About The Pueblos Indians
The most interesting Indians of the Southwest are the Pueblos, so called from their habit of living in towns. The word Pueblo is Spanish, and means a village or town. More than three hundred years ago the Spaniards, exploring northward from Mexico, found these clusters of industrious Indians living in their quaint towns. They conquered them and brought them missionaries. They taught them their beautiful language, and even to-day Spanish is spoken in all the pueblos in addition to the native Indian tongue. When the Spaniards entered New Mexico there were more than one hundred pueblos; to-day there are about twenty. Most of these are in New Mexico, but seven, the Moki towns, are in Arizona.
The home of the Pueblos is a wonderful land. It is a country of desert, of flat-topped mesas, of sharp-pinnacled crests, of broad valleys, and deep and narrow cañons. It is a land where the sky is almost always blue, and where the air is clear. There are but few streams, and every spring is precious. The people always built near water, and selected some spot in a valley where there was room for the corn-fields.
The largest of the present pueblos is Zuñi, in New Mexico. Some years ago a white man, Frank Cushing, went to Zuñi and lived for a long time there to learn about the life and customs of the Pueblo Indians. They were kind to him, at first taking him into their own houses, and later allowing him a little house by himself. Since Mr. Cushing went to live at Zuñi, a number of other persons have lived at other pueblos, so that we know a good deal about them now.
View of Pueblo: Taos, N. M. (From Photograph.)
In former times a pueblo consisted of one great house, or, at most, of a few great houses, each the home of a large number of people. Taos, in northern New Mexico, is, perhaps, as old-fashioned as any of the pueblos now occupied. Even to-day it consists almost entirely of two large houses, one on each side of the little Taos River. The houses are so built that the flat roofs of the different stories form a set of steps as one looks at them from in front. In a three-story building the lower floor would have three sets of rooms, one in front of another. The roof of the front line of rooms would form a flat platform in front of the front rooms of the second story, which consisted only of two lines of rooms. The roof of the front line of these, in turn, was a platform in front of the single line of third-story rooms. Formerly there were no doors in the lower rooms, but ladders were placed against the wall, and persons climbed up on the roof; then through a hole in the roof, by means of another ladder they climbed down into the room. By ladders from the roof of the first floor they climbed to the top of the second story; there were doors in the rooms of the second and third stories. Nowadays there are usually doors into the lower rooms, but they still use ladders for getting into the upper stories.
The people are fond of sitting on the house-tops as they work. There they spin, shell corn, cut and dry squashes, shape pottery vessels, etc. There they gather in crowds when there are dances in the pueblo, and when there are foot races or pony races.
The walls of these houses are built of stone covered over with adobe mud, or of sun-dried adobe bricks. They did not formerly have what we would call windows, but there were small openings in the walls for air, or for peepholes. In the pueblos of to-day we find true sashes with glass in a few of the houses. There are also some rather old rooms that have windows made of “isinglass” or gypsum, a mineral found in the mountains, which can be split into thin sheets, which are transparent. The chimneys in these houses are made of broken water-jars laid up, one on another, and the joints plastered with mud.
Pueblo Pottery. (From Originals in Peabody Museum.)
The Pueblo Indians are industrious. The men have to attend to their fields, their orchards of peaches and apricots, and their flocks and herds. The women tend the gardens, make pottery and baskets, and prepare the food. Men are also weavers of blankets and belts. The produce of the fields is chiefly corn, but some wheat is also raised. Considerable crops are made of watermelons, muskmelons, squashes, and gourds. The most important domestic animals are ponies, the little donkeys called burros, and goats. Near the pueblos are always several enclosures built of poles set in the ground, called corrals. These are for the animals, and one kind only is usually kept in one corral. The Indian boys have great fun at evening when the burros are brought home from pasture and put into the corral. They go in among them and play until dark with the patient little beasts. They climb up on to them and ride, push, pull, and tease them. Early the next morning the whole herd is taken out to pasture by two or three boys, whose work it is to stay with them all day.
Estufa at Cochiti, N. M. (From Photograph.)
A visitor to a pueblo would be sure to notice the estufas. These differ with the pueblo, but the characteristic Rio Grande pueblo type is a large, round, single-roomed, flat-topped building. They are smoothly coated outside with adobe clay. A flight of steps leads to the roof, and a long ladder projecting through a hole in the roof leads down to the inside. The floor of the estufa is considerably lower than the ground outside. Years ago, before the Spanish priests taught the Indians our ideas of family life, all the men and large boys slept in the estufa at night, while the women and little children slept in the big houses. Nowadays the estufas are somewhat mysterious places where the dancers practice for the great dances, and where, on the day of celebration, they dress and ornament for the event.
At the pueblos are many little round-topped buildings of clay and stone. They have a small opening or door at the bottom. They are the ovens for baking bread. The women build a fine fire of dry brush inside the oven until it is heated thoroughly. The ashes and coals are then raked out, and the loaves of bread, shaped like large rolls, are put inside on the floor, and a sheepskin is hung at the door. In about an hour the bread is removed, well baked and piping hot. Some years ago a lady visiting Taos wrote a description of that pueblo. She mentioned these clay ovens, and said, “When not in use for baking bread, they make nice dog kennels.” We have never seen any except such as had the doorway carefully filled up with stones when they were not in use for baking.
The bread baked in these ovens is made of wheat flour. Another kind, called paper-bread, is made of corn. The chief work of the Pueblo woman is grinding corn meal. The grinding is done upon a stone set slantingly on the ground. This stone is called a metaté. The woman kneels in front of it and holds a rubbing stone in her hands. Throwing a handful of grains of corn upon the metaté, she rubs it to meal with the rubbing stone. It is hard work, and the woman's body moves up and down, up and down, as she grinds. Usually she sings in time to her movements. Sometimes three or four grindstones are set side by side, separated from each other by boards. Several women grind together, each at one of the stones. The first grinds the corn to a coarse meal; she then passes it to the next, who grinds it finer, and then passes it along to be made still finer.
In making paper-bread fine corn meal is mixed with water into a dough or batter. A fire is then built under a flat stone with a smooth top. When this is hot, the woman spreads a thin sheet of dough upon it with her hand; in a moment this is turned, and then the sheet, which is almost as thin as paper, is folded or rolled up and is ready to eat. The color of paper-bread varies, but commonly it is a dull bluish-green and tastes sweet and good.
For threshing wheat the Pueblos prepare a clean, round spot of ground, perhaps twenty feet across. It is smooth, with a hard, well-trodden floor of clay. It is surrounded with a circle of poles stuck in the ground, to which ropes are fastened in order to make an enclosure.
The grain, cut in the fields, is brought in and heaped up on the clay floor. Ponies are driven into the enclosure, and a boy with a whip keeps them running around. They tread the grain loose from the chaff or husk. In the afternoon, when the wind has risen, men with wooden shovels and pitchforks throw the grain and chaff into the air. The wheat, being heavy, falls, while the chaff is blown away. When the grain has thus been nearly cleaned, the women come with great bowl-shaped baskets. Spreading a blanket or skin robe on the ground, a woman takes a basketful of the grain, holds it up above her head, and gently shakes it from side to side, pouring out a little stream of the grain all the time. As this falls, the wind blows out the last of the chaff and dirt, and the grain is left clean, ready for use.