Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pueblo Tenement Houses in New Mexico


Santo Domingo is composed of several structures of adobe brick grouped together, as shown in the engraving, Fig 22. Each is about two hundred feet long, with two parallel rows of apartments on the ground, of which the front row is carried up one story, and the back two; the flat roof of the first story forming a terrace in front of the second. The first story is closed up solid for defensive reasons, with the exception of small window openings. The first terrace is reached by means of ladders from the ground; the rooms in the first story are entered through trap-doors in the floors, and in the second through doors opening upon the terrace, and also through trap-doors through the floors which form the roof. These structures are typical of all the aboriginal houses in New Mexico. They show two principal features: first, the terraced form of architecture, common also in Mexico, with the house tops as the social gathering places of the inmates; and, second, a closed ground story for safety. Every house, therefore, is a fortress. Lieutenant Abert remarks upon one of the houses of this pueblo, of which he gives an elevation, that "the upper story is narrower than the one below, so that there is a platform or landing along the whole length of the building. To enter, you ascend to the platform by means of ladders that could easily be removed; and, as there is a parapet wall extending along the platform, these houses could be converted into formidable forts." [Footnote: Ex. Doc. No. 41, 1st session 30th Congress, 1848, p. 462.]
The number of apartments in each house is not stated. The different houses at that time were inhabited by eight hundred Indians. Chimneys now appear above the roofs, the fire-place being at the angle of the chamber in front. These were evidently of later introduction. The defensive element, so prominent in this architecture, was not so much to protect the Village Indians from each other, as from the attacks of migrating bands flowing down upon them from the North. The pueblos now in ruins throughout the original area of New Mexico, and for some distance north of it, testify to the perpetual struggle of the former to maintain their ground, as well as prove the insecurity in which they lived. It could be shown that the second and additional stories were suggested by the defensive principle.
Zunyi, Fig. 23, is the largest occupied pueblo in New Mexico at the present time. It probably once contained five thousand inhabitants, but in 1851 the number was reduced to fifteen hundred. The village consists of several structures, most of them accessible to each from their roof terraces. They are constructed of adobe brick, and of stone embedded in adobe mortar, and plastered over.
In the summer of 1879, Mr. James Stevenson, in charge of the field parties under Major Powell, made an extended visit to Zunyi and the neighboring pueblos, for the purpose of making collections of their implements, utensils, etc., during which time the photographs from which the accompanying illustrations of the pueblos were made. His wife accompanied him, and she has furnished us the following description of that pueblo:
"Zunyi is situated in Western New Mexico, being built upon a knoll covering about fifteen acres, and some forty feet above the right bank of the river of the same name.
"Their extreme exclusiveness has preserved to the Zunyians their strong individuality, and kept their language pure. According to Major Powell's classification, their speech forms one of four linguistic stocks to which may be traced all the pueblo dialects of the southwest. In all the large area which was once thickly dotted with settlements, only thirty-one remain, and these are scattered hundreds of miles apart from Taos, in Northern New Mexico to Islet, in Western Texas. Among these remnants of great native tribes, the Zunyians may claim perhaps the highest position, whether we regard simply their agricultural and pastoral pursuits, or consider their whole social and political organization.
"The town of Zunyi is built in the most curious style. It resembles a great beehive, with the houses piled one upon another in a succession of terraces, the roof of one forming the floor or yard of the next above, and so on, until in some cases five tiers of dwellings are successively erected, though no one of them is over two stories high. These structures are of stone and 'adobe'. They are clustered around two plazas, or open squares, with several streets and three covered ways through the town.
"The upper houses of Zunyi are reached by ladders from the outside. The lower tiers have doors on the ground plan, while the entrances to the others are from the terraces. There is a second entrance through hatchways in the roof, and thence by ladders down into the rooms below. In many of the pueblos there are no doors whatever on the ground floor, but the Zunyians assert that their lowermost houses have always been provided with such openings. In times of threatened attack the ladders were either drawn up or their rungs were removed, and the lower doors were securely fastened in some of the many ingenious ways these people have of barring the entrances to their dwellings. The houses have small windows, in which mica was originally used, and is still employed to some extent; but the Zunyians prize glass highly, and secure it, whenever practicable, at almost any cost. A dwelling of average capacity has four or five rooms, though in some there are as many as eight. Some of the larger apartments are paved with flagging, but the floors are usually plastered with clay, like the walls. Both are kept in constant repair by the women, who mix a reddish-brown earth with water to the proper consistency and then spread it by hand, always laying it in semicircles. It dries smooth and even, and looks well. In working this plaster the squaw keeps her mouth filled with water, which is applied with all the dexterity with which a Chinese laundry-man sprinkles clothes. The women appear to delight in this work, which they consider their special prerogative, and would feel that their rights were infringed upon were men to do it. In building, the men lay the stone foundations and set in place the huge logs that serve as beams to support the roof, the spaces between these rafters being filled with willow-brush; though some of the wealthier Zunyians use instead shingles made by the carpenters of the village. The women then finish the structure. The ceilings of all the older houses are low; but Zunyi architecture has improved and the modern style gives plenty of room, with doors through which one may pass without stooping. The inner walls are usually whitened. For this purpose a kind of white clay is dissolved in boiling water and applied by hand. A glove of undressed goat-skin is worn, the hand being dipped in the hot liquid and then passed repeatedly over the wall.
"In Zunyi, as elsewhere, riches and official position confer importance upon their possessors. The wealthy class live in the lower houses, those of moderate means next above, while the poorer families have to be content with the uppermost stories. Naturally no one will climb into the garret who has the means of securing more convenient apartments, under the huge system of 'French flats', which is the way of living in Zunyi. Still there is little or no social distinction in the rude civilization, the whole population of the town living almost as one family. The Alcalde, or Lieutenant-Governor, furnishes an exception to the general rule, as his official duties require him to occupy the highest house of all, from the top of which he announces each morning to the people the orders of the Governor, and makes such other proclamation as may be required of him.
"Each family has one room, generally the largest in the house, where they work, eat, and sleep together. In this room the wardrobe of the family hangs upon a log suspended beneath the rafters, only the more valued robes, such as those worn in the dance, being wrapped and carefully stored away in another apartment. Work of all kinds goes on in this large room, including the cookery, which is done in a fire-place on the long side, made by a projection at right angles with the wall, with a mantel-piece on which rests the base of the chimney. Another fire-place in a second room is from six to eight feet in width, and above this is a ledge shaped somewhat like a Chinese awning. A highly-polished slab, fifteen or twenty inches in size, is raised a foot above the hearth. Coals are heaped beneath this slab, and upon it the Waiavi is baked. This delicious kind of bread is made of meal ground finely and spread in a thin batter upon the stone with the naked hand. It is as thin as a wafer, and these crisp, gauzy sheets, when cooked, are piled in layers and then folded or rolled. Light bread, which is made only at feast times, is baked in adobe ovens outside the house. When not in use for this purpose the ovens make convenient kennels for the dogs and play-houses for the children. Neatness is not one of the characteristics of the Zunyians. In the late autumn and winter months the women do little else than make bread, often in fanciful shapes, for the feasts and dances which continually occur. A sweet drink, not at all intoxicating, is made from the sprouted wheat. The men use tobacco, procured from white traders, in the form of cigarettes from corn-husks; but this is a luxury in which the women do not indulge.
"The Pueblo mills are among the most interesting things about the town. These mills, which are fastened to the floor a few feet from the wall, are rectangular in shape, and divided into a number of compartments, each about twenty inches wide and deep, the whole series ranging from five to ten feet in length, according to the number of divisions. The walls are made of sandstone. In each compartment a flat grinding stone is firmly set, inclining at an angle of forty-five degrees. These slabs are of different degrees of smoothness, graduated successively from coarse to fine. The squaws, who alone work at the mills, kneel before them and bend over them as a laundress does over the wash-tub, holding in their hands long stones of volcanic lava, which they rub up and down the slanting slabs, stopping at intervals to place the grain between the stones. As the grinding proceeds the grist is passed from one compartment to the next until, in passing through the series, it becomes of the desired fineness. This tedious and laborious method has been practiced without improvement from time immemorial, and in some of the arts the Zunyians have actually retrograded."
The living-rooms are about twelve by eighteen feet and about nine feet high, with plastered walls and an earthen floor, and usually a single window opening for light. To form a durable ceiling round timbers about six inches in diameter are placed three or four feet apart from the outer to the inner wall. Upon these, poles are placed transversely in juxtaposition. A deep covering of adobe mortar is placed upon them, forming the roof terrace in front, and the floor of the apartments above in the receding second story. Water-jars of their own manufacture, of fine workmanship, and holding several gallons, closely woven osier baskets of their own make, and blankets of cotton and wool, woven by their own hand-looms, are among the objects seen in these apartments. They are neatly kept, roomy and comfortable, and differ in no respect from those in use at the period of the conquest, as will elsewhere be shown. The mesa elevation upon which the old town of Zunyi was situated is seen in the background of the engraving, Fig. 23.
It should be noticed that this architecture, and the necessities that gave it birth, led to a change in the mode of life from the open ground to the terraces or flat roofs of these great houses. When not engaged in tillage, the terraces were the gathering and living places of the people. During the greater part of the year they lived practically in the open air, to which the climate was adapted, and upon their housetops, first for safety and afterwards from habit.
Elevations of the principal pueblos of New Mexico have from time to time been published. They agree in general plan, but show considerable diversity in details. Rude but massive structures, they accommodated all the people of the village in security within their walls.
The Moki Pueblos are supposed to be the towns of Tusayan, visited by a detachment of Coronado's expedition in 1541. Since the acquisition of New Mexico they have been rarely visited, because of their isolation and distance from American settlements.