Condition of 16 New Mexico Indian Pueblos in 1890
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The accompanying report covers 15 pueblos of New Mexico, visited in July, August, and September 1890, namely, Taos, San Juan, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Pojoaque, Tesuque, Nambe, San Domingo, Cochiti, Jemez, Zia, Sandia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, and Isleta, with a report on the pueblo of Picuris.
by Mr. Frederick P. Muller, February 26, 1891.
A comparison of the population of the Pueblo villages of New Mexico, with the extent of their land tenure, leads naturally to the conclusion that they have an abundant opportunity for subsistence from the ground. With but two or three exceptions, grants of at least 25 square miles of territory to each pueblo as a community were confirmed by Congress in 1858. Maps of these grants are to be seen at the office of the surveyor general at Santa Fe and at the several pueblos, but the impression from the same statement differs as the point of view differs.
The surveyor general remarked, as he scanned the charts through which the Rio Grande was traced like a winding thread: “Certainly these Indians are well able to take care of themselves; in some cases a square mile to every family”. At the pueblo, where, guarded with scrupulous care, these maps are produced, laden with the dust of disuse, they mean little or nothing to the holder, because in many cases the Indians are not able to apply the drawing on paper to the natural landscape, but also because, even with ability, they find the paper statement does not declare an available fact. A map of 25 square miles of land, through the center of which passes a stream of water, gives a misleading impression of available agricultural possession in New Mexico, because without irrigation land can not be made to produce, there being no rainfall of moment. In all the pueblos; therefore, the upper acequias, or irrigating ditches, lying parallel with the river and bringing water to land from it, mark the width of practical possession. This strip is found to be from a third of a mile to 2.5 miles wide, including the river. The length is always 5 miles. When more than 5 miles square is owned by a pueblo the extension is at right angles with and not along the water courses. The only exception to this is at San Felipe. A map of the pueblo possessions could be made by using the old charts and inscribing thereon 2 lines on either side of the river (in some instances a line on but one side would be sufficient) and applying to this strip a little green paint. With but 5 exceptions, Taos, Zia, Jemez, Tesuque, and Nambe, the pueblos of the north and south line lie upon, the Rio Grande. Although in the canyon above Embodo the water during the rainy season flows between banks from 20 to 35 feet apart, with a depth of 4.5 feet, when leaving this funnel the stream broadens into shallow channels, embracing many islands, and generally covers a width of from three-quarters of a mile to 1.5 miles. Owing to-the changes in its bed much rich land remains untouched, which, by the protection of dikes, might be saved.
In visiting the pueblos it was one of my chief duties to ascertain the amount of land going to waste in the river bed and the amount which might be rendered available either by raising the grade of the present acequias or by the construction of new ones from more distant sources. As it will be seen farther on that the average amount of land farmed by each Indian of the pueblos is about 4 or 4.5 acres, the question of the reclamation of land becomes for him most important.
The soil of the valleys of New Mexico is a reddish gray sandy loam, a mixture of sand and clay, extremely fertile, and though seldom enriched by anything save the sediment resulting from irrigation it preserves marvelous vitality. Worked with a little straw, it is easily converted into brick.
In compiling the report I have sought to verify all statements from various sources, and by conversation and correspondence I have had recourse to the thoughts of men and women in different ways interested in the truth concerning Indians, as traders, priests, military men, home missionaries, ethnologists, ranchmen, teachers, innkeepers; or farmers. Besides this, I have smoked it out with the governors and principals of each tribe. This report is therefore a consensus of many opinions.
From the most northern of the pueblos, Taos, south toward Santa Fe, the ancient center of civilization of the territory, the villages of the pueblo chain exhibit a marked deterioration.
A gradual deterioration in the general appointment of dwellings, in crops, in spirit and assertion of rights, in possessions, is also apparent from this southward toward Sante Fe. The most important and best sustained villages of the pueblos are Taos and San Juan, the most northern; Isleta and Sandia, the most southern; Laguna, Acoma, and Zuñi to the extreme west, while those of least importance are those lying contiguous to Santa Fe.
With this as a center, we may start with its single Indian dwelling as the only relic of the extensive pueblo, which, on the advent of Coronado, stood upon this site, and which is now occupied by a Mexican family. From the little town of Tesuque, a neighbor at 8 miles, we pass to Pojoaque, 2 leagues farther, to find a mere shell, its heart eaten out by encroaching Mexican and French settlers. Pecos to the east is extinct; San Ildefonso by aisles and thefts of lands maintains a precarious existence.
Proximity to centers of white settlement has invariably resulted in the over running and cramping of the land tenure of the Indian, The location of the pueblos has in most cases been selected with great judgment by the Indians, and as every foot of land in the territory available for agriculture has tong since been taken, all immigration hangs upon the borders of these pueblo reservations. On several occasions I was assured in conversation with the chiefs that no land in their pueblo had been sold, but without exception, on my tour of inspection, which was generally taken with the governor of the pueblo and a few of his men, after our conference, I was able to pick out the house of Mexican squatters who were either owners or lessees and whose presence among them was variously explained, and in the face of many appeals to the Indian agent or others having a show of authority in government. There is not a single pueblo in the claim from Taos to Isleta that has preserved its grant as confirmed by the Congress of 1858 and with patent signed by the band of Abraham Lincoln in 1863.