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Zuñi Pueblo

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Pueblo of Zuni 1890
Pueblo of Zuni 1890

Zuñi lies in a great plain, or valley, through which the Zuñi River flows. On account of the severe storm that had prevailed for a number of days the streets of the town were in a horrible condition, and looked as if they were never cleaned. They are now higher than the ground floors of the houses, though they were evidently once on the same level. Some of the terraced buildings are 5 stories high, reached by clumsy ladders and narrow partition steps of adobe or stone. All those visited were very clean inside, but as a general rule cheerless and sadly lacking in comforts. In a Corner is always to be found a large and prettily decorated olla, filled with water, and a gourd by its side for a dipper. The people use bowls of their own make about the size of a washbowl to mix their bread in. Only the inside of these bowls is decorated. Among other bits of their pottery the canteen, or small water jug, is very pretty, and they bestow great pains on its ornamentation. To its ears they tie gaudy looking sashes of different colors and design; made broad so as to enable them to more easily carry the burden of precious water when on a long journey. Almost every family possesses willow baskets, seine of which come from the Moqui country, some front the far Cojonino, and others from the Apaches. These baskets are made in time fashion of a shallow bowl, or more like a saucer, except those from the second Moqui mesa, which are the large oval, and almost flat. The Cojonino basket is so perfectly braided that it will hold water, but is seldom used for any other purpose than holding meal, corn, or bread. I saw great quantities of dried peaches wherever I went. When stewed they are quite delicious.

The people pay little attention to the great fertile valley or plain in which they live. It could all be put under cultivation and exceed in products a hundredfold more than their requirements, but they pass out of the plain and plant their fields in the little side valley, where they have even set out their peach orchards. I asked the reason for this, and learned it was a “policy” adopted by their wise men; that the plain fit greater part was once ‘under cultivation, but when the white mien began to come they made a change. The plain was naturally very rich and productive wherever irrigated, but to keep the white man off they took possession of the little valleys and watering places on its border, by doing winch their great valley and home are the better protected, and the change only requires a little extra labor.’

The old Catholic church is in a dangerous condition; its walls are giving way, and it is no longer used for religious services. The buildings of the Presbyterian Mission are very good, except the roofs.

The people engage in eagle farming. It is in this way that they obtain so many eagle feathers for their own use and trade among other tribes,

The principal complaints they make are against the Navajos, who steal their cattle, sheep, goats, asses, and horses. The people of this pueblo, in common with the people of Acoma and Laguna, want an agent to live near them.

The pueblo embraces in its government 3 other towns, Nutrias, Pescado, and Caliente, They are all within the Indian reservation, and distant from Zuñi proper from 8 to 15 miles.

The civil government consists of a governor, who is appointed by the caciques, or heads of the different orders, or gentes. This governor holds office from 1 to 3 years, at the option or pleasure of the caciques.

Patricio Pinor or Palowabte
Patricio Pinor or Palowabte, ex governor of pueblo Zuñi, 1890

The governor appoints an assistant, or lieutenant governor, but the person selected to fill the position is suggested by the caciques. The lieutenant governor acts in the absence of the governor. The governor, too, appoints 6 deputies, whose duties are to see that all the governor’s orders are obeyed. This constitutes the machinery of their so called civil government. Back of this power there is a greater one, the council of the caciques, headed by the chief of the bow, who hold secret meetings and settle all questions within their body that pertain to the management of public affairs, In all there are mine 8 caciques, 1 or 2 of whom are reported to be women.

There are 17 orders, or gentes, in this pueblo, according to the Indian trader.

There are about 263 houses in the pueblo, including those which have recently been built on the outskirts of the old-town. There are a few small courts, or squares through the town, where dances are held at the call of the caciques, and where children, dogs, and burros gather to play and rest on the shady sides during the daytime. The rows of houses connected as they are, encircling the courts and spanning the covered ways that lead from street to street or court to court, might-properly be called one vast communal dwelling or beehive. They are built in terraces from 2 to 5 stories high, their walls being of stone, rubble, clay, and adobe bricks. The lower and upper stories are principally, though not wholly, used for living apartments. The aged and very old are relegated to the ground floors, The dwellings, as a rule, inside and out, are very tidy; the walls are whitewashed with a preparation of their own invention, consisting of burnt gypsum, ground to powder, making plaster of paris, and mixed with water and a little flour. The mixture is put on with the aid of strings of wool, not twisted, but matted together like a mop. The women do this work and are the house builders.

Zuñi Woman with Waterjug
Zuñi Woman with Waterjug

The appointments of a Zuñi dwelling are simple. There is in the corner of the main room a fireplace, where the cooking is clone. The adobe or stone bench built along the side of the room is covered with a sheepskin or blanket, laid to make the seats more comfortable.

The beds consist of sheepskin and blankets, generally of Navajo make, which are rolled up during the day and spread out at night, and more than one family will occupy a room at a time.

Ollas, or water jars, constitute the larger vessels they use, while earthen trays, bowls, and clippers are employed for mixing dough, and dishes peculiar to them. They generally eat out of a large bowl of clay in common; whether it be a stew or boiled meat it makes no difference. Some of the families use all the modern household appliances.

Few of them possess chairs or tables; boxes, however, which they get from traders, supply the places of these articles; but as a rule they sit on their heels or on an old blanket folded into a wad or on the conventional bench of stone covered with clay and gypsum whitewash. The rooms are all lighted by small windows. Some buildings, the more modern, have the factory sash and 6 by 4 glass, but the old dwellings still have the quaint gypsum plates in every conceivable irregularity, which are placed so as to light the bins where they grind their corn upon inclined slabs of stone (metáte), using long and quite heavy pieces for the purpose, These bins about complete the list of household furniture, and they are the first of their necessities.

Bows and arrows are seen sometimes banging on the walls, and very often a good repeating rifle, Occasionally the old mortar and tetherstone and the stone hammer and ax, also the stone dart and spearhead, can be found among the very old people; but these relies of the past are fast disappearing, Men belonging to the different orders carry little stone fetiches when hunting to bring good luck, These are now very scarce, and an Indian owning one will part with most anything else before letting it go.

Home of WeWa, Pueblo of Zuni, 1890
Home of WeWa, Pueblo of Zuni, 1890

The Indians cultivate the fields that border the great basin in which they live, also the side canyons and little valleys through which streams run and where irrigation is made easy. It is a very primitive agriculture. The whole of the valley could be made productive, but it mostly lies fallow by reason of the policy of the caciques to let-it alone and duly keep under cultivation the fields where they are now located, and so keep off the white man, Their principal agricultural products are corn, wheat, oats, beans, chili, onions, pumpkins, and melons of all kinds. They also have numerous peach orchards, which are situated in the sand hills and along the little washes that skirt and come into the valley. On the east, south, and west sides of the pueblo are numerous walled gardens, as many as 200. Some of these gardens are in terraces rising up from the river bank toward the top of the mound on which the older part of the pueblo stands, The women plant and wholly care for these gardens.

The manner of life of these Indians can be taken as a type of the methods of the other 18 pueblos of New Mexico. During the dry season they patiently toil, keeping their fields well watered from the river, from which the women carry the water in ollas on their heads. The men weave blankets and sashes similar to those made by the Moquis, and they make a. simple kind of willow basket, but not so fine as those of the Moquis, the Apaches, or the Navajos, Most of the families possess one or more specimens of these finer baskets, which they have obtained in trade. The dress or toilet of the women is similar in all respects to that of the Moquis, except the cart wheel hair puffs worn by the young women. Their places for holding religious ceremonies differ from those of the Marlins (in estufas). The places of worship, instead of being built underground or excavated out of the solid sandstone, are large rooms, established in such parts of the pueblos as will best conduce to secrecy. Some of their religious ceremonies evince the nature of phallic worship. They do not have the snake dance, seems to be confined to the Moquis.

The Presbyterian school is doing well.

While the people in habits and customs are generally similar to the other Pueblos, they are very tenacious in holding to their ancient faith, and, while manifesting the same desire for educational aid and agricultural implements, they wish to hold to their old religion and desire to worship after the manner of their fathers, adopting only such parts of the white man’s ways as will be of practical use to them. The Zuñi, in common with all other Indians, are very superstitious, and regard with great fear a supposed witch. It is the common belief that a person charged with witchcraft brought before the caciques for trial, if found guilty is promptly executed in an extremely cruel manner. It is also believed that a persistent thief is regarded as beset of the devil and his fate is much the same as that of the witch. Stories are told of the execution of an old woman in 1890 who was charged with bringing a plague of grasshoppers into the valley, and of the killing of her son. The place of execution is said to be a little, low adobe annex to the old Catholic church on its southwest corner. It would seem as if the government ought to investigate these reports.

Indians are living in neighboring pueblos in exile, according to common report, having been charged with witchcraft. There are certain white men who are reported to have seen executions such as indicated above. It is also a matter of report that these Indians pursued and shot down two Mexicans, well known for their sobriety and industry, on account of some possible connection with the stealing of horses supposed to have been stolen by Mexicans or white men.

The force and power of the United States should be made clear in a proper and dignified way. No one outside known what they do within the pueblos of New Mexico in the matter of administering their laws, and it is important that the United States government should understand it.


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