TWENTY-FIVE miles southeast of Santa Fé, New Mexico, lie the deserted ruins of the ancient Pueblo town of Pecos. The village was finally abandoned by the Indians in 1840; and their neat houses of adobe bricks and stone, and their quaint adobe church, have sadly fallen to decay. The history of the abandonment of Pecos is by no means startling; but the Indian tradition--for they have already added this to their countless myths--is decidedly so. The story is related by two aged Pecos Indians who still live in the pueblo of Jemez.
"Now, this is a true story," said my informant, an Isleteño, who had often heard it from them.
Once Pecos was a large village, and had many people. 1 But it came that nearly all of them had the evil road, and in the whole town were but five True Believers (in the Indian religion). These were an old woman, her two sons, and two other young men. Agostin, her elder son, was a famous
hunter, and very often went to the mountains with a friend of his who had an evil spirit--though Agostin was not aware of that.
One day the friend invited Agostin to go hunting, and next day they went to the mountains. just at the foot they found a herd. of deer, one of which Agostin wounded. The deer fled up the mountain, and the two friends followed by the drops of blood. Half-way to the top they came to a second herd, which ran off to the right of the trail they were following, and the evil-spirited friend went in pursuit of them, while Agostin kept on after the one he had wounded.
He came at last to the very top of the mountain, and there of a sudden the trail ceased. Agostin hunted all about, but in vain, and at last started down the other side of the mountain.
As he came to a deep cañon he heard singing, and, peering cautiously through the bushes, he saw a lot of witch-men sitting around a fallen pine and singing, while their chief was trying to raise the tree.
Agostin recognized them all, for they were of Pecos, and he was much grieved when he saw his friend among them. Then he knew that the deer had. all been witches, and that they had led him off on a false trail.
Greatly alarmed, he crept back to a safe distance, and then hurried home and told his aged mother all that had happened, asking her if he should report it to the Cacique.
"No," said she, with a sigh, "it is of no use; for he, too, has the evil road. There are but few [paragraph continues]
True Believers left, and the bad ones are trying to use us up."
Among the five good people was one of the Cum-pah-whit-lah-wen (guards of the medicine-men); and to him Agostin told his story. But he also said: "It is of no use. We are too few to do anything."
At last the bad people falsely accused the old woman, saying that her power was more than that of all the medicine-men put together (which is a very serious charge, even to-day, among the Indians); and challenged her to come before all the people in the medicine-house and perform miracles with them, well knowing that she could not. The challenge was for life or death; whichever side won was to kill the others without being resisted.
The poor old woman told her sons, with tears, saying: "Already we are killed. We know nothing of these things, and we may make ready to die."
"Nay, Nana," said Agostin. 1 "Despair not yet, but prepare lunch for Pedro 1 and me, that we go to other villages for advice. Perhaps there the medicine-men will tell us something."
So the mother, still weeping, made some tortillas, and, strapping these to their belts, the young men set out.
Pedro, the younger, went east, and Agostin took the road to the north. Whatever person they met, or to whatever village they came, they were to seek advice.
When Agostin came to the foot of the mountains, he was very thirsty, but there was no water. As he
entered a gorge he saw Hyo-kwáh-kwah-báy-deh, a little bird which builds its nest with pebbles and clay in the crannies of the cliffs, and is of exactly the same color as the sandstones. He thought, "Ah, little bird, if you could speak I would ask you where there is water, for I am fainting with thirst, and dare not eat, for that would make it worse!"
But the little bird, knowing his thought, said:
"Friend Agostin, I see that you are one of the True Believers, and I will show you where there is water; or wait, I will go and bring you some, for it is very far." And off he flew.
Agostin waited, and presently the little bird came back, bringing an acorn-cup full of water. Then Agostin's heart sank, and he thought: "Alas! what good will that drop do me?"
But the little bird replied: "Do not think that way, friend. Here is enough, and even more; for when you drink all you wish, there will still be some left."
And so it was. Agostin drank and drank, then ate some tortillas and drank again; and when he was satisfied, the acorn-cup was still nearly full.
Then the little bird said: "Now come, and I will lead you. But when we come to the top of the mountain, and I say, 'We are at the top,' you must say, 'No, we are down in the mountain--at the bottom of it.' Do not forget."
Agostin promised, and the little bird flew in front of him. At last they were at the top, and the little bird said:
"Here we are, friend, at the top."
"No," answered Agostin, "we are down in the mountain--at the bottom of it."
Three times the little bird repeated his words, and three times Agostin made the same answer.
At the third reply they found themselves in a room in the mountain. There was a door in front of them, and beside it stood a Cum-pah-whit-lah-wíd-deh (guard), who said to Agostin--for the little bird had disappeared:
"Son, how came you here, where none ever think of coming? Do you think you are a man?"
Agostin told the whole story of the witches' challenge, and of how he had gone out to seek advice, and of how the little bird had brought him here, and the guard said:
"You are coming with the thought of a man; so now come in," and he opened the door.
But when Agostin entered the inner room, which was so large that no end could be seen, he found himself in the presence of the Trues in human shape.
There sat the divinities of the East, who are white; and of the North, who are blue; and beyond them were the sacred animals--the mountain lion, the eagle, bear, buffalo, badger, hawk, rabbit, rattlesnake, and all the others that are of the Trues. Agostin was very much afraid, but the guard said to him:
"Do not fear, son, but take the heart of a man, and pray to all sides." So he faced to the six sides, praying. When he had finished, one of the Trues spoke to him, and said:
"What can it be that brought you here? Take the heart of a man and tell us."
Then Agostin told his whole story; after which the Trues said to him:
it Do not be worried, son. We will help you out of that."
The principal True of the East said:
"Son, I will give you the clothes you must wear when you are in the medicine-house for the contest of power"; and he gave Agostin four dark-blue breech-clouts and some moccasins for himself and the three other good young men, and a black manta, (robe) and pair of moccasins for his mother.
"Now," said the True, "the evil-spirited ones will have this medicine-making contest in the estufa, 1--and when you enter, you five, you must all be dressed in these clothes. The people will all be there, old and young, and there will hardly be room for you to stand; and they will all sneer at you and spit upon you. But do not be sorry. And take this cane to hold between you. Let your mother take it with one hand at the bottom, then the Whit-lah-wíd-deh's hand, then her other hand, and then his other hand; and last your brother's hand, your hand, then his other hand, and your other hand at the top of all. And when you say, 'We are at the top of the mountain,' he must answer, 'No, we are down in the mountain--at the bottom of it.' This you must keep saying. Now go, son, with the heart of a man."
Then the Whit-lah-wíd-deh led Agostin out, and the little bird showed him the way down the mountain.
When he reached home it was the afternoon of
the appointed day, and in the evening the medicine-making contest for life or death was to come. In a little while the younger brother arrived, with his new clothes and moccasins torn to shreds; for he had traveled far in a rough country, without meeting a soul from whom to ask advice.
Agostin called together the four other True Believers, and told them all that had happened and what they must do, giving them the sacred clothing.
In the evening they went to the estufa, which was crowded with the witch-people, so that they had barely room to stand.
Then the evil-spirited ones began to make medicine, and turned themselves into bears, coyotes, crows, owls, and other animals. When they were done, they said to the old woman:
"Now it is your turn. We will see what you can do."
"I know nothing about these things," she said, "but I will do what I can, and the Trues will help me."
Then she and the four young men took hold of the sacred cane as the Trues had showed Agostin.
"We are on the top of the mountain," said he.
"No," answered his brother, "we are down in the mountain--at the bottom of it."
This they said three times. At the third saying the people heard on all sides the guajes of the Trues. 1 At the same moment the ladder 2 was jerked violently up out of the room, so that no one could get out.
Then the two brothers repeated their words again, and at the third saying the thunder began to roar outside, and all could hear plainly the singing and the guajes of the Trues. It began to rain violently, and the water poured down through the roof-door, and the lightning stuck its tongue in. The brothers kept repeating their words, and soon the water was knee-deep. But where the five True Believers stood, holding the cane, the floor was dusty. Soon the flood came to the waists of the witch-people, and then to their necks, and the children were drowning. Then they cried out to the old woman:
"Truly, mother, your power is greater than ours. We submit."
But she paid no attention to them, and her sons continued their words, and the water kept pouring in until it touched the very ceiling. But all around the five it stood back like a wall, and they were on dry ground.
At last all the evil-spirited ones were drowned. Then the rain ceased and the water departed as fast as it had come. The ladder came down through the roof-door again, and the five True Believers climbed out and went to their homes.
But it was very desolate, for they were the only survivors. Their nearest relatives and dearest friends had perished with the other witch-people. At last they could no longer bear to live in the lonely valley, and they decided to live elsewhere. On the way the old mother and one of the men died. Agostin went to the pueblo of Cochití, and Pedro and the Whit-lah-wíd-deh settled in the
pueblo of Jemez, where they are still living (or were in the spring of 1891).
Such is the Indian version of the abandonment of the great pueblo which Coronado--that wonderful Spanish explorer--found in 1540. As a matter of fact, the Hyó-qua-hoon, or people of Pecos, had dwindled away by war, epidemics, and the like, until only five were left; and in 1840 these lonely survivors moved to other pueblos, and abandoned their ruined town forever. But the story is very valuable, not only for the glimpse it affords of some of their most secret beliefs, but also as showing how folk-stories of the most aboriginal stamp are still coined.
Witchcraft is still a serious trouble in all the pueblos, despite the efforts of the medicine-men, whose special duty it is to keep down the witches. One little pueblo called Sandia is dying out--as many others have done before it--because the medicine-men are quietly killing those whom they suspect of being witches. In 1888 a very estimable Indian woman of that town was slain by them in the customary way,--shot through from side to side with an arrow,--and this form of execution is still practised.
In Isleta they fear the Americans too much to indulge in witch-killing, for Albuquerque is only a few miles away. But it is only a little while ago that a young Isletan who was accused spent three months in the neck-stocks in our aboriginal prison, and much of the time had to, "ride the horse," sitting with his legs crossed upon the adobe floor and the heavy weight of the stocks pressing him down,
a torture worthy of the Inquisition. The case was kept out of the American courts only by the payment of a large sum to his parents by his accusers.
One whose eyes or lids look red is always regarded with suspicion here, for witch-people are supposed not to sleep at night, but to change themselves into animals and roam over the world. Eccentric actions also lay one open to accusation; and when I first came here I was dangerously near being classed with the witches because, to amuse my dusky little neighbors, I imitated various animal cries to their great edification, but to the very serious doubt of their elders. The fact that they doubt whether Americans know enough to be first-class witches was largely instrumental in saving me from serious danger.
137:1 It was, indeed, the largest pueblo in New Mexico, having at one time a population of about 2000.
139:1 Pronounced Ah-gohs-téen and Páy-droh.
142:1 where it is sacrilegious to make medicine.
143:1 The thunder is said by the Tée-wahn to be the sacred dance-rattle of their gods.
143:2 The only entrance to any estufa is by a ladder let down through a door in the roof.