This section is from the book "Grand Canyon Of The Colorado River - John L. Stoddard's Lectures", by John L. Stoddard. Also available from Amazon: John L. Stoddard's Lectures 13 Volume Set.
The Indians of New Mexico and Arizona were, probably, fugitives from more fertile lands, whence they had been expelled by the ancestors of the bloodthirsty and cruel Apaches.
An Early Place Of Shelter.
The country to which they came, and where they made a final stand against their predatory foes, was well adapted to defense. For hundreds of square miles the land is cleft with chasms, and dotted with peculiar, isolated table-lands hundreds of feet in height, with almost perfectly level surfaces and precipitous sides. The origin and formation of these mesas, due to erosion through unnumbered centuries, by water draining from an inland sea, has been already referred to, and it can be readily seen that they originally formed ideal residences for the peace-loving Pueblos, who either made their homes as Cliff Dwellers in the crevices of Caņon walls, or took advantage of these lofty rocks, already shaped and fortified by Nature, and built on them their dwellings. These in themselves were no mean strongholds. Their thick walls, made of rock fragments cemented with adobe, constituted a natural fortress, against which weapons such as savages used before they acquired firearms could do little harm; and even these houses the Indians constructed like the cliffs themselves, lofty and perpendicular, tier above tier, and, save for ladders, almost as inaccessible as eagles' nests. Again, since these pueblos stood on table-lands, the approach to which could be easily defended, they were almost impregnable; while their isolation and elevation, in the treeless regions of New Mexico, enabled watchmen to discover the approach of an enemy at a considerable distance and to give warning for the women, children, and cattle roaming on the plain to be brought to a place of safety. The instinct of self-preservation and even the methods of defense are, after all, almost identical in every age and clime; and the motive which led the Indians to the summits of these mesas was, no doubt, the same that prompted the Athenians to make a citadel of their Acropolis, and mediaeval knights to build their castles on the isolated crags of Italy, or on the mountain peaks along the Rhine.
" Crevices Of Canon Walls".
The Summit Of A Mesa.
As times became more peaceful, the Pueblos located their villages upon the plains, and one of these, called Laguna, is now a station of the Santa Fe railway. But a mere glance at this, in passing, was far too brief and unsatisfactory for our purpose, aside from the fact that its proximity to the railroad had, naturally, robbed the settlement of much of its distinctive character. We therefore resolved to leave our train, and go directly into the interior, to visit a most interesting and typical pueblo, known as Acoma. Arriving at the station nearest to it, early in the morning, we found a wagon and four horses waiting to receive us, and quickly started for our destination over a natural road across the almost level prairie. At the expiration of about two hours we saw before us, at a distance of three miles, a mesa of such perfect symmetry and brilliant pinkish color, that it called forth a unanimous expression of enthusiasm. Although the form of this "noblest single rock in America" changes as one beholds it from different points of view, the shape which it presented, as we approached it, was circular; and this, together with its uniform height and perpendicular walls, reminded me of the tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way, magnified into majesty, as in a mirage. It was with added interest, therefore, that we learned that this was the Enchanted Mesa, about which there had been recently considerable scientific controversy. Enchanting, if not enchanted, it certainly appeared that morning, and, as we drew nearer, its imposing mass continued to suggest old Roman architecture, from Hadrian's Mausoleum by the Tiber to the huge circle of the Colosseum.
The Mesa Encantada.
Houses At Laguna.
The Indian name of this remarkable cliff is Katzimo, and the title Haunted Mesa would be a more appropriate translation of the Spanish name, Mesa Encantada, than En-chanted; for the people of Acoma believe its summit to be haunted by the spirits of their ancestors. A sinister tradition exists among them that one day, many centuries ago, when all the men of the village were at work upon the plain, a mass of rock, detached by the slow action of the elements, or else precipitated by an earthquake shock, fell into the narrow cleft by which alone an ascent or descent of the mesa was made, and rendered it impassable. The women and children, left thus on the summit of a cliff four hundred and thirty feet in height, and cut off from communication with their relatives and friends, who were unable to rejoin and rescue them, are said to have slowly-perished by starvation, and their bones, pulverized in the course of centuries, are believed to have been, finally, blown or washed away. To test the truth of this tradition, at least so far as traces of a previous inhabitancy of the mesa could confirm it, Mr. Fred-e r i c k W. Hodge, in 1895, made an attempt to reach the summit; but, though he climbed to within sixty feet of the top, he could on that occasion go no higher. He found, however, along the sides of the cliffs enormous masses of d'ebris, washed down by the streams of water which, after a tempest, drain off from the summit in a thousand little cataracts.