Monday, September 09, 2019

New Mexico's First "White Man" & Saint Guinefort

So we continue to learn more and more about the not too distant past of our new home state – and about our grand-dog’s ancestors. Today’s lessons are (1) the first “white man” the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico ever saw saw was black, and (2) and our grand-dog’s forebears were not at all sweet-tempered couch-potatoes like she is. Interestingly, the two discoveries are part of the same story.
The subject of the “white black man” quip was a Moroccan slave named Esteban (aka "Esteban the Moor," "Estevan," "Stephen the Black," "Esteban de Dorantes" (after his owner), or "Estevanico" (in the condescending diminutive with which the Spanish referred to their human property.)  By whatever name, in 1539 he was the first non-Indian to enter what are now the states of Arizona and New Mexico – 46 years before the first English-speaking colonists crossed the Atlantic.
The African adventurer was a complete unknown to us until we met him in person as one of the “Spirits of New Mexico” reenacted at El Rancho de las Golondrinas’ Halloween event. Recently we learned more at a lecture at the New Mexico History Museum.
Not much of Esteban’s early life is known. He was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled town of Azemmour, Morocco – then resold five years later to Spanish nobleman, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza who brought him as his slave on Pánfilo de Narváez's 1527 expedition to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast, and (as is usual with the Colonial Spanish) to hopefully find gold. Although almost certainly raised as Muslim – and even though the Spanish were very much in the business of converting such non-Christians to Catholicism – there seems to be no evidence of a change of faith (voluntary or not) on his part.
The crew for Narváez's Florida expedition initially numbered about 600 and included men from Spain as well as Portugal, Greece, and Italy. (Such a variety of national origins was not unusual.) The odyssey met with disaster before reaching its destination. While making stops at Hispaniola and Cuba the fleet was devastated by a hurricane and lost two ships. After landing near Sarasota Bay, Florida a party of 300 men, including Esteban and Dorantes, were sent overland in search of gold.  They underwent numerous attacks by indigenous peoples including the Apalachee Indians – and suffered from disease and starvation. There was none of the precious metal. In September 1528, what remained of the group tried to escape to Mexico on makeshift rafts, and were swept onto Galveston Island off the coast of Texas. Eighty men survived and were captured and enslaved by the Karankawa Indians. Four of them – Esteban, Dorantes, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado – lived through this and managed to escape five years later, in 1534.

Esteban is described as a physically intimidating man – muscular and over six feet tall in a world of 5’ 6” people – as well as being a natural polyglot who quickly learned enough of the native languages to act as chief negotiator, interpreter, go-between, and (drawing upon his knowledge of African and Spanish medicine) folk healer. Thus he became the de facto leader of the wandering pack, although not formally in charge due to his position as Dorantes’ slave. In 1536, the quartet of survivors, and a retinue of six hundred Indian escorts they had accumulated on their travels, happened upon a Spanish slaving expedition near Mexico City – finally ending their eight-year-long, 15,000-mile sojourn.
With the apparently miraculous arrival of four seasoned (although mostly unsuccessful) explorers the attention of the Spanish colonial administrators in Mexico City turned to the mysterious north, which (like Florida) had long been rumored to harbor treasure equal to that of the Aztecs.  Dorantes, de Vaca, and Castillo Maldonado however refused to lead or take part in such an expedition.  So, Don Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain, engaged the services of Esteban, purchasing him from Dorantes. Since a slave could not be put in charge of such a safari, Mendoza persuaded a Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, to nominally head the venture – albeit from quite a distance to the rear as shown by his diaries. (By agreement, Esteban traveled several days ahead of Fray Marcos, leaving behind him a trail of crosses of varying size, corresponding with his findings.)
The group set out in 1539 with Esteban reprising his previous roles as negotiator, healer, interpreter, go-between – as well adapting a new persona, as the “Son of the Sun.” It apparently worked. Their passage was safe, and convinced of the slave’s powers, over 300 natives joined his entourage. All was going well on the trip northward until the lead party reached Hawikuh, a Zuni pueblo located just east of the present Arizona-New Mexico border – and then things suddenly went south for the previously unstoppable Moroccan slave.
Although historians do not totally concur on what went wrong – they do agree that the adventures of Esteban ended at Hawikuh. Remember that the official documentarian of this trip was at least several days behind and working off of at best second hand information.
In one version of the story Esteban sent a message to the Zuni tribal leaders, announcing that “he was coming to establish peace and heal them.” The Pueblo elders responded with a warning that he must not enter the village.  Esteban ignored it – possibly blasphemously crossing a line of corn pollen the Zuni priests had sprinkled around the pueblos during a sacred ceremony – and was killed.  Word of his death reached Fray Marcos, who took a quick look at Pueblo Hawikuh from afar, then headed back to Mexico City claiming to have discovered the fabled golden city of Cibola.
Another variation asserts that a gourd decorated with red ribbons and bells, which Esteban had sent with his message, gravely offended the Zuni leadership. Other tales say that the Zuni did not believe Esteban's story that he represented a party of whites – ­ or that they did believe it and knew that what was coming behind him would not be good for the Indians – or that he was killed for demanding turquoise – or that because he was black and wore feathers and rattles, he may have looked like a malevolent wizard to the Zuni.
Zuni oral history likewise is ambiguous – with some accounts even alleging that Esteban and his Indian friends faked his death so he could gain freedom from slavery.
Interestingly there are many images of Esteban the New Mexican explorer available today. According to some folklore the Zuni Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Esteban.
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At the lecture we were shown an illustration portraying him clothed in animal pelts with his ankles and arms adorned with bells, feathers, and pieces of turquoise – a man who was clearly dressed to impress – and intimidate. And to increase this sense of menace he is shown accompanied by several intense looking greyhounds – one of the breeds of war dogs (along with wolfhounds, lurchers, pit bulls and gigantic mastiffs) that the Spanish brought with them from Europe.
(That image is not available online. The one attached to this email shows Esteban attired in a more traditional Conquistador outfit – something not in line with written descriptions. But he does have his greyhound dogs of war with him.)

As described in, these canines were “trained to fight and kill with the utmost ferocity,... having been used repeatedly in acts of genocide against the Indians of Hispaniola and Cuba...Unleashed in snarling, baying packs...they have great dragging jowls and fangs like daggers and blazing eyes of burning yellow that flash fire and shoot off sparks.” (There is more but we think you get the idea.)
The natives also had dogs. But they were not fighters – or even really pets as we might have today. They were small, hairless, creatures, much like the former “Spokes-dog” for the Taco Bell fast food franchise – who (not to be indelicate), had she been an Aztec pup likely would been found inside the Chalupa rather than peddling it.
Our grand-dog Taylor – a retired Alabama greyhound racer, nom de track “Shake It Off” ( a song by Taylor Swift, hence her less formal sobriquet) – is way more likely to be saying “Yo quiero [I want] my stomach rubbed,” than “bring it on!”
But an April 2010 New York Times article indicates that some of that Spanish warrior dog spirit may still exist in the rural, southern part of our new home state.
"'Greyhounds are calm, gentle dogs, but they're also pretty efficient killers,' [cattle rancher John] Hardzog said as he picked a clump of tawny coyote hair from one dog's teeth. 'This is exactly what they're born and bred to do. Yep, this is what they live for.
"'When you get the dogs running in a dead run after a coyote, now that's a sport,' Hardzog said before spitting snuff into a tiny gold spittoon." Being in non-rural, northern New Mexico we prefer golf.
Nonetheless these canines – be they “efficient killers” or total couch potatoes – at one time had a patron saint who is literally one of their own – Saint Guinefort, a 13th Century member of that breed.

The story goes that Guinefort the greyhound, the family pet, had been left at home to guard an otherwise unattended infant. When the baby’s father returned he found the room covered in blood – especially around the crib, next to which the dog was sitting.  In a fit of anger the father shot and killed the hound with an arrow – and then discovered the fresh, lifeless body of a snake beneath the cradle.  Overcome by guilt he buried the greyhound and planted a grove of trees around the grave in its honor. Local villagers soon began making pilgrimages to the gravesite, miraculous events happened, and "Saint Guinefort" became an object of worship among the townspeople.

But the Catholic Church never formally canonized the dog. And eventually Etienne de Bourbon, an Inquisitor, had the dog "disinterred and the sacred wood cut down and burnt, along with the remains of the dog." Guinefort was declared a heretic.
It didn't work. Up until the 1940's pilgrims continued to visit the site, praying for the protection of their children, and nourishing their own spirituality.
So we have sainthood by popular demand for a loyal hound. While the Moroccan slave who paved the way for the Spanish settlement of New Mexico is remembered as a black monster katsina dancer by the tribal group that ended his life – but nowhere else.
The more we study the past the more we realize that Jack Webb’s television creation Sgt. Joe Friday was wrong, It is not “just the facts ma’am.” But also what those that were there, and their successors, chose to make of them.
And no we are not changing Taylor’s inheritance. As author Tad Williams puts it, “Whatever my ancestors did to you, none of them consulted me.”

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Nineteen Pueblos

Sorry Connecticut – this could be partially our fault.  We moved out here to Santa Fe in 2017 and the UConn Women were eliminated in the semi's of that season's NCAA Tournament.  And now they have lost their first non-tournament game since 2014.  If you see Coach Geno please let him know that we still love him and that we have a guest room should he want to stop by and re-connect with our game-winning mojo.  We might even be able to rustle up a green chile cheeseburger or two for him. 

Meanwhile the Lady Lobos of the University of New Mexico, with whom we we have a slightly unusual personal connection, are twelve and one – including a victory in ABQ over the University of Hartford (at whose "Alternative Public Radio" station we had volunteered.)   In 2004 we anticipated that we might need to also develop an allegiance to a local NM women's basketball team.  So we took advantage of an opportunity to renew our wedding vows on Valentine's Day during halftime of a Lady Lo's game along with twenty other couples and 15,000 cheering fans at "The Pit".  Attached is a picture of us with our wedding party – bridesmaid "Lobo Lucy" and best wolf "Lobo Louie" – after the ceremony.  (Rebecca was not able to attend.)

At the health club the other day Jim was eavesdropping on a conversation between a Physical Therapy Trainer and his client.

PTT: “May family is coming to visit for Christmas and I don’t know what to do with them.”

C: “Why don’t you go to see the Indian dances at one of the Pueblos?  I think there are some at the Okay Whatever-It-Is.  Things were so much easier before they started using those Indian names.”             

There are in fact nineteen Pueblo Tribal Nations in New Mexico: Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, Isleta, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni – and Ohkay Owingeh, which had been re-entitled San Juan Pueblo in 1598 by Juan de Onate during the formal Spanish settling of Nuevo Mexico, but now goes by its traditional pre-colonial name

Each Pueblo is its own community of related people with similar spiritual beliefs and is its own sovereign government.   Some use their “Indian” name (full, Anglicized or abbreviated) – others go by the identifier given them by the Spanish Catholics.  Sandia Pueblo sits at the foot of its eponymous mountains. Laguna (Spanish for lake) is located alongside a man-made body of water – a different type of “rez.”  The town of Taos ("place of red willows") is named after the Pueblo.  Others we have not been able to decipher. 
Populations sizes range from 11,000 at Santa Clara to just over 600 in Santa Ana – and the land sizes run from the Zuni’s 588,000 acres to Okhay Owingeh’s and Pojoaque’s 12,000.  Each Pueblo speaks one six of different languages – Jemez, Keres, Tewa, Tiwa Picurus, Zia, and Zuni.  (Full details at the bottom.)

During the Spanish Colonization in the 1500s there were at least ten distinct Native American language families in and around New Mexico – Hopi, Zuni, Keres (Western and Eastern), Kiowa, Towa, Tewa, Tiwa  (Southern and Northern), Apachean, and Piro.  This set had evolved from the four families and six languages that existed during the period prior to 1 A.D. 

Over time the communities’ vocabularies became less similar.  Which could have made the Native American’s collaborative eviction of the Spanish during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt virtually impossible – except for one thing.
The uprising was planned and coordinated by Tiwa-speaking Popay and his confederates at Taos Pueblo. 

As describes it, “Runners were dispatched to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords which signified the number of days remaining until the appointed day. Each morning the Pueblo leadership untied one knot from the cord; when the last knot was untied, it was the signal for them to rise in unison. 

“[At the prearranged time] each Pueblo was to raze its mission church, then kill the resident priest and neighboring Spanish settlers. Once the outlying Spanish settlements were destroyed, the Pueblo forces would converge on the isolated capital [of Santa Fe].

“The plan demanded the unprecedented cooperation and participation of all of New Mexico's Pueblos. It would be an extraordinary accomplishment considering the cultural and linguistic differences among the various Pueblos. Ironically, the very people they sought to overthrow may have provided the Pueblos with the instrument that helped them overcome this problem – by 1680 nearly all the Pueblos spoke Spanish.”

But the Spanish returned twelve years later to re-conquer New Mexico, followed in governance by the Mexicans and then the Americans – each in turn wresting the land from its prior owner.  And the Pueblo struggles with their overlords shifted to being less on the battlefields and more in the courts.

As the Santa Fe New Mexican put it in their 2015 review of the book Four Square Leagues: Pueblo Indian Land in New Mexico, “Over more than 400 years, New Mexico pueblos have fought, sued, purchased, negotiated, and bartered for their land under Spanish, Mexican, and American governments…the book chronicles the ways in which pueblos have lost and gained land over the centuries. …[and explains] the origins of the ‘pueblo league’ – a [17th and 18th century] way of measuring pueblo land for land-grant purposes. The pueblo league encompassed 4 leagues (roughly 5 square miles) emanating in each cardinal direction from a pueblo’s central church.”

U.S. Federal Law has for the most part honored the land agreements pueblos had with the preceding Spanish and Mexican governments – ironically unlike how it observed the treaties that other tribes signed directly with the American government.  “Though it has required constant vigilance by the pueblos, the pueblo league [method of measuring property] has also given the pueblos a history vastly different from that of other U.S. tribes or what the writers call a ‘sad tale of treaties broken, homelands lost, and forced migration to federally designated reservations.’”

The Pueblo Indians hold their religious beliefs and rituals very privately.  The “dances” are not performances or proselytizing events, but rather religious ceremonies that they allow the public to witness.   No explanations are provided and no photos are allowed.   This is perhaps an effort to prevent something like what many Puebloans feel happened to the Zia Sun symbol.   According to New Mexico magazine, the image, which appeared on a sacred pot that mysteriously disappeared from the tribe’s Fire Society, showed up thirty-three years later in 1920 – modified and misinterpreted – as the first-place entry in a competition to design the New Mexican state flag.

We are certain that the victorious pennant designers felt they were honoring, rather than disrespecting, the Zia culture.  But apparently they never asked the Pueblo People.  Nor did they seek any explanation for the meaning their chosen symbol.  Currently the Zia are pursuing legal methods to curtail and/or control other (mostly commercial uses) of the pattern. 

The contest winners did however get the name of the Pueblo right.

Tabular display of information about the New Mexican Pueblos:
PuebloTraditional NameLanguage  Population         Acres
Jemez Pueblo WalatowaJemez 1,81589,619
Acoma PuebloHaak’uKeres 3,011378,262
Cochiti Pueblo KO-TYITKeres 1,72750,681
Laguna Pueblo Ka'waikaKeres 4,043495,442
San Felipe Pueblo KatishtyaKeres 3,53648,929
Santa Ana Pueblo TAMAYAKeres 621           — 
Santo DomingoKewaKeres 

Nambe Pueblo Nambe O-Ween-GeTewa1,61119,093
Ohkay Owingeh Ohkay OwingehTewa6,30912,236
Pojoaque Pueblo PO-SUWAE-GEHTewa3,31612,004
San Ildefonso Po-woh-ge-oweengeTewa1,75228,179
Santa Clara Pueblo Kha'p'oo OwingeTewa11,02153,437
Tesuque Pueblo TET-SUGEHTewa841           — 
Picuris Pueblo Pe’ewiTiwa1,88615,034
Pueblo of Isleta Tue-ITiwa3,400301,102
Sandia Pueblo NA-FIATTiwa 4,96522,890
Taos Pueblo Tuah-TahTiwa 4,38496,106
Zia Pueblo Tsi-yaZia737121,613
Zuni PuebloSHE-WE-NAZuni 7,891588,093

Development of Speech Communities 
New “speech communities” were formed when speakers of a single language become geographically separated and over time developed their own dialect and expanded their language as they experienced new locations and created new technologies – i.e. new things require new words.  When communities interacted with each other, new “words and things” were absorbed into each other’s knowledge base.  The attached diagram from the “Southwestern Culture History” course we took at the Office of Archaeological Studies shows one example.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Poverty Preserves

The town of Las Vegas, New Mexico is as different from its glitzy Nevada namesake as it is from its sixty-five mile down-the-road neighbor, Santa Fe.  In fact much of it is more similar in appearance and architecture to a pair of east coast cities in which we have spent some time – the late 19th century Victorian communities of Cape May, New Jersey and Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

We made the one-hour drive to Vegas to take in the “Holiday Home Tour” put on by the Las Vegas Citizen’s Committee for Historic Preservation (LVCCHP) on a recent Saturday from five to nine p.m.  Since, as we have mentioned in other posts, there are basically no street lights anywhere in northern New Mexico – and since all the roads involved in this adventure were unfamiliar to us (including that portion of the seventy-five mph Route 25) – we opted to spend the night there at the Plaza Hotel, the exterior of which should be recognizable to fans of the Netflix Series “Longmire” as the front of the sheriff’s office.

Located along the edge of the eastern plains of New Mexico, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Las Vegas was established by a Mexican land grant in 1835.  It was originally named “Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes” (“Our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows) by the original settlers whose roots in the area went back to the early 1600’s.   Initially, the settlement was designed to be battened down for attacks by the Apache Indians with one-story adobe houses circling a large, central plaza where livestock could be driven to safety.   The soldiers later moved up the road twenty-six miles to Fort Union.

In 1846, during the Mexican War, General Stephen W. Kearney led his “Army of the West” to Las Vegas.  The 1,500 residents quickly surrendered.  By then the Santa Fe Trail had become a major trade route, and as the first town of any size east of Kansas the city eagerly began supplying whiskey and women to the traders, pioneers and prospectors who stopped by.  When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reached the settlement in 1879, Las Vegas became the largest city between San Francisco and Independence, Missouri rivaling Denver, Tucson and El Paso in size.

“Overnight, a new town was born on the east banks of the Gallinas River, a mile east of the Plaza. At first, a settlement of tents, sheds and makeshift shelters were built, but within just a few short years, many permanent buildings had been established, as well as a competing commercial district…The six trains that stopped there daily opened up yet another era of prosperity, bringing with it both legitimate businesses, but also introducing even more new elements into the town’s already distrustful environment. Before long, outlaws, bunko artists, murderers and thieves were becoming so common that the eastern part of the settlement had become utterly lawless,” according to

“It was during these notorious days of Las Vegas’ history that the town was called home or visited by the likes of Doc Holliday [who had a dentist’ office in town], Big-Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Bob Ford, [and] Wyatt Earp… In 1881, after Billy the Kid was killed at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, his index finger was sent in a jar to the Las Vegas newspaper.”

 (Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings aka Big-Nose Kate)

To maintain control of development, the railroad established a station and other buildings one mile east of the Plaza, creating a separate, rival “New Town,” just as it did elsewhere in the Old West in places such as Albuquerque. The train station itself was built in 1899 as a two-story brick station building designed in the Spanish Mission style and featuring a red tile roof, ornate metal brackets and a curving parapet.

The railway also brought entrepreneurs such as Fred Harvey whose “Harvey House” chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry businesses situated alongside the tracks in the western United States catered to the growing number of traveling train tourists.   In Las Vegas Harvey built the Hotel Castañeda where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders held their first reunion in 1899.

“Railroad Barons” and other successful businessman constructed many large Victorian style homes along various streets on the city’s east side.  Andrew Carnegie endowed one of his public libraries to the town – this one designed in a Neoclassical, Palladian style similar to Jefferson’s Monticello.  Fin de siècle Las Vegas featured all the modern amenities, including an electric street railway, the "Duncan Opera House,” and the New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University) – all on the east side of town.

The separation point between the east and west, along the banks of Galinas River, was known as the Tortilla Curtain.  The two sides finally unified into one town in 1950 but each one retains its own distinct characteristics and separate, rival school districts.

The Plaza Hotel where we spent Saturday night was built in 1882 on the West Side of town by a group of Hispano businessmen led by Don Benigno Romero at a cost of $25,000. It is a three-story brick building with an Italianate façade, grandly decorated, with high-ceilinged guest rooms. The lobby is connected to the second floor by towering twin staircases.  It was advertised as the finest hotel in the Nuevo Mexican territory, and frequently referred to as the "Belle of the Southwest.”

Like many other 1800s railroad boomtowns however, Las Vegas did not fare as well in the twentieth century.   In 1905 a new rail line was built in New Mexico between the towns of Clovis and Belen, cutting off Las Vegas in the north.  The Great Depression hit the community hard, and the postwar rise of automobile and truck travel and the accompanying decline of the railroad industry pretty much sealed its economic fate.

But as M, the former Assistant Director of our Historical Society in Wethersfield, Connecticut, used to say, “poverty preserves.”

The New York Times agrees.  “Las Vegas’s ill fortune in the 20th century is its good fortune in the 21st. Because the economy collapsed in the early part of the 1900s, no one was tearing down old buildings to make way for new ones. Now many buildings have been restored, but Las Vegas hasn’t been covered in stucco in an attempt to adobify it.”

Today, Las Vegas is home to over 900 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the highest per capita in the nation.   “So many of these historic buildings are still standing here because no one had the money to tear them down” after Las Vegas’ boom town days ended, according to the LVCCHP – the sponsor of the House tour that brought us here.

There were six stops on the excursion – four residences (two eastside and two west) and two hotels, likewise east and west.  One of the stops was the Plaza, our home base for the weekend.

The West Vegas homes were located in a neighborhood replete with 130 year old adobe houses.  The first one however was originally a single-wide mobile home expanded into an eight room bungalow in which every surface of every room was filled with Christmas decorations.  Each area was organized by theme – Nutcrackers, angels, a Christmas Village, a working carnival – with trees of the same motif.  Something the owners of the house have been doing for the past ten years – five as a part of the house tour.

The next west-sider was in fact an old adobe that had been more than doubled in size to accomodate two offices, a greenhouse, and more.  The decoration here was of the less-is-more style but the house was the show.  Another one of the New Mexico houses whose size cannot be understood from the outside.

The “New Town” homes were both two-story, 3,200 sq. ft. plus, Victorian style buildings with large porches and cellars built in the late 1800s  – one by a “Railroad Baron.”   Either residence would have fit perfectly into the Cape May Historic District, the Victorian streets of Bellefonte – or Hartford, Connecticut’s Nook Farm area.

The other east side stop on the tour was the El Fidel Hotel.  Built in 1923 as a community project initiated by the Commercial Club of Las Vegas and originally called “The Meadows,” the Spanish Colonial revival style structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Two years after it opened, the inn made headlines as the site of a shooting involving Las Vegas Judge David Leahy and Carl Magee, founder of the now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune.  Prohibition was in full swing when the hotel opened, but that didn’t stop their bar there from selling liquor. Individuals wanting adult beverages would enter through the alley “as a nod to respectability,” the hotel website noted.  The business was purchased in the 1940s by the Syrian immigrant Fidel brothers who re-named and renovated it.   It was sold again in 2016 and is in renovation – although open for business.

Several of the older buildings in town are being, or recently have been, restored including the Hotel Castañeda, which has been closed since 1948, but is, as we speak, being renovated by developer Allan Affeldt and partners who have already bought, refurbished, and re-opened the historic Harvey House hotel La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.         

The owner of the “Railroad Baron” Victorian house mentioned that a friendly apparition, whom she believes to be the former live-in cook, haunts her abode.  In that same spirit, the town of Las Vegas is trying to rehabilitate itself by resurrecting more of its ghosts from the past – and sharing them once again with the touring public.

We will miss what could have become a regular visit to Cape May and the early morning walks on the beach.  As well as our annual trip to Penn State University for Coach Denise’s Golf Camp – and a day in nearby Bellefonte.

But now we know, should we start to get an attack of adobe-phobia requiring a quick dose of Victoriana, that relief is just an hour away.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

It Was All About the Feathers

The combination of an email from a dear Wethersfield friend, and the recent holiday has prompted me to write a short essay on the prominent role played by the turkey in New Mexico history.

It probably should have occurred to him before.  To our surprise, most of the talks and lectures on our new home state’s past have included something about the large North American members of the Phasianidae family and their importance to the evolution of the Land of Enchantment.  Oddly the only one that did not was a “Foodways” talk at the Office of Archaeological Studies about “The First Thanksgiving” where the only mention of the wattled avian was that it was not part of the menu.  (In social science “Foodways” are the cultural, social, and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food.

The email contained part of an article from “Science’ magazine the point of which was that (to quote the magazine) “Mayans raised and managed wild turkeys – the same species as the Butterball on your table – more than 2300 years ago, making them the first vertebrates to be domesticated on the North American continent.”

Likewise for the Pueblo Indians who were here long before the 1500s when the Spanish began their exploration of what was to become Nuevo Mexico.

But the Puebloans – and in general the Mayans also – did not raise the birds as a source of food.  Analysis of human hair found at various New Mexican sites show a diet where approximately 80% of the protein and calories were from maize.  Other foods included amaranth, rice grass, pine nuts, squash and some red meat such as mountain sheep and deer. 

More evidence comes from the turkey bones themselves that have been found during archeological digs in New Mexico.  The condition of these ancient hard issues indicates that virtually all of these feathered animals died intact – with no signs of having been roasted or having their drumsticks gnawed on.  Some actually look to have been deliberaely buried.  One or two indicated that the turkey might have broken a leg, which the Natives seem to have attempted to set or splint in order to keep it alive.

So, if not nutriment then what?  It seems it was all about the feathers.

Pueblo Indians made prayer sticks, masks and headdresses out of the feathers, which were “live-plucked” from the short layer of the bird’s tail.  Bristles from the “beard” (the coarse black hairs that grow on the breast of adult males) were also added to the thin pieces of carved wood.

But principally the turkey feathers were used to make clothes, pouches, ornaments, necklaces – and turkey blankets.

“The making of turkey feather fabrics consisted of stripping the large wing and tail feathers from live turkeys, wrapping the feathers around feather cords, and weaving the cords into robes and blanket…Humans because of their particular needs continued to favor live turkeys as a source of ritual feathers for sacrifice, and in the production of textiles.” according to “More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality” by Karen Davis.

At the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo at present day Coronado Historic Site in Bernallilo, N.M. we were able to see structures that formerly were used as enclosures for the domesticated turkeys.  And, after hearing so much about these birds, with not too much imagination we were able to picture a phantom profusion of partially plucked Phasianidae parading pathetically in the Pueblo.

Or maybe it was just the altitude.


This photo illustrates why woven, woolen Navajo blankets were a bigger hit with the tourists.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The fabrics of New Mexico’s lives

One of the joys of volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum is hearing visitors wax nostalgic about memories evoked by buildings and settings from their or their families past.  (El Rancho has structures dating from the early 1700s into the late 1800s – many of whose real world likenesses were still in use in the 20th and even 21st centuries.
Recently in Sierra Village (c. 1890) Jim had the pleasure of talking to a woman whose grandfather lived on a doppelgänger of this family compound-farm in Southern New Mexico where he was a successful commercial cotton grower.  Among other things, she wistfully and proudly remembered how buyers would come from the east specifically to bid for his bales of the white, fluffy crop.
Since moving to Santa Fe we have become aware that the Navajo, now weavers of woolen objects, practiced their craft with cotton prior to the arrival of the Spanish, and their churro sheep, in the 16th century.   

We also heard at the Botanical Garden that a type of this fiber-producing shrub (along with quinoa, amaranth and other grains) grew wild at the high elevations of New Mexico, and that the natives harvested and learned to grow and use these plants for their clothing or dietary needs.
But we did not know much of anything about the story of New Mexican cotton either before or after the Navajo switched from that material to wool for their weaving.
“The most precious commodities of southwestern prehistory were turquoise, macaws, copper bells, seashells and cotton and the textiles woven from it.”  (Grasshopper Pueblo: A Story of Archaeology and Ancient Life By Jefferson Reid, Stephanie Whittlesey
Fortunately for historians, New Mexico is one of  “four known areas in the world where perishable textile material, preserved by excessively dry conditions, has survived in appreciable amounts to the present day.” The others are Inner Mongolia, Egypt, coastal Peru. (Kate Peck Kent, “The Cultivation and Weaving of Cotton in the Prehistoric Southwestern United States)   
While most evidence comes from the years between 1000 and 1400 A.D., the artifacts indicate that there was loom weaving with cotton in New Mexico as early as 700 A.D.  Among the relics recovered were corpses wrapped in cotton blankets sometimes with tools for spinning (the process of making thread out of raw fibers), cotton yarn, cottonseeds, seed beaters (instruments used to remove seeds), loom parts, weaving tools, and cloth bags.  The quality of work showed the “same skill in spinning thread and the same proficiency in weaving that appear in fabrics of later periods.”
Peck Kent concludes that the cotton plant was not indigenous – more likely a pre-Spanish import from northern Mexico believed to be what is now called Gossypium Hopi – a fast blooming (84-100 days) species that grows at high altitudes in arid conditions.
Similar finds occurred in Arizona and Utah.   Walter J. Fewkes wrote in 1909, “Fabrics made of cotton are common in the ruins of the Red-rocks, and at times this fiber was combined with yucca.”  Francisco Vázquez de Coronado mentions seeing natives of the region raising cotton and Pueblo Indians wearing cotton blankets and giving his 1539 expedition presents of cotton cloth. 
And writing in the Santa Fe New Mexican, historian Marc Simmons reported,  “Hernán Gallegos, accompanying a small expedition to New Mexico in 1581, wrote that the Pueblo Indians ‘have much cotton, which they spun, wove, and made into blankets for covering and clothing themselves.’”  For example two cotton blankets were sewn together to form the basic Pueblo woman’s dress.  The other frequently used material for clothing was finely tanned buckskin called gamuza.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to the Catholic but Puritanical Spanish who, in Mexico, had been exposed to Indians who were “scantily dressed, if at all.”
 “In addition to using native-grown cotton, early Pueblo weavers worked with apocynum (Indian hemp), yucca leaf fiber, fur, and feather cord,” according to the Michael Smith Gallery website.  “Tools found in many of the prehistoric sites indicate that cotton was spun with the same type of stick-and-whorl spindle still in use today. The resulting yarn was fashioned by finger processed into socks, bags, nets, and braids or was woven into cloth on a wide upright loom or a horizontal backstrap loom in which one of two beams holding the warp yarn is attached to a strap that passes across the weaver's back. Weaving on the loom was a man’s art and continued to be so until recently. Anasazi [ancient Pueblo] weavers knew a limited range of natural dyes, including brick red, brown, black, yellow, and pale blue.”
The Navajo learned about cultivation of cotton as well as weaving on the loom from the Pueblo Indians with whom they had a sometimes fractious, sometimes affable relationship.  They also learned the Pueblo technique of gathering cotton by pulling the bolls from the plant and drying them in the sun.  The dry seeds were then “ginned” either by placing the bolls on clean sand, or between blankets, and beating them.
Cotton was known in Europe by the 1400s, but was not commonly used until the 18th century.  But Columbus may have first discovered the textile’s practacality as explained in this footnote from Charles C. Mann’s book, “1491.”
“Given the choice between their own scratchy wool and the indian’s smooth cotton, the conquistadors threw away their clothes and donned native clothing.  Later this preference was mirrored in Europe.  When cotton became readily available in the eighteenth century; it grabbed so much of the textile market that French woolmakers persuaded the government to ban the new fiber.  The law failed to stem the cotton tide.  As the historian Fernand Braudel noted, some woolmakers then thought outside the box;  They proposed sending prostitutes in cotton clothing to wander Paris streets, where police would publicly strip them naked.  In theory, bourgeois women would then avoid cotton for fear of being mistaken for prostitutes and forcibly disrobed.  This novel form of protectionism was never put into place.”
Cotton was however used in Spain for some clothing in the 1540s as evidenced by the 250 Gambeson/Esquipil quilted cotton jackets and 4 quilted cotton head armors that Coronado had listed in the muster inventory for his expedition.
And the “Clothing Guide at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum” list the major historically accurate materials as “leather, wool, and cotton”: “the daily costume of New Mexican women was a looses cotton chemise…a long scarf, made of silk or cotton…[and for men] cotton or leather breeches…collarless white cotton or linen shirt…cotton stockings.”
            Cotton City (2010 population 388) is a census-designated place in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, named for its cotton gin, which serves the area's cotton farms.
 In 1807 the Spanish tried to establish a cotton weaving industry among colonists but cheaper cotton goods from the U.S. brought in on the Santa Fe Trail in ended that idea in 1812. 
Then in the early 20th century – during New Mexico’s last years as a U.S. Territory and first years of statehood – the cotton-producing industry of the United States began expanding beyond the “Old South Cotton Belt” of Virginia to East Texas.  They established new production centers in western Oklahoma, the Southern Plains of Texas, and created large irrigated farms in California, Arizona, and in the Rio Grande and Pecos river valleys of southern New Mexico. 
 New Mexico’s agricultural experiment stations and land-grant college (now New Mexico State University) contributed significantly to this expansion by developing a variety of Acala cotton suited to these western growing conditions. 
The long, winding river valleys tended to be more moderate, with precipitation between ten and twenty inches a year, but sometimes had shorter growing seasons due to the elevation.  Summer temperatures were high and the crop-growing season was generally long, but in these arid lands farmers had to irrigate.  Fortunately, most of the rainfall came between April and June, the best time to give cotton seedlings a good start before the hot summer months ensued. 
 In New Mexico the largest areas of irrigated farming occured in the Pecos Valley, from Roswell, New Mexico, to near Fort Stockton, Texas, and in the Rio Grande Valley, largely on the lands of the Rio Grande Reclamation Project, in the Mesilla and Rincon valleys.   The completion of the Elephant Butte Dam in 1916 established control over the Rio Grande, eliminated periodic floods, and made agriculture a more stable and profitable venture.  Cotton fields occupied only 0.4 percent of the total crop acreage in 1919. In 1927 it had expanded to 59 percent. 
“By World War II the cotton-producing areas of New Mexico had become fairly stabilized. Of the approximate 133,000 acres of cotton in the state, about 54,000 acres were in the Pecos Valley and fifty-nine thousand were in the Rio Grande Valley. Although New Mexico cotton acreage expanded to over 200,000 acres in the 1950s, even with the additional acreage in the Pecos and El Paso/Rio Grande valleys in Texas, the production of the New Mexico/Far West Texas region was relatively small compared to the rest of the Cotton West. The region has proven to be far more influential for its development of the Acala 1517 cotton variety,” according to Cameron Lee Saffell of Iowa State University.  The 2007 cotton crop was valued at over $38 million with over 98,000 bales produced.  (Texas (25%), California, Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri are the leading producers.)
Among these farmers was the grandfather of Jim’s Sierra Village visitor.
Cotton has been part of the fabric of New Mexico’s lives since almost the beginning of those lives.  It is a pleasure to be part of a living museum that helps keep those memories alive for those that experienced them, as well as for those who are learning about them for the first time here at las Golondrinas.