Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mythology of the Pecos Indians


About the mythology of the Pecos Indians, aside from the Montezuma story and the sacred embers, the tale of the Great p. 126Snake ("la vívora grande") appears to be widely circulated.s positively asserted that the Pecos adored, and the Jemez and Taos still adore, an enormous rattlesnake, which they keep alive in some inaccessible and hidden mountain recess. It is even dimly hinted at that human sacrifices might be associated with this already sufficiently hideous cult. I give these facts as they were given to me, and shall not believe them until I am compelled. It has always been the natural tendency in everything which (like the idolatrous practices still existing among the pueblos, of which there is no doubt) we do not positively know, to make bad look worse and good better than it actually is. The prospect of securing a knowledge of it is, however, not very good. The Indians themselves appear to deny it, and are generally very reticent about their aboriginal beliefs.
I have previously mentioned that Ruiz had been called upon by the Indians of Pecos to do his duty by attending to the sacred fire for one year, and that he refused. The reason for his refusal appears to have been that there was a belief to the effect that any one who had ever attended to the embers would, if he left the tribe, die without fail, and he did not wish to expose himself to such a fate.
About the social organization of the Pecos Indians, it has not been possible, of course, to ascertain anything as yet. That they lived on the communal plan is plainly shown by the construction of their houses. That they were originally, at least, organized into clans or gentes, can be inferred; but here I must remark that it may be difficult to trace those clusters among the Rio Grande pueblos, on account of their weakness in numbers, and of the intermixture of the Tehua, Tanos,p. 127 and Queres stocks resulting from the convulsion of 1680. It may be possible, however, to find them at Jemez. They exist at Laguna and among the Moquis, according to Mr. Morgan, and I do not doubt but that Mr. Cushing, who is so thoroughly studying the Zuñi Indians, has by this time settled the question for that tribe. One fact, however, I consider to be ascertained; namely, that there were neither castes nor classes among the pueblos, therefore not at Pecos. At the head of their communal government were the usual three officers,—the gobernador, the capitan de la guerra, and the cacique. I am not quite clear yet as to the proper functions of each, except that the first two are both warriors ("ambos son guerreros," Ruiz); that the capitan has also the supervision of the lands of the tribe; and that the cacique is more or less a religious functionary. Mr. D. J. Miller states that the latter very seldom leaves the pueblo. It was therefore an unusual act when the cacique of Jemez came to Pecos in 1840, and I presume it was brought about through his connection with the holy fire. I asked Sr. Ruiz very distinctly as to whether these three officers were elective or not, and he promptly affirmed that they were ("son elegidos por el pueblo"). I then inquired if the sons succeeded to the fathers in office, and his reply was that there was no objection to their being elected thereto if they were qualified ("si son buenos"). This disposes of the question of heredity in office, rank, and title, and it is almost identical with the customs found by Alonzo de Zuevita among the Indians of Mexico in the middle of the sixteenth century. How the presumable "gentes" of the Pecos might have localized for dwelling in the great communal houses I am, of course, unable to conjecture.
In regard to their marriage customs, their mode of naming children, etc., I have not been able to gather much information as yet. The old marriage customs are supplanted byp. 128 those of the church. Still, they may be traced up eventually. Every Pecos Indian had, besides his Spanish name, an Indian name; and there is, according to Mr. Ritch, still a Pecos Indian at Jemez whose aboriginal appellation is "Huaja-toya" (Spanish pronunciation). I heard of him this morning (Sept. 17) through an Indian of Jemez. What I know of their burials is already stated.
Of their agriculture, or rather horticulture, I have also spoken; the modes of cultivation have not been explained to me as yet. Irrigation is therefore the only part of their tillage system upon which I have been able to gather any information. In addition to what the preceding pages may contain, Sr. Vigil has assured me that they also irrigated their huerta from thearroyo. This thin fillet of clear water, now scarcely 0.50 m.—20 in.—in width, fills at times its entire gravelly bed, 100 m. to 150 m.—327 ft. to 490 ft.—from bank to bank. This does not occur annually, but at irregular intervals. Sr. Ruiz said that while the Pecos Indians were living at their pueblo the streams were filled with water ("en ese tiempo, corrieron los arroyos con agua, muy abundante"). It is further said that the tribe worked other "gardens" besides, on the banks of the river Pecos, two miles to the east.
For their arts and industry I must refer to the collections, however meagre and unsatisfactory they are; a condition for which I have already apologized. Nowhere did I find a trace of iron nor of copper, although they used the latter for ornaments (bracelets, etc.), and there can be no doubt that they had the former metal also,—after the Spanish conquest, of course. The squaring of timbers, the scroll-work and friezes in the church, could only be done with instruments of iron. But all traces of these implements have disappeared from the ruins, as far as the surface is concerned. I canp. 129not refrain, however, from dwelling at greater length upon two products of industry, so common among the ruins as hardly to attract the attention of curiosity-hunters any more. These are the flakes of obsidian and lava and the painted pottery.
I have called these flakes a product of industry; while the material itself is of course a mineral, the fragments scattered about are undoubted products of skill. They are chips and splinters. There is neither lava nor obsidian cropping out in or about the valley, but highly volcanic formations are abundantly found to the north, within fifty miles from Pecos, in the high Sierra de Mora; perhaps, also, nearer yet. At all events, the mineral has been brought to the pueblo and chipped there. The same is the case with the flint flakes, agates, jaspers, and moss-agates, with the difference, however, that, in the case of these, water has done a great part of the carrying, if not all; whereas the drift of the arroyo contains no obsidian nor lava, except such as has clearly been washed into it from the ruins. Among the flakes there will be noticed several which may have been used for knives, whereas still others approximate to the arrow-head. A small perfect arrow-head was found and transmitted by me to the Institute,—the only one I met with on the premises.
The fact that several localities at Pecos are completely devoid of obsidian has already been mentioned. These arep. 130 the oldest ruins. In the case of the ruins along the mesa and those south of the church, I can only speak of the surface; but where the corrugated pottery was found the whole section of the bluff was exposed for more than 100 m.—327 ft.,—and still not a trace of the mineral appeared, while flint, agate, and jasper were rather conspicuous. This may be accidental, but it is certainly suspicious and suggestive.
The painted pottery is scattered in wagon-loads of fragments over the ruins. There are two places, however, where, as already stated, the surface is utterly devoid of them. Whether or not this deficiency extends to the soil, I cannot tell. I doubt it, however. These localities are, again, the apron along the mesa and the ruins south of the church. For the rest, it is very equally distributed everywhere. Still there are two distinct kinds at least. One is exactly similar to the kind now made and sold: it is coarse, soft; the ground is painted gray or yellow; the ornaments show, in few instances, traces of animal shapes (they are either black or brown); and the vessels must have been thick, and with a thicker coarse rim. Out of the grave in the mound V, the pottery was more perfect. There are pieces of a tinaja (bowl) with a vertical rim, yellow outside, white inside, with black geometrical ornamentation, not vitrified. This kind of pottery is still made by the Indians of Nambé, of Tezuque, and of Cochiti. (The former two are Tehuas, the latter is Queres.) But there I also found fragments of a plain black pottery, of dark red, and of dark red with black ornaments, which are thinner and much superior in "ring," and therefore in quality, to any now made. This pottery is older in date, and appears to be almost a lost art. There was, however, no distinction in distribution. Both kinds have one point in common, namely, the varnishing of thep. 131 ornamental surfaces. I say varnishing, and not "glazing;" for, although I believe the glassy appearance of the painted lines to be due to some admixture of the coloring material, and not to a separate glossy exterior coating, I do not as yet find a reason for admitting that the Indians knew the process of vitrification.
Of the military manufactures of the Pecos, a small arrow-head of obsidian found near the church is the only trace. It is even too small for a war-arrow. They had stone hatchets, and may have had the dart, and, later on, the spear. Pebbles convenient for hurling are promiscuously observed on the mesilla, but they are not numerous; and nowhere along the circumvallation did I notice any trace of heaps. The military constructions, however, become very interesting through their connection with the system of drainage and a comparison with the ancient Mexicans. Around the ancient pueblo of Mexico ("Tenuchtitlan") the water formed the protective circumvallation; at Pecos, the defensive wall collected the water and conducted it where it was needed for subsistence for the irrigation of crops.
That this great circumvallation, 983 m.—3,225 ft.—in circuit, was a wall for protection also there is no doubt, although the main strength of the pueblo lay in the construction of its houses, where the inhabitants could simply shut themselves in and await quietly until the enemy was tired of prowling around it. By Indians it could only be carried by surprise or treachery Hence it was customary for the young men to leave thep. 132 pueblo at times in a body, abandoning it to the old men and women, etc., without concern. As long as these kept good watch they were safe, even if the Comanches should appear. Roaming Indians cannot break open a pueblo house if well guarded. For that purpose alone the mounds near the great gate, and the mound H,., were erected. They were watch-towers for special purposes, for particular sections, where the lookouts from the wall-tops were not sufficient. These two mounds—one on each side of the gateway—overlooked the fields and the creek-bank: in the morning, when the people went out to work, or to carry drinking water from the spring opposite; during the day, while they attended to their simple labor of tillage.
The mound and tower H performed a similar office towards the steep ledge of rocks there descending, among whose fragments Indians could hide for hours from the scouts on the house tops. Thus the great enclosure with its details served a triple purpose. It was the reservoir which held and conducted the waters precipitated on the mesilla to the useful purpose of irrigation. It was a preliminary defensive line,—a first obstruction to a storming foe, and a shelter for its defenders. But it was also in places an admirable post of observation. It formed the necessary complement to the houses themselves,]and both together composed a system of defences which, inadequate against the military science of civilization,p. 133 was still wonderfully adapted for protection against the stealthy, lurking approach, the impetuous but "short-winded" dash, of Indian warfare.
In conclusion of this lengthy report, I may be permitted to add a few lines concerning the great houses themselves. Their mode and manner of construction and occupation I have already discussed; it is their abandonment and decay to which I wish to refer. This decay is the same in both houses; the path of ruin from S.S.E. to N.N.W. indicates its progress. It shows clearly that, as section after section had been originally added as the tribe increased in number, so cell after cell (or section after section) was successively vacated and left to ruin as their numbers waned, till at last the northern end of the building alone sheltered the poor survivors. They receded from south to north; for the church, despoiled and partly destroyed in 1680, was no protection to them. Its own ruin kept pace with that of the tribe. The northern extremity of the pueblo was their best stronghold, and thither they retired step by step in the face of inevitable doom.
A. F. Bandelier.
Santa Fé, Sept. 17, 1880.
To Professor C. E. NortonPresident of the Archæological Institute of America, Cambridge, Mass.