Region III Quarterly

Volume 3 - No. 4

October, 1941


By Erik K. Reed,
Regional Archaeologist.

In the summer of 1540 Coronado found Indians from Pecos Pueblo, 200 miles to the east, visiting at the Zuni towns in westernmost New Mexico. Previously he had found, among the Pimans in southern Arizona, many people who had visited the Zunis to trade for turquoise. In 1598, soldiers of Onate, the founder of New Mexico, met Apaches in the plains east of the Pecos who were on their way to Taos pueblo to exchange bison products and salt for cotton blankets, maize, pottery, and turquoise.

Most interesting perhaps, of all the early historical references to trade and travel among the Indians is one in the history of northern explorations written in 1584 by Baltasar de Obregon, telling of a North Mexican Indian who had repeatedly visited the New Mexico pueblos taking parrot feathers north to trade. We knew from archaeological finds, especially in Wupatki National Monument, Arizona; and in Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon National Monument, New Mexico, that the prehistoric southwestern Indians centuries ago had macaws, which are native to Mexico. Modern Pueblo Indians are still anxious to have parrot feathers for their ceremonial regalia.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was travel between tribes, and occasionally whole groups moved considerable distances to live with some other nation. Movement of an entire tribe or group was usually caused by some important disturbance, and occurred particularly at the end of the 17th century in the troublous times of the Pueblo Rebellion and the subsequent Spanish reconquest of New Mexico, when many Rio Grande Pueblo Indians fled to the Navajo or the Hopi.

One such group never returned, and descendants still live in the Hopi country: the Tewa Pueblo of Hano on First Mesa, founded by Tano Indians who left the Rio Grande in 1696. Another group, Tiwas from the Bernalillo region who went to the Hopi country about the same time, were persuaded by Spanish priests in the 1740's to return and reoccupy Sandia Pueblo. Most of the Pueblos -- especially Jemez Indians -- who joined the Navajo never returned, but became Navajos; this was a major reason for the development of weaving among the Navajos. Previously, at the beginning of the Pueblo Rebellion in 1680, the Piro Indians of the Socorro and Mountainair districts accompanied the retreating Spaniards to El Paso, and never returned from their new pueblos there.

Archaeological finds demonstrate that trade and travel went on long before the coming of the Spaniards. Ornaments made of seashell are found in ruins all over the Southwest; turquoise and other stones for ornament were extensively distributed by trade, and a great deal of exchanging evidently went on of even so general a thing as pottery. In areas as far east as Bandelier National Monument, and Pecos Pueblo, near Santa Fe; and sites near Gran Quivira National Monument southeast of Albuquerque, red pottery from the Zuni region is found. Pottery of late-prehistoric Hopi manufacture is common in Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments, on the Verde in central Arizona. Occasional items of Mexican origin are found. It is generally believed that most of this prehistoric trade took place gradually between neighboring groups, rather than by long journeys of professional traders such as there were in the Aztec region in southern Mexico. Successive bartering between adjacent tribes would eventually produce fairly wide distribution of desirable articles of various sorts.

Salt was an important and desirable commodity not everywhere obtainable. Fairly long journeys to procure it were made by various tribes up until recent years. The Pimans went to the Gulf of California; the Hopis to a salt mine in the Little Colorado gorge; the Zunis, Acomas, Navajos, and many western Apaches used the famous Zuni Salt Lake. Most of the Rio Grande Pueblos probably used the salines of the Estancia Valley, salt from which was sent to Mexico over the Chihuahua Trail by the Spaniards in the 17th century.

Today the same process goes on, modified by contemporary differences, in part accelerated by easier and faster travel. Men of Santo Domingo Pueblo, on the Rio Grande 30 miles southwest of Santa Fe, travel occasionally to Zuni and Gallup; even to Shiprock, and sometimes to Flagstaff or to Phoenix, to trade with the other Indians for things to sell in Santa Fe. Especially they visit such affairs as the Laguna fiesta, the Jicarilla Apache encampment, and the Navajo tribal fair, all in September; and, later in the fall, the great Zuni ceremonial of the Shalako, always primarily in order to trade, especially with visiting Navajos, for Navajo silverwork and blankets.

Pueblo pottery is almost as widely exchanged today as in prehistoric times, even aside from curio shops. Different pueblos sometimes imitate each other's styles, or a woman of one pueblo may go live in another but continue to make pottery in the tradition of her original home. Actual trading of pottery occurs, however, and occasionally an Acoma or San Ildefonso woman will have Hopi specimens among the small vessels she sells.

The Navajos do less traveling any distance outside their own reservation, but their domain in Arizona and New Mexico is a vast one, with ample space for intra-tribal travel. At least two or three Navajos, however, have visited, of all places, Australia. Many Navajos and Pueblos go away to school; a few do not stay home afterwards, but work as silversmiths or in other trades; and there is said to be a Navajo making and selling his silverwork on the Mohawk Trail near Deerfield, Massachusetts.

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Date: 17-Nov-2005