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- Tales of Aztlan - 6/17 -


he appeared in Greenland, blubbering with an Esquimau heiress. Anon, you might have found him in Columbia in the tolls of a princely Pocahontas. In Mexico he ate the ardent chile from the tender hand of his Guadalupita, and later on he was on time at a five o'clock family tea party in Japan, or he might have kotowed pidgin-love to a trusting maid in a China town of fair Cathay. In Africa--oh, horror!--here I draw the veil, for in my mind's eye I behold a burly negro (yes, sah!) staring at me out of fishy, blue eyes. It is said of these gallant rovers of the seas that they were subject to a peculiar malady when on shore. It caused them to stagger and swagger, use violent language, and deport themselves not unlike people who are seized with mal de mer, or sickness of the sea. When attacked by this failing, their wives would cast them bodily into the holds of their ships and start them out to sea, where they soon recovered their usual health and equilibrium and continued on their rounds. They were the first of all commercial travelers and the hardiest, jolliest and most prosperous--but they did not hoard their earnings.

My uncle conducted a store, selling merchandise of every description. Dutch uncle though he was to me, I must give him thanks for the careful business training he bestowed on me. I say with pride that I proved to be his most apt and willing pupil. He taught me how the natives, by nature simple-minded and unsophisticated, had lost all confidence in their fellow-men in general and merchants in particular through the, to say the least, very dubious and suspicious dealings of the tribes of Israel. My uncle said he was an old timer in New Mexico, but the Jew was there already when he came and, added he, thoughtfully, "I believe the Jews came to America with Columbus." With a pack of merchandise strapped to his back, this king of commerce crossed the plains in the face of murderous Indians and with the unexplainable, crafty cunning of his race, he sold tobacco and trinkets to the warriors who had set out to kill him, and to the squaws he sold Parisian lingerie at a bargain. He swore that he was losing money and selling the goods below cost, not counting the freight.

As the Indians had no money and nothing else of commercial value to him, he bartered for the trophies of victory which the proud chiefs carried suspended from their belts. Deprecatingly he called their attention to the undeniable fact that these articles had been worn before and had to be rated as second-hand goods. But he hoped that his brother-in-law, Isaac Dreibein, who conducted a second-hand hairdressing establishment in New York City, would take these goods off his hands. This trade flourished for a time, until, as usual, Israel fell off from the Lord, by opening shop on the Sabbath. An unlucky Moses got into a fatal altercation with a Comanche chief, whom he cheated out of a scalplock, as he was as baldheaded as a hen's egg. Thereat the Indians became suspicious and refused to trade with the Jews ever after.

With proverbial German thoroughness, uncle instructed me in all the tricks and secrets of his profession. He had found that the Mexicans were good buyers, if handled scientifically, for they would never leave the store until they had spent all their money. Therefore, in order to encourage our customers, we kept a barrel of firewater under the counter as a trade starter. One or more drams of old Magnolia would start the ball to roll finely. Our merchandise cost mark was made up from the words, "God help us!" Every letter of this pious sentiment designated one of the numbers from one to nine and a cross stood for naught. When I said to uncle, "No wonder that our business prospers under this mark--God help us!--but say, who helps our customers?" he was nonplussed for a moment, and then he laughed heartily and said that this had never worried him yet.

There was not much money in circulation in New Mexico at that time, as the country was without railroads and too isolated to market farm produce, wool and hides profitably. Mining for gold was carried on at Pinos Altos, near the southern boundary, but the Apaches did not encourage prospecting to any extent. During the period of the discovery of gold in California, in the days of "forty-nine," the people of New Mexico had become quite wealthy through supplying the California placer miners with mutton sheep at the price of an ounce of gold dust per head, when muttons cost half a dollar on the Rio Grande. At that rate of profit they could afford the time and expense of driving their herds of sheep to market at Los Angeles, even though the Apaches of Arizona took their toll and fattened on stolen mutton.

CHAPTER VI. INDIAN LORE. THE WILY NAVAJO

The principal source of the money supply was the United States Government, which maintained many forts and army posts in the Territories as a safeguard against the Apache and Navajo Indians. During the Civil War, the Navajo Indians broke out and raided the Mexican settlements along the Rio Grande and committed many outrages and thefts. The Government gave these Indians the surprise of their lives. An army detachment of United States California volunteers swooped suddenly down on the Navajos and surprised and conquered them in the strongholds of their own country. The whole tribe was forced to surrender, was disarmed, and transported to Fort Stanton by the Government.

This military reservation lies on the eastern boundary of New Mexico, on the edge of the staked plains of Texas. Here the Navajos were kept in mortal terror of their hereditary enemies, the Comanche Indians, for several years, and they were so thoroughly cowed and subdued by this stratagem that they were good and peacable ever after. The Government allowed them to reoccupy their native haunts and granted them a reservation of seventy-five miles square. These Indians are blood relatives to the savage Apaches. They speak the same language, as they are also of Mongolian origin. They came originally from Asia in an unexplained manner and over an unknown route. They have always been the enemies of the Pueblo Indians, who are descendants of the Toltec and Aztec races. Unlike the Pueblo Indians, who live in villages and maintain themselves with agricultural pursuits, the Navajos are nomads and born herdsmen.

The Navajo tribe is quite wealthy now, as they possess many thousands of sheep and goats, and they are famed for their quaint and beautiful blankets and homespun, which they weave on their hand looms from the wool of their sheep. They owned large herds of horses, beautiful ponies, a crossed breed of mustangs and Mormon stock, which latter they had stolen in their raids on the Mormon settlements in Utah. As saddle horses, these ponies are unexcelled for endurance under rough service.

Mentally the Navajo is very wide awake and capable of shrewd practices, as shown by the following incident, which happened to my personal knowledge.

A tall, gaudily appareled Indian, mounting a beautiful pony, came to town and offered for sale at our store several gold nuggets the size of hazelnuts. He took care to do this publicly, so as to attract the attention of some Mexicans, who became immensely excited at the sight of the gold and began to question him at once in order to ascertain how and whence he had obtained the golden nuggets. They almost fought for the privilege of taking him as an honored guest to their respective homes. The Indian was very non-committal as regarded his gold mine, but very willing to accept the sumptuous hospitality so freely rendered him. He was soon passed on from one disappointed Mexican to another, who in turn fared no better and invariably sped the parting guest to the door of his nearest neighbor. When the Indian had made the circuit of the town in this manner he looked very sleek and happy, indeed, but the people were no wiser. The knowledge of having been shamefully buncoed by an Indian and disappointed in their lust for gold made the Mexicans desperate. They held an indignation meeting and resolved to capture the wily Navajo and compel him, under torture, if necessary, to divulge the secret of his gold mine. Consequently, they overcame the Indian, and when they threatened him with torture and death, he yielded and said that he had found the gold in the Rio de San Francisco, a mountain stream of Arizona. He promised to guide them to the spot where he obtained the nuggets, saying that the bottom of the stream was literally covered with golden sand, which might be seen from a distance, as it shone resplendently in the sun. Then every able-bodied Mexican in town who possessed a horse prepared to join a prospecting expedition to the wild regions of mysterious Arizona. They organized a company and elected a captain, a man of courage and experience. The captain's first official act was to place a guard of four armed men over the Navajo to prevent his escape, otherwise they treated their prisoner well.

The women of the town cooked and baked for the party, and undoubtedly each lady reveled in the hope to see her own man return with a sackful of gold; and as a result of these fanciful expectations they were in the best of spirits, laughing and singing the livelong day.

At last the party was off, and what happened to them I shall relate, as told me by the captain, Don Jose Marie Baca y Artiaga, and in his own words as nearly as I can remember them. "Valga me, Dios, Senor! What an experience was that trip to Arizona! It began and ended with disappointment and disaster. All the men of our party seemed to have lost their wits from the greed of gold. They began by hurrying. Those who had the best mounts rushed on ahead, carrying the Indian along with them, and strove to leave their companions who were not so well mounted behind. The first night's camp had of necessity to be made at a point on the Rio Puerco, distant about thirty-five miles. As the last men rode into camp, the first comers were already making ready to leave again. In vain I remonstrated and commanded. There was a fight, and not until several men were seriously wounded came they to their senses and obeyed my orders. I threatened to leave them and return home, for I knew very well that unless our party kept together we were sure to be ambushed and attacked. I cautioned my companions as they valued their lives to watch the Navajo and shoot him on the spot at the first sign of treachery. This devil of an Indian led us over terrible trails, across the roughest and highest peaks and the deepest canyons of a wild, broken country. He seemed to be on the lookout ever for an opportunity to escape, but I did not give him the chance. Our horses suffered and were well-nigh exhausted when we finally sighted the coveted stream from a spur of the Mogollon range which we were then descending. The stream glistened and shone like gold in the distance, under the hot rays of a noonday sun and my companions would have made a dash for the coveted goal if their horses had not been utterly exhausted and footsore. As it was, I had the greatest trouble to calm them. Arriving at the last and steepest declivity of the trail, I succeeded in halting the party long enough to listen to my words. 'Companions,' I said, 'hear me before you rush on! I shall stay here with this Indian, whom you will first tie to this mesquite tree. Now you may go, and may the saints deliver you from your evil passion and folly. Mind you, senores, I claim an equal share with you in whatever gold you may find. If any one objects, let him come forth and say so now, man to man. I shall hold the trail for those among you who would haply choose to return. Forsooth, companions, I like not the actions of this Indian. Beware the Apache, senores; remember we are in the Tonto's own country!'

"From my position I witnessed the exciting race to the banks of the stream, and saw plainly how eagerly my companions worked with pick and pan. Hard they worked, but not long, for soon they assembled in


Tales of Aztlan - 6/17

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