Tales of Aztlan,
The Romance of a Hero of our Late Spanish-American War, Incidents of Interest from the Life of a western Pioneer and Other Tales.
A note about this book: A Maid of Yavapai, the final entry in this book, is dedicated to SMH. This refers to Sharlot M. Hall, a famous Arizona settler. The copy of the book that was used to make this etext is dedicated: With my compliments and a Happy Easter, Apr 5th 1942, To Miss Sharlot M. Hall, from The daughter of the Author, Carrie S. Allison, Presented March 31st, 1942, Prescott, Arizona.
1908 Revised edition
That this volume may serve to keep forever fresh the memory of a hero, Captain William Owen O'Neill, U. S. V., is the fervent wish of The Author.
I. A FRAIL BARK, TOSSED ON LIFE'S TEMPESTUOUS SEAS II. PERILOUS JOURNEY III. THE MYSTERY OF THE SMOKING RUIN. STALKING A WARRIOR. THE AMBUSH IV. A STRANGE LAND AND STRANGER PEOPLE V. ON THE RIO GRANDE. AN ABSTRACT OF THE AUTHOR'S GENEALOGY OF MATERNAL LINEAGE VI. INDIAN LORE. THE WILY NAVAJO VII. THE FIGHT IN THE SAND HILLS. THE PHANTOM DOG VIII. WITH THE NAVAJO TRIBE IX. IN ARIZONA X. AT THE SHRINE OF A "SPHINX OF AZTLAN" AN UNCANNY STONE. L'ENVOY. THE BIRTH OF ARIZONA. (AN ALLEGORICAL TALE.) A ROYAL FIASCO. A MAID OF YAVAPAI.
A FRAIL BARK, TOSSED ON LIFE'S TEMPESTUOUS SEAS
A native of Germany, I came to the United States soon after the Civil War, a healthy, strong boy of fifteen years. My destination was a village on the Rio Grande, in New Mexico, where I had relatives. I was expected to arrive at Junction City, in the State of Kansas, on a day of June, 1867, and proceed on my journey with a train of freight wagons over the famous old Santa Fe trail.
Junction City was then the terminal point of a railway system which extended its track westward across the great American plains, over the virgin prairie, the native haunt of the buffalo and fleet-footed antelope, the iron horse trespassing on the hunting ground of the Arapahoe and Comanche Indian tribes. As a mercantile supply depot for New Mexico and Colorado, Junction City was the port from whence a numerous fleet of prairie schooners sailed, laden with the necessities and luxuries of an advancing civilization. But not every sailor reached his destined port, for many were they who were sent by the pirates of the plains over unknown trails, to the shores of the great Beyond, their scalpless bodies left on the prairie, a prey to vultures and coyotes.
If the plans of my relatives had developed according to program, this story would probably not have been told. Indians on the warpath attacked the wagon train which I was presumed to have joined, a short distance out from Junction City. They killed and scalped several teamsters and also a young German traveler; stampeded and drove off a number of mules and burned up several wagons. This was done while fording the Arkansas River, near Fort Dodge. I was delayed near Kansas City under circumstances which preclude the supposition of chance and indicate a subtle and Inexorably fatal power at work for the preservation of my life—a force which with the giant tread of the earthquake devastates countries and lays cities in ruins; that awful power which on wings of the cyclone slays the innocent babe in its cradle and harms not the villain, or vice versa; that inscrutable spirit which creates and lovingly shelters the sparrow over night and then at dawn hands it to the owl to serve him for his breakfast. Safe I was under the guidance of the same loving, paternal Providence which in death delivereth the innocent babe from evil and temptation, shields the little sparrow from all harm forever, and incidentally provides thereby for the hungry owl.
I should have changed cars at Kansas City, but being asleep at the critical time and overlooked by the conductor, I passed on to a station beyond the Missouri River. There the conductor aroused me and put me off the train without ceremony. I was forced to return, and reached the river without any mishap, as it was a beautiful moonlight night. I crossed the long bridge with anxiety, for it was a primitive-looking structure, built on piles, and I had to step from tie to tie, looking continually down at the swirling waters of the great, muddy river. As I realized the possibility of meeting a train, I crossed over it, running. At last I reached the opposite shore. It was nearly dawn now, and I walked to the only house in sight, a long, low building of logs and, being very tired, I sat down on the veranda and soon fell asleep. It was not long after sunrise that a sinister, evil-looking person, smelling vilely of rum, woke me up roughly and asked me what I did there. When he learned that I was traveling to New Mexico and had lost my way, he grew very polite and invited me into the house.
We entered a spacious hall, which served as a dining-room, where eight young ladies were busily engaged arranging tables and furniture. The man intimated that he kept a hotel and begged the young ladies to see to my comfort and bade me consider myself as being at home. The girls were surprised and delighted to meet me and overwhelmed me with questions. They expressed the greatest concern and interest when they learned that I was about to cross the plains.
"Poor little Dutchy," said one, "how could your mother send you out all alone into the cruel, wide world!" "Mercy, and among the Indians, too," said another. When I replied that my dear mother had sent me away because she loved me truly, as she knew that I had a better chance to prosper in the United States than in the Fatherland, they called me a cute little chap and smothered me with their kisses.
The tallest and sweetest of these girls (her name was Rose) pulled my ears teasingly and asked if her big, little man was not afraid of the Indians. "Not I, madame," I replied; "for my father charged me to be honest and loyal, brave and true, and fear not and prove myself a worthy scion of the noble House of Von Siebeneich." "Oh, my! Oh, my!" cried the young ladies, and "Did you ever!" and "No, I never!" and "Who would have thought it!" Regarding me wide-eyed with astonishment, they listened with bated breath as I explained that I was a lineal descendant of the Knight Hartmann von Siebeneich, who achieved everlasting fame through impersonating the Emperor Frederick (Barbarossa) of Germany, in order to prevent his capture by the enemy. I told how the commander of the Italian army, inspired with admiration by the desperate valor of the loyal knight, released him and did honor him greatly. And how this noble knight, my father's ancestor, followed the Emperor Frederick to the Holy Land and fought the Saracens. "And," added I, "my father's great book of heraldry contains the legend of the curse which fell on our house through the villainy of the Imperial Grand Chancellor of Blazonry, who was commanded to devise and procure a brand new heraldic escutcheon for our family.
"He blazoned our shield with the ominous motto, 'in der fix, Haben nix,' over gules d'or on a stony field, which was sown to a harvest of tares and oats, and embossed with a whirlwind rampant. As they were in knightly honor bound to live up to the motto on their shield, my ancestor were doomed to remain poor forever. At last they took service with the free city of Hamburg, where they settled finally and became honored citizens."
Happening to remember my mother's admonishment not to annoy people with too much talk, I apologized to the young ladies. Smilingly, they begged me to continue, for they seemed to enjoy my boyish prattle.
"Listen, now, girls," said Rose laughingly to her companions, "now, I shall make him open his mother's closet and show us her choicest family skeleton." "Oh, no, Miss Rose," I protested, "my mother has indeed a great closet, but it is full of good things to eat and contains no skeletons." "You little goosie-gander; you don't understand," replied Miss Rose; "I was only joking. Of course your mother kept the door carefully locked to keep you boys from foraging?" "No madame," said I, "it was not necessary to lock the door." "Did she keep a guard, then?" said Rose. "Oh, yes," I replied, "and it was very hard to pass in without being knocked down." "Was it a man?" she asked mischievously. "Why, yes; mamma kept a strong, old Limburger right behind the door," I said.
When the girls had ceased laughing, Rose said, "What did your mother tell you when you left for America?" "My mother," I answered, "implored me with tearful eyes to ever remember how my father's great-great-grandmother Brunhilde (who was exceedingly beautiful) was enticed into the depths of a dark forest by a wily, old German King. Indiscreetly and unsuspectingly she followed him. There clandestinely did he favor her graciously by adding a bar sinister to our knightly escutcheon and a strain of the blood royal to our family. This happened long, long ago in the dark ages or some other dark place—it may have been the Schwarzwald—and it was the curse of the stony field that did it.
"'Oh, my son,' mother urged me, 'we count on you to restore the unaccountably long-lost prestige of our ancient family. In America, behind the counters of your uncle's counting-rooms, you shall acquire great wealth, and his Majesty the Kaiser will be pleased to re-invest you with the coronet of a count. Then, as a noble count will you be of some account in the exclusive circle of the four hundred of the great city of New York. Beautiful heiresses will crave the favor of your acquaintance, and if wise, you will lead the most desirable one on the market, the lovely Miss Billiona Roque-a-Fellaire to the altar. His Majesty the Kaiser will then graciously change the "no-account" words on our family's escutcheon to the joyful motto, "Mit Geld," and lift the blighting curse from our noble house.'"
Next I related how surprised I was when I saw the great city of New York. However, I expected to see a large city of many houses, ever so high and some higher yet, and therefore I was not so very much surprised, after all. But in Illinois I first saw the wonderful forest. Oh, the virgin forest! Never had I seen such grand, beautiful trees, oak and hickory, ash and sycamore, maple, elm, and many more giant trees, unknown to me, and peopled by a multitude of wild birds of the brightest plumage. There were birds and squirrels everywhere! I actually saw a sky-blue bird with a topknot, and another of a bright scarlet color, and gorgeous woodpeckers who were too busy hammering to look at me even. Oh, but they did not sing like the birds in Germany! All were very grave and sad. They seemed to know, as everybody else did, that I was a stranger in their land, for they gave me all sorts of useful Information and advice, with many nods of their little heads.
"Peep, peep!" counseled the bluebird. "Thank you," I replied, "seeing is believing." "Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will," cried a large, spotted bird. "That," thought I, "is a prize fighter." "Cheat, cheat!" urged a pious-looking cardinal, who evidently mistook me for a gambler. "Don't," roared a bullfrog, who was seated on a log and winked his eye at me. "There is an honest man," I thought. "Shake, good sir." In consternation and surprise, I instantly released his hand. "HOW is it possible to be both honest and slippery at the same time! This must be a Yankee-man," thought I. I saw real moss, green and velvety as the richest carpet, and I drank of singing, bubbling waters. Many kinds of berries and nuts, hard to crack, grew in the wild glens of the forest. I gathered flowers, larger and more beautiful than any I had ever seen, but they lacked the perfume of German flowers; only the roses were the same.
Many children did I see, but they had not the rosy cheeks of German children. And I met the strongest of all beasts on earth and tracked him to his native lair; and there, in the sacred groves of the Illini, I worried him sorely, and as David did unto Goliath, so did I unto him; and sundown come, I slew him. And for three-score days and ten the smoke of battle scented the balmy air.
The young ladles laughed heartily and said that never before had they been so delightfully entertained, and they gave me sweets and nice things to eat, and said they hoped I might stay with them forever and a day. We exchanged confidences, and they warned me to beware of the landlord, who had been known to rob people. They advised me to secrete my money, if perchance I had any. I thanked them kindly, replying that I had only one dollar in my purse. This was true, but I did not tell them that I had sewed a large sum in banknotes and some German silver into my kite's tail when I set out on my journey to the West.
I complimented these charming girls on their good fortune to be in the service of so generous a gentleman as their landlord seemed to be; for I saw that they wore very fine dresses and had many jewels. "Why, you little greenie," said Miss Rose, "he does not pay us high wages." "Oh, I see, how romantic! how nice!" exclaimed I. "You do as the ladies in the good old time of chivalry, when knights donned their colors and sallied forth to battle with lions and tigers. You crave largesse, and the gentlemen favor you with money and jewels." Then the youngest girl laughed and said, "Oh, you pore, innicent bairn, and how do yez ken all this? and how did yez know that Misther Payterson kapes a tiger at all, at all, begorra!" Another young lady said, "Dutchy, I reckon yore daddy is a right smart cunning old fox!" "Madame," replied I, indignantly, "my father is no fox, but a minister of the Gospel." "Oh, this bye is the son of a praste," screamed the loveliest girl in all Missouri. "Indade, I misthrusted the little scamp. Och! oh and where is me brooch? I thought all the time the little divvil was afther something. Thieves! Murther!" Confusion in pandemonium now reigned supreme. For one precious moment the air seemed full of long-legged stockings and delicate hands and purses. Luckily, the brooch was found and peace restored at once. And Rose said, "Oh, girls, how could you!" and she begged my pardon and said they did not mean it. And then I made myself very useful and agreeable to these lovely maids, lacing their shoes and dusting their chamber, and right gallantly did I serve them until evening.
After supper reappeared my evil genius in the person of the landlord, who took me out to the woodshed. "Dutchy, I have decided to adopt you as my only son; have you ever bucked a wood saw?" said he, and a sardonic leer distorted his evil features. After I recovered sufficiently from the shock, I answered indignantly, "Sir, know ye not that I have pledged my service to the vestal virgins of yon temple?" "Ha! Ha!" laughed the villain, "get busy now, son, and if by morning this wood has not been cut, you will go minus your breakfast." Thereupon he locked me in.
Caught as a rat in a trap, I had no alternative but to comply with this man's outrageous demands. Despairingly I plied that abominable instrument of torture, the national bucksaw of America. This is the only American institution I could never accustom myself to. I have endured bucking bronchos in New Mexico, I have bucked the tiger in Arizona, but to buck a wood-saw—perish the thought! Sore and weary, I lay down in a corner of the shed on some hay and fell asleep. I dreamed that I heard screams of women, mingled with song and laughter, and through it all the noise of music and dancing. Then the dream changed into a horrible nightmare in the shape of a big sawhorse which kicked at me and threatened me with hard labor.
Toward morning, when the door was opened and a drunken ruffian entered, I awoke from my troubled slumbers. "Hi, Dutchy, and have yez any tin?" he threatened. "Kind sir," I replied, "when I departed for the West I left all my wealth behind me." Verily, now I was proving myself the worthy scion of valiant men, who had laid aside hauberk, sword, and lance, taken up the Bible and stole, and thenceforth fought only with the weapon of Samson, the strong!
"And so yez are, by special appointment, chamberlain to the gurruls by day, and ivver sawing wood at nighttime! Bedad! I'll shpile the thrick for Misther Payterson, the thaving baste, and take this little greenhorn out of his clutches and sind him about his business." With these words, he opened the door for me and I escaped.
Farewell, lovely maids of Kansas and Missouri! If mayhap this writing comes to you, oh, let us meet again; my heart yearns to greet you and your granddaughters. For surely, though it seems to me as yesterday, the blossoms of forty summers have fallen in our path and whitened our hair.
After several days I arrived at the end of my railway journey, Junction City, without delay or accident. The trip was not lacking in interesting details. The monotony of the never ending prairie was at times enlivened by herds of buffalo and antelope. On one occasion they delayed our train for several hours. An enormous herd of thousands upon thousands of buffalo crossed the railroad track in front of our train. Bellowing, crowding, and pushing, they were not unlike the billows of an angry sea as it crashes and foams over the submerged rocks of a dangerous coast. Their rear guard was made up of wolves, large and small. They followed the herd stealthily, taking advantage of every hillock and tuft of buffalo grass to hide themselves. The gray wolf or lobo, larger and heavier than any dog, and adorned with a bushy tall was a fierce-looking animal, to be sure. The smaller ones were called coyotes or prairie wolves, and are larger than foxes and of a gray-brown color. These are the scavengers of the plains, and divide their prey with the vultures of the air.
At times we passed through villages of the prairie dog, consisting of numberless little mounds, with their owners sitting erect on top. When alarmed, they would yelp and dive into their lairs in the earth. These little rodents share their habitations with a funny-looking little owl and the rattlesnake. I believe, however, that the snake is not there as a welcome visitor, but comes in the role of a self-appointed assessor and tax gatherer. I picked up and adopted a little bulldog which had been either abandoned on the cars or lost by its owner, not then thinking that this little Cerberus, as I called it, should later prove, on one occasion, to be my true and only friend when I was in dire distress and in the extremity of peril.
The town of Junction City, which numbered less than a score of buildings and tents, was in a turmoil of excitement, resembling a nest of disturbed hornets. Several hundred angry-looking men crowded the only street, every one armed to the teeth. The great majority were dark-skinned Mexicans, but here and there I noticed the American frontiersman, the professional buffalo hunter and scout. These were men of proved courage, and I observed that the Mexicans avoided looking them squarely In the face; and when meeting on the public thoroughfare, they invariably gave them precedence of passage.
I found opportunity to hire out to a pleasant-looking young Mexican as driver of a little two-mule provision wagon. In this manner I earned my passage across the plains. Don Jose Lopez, that was his name, said that I need not do much actual work, as he would have his peons attend to the care of the mules and have them harness up as well. He also told me that we would have to delay our departure until every team present in the town had its cumulation of cargo. They dared not travel singly, he said, for the Indians were very hostile. In consequence whereof our departure was delayed for six weeks. I camped with the Mexicans and accustomed myself very soon to their mode of living. The fact that I understood their language and spoke it quite well was a never-ending surprise and mystery to them. I took dally walks over the prairie to the junction of two creeks, a short distance from the town, bathed and whiled away the time with target practice, and soon became very proficient in the use of firearms.
The banks of these little streams would have made a delightful picnic ground, covered as they were by a luxuriant growth of grasses and bushes and some large trees also, mostly of the cottonwood variety. But there were no families of ladies and children here to enjoy the lovely spot. A feeling of intense uneasiness seemed to pervade the very air and a weird presentiment of impending horror covered the prairie as with a ghostly shroud. The specter of a wronged, persecuted race ever haunted the white man's conscience. In vain did the red man breast the rising tide of civilization. In their sacred tepees, their medicine men invoked the aid of their great Spirit and they were answered.
The Spirit sent them for an ally, an army of grasshoppers, which darkened the sun by its countless numbers. It impeded the progress of the iron horse, but not for long. Then he sent them continued drouth, but the pale face heeded not. "Onward, westward ever, the star of empire took its course."
We camped out on the prairie within a short distance and in full sight of the town. I made the acquaintance of a merchant, Mr. Samuel Dreifuss, who kept a little store of general merchandise. This gentleman liked to converse with me in the German tongue and was very kind to me, even offering to employ me at a liberal salary, which I, of course, thankfully declined. One morning after breakfast I went to this store to purchase an article of apparel. The door was unlocked and I entered, but found no one present. I waited a while, and as Mr. Dreifuss did not appear, I knocked at the bedroom door, which was connected with the store. Receiving no response to my knocks, I opened the door and entered. There was poor Mr. Dreifuss lying stone dead on his couch. I knew that he was dead, for his hands were cold and clammy to the touch. I was struck with astonishment. The day before had I spoken to him, when he appeared to be hale and hearty. There were some ugly, black spots on his face, and I thought that it was very queer. I did not see any marks of violence on his person and nothing unusual about the premises. I looked around carefully, as a boy is apt to do when something puzzles him. Then I thought I would go up-town and tell about this strange circumstance.
The store was the first building met with in the town if a person came from the railway station. As I went toward the next house, which was a short distance away, I was hailed by a tall, broad-shouldered man with long hair, who commanded me to halt. I kept right on, however, meaning to tell him about my gruesome discovery. As I advanced toward him he retreated, and I called to him to have no fear, as I did not intend to shoot. The big man shook with laughter and cried, "Hold, boy, stop there a minute until I tell you something. They say that 'Wild Bill' never feared man, but I fear you, a mere boy. Did you come out of that store?" "Yes, sir," I said. "And did you see the Jew?" "Yes, sir," I answered; "Mr. Dreifuss is dead." "How do you know that?" he questioned. "His hands feel cold as ice," I said, "and there is a black spot on his nose." Again the man laughed and said, "Do you know what killed him?" "I do not know, sir," I answered, "but I was going uptown to inquire." "Well," said the scout, "Mr. Dreifuss had the cholera." "That's too bad," said I; "let us go back and see if we can be of any assistance." "No, you don't," said the long-haired scout; "I have been stationed here, as marshal of the town, to warn people away from the place. You take my advice and go to the creek and plunge in with all your clothes and play for an hour in the water, then dry yourself, go back to camp, and keep mum!" This was the year of the cholera. It started somewhere down south, and many people died from it in the city of St. Louis, and it followed the railway through Kansas to the end of the track. Many soldiers died also at Fort Harker, which was farther out West on the plains.
At last we started on our perilous journey, an imposing caravan of one hundred and eighty wagons, each drawn by five yoke of oxen. Our force numbered upward of two hundred and fifty men, the owners, teamsters, train masters or mayordomos and the herders of the different outfits; all were Mexicans except myself.
Several days were spent in crossing the little stream formed by the confluence of two creeks. The water was quite deep and had to be crossed by means of a ferryboat. Here I met with my first adventure, which nearly cost me my life. My wagon was loaded with supplies and provisions and with several pieces of oak timber, intended for use in our train. When I drove down the steep bank on to the ferryboat, the timbers, which were not well secured, slid forward and pushed me off my seat, so that I fell right under the mules just as they stepped on the ferry. The frightened mules trampled and kicked fearfully. I lay still, thinking that if I moved they would step on me, as their hoofs missed my head by inches only. I thought of my mother and how sorry she would be if she could see me now, but I was thinking, ever thinking and lay very still. Then my guardian angel, in the person of a Mexican, crawled under the wagon from the rear end and pulled me by my heels, back to safety under the wagon. When I came out from under I threw my hat in the air and gave a whoop and cheer, at which the Mexicans were greatly enthused. They yelled excitedly and our mayordomo exclaimed: "Caramba, mira que diablito!" (Egad, see the little devil!)
We traveled in two parallel lines, about fifty feet apart and kept the spare cattle and remounts of horses, as also the small provision teams between the lines. A cavalcade of train owners and mayordomos was constantly scouting in all directions, but they never ventured out of sight of the traveling teams. We started daily at sunrise and traveled till noon or until we made the distance to our next watering place. Then we camped and turned our live stock out to rest and crop the prairie grass. After several hours we used to resume our journey until nightfall or later to our next camping ground. Every man had to take his turn about at herding cattle and horses during the nighttime. Only the cooks were exempt from doing herd and guard duty.
We pitched our nightly camps by forming two closed half circles of our wagons, one on each side of the road so as to form a corral. By means of connecting the wagons with chains, this made a strong barricade, quite efficient to repulse the attacks of hostile Indians, if defended by determined men. Every freight train when in camp was a little fort in itself and an interesting sight at nighttime, when the blazing fires were surrounded by men who were cooking and passing the time in various ways. Some were cleaning and loading their guns, others mended their clothes. Here and there you would find some genius playing dreamy, monotonous Spanish airs on the guitar, in the midst of a merry group of dancing and singing young Mexicans, many of whom were not older than I. Card-playing seemed, however, to be their favorite pastime; all Mexicans are inveterate gamesters, who look upon the profession of gambling as an honorable and desirable occupation.
After the first day out I did not see an inebriated man in the whole party. The Mexicans are really a much maligned and slandered people. They are often charged with the sin of postponing every imaginable thing until manana, but, to do them justice, I must say that they drank every drop of liquor they carried on the first day out; also ate all the dainties which other people would have saved and relished for days to come. Surely, not manana, but ahora, or "do it now" was their soul-stirring battle cry on this occasion.
After several days of travel we encountered herds of buffalo and mustangs or wild horses, and when our scouts reported numerous Indian signs, we advanced slowly and carefully, momentarily expecting an ambuscade and attack. Our column halted frequently while our horsemen explored suspicious-looking hillocks and ravines.
A dense column of smoke rose suddenly in our front, and I saw several detachments of Indian warriors on a little hill, who were evidently reconnoitering, and spying our strength, but did not expose themselves fully to view. Simultaneously columns of signal smoke arose in all directions round about. Instantly our lines closed in the front and rear and we came to an abrupt halt. What I saw then made my heart sink, for the drivers seemed to be paralyzed with terror. The very men who had heretofore found a great delight in trying to frighten me with tales of Indian atrocities were now themselves scared out of their wits. Young and inexperienced though I was, I realized that to be now attacked by Indians meant to be slaughtered and scalped. Some of the men were actually crying from fright, seeming to be completely demoralized. I noticed how one of our men in loading his musket rammed home a slug of lead, forgetting his charge of powder entirely. The sight of this disgusted me so that I became furious, and in the measure that my anger rose my fear subsided and vanished. I railed at the poor fellow and abused and cursed him shamefully, threatening to kill him for being a coward and a fool. I made him draw the bullet and reload his musket in a proper manner.
When I grew older I acquired the faculty to curb the instinctive feeling of fear which is inborn in all creatures and undoubtedly is a wise provision of nature, necessary to the continuance of life and conducive to self-preservation. Knowing that all men who ever lived and all who now live must surely die, I failed to see anything particularly fearful in death. I may truthfully say that I have several times met death face to face squarely and feared not. On these occasions I tried not to escape what seemed to be my final doom, but in the dim consciousness of mind that I should be dead long enough anyway, I tried to delay my departure to a better life as long as possible, exerting myself exceedingly to accomplish this purpose. Undoubtedly this must have made me a very undesirable person to contend with in a fight. Luckily for me, I have never been afflicted with a quarrelsome or vindictive mind. This is not a boastful or frivolous assertion, but is uttered in the spirit of thankfulness to the allwise Creator of Heaven and earth.
Looking around, I beheld a sight which cheered me mightily. There, a few yards ahead of my wagon, was a great hole in the ground, made by badgers; or it may have been the palace of a king of prairie dogs. Quickly I drove my team forward, right over it. Then, pretending to be rearranging my cargo, I took out the end gate of my wagon and covered the hole with it. Next, I wet some gunny sacks and placed them on the ground under the board. Now, thought I, here is my chance for an honorable retreat if anything should go wrong. I intended to close up the hole behind me with the wet sacks, taking the risk of snake bites in preference to the tender mercies of the Indians. As these ground lairs take a turn a few feet down and are connected with various underground passages and have several outlets, I had a fair prospect to escape should the Indians discover my whereabouts, for they could neither burn nor smoke me out, and were not likely to take the time to reduce my fort by starvation. It took me but a very short time to make my preparations, and I did it unnoticed by my companions, who seemed fully preoccupied with their own troubles.
A horseman galloped up to our division, a great, swarthy, fierce-looking man, bearded like the pard. This man did not act like a scared person. One glance at the frightened faces of his countrymen sufficed to enlighten and also to enrage him.
"Senores," he said, "I perceive you are anxious and ready for a fight. I hope the Indians will accommodate us, as we are greatly in need of a little sport. It may happen that some of you will lose your scalps, and I hope that it is not you, Senor Felipe Morales. I should be very sorry for your poor old mother and your crippled sister, for who will support them if you should fail them? As for you, Senor Juan, it does not matter much if you never again breathe the air of New Mexico. Your young little wife has not yet had an opportunity to know you fully, anyway, and your cousin, the strapping Don Isidro Chavez, will surely take the best care of her. They say he calls on her daily to inquire after her welfare. Senor Cuzco Gonzales, as you might be unlucky enough to leave your bones on this prairie, I would advise you to make me heir to your garden of chile peppers. To be sure, I never saw a more tempting crop! Mayhap you will have no further use for chile, as the Indians are likely to heat your belly with hot coals, in lieu of peppers."
Then he called for the cook. "Senor Doctor," he said, "prepare the medicine for this man, who is too sick to load a musket properly, and had to be shown how to do so by a little gringo, as I observed a while ago. Hold him, Senores." And they held him down while the cook administered the medicine, forcing it down his unwilling throat. The medicine was compounded from salt, and the prescribed dose was a handful of it dissolved in a tin cupful of water. This seemed to revive the patient's faltering spirit wonderfully. The cook, a half-witted fellow, was another man who seemed to have no fear. His eyes shone wickedly and he was stripped for the fight. A red bandanna kerchief tied around his head, he glided stealthily about, thirsty for Indian blood as any wolf. They told me that his mother and sister had died at the hands of the cruel Apaches.
To me the rider said, "Senor Americanito, I know your gun is loaded right and is ready to shoot straight. Look you, if you plant a bullet just below an Indian's navel, you will see him do a double somersault, which is more wonderful to behold than any circus performance you ever saw."
Here was a man good to see, a descendant of the famous Don Fernando Cortez, conquistador, and molded on the lines of Pizarro, the wily conqueror of Peru, and he heartened our crew amazingly. He exhorted the men to be brave and fight like Spaniards, and he prayed to the saints to preserve us; and piously remembering his enemies, he called on the devil to preserve the Indians. Such zealous devotion found merited favor with the blessed saints in Heaven, for they granted his prayer, and the Indians did not attack us that day.
On the following day, Don Emillo Cortez came again and asked me to ride with him as a scout. He had brought a young man to drive the team in my stead. Gladly I accepted his invitation. He arranged a pillion for his saddle and mounted me behind him, facing the horse's tail. Then he passed a broad strap around his waist and my body and armed me with a Henry repeating rifle, then a new invention and a very serviceable gun. In this manner I had both hands free and made him the best sort of a rear guard. We cantered toward a sandy hill on our left. A coyote came our way, appearing from the crest of the hill. The animal was looking back over its shoulder and veered off when it scented us. Don Emilio halted his horse. "That coyote is driven by Indians," said he; "do you think you can hit it at this distance?" I thought I could by aiming high and a little forward. At the crack of my rifle the coyote yelped and bit its side, then rolling on the grass, expired. "Carajo! a dead shot, for Dios!" exclaimed Don Emilio. "That will teach the heathen Indians to keep their distance; they will not be over-anxious to meet these two Christians at close quarters!"
We were not molested on this day nor on the next, but on the day thereafter we were in terrible danger. The Indians fired the dry grass, and if the wind had been stronger we must have been burned to death. As it was we were nearly suffocated from traveling in a dense smoke for several hours. Then, fortunately, we reached the bottom lands of the Arkansas River and were safe from fire, as the valley was very wide and covered with tall green grass which could not burn; and no sooner was the last wagon on safe ground than the fire gained the rim of the green bottomland. Our oxen were exhausted and in a bad plight, so we fortified and camped here for several days to recuperate before we forded the river. This took up several days, as the water was quite high and the river bottom a dangerous quicksand. To stop the wheels of a wagon for one moment meant the loss of the wagon and the lives of the cattle, perhaps. The treacherous sands would have engulfed them. Forty yoke of oxen were hitched to every vehicle, and we had no losses. On the other side we found the prairie burned over, and we traveled all day until evening in order to reach a suitable camping place with sufficient grass for our animals. As there was no water and the cattle were suffering, we were compelled to drive our herd back to the river and return again that same night. The rising sun found us under way again, and by noon we came to good camping ground with an abundance of grass and water.
THE MYSTERY OF THE SMOKING RUIN. STALKING A WARRIOR. THE AMBUSH
Now we were past the most dangerous part of our journey, leaving the Comanche country and entering the domain of the Ute Indians and other tribes, who were not as brave as the Arapahoes and Comanches. Here our caravan-formation was broken up and each outfit traveled separately at its own risk.
The next day we witnessed a most horrible and distressing sight. Willingly would I surrender several years of my allotted lifetime on earth if I could thereby efface forever the awful impression of this pitiful tragedy from my memory. Alas I that I was fated to behold the shocking sight! For days thereafter we plodded on, a sad-looking, sober, downhearted lot of men, grieved to distraction, and there I left the innocence of boyhood—wiser surely, but not better! We neared the still smoking ruins of what had once been a happy home. As I approached to gratify my curiosity, I met several of my companions, who were returning and who implored me not to go nearer. An old Mexican, ignorant, rough, and callous as he was, begged me, with tears streaming down his face, to retrace my steps. Alas, when would impulsive youth ever listen to wise counsel and take heed! I entered the ruins and saw a dark telltale pool oozing forth from under the door of a cellar. Oh, had I but then overcome my morbid curiosity and fled! But no! I must needs open the door and look in. I saw—I saw a beautiful whiskey barrel, its belly bursted and its head stove in!
The trip across the plains was a very healthful and pleasant experience to me. During the greatest heat and while the moon favored us, we often traveled at night and rested in daytime. By foregoing my rest, I found opportunity to hunt antelope and smaller game. I was very fond of this sport and indulged in it frequently. One day I sighted a band of antelope—these most beautiful and graceful animals. I tried to head them off, in order to get within rifle-shot distance, and drifted farther and farther away from camp until I must have strayed at least five miles. Like a rebounding rubber ball, their four feet striking the ground simultaneously, they fled until at last they faded from sight on the horizon, engulfed in a shimmering wave of heat, the reflection from a sun-scorched ground. Reluctantly I gave up the chase, as I could by no means approach the game, although they could not have winded me.
In order to determine the direction of our camp, I ascended a little hill, when I suddenly espied an Indian. He was in a sitting posture, less than a quarter of a mile away. Apparently he was stark naked and his face was turned away from me, for I saw his broad back where not covered by his long hair glisten in the hot rays of the sun. His gun was lying within reach of his right hand, but I could not see what he was doing. On the impulse of the moment I dropped behind a flowering cactus for concealment. Then I took counsel with myself and decided that it would be too risky to return to camp as I had intended to do. In that direction for a long distance the ground was gently rising and most likely the Indian would have seen me. I thought it probable that he had staked his horse out in some nearby gulch, and if seen I would have been at his mercy, as perhaps he was also in touch with other Indians of his tribe. I reasoned that I could not afford to make the mistake of incurring the risk to stake my life on the chance of escaping his observation. I had started out to hunt antelopes, but now I coolly prepared myself to stalk an Indian warrior instead. I went about it as if I were hunting a coyote. First of all, I ascertained the direction of the wind, which was very light. It blew from the quarter the Indian was in toward me. Next, lying on my stomach, I dug the large flowering plant up, and holding it by its roots in front of myself, I crawled toward my quarry, as a snake in the grass. Cautiously, stealthily, avoiding the slightest noise, and always on the lookout for snakes and thorns, I crept slowly on, making frequent halts to rest myself. Twice the Indian turned his head and looked in my direction, but apparently he did not perceive me. In this manner I came within easy gunshot distance. Now I took my last rest, and with my knife dug a hole in the ground and replanted my cactus shield firmly. Then I placed my rifle in position to fire and drew a fine bead on the nape of his neck.
"Adios, Indian brave, prepare thy soul to meet the great Spirit in the ever grassy meadows of the happy hunting grounds of eternity, for the spider of thy fate is weaving the last thread in the web of thy doom!" My finger was coaxing the trigger, when a feeling of intense shame rose fiercely in my breast. Was I, then, like unto this Indian, to take an enemy's life from ambush? Up I jumped with a challenging shout, my gun leveled, ready for the fight. "Por Dios, amigo, amigo!" cried the frightened Indian, holding up his hands. "No tengo dinero!" (I have no money. Don't shoot!) he begged, speaking to me in Spanish. Then I went to him and learned that he belonged to a wagon train, traveling just ahead of us. He was a full-blood Navajo, who had been made captive in a Mexican raid into the Navajo country. The Mexicans used to capture many Navajo pappooses and bring them up as bond servants or peons. This Indian told me that he had been following the same band of antelopes as myself, and on passing a beautiful hill of red ants, he yielded to temptation and thought he would have his clothes examined and laundered by the ants. These little insects are really very accommodating and work without remuneration. At the same time he likewise took a sun bath on the same liberal terms. This episode made me famous with every Spanish freighter over the Santa Fe trail, from Kansas into New Mexico.
Just before we reached the Cimarron country, which is very hilly and is drained by the Red River, and where we were out of all danger from Indians, I had a narrow escape from death. I was in the lead of our train and had crossed a muddy place in the road. I drove on without noticing that I was leaving the other teams far behind. A wagon stuck fast in the mire, which caused my companions a great deal of labor and much delay. At last I halted to await the coming of the other teams. Suddenly there fell a shot from the dense growth of a wild sunflower copse. It missed my head by a very close margin and just grazed the ear of one of the mules. I believe that if I had attempted to rejoin the train then I would have been killed from ambush. Instead, I quickly secured the brake of my wagon, then I unhooked the trace chains of the mules and quieted them and lay down under the wagon, ready to defend myself. I was, however, not further molested and my companions came along after a while. They had heard the shot and thought it was I who had fired it.
A STRANGE LAND AND STRANGER PEOPLE
We were now within the boundaries of the Territory of Colorado and approaching the northern line of New Mexico. When we passed through Trinidad, which was then a small adobe town, we met Don Emilio Cortez again. He was at home in this vicinity and came for the express purpose of persuading me to come with him. "My good wife charged me to bring her that little gringo," he said; "she longs for an American son." "Our daughter, Mariquita, is now ten years of age, and has been asked in marriage by Don Robusto Pesado, a very rich man. But the child is afraid of him, as he is a mountain of flesh, weighing close on twelve arrobas. Now we thought that two years hence thou wilt be seventeen years old and a man very sufficient for our little Mariquita, who will then, with God's favor, be a woman of twelve years. She will have a large dowry of cattle and sheep, and as the saints have blessed us with an abundance of land and chattels, thou art not required to provide."
I thanked Don Emilio very kindly, but was, of course, too young then to entertain any thought of marrying. I was really sorry to disappoint him, as he seemed to have formed a genuine attachment for me and was seriously grieved by my refusal.
Rumor spreads its vagaries faster among illiterate people than among the enlightened and educated. Therefore, it was said in New Mexico long before our arrival there that Don Jose Lopez's outfit brought a young American, the like of whom had never been known before. He was not ignorant, as other Americans, for he not only spoke the Spanish, but he could also read and write the Castillan language. It was well known that most Americans were so stupid that they could not talk as well as a Mexican baby of two years, and that often after years of residence among Spanish people they were still ignorant of the language. And would you believe it, but it was the sacred truth, this little American, albeit a mere boy, had the strength of a man. He made that big heathen Navajo brute Pancho, the mayordomo of Don Preciliano Chavez, of Las Vegas, stand stark before him in his nakedness, with his hands raised to Heaven and compelled him, under pain of instant death, to say his Pater Noster and three Ave Marias. Others said that Don Jose Lopez was a man of foresight and discretion and saw that the Indians were on the warpath and very dangerous. Therefore, he prayed to his patron saint for spiritual guidance and succor. San Miguel, in his wisdom, sent this young American heretic, as undoubtedly it was best to fight evil with evil. And when the devil, in the guise of a coyote, led the Indians to the attack, then he was sorely wounded by the unerring aim of the gringito's rifle.
Others said that Don Jose Lopez had set up a shrine for the image of his renowned patron saint, San Miguel, in his provision wagon, which was being driven by the American boy, and the boy took the bullet which wounded the coyote so sorely out of the saint's mouth, who had bitten the sign of the cross thereon. And the evil one, in the likeness of the coyote, rolled in his agony on the grass when he was hit by the cross-marked bullet. Of course, the grass took fire and very nearly burned up the whole caravan.
Other people said they were not surprised to hear of miracles emanating from the shrine of the patron saint of Don Jose. His grandfather had whittled this famous image out of a cottonwood tree, whereon a saintly Penitente had been crucified after the custom of the order of Flagellants. This Penitente resembled the penitent thief who died on the cross and entered Paradise with the Saviour in this, that he was known to be a good horse thief, and as he had died on the cross on a night of Good Friday, he surely went to Glory Everlasting. Don Jose's grandfather made a pilgrimage with this image he had made to the City of Mexico, to have the Archbishop bless it in the cathedral before Santa Guadalupe. During the ceremony, it was said, there grew a fine head of flaxen hair on the image and it received beautiful blue eyes. And it had the miraculous propensity to ever after wink its eye in the presence of a priest and at the approach of a Christ-hating Jew, it would spit. This virtue saved much wealth for the family of Don Jose, as they were ever put on their guard against Jewish peddlers.
The rumor that Don Jose Lopez had carried the household saint with him in his wagon was at once contradicted and disproved by his wife, Dona Mercedes. The lady declared that San Miguel had never left his shrine in the patio of their residence except for the avowed purpose of making rain. In seasons of protracted drouth, when crops and live stock suffer for want of water, crowds of Mexican people, mostly farmers' wives and their children, form processions and carry the images of saints round about the parched fields, chanting hymns and praying for rain.
On this occasion Dona Mercedes availed herself of the chance to extol the prowess and power of her family's idolized saint, San Miguel. She said as a rainmaker he had no equal. He disliked and objected to have himself carried about the fields when there was not a certain sign of coming rain in the heavens. Her little saint, she said, was too honorable and too proud to risk the disgrace of failure and bring shame on her family. Therefore, he would not consent to be carried out in the fields until kind Nature, through unfailing signs, proclaimed a speedy downpour. When thunder shook the expectant earth and the first drops of rain began to fall, then he started on his little business trip and never had he failed to make it rain copiously. Friends of Don Jose Lopez, hearing all this talk, were not slow to take advantage of it. The time for the election of county officials was near and they promptly placed Don Jose in nomination for the office of the sheriff of San Miguel County.
When people applied to the parish priest for advice in this matter, he laughingly told them that he did not know if all these current rumors were true, quien sabe, but surely nothing was impossible before the Lord and the blessed saints, and Don Jose being a friend, he advised them to give him their support, as he was a very good and capable man who would make an ideal sheriff. To be sure, the Don paid his debts and was never remiss in his duties to Holy Church.
We crossed over the Raton Mountains and were then in the northern part of the Territory of New Mexico. What a curious country it was! The houses were built of adobe or sun-dried brick of earth, in a very primitive fashion. We seemed to be transported as by magic to the Holy Land as it was in the lifetime of our Saviour. The architecture of the buildings, the habits and raiment of the people, the stony soil of the hills, covered by a thorny and sparse vegetation, the irrigated fertile land of the valleys, the small fields surrounded by adobe walls—all this could not fail to remind one vividly of descriptions and pictures of Old Egypt and Palestine. Here you saw the same dusty, primitive roads and quaint bullock carts, that were hewn out of soft wood and joined together with thongs of rawhide and built without the vestige of iron or other metal. There were the same antediluvian plows, made of two sticks, as used in ancient Egypt at the time of the Exodus, when Moses led the Jews out of captivity to their Promised Land. The very atmosphere, so dry and exhilarating, seemed strange. In this transparent air, objects which were twenty miles distant seemed to be no farther than two or three miles at most. In such a country it would not have surprised anyone to meet the Saviour face to face, riding an ass or burro over the stony road, followed by His disciples and a multitude of people, who, with the most implicit faith in the Lord's power to perform miracles, expected Him to provide them with an abundance of loaves and fishes. Here we were in a country, a territory of the United States, which was about eighteen hundred years behind the civilization of other Christian countries.
As we passed through the many little hamlets and towns, the male population, who were sitting on the shady side of their houses, regarded us with lazy curiosity. They were leaning against the cool, adobe walls, dreaming and smoking cigarettes. The ladies seemed to possess a livelier disposition and emerged from their houses to gossip and gather news. They viewed me with the greatest interest and curiosity and, shifting the mantillas, or rebozos, behind which they hid their faces after the Moorish fashion, they gazed at me with shining eyes. And I believe that I found favor with many, for they would exclaim, "M'ira que Americanito tan lindo, tan blanco!" (What a handsome young American. See what beautiful blue eyes he has and what a white complexion.) And mothers warned the maidens not to look at me, as I might have the evil eye. I heard one lady tell her daughter, "You may look at him just once, Dolores; oh, see how handsome he is!" (Valga me, Dios, que lindo es, pobrecito!)And the way the young lady gazed was a revelation to me. The fire of her limpid black eyes struck me as a ray of glorious light. An indescribable thrill, never before known, rose in my breast and she held me enthralled under a spell which I had not the least desire to break. And they said that it was I who had the evil eye! To say that these people were lacking in the virtues and accomplishments of modern civilization entirely would be a mistake very easily made indeed by strangers who, on passing through their land, did not understand their language and were unfamiliar with their social customs and mode of living. They extended unlimited hospitality to every one alike, to friend or stranger, to poor or rich. They were most charmingly polite in their conversation, personal demeanor, and social intercourse and very charitable and affectionate to their families and neighbors. These people are happy as compared with other nations in that they do not worry and fret over the unattainable and doubtful, but lightheartedly they enjoy the blessings of the present, such as they are. Therefore, if rightly understood, they may be the best of companions at times, being sincere and unselfish; so I have found many of them to be later on, during the intercourse of a more intimate acquaintance. In the large towns, as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, where there lived a considerable number of Americans, these would naturally associate together, as, for instance, the American colony in Paris or Berlin or other foreign places, so as not to be obliged to mingle with the natives socially any more than they chose. But in the village where my relatives lived, we had not the alternative of choosing our own countrymen for social companionship.
Therefore, I realized when I reached my destination that I had to change my accustomed mode of living and adapt myself to such a life as people had led eighteen hundred years ago. I thought that if I took the example of the Saviour's life for my guiding star, I would certainly get along very well. Undoubtedly this would have sufficed in a spiritual sense, but I found that it would be impractical as applied to my temporal welfare and the requirements of the present time. For I could not perform miracles nor could I live as the Saviour had done, roaming over the country and teaching the natives. And then, seeing that there were so many Jews in New Mexico, I feared they might attempt to crucify me and I did not relish the thought. Therefore I accepted King Solomon's life as the next best one to emulate. While I was greatly handicapped by not possessing the riches of the great old king, I fancied that I had a plenty of his wisdom, and although I could not cut as wide a swath as he had done, I did well enough under the circumstances. I was, of course, limited to a vastly smaller scale in the pursuit and enjoyment of the many good things to be had in New Mexico. Ever joyous, free from care, I drifted in my voyage of life with the stream of hope over the shining waters of a happy and delightful youth.
ON THE RIO GRANDE. AN ABSTRACT OF THE AUTHOR'S GENEALOGY OF MATERNAL LINEAGE
In the month of September I came to the end of my journey, as I arrived on the Rio Abajo. Now I began the second chapter of my life's voyage. No longer a precocious child, I was growing to young manhood and was not lacking in those qualities which are essential in the successful performance of life's continual struggle. I was heartily welcomed by my uncle, my mother's brother. My aunt, poor lady, had, of course, given me up as lost and greeted me with joyful admiration. But she did not venture close to me, for in me she saw a strong, lusty young man, bright eyed, alert-looking and carrying a deadly army revolver and wicked hunting knife at his belt. To be sure, I was suntanned and graybacked beyond comparison with the dust of a thousand miles of wagon road.
As I had expected, I found my uncle in very prosperous circumstances, in a commercial sense. And no wonder, for he was a tall, fine-looking man, under forty and overflowing with energy and personal magnetism. And my mother's little family tree did the rest—aye, surely, it was not to be sneezed at, as will be presently seen.
Of course, mother traced her ancestral lineage, as all other people do, to Adam and Eve in general, but in particular she claimed descent from those ancient heroes of the Northland, the Vikings. These daring rovers of the seas were really a right jolly set of men. In their small galleys they roamed the trackless seas, undaunted alike by the terrors of the hurricane as by the perils of unknown shores. On whatever coast they chanced—finding it inhabited, they landed, fought off the men and captured their women. They sacked villages and plundered towns, and loading their ships with booty, they set sail joyfully, homeward bound for the shores of the misty North Sea, the shallow German Ocean. Here they had a number of retreats and strongholds. There was Helgoland, the mysterious island; Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the river Elbe; Buxtehude, notoriously known from a very peculiar ferocious breed of dogs; Norse Loch on the coast of Holstein, and numerous other locker, or inlets, hard to find, harder to enter when found and hardest to pronounce. In the course of time these rovers were visited by saintly Christian missionaries and, like all other Saxon tribes, they accepted the light of the Christian Gospel. They saw the error of their way and eschewed their vocation of piracy and devoted their energies to commerce and the spreading of the Gospel of Christ.
Piously they decorated the sails of their crafts and blazoned their war shields with the sign of the cross. They kidnapped holy priests (for otherwise they came not), and taking them aboard their ships, they sailed to their several ports. Then they forced the unwilling Fathers to unite them in holy wedlock to the maidens of their choice. To many havens they sailed, and in every one they had an only wife. They made their priests inscribe texts from the holy Gospel on pieces of parchment made from the skin of hogs, and instead of robbing people, as of yore, they paid with the word of Holy Scripture for the booty they levied. This, they said, was infinitely more precious than any worldly dross. All hail to the memory of my gallant maternal ancestor, who, when surfeited with the caresses of his Fifine of Normandy, flew to the arms of Mercedes of Andalusia. Next, perhaps, he appeared in Greenland, blubbering with an Esquimau heiress. Anon, you might have found him in Columbia in the tolls of a princely Pocahontas. In Mexico he ate the ardent chile from the tender hand of his Guadalupita, and later on he was on time at a five o'clock family tea party in Japan, or he might have kotowed pidgin-love to a trusting maid in a China town of fair Cathay. In Africa—oh, horror!—here I draw the veil, for in my mind's eye I behold a burly negro (yes, sah!) staring at me out of fishy, blue eyes. It is said of these gallant rovers of the seas that they were subject to a peculiar malady when on shore. It caused them to stagger and swagger, use violent language, and deport themselves not unlike people who are seized with mal de mer, or sickness of the sea. When attacked by this failing, their wives would cast them bodily into the holds of their ships and start them out to sea, where they soon recovered their usual health and equilibrium and continued on their rounds. They were the first of all commercial travelers and the hardiest, jolliest and most prosperous—but they did not hoard their earnings.
My uncle conducted a store, selling merchandise of every description. Dutch uncle though he was to me, I must give him thanks for the careful business training he bestowed on me. I say with pride that I proved to be his most apt and willing pupil. He taught me how the natives, by nature simple-minded and unsophisticated, had lost all confidence in their fellow-men in general and merchants in particular through the, to say the least, very dubious and suspicious dealings of the tribes of Israel. My uncle said he was an old timer in New Mexico, but the Jew was there already when he came and, added he, thoughtfully, "I believe the Jews came to America with Columbus." With a pack of merchandise strapped to his back, this king of commerce crossed the plains in the face of murderous Indians and with the unexplainable, crafty cunning of his race, he sold tobacco and trinkets to the warriors who had set out to kill him, and to the squaws he sold Parisian lingerie at a bargain. He swore that he was losing money and selling the goods below cost, not counting the freight.
As the Indians had no money and nothing else of commercial value to him, he bartered for the trophies of victory which the proud chiefs carried suspended from their belts. Deprecatingly he called their attention to the undeniable fact that these articles had been worn before and had to be rated as second-hand goods. But he hoped that his brother-in-law, Isaac Dreibein, who conducted a second-hand hairdressing establishment in New York City, would take these goods off his hands. This trade flourished for a time, until, as usual, Israel fell off from the Lord, by opening shop on the Sabbath. An unlucky Moses got into a fatal altercation with a Comanche chief, whom he cheated out of a scalplock, as he was as baldheaded as a hen's egg. Thereat the Indians became suspicious and refused to trade with the Jews ever after.
With proverbial German thoroughness, uncle instructed me in all the tricks and secrets of his profession. He had found that the Mexicans were good buyers, if handled scientifically, for they would never leave the store until they had spent all their money. Therefore, in order to encourage our customers, we kept a barrel of firewater under the counter as a trade starter. One or more drams of old Magnolia would start the ball to roll finely. Our merchandise cost mark was made up from the words, "God help us!" Every letter of this pious sentiment designated one of the numbers from one to nine and a cross stood for naught. When I said to uncle, "No wonder that our business prospers under this mark—God help us!—but say, who helps our customers?" he was nonplussed for a moment, and then he laughed heartily and said that this had never worried him yet.
There was not much money in circulation in New Mexico at that time, as the country was without railroads and too isolated to market farm produce, wool and hides profitably. Mining for gold was carried on at Pinos Altos, near the southern boundary, but the Apaches did not encourage prospecting to any extent. During the period of the discovery of gold in California, in the days of "forty-nine," the people of New Mexico had become quite wealthy through supplying the California placer miners with mutton sheep at the price of an ounce of gold dust per head, when muttons cost half a dollar on the Rio Grande. At that rate of profit they could afford the time and expense of driving their herds of sheep to market at Los Angeles, even though the Apaches of Arizona took their toll and fattened on stolen mutton.
INDIAN LORE. THE WILY NAVAJO
The principal source of the money supply was the United States Government, which maintained many forts and army posts in the Territories as a safeguard against the Apache and Navajo Indians. During the Civil War, the Navajo Indians broke out and raided the Mexican settlements along the Rio Grande and committed many outrages and thefts. The Government gave these Indians the surprise of their lives. An army detachment of United States California volunteers swooped suddenly down on the Navajos and surprised and conquered them in the strongholds of their own country. The whole tribe was forced to surrender, was disarmed, and transported to Fort Stanton by the Government.
This military reservation lies on the eastern boundary of New Mexico, on the edge of the staked plains of Texas. Here the Navajos were kept in mortal terror of their hereditary enemies, the Comanche Indians, for several years, and they were so thoroughly cowed and subdued by this stratagem that they were good and peacable ever after. The Government allowed them to reoccupy their native haunts and granted them a reservation of seventy-five miles square. These Indians are blood relatives to the savage Apaches. They speak the same language, as they are also of Mongolian origin. They came originally from Asia in an unexplained manner and over an unknown route. They have always been the enemies of the Pueblo Indians, who are descendants of the Toltec and Aztec races. Unlike the Pueblo Indians, who live in villages and maintain themselves with agricultural pursuits, the Navajos are nomads and born herdsmen.
The Navajo tribe is quite wealthy now, as they possess many thousands of sheep and goats, and they are famed for their quaint and beautiful blankets and homespun, which they weave on their hand looms from the wool of their sheep. They owned large herds of horses, beautiful ponies, a crossed breed of mustangs and Mormon stock, which latter they had stolen in their raids on the Mormon settlements in Utah. As saddle horses, these ponies are unexcelled for endurance under rough service.
Mentally the Navajo is very wide awake and capable of shrewd practices, as shown by the following incident, which happened to my personal knowledge.
A tall, gaudily appareled Indian, mounting a beautiful pony, came to town and offered for sale at our store several gold nuggets the size of hazelnuts. He took care to do this publicly, so as to attract the attention of some Mexicans, who became immensely excited at the sight of the gold and began to question him at once in order to ascertain how and whence he had obtained the golden nuggets. They almost fought for the privilege of taking him as an honored guest to their respective homes. The Indian was very non-committal as regarded his gold mine, but very willing to accept the sumptuous hospitality so freely rendered him. He was soon passed on from one disappointed Mexican to another, who in turn fared no better and invariably sped the parting guest to the door of his nearest neighbor. When the Indian had made the circuit of the town in this manner he looked very sleek and happy, indeed, but the people were no wiser. The knowledge of having been shamefully buncoed by an Indian and disappointed in their lust for gold made the Mexicans desperate. They held an indignation meeting and resolved to capture the wily Navajo and compel him, under torture, if necessary, to divulge the secret of his gold mine. Consequently, they overcame the Indian, and when they threatened him with torture and death, he yielded and said that he had found the gold in the Rio de San Francisco, a mountain stream of Arizona. He promised to guide them to the spot where he obtained the nuggets, saying that the bottom of the stream was literally covered with golden sand, which might be seen from a distance, as it shone resplendently in the sun. Then every able-bodied Mexican in town who possessed a horse prepared to join a prospecting expedition to the wild regions of mysterious Arizona. They organized a company and elected a captain, a man of courage and experience. The captain's first official act was to place a guard of four armed men over the Navajo to prevent his escape, otherwise they treated their prisoner well.
The women of the town cooked and baked for the party, and undoubtedly each lady reveled in the hope to see her own man return with a sackful of gold; and as a result of these fanciful expectations they were in the best of spirits, laughing and singing the livelong day.
At last the party was off, and what happened to them I shall relate, as told me by the captain, Don Jose Marie Baca y Artiaga, and in his own words as nearly as I can remember them. "Valga me, Dios, Senor! What an experience was that trip to Arizona! It began and ended with disappointment and disaster. All the men of our party seemed to have lost their wits from the greed of gold. They began by hurrying. Those who had the best mounts rushed on ahead, carrying the Indian along with them, and strove to leave their companions who were not so well mounted behind. The first night's camp had of necessity to be made at a point on the Rio Puerco, distant about thirty-five miles. As the last men rode into camp, the first comers were already making ready to leave again. In vain I remonstrated and commanded. There was a fight, and not until several men were seriously wounded came they to their senses and obeyed my orders. I threatened to leave them and return home, for I knew very well that unless our party kept together we were sure to be ambushed and attacked. I cautioned my companions as they valued their lives to watch the Navajo and shoot him on the spot at the first sign of treachery. This devil of an Indian led us over terrible trails, across the roughest and highest peaks and the deepest canyons of a wild, broken country. He seemed to be on the lookout ever for an opportunity to escape, but I did not give him the chance. Our horses suffered and were well-nigh exhausted when we finally sighted the coveted stream from a spur of the Mogollon range which we were then descending. The stream glistened and shone like gold in the distance, under the hot rays of a noonday sun and my companions would have made a dash for the coveted goal if their horses had not been utterly exhausted and footsore. As it was, I had the greatest trouble to calm them. Arriving at the last and steepest declivity of the trail, I succeeded in halting the party long enough to listen to my words. 'Companions,' I said, 'hear me before you rush on! I shall stay here with this Indian, whom you will first tie to this mesquite tree. Now you may go, and may the saints deliver you from your evil passion and folly. Mind you, senores, I claim an equal share with you in whatever gold you may find. If any one objects, let him come forth and say so now, man to man. I shall hold the trail for those among you who would haply choose to return. Forsooth, companions, I like not the actions of this Indian. Beware the Apache, senores; remember we are in the Tonto's own country!'
"From my position I witnessed the exciting race to the banks of the stream, and saw plainly how eagerly my companions worked with pick and pan. Hard they worked, but not long, for soon they assembled in the shade of a tree, and after a conference I saw them make the usual preparations for camping. Several men looked after the wants of the horses, others built fires, and four of the party returned toward me. 'What luck, Companeros!' I hailed them when they came within hearing distance. 'Senor Capitan, we have come for the Indian,' said the spokesman of the squad. 'And what use have you for the Indian?' I asked. 'We shall hang him to yonder tree,' they said, 'as a warning to liars and impostors.' Bueno, Caballeros, he deserves it. I deliver him into your hands under this condition, that you grant him a fair trial, as becomes men who being good Catholics and sure of the salvation of their souls may not, without just cause, consign a heathen to the everlasting fires of perdition.'
"Silently, stoically, the Indian suffered himself to be led to the place of his execution. After the enraged Mexicans had placed him under a tree with the noose of a riata around his neck, they informed him that he might now plead in the defense of his life if he had anything to say. 'Mexicans,' said the Navajo, 'I fear not death! If I must die, let it be by a bullet. I call the great Spirit, who knows the hearts of his people, to witness that I beg not for my life. I have not a split tongue nor am I an impostor. I have guided you to the place of gold. I have kept my promise. You Mexicans came with evil hearts. You fought your own brothers. You abandoned your sick companions on the trail to the coyote. You have broken the law of hospitality toward me, your guest, as no Spaniard has ever done before. Therefore, has your God punished you. He has changed the good gold of these waters to shimmering mica and shining dross. Fool gold He gives to fools! As you serve me now, so shall the Apaches do to you. Never more shall you taste of the waters of the Rio Grande, so says the Spirit in my heart!'
"The Indian's dignified bearing and his inspired words on the threshold of eternity moved my conscience and caused a feeling of respect and pity for him in my breast as well as in others of our party. When Juan de Dios Carasco, who was known and despised by all for being a good-for-nothing thieving coward, drew his gun to shoot the Navajo in the back, I could not control my anger. 'Stop,' I shouted, 'you miserable hen thief, or you die at my hands, and now. This Indian should die, but not in such a manner. Senores, you have made me your capitan. Now I shall enforce my orders at the risk of my life's blood. Give that Indian a knife and fair play in a combat against the prowess of the valiant Don Juan de Dios Carasco.'
"Although greatly disconcerted, Juan de Dios had to toe the mark. There was no alternative for him now, as I was desperate and my orders were obeyed to the letter, for death was the penalty for disobedience. The fight between the Mexican and the Indian ended by the Navajo, who was sorely wounded, throwing his knife into the heart of his enemy. It was a fair fight, although we accorded Juan de Dios, he being a Christian, this advantage against the Indian (who was better skilled in the use of weapons) that we allowed him to wrap his coat about his left arm as a shield, while the Indian was stripped to his patarague, or breechclout. We buried the body and allowed the Indian to shift for himself. I observed him crawling near the water's edge in quest of herbs, which he masticated and applied to his wounds with an outer coating of mud from the banks of the stream. During the following night he disappeared. I suspect that the golden nuggets which caused all our troubles were taken from the body of a prospector who had been murdered in the lonesome mountains of Arizona.
"We allowed our horses several days' rest to recuperate before starting on our return trip. You saw, senor, how we arrived. Starved, sore, and discouraged, we straggled home, jeered at and ridiculed by wiseacres who are always ready to say, 'I told you so!' and by enemies who had no liking for us. But the women, may Santa Barbara keep them virtuous! they who loved their husbands truly rejoiced to welcome us home, although we failed to bring them chispas de oro.
"As concerns the wife of Juan de Dios, and who was now his widow, pobrecita, she was not to be found at her home. She had taken advantage of her man's absence to decamp to the mountain of Manzana with a strapping goat-herder, a very worthy young man, whom she loved and is now happily free to marry."
THE FIGHT IN THE SAND HILLS. THE PHANTOM DOG
A number of years had I lived with my relatives when uncle found it expedient to sell out his business. He had prospered wonderfully in his commercial ventures. Long since had his coffers absorbed most of the money circulating within his sphere of trade. Thereafter he accepted commercial paper in payment for merchandise, and trade grew immensely. Our customers soon learned how easy it was to affix their signatures to promissory notes and to mortgages on their lands or cattle, their horses, sheep, crops, and chattels. Of course there was a little interest to be paid on the indebtedness, but as it was merely a trifling one and a half per centum per month or eighteen per cent yearly, it was of no consequence. And it was so easy to pay your debts. Just think of it, people bought everything they needed and longed for at the store and paid for it by simply signing their names to several papers. When the day of payment came, they could liquidate their debts by renewing their obligations. They simply signed a new set of similar papers with the interest compounded and added to the original debt. Surely Don Guillermo was conceded to stand highest in popular estimation of any set of men who had ever come to the Rio Grande. Had he not shown the people how to do business in a convenient and easy manner? Under such a system nobody worried or labored very much and life was like a pleasant dream. But alas! there has always been a beginning and an ending to everything under the sun, good or evil. The awakening from an easy life's dream was occasioned by a crushing blow. It fell on the day of final reckoning, when Don Guillermo, my good uncle, thought the time was propitious to realize something tangible on sundry duly signed, sealed, and witnessed instruments. There was a rumpus; neither earthquake nor cyclone would have caused a greater commotion in the community. What, then, did this lying gringo mean by resorting to the trickery of the United States law courts and the power and services of the county sheriff? Why did he wrest their property from them? Had this gringo not always accepted their signatures as a legal tender for the payment of their debts? Had he not told them time and again that their handwriting was better than gold? If uncle had fallen into the clutches of these furious people, he would undoubtedly have been lynched. But he had wisely disposed of all his property in the country and had left with his family for the States. I remained in the service of the buyer of and successor to his business.
Soon after I began to feel lonesome, restless and dissatisfied, and that life among the natives was not as pleasant and satisfactory as formerly may be easily imagined. In fact, the gringos were now cordially hated and envied by a certain class, the element of greatest influence among the people. This produced a feeling of unpleasantness not to be overcome, and I resolved to emigrate to California, overland, by way of Arizona. I longed for the companionship of people of my own race and wanted to see more of the world. There was an opportunity to go to a mining town of northern Arizona, with several ox-teams which were freighting provisions. The freighter, Don Juan Mestal, assured me that he was very glad to have the pleasure and comfort of my company and would not listen to an offer of remuneration on my part. He said there was the choice of two routes; one road passed through the country of the Navajo Indians and the other road led past Zuhl, the isolated Pueblo village. Don Juan said that he would not go by way of Zuni, if he could avoid it, as he was prejudiced against this tribe. Not that they were hostile or dangerous, but he had acquired a positive aversion, amounting to abhorrence, for those peaceful people when he, as a boy, accompanied his father on a trading expedition there. At that time he witnessed the revolting execution of a score of Navajos who had been apprehended as spies by the Zunis. These unfortunates came to their village as visiting guests, it being in the time of the harvest of maize, when these Indians celebrate their great Thanksgiving feast. A young Navajo chief, who led the visiting party, aroused the ire of the old medicine chief of the tribe, who had lately added a new attraction to his household, beshrewing himself with another lovely young squaw. It was said that the enamored damsel had made preparations to elope with the gallant Navajo chief, but was betrayed by the telltale barking of the dogs, great numbers of which infest all Indian villages. The old doctor accused the Navajos of espionage and had them taken by surprise and imprisoned in an underground foul den. Then met the chiefs of the tribe in their estufa, or secret meeting place, to pass judgment on the culprits. The old medicine chief smoked himself into a trance in order to receive special instructions from the great Spirit regarding the degree of punishment to be inflicted on the unlucky Navajos. After sleeping several hours, he awoke and announced that he had dreamed the Navajos were to be clubbed to death. After sunrise the next morning these poor Indians met their doom in the public square of the village unflinchingly in the presence of the whole population.
They were placed in a row, facing the sun, about ten feet apart. A Zuni executioner, armed with a war club, was stationed in front of each victim, and another one, armed likewise, stood behind him. A war chief raised his arms and yelled, and forty clubs were raised in air. Then the great war drum, or tombe, boomed out the knell of death. There was a sickening, crashing thud, and twenty Navajos fell to earth with crushed skulls, each cabeza having been whacked simultaneously, right and left, fore and aft, by two stone clubs in the hands of a pair of devils.
It had always been an enigma to me that the Pueblo Indians, who were not to be matched as fighters against the Apache and Navajo had been able to defend their villages against the onslaught of these fierce tribes, their hereditary enemies. Don Juan Mestal enlightened me on that topic. He said the explanation therefor was to be found in a certain religious superstition of the Navajos and Apaches, which circumstance the Pueblo Indians took advantage of and exploited to the saving of their lives. When they had reason to expect an attack on their villages, the Pueblo laid numerous mines and torpedoes on all the approaches and streets of their towns. While these mines did not possess the destructive power of dynamite or gunpowder, they were equally effective and powerful, and never failed to repulse the enemy, especially if reinforced by hand grenades of like ammunition, thrown by squaws and pappooses from the flat roofs of their houses. By some means or other it had become known to the descendants of Montezuma that when an Apache stepped on something out of the ordinary "he scented mischief" and believed himself unclean and befouled with dishonor, and fancied himself disgraced before God and man; and forthwith he would hie himself away to do penance at the shrine of the nearest water sprite. This superstition they brought from Asia, their native land.
When the day of our departure drew near, I visited my numerous friends to bid them farewell and receive many like wishes in return. I must own that I felt a pang of sadness when I saw tears well up in the innocent eyes of sweet maidens and saw the fires dimmed in the black orbs of lovely matrons whom I had held often in my arms to the measure and tuneful melody of the fantastic wild fandango; musical Andalusian strains which words cannot describe—soul-stirring, enchanting, promising and denying, plaintive or jubilant, songs from Heaven or wails from the depths of Hades. Here I lived the happiest hours of my life, but being young, I did not realize it then.
When I came to the house of Don Reyes Alvarado, who was my chum and bosom friend, and also of like age, he gave me a pleasant surprise. He informed me that there would be a dance at the Hancho Indian's settlement that same night, one of those ceremonial events which I had long desired to attend in order to study the customs and habits of these descendants of the Aztecs. Their social dances are inspired by ancient customs and are the outbursts of the dormant, barbaric rites of a religion which these people were forced to abandon by their conquering masters, the Spaniards. Outwardly and visibly Christians, taught to observe the customs of the Roman Catholic Church and to conform to its ritual, these people, who were the scum and overflow from villages of Pueblo Indians, were yet Aztec heathens in the consciousness of their souls and inclination of their hearts.
Shortly after sunset we were on our way to the sand dunes of the Rio Grande, where these poor outcasts had squatted and built their humble homes of terron, or sod, which they cut from the alkali-laden soil of the vega. They held their dance orgies in the estufa, the meeting house of the tribe. This was a long, low structure built of adobe, probably a hundred feet long and nine feet wide, inside measure. The building was so low that I could easily lay the palm of my uplifted hand against the ceiling of the roof, which was made of beams of cottonwood, covered with sticks off which the bark had been carefully peeled, the whole had then been covered with clay a foot in depth. The floor of this long, low tunnel-like room was made of mud which had been skilfully tampered with an admixture of short cut straw and had been beaten into the proper degree of hardness. Dampened at intervals, this floor was quite serviceable to dance on. There were no windows or ventilators in this hall and only one door at the end. This was made out of a slab of hewn wood and was just high and wide enough to admit a good sized dog. The hall was brilliantly lighted by a dozen mutton tallow dips, which were distributed about the room in candelabra of tin, hanging on the mud-plastered and whitewashed walls. The orchestra consisted of one piece only, an ancient war drum, or tombe, and was located at the farther end of the room. It was beaten by an Indian, who was, if possible, more ancient than the drum. As we approached we heard the muffled sound of the drum within. "Caramba, amigo!" said my friend; "they are at it already, and judging from the sound, they are very gay to-night. Madre santissima! I remember that this is a great night for these Indians, as it is the anniversary of the Noche Triste, which they celebrate in commemoration of the Aztec's victory over the Spaniards when the Indians almost wiped their enemies off the face of the earth. Senor, to tell the truth, rather would I turn my horse's head homeward. Pray, let us return!" "And why, amigo," I asked. "Because this has always been a day of ill luck for our family," said Don Reyes. "It began with the misfortune of the famed Knight Don Pedro Alvarado, the bravest of men and the right hand of Don Fernando Cortez. In the bloody retreat of the Spaniards from Mexico, in their fight with the Aztecs, during the Noche Triste, Don Pedro Alvarado, from whom we were descended, lost his mare through a deadly arrow. "Muy bien, amigo Don Reyes," said I; "if you fear these people, I advise you to return home to Dona Josefita, but I shall go on alone." "I fear not man or beast!" flared up Don Reyes, "as you well know, friend, but these are heathen fiends, not human, who worship a huge rattlesnake, which they keep in an underground den and feed with the innocent blood of Christian babes. Lead on, senor, I shall follow. I see it is as Dona Josefita, my little wife, says: "If these young gringos crave a thing, there is no use in denying them, for they seem to compel! To the very door of that uncanny place I follow you, amigo, but enter therein I shall not, unless I be first absolved from my sins and shriven by the padre."