans as El Llano Estacado, which is bounded on the north by the Canadian river — extends east about to the United States boundary, including the heads of the False Washita and other branches of Red River — and spreads southward to the sources of Trinity, Brazos and Colorado rivers, and westward to Rio Pecos. It is quite an elevated and generally a level plain, without important hills or ridges, unless we distinguish as such the craggy breaks of the streams which border and pierce it. It embraces an area of about 30,000 square miles, most of which is without water during three-fourths of the year; while a large proportion of its few perennial streams are too brackish to drink of.
    • p.239
  • I have been assured by Mexican hunters and Indians, that, from Santa Fé southeastward, there is but one route upon which this plain can be safely traversed during the dry season; and even some of the watering-places on this are at intervals of fifty to eighty miles, and hard to find. Hence the Mexican traders and hunters, that they might not lose their way and perish from thirst, once staked out this route across the plain, it is said; whence it has received the name of El Llano Estacado, or the Staked Plain.
    • p.239
  • With such inexhaustible mines of salt within two or three days' journey of the Arkansas river, and again within the same distance of the Missouri, which would cost no further labor than the digging it up and the transporting of it to boats for freighting it down those streams, it seems strange that they should lie idle, while we are receiving much of our supplies of this indispensable commodity from abroad. Besides the salines already mentioned, there is one high on the Canadian river, some two hundred miles east of Santa Fé. Also, it is said, there are some to be found on the waters of Red River; and numerous others are no doubt scattered throughout the same regions, which have never been discovered.
    • p.247
  • Many of the low valleys of all the western streams (Red River as well as Arkansas and its branches), are impregnated with salinous qualities, and, during wet weather, ooze saltish exudations, which efflorescence in a thin scum. This is sometimes pure salt, but more frequently compounded of different salts — not only of the muriate, but of the sulphate of soda, and perhaps magnesia; often strongly tinctured with nitre. Some of the waters of these sections (particularly when stagnant) are so saturated with this compound during dry weather, that they are insupportable even for brutes — much to the consternation of a forlorn traveler. In these saline flats nothing grows but hard wiry grass, which a famished beast will scarcely eat.
    • p.247
  • It is from these exudations, as well as from the salines or salt plains before mentioned, that our western waters, especially from Arkansas to Red River, acquire their brackishness during the low seasons; and not from the mountains, as some have presumed. Such as issue from thence are there as pure, fresh and crystalline as snow-fed rills and icy fountains can make them. It will now readily be inferred that the Great Prairies from Red River to the western sources of the Missouri, are, as has before been intimated, chiefly uninhabitable — not so much for want of wood (though the plains are altogether naked), as of soil and of water; for though some of the plains appear of sufficiently fertile soil, they are mostly of a sterile character, and all too dry to be cultivated. These great steppes seem only fitted for the haunts of the mustang, the buffalo, the antelope, and their migratory lord, the prairie Indian. ...the occasional fertile valleys are too isolated and remote to become the abodes of civilized man.
    • p.248
  • Like the table plains of Northern Mexico, these high prairies could at present only be made available for grazing purposes, and that in the vicinity of the water-courses. The grass with which they are mostly clothed, is of a superior quality. The celebrated 'buffalo grass' is of two kinds, both of which are species of the grama of New Mexico, and equally nutritious at all seasons. It is the same, I believe, that is called 'mezquite grass' in Texas, from the mezquite tree which grows there in the same dry regions with it. Of this unequaled pasturage the great western prairies afford a sufficiency to graze cattle for the supply of all the United States. It is particularly adapted to sheep-raising, as is shown by example of the same species in New Mexico.
    • p.248
  • The chief natural disadvantage to which the Great Western Prairies are exposed, consists in the absence of navigable streams. Throughout the whole vast territory which I have been attempting to describe, there is not a single river, except the Missouri, which is navigable during the whole season. The remaining streams, in their course through the plains, are and must continue to be, for all purposes of commerce, comparatively useless. The chief of these rivers are the Missouri, the Arkansas, and Red River, with their numerous tributaries. The principal western branches of the Missouri are the Yellow Stone, the Platte and the Kansas. Small 'flats' and 'buffalo boats' have passed down the two former for a considerable distance, during high water; but they are never navigable to any extent by steamboats.
    • p.250
  • With regard to fruits, the Prairies are of course not very plentifully supplied. West of the border, however, for nearly two hundred miles, they are covered, in many places, with the wild strawberry; and the groves lining the streams frequently abound in grapes, plums, persimmons, mulberries, pecans, hackberries, and other 'sylvan luxuries.' The high prairies beyond, however, are very bare of fruits. The prickly pear may be found over most of the dry plains; but this is neither very palatable nor wholesome, though often eaten by travelers for want of other fruits. Upon the branches of the Canadian, North Fork, and Cimarron, there are, in places, considerable quantities of excellent plums, grapes, choke-cherries, gooseberries, and currants — of the latter there are three kinds, black, red, and white. About the ravines and marshy grounds (particularly towards the east) there are different kinds of small onions, with which the traveler may season his fresh meats. On the plains, also, I have met with a species resembling garlic in flavor.
    • p.257
  • The climate of most parts of the Prairies is no doubt healthy in the extreme; for a purer atmosphere is hardly to be found. But the cold rains of the 'wet season,' and the colder snows of winter, with the annoying winds that prevail at nearly all times, often render it very unpleasant. It can hardly be said, it is true, that the Prairies have their regular 'dry and rainy seasons;' yet the summers are often so droughty, that, unless some change should be effected in nature's functions, cultivators would generally find it necessary, no doubt, to resort to irrigation. That portion, however, which is conterminous with our western border, and to the distance of nearly two hundred miles westward, in every respect resembles the adjacent States of Missouri and Arkansas in climate.
    • p.258

Chapter 27 Animals of the PrairiesEdit

  • The buffalo... is by far the most important animal of the Prairies to the traveler. ...They are called Cibolos by the Mexicans.
    • p.262
  • The flesh of the buffalo is, I think, as fine as any meat I ever tasted: the old hunter will not admit that there is anything equal to it. Much of its apparent savoriness, however, results perhaps from our sharpened 'prairie appetites,' and our being usually upon salt provisions awhile before obtaining it. The flesh is of coarser texture than beef, more juicy, and the fat and lean better distributed. This meat is also very easy of digestion (It has often been remarked by travelers, that however much buffalo meat one may eat, no inconvenience is ever suffered from it.), possessing even aperient qualities. The circumstance that bulls of all ages, if fat, make good beef, is a further proof of the superiority of buffalo meat. These are generally selected for consumption in the winter and early spring, when the cows, unless barren, are apt to be poor; but during most of the year, the latter are the fattest and tenderest meat. Of these, the udder is held as hardly second to the tongue in delicacy. But what the tail of the beaver is to the trapper, the tongue of the buffalo is to the hunter. Next to this are the 'marrow-bones,' the tender-loins, and the hump-ribs. Instead of a gristly substance, as sometimes stated, the hump is produced by a convex tier of vertical ribs, which project from the spine, forming a gradual curve over the shoulders: those of the middle being sometimes nearly two feet in length. The 'veal' is rarely good, being generally poor, owing to the scanty supply of milk which their dams [mothers] afford, and to their running so much from hunters and wolves.
    • p.263
  • This animal furnishes almost the exclusive food of the prairie Indians, as well as covering for their wigwams and most of their clothing; also their bedding, ropes, bags for their meat, &c.; sinews for bow-strings, for sewing moccasins, leggins, and the like; besides sustenance for the numerous travelers and trappers who range upon their grazing regions. Were they only killed for food, however, their natural increase would perhaps replenish the loss: yet the continual and wanton slaughter of them by travelers and hunters, and the still greater havoc made among them by the Indians, not only for meat, but often for the skins and tongues alone (for which they find a ready market among their traders), are fast reducing their numbers, and must ultimately effect their total annihilation from the continent. It is believed that the annual 'export' of buffalo rugs (Often, but it would seem improperly, called 'buffalo robes.') from the Prairies and bordering 'buffalo range,' is about a hundred thousand: and the number killed wantonly, or exclusively for meat, is no doubt still greater, as the skins are fit to dress scarcely half the year. The vast extent of the prairies upon which they now pasture is no argument against the prospect of their total extinction, when we take into consideration the extent of country from which they have already disappeared; for it is well known, that, within the recollection of our oldest pioneers, they were nearly as abundant east of the Mississippi as they now are upon the western prairies; and from history we learn, that they once ranged to the Atlantic coast. Even within thirty years, they were abundant over much of the present States of Missouri and Arkansas; yet they are now rarely seen within two hundred miles of the frontier. Indeed, upon the high plains they have very sensibly decreased within the last ten years. Nevertheless, the number of buffalo upon the Prairies is still immense. But, as they incline to migrate en masse from place to place, it sometimes happens, that, for several days' travel together, not a single one is to be met with; but, in other places, many thousands are often seen at one view.
    • p.264
  • The Indians, as well as Mexicans, hunt the buffalo mostly with the bow and arrows. For this purpose they train their fleetest horses to run close beside him; and, when near enough, with almost unerring aim, they pierce him with their arrows, usually behind the short ribs, ranging forward, which soon disables and brings him to the ground. When an arrow has been ill-directed, or does not enter deep enough, and even sometimes when it has penetrated a vital part, but is needed to use again, the hunter sometimes rides up and draws it out while the animal is yet running. An athletic Indian will not unfrequently discharge his darts with such force, that I have seen them (30 inches long) wholly buried in the body of a buffalo: and I have been assured by hunters that the arrows, missing the bones, have been known to pass entirely through the huge carcass and fall upon the ground.
    • p.265
  • The dexterity of the Comanches in the buffalo chase is perhaps superior to that of any other tribe. The Mexican Ciboleros, however, are scarcely if at all inferior to the Indians in this sport. I once went on a hunting expedition with a Cibolero, who carried no arms except his bow and arrows and a butcher's knife. Espying a herd of buffalo, he put spurs to his horse, and, though I followed as fast as a mule I rode could trudge, when I came up with him, after a chase of two or three miles, he had the buffalo partly skinned! This was rather unusual dispatch, to be sure, for the animal oftener lingers awhile after receiving the fatal dart.
    • p.266
  • In the chase, the experienced hunter singles out the fattest buffalo as his victim, and having given him a mortal wound, he in like manner selects another, and so on, till the plain is sometimes literally strewed with carcasses.
    • p.266
  • Both Indians and Mexicans often chase with a long-handled spear or lance, which, if the horse be well trained, is still a more expeditious mode of killing them than with the bow and arrow. An expert lancer will enter a drove, and drawing up alongside, will pierce buffalo after buffalo until several are brought down.
    • p.267
  • In default of bow or lance, they chase with the fusil, but seldom so successfully as with the former weapons. The Americans generally prefer 'running' with the horseman's pistol; yet the Indian is apt to kill double as many with his arrows or lance.
    • p.267
  • In all these modes of hunting, the buffalo is sometimes dangerous; for, becoming enraged from his wounds, he will often make desperate lunges at his pursuer; and, if the horse be not well trained, he may be himself disemboweled, leaving his rider at the mercy of the buffalo, as has happened on some occasions. But if the steed understand his business, he will dodge the animal with the expertness of a fencer.
    • p.267
  • Buffalo calves (but not full-grown buffalo) are often taken with the lazo by Mexicans and Indians; yet, being separated from their dams and the droves during chases, these simple little creatures not unfrequently take up with the riding animals of the hunters, and follow them to the camp as tamely as though they were their dams. If provided with domestic cows, they may be raised without much difficulty.
    • p.268
  • Some of the northern Indians, particularly the Assinaboins, are said to practice still a distinct mode of taking the buffalo. A staunch pound is erected at some convenient point, and, after a course of mystic rites by their medicine men, they start upon the enterprise. A gang of buffalo is frightened towards the pen, while an Indian, covered with one of their woolly skins, runs at a distance ahead. Being seen by the animals, they mistake him for one of their kind, and follow him into the pen. Once secured in the enclosure, they leisurely dispatch them with their arrows, as they are said to believe it would offend the Great Spirit and render future hunts unpropitious to use fire arms in killing their imprisoned game.
    • p.268
  • The tenacity of these animals for life is often very extraordinary. When one receives even a mortal shot, he frequently appears not hurt — he seems to disdain to flinch — but will curl his tail and step about as though he neither felt nor feared anything! If left undisturbed, however, he begins to stagger, and in a few moments expires: but if provoked, he might run for miles before he would fall. I have seen a party of hunters around a wounded and enraged bull, fire, at a few paces distance, a dozen or two shots, aimed at his very heart, without their seeming to have any effect till his anger cooled, when in an instant he would lie lifeless upon the ground. In such cases, the inexperienced hunter often aims to shoot them in the brain, but without success. Owing not only to the thickness of the scull, but to the matted wool upon it, I have never witnessed an instance of a rifle-ball's penetrating to the brain of a buffalo bull.
    • p.269
  • The buffalo never attacks, however, except when wounded. Even the largest droves (the opinion of some travelers to the contrary notwithstanding), though in the wildest career, are easily turned from their course by a single man who may intercept their way. I have crouched in the tall grass in the direct route of a frighted gang, when, firing at them on their near approach, they would spread in consternation to either side. Still their advance is somewhat frightful — their thundering rumble over the dry plain — their lion-like fronts and dangling beards — their open mouths and hanging tongues — as they come on, puffing like a locomotive engine at every bound, does at first make the blood settle a little heavy about the heart.
    • p.270
  • American hunters, as well as Indians, to butcher the buffalo, generally turn it upon the belly, and commence on the back. The hump-ribs, tender-loins, and a few other choice bits being appropriated, the remainder is commonly left for the wolves. The skin is chiefly used for buffalo rugs, but for which it is only preserved by the Indians during fall and winter (and then rarely but from the cows and bullocks), when the hair is long and woolly. I have never seen the buffalo hide tanned, but it seems too porous and spongy to make substantial leather. Were it valuable, thousands of hides might be saved that are annually left to the wolves upon the Prairies.
    • p.271
  • The coyote has been denominated the 'jackal of the Prairies;' indeed, some have reckoned it really a species of that animal, yet it would seem improperly, as this creature partakes much less of the nature of the jackal than of the common wolf. Still, however noisy the former may be, he cannot exceed the prairie wolf. Like ventriloquists, a pair of these will represent a dozen distinct voices in such quick succession — will bark, chatter, yelp, whine, and howl in such variety of note, that one would fancy a score of them at hand. This, added to the long and doleful bugle-note of the large wolf, which often accompanies it, sometimes makes a night upon the Prairies perfectly hideous. — Some hunters assert that the coyote and the dog will breed together. Be this as it may, certain it is that the Indian dogs have a wonderfully wolfish appearance.
    • p.274
  • That species of gazelle known as the antelope is very numerous upon the high plains. ...The antelope is most remarkable for its fleetness: not bounding like the deer, but skimming over the ground as though upon skates. The fastest horse will rarely overtake them. I once witnessed an effort to catch one that had a hind-leg broken, but it far outstripped our fleetest 'buffalo-horse.' It is, therefore, too swift to be hunted in the chase. I have seen dogs run after this animal, but they would soon stop and turn about, apparently much ashamed of being left so far behind. The flesh of the antelope is, like that of the goat, rather coarse, and but little esteemed: consequently, no great efforts are made to take them. Being as wild as fleet, the hunting of them is very difficult, except they be entrapped by their curiosity. Meeting a stranger, they seem loth to leave him until they have fully found him out. They will often take a circuit around the object of their curiosity, usually approaching nearer and nearer, until within rifle shot — frequently stopping to gaze. Also, they are often decoyed with a scarlet coat, or a red handkerchief attached to the tip of a ramrod, which will sometimes allure them within reach of the hunter's aim. But this interesting animal, like the buffalo, is now very rarely seen within less than 200 miles of the frontier: though early voyagers tell us that it once frequented as far east as the Mississippi.
    • p.275
  • The bighorn (carnero cimarron, as called by the Mexicans, and sometimes known to trappers as the mountain sheep), so abundant in most of the Rocky Mountain chain, is found in the spurs and table-plain cliffs about the sources of the Cimarron river (whence this stream acquired its name), as well as in the highland gorges, and other parts of those mountain borders. Its flesh is said to be excellent, and is preferred by many hunters to venison. ...It is most remarkable for its huge spiral horns, resembling in shape and curvature those of the sheep, but sometimes over three feet long, and four to six inches in diameter at the base. The bighorn is quite celebrated for its agility, and its habit of secluding itself among the most inaccessible mountain crags. It seems to delight in perching and capering upon the very verge of the most frightful precipices and overhanging cliffs, and in skipping from rock to rock, regardless of the yawning chasms, hundreds of feet in depth, which intervene. In fact, when pursued, it does not hesitate, as I have been assured, to leap from a cliff into a valley a hundred or more feet below, where, lighting upon its huge horns, it springs to its feet uninjured; for the neck is so thick and strong as to support the greatest shock the animal's weight can bring upon it. Being exceedingly timorous, it rarely descends to the valleys, but feeds and sleeps about such craggy fastnesses as are inaccessible to the wolves and other animals of prey. This animal seems greatly to resemble the moufflon of Buffon, in color, figure and horns, but the chamois in habits.
    • p.276
"Dog Town" or Settlement of Prairie Dogs
  • Of all the prairie animals, by far the most curious, and by no means the least celebrated, is the little prairie dog. ...The flesh, though often eaten by travelers, is not esteemed savory. It was denominated the 'barking squirrel,' the 'prairie ground-squirrel,' etc., by early explorers, with much more apparent propriety than the present established name. Its yelp, which resembles that of the little toy-dog, seems its only canine attribute. It rather appears to occupy a middle ground betwixt the rabbit and squirrel — like the former in feeding and burrowing — like the latter in frisking, flirting, sitting erect, and somewhat so in its barking. The prairie dog has been reckoned by some naturalists a species of the marmot (arctomys ludoviciana); yet it seems to possess scarce any other quality in common with this animal except that of burrowing. ...I have the concurrent testimony of several persons, who have been upon the Prairies in winter, that, like rabbits and squirrels, they issue from their holes every soft day; and therefore lay up no doubt a hoard of 'hay' (as there is rarely anything else to be found in the vicinity of their towns) for winter's use. A collection of their burrows has been termed by travelers a 'dog town,' which comprises from a dozen or so, to some thousands in the same vicinity; often covering an area of several square miles. They generally locate upon firm dry plains, coated with fine short grass, upon which they feed; for they are no doubt exclusively herbivorous. But even when tall coarse grass surrounds, they seem commonly to destroy this within their 'streets,' which are nearly always found 'paved' with a fine species suited to their palates. They must need but little water, if any at all, as their 'towns' are often, indeed generally, found in the midst of the most arid plains — unless we suppose they dig down to subterranean fountains. At least they evidently burrow remarkably deep. Attempts either to dig or drown them out of their holes have generally proved unsuccessful. Approaching a 'village,' the little dogs may be observed frisking about the 'streets' — passing from dwelling to dwelling apparently on visits — sometimes a few clustered together as though in council — here feeding upon the tender herbage — there cleansing their 'houses,' or brushing the little hillock about the door — yet all quiet. Upon seeing a stranger, however, each streaks it to its home, but is apt to stop at the entrance, and spread the general alarm by a succession of shrill yelps, usually sitting erect. Yet at the report of a gun or the too near approach of the visitor, they dart down and are seen no more till the cause of alarm seems to have disappeared.
    • p.277
  • Two other animals appear to live in communion with the prairie dogs — the rattlesnake and a small owl (This has been called the Coquimbo owl. Its note, whether natural or imitative, much resembles that of the prairie dog.); in but both are no doubt intruders, resorting to these burrows for shelter, and to feed, it is presumed, upon the 'pups' of the inmates. Rattlesnakes are exceedingly abundant upon these plains: scores of them are sometimes killed in the course of a day's travel; yet they seem remarkably harmless, for I have never witnessed an instance of a man's being bitten, though they have been known to crawl even into the beds of travelers (Though I never saw it tried, it has been said that snakes will not crawl over a hair-rope stretched upon the ground, and that consequently these form good barriers to keep these reptiles out of a bed.). Mules are sometimes bitten by them, yet very rarely, though they must daily walk over considerable numbers.
    • p.281
  • The horned frog, as modem travelers have christened it, or horned lizard (Orbicular lizard, as it has been technically denominated. It would seem a species of chameleon, having apparently some, though very little, variability of color.), as those of earlier times more rationally called it, is the most famed and curious reptile of the plains. Like the prairie dog, it is only found in the dry regions, often many miles from water. It no doubt lives nearly, if not wholly, without drink. Its food probably consists chiefly of ants and other insects; though many Mexicans will have it, that the camaleon (as they call it) vive del aire — lives upon the air. It has been kept several months without partaking of a particle of aliment. I once took a pair of them upon the far-western plains, which I shut up in a box and carried to one of the eastern cities, where they were kept for several months before they died, — without having taken food or water, though repeatedly offered them. ...The back is beautifully variegated, with white and brown, and sometimes a yellowish purple. The belly is whitish and covered with brown specks. ...It is a very inoffensive creature, and may be handled with perfect impunity, notwithstanding its uncouth appearance, and sometimes vicious demonstrations.
    • p.281
  • As birds mostly incline to the timbered regions, there is but a scant variety to be met with upon the plains. About the Cross Timbers and indeed on all the brushy creeks, especially to the southward, are quantities of wild turkeys, which are frequently seen ranging in large flocks in the bordering prairies. That species of American grouse, known west as the prairie-hen, is very abundant on the frontier, and is quite destructive, in autumn, to the prairie corn-fields. This fowl is rarely seen over two hundred miles beyond the border. Partridges are found about as far west; but their number is quite limited anywhere beyond the precincts of the settlements. About the streams there are different species of geese and ducks, as well as both sand-hill and white cranes: also flocks of a species of plover and curlew. Add to these numbers of hawks and ravens, and we have most of the fowls of the Prairies. Flocks of the latter follow in the wake of caravans with even greater constancy than wolves.
    • p.282
  • The bee, among Western pioneers, is the proverbial precursor of the Anglo-American population: in fact, the aborigines of the frontier have generally corroborated the notion; for they used to say, they knew the whites were not far behind, when bees appeared among them. This partial coincidence, I suppose, is the result of their emigration westward being at nearly an even pace with that of the settlers. As yet no honey-bees seem to have been discovered as far westward as any part of the Rocky Mountains. They are scattered, however, to the distance of two or three hundred miles west of the Missouri and Arkansas frontier, where there is timber affording them suitable habitations. On the Santa Fé route but few have been found beyond the Council Grove.
    • p.283

Chapter 28 Aborigines Of AmericaEdit

  • It will hardly be expected from a work making so little pretension as this to scientific accuracy and completeness, that the remarks which my plan necessarily leads me to make, concerning the aborigines of western America, should be either critical or comprehensive. ...I propose, in the few following pages, to record such facts as shall seem to be most novel, and to corroborate, in my humble measure, occasional others which have before been related.
    • p.283
  • No aboriginal nation or people has ever yet been discovered, to my knowledge, which has not professed to have a mysterious ancestry of a mythical character. It is interesting to mark the analogies and the differences between their various systems. Although among some tribes who have lived much in communication with the whites, their cosmogony has been confounded very much with the Mosaic or Scripture account, so that it is now often difficult to distinguish clearly the aboriginal from the imported, yet all the Americo-Indian tribes have more or less preserved their traditions on this subject. The old full-blood Choctaws, for instance, relate that the first of their tribe issued from a cave in Nunnewaya or Bending Mountain, in the 'Old Nation,' east of the Mississippi; yet this tradition has but little currency among the young men and mixed-bloods of the tribe.
    • p.284
  • The resemblance of the American Indians to each other, however, is not more conspicuous in anything than in their religious opinions. They seem to have no well-defined creeds: yet there are very few but profess a faith in some sort of First Cause — a Great Spirit, a Master of Life, who rules the destinies of the world. Though the different nations have not always typified their deity by the same objects, yet by far the greater number seem to have fixed upon the sun as the fit object of their adoration.
    • p.285
  • But of all the Indian tribes, none appear to have ascribed to the 'fountain of light' more of the proper attributes of deity than the Shawnees. They argue, with some plausibility, that the sun animates everything — therefore, he is clearly the Master of Life, or the Great Spirit; and that everything is produced originally from the bosom of the earth — therefore, she is the mother of creation.
    • p.286
  • The following anecdote (as told to me by a gentleman of integrity), which transpired upon the occasion of an interview of Tecumseh with Gen. Harrison, is as illustrative of the religious opinions of the Shawnees, as it is characteristic of the hauteur and independent spirit of that celebrated Shawnee chief. The General, having called Tecumseh for a 'talk,' desired him to take a seat, saying, "Come here, Tecumseh, and sit by your father." "You my father?" replied the chief, with a stem air — "No! yonder sun is my father (pointing towards it), and the earth is my mother; so I will rest on her bosom"— and immediately seated himself upon the ground, according to Indian custom.
    • p.286
  • But though the Shawnees consider the sun the type, if not the essence, of the Great Spirit, many also believe in an evil genius, who makes all sorts of bad things, to counterbalance those made by the Good Spirit. For instance, when the latter made a sheep, a rose, wholesome herbs, etc., the bad spirit matched them with a wolf, a thorn, poisonous plants, and the like. They also appear to think there is a kind of purgatory in which the spirits of the wicked may be cleansed before entering into their elysium.
    • p.287
  • As they believe the Indian heaven separate, and essentially different and distinct from that of the whites, and as they do not wish their people divided, this has often occasioned a serious opposition to the labors of the missionaries. For the purpose of thwarting the measures of these, a noted anti-christian sage 'played off,' a few years ago, the following 'vision.' Being very ill (as they relate), this sage, to all appearance, died, and became stiff and cold, except a spot upon his breast, which still retained the heat of life. In this state he remained a day or more, when he again breathed and returned among the living: and calling his friends about him, he related the scenes he had witnessed. He had ascended to the Indian's heaven, he said, which he described as usual: a fine country, abounding in all sorts of game, and everything an Indian could desire. There he met with his grandfather, who said to him, "It is meet, my son, that thou return to the earth, and warn thy brothers against the dangers that await them. Tell them to beware of the religion of the white man: that every Indian who embraces it is obliged to take the road to the white man's heaven; and yet no red man is permitted to enter there, but will have to wander about forever without a resting place."
    • p.288
  • The identity of the notions which the different tribes have conceived of a future existence, and the character of the 'world of spirits,' seems still more general. They fancy heaven but another material world, superior, it is true, yet resembling this — a kind of elysian vale, or paradise — a 'happy hunting-ground,' abounding in game and all their comforts of life, which may be procured without labor. This elysium they generally seem to locate 'upon the sky,' which they fancy a material solid vault.
    • p.289
  • Some of their burial customs and funeral rites would seem to indicate their ideas of the future state. The Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Kansas, and kindred tribes, besides many others, or perhaps most others of the frontier, have been accustomed to inter the most valuable property of the deceased and many necessaries with them. "Their whole property was buried with them," says an intelligent Cherokee, in some manuscript notes concerning his ancestors, I have in my possession: and I have been assured by creditable natives, that, within their recollection they have seen, at these burials, provisions, salt, and other necessaries, interred with the dead for their long journey. There are very few of the prairie Indians but practice something of this kind: many kill the favorite hunting horses, and deposit the arms, etc., of the deceased, for his use in the chase, when he arrives at the 'happy hunting ground.' ..this is practiced by some, if not all, of the natives beyond the Rocky Mountains. The same is told of the Navajoes, Apaches, and other uncatholicized tribes of the north of Mexico.
    • p.290
  • It would appear that they believe everything, both animate and inanimate — beasts, arms, ornaments, etc.— to possess immortal attributes, subject to resurrection in the world of spirits. However, did not their motives seem so well defined by the direct allusions to their notions of futurity, we might suppose, as is frequently urged, that the burying of property, slaves, etc., with the deceased, was only intended as a mark of respect; which, indeed, is hardly more irrational than the custom of interring costly garniture and appendages with the dead among us.
    • p.292
  • If you tell an Indian that such things are absurd and impossible, he is apt to answer, "It may be so with the white man, but how do you know it to be impossible with the Indian? You tell us many strange things which happened to your fathers — we don't contradict them, though we believe such things never could have happened to the red man."
    • p.294
  • Polygamy seems once to have been universal; and I believe still is so among the uncivilized tribes. Every man takes as many wives as he can obtain, or is able to support. The squaws, however, the more willingly consent to this multiplicity, as it affords additional helpmates in their labors. Polygamy among these savages would appear, indeed, not altogether an unwise provision. At least it seems palliated with such a belligerent people, who lose so many males in their continual wars, leaving a great surplus of females; and where the duties of the latter are so numerous and so severe.
    • p.294
  • While the aborigines of the New World have been noted above almost every other uncivilized nation in history, for their vindictiveness and cruelty towards their enemies, there are, in these attributes, wide differences apparent among them. The Indians along the Pacific coast, as well as in most of Mexico, were always more mild and peaceable than those of the United States. Hence it is, in fact, that the Spaniards did not meet with that formidable resistance to their conquests which they encountered among the fiery tribes of Florida, or that relentless and desperate hostility which the Anglo-Americans experienced in the first settlement of most parts of the United States.
    • p.295
  • In the common trait of hospitality to strangers all the western tribes are alike distinguished. The traveler who is thrown upon their charity, is almost universally received and treated with the greatest kindness; and, though they might pilfer him to the skin, and even place his person in jeopardy, if he show want of confidence in them, and endeavor to conceal his effects, yet his property is generally secure when under their charge: they appear to consider a breach of confidence one of the greatest crimes.
    • p.296
  • Among the wild tribes, as well as among most of the unadulterated border Indians, to set something to eat before a friend, and even a stranger, immediately upon his arrival at a lodge or a cabin, is deemed not only an act of hospitality but of necessary etiquette; and a refusal to partake is looked upon as an unfriendly token — an insult, in fact, to the family. Travelers are often severely taxed to preserve the good feeling of their hosts in this particular, especially among the prairie Indians. One at all fastidious in matters of diet, would find it hard to relish food from a greasy hornspoon which every urchin had been using; and then to ladle it out of a pot which had been common for all the papooses and pups of the premises: or to partake from a slice rolled up in a musty skin, or a dirtier blanket. And yet an apology even of having already dined half-a-dozen times would scarcely palliate the insult of a refusal. Though one visit fifty lodges in the course of a day, he must taste the food of every one.
    • p.296
  • The Indian system of chiefs, which still prevails, and is nearly the same everywhere, except with the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and the Creeks to a degree, seems to bear a strong resemblance to that of the patriarchs of old; which, with their clans so analogous to those of our forefathers, perhaps affords as strong a proof as any other of their Asiatic origin. To this might be added their mode of naming; for the Indians universally apply names significant of acts, qualities, beasts, birds, etc., to their offspring,— a practice which seems to have prevailed generally among the ancient Asiatics. Surnames have only been adopted by educated families and mixed bloods of the border nations, and are generally taken from their missionaries or some favorite friends; except they inherit surnames from parents of white extraction.
    • p.296
  • The origin of the American Indians has been discussed by too many able writers for me to enter into it here: nor will I attempt to show the general traits of similarity that are to be observed in their various languages: yet it may interest an occasional reader, to be informed of the relations of consanguinity which subsist between many of the different Indian tribes. They may be arranged principally under the following heads: i. The Dahcotah stock, which is by far the most extensive of those indigenous west of the Mississippi. It embraces the Arkansas (of which the Quapaws are now the only remnant), the Osages, Kansas or Kaws, Iowas, Winnebagoes, Otoes, Missouries, Omahas, Poncas, and the various bands of the Sioux: all of whom speak a language still traceable to the same origin, though some of them have been separated for several centuries. I call these indigenous to the West, because most of them have been so from the period of the earliest explorers on the Mississippi; yet the tradition among them is that they came from about the northern lakes; which appears corroborated by the fact, that the language of the Naudowessies, Assiniboins, and perhaps others in that quarter, shows them to be of the same family.— 2. The different bands of the Comanches and Shoshonies or Snakes, constitute another extensive stock, speaking one language.— 3. The Blackfeet, Gros Ventres or Minnatarees, Crows and Arrapahoes, speak dialects of another.— 4. The Pawnees and Rickaras of the north, and the Wacoes, Wichitas, Towockanoes, Towyash and Keechyes, of Red River, are of the same origin. The Chayennes, originally from near Lake Winnipeg, and the Kiawas (or Caiguas, according to Mexican orthography), appear unallied to any of the foregoing nations. — 5. Of those from the north and east, the Algonquin stock appears most extensive,— embracing the Potawatomies, Ottawas, Chippewas, Knisteneaux, Crees, Sacs and Foxes; with whom the Delawares have also been classed, though their language would now appear very distinct.— 6. The Wyandots, Senecas, and others of the Six Nations, are of the Huron or Iroquois.— 7. The Shawnees and Kickapoos are of one stock.— 8. The Kaskaskias, Piorias, Piankeshaws and Weaws, are descendants of the Miamies.— 9. The Choctaws and Chickasaws are nearly the same people.— 10. The Creeks and Seminoles — though old authors speak of the Creeks as being akin to the Choctaws, yet there is now but little relationship to be traced in their language; while that of the Cherokees appears entirely sui generis.
    • p.297 footnote
  • That the Indians of America are decreasing in numbers is very well known, but many are dwindling away, perhaps, at a more rapid pace than is generally suspected. The number of the Osages, it is confidently believed, has diminished fifty per cent, within the last ten years: the once powerful tribe of Missouries is now reduced to a mere remnant; while the Mandans, as a nation, have become entirely extinct: and others have shared or bid fair soon to share the same fate. This has resulted partially from the ravages of the small-pox and other diseases, yet as much no doubt from the baneful effects of intoxicating liquors. On this account, their diminution has generally been less in proportion as they are more remote from the whites. But the 'red man' has suffered from his intercourse with the whites not in this respect alone. The incentives to luxury and avarice continually presented by them, have had a very pernicious influence. Formerly the savages were contented with the indispensables of life — generally sober, just and charitable; but now they will sacrifice their comfort — risk their lives, and commit the most atrocious outrages to gratify their vanity and lusts — to bedeck themselves with gewgaws and finery.
    • p.298

Quotes about Commerce of the PrairiesEdit

  • The little book has become a classic in the literature of Western history. Simple, direct, and unpretentious in style, our author's narrative presents all that may reasonably be expected in relation to the status of the New Mexican provinces, and of the Santa Fé trade before the closing of the Mexican custom houses in 1841... The work... judiciously mingles history, description, and narrative in such proportions that the interest is retained throughout. As an historian Gregg is exceptionally accurate... He gave the first connected narrative in English, of the history of New Mexico from its first explorations in the sixteenth century to his own time. All later histories of that region must depend largely upon his researches. ...Gregg is pre-eminently the historian of the Santa Fé trade that...employed many of the most daring spirits of the frontier and paved the way for the possession of these regions by the United States. ...The incidents and excitements of this journey across the plains Gregg narrates with a fidelity and vividness that make the reader a participant. ...As a contribution to the history and development of the far Southwest, Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies stands without a rival and is indispensable to a full knowledge of the American past.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Gregg, J. 1844. Commerce of the Prairies. New York: Henry G. Langley
  2. Mexico As It Was and As It Is, New York, 1844 by Brantz Mayer
  3. Navaho Expedition: Journal of a Military Reconnaissance from Santa Fe... 1849, James Hervey Simpson, Frank McNitt, U Oklahoma Press, 2003, pp. 78-79
  4. Thomas J. Farnham, Travels in the Great Western Prairie, the Anahuac and Rocky Mountains, and in Oregon Territory (London, 1843)
  5. H. Yoakum, History of Texas, New York, 1856, ii, pp. 309-405

External linksEdit

Last modified on 6 November 2013, at 19:58