Feast of San Geronimo

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo

Taos, the most northern of the New Mexican pueblos, lies between the Rio Lucero and Rio Taos. Both streams furnish never failing supplies of water, As a consequence, the crops raised by the Indians are remarkably fine. Corn and wheat are produced in about equal quantities. Fruit and vegetables are rarely seen. The farms range in extent from 9 to 13 acres, though’ some members of the community having large families manage as many as 35 acres, and others variously 30, 24, 18, 16, 10, 8, 6, and 3. These farms yield, when well managed, 30 bushels to the acre. At the Ranchos do Taos, a Mexican village 8 miles distant; a large mill affords ready sale for all they can produce. Many Indians are able to store and hold their grain until prices have advanced, sometimes to 85 cents per bushel. This is the most independent of the Pueblo tribes both in material condition and in its attitude toward strangers, It would be difficult to find in the west, where farming is dependent upon irrigation, a more desirable treat of land than that owned by these Indians. The water, carried in sub-waterways, or acequias, commands a large portion of the reservation. Cottonwood trees line the main watercourses and larger streams of artificial construction. The fields behind the town toward the mountain are divided by scrub willow, wild plum, and blackberry bushes, and seldom contain more than 3 or acres, One member of the pueblo often owns several plots of ground. If he finds that he can care for more land, he makes application to the authorities of the commune for another section either adjoining or in a different part of the tract, After bolding these portions for a period long enough to have him regarded as the owner, he is privileged to sell or rent to a fellow townsmen, or to have a part of all his land worked on shares. On the southern border, touched by the Mexican town of Fernandez de Taos, I found several towns worked in this way by Mexicans. Their owners loaf or hunt. After the revolution of 1847, when money was necessary in the pueblo, one-eighth of their land, a strip on the southern border, was sold. This, however, was included in the grant confirmed in 1858, though never properly claimed by the pueblo. On the north three-eighths of the grant covers mountain land. It is supposed that this has deposits of mineral, but the Indian keeps jealous guard upon it and challenges every intruder. He makes no attempt at developing this himself, for since the days when under Spanish rule he mined as a slave the Indian has never shown the slightest inclination to penetrate more than the depth of a plowshare below the surface.

Feast of San Geronimo
Feast of San Geronimo, held at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, September 30, 1889

Taos, like several other pueblos, has purchased land outside of its grant. At present, a litigation in which the pueblo is the defendant, suit being brought by 6 Mexican settlers, is in progress. A bloodless war over irrigating ditches, which were destroyed, provoked the suit. This is the only community in the range possessed of confidence and pluck enough to take the aggressive for maintaining its rights. All other cases that have some under my notice have proved the Indian to be a prodigy of long suffering patience. A ramble through the groves and fields of this pueblo discloses many little structures, houses of a single room, the summer abode of families engaged in tilling the soil. After harvest these families return to the pueblo. A portion only of the inhabitants leave the town in summer, those owning land near at hand remaining. It as at Laguna, these summer houses could be made places of permanent abode, the health of the community would be greatly improved. As it is, an epidemic, fastening itself upon the community, finds fertile soil in the crowded tenements. The best thing that could happen to Taos would be the destruction of its 2 great piles of buildings 5 and 7 stories in height, and the building of separate houses, as at Islets, of but 1 story. The day before I reached Taos 7 children died of diphtheria, smallpox was also raging. A glance was sufficient to discover the cause. Urine is allowed to stand in large ollas for 3 days. The air is breathed as it rises by the inmates of the upper stories of the buildings. The town of Taos was formerly encompassed by a wall, the remains of which are still seen skirting an irregular space of less than a dozen acres, Within this, and on either side of the stream which intersects it, 2 piles of buildings have been reared, besides other smaller lodges which lie about these centers, The schoolhouse, under the management of a Catholic Indian mission, is a comfortable adobe structure. It is the only building in the village having square and painted window and door jams. It has a seating capacity for 40, though the average attendance has been but 28 for the past year. There were originally no doors or means of ingress on the ground floor of the 2 great structures, but instead entrance was had through trapdoors in the roof reached by ladders from without, which in time of danger might be pulled up and so allow no opportunity to the invader. In front of both pyramidal structures stands a row of huge bake ovens, conical in shape, each provided with a large door and hole for draft, which are seldom used save by the dogs, which find them snug kennels at night. After a fire has been made and allowed, to burn for some time, the oven is cleared, heat sufficient remaining for a number of baking’s. I give a close description of an Indian dwelling, as with the exception of the height to which the structures rise at Taos, one is typical of all others throughout the pueblos. Mounting one of the many ladders, we gain the first platform. The door confronting us is about two thirds the height of a man. The room probably measures 15 by 20 feet, with a height of 7.5 feet. In one corner is the open fireplace, about which lie pots, large and small, used in cooking, also a pile of piñon branches and mesquite roots for fuel, and a large olla with open mouth, serving as a depository for ashes. Along one side, is the bed, with its cushions of skins and blankets; under which are concealed the few valuables of the occupant. From the rafter hangs the cradle, a stout wicker basket, furnished with soft skins, and near it are strung festoons of many colored ears of corn, red peppers, jerked meat, hear grass, and feathers. The floor is of hard cement, sometimes blackened and polished by application of beef blood, and the walls at their junction meet in a curve. At the height of 2 feet is a broad band of yellow ocher encircling the room; from this to the top the walls are either whitened with washes of ground gypsum or allowed to remain the original color of the clay. The ponderous cottonwood timbers overlying the walls are barked and left clean, and suffered to protrude several feet, more or less, on the outside. A multiplicity of ladders of all sizes, charred and cracked pots capping the chimneys, a bake oven large enough for a night’s lodging, trapdoors, poles of odd and unnecessary lengths, which serve as occasion requires for jerking meat and drying clothes, are what confront one on each exit from the dim interiors into the intense sunlight. Mounting higher, the walls are found to be more delicate and the ceilings lower, the highest story of the north pueblo barely accommodating a person in a sitting posture. Here and there on a balcony by itself may be seen a large wooden cage, which indicates ownership of an eagle, though usually the bird, with wings clipped, is espied enjoying his probatory freedom on a clothespole or on; the lofty summit of a tree in the sacred grove, which extends along the stream for 2 miles behind the town, a sort of park for the villagers, and back of all, though near enough for the eastern sun to cast there from long shadows over the pueblo, rise the magnificent summits of the Taos mountains, attaining a height of more than 14,000 feet. Linguistically, Taos belongs to the Tigua (Toques) group, of Tewan or Taman stock. The Taosans braid 2 side locks of hair with fur or worsted, parting it back and front in the center of the head, Like their northern neighbors, the Utes and Apaches, they dress largely in skins, though calico serves them for working garments. In respect to communal organization and religious ceremonials, they conform to other pueblos, and their Indian language is identical with that of Isleta, the pueblo farthest to the south. This pueblo has a range of almost 500 acres of fine pastureland inclosed by a wire fence. Here all the flocks and herds of the community graze, horses, cattle, and goats. All save the horses are driven back to the pueblo and corralled at night. Taos has a grant of 17,301 acres. One-half is inaccessible and about one-third of the remainder is unavailable either for grazing or agriculture.

Taos Pueblo,

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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