Sacred Texts  Native American  Southwest  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Dancing Gods, by Erna Fergusson, [1931], at

p. 3

I: The Pueblo People

Sun-drenched and quiet stand the pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, queerly withdrawn from the modern life about them. Usually built of the soil on which they stand, they appear to have grown out of it, and their color is the same. There are few trees in the villages, but they are surrounded by cultivated fields, and cottonwoods and willows grow along the watercourses. The houses huddle in solid blocks of adobe like slightly battered apartment houses. Irregular ladder-poles rise sharply here and there and protruding beams drop deep black shadows against the walls. Always there is a mission church, carrying the cross aloft on weather-worn adobe towers, and a government building whose machine-made angularities are an insult to the softly molded contours of the adobe. Drifting in and out are the people, brown-skinned and enigmatic, with sloe-black eyes, sliding walk, and flashes of vivid color in blanket, sash, or head-band.

Who are they? Where do they come from? There are two ways of arriving at the answer to these questions. One is to ask the Indians themselves. The other is to consult the archæologist or the ethnologist. It is interesting how often

p. 4

[paragraph continues] Indian tradition agrees in essentials with the finds of scientific investigators. Isleta, for instance, has a tradition that its people came from the north, that they crossed the sea "where it is so narrow that a ten-year-old boy could throw a stone across it," and then, finding very little sun, that they came farther and farther south until they finally settled at Isleta. More than one archaeologist is satisfied that the Pueblo people did come from the north, crossing Bering Strait and drifting south. Taos, according to their tradition, came north, following a bird and making many villages, until they finally found the right location at the foot of their sacred Pueblo Peak and on both sides of their ever-running stream. This movement northward also has its scientific supporters, who think that these Indians came from Mexico, off shoots perhaps of the Aztec stock.

All the Indians who now live in villages in New Mexico and Arizona are Pueblo people, which simply means town people. They were so called by the Spanish explorers who found them in the middle of the sixteenth century and were naturally struck by their towns and town organization. There are now about nine thousand Indians living in pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona. They form self-governing communities who support themselves by farming the lands they own communally, and who live a life of astonishing independence of thought, organization, and religious belief in the center of a modern American state. Today they speak five Indian languages in the New Mexico pueblos, and another in Arizona, where the Hopis cling to their rocky heights. They also speak Spanish, which is preached to them in their Catholic churches, and the young ones all

p. 5

speak English, which they learn in the government Indian schools and in which they trade with store-keepers and make interesting and inaccurate statements to tourists.


Behind the Pueblo life as we see it was the life of the cliff dwellings and of the great communal villages. These habitations are being studied with meticulous care by archaeologists, who examine literally every foot-mark and finger-print for clues as to who these mysterious folk were and how they lived. Here, too, Indian tradition is a check and stimulus to scientific investigation. The Hopis have a legend, for instance, that their ancestors undertook to build a great temple, that they were struck with a confusion of tongues and had to leave it unfinished, and that they then moved south and established the present Hopi villages. Archaeologists, excavating at the Mesa Verde, uncovered there what they chose to call the Sun Temple. It was obviously a very important effort, probably for ceremonial purposes only, and it was left unfinished for obscure reasons. A Hopi Indian, visiting the place soon after the discovery of the Sun Temple, identified it absolutely and with great excitement as the very place of the legend.

Archaeologists learn a great deal about prehistoric life from the Pueblos, all of whom have traditions connecting them with the inhabitants of the ruins which are found all over the southwest. The Santa Clara people, for instance, claim descent from the inhabitants of Puye, and all the Keres of the Rio Grande valley consider the Rito de los

p. 6

[paragraph continues] Frijoles as their ancestral home. In these cases and in many others the medicine-men of the modern villages make ceremonial visits to the ancient home sites; and ancient shrines, such as that of the stone lions of Cochiti, are visited by all Indians. Ceremonial objects from the ruins always fill a modern Indian with reverent interest. Aniceto Suaso, working with Jeançon at Po-Shu, recognized and arranged in order certain bases for prayer-plumes and readily told the uses of a prehistoric spear-head, which he said would bring prowess in the hunt to anyone who had it. Also at Po-Shu, an Indian woman in child-birth tied into her girdle an ancient fetish found there, and reported that it helped her very much. This obstetrical fetish was in the shape of a large-stomached woman. Hunting-charms are usually in the form of animals, preferably lions or bears. In Zuñi we may still see the fetishes in ceremonial use. In other pueblos they are used only in secret ceremonies, though every modern Indian carries his medicine-bag, containing his personal fetish, bits of various metals, and the corn-pollen which is always the sacred symbol of life.

Much of the fascination of modern Indian ceremonial is due to the antiquity of its rites and forms. Religious form is always the last human habit to yield to change; and in the altars, sacred symbols, and customs of the modern Indian we can trace the history of his ancestors. The most ancient of whom we have any record were wandering tribes who made no permanent homes, contenting themselves with slight brush shelters--the prototype of the kisi in which the modern Hopis keep the snakes during their annual Snake-dance. Later, as agriculture developed and the people

p. 7

needed more stable homes, they dug into the ground and made a circular room, roofed with mud-daubed logs and entered from above by means of a ladder. These people are called the "small house" or "pre-pueblo" people, according to the degree of their development, and their house is still a prominent feature of every pueblo, for it is the kiva, the ceremonial lodge. As the people drew together into villages, they probably maintained their blood-relationships through certain ceremonies conducted in the kivas, thus establishing the clans which are the unit of pueblo organization today. The modern kiva is still the center of clan and religious life, and until very recently all young men were required to sleep in the clan kiva until marriage. The whole history of kiva architecture may be traced in the modern pueblos, from those entirely underground as at Taos and in the Hopi villages, to those entirely above ground as in most of the Rio Grande pueblos.

At Zuñi and at Acoma the kivas are square and are built into the block of houses, probably to conceal them from Christian priests who would abolish them.

The modern kiva has retained many features of the original home--the ladder entrance from above through a hole which is also the smoke-vent, the ventilator and smoke-screen, the fire in the center, the absence of windows, and even the bole in the floor, which typifies sipapu, the entrance to the underworld. Today the preliminary services for every dance are performed in the kiva, the men meet there for all clan and pueblo business, and some form of the old custom of youths' living in the clan kiva is found almost everywhere.

p. 8

The pre-pueblo people left little except the type of their home and bits of crude pottery and weaving. Their descendants of the cliff dwellings and of the communal villages are easily studied and their life has been reconstructed in considerable detail. These two types of building were probably contemporaneous, as Bandelier makes clear in his novel The Delight Makers, in which he pictures prehistoric life in the Rito de los Frijoles. Bandelier thinks that at Puye the cave houses, built along the south face of the cliff, were the winter homes of the people who in summer occupied the communal dwelling on top of the breezy mesa. At both Puye and the Rito de los Frijoles the homes are very simple rooms built in terraces against the friable tufa cliffs, in which were artificial or natural caves used for storage rooms. The communal village was architecturally a development of this type. The cliff idea was retained in the outer wall, built solid as a defense, and the terraced houses stepped down from that to the central plaza. The Chaco Canyon villages and the pueblo of Pecos are both excel. lent examples of this type.

The finest cliff dwellings are at the Mesa Verde. The first sight of the Cliff Palace or the Balcony House is had on stepping out to the brink of a narrow canyon, fringed with tall pines and dropping hundreds of feet into the leafy stream bed below. Just under the canyon's brim stand those marvelous dwellings, still in the sunlight, just as they have stood for more than a thousand years. The walls of stone, finely worked and fitted, are solid, rising as high as five stories and giving the general effect of an enchanted castle held under a spell of silence and distance. Nowadays

p. 9

one can approach by graded government trails adapted to the tenderest of feet, but once the active brown dwellers climbed up and down by toe and hand holes which only a very skillful or daring modern will attempt. Remember, also, that the cliff man not only got himself over those trails, but also his game after the hunt, and the crops which he raised either on the valley floor below or on the plateau above his home. It must have been hard living, but worth it in the security from marauding bands of nomadic Indians, once one was snugly there.

Wherever the prehistoric Indian built, he always chose sites well defended by nature, as were the cliff dwellings, or easily defended by man, as were the Chaco Canyon villages, which stand in a plain over which no enemy larger than a coyote could approach unseen. Besides security he needed water and arable land, game, and timber suitable for building, but not too large to be cleared away with stone implements. In some places the water-supply which served the prehistoric Indian has disappeared, either by dropping into the sand, as at the Gran Quivira, or because grazing animals have destroyed the grass roots and allowed great arroyos to wash away the soil, as at Chaco Canyon.

How many of these places were inhabited at one time and why they were abandoned cannot yet be determined with any accuracy. Recently, however, A. E. Douglass of the University of Arizona has perfected his discovery of the determination of prehistoric dates by tree-rings. In the southwest rainfall varies so much from year to year that annual tree-rings differ greatly and accordingly, wider rings indicating heavier rainfall. By comparing series of

p. 10

rings in living trees with identical series in beams and supports found in ruins, Professor Douglass has finally worked out a chronology continuous from the tenth century to the twentieth. So it is now definitely established that the southwestern Indians were building their finest houses when William the Conqueror was conquering the tribes of Britain.

Between that time and the Spanish conquest the Indian had developed his religion, his government, his art, and his architecture to its height. Take away from the modern Pueblo what the white man has brought him, and you will see what he used and how he lived before the white man came. His rooms, then as now, were built of stone or adobe, roofed with piñon or cedar beams over which were laid saplings or brush and earth. The rooms were small because the only trees manageable with primitive tools were small trees. Floors were of hard-packed earth finished with adobe mixed with blood. A fire-place, built in the corner, gave light and heat and smoke. In many ruins are found alternate layers of smoke and fresh plaster, indicating an effort at good housekeeping against very heavy odds. A niche in the wall held the sacred meal, poles hung on thongs held garments or drying meat, and metates or grinding-stones were set in the floor. Then as now meal was ground by a kneeling woman who swung her body back and forth, bearing down on the mano which crushed the kernels into finer and finer meal. No doubt the prehistoric woman sang the very songs which still celebrate the wonder of the corn, for then as now the corn was the sacred mother, typical of all good, on whose bounty life depended.

p. 11

Decorations were scanty, though sometimes simple frescoes are found in ruins, especially in kivas or on cliffs outside the houses. These pictographs may have been messages, drawings for ceremonial purposes, or effusions of bad boys done for fun. They have not been fully deciphered, though various symbols of sun, moon, stars, rainbow, rain, clouds, animals, and various clan symbols used today are found among them.

Among the furnishings of the prehistoric homes were -the looms on which the men wove cotton garments. Men were weavers then and women potters, a distinction still found in Hopiland, where the men weave ceremonial garments. These Hopi mantles, kirtles, and sashes were probably the customary dress of the cliff dweller when he did not wrap himself in skin skirts as the, snake-dancer does now. Moccasins were the same as now with the exception that the ancient Indian did not make cow-hide soles. He made blankets of sinew wound with rabbit-skin for warmth, or feathers for beauty. Feathers were very important, especially the plumes of the eagle and the turkey, which have always been used ceremonially. Personal adornment included jewelry of colored stones, of bones, of shells traded with seaside tribes, and of turquoise polished and strung as beads or inlaid in stone or bone. All of these ornaments are made today, but the work was finer in the Great Age than any which is done now.

The women made baskets, an art which has almost disappeared from modern pueblo life, except in the Hopi villages and in some of the Rio Grande pueblos. None of the present-day work is as fine as that of the prehistoric women.

p. 12

[paragraph continues] They also made pottery, developing it from the crudest uncolored coiled ware to the height of the beautifully decorated glazed ware of the Great Age. The art of glazing declined rapidly after the arrival of the white man, until it was altogether lost. Painted pottery is still a fine art in most of the pueblos. Through pottery most of the prehistoric chronicle has been read, for pottery is at once the most perishable and the most enduring of household goods. A broken pot is of no value. Nobody making a move would think of taking it, but, left on the rubbish-heap, the pieces last forever and archæologists coming along a thousand years later can learn much from the broken bits. Besides pottery, excavations yield a vast number of bone and stone tools and implements, everything that was needed for working stone, skins, cotton, and clay. Thrilling things are occasionally found, like flutes on which a few notes may still be blown or head-dresses such as are worn in the dances of today.

Kidder places the Great Age of pueblo development at about the year 1000, a. time when the population had drawn together, because of the pressure of outside tribes, and "when they had reached that vital moment in their history when opportunity and necessity were evenly balanced." The inhabited area had shrunk steadily from the time when roving small bands spread over a territory reaching from southern Utah to the border of Mexico. It was to shrink still further, for the peaceful pueblo people were constantly subject to raids of wandering tribes of Apaches, of Comanches, and later of the Navajos, who became the traditional enemy. There was a period between 1000 and 1540,

p. 13

however, when the pueblo people had attained a height of development in government, in religion, and in art which gave promise of even finer things to come.


Then came the white man. Kidder, in writing of the Great Age, says: "There can be little doubt that had they been allowed to work out their own salvation, they would eventually have overcome their difficulties and might well have built up a civilization of a sort not yet attempted by any group of men. It is the tragedy of native American history that so much human effort has come to nought, and that so many hopeful experiments in life and living were cut short by the devastating blight of the white man's arrival."

What the white man did especially, with the devastating blight of his arrival, was to check the growth of a truly democratic state. The prehistoric Indian was completely democratic, as is the Indian of today in so far as we allow him to be. Everybody lived in the same sort of house on the same sort of food, everybody worked, and the only honors and distinctions were those won by personal merit. As there was no personal accumulation of wealth, there was no inheritance of dignity or position. When the Spaniards came, they found the Indians governed by their old men in council, with the cacique, or religious leader, as final arbiter. The cacique was the only man exempted from labor, and that was because his time was given to prayer and meditation for the benefit of all. That is still true today.

p. 14

[paragraph continues] The cacique's fields are tilled for him, communal hunts pro. vide his meat, wood is chopped and hauled to his door. In return he is expected to be a spiritual man as well as a wise one, trained by years of self-abnegation to understand the ways of "those above" and to be the spiritual guide of his people.

The Spaniards found the Indian friendly, but disappointingly lacking in the gold and jewels they sought. Fray Marcos de Nizza, a Franciscan monk, headed the first expedition which came up from Mexico, in 1539. It was his reports of great wealth that aroused all the Spaniards in Mexico with a desire to explore, to enrich themselves, and incidentally to save souls. Fray Marcos got no farther than a sight of Habikuh, the first Zuñi village on his line of march. The friar, having been ordered to take care of himself and return with facts about the fabled cities of wealth, prudently looked upon Habikuh from a neighboring hill and retired, satisfied that he had seen a great city, probably paved with gold, undoubtedly studded with turquoise, and unquestionably hiding untold wealth in its cellars. If he happened to see Habikuh at sunset and if it glowed in the changing light as modern Zuñi does now, he was certainly justified in thinking of any amount of gold. But Habikuh was an adobe town whose only stores were those of garnered crops. Fray Marcos went no farther, because the leader of his advance, guard, the Negro Estevan, had been killed at Habikuh, and his band frightened out of their wits. It was reported that Estevan had made too free with the Indian women, and that he was killed in consequence. At Santo Domingo they still occasionally enact the coming of

p. 15

the Spaniards, with a swaggering Negro for comedy relief. He leers and makes ribald remarks to women, and he is properly scorned by the conquistadores, who grandly ride steeds which would be merely hobby-horses were it not for the histrionic gift of the actors.

Marcos de Nizza undoubtedly reported in Mexico what he thought he had seen, and his tales brought further expeditions seeking gold. In 1540 Francisco Vásquez de Coronado followed Fray Marcos's route. He visited all the Zuñi villages, saw Acoma, struck the Rio Grande a few miles south of where Albuquerque now stands, and followed that stream northward as far as Taos. Unfortunately Coronado sent out two young lieutenants who precipitated warfare. Tovar, visiting the Hopi villages, fired on the peaceful people who came out to meet him; and Alvarado, demanding gold bracelets at Pecos, imprisoned and flogged two Indian leaders who had never seen or heard of gold. It was the beginning of the Indian's deep-seated distrust of the white man, who was henceforth considered never to keep his word.

While Coronado was frankly in search of wealth, he was accompanied by monks to convert the heathen, and he left two of them when he returned to Mexico, Juan de Padilla and Luis de Escalona, both of whom were killed by the people they had come to save, thus attaining the distinction of being the first of a long line of martyrs. In general, the monks seem to have stood out against the grasping cruelty of the military, though it was a monk who encouraged Tovar to attack the Hopis; and much of the history of the province of New Mexico deals with the conflict between the

p. 16

[paragraph continues] Church, which sought the souls of the Indians, and the civil government, which sought their wealth and their bodies in slavery.

Time moved slowly in those days, and a whole generation grew up between Coronado's expedition and the next one, when Antonio de Espejo made a brief tour in 1581. Espejo was as notable for kindliness and fair dealing as Coronado had been for ruthless inhumanity, with the result that not a single life was lost on his expedition. He was hospitably received even where Coronado had been most barbarous. Later leaders were not always like Espejo, and the Spaniard soon forgot the original kindly welcome of a people who might easily have exterminated the first expeditions. So began the long course of the white man's encroachment on the Indian's land, breaking treaties and agreements until finally it came about that any Indian, claiming his own, was looked upon as a treacherous savage.

The Spaniards filtered slowly into the country, spreading their gospel, their agriculture, their domestic animals, and their government. They sought gold always, but with less and less hope of finding it, until their zeal for converts sup" planted their zeal for wealth. They planted a cross on every village, as it proved to have more spiritual than material value, and they wrote long memorials to the viceroy in Mexico, proudly claiming so many converts for the true faith and so many new subjects for His Most Catholic Majesty. By the end of the century Spain had decided that the country north of the Rio Grande was worth holding, even if it was not full of gold nuggets to be had for the

p. 17

picking up. So expeditions were organized for permanent occupation, never forgetting the need for recurrent baptism and conversion. Thousands of Indians were reported baptized, but thousands apparently needed to be baptized again and again.

In 1598 Juan de Oñate arrived with a train that must have been a spectacle. He brought cattle and sheep, wagonloads of household goods, artisans and priests, women and children. His wagons were of the type we know as "carretas"--inadequate-looking baskets of saplings mounted on groaning, screeching wheels of solid wood, and loaded, no doubt, with furniture, tools, food, and seeds, and surmounted with frightened women holding babies. Months they struggled over deserts and climbed mountains, the wagons lurching crazily over grassy hummocks and lava beds, while the leaders tried to renew treaties of peace and establish confidence among the Indians.

Oñate visited all the pueblos and received submission from all except Acoma, which had to be separately "reduced" from time to time. When he got as far north as the pueblo of San Juan, he was so courteously received that he gave it the honorable title "de los Caballeros" (of the gentlemen) and made his capital in its neighborhood. The first capital of New Mexico was San Gabriel, and the name New Mexico was then established, though it had probably first been used by Ibarra in 1565. By 1607 the capital had been moved to Santa Fe, but during his stay at San Gabriel, Oñate had solidified his position as governor. He called a conference of Pueblo leaders at Santo Domingo and formally received their united allegiance to the Spanish

p. 18

crown. He also got the caciques to agree to adopt the Christian religion if, after suitable instruction, they decided that they liked it. Their acceptance of the new faith, even conditionally, was probably made easier by the fact that nearly all Indians had a belief that a white god would come to save them. This god was so readily identified with the Christ whom the monks preached that as late as 1900 an old Indian interpreting a sermon in the pueblo of Jemez used the name of the ancient god as a translation of "Christ." That they never allowed the new faith to supplant the old is obvious everywhere today. For four hundred years the Indian has pursued his ancient ways, while making reverent, but rather distant, obeisance before the Christian altars.

Most of the records of the seventeenth century were destroyed in 1680, and so what went on is known only in general. Civil and ecclesiastical governments were established along the lines laid down for all Spanish colonies. In 1630 Fray Alonzo de Benavides, then "custodio" for New Mexico, reported that there were fifty friars, serving over sixty thousand Christian Indians, living in ninety pueblos, each with its own church. He asked for the establishment of a bishopric, which he said could be easily supported from the tithes. The friar probably greatly exaggerated both the number of converts and the number of churches, but no doubt there were enough missions to bring all the Pueblos under the domination of the Church. During the century they suffered increasing exactions from both lay and clerical Spaniards. Occasional uprisings were attempted and sternly put down by the governors, who imprisoned, flogged,

p. 19

enslaved, and hanged with a ruthless hand. From being a free people eagerly working out their own salvation, the Indians had become a slave population, owing so much labor to the crown and the Church, and. so bewildered, undoubtedly, by a superimposed civilization that their own development came to a complete standstill, and deterioration set in. Their arts declined, their democratic government was overlaid by royal governors and tax- and tithe-gatherers, and as the subject and despised race they faced that death of the spirit which is the worst of all. In time all of this became too heavy to be borne, and in 1680 they made their great effort to throw off the yoke of a people fated, by the ownership of the heavier artillery, to dominate them.

Popé, a medicine-man of San Juan, organized the revolt. Working from Taos as his headquarters, he went quietly from pueblo to pueblo, arousing the people to a sense of their wrongs, choosing leaders, making plans, and managing to keep the secret through months of organizing. The plan was a, general uprising on August 11 in which every Spaniard--every man, woman, and child--should be killed. The secret was so well kept that it was only a few days before the time that an Indian convert told his priest. Governor Otermín was at once notified and plans were made to check the revolt. But it was too late, or Popé was too quick for them. He moved his date a day, and on August 10 the Indians rose so unitedly and so vigorously that every Spaniard was either killed or forced to flee. Many stories are told of priests who tried to hold their converts by standing bravely before the altars with sacred vessels

p. 20

in their hands, only to be struck down. Otermín made a brave stand at Sante Fe, but when he was informed that all the villages south of San Felipe had been abandoned, he finally withdrew, unmolested by the Indians. He gathered up his people as he retreated, and finally reached El Paso, where he made the best of a bad situation, sent to Mexico for help, and began to organize for a return. However cruel and intolerant the Spaniards were, they never lacked courage, and Otermín made a determined effort to regain his lost province, but unsuccessfully.

The Indians, free at last, celebrated by destroying church and government records, by dancing around a great fire in the Santa Fe plaza, by solemnly forswearing allegiance to the new religion, and by washing off the taint of baptism in amole suds. Popé, swollen with pride and full of Spanish ideas, then tried to make himself a king and so brought about the final downfall of his people. He rode from pueblo to pueblo accoutered and attended as he had seen Spanish governors do, and he made enemies everywhere. The twelve years during which the Spaniards were away were years of increasing internal dissension, until finally pueblo was warring against pueblo, and the stage was set for an easy reconquest by Don Diego de Vargas, who entered the province in 1692.

De Vargas tried kindly measures. He promised forgiveness to all who would submit to Spanish rule, he appointed Indian leaders to positions of authority, he tried in every way to efface the impression of Spanish cruelty and to bind to him as many pueblos as possible. He succeeded fairly well with the Keres people, and he finally conquered the

p. 21

[paragraph continues] Tewas who held Santa Fe. The old palace was again purified of a false faith, and de Vargas set out from there to complete the reconquest of his province. It was not easy to do, for the Tewas had retreated to the Black Mesa at San Ildefonso, where they could hold him off indefinitely. Jemez Indians allied themselves with the Navajos, Taos called in the Utes to help, and a natural distrust of Spanish promises caused many a "reduced" pueblo to backslide into the arms of its intractable neighbors. In a few brisk battles, however, and with some clever diplomacy, the Spaniards finally succeeded in overcoming the Indians, and New Mexico was "restored." Acoma, as usual, required more than one reduction, and the Hopi villages never did submit. They remained, in fact, a thorn in the side of the Spanish during their entire administration of New Mexico. At this time a handful of Tewas emigrated to join the Hopis, settling on the First Mesa, where a hamlet still carries their name and where certain Tewa dances are still given.

During the years of reconquest and for the century following there was much shifting of Pueblo population. So many villages moved that very few of them today occupy exactly the same sites on which the Spaniards first found them. In some places, as at Jemez, several pueblos drew together to form one. During the years that Acoma was unconquered, friendly Acomas joined people from Zuñi and formed the new Laguna villages. Clans migrated from place to place, taking their ceremonies with them. A mixture of the blood of plains Indians must have occurred, especially in places like Jemez and Taos. The entire

p. 22

population shrank considerably, and certain linguistic groups, like the Piros, disappeared entirely, literally harried out of existence by their warring neighbors.

New Mexico remained a Spanish province for a hundred and twenty years. During that time its history was a monotonous succession of squabbles between civil and ecclesiastical powers, petty warfare against outside Indians, repeated "reductions" of Acoma, futile attempts to conquer the Hopis. Meanwhile Church and State between them collected enough tithes and taxes, required enough labor, and inflicted enough punishment to make the Indian's life a hard one. The Indians, very naturally, drew into a hard impenetrable shell of silence and concealment. The old forms of worship were not abandoned; they were performed secretly in the kivas or in hidden places, thus establishing the custom of concealing all important ceremonies from the whites. The priests, in their efforts to suppress these rites, adopted the custom of considering them witchcraft and of treating the Indian caciques as wizards and sorcerers. Many of them were whipped, branded, enslaved, even killed for practicing the old religions. The ceremonies which were conducted openly were combined with the observance of Catholic feast-days in the extraordinary mixture of faiths which still prevails.


In 1822 Mexico declared its independence of Spain and established a republic, weak enough at its center, absolutely impotent on its distant frontier in New Mexico. It

p. 23

was then only a matter of time until the United States, vigorously pushing westward, should take over so desirable a territory as New Mexico, which then extended to the Pacific Ocean. In 1846 General Stephen W. Kearny marched into New Mexico, and the Mexican General fled before him. Kearny made proclamations claiming New Mexico for the United States, granting amnesty, religious freedom, citizenship, and undisturbed ownership of land to everybody; and then passed on to California. He inaugurated the business of chasing Navajos, Apaches, and Comanches, an exercise which was the preoccupation of the American Army in the southwest for about seventy years, until the Indians were finally exterminated or penned on reservations and more or less habituated to staying there. The United States specifically recognized the right of the Pueblos to their pueblos and surrounding lands, which had been granted them by the Spanish crown in the sixteenth century and confirmed by the Mexican government in the nineteenth. Finally, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, governors of all pueblos journeyed to Washington and were presented with silver-headed canes, inscribed: "Pueblo of ----. A. Lincoln, President. 1863." These canes, with older ones presented by the Spaniards, are today the honored possessions of the pueblo governors and the badge of office.

The Pueblo Indians probably noticed very little change under the new régime, except that the blue-coats gave them better protection from the nomadic enemies. Spain had given them very little help during the last years of its administration; Mexico practically none at all. The United

p. 24

[paragraph continues] States relieved them of the menace of their ancient foes and otherwise gave them little attention, except to appoint Indian agents to look after them. These agents were first military men, who looked upon Indians as a conquest, and then political appointees, who considered them a plum. They naturally permitted many abuses, especially in the matter of encroachment on Indian lands and the violation of Indian water-rights. Recent legislation promises to make fair adjustment and restitution in both these matters.

Now the Indian agents are Civil Service employees who consider themselves and are generally considered the guardians and advocates of the Indians under their care. They are assisted by experts in irrigation, agriculture, and stock-raising, by doctors, and recently by nurses. In matters of contract, such as leasing of lands and rights of way, the agent acts for the pueblo, which cannot make a legal agreement without the consent of the Secretary of the Interior.

The Pueblos own their lands communally and assign plots to individual Indians, who are granted as much as they can cultivate. As far as possible the Indians are allowed to govern themselves, and most agents observe that the best-governed pueblos are those in which the influence of the white man is least felt. Pueblo life is so unified that as outside influence breaks down old ways of living and of worshiping, old moralities are forgotten, reverence for old people and the ancient religion is lost, even self-respect declines.

The breaking-down of the old ways is accomplished in the schools. For years after the American occupation of New Mexico the government made no provision for Indian

p. 25

education, and the Catholic missions, already established, were permitted to continue their religious instruction. In time Protestants realized that they were overlooking a fertile field, Protestant missions were established, and the government allowed various religious sects, both Catholic and Protestant, to conduct Indian schools under contract. Abuses developed and finally government schools were established on a non-sectarian basis. They are operated as military schools and they take the children from the fourth grade to or through the high school. The first four grades are usually covered in day-schools in the pueblos. The training follows the usual course of the American public schools with the addition that Indian girls are given training in housekeeping, and the boys in farming and in trades. The avowed purpose is to prepare the young Indian for citizenship and for making a living.

Actually very little attention is paid to his special needs or aptitudes or to the revival or maintenance of his arts and crafts. The result is to unfit him for life among his own people. In pueblo life the adolescent years are very important for learning the clan and tribal traditions, the songs and dances. The Indian school-child misses all this, and when he returns to the pueblo, he is a misfit, almost a stranger, with his American clothes and his short hair. Until recently short hair was considered a disgrace, and in some places it still bars a man from the dances. Sometimes they allow their hair to grow, pick up the old ways as well as they can, take part in pueblo affairs, and make some sort of adjustment. Sometimes they can only withdraw sullenly from the pueblo and seek work in the white man's towns. In

p. 26

[paragraph continues] Winslow, Arizona, there are a hundred and seventy Laguna Indians working on the railroad. Such a group has, of course, lost the advantage of the closely knit pueblo group with its rich social and ceremonial life, which is their heritage. It portends the inevitable end: the dissolution of pueblo life and the abandonment of the pueblos.

Meanwhile everything about pueblo life is in a state of flux, including the government, which is a combination of the old and the new. The governor, elected annually by the heads of families, is the civil officer with whom the white man deals. He has one or two lieutenants, elected with him or appointed by him. All of them are nominated by the cacique, that hidden force who is the final arbiter. The governor and his lieutenants act as judges, the disputants being permitted to choose which man shall hear their case. The governor appoints a sheriff. There is a war captain, probably equal in power with the governor. Wars being rare in these days, the war captain's duties have to do with the dances: setting the dates, calling the dancers, and being the officer in charge on dance days. Sometimes he is in charge of the ditch to see that all landholders secure a fair amount of water. Other officers are appointed as needed. A few modern pueblos, such as Isleta and Laguna, have treasurers and secretaries and own government bonds. Most pueblos have checking-accounts in Albuquerque or Santa Fe banks.

Behind the governor stands the body of men known as the principales, or council. They are selected differently in different pueblos; sometimes they are all the men who have served as governors. The principales seem to be the turning-point

p. 27

between the open and the hidden government of the pueblo, for they are answerable also to the cacique. The governor, bearing his cane of office, is a dignified person with every appearance of authority, but if he is asked something unusual or something which might run counter to pueblo tradition, he at once becomes the mouthpiece of the principales; and sooner or later the persistent inquirer finds that the principales are dependent finally upon the decision of the cacique. Naturally one who deals directly with the gods in secret rite and receives mystic guidance through prayer and trance must be heeded. More than one white man has found that his affair must wait until the cacique has retired to his hidden shrine for prayer and fasting and direction as to what to do.

All of this means that the Pueblo Indian is a person of dual nature. The white man's Indian is trained in a government school and turned out as a fairly good carpenter, farmer, and Christian. In so far as the education has been a success, he apes the ways of the white man even to the extent of living in the white man's town rather than in his own. The other face of him, however, is turned away from the white man and everything he typifies. Turning his back on the government school, the Catholic mission, and the Protestant church, he is dominated by his ancient beliefs, guided by his ancestral leaders. His real life centers in the kiva, his real hope is in the gods of the ancients, those potent beings who still bring him water and corn, prowess in the hunt, happiness in his life, and a deep spiritual understanding such as the white man does not know.

Next: II: Dances of the Rio Grande Pueblos