Life among the Apaches/Chapter 25

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CHAPTER XXV.


Religious Ceremonies.—Lack of Veneration.—Evidences of Mineral Wealth.—An Apache "Rough."—Tats-ah-das-ay-go.—Remarkable Order.—Another Scout.—Apache "Hide and Seek."—Prairie Dogs and their Guests.—Apache Customs concerning Murder.—Sons-in-jah.—His Career.—His Recitals.—Former Condition of the New Mexicans.—How the Difficulties Commenced.—Reflections.—Articles of Apache Food.—Native Potatoes.—Apache Estimate of Dead Women.—Navajo Dread of Corpses.


Of religious ceremonies the Apaches have very few, and these are limited to the immediate concerns of life. The occasional scalp dance and its accompanying purification of weapons, the feasts made at marriages, and when the girls attain the age of puberty, and the ceremonials observed at the sepulture of noted warriors, comprise the whole among a people not overburdened with reverential ideas, or prone to self-humiliation. Their prayers for success, if any such are ever made, are addressed to the Evil Spirit, who is supposed to rule entirely over the apportionment of fortuitous or prejudicial results to the people of this world. It is greatly to be doubted whether the bump of reverence was ever discoverable in an Apache skull. It would be, as it has always proved, a sheer waste of time and labor to make any effort at inculcating sentiments which have been abjured by them from the earliest periods, and to which they have become wedded. The teachings of Christianity are so diametrically opposed to all their received opinions and crystallized ideas, that they regard them with abhorrence. To tell an Apache warrior that when he is smitten on one cheek it is his duty to receive a slap on the other, is to proclaim the teacher a fool and an unworthy person, in his opinion. To instruct him that it is criminal to deprive other people of their property, is to inform him that it is his duty to starve in order that his enemy may prosper. An endeavor to explain to him that he should forgive his enemies and harbor no feelings of vengeance for their assaults, would at once convict his instructor of such unmitigated nonsense as to forever debar him from all future consideration. The most that can be effected is to enforce his submission to superior power, which being accomplished, it should be our aim to exhibit that leniency to which he is a, stranger, and make a start from that point. This would be a practical demonstration enlisting his attention and homage, and specially contrasting, by acts, the teachings of one religion as compared with those of the other, or, more properly speaking, no religion at all. To inculcate just ideas of such important facts into the savage mind, it is necessary to practice as well as preach, and the practice must chaperon the preaching. But a discussion on this subject is so entirely foreign to the objects contemplated by the author, and so completely outside his sphere of remark, that it will be dropped for other and more practical considerations.

The Apaches entertain the greatest possible dread of our discoveries of mineral wealth in their country. They have had experience enough to assure them that the possession of lucre is the great incentive among us to stimulate what is termed "enterprise." They know and feel that wherever mineral wealth exists to such an extent as to render it available, the white man fastens upon it with ineradicable tenacity. The massacre of the pioneer set does not deter another company from experimenting in the same engaging field. These localities are always rendered more valuable by the proximity of wood and water, two scarce articles in Arizona. The occupation of mines involves the possession of water facilities and sufficient fuel. To occupy a water privilege in Arizona and New Mexico is tantamount to driving the Indians from their most cherished possessions, and infuriates them to the utmost extent. If one deprives them of their ill-gained plunder he is regarded as an outrageous robber; but should he seize upon one of their few water springs, he is rated a common and dangerous enemy, whose destruction it is the duty of all the tribe to compass. It may be reasonably inferred from these remarks that when an Apache voluntarily discovers a rich mine to a white man he is influenced either by kindness, or is attempting to lay a trap for his destruction, baited by cupidity.

Among those under our charge was a noted fighter named Tats-ah-das-ay-go, or the "Quick Killer." This man was feared even by the boldest of his tribe; in fact, he had acquired among them the reputation of being a "Rough," or "Bowery Boy," and, although noted for his personal courage and prowess, was severely left to the enjoyment of his own society in time of peace. He had espoused half a dozen wives, who found it impossible to live under his capricious rule, and he was, at the time of our acquaintance, a sort of tabooed individual, to whom all paid outward respect, but entertained concealed dislike. Tats-ah-das-ay-go paid little heed to these demonstrations. He lived alone, hunted his own game, received his own rations, and was seldom seen among his fellows. For some unaccountable reason this savage conceived a great personal regard for the writer, and was accustomed to freely recount his adventures in various parts of Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. According to his own narrations, which were confirmed by the testimony of his fellows, his whole life had been a tissue of sanguinary deeds. A rivulet of blood tracked the course of his history. He was a man of decided native genius, and perfect master of all sorts of Apache lures, wiles and deceits. From him I learned much of Indian character, and he seemed desirous to teach. Tats-ah-das-ay-go wore upon his body hair, which hung down below the middle of his back in a broad, thick plait, a number of silver shields, perfectly round, and with a tongue or bar in the center of each, through which passed the band of hair in such a manner as to display the shields to the greatest advantage. The first, or upper one, was the size of a common saucer, and nearly as thick, while the next below was a little smaller, and each succeeding one still less in size, until the last and thirteenth was about twice as large as a silver dollar. Of these he was extremely vain, and never laid them aside except to comb and dress his long and luxuriant hair. These ornaments I had always believed were taken from the saddle mountings of Mexican victims, and one day I jocularly remarked:

"Did you have a hard time to acquire those spoils?"

"You mistake, Tata," he replied; "these are not spoils taken from Mexicans; but I found this silver and beat it out myself."

"Where did you find it?" I asked.

"Away down in the mountains which border the Pecos, far south from here;" adding, "I will tell you all about it. We were in the Guadalupe Mountains, and were going upon the Llano Estacado to hunt buffalo; but previous to doing this a number of us climbed the sierra to look out upon the plains and see that they were clear of Comanches. In ascending the mountain I took hold of a small bush to assist my steps, when it gave way, and I saw a bright lump of something just under the roots. Picking it up, I discovered that it was very heavy and like the pesh-lickoyee, or plata-hay, with which rich Mexicans mount their saddles. I collected a quantity, and afterwards beat it out in the shape you see. This was many years ago and I have never been there since."

I had seen enough of the mineral richness of Arizona and New Mexico to convince me that there might be some truth in this narration, but determined to wait until a favorable opportunity should occur to permit exploration. Three or four months afterward orders were received from Gen. Carleton, ordering me to "keep the country clear of Indians for the space of three hundred miles around the post." Such an order had never before been issued to an officer in the service. It was unparalleled and altogether unique; but in obedience thereto a scout was ordered under my command, and I determined to make an exploration in the region mentioned by Tats-ah-das-ay-go, and to take him with me. In due season the party left Fort Sumner, thirty-five strong, and traveled in a zig-zag direction for several days until the Guadalupe Mountains were reached. On the succeeding day Quick Killer informed me that we were near the cañon where he had found the silver, and that he would direct us to it next morning, which he did about ten o'clock the following day.

Having arrived at the cañon, I left the command under the charge of the First Sergeant, and proceeded with Quick Killer for about a mile and a quarter, when he dismounted and hitched his horse to a tree, requesting me to do the same, which I did, keeping my carbine ready and placing my holster pistols in my belt. We then ascended about three hundred feet until we reached a bold and unmistakable mineral ledge, thickly shrouded with underbrush and stunted trees. Quick Killer stopped a moment, examined the place well, and proceeded directly to a spot, which he unearthed for a few inches and displayed several magnificent specimens of virgin silver. I was satisfied, and possessing myself of a goodly lump, we retraced our steps to the command, none of whom were ever made cognizant of these occurrences. Wood, water and grass abound in the locality, which is in western Texas, on the Pecos river; but so long as the country is held by the Apaches, this valuable region must remain entirely useless for all practical purposes. This is but one of many experiences demonstrating the vast mineral resources of Arizona, New Mexico and Western Texas. Sonora, Chihuahua and portions of Durango are also extensively endowed with mineral wealth, but they are unavailable under present circumstances. While crossing an extensive prairie, dotted here and there by a few shrubs and diminutive bushes, Quick Killer volunteered, while resting at noon, to show me with what dexterity an Apache could conceal himself, even where no special opportunity existed for such concealment. The offer was readily accepted, and we proceeded a short distance until we came to a small bush, hardly sufficient to hide a hare. Taking his stand behind this bush, he said: "Turn your back and wait until I give the signal." This proposition did not exactly suit my ideas of Apache character, and I said: "No, I will walk forward until you tell me to stop." This was agreed upon, and quietly drawing my pistol, keeping a furtive glance over my shoulder, I advanced; but had not gone ten steps, when Quick Killer hailed me to stop and find him. I returned to the bush, went around it three or four times, looked in every direction—there was no possible covert in sight; the prairie was smooth and unbroken, and it seemed as if the earth had opened and swallowed up the man. Being unable to discover him, I called and bade him come forth, when, to my extreme surprise, he arose laughing and rejoiced, within two feet of the position I then occupied. With incredible activity and skill he had completely buried himself under the thick grama grass, within six feet of the bush, and had covered himself with such dexterity that one might have trodden upon him without discovering his person. I took no pains to conceal my astonishment and admiration, which delighted him exceedingly, and he informed me that their children were practiced regularly in this game of "hide and seek," until they became perfect adepts. We have far-reaching rifles and destructive weapons, but they must ever be ineffective against unseen enemies; and it is part of a soldier's duty, while engaged in Indian countries, to study all their various devices.

Another excellent illustration of their skill in concealment was given me by Nah-kah-yen. We were hunting together, when a large herd of antelopes made its appearance. Nah-kah-yen immediately tore off a small strip from an old red handkerchief and tied it to the point of a yucca stalk, at the same time handing me his rifle and saying: Ah-han-day anah-zon-tee—"go off a long way"—he instantly buried himself under the sand and grass with the ease and address of a mole. I at once moved away several hundred yards, and sought to creep up to the antelopes, who were evidently attracted by the piece of red rag fluttering on the yucca stalk. Not wishing to interrupt the sport of my savage comrade, and anxious to witness the upshot of his device, I remained a "looker on and a spectator" of the affair. In a little while a marked commotion was noticeable n the herd, which galloped off very rapidly for a hundred yards or so, but soon recovered their equanimity, and again approached the attractive red rag. These strange agitations occurred several times, until the antelopes finally dashed away over the plains with wonderful speed. Nah-kah-yen then arose and beckoned me to come, which I did, and found that he had killed four of the herd. We had all the meat our horses could well pack, but the distance to camp was only five miles and soon made.

Travelers over our plains have frequently observed that the prairie dog, rattlesnake and ground owl live together in one habitation, and being unable to solve the problem myself, I asked several shrewd Apache warriors to do it for me. The rattlesnake, said they, is a very wise reptile. He permits the prairie dog to make a nice, warm nest, and then he quietly takes possession, but does not disturb the safety of the inmates, who retire and fit up another cell, quite ignorant of the snake's intention, who makes it a point never to injure the old pair, unless pressed by dire necessity; but in the most stealthy manner devours one of the young brood every now and then, leaving no evidence of his carnivorous propensity. The parents never seem to entertain any suspicion of their dangerous guest, who always puts on his best behavior in their presence, although capable of destroying them with ease. On the other hand, the snake never devours a prairie dog when he can seize his more legitimate prey above ground, but keeps them as a sort of reserved fund. The ground owls scarcely ever descend into the depths of the hole, but burrow a separate cell close by its entrance, whither they retire for repose and to deposit and hatch their eggs. In the day time they sit nodding on top the hillocks made by the prairie dogs, and at night they hunt their prey, which consists of lizards and all sorts of bugs and beetles, after which they sleep—in the early morning—and re-appear again about eleven o'clock a. m. As I have never examined into this subject, I can only relate the Apache version.

Among nearly all other of our American tribes if one man murders another, the next warrior of kin to the slain person is entitled to the right of revenging his death by killing his murderer, after he has been tried and condemned by a council of the tribe; but this custom does not obtain among the Apaches. If one man kills another, the next of kin to the defunct individual may kill the murderer—if he can. He has the right to challenge him to single combat, which takes place before all assembled in the camp, and both must abide the result of the conflict. There is no trial, no set council, no regular examination into the crime or its causes; but the ordeal of battle settles the whole matter. Should the next of kin decline to prosecute the affair, then some other warrior of the family may shoulder the responsibility and seek retribution.

Among those who had surrendered themselves was a very old man, probably nearly a hundred years of age, for other men of fifty-five and sixty told me that he was a noted warrior when they were little children. His name was Sons-in-jah, or the "Great Star." This man's frame was of enormous proportions. His height, even at that extreme age, was six feet three inches, without moccasins. His shoulders were extremely broad, his arms of uncommon length, and his shriveled limbs exhibited a volume of bone almost equal to that of a large horse. The old man's eye-sight had begun to fail, but his hearing was keen as ever. His head was as white as snow, and he was the only gray-headed Apache I ever saw. Several of his front teeth were gone, probably lost from a blow, but his molars were almost equal to those of a horse. Heavy folds of thick skin fell over each other down his abdomen; but the muscles and cords in his legs and arms seemed to be made of steel. This old man came regularly to see me every day that I was in camp, and it delighted me to treat him with kindness, although I felt convinced that for three-quarters of a century his hands had been steeped in blood. His memory was fresh and vivid, full of recollections, and teeming with experiences of the past. He outlived his usefulness, and was neglected by the tribe. He said, that when he was a boy the hills and the valleys of his country were filled with his people. They were very numerous and dreaded by all surrounding peoples. But dissention crept in among themselves. Family feuds led to family vendettas, and innumerable duels; that the defeated besought the aid of the Spaniards, who afterward turned their weapons against their allies. In those days, said he, we had none but stone-headed arrows, and sharpened stakes for lances. The Mexicans were just like ourselves. The other day I was in Santa Fé and saw the Mexican women dressed in great finery, with gowns of many colors; but I remember when they wore little more than breech-cloths, and were but too happy to own the very coarsest kind of vesture. By and by the Spaniards went away and left the Mexicans to themselves. At first we lived quite on good terms with each other; but then some American traders arrived, who were dreadful people, always getting drunk, and killing each other or somebody else. These men made raids upon us, and carried off our women and children whom they sold to the Mexicans. This excited our vengeance against the invaders and those who bought their plunder, and ever since a deadly feud has raged between them and the Apaches. You "white eyes," added Sons-in-jah, know how to read and write; you know how to circulate your information and ideas from one to the other, although you may never see or know the party: but we poor Apaches are obliged to relate what we know and have seen by means of words only, and we never get together in large parties to remain long enough to disseminate any great amount of information.

The foregoing incisive sentences precisely reflect the drift of the remarks made to me by the old man on many occasions. I am largely indebted to him for much information on other points, which he imparted with perfect freedom, especially as he considered himself a protegé of mine, and received more kindness from me than from his own people. But with all my efforts I failed to obtain from Sons-in-jah any recital of their modes of sepulture. On this point he was invariably reticent. He was by no means vain-glorious; seldom referring to his own deeds, unless extracted from him under favorable circumstances. After sunning himself on a fine day, he would wink his bleared eyes in a knowing manner, and invite me to take a seat near him and listen to his recitals. Deeds of violence and sanguinary outrages, hair-breadth escapes, terrific journeys and bold robberies were rehearsed with intense gratification to the old man; but after relating each incident he was always particular to give me a "reason" for his acts. In other words, he sought to excuse the bloody record of his life by stating the incentives. If any other argument were needed to satisfy me that the Apache is fully cognizant of the difference between right and wrong, this old reprobate's excuses were sufficient to remove all remaining doubts.

I utilized old Sons-in-jah in a variety of ways. He was entirely nude, with the exception of a much worn breech-cloth, and he complained bitterly that his people treated him with neglect, and robbed him of his rations. I gave him a good pair of soldier's pants of the largest size, a flannel shirt and a stout pair of shoes, which delighted him greatly. He came regularly every day for food, which he received from me whenever I was in camp, and at other times from some member of the company.

"How is it," said I, "that the Apaches contrive to live in places where there is neither game nor plunder?" The old man laughed heartily at my ignorance and simplicity, and replied:

"There is food everywhere if one only knows how to find it. Let us go down to the field below, and I will show you."

The distance was not more than six hundred yards, and we proceeded together. There appeared to be no herbage whatever on the spot. The earth was completely bare, and my inexperienced eyes could detect nothing. Stooping down he dug with his knife, about six inches deep, and soon unearthed a small root about the size of a large gooseberry. "Taste that," said he; I did, and found it excellent, somewhat resembling in flavor a raw sweet potato, but more palatable. He then pointed out to me a small dry stalk, not larger than an ordinary match, and about half as long: "Wherever you find these," he added, "you will find potatoes." This was in October, and a few days afterward the field was covered with Indians digging these roots, of which they obtained large quantities. Pursuing the subject, Sons-in-jah said: "You see that big field of sun-flowers; well, they contain much food, for we take the seeds, reduce them to flour upon our metates and make it into cakes, which are very nice. Again: the mescal, which you white people would pass without notice, is convertible into excellent food by the simple process of roasting. Furthermore, we know exactly when, where and how to trap and catch small animals, like the prairie dogs, foxes, raccoons and others; besides which there are many plants containing nutriment of which you know nothing, or would not eat if you did. One day an Apache woman died in camp, and I asked Gian-nah-tah if there would be much lamentation. He simply smiled at the idea, and replied: "It was a woman; her death is of no account." The Apaches are extremely reserved about letting outsiders approach their dead, and invariably bury them under the cover of night, with the most cautious secrecy; but the Navajoes were quite unreserved, and it was only by threats or promises that we could induce the nearest of kin to take a dead body out for sepulture. Cases occurred when the corpses were left wholly uncared for several days successively, and the deaths not reported, from a desire to escape the duty of performing the dreaded burial service.