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- Tales of Aztlan - 10/17 -

carpeted with Mexican rugs. My horse must have thought he had come to a suite of stables, for he acted accordingly. He nosed around after grain and hay, whinnied and pawed, and seemed to enjoy himself generally. At last I found the right door, came out into the street and rode to the church to tender my best wishes to the happy couple and bid them adios. When the party emerged from the chapel they seemed to be very much surprised at seeing me. I told my host that I regretted to leave them so early in the day, but had an appointment to keep elsewhere. I would ride slowly out of town so that they could overtake me easily, should they wish to see me later, but nobody came, and after several hours I caught up with my companions.


After a couple of days we came to Fort Wingate, which controls the Navajo Indian Reservation. We camped here for a day to have some repair work done to our wagons, and I took a stroll over the hills after rabbits and returned to camp at nightfall. Don Juan told me that he had been visited by a number of Indians, who had bartered him some blankets and buckskins and he was highly pleased thereat.

The next morning we started early and traveled until noon. Several Indians had been following us for some time, and as soon as we made camp they squatted at our fire, while others were continually arriving, some afoot, but most of them on horseback. Manuelito, a grand-looking chief, rode into camp on the finest Indian pony I had ever seen. It was beautifully caparisoned; the saddle, bridle, and trappings were covered with silver mountings. This was by far the most gorgeously dressed Navajo I had ever met. He wore tight-fitting knickerbockers of jet-black buckskin, which resembled velvet, with a double row of silver buttons, set as close as possible on the outward seams, from top to bottom. On his legs from knee to ankle he wore homespun woolen stockings and his feet were covered by beaded moccasins of yellow, smoke-tanned buckskin. His bright red calico shirt was literally covered with silver ornaments and his ears were pierced with heavy silver rings, at least three inches in diameter. His wrists and arms were heavy with massive silver bracelets and others, carved from a stone, which resembled jade. About his neck he wore strings of wampum and glass beads, garnets, and bits of turquoise. The turquoise and garnet is found here in places known only to these Indians. His fingers were encircled by many rings, but the finest ornament he possessed was his body belt of great disks of silver, the size of tea saucers. All this jewelry was of a fair workmanship, such as is made by Navajo silversmiths out of coin silver. In fact, these Indians prefer silver to gold for purposes of personal adornment. The blanket which this Indian wore around his waist was worth at least two hundred dollars; never have I seen its equal in beauty of pattern and texture.

The chief dismounted and withdrew with Don Juan behind a wagon for a talk, as I presumed. They reappeared soon, and the chief mounted his steed and cavorted around our camp as one possessed. Furiously lashing his horse, he scattered our cooking utensils and acted in a most provoking manner generally. I noticed then that the noble chief was intoxicated, and when I questioned Don Juan sharply, he admitted that he had given the Indian some whiskey, and on the day before as well. I warned the Don to have no further dealings with these Indians and advised him to break camp at once in order to avoid trouble. I informed him also that he had committed a serious crime by selling liquor to Indians and that he was liable to be arrested at any time should a patrol from the fort happen our way. As the Mexican was frightened now, we took to the road in a hurry and traveled until a late hour that night. In fact, we did not stop until the cattle were exhausted.

Hardly had we prepared our camp and were sitting around our fire, when a horde of Indians appeared, clamoring for whiskey. As they were armed and threatening, Don Juan became so terrified that he climbed to the interior of a wagon to comply with the demand of the savages. When I saw this, I drew my rifle from its place under my bedding and placed it in readiness. Plainly I saw Don Juan come out of the wagon with the mischievous stone jug, as this happened in the bright light of our camp fire. That will never do, thought I, and quickly drawing my revolver, I persuaded the Don to drop the jug, incidentally smashing it with a 44 caliber bullet, taking care not to hurt anybody; and this was easily done, as the jug was a large one, it held three gallons. Instantaneously I grabbed my Winchester, and with my back against a wagon stood ready for action. The Indians uttered a howl of disappointment when they saw the jug collapse and its precious contents wasted, but were silenced by an exclamation of their chief. After an excited pow-wow between themselves, they disappeared among the hills in the shadows of the night.

"Muchas gracias, senor Americana," said Don Juan, "quien sabe?" What would have happened if the Indians had gotten the liquor, which I dared not refuse them; but I think this ends our troubles. We passed a sleepless night, and long before sunrise Don Juan made preparations for our departure.

When the herders rounded up the cattle, they found that several yoke of oxen were missing, and greatly alarmed, they said that they believed the Indians had stolen them during the night. Don Juan did not appear to be very anxious to search for the missing cattle himself, so he sent out the herders again after breakfast. They returned with the report of having found the tracks of Indians who had apparently driven the cattle toward the hills, and stated that they were afraid to follow, fearing for their lives.

As it was nearly noon by this time, we cooked our dinner, and while doing so were visited again by a number of the Indians. Don Juan intimated to them that several of his oxen had strayed off during the night, and the Navajos kindly offered to go in search of them for a remuneration. They demanded a stack of tortillas a foot high and a sack of flour. Nolens-volens, squatted Don Mestal before the fire and baked bread for the wily Indians as a ransom for his cattle. Of course then the missing oxen were soon brought up, and we lost no time in getting under way.

Until midnight we traveled, as Don Juan was very anxious to get away from the reservation of these Indians, which is seventy-five miles across. This night we experienced a repetition of the tactics of the night before, as regarded the safety of our herd, but Don Juan had to pay a higher ransom in the morning. While we were awaiting the arrival of the Indians with our lost steers, Chief Manuelito honored us again with his presence. He sat down at our fire, and producing a greasy deck of Spanish playing cards, he challenged Don Juan to a game of monte. That was an irresistible temptation for my companion. By the smiling expression of his wizened features I divined that he thought he saw his chance for revenge. Manuelito undoubtedly had a strain of sporting blood in his veins, as he offered to stake his horses, blankets, squaws, and everything he had against the Mexican's wagons and cargo. I warned Don Juan to have a care, as I knew the cunning of the Navajo tribe, having dealt with them before, and advised him to play the traps he had bought from them with liquor against a chipper little squaw who was richly dressed and had come with Chief Manuelito, mounted on a white pony. I believed her to be the chief's daughter. When she understood the import of the conversation, she looked haughtily and in a disdainful manner at Don Juan, but appeared to be pleased with me and eyed me with symptoms of curiosity. Of course, I expected her to defy Don Juan to take her, and simply ride off in case he should win the game. At any rate, I meant to take her under my protection, if necessary, and send her home to her people. In fact, the liquor which Don Juan had sold these Indians had belonged to me and had been presented to me by a friend as an antidote for possible snake bites on the road to Arizona.

The gambling began, and my Mexican companions became so engrossed in the enjoyment of their alluring national game of monte that they forgot everything else. The drivers were as interested as their employer and bet the poor trinkets they possessed on the result of the game. There arrived more Indians continually, and I observed a familiar face amongst these and saw that I myself was recognized. The game was ended as I had foreseen, with Don Juan as the loser. He was an easy prey for these Indians, who are as full of tricks as the ocean is of water.

Then Chief Manuelito, who was highly elated with his victory over the Mexican, challenged me to a game in a very overbearing and provoking manner. I replied that I despised the game of monte, which was perhaps good enough for Mexicans and Indians, but was decided by chance; I boasted that I was ready to bet anything I had on my skill at shooting with the rifle, and challenged him and his whole tribe to the sport which was worthy of men, a shooting match. I think Manuelito would have accepted my challenge without hesitation and in great glee if he had not been restrained by the Indian whom I have mentioned before as having just arrived and recognized me. This Indian said something to the chief, which seemed to interest and excite them all. Chief Manuelito advanced, and extending his hand in greeting, said that he had often wished to meet me, the wizard who had beaten the champion marksman of the Navajo tribe.

Several years before I had in the town of Cubero, at the request of Mexican friends, shot a target match with the most renowned marksman of the Navajo tribe, my pistol being pitted against the Navajo's rifle, and had beaten him with a wonderful shot to the discomfiture and distress of a trading band of Indians, who bet on their champion's prowess and lost their goods to the knowing Mexicans.

The chief then requested me to favor them with an exhibition of my skill. I readily assented and directed them to put up a target. They placed a flat rock against the trunk of a pine tree at so great a distance that it was barely distinguishable to the naked eye. I guessed the distance and my shot fell just below the mark. Then I raised the hind sight of my Winchester a notch and the next shot shattered the stone to pieces. At this the Indians went wild. They had thought it impossible for any man to perform this feat of marksmanship, and were most enthusiastic in the profession of their admiration. Gladly would they have adopted me into their tribe as a great chief or medicine man had I wished to ally myself to them. There was the opportunity of a lifetime, but I did not embrace it.

As the sun was now low in the heavens, I advised Don Juan to remain in camp for the night and spoke to Chief Manuelito, expressing my wish to pass through his country unmolested and without delay. The chief assured me of his protection and bade us have no care. We slept soundly that night, a band of Indians guarding our camp and herd under orders of Manuelito, who had become my stanch friend and admirer. The following day we came to the end of the reservation and soon crossed the boundary line of New Mexico into Arizona.


I left New Mexico with the intention of making Los Angeles in the golden State my future home, and now, thirty years later, I have not reached there yet. Vainly have I tried to break the thraldom of my fate, for I did not know that here I was to meet face to face with

Tales of Aztlan - 10/17

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