Read CHAPTER IV of Tales of Aztlan, free online book, by George Hartmann, on


We were now within the boundaries of the Territory of Colorado and approaching the northern line of New Mexico. When we passed through Trinidad, which was then a small adobe town, we met Don Emilio Cortez again. He was at home in this vicinity and came for the express purpose of persuading me to come with him. “My good wife charged me to bring her that little gringo,” he said; “she longs for an American son.” “Our daughter, Mariquita, is now ten years of age, and has been asked in marriage by Don Robusto Pesado, a very rich man. But the child is afraid of him, as he is a mountain of flesh, weighing close on twelve arrobas. Now we thought that two years hence thou wilt be seventeen years old and a man very sufficient for our little Mariquita, who will then, with God’s favor, be a woman of twelve years. She will have a large dowry of cattle and sheep, and as the saints have blessed us with an abundance of land and chattels, thou art not required to provide.”

I thanked Don Emilio very kindly, but was, of course, too young then to entertain any thought of marrying. I was really sorry to disappoint him, as he seemed to have formed a genuine attachment for me and was seriously grieved by my refusal.

Rumor spreads its vagaries faster among illiterate people than among the enlightened and educated. Therefore, it was said in New Mexico long before our arrival there that Don Jose Lopez’s outfit brought a young American, the like of whom had never been known before. He was not ignorant, as other Americans, for he not only spoke the Spanish, but he could also read and write the Castillan language. It was well known that most Americans were so stupid that they could not talk as well as a Mexican baby of two years, and that often after years of residence among Spanish people they were still ignorant of the language. And would you believe it, but it was the sacred truth, this little American, albeit a mere boy, had the strength of a man. He made that big heathen Navajo brute Pancho, the mayordomo of Don Preciliano Chavez, of Las Vegas, stand stark before him in his nakedness, with his hands raised to Heaven and compelled him, under pain of instant death, to say his Pater Noster and three Ave Marias. Others said that Don Jose Lopez was a man of foresight and discretion and saw that the Indians were on the warpath and very dangerous. Therefore, he prayed to his patron saint for spiritual guidance and succor. San Miguel, in his wisdom, sent this young American heretic, as undoubtedly it was best to fight evil with evil. And when the devil, in the guise of a coyote, led the Indians to the attack, then he was sorely wounded by the unerring aim of the gringito’s rifle.

Others said that Don Jose Lopez had set up a shrine for the image of his renowned patron saint, San Miguel, in his provision wagon, which was being driven by the American boy, and the boy took the bullet which wounded the coyote so sorely out of the saint’s mouth, who had bitten the sign of the cross thereon. And the evil one, in the likeness of the coyote, rolled in his agony on the grass when he was hit by the cross-marked bullet. Of course, the grass took fire and very nearly burned up the whole caravan.

Other people said they were not surprised to hear of miracles emanating from the shrine of the patron saint of Don Jose. His grandfather had whittled this famous image out of a cottonwood tree, whereon a saintly Pénitente had been crucified after the custom of the order of Flagellants. This Pénitente resembled the penitent thief who died on the cross and entered Paradise with the Saviour in this, that he was known to be a good horse thief, and as he had died on the cross on a night of Good Friday, he surely went to Glory Everlasting. Don Jose’s grandfather made a pilgrimage with this image he had made to the City of Mexico, to have the Archbishop bless it in the cathedral before Santa Guadalupe. During the ceremony, it was said, there grew a fine head of flaxen hair on the image and it received beautiful blue eyes. And it had the miraculous propensity to ever after wink its eye in the presence of a priest and at the approach of a Christ-hating Jew, it would spit. This virtue saved much wealth for the family of Don Jose, as they were ever put on their guard against Jewish peddlers.

The rumor that Don Jose Lopez had carried the household saint with him in his wagon was at once contradicted and disproved by his wife, Dona Mercedes. The lady declared that San Miguel had never left his shrine in the patio of their residence except for the avowed purpose of making rain. In seasons of protracted drouth, when crops and live stock suffer for want of water, crowds of Mexican people, mostly farmers’ wives and their children, form processions and carry the images of saints round about the parched fields, chanting hymns and praying for rain.

On this occasion Dona Mercedes availed herself of the chance to extol the prowess and power of her family’s idolized saint, San Miguel. She said as a rainmaker he had no equal. He disliked and objected to have himself carried about the fields when there was not a certain sign of coming rain in the heavens. Her little saint, she said, was too honorable and too proud to risk the disgrace of failure and bring shame on her family. Therefore, he would not consent to be carried out in the fields until kind Nature, through unfailing signs, proclaimed a speedy downpour. When thunder shook the expectant earth and the first drops of rain began to fall, then he started on his little business trip and never had he failed to make it rain copiously. Friends of Don Jose Lopez, hearing all this talk, were not slow to take advantage of it. The time for the election of county officials was near and they promptly placed Don Jose in nomination for the office of the sheriff of San Miguel County.

When people applied to the parish priest for advice in this matter, he laughingly told them that he did not know if all these current rumors were true, quién sabe, but surely nothing was impossible before the Lord and the blessed saints, and Don Jose being a friend, he advised them to give him their support, as he was a very good and capable man who would make an ideal sheriff. To be sure, the Don paid his debts and was never remiss in his duties to Holy Church.

We crossed over the Raton Mountains and were then in the northern part of the Territory of New Mexico. What a curious country it was! The houses were built of adobe or sun-dried brick of earth, in a very primitive fashion. We seemed to be transported as by magic to the Holy Land as it was in the lifetime of our Saviour. The architecture of the buildings, the habits and raiment of the people, the stony soil of the hills, covered by a thorny and sparse vegetation, the irrigated fertile land of the valleys, the small fields surrounded by adobe walls all this could not fail to remind one vividly of descriptions and pictures of Old Egypt and Palestine. Here you saw the same dusty, primitive roads and quaint bullock carts, that were hewn out of soft wood and joined together with thongs of rawhide and built without the vestige of iron or other metal. There were the same antediluvian plows, made of two sticks, as used in ancient Egypt at the time of the Exodus, when Moses led the Jews out of captivity to their Promised Land. The very atmosphere, so dry and exhilarating, seemed strange. In this transparent air, objects which were twenty miles distant seemed to be no farther than two or three miles at most. In such a country it would not have surprised anyone to meet the Saviour face to face, riding an ass or burro over the stony road, followed by His disciples and a multitude of people, who, with the most implicit faith in the Lord’s power to perform miracles, expected Him to provide them with an abundance of loaves and fishes. Here we were in a country, a territory of the United States, which was about eighteen hundred years behind the civilization of other Christian countries.

As we passed through the many little hamlets and towns, the male population, who were sitting on the shady side of their houses, regarded us with lazy curiosity. They were leaning against the cool, adobe walls, dreaming and smoking cigarettes. The ladies seemed to possess a livelier disposition and emerged from their houses to gossip and gather news. They viewed me with the greatest interest and curiosity and, shifting the mantillas, or rebozos, behind which they hid their faces after the Moorish fashion, they gazed at me with shining eyes. And I believe that I found favor with many, for they would exclaim, “M’ira que Americanito tan lindo, tan blanco!” (What a handsome young American. See what beautiful blue eyes he has and what a white complexion.) And mothers warned the maidens not to look at me, as I might have the evil eye. I heard one lady tell her daughter, “You may look at him just once, Dolores; oh, see how handsome he is!” (Valga me, Dios, que lindo es, pobrecito!)And the way the young lady gazed was a revelation to me. The fire of her limpid black eyes struck me as a ray of glorious light. An indescribable thrill, never before known, rose in my breast and she held me enthralled under a spell which I had not the least desire to break. And they said that it was I who had the evil eye! To say that these people were lacking in the virtues and accomplishments of modern civilization entirely would be a mistake very easily made indeed by strangers who, on passing through their land, did not understand their language and were unfamiliar with their social customs and mode of living. They extended unlimited hospitality to every one alike, to friend or stranger, to poor or rich. They were most charmingly polite in their conversation, personal demeanor, and social intercourse and very charitable and affectionate to their families and neighbors. These people are happy as compared with other nations in that they do not worry and fret over the unattainable and doubtful, but lightheartedly they enjoy the blessings of the present, such as they are. Therefore, if rightly understood, they may be the best of companions at times, being sincere and unselfish; so I have found many of them to be later on, during the intercourse of a more intimate acquaintance. In the large towns, as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, where there lived a considerable number of Americans, these would naturally associate together, as, for instance, the American colony in Paris or Berlin or other foreign places, so as not to be obliged to mingle with the natives socially any more than they chose. But in the village where my relatives lived, we had not the alternative of choosing our own countrymen for social companionship.

Therefore, I realized when I reached my destination that I had to change my accustomed mode of living and adapt myself to such a life as people had led eighteen hundred years ago. I thought that if I took the example of the Saviour’s life for my guiding star, I would certainly get along very well. Undoubtedly this would have sufficed in a spiritual sense, but I found that it would be impractical as applied to my temporal welfare and the requirements of the present time. For I could not perform miracles nor could I live as the Saviour had done, roaming over the country and teaching the natives. And then, seeing that there were so many Jews in New Mexico, I feared they might attempt to crucify me and I did not relish the thought. Therefore I accepted King Solomon’s life as the next best one to emulate. While I was greatly handicapped by not possessing the riches of the great old king, I fancied that I had a plenty of his wisdom, and although I could not cut as wide a swath as he had done, I did well enough under the circumstances. I was, of course, limited to a vastly smaller scale in the pursuit and enjoyment of the many good things to be had in New Mexico. Ever joyous, free from care, I drifted in my voyage of life with the stream of hope over the shining waters of a happy and delightful youth.