Gold Cache - James W. Schultz

Chapter VII

We hurried down the canon for about two miles and suddenly came opposite a great gash in the apparently unbroken south wall. Winding up the gravelly bottom of the gash was a well packed trail, and we followed it up to the level desert. Looking back across the gorge, we saw the two Navajos start down from the rim on the very trail that we had descended; they turned back when they saw that we had found a way out of the canon.

Although we had watered our horses in the canon we did not urge them on now, for we knew that the Navajos, with their fresher mounts, could overtake us if they chose. We were not surprised, therefore, when we were two miles out from the canon, to see the band on our trail again. This time they seemed to mean business; at the pace they were traveling they would soon overtake us.

When they were within a quarter of a mile of us, Pi'tamakan began to shout the war song of his people and to make signs to them to come on and fight. Dismounting, we hobbled our horses and stood ready for what might happen.

Loudly singing their battle song, the enemy came on in a solid body. We were relieved to see that they had only one or two guns.

"They will soon begin to spread out to circle us! Quick! Fire into the midst of them!" Jose said.

Our three rifles cracked almost together; we set up a yell as a man and two horses went to the ground. The other riders scattered, but came steadily on; they evidently intended to pass, one after the other, on either side of us and loose their arrows at close quarters. But before firing our first round we had prepared to reload as quickly as possible; each held a ball ready in his mouth and a charge of powder clenched in his left hand, and each had stuck a ramrod upright in the ground at his side. Before the Navajos could lessen the distance between us by fifty yards, therefore, and before they could shoot an arrow, we were ready to send our second round into them. One after the other we fired, and each of the three bullets emptied a saddle. Then the Navajos should have rushed in on us; that was what we expected them to do. But instead, they circled far out round us—so far that the arrows which they shot at us all fell short.

"Hurry with your loading," said Jose. "Another round like that and we have them."

But this time we were a little longer in getting in the load, and when we were ready to fire there was not a Navajo within fair range of our guns. They had gathered far off on the other side of us, and there they remained for some minutes in consultation. After watching them for a little while, we unhobbled our horses and made another start for the butte with the cliff-like end. It was not so far away now, but we doubted whether our tired animals could make it before night. Looking back every now and then, we could see the Navajos busy with their dead. We wondered whether they would now let us go our way in peace; but presently they again took up our trail. They traveled neither faster nor slower than we did.

Toward the close of the day we descended a steep drop in the desert and followed along a great basin that seemed to have been once the bed of a lake, but that was now white with powdery alkali dust. The butte that we were aiming for was still many long miles ahead—much farther than we could travel without water. Night was coming on, and the Navajos were keeping doggedly on our trail. I was thinking that the outlook for us was hopeless, when Jose suddenly gave an exclamation of surprise, and snatching the telescope out of its case, leveled it at a butte about two miles to the east.

"We are saved, my young brothers, we are saved!" he cried, thrusting the glass toward me. "There, on top of that cliff, is Oraibi."

I looked eagerly at the place. At first I could not distinguish the houses on top of the cliff from the rock itself; but after a minute I satisfied myself that Jose was right, and passed the glass on to Pi'tamakan.

"It doesn’t seem real!" he exclaimed. "How came a tribe of the Only People to build and live in white-men-fashioned houses?"

"You shall ask them," Jose answered. "Come, let's hurry on. Night is at hand."

Undoubtedly the Navajos had expected us to pass the Hopi town, and to wander on and on across the desert until at last we fell into their hands. So, when we changed our course and headed for the cliff town, they made one last effort to end the long chase. They started off bravely enough, quirting their horses and shouting their war song, but before they came again within range of our rifles their courage weakened. Slowing down, they followed us almost to the base of the butte of Oraibi, and then halted and watched us.

As we came near the foot of the cliffs, we could see a number of people looking down at us from above. We turned into a broad, hard trail that grew narrower as it rose from bench to bench of the rocks. About halfway up to the top the path ran through a cleft in the sandstone; the opening was so narrow that a horse could barely squeeze through it.

[Illustration] from The Gold Cache by James W. Schultz


Jose, who was leading, was about to enter the cleft when two men came out of it, and while one took from a pouch a substance that looked like sand and scattered a line of it across the dark trail, the other motioned us back. Through the cleft we could see a number of armed men in line.

"It is sacred meal that he scatters!" Jose exclaimed. "He bars the trail to us. Younger brothers, it looks bad for us."

Then, turning again to the two Hopis, he asked in Spanish whether they understood that language. In answer a tall, handsome, white-haired man advanced to the line of meal, looked sharply at us, and then asked in good Spanish what we wanted from his people. "Food for ourselves and horses," Jose replied, "and shelter from the enemy that you see down there on the desert."

"We see them; they are Navajos; we know their ways only too well," said the old man. "For years and years they have tried all sorts of ways in order to gain entrance here. How do we know that you are not spies for them?"

"Twice in my young days I came with traders to this cliff town and was treated well," Jose answered. "I come now from the Far North with these two boys. One, you see, is white; the other is a Blackfoot. We come to you as friends, 0 Chief of Oraibi! Take us in and relieve our sufferings."

"Well, come up, then," the chief answered as he scattered the line of meal with his foot. We Hopi people always have food and shelter for our friends:'

The old man led the way; the crowd of warriors fell back on either side of the trail and, when we had passed, closed in behind us. Up and up we climbed the zigzag trail, and soon came to the top of the cliff and the stone-walled town—a jumble of houses and narrow passages.

The chief directed some of the young men to care for our horses, and then led the way up a ladder to the roof of a house, across that to another ladder and up it to another roof. Another house opened on that roof, and entering it through a low, narrow doorway we found ourselves in a large, white-washed room. The chief motioned us to seats along a platform at one end of the room and ordered a woman to bring us water. She handed it to us in a large red earthen vessel, and one by one we drank. After a little while she brought us some small bowls of goat stew and some grayish-blue sticks about the size of lead pencils and hollow like macaroni. The sticks, Jose told us, were made of corn paste. Following his example, we sucked up the soup through them, and then ate them along with the meat of the stew.

"This is your home now," said the chief, when we had finished the meal. "Sleep well, and to-morrow we will talk." With that he and the woman went out.

It was a strange world to which we awoke the next morning. From the roof-top in front of the room in which we had slept we looked off east, west, and south at the grim, rock-ribbed desert that stretched away to far horizons, and then at the gray-walled houses below and round us. Some of the houses were built on the very edge of the precipitous cliff. In places the pueblo of Oraibi was four stories high.

Early as it was, the Oraibians were already astir: Near us were three old men alternately chanting and praying to the sun. Many women and girls were going down or coming up the trail, carrying on their backs or their heads large water ollas of red or gray pottery. Jose said that the people carried all their water, fuel, and food up the steep trail from the desert.

The chief, whose name was Copela, soon called us to the morning meal. When we had satisfied our appetites, he took us through the village to call on various leading men, all of whom greeted us with friendly words. Some of the men were spinning cotton with a rude spindle that they worked with their toes as well as with their bands. Others were weaving cotton cloth and blankets. After seeing that, we were not surprised when we learned that the women had the larger share in the government of this tribe. They were the house and property owners.

That evening we spent in talk with our hosts—answering their questions about our adventures and asking in turn about the Hopi religion and customs. We partook, too, of a meal of beans and corn; the chief told us that the goat meat was all gone and that it would probably be a long time before he could get any more, for the Hopis had few of the animals.

Next morning we prepared to continue our journey, but Copela and other head men of the pueblo would not hear of our leaving for some days to come. We must wait until the Navajos went back to their home, they said. The party that had trailed us had watered their horses at a spring near by, and were lying somewhere out on the desert watching for us.

We were glad enough to accept our hosts' advice. During the two weeks that we stayed there Pi'tamakan and I became very friendly with the young men. To them Pi'tamakan was a great warrior and hero; he had been in more battles and had alone taken more scalps than the whole Hopi tribe had taken in many years.

Copela had warned us to keep away from certain houses in the pueblo that were called kivas, or, as Pi'tamakan put it, "nat-o-wap-o-yists" (sacred lodges; lodges of the sun). They were the meeting places of various secret societies or fraternities, most prominent of which were those of the Antelope and the Snake. As a rule the kiva was under the ground, or partly so, and it generally stood apart from the surrounding houses. You entered it by a ladder that descended from a square opening in the roof.

We were surprised and pleased when Copela told us one evening that we were invited to witness a "prayer-for-rain" ceremony in the kiva of the Antelope priests. We went to the place with him shortly after dark, and upon descending the ladder found ourselves in the midst of a gathering of men, women, and children that filled one end of the room.

Two very old men, sitting directly under the opening in the roof, were tending a small fire. The room was very still, and we noticed a general air of expectancy. Presently a ball of corn meal struck the ground beside the two fire-keepers; from the roof came a hooting noise.

"Your-ya-i! Youn-ya-i!" (Come in! Come in!) the priests shouted.

Several men began to descend the ladder, and the priest at once shielded the little fire with blankets. In the dim light we could only see that those who entered had large bundles in their arms. They went to the empty end of the room, where they moved quickly about for a few minutes until the fire-tenders suddenly dropped their blankets. I could hardly believe my eyes when the light revealed a small field of sprouting corn before us; the sprouts were several inches long and were set in hills of cone-shaped mud.

"This is great medicine," Pi'tamakan whispered to me.

Behind the cornfield was set up a woven blue cotton screen that covered all the space from wall to wall. On the screen were paintings of birds and animals, men and women, rain-clouds and lightning, and about three feet from the ground was a row of six round shields with strange marks painted on them.

On either side of the cornfield stood several men wearing the most horrible, grotesque masks that I have ever seen. With the men was a woman who wore a queer-shaped headdress, from which fell a fringe of red cotton strings that hid her face. She carried in one hand an ear of corn and in the other a flat plate heaped to the brim with corn meal.

After a moment the men began a plaintive song, dancing in time with it. From behind the screen came a fearful roaring, and five of the shields swung up and revealed round holes in the screen, from which large effigies of snakes began to crawl—hideous snakes with large, bulging eyes and wide plumes of feathers on their heads. The sixth shield remained stationary, because it had painted on it the sun symbol with a plumed serpent's head.

Presently the song rose in quicker measure; the roaring behind the screen became louder, and the five serpents, writhing in sinuous contortions and striking savagely at one another and at the masked men, crawled out through the holes for five or six feet of their length.

"Ai! But this is medicine!" said Pi'tamakan to me in an awed voice.

After some minutes the snakes bent to the floor and, with swaying heads and bodies, laid flat the cornfield before them. At that the audience became wild with excitement; with appealing cries and prayers they tossed sacred meal at the snakes and asked for plenteous rains and generous crops for the coming season. At the same time the masked woman offered the snakes her plate of meal, which they appeared to eat. She, I learned, represented the goddess Ha'-hai Wookti', mother of the ancient clan gods. The plumed serpent was the god of water and other liquids.

As soon as the prayers ceased, the masked men handed the overturned corn hills to the spectators. The fire-tenders again darkened the room by holding up their blankets, and, unseen by us, the actors rolled up their paraphernalia and left the kiva. When they had gone, Copela informed us that more ceremonies were to be performed and that the next one would be the buffalo dance.

"Ha! That makes me hungry!" Pi'tamakan exclaimed. "How I should like some well roasted buffalo ribs!"

The buffalo dancers soon began their performance to the time of a lively song and the beat of a drum. The dance that they gave was good, but by no means so ponderous and suggestive of the animal as is the buffalo dance of the Blackfeet. They soon left the room, and were followed by three other groups of dancers who invoked the rain gods.

When the actors of the final ceremony had gone, we all climbed the ladder and started homeward. On the way Copela told us that the acts we had witnessed had been performed in rotation in every other kiva in the pueblo, so that all the people had had the chance to offer prayers for rains and good crops.

Later the old chief told me much about the religious ceremonies of his people. Ancient the Hopis were without a doubt. Long before, the time of Columbus their actors had performed the plumed-serpent ceremony in the very kiva in which we had seen it.

"We are an ancient people," Copela said. "On your way south you will see where lived the fathers of some of our clans."

Those were pleasant days that we passed with the Hopi people. The one drawback was the corn-and-bean diet; we soon became ravenous for meat. That craving, more than any desire to get to Jose's placer ground, hastened our departure from Oraibi.

When we announced one evening that we could sleep only two more nights in the hospitable pueblo, our hosts urged us to remain longer. Then they offered us many presents, which, of course, except for a few blankets and a little store of food, we had to refuse because we had no means of carrying them. And so, on the appointed morning, we bade good-bye to the Hopis.

All that long day we traveled steadily south toward the Colorado Chiquito. Nowhere on the great desert did we see any sign of life other than an occasional coyote or rabbit. Jose assured us that, barring accidents, we should strike the Santa Fe-California emigrant road within ten days, and that at some station along it we should be able to purchase mining tools.

"With what?" I asked.

"With that," he replied, and, reaching over, touched Pi'tamakan's silver necklace.

"Not unless you first kill me!" Pi'tamakan exclaimed. "I shall wear that necklace at the medicine-lodge dances next summer."

His reply gave Jose and me food for anxious thought. Little did we dream what was to befall us ere we saw the Southern trail.