Pedro Fage’s Report on California

A Historical, Political, and Natural Description of California

by Pedro Fages written for the Viceroy in 1775

Translated by Herbert Ingram Priestley

Ballena Press, Ramona California 1972


The Indians of the entire region between San Diego and San Francisco Solano are of a light brown color with homely features and ungainly figures; they are dirty, very slovenly, and withal evil looking, suspicious, treacherous, and have scant friendship for the Spaniards. Each village is despotically governed by a single captain, who has but one wife at a time, but each one dismisses his wives and takes others whenever he cares to do so. The education which they give their children consists merely of the fathers teaching the boys whatever skill and dexterity they may themselves happen to possess; the girls are taught whatever best suits them, they having perfect liberty to choose.

The deity which they adore, and there is one presiding over every village, is an aged Indian whom they themselves choose, raising him to the great dignity by acclamation; to him they make ceremonial offerings of seeds and various eatables. When there are wars – – as there frequently are among the various villages as a result of the disputes concerning the fruits of the earth and the women – – they protect this old man by shutting him up inside of a wall or fence made of tall, strong, closely set logs. Within this enclosure there is a space like a parade ground, all mined and countermined in different directions. The passages extend outside the wall for 12 or 15 yards, and have openings through which they can reconnoiter and hold communication with the divinity, providing him with food during the time of trouble and protecting him from surprise or injury by the enemy. In this manner they on such occasions become the tutelary gods (according to their crass mode of thought) of the very god whom they worship in time of peace and prosperity.


Most of the natives of this region go absolutely naked. The few of them who take pleasure in the use of clothing wear a sleeveless doublet made of undressed strips of rabbit or otter skins twisted and put together with some degree of skill. Among the men this garment does not usually fall much below the waist. The women cover themselves with aprons made of the leaves of reeds softened by beating and gathered at one and into a belt worn around the waist but hanging for the remaining part loose down to the knees. Over this fine garment they wear a pair of undressed deer skins poorly tanned, which serve as a skirt. If the weather is cold and raw, they usually cover their backs with a third skin. Such is the simplicity of dress of these wretched people, and those who take even this small care are, as I have said, comparatively few


The natives throughout the tract described are, generally speaking, rather dark, dirty, of bad figure, short stature, and slovenly, like the preceding ones, except those who live near the Rio de los Temblores, on its banks and the adjacent beaches; these Indians are fair, have a light hair, and are good-looking.

As to the government of the villages, they resemble each other in that they are all subject to a despotic chief, who is the highest arbiter of peace and war; to him everyone contributes a part of what seeds and eatables he possesses. This captain is not only privileged to have two wives (the other Indians having only one), but he may put them away at his own caprice, and take from the same village any other two he may desire, provided they are maidens. As to dress, those few who use close wear them as do those who live between here in San Diego; nearly all the men and women wear their hair cut. They are idolators, and have a custom of burying their dead where they die; if death occurs in their village, they moved to another locality.

The men employed themselves in making nets of various patterns, large enough for caring their food in the fields; they use them to bind about the body. They make bows and arrows innumerable, and the kind of war club of tough wood in the shape of a well-balanced cutlass, which they use in war and in hunting conies, hares, deer, coyotes, and antelope, throwing it so far and with such certain aim that they rarely failed to break the bones of such of these animals is come within range. The women know how to weave baskets of varying capacity, in which to collect their seeds, pine nuts, madroña berries, acorns, etc.

Cactus fruit of such superior flavor, wild grapes, and bramble berries abound in the country. In the Cañada de Santa Clara there are many willows, from the fruit of which in season the Indians know how to make a certain wine which has no unpleasant flavor. The mountaineers know how to make also a kind of sweet paste, and sugar, which is not unworthy of the name among those people. These products are taken from certain vegetables which them themselves do not look very promising. They utilize the tule (cattail reed), making atole – – gruel – – from the seeds, and breads from the roots, as will be described in another place.


The Indians of all these villages are of a good disposition and average figure; they are inclined to work, and much more to self interest. They show with great covetousness a certain inclination to traffic and barter, and it may be said in a way that they are the Chinese of California. In matters concerning their possessions, they will not yield or concede the smallest point. They received the Spaniards well, and make them welcome; but they are very warlike among themselves, living at almost incessant war, village against village.

In each of these villages (which are very populous here, each one containing an entire estimate about 600 men capable of bearing arms) there is a captain, as has been said of the previous territory. This chief has hardly any other function than that of the military command; they always choose the most conspicuous and intrepid one in the village. The position is for life, and the incumbent enjoys an absolute, total independence in the government.

The men go clothed with a large cloak made of skins of cony, hare, fox, or sea otter; the garment reaches to the waist, the captain only being allowed to where it reaching to the ankle, without other mark of distinction. The women wear skirts, made and fitted uncouthly of antelope hide, either colored or white, which do not extend below the knees. Most of them are decorated with various trinkets chosen from the smaller sea shells and stones of various colors. They wear the hair tightly bound and gathered at the back, forming a short, heavy queue, with a very handsome adornment of shells; they also wear collars and bracelets of snail shells and little sea shells. The few men who desire to cut their beards accomplish it, not without great pain, by using a pair of shells of the clam or large oyster, which being fastened together on one side by nature, can be given a kind of opening and shutting motion on the other. With these the extract the hairs one at a time by the root as though pulling with nippers. Those who like to wear the hair short, do so by burning it close to their pates – – an uncomfortable and fatiguing operation, but necessary on account of their lack of any iron instrument.

They are idolators like the rest. Their idols are placed near the village, was some here and some they are about the fields, to protect, they say, the seeds and crops. These idols are nothing but sticks, or stone figurines painted with colors and surmounted with plumage. Their ordinary height is three hands, and they placed them in the cleanest, most highly embellished place they can find, whither they go frequently to worship them and offer them food, and whatever they have.

Although in this district the captains commonly enjoy the privilege of taking two or three wives, and putting them away at will, the ordinary men have only one, and may abandon her only in the case of adultery. The Indians of either sex who wish to marry a second time, may do so only with another widow or widower – – a custom which seems not at all irrational if we consider what result such a practice should have in favor of the population.

I have substantial evidence that those Indian men who, both here and farther inland, are obsessed in the dress, clothing, and character of women – – there being two or three such in each village – – pass as sodomites by profession (it being confirmed that all these Indians are much addicted to this abominable vice) and permit the heathen to practice the execrable, unnatural abuse of their bodies. They are called joyas, and are held in great esteem. Let this mention suffice for a matter which could not be omitted, – – on account of the bearing it may have on the discussion of the reduction of these natives, – – with a promise to revert in another place to an excess so criminal that it seems even forbidden to speak its name. Let us go on, then, to describe the ceremony of their funerals and burials.

When any Indian dies, they carried the body to the adoratory, or place near the village dedicated to their idols. There they celebrate the mortuary ceremony, and watch all the following night, some of them gathered about a huge fire until daybreak; then come all the rest (men and women), and four of them begin the ceremony in this wise. One Indian, smoking tobacco in a large stone pipe, goes first; he is followed by the other three, all passing thrice around the body; but each time he passes the head, his companions lift the skin by which it is covered, that the priest may blow upon it three mouthfuls of smoke. On arriving at the feet, they all forward together stopped to sing I know not what manner of laudation. Then come the near and remote relatives of the deceased, each one giving to the chief celebrant a string of beads, something over a span in length. Then immediately there is raised a sorrowful outcry and lamentation from all the mourners. When this sort of solemn response is ended, the four ministers take up the body, and all the Indians follow them, singing, to the cemetery which they are prepared for the purpose, where there is given sepulture; with the body are buried some little things made by the deceased person himself; some other objects are deposited around about the spot where the body rests, and over it, thrust into the earth, is raised his spear or very long rod, painted in various colors. At the foot of this rod are left a few relics, which naturally represent the ability and kind of occupation which the man had while he was living. If the deceased is a woman, they leave strong on the rod some of the boxes and baskets which she was accustomed to weave.

The occupations and ordinary pursuits of these people are limited; some of them following fishing, others engage in their small carpentry jobs, some make strings of beads, others grind red, white, and blue paint clays, and a certain kind of plumbiferous stones, which serve for the man to paint themselves with when they are celebrating and dancing or when they go to war, and which are used by the women for their usual adornment. They make variously shaped plates from the roots of the oak and the alder trees, and also mortars, crocks, and plates of black stone, all of which they cut out with flint, certainly with great skill and dexterity. They make an infinite number of arrows. The women go about their seed sowing, bringing the wood for the use of the house, the water, and other provisions. They skillfully weave trays, baskets, and pitchers for various purposes; these are well-made with thread of grass roots of various colors.


Finally that nothing may be omitted in the narrative I will tell the customs which these Indians observe in their dances. The women go to them well painted, and dressed as has been described, carrying in both hands bundles of feathers of various colors. The men go entirely naked, but very much painted. Only two pairs from each sex are chosen to perform the dance, and to musicians, who play their flutes. Nearly all the others who are present increase the noise with their rattles made of cane dried and split, at the same time singing, this pleasingly for us, who are not accustomed to distressing the ear with this kind of composition.


At the mission of San Luis Obispo and for radius of about 12 leagues around it, I have observed the following: the Indians are well appearing, of good disposition, affable, liberal, and friendly toward the Spaniard. As to their government, it is by captaincies over villages, as in the others; the captains here also have many wives, with the right of putting them away and taking maidens only; here also the other Indian men have not this privilege, for they have only one wife, and do not marry a second time, until they are widowed. They have cemeteries set apart for the burial of their dead. The god whom they adore, and whom they offer seeds, fruits, and all they possess, is the sun. They are addicted to the unspeakable vice of sinning against nature, and maintain in every village their joyas, for common use.

Their houses, shaped like half globes, are neatly built; each one is capable of sheltering four or five families which, being kin, are accustomed to live together. The houses have one door on the east, and one on the west, with a skylight in the roof, halfway between. Their beds are built up high on bedsteads, which are called tapextles, of heavy sticks; a reed mat serves as a mattress, and for others as curtains, forming a bedroom. Beneath the bedsteads are the beds of the little Indians, commodiously arranged. The men do not often sleep in their houses at night; but, carrying with them their arms, bow and quiver, they are accustomed to congregate in numbers in great subterranean caves, where they pass the nights in sheer terror; if they stayed at home they might be surprised in their beds by the enemy whilst defenseless on account of the presence of their wives and children. They also congregate thus in order to keep watch, spy upon, set traps for and surprise those who may be taken off their guard, for they are a warlike people, always roaming from village to village at odds with everyone.

Their dress in clothing are like those of the Indians of San Gabriel, except here one sees the hair oftener worn flowing, and a fine texture. The women wear toupes made by burning, and their coiffure is of shells, as I have said in the previous chapter. On their cloaks or skirts, stained a handsome red, they put as a trimming or decoration various fabrications made from tips of shells and small snail shells, leaving numerous pendants hanging from the margins, after the style of the trinkets of our children. Foreign ornament and as a protection from the sun, they cover their heads with little woven trays or baskets, decorated with handsome patterns and shaped like the crown of a hat. Both men and women like to go painted with various colors, the former especially when they go on a campaign, and the latter when they are having a festal occasion, to give a dance.

When an Indian woman is in childbirth, she makes a small hole wherever she may be one her labor begins, even though it be in the open field; she digs out the soil, puts in a little hay or grass neatly arranged, warms the whole with fire, of which she always carries a supply ready, and composes herself tranquilly to give birth. She removes from her child the envelope and adhesions bestowed by nature, strokes it, and deforms the cartilaginous part of the nose by flattening; then she goes without delay to bathe herself with cold water, whereupon the entire operation is completed without further ceremony. The child is then swaddled from the feet to the shoulders with a band to shape its body; thus enveloped, it is fastened against a coffin shape board, which the Indian woman carries suspended from her shoulders by cords; she takes the child in her arms without removing it from the frame every time she needs to give it milk, or to soothe it if it cries. Thus Indian women are left unencumbered for all their duties and occupations without on account of them having to leave off caring for and nursing their children, a very natural course of procedure.


There is a great deal of century plant of the species which the Mexicans call mescali. The mode of using it is as follows: they make a hole in the ground, fill it compactly will large fire would which they set on fire, and then throw on top a number of stones until the entire fire is covered but not smothered. When the stones are red hot, they place among them the bud of the plant; this they protect with grass or moistened hay, throwing on top a large quantity of earth, leaving it so for the space of 24 hours. The next day they take out their century plant roasted, or tlatemado as they say. It is juicy, sweet, and of a certain vinous flavor; indeed, very good wine can be made from it.

They use the root of a certain reed of which they have a great abundance; cleansing the earth from it, and crushing it in their mortars, they then spread it in the sun to dry; when it is dry they again moisten it, removing all the fibrous part until only the flower is left. From this they make a gruel and a very sweet, nourishing flour. At the beginning of the rainy season, which, as in Spain, occurs in the months of November and December, they gather a quantity of cresses, celery, and amaranth. They also eat a kind of sweet flower similar to the wild rose although smaller, of which the bears are also very fond; it grows in swampy humid places in canyons. The cubs of this kind of bear, which the Indians hunt, stealing them from their mothers, are raised and fattened for eating when they are ready, as is done with pigs.


The fishing canoes are finally described in the public accounts published in October of the year 1770. The tridents they use are a bone; the bar is well shaped and well adapted to its use. The fish hooks are made of pieces of shell fashioned with great skill and art. For catching sardines, they use large baskets, into which they throw the bait which these fish like, which is the ground up leaves of cactus, so that they come in great numbers; the Indians then make their cast and catch great numbers of the sardines. In their manufacturers, these Indians, men and women alike, are more finished and artistic than those of the mission of San Gabriel. They know how to make very beautiful inlaid work of mother-of-pearl on the rims and sides of stone mortars, and various other utensils. The women weave nearly all their baskets, pictures, trays, and jars for various uses, interweaving with the reeds or willows, or embroidering upon them, long, flexible, fibrous roots, which keep their natural color, white, black, or red. They also do the same with shells, and small stones of the same three colors for decorating their cloaks and embroidering the bands of their headgear. The tools of these skillful artisans are only two, the most simple ones in the world, the knife and the punch. This latter, used by the women, is a piece of bone as sharp as an awl, from the foreleg, next to the shinbone, of the deer. The other is more particularly a tool for the man. They usually carry it across the head, fastened to the hair. Tongue shaped, with very sharp edges; they afix it to a very small handle of straight polished wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. These knives are made, as perhaps natural, by rubbing and rubbing away the stone (or natural glass) in contact with the harder ones, with water and fine sand. With these knives they supplied their lack of iron and steel by dint of much labor and industry.

For starting a fire, which can be communicated to, and made to inflame, other materials, they use only the means they have, – – since they lack steel, as has been said, or instruments for focusing the rays of the sun, – – namely, that of rubbing one stick forcibly against another.

These natives always carry their means of making fire in the shape of two small sticks attached to the net with which they are accustomed to gird themselves; one stick is like a spindle, and the other is oblong, or it might be properly called a parallelopiped; in it there is a hole in the middle, in which the end of the other stick may be rotated. When they want to make fire, they secure the squares stick firmly on the ground between the feet, and the round one, stuck into the hole, they rotate rapidly between the hands. It begins to smoke instantly, and both sticks are burned a little.

Concluding the chapter, I will say that at a distance of two leagues from this mission there are as many as eight springs of a bitumen or thick black resin which they call chapopote; it is used chiefly by these natives for caulking their small watercraft, and to pitch the vase is and pictures which the women make for holding water.


These Indians are well-built, and the women are good-looking, some of them being somewhat ruddy in color. They all have beautiful hair, are people of good disposition, affable, and disposed to give all they have to the Spaniards. They govern themselves as will be told in the chapter on San Francisco. They are continually at war with their neighbors; for the purpose of going out on any of these expeditions, the men and women first gathered to take counsel in the house of the captain in command, whence the soldiers set out for the engagement, bearing the proper orders. The affair is limited to setting fire to this or that village of the adversary, sacking it and bringing away some of the women, either married or single.

It seems to me worthwhile to notice the usages and customs which these natives observe in their marriages, and reciprocal tokens which are taken for the assurance of such a close alliance. The fact is that when a single man and a single woman are seen together at dawn savagely scratched, it is assigned that they have contracted matrimony during the night, and with this soul proof they are considered publicly and notoriously as man and wife by the entire village.

But there is still more to this: they never think of making legitimate use of the faculty permitted by marriage, without at the same time making use of the nails, repeating on such occasions the same cruel and barbarous expression of love and conjugal affection. This will seem an incredible thing, perhaps without parallel so far as is known of other nations, however untaught and savage they may be. There is no doubt, however, that this happens, and I write it after exact verification of the fact.

The education of the boys consists in the men teaching them to manipulate the bow and arrow, and makes them practice their lessons in the field, hunting squirrels, rabbits, rats, and other animals. The Indian woman takes the girls with her that they may learn how to gather seeds and become accustomed to carry the baskets. In this group are usually included those who are called joyas, of whom we have made mention and other places.

Idolatry is greater and more insolent here than in the preceding localities, it being understood that this part of the narrative concerns a radius of 12 leagues around the mission of San Antonio. I say greater, on account of the variety and number of gods who are worship: they are the sun, the waters, acorns, and some kinds of seeds. Not content with this, they have raised to the dignity of gods certain old men of their villages in whom they make it manifest that they have placed the utmost confidence, and for, while they offer them worship and various gifts, they pray to them for rain, for sunshine, good crops, and so forth.

The true God supplies to these poor people for their sustenance three kinds of acorns, as well as other fruit like a red plum or cherry, from the seed or pit of which, with its surroundings substance, they make good tamales. They call it yslay, and they eat the little meat which the kit contains. There is also much pil and tecsuma, of which we shall speak farther on. There are madrones, and three kinds of chia, one of them producing seeds as large as lentils and others smaller. There are many pine nuts like those of Spain, and a kind of very small white seed shaped like the eggs of lice; these seeds, mixed with flour, make the tortillas smooth and agreeable to the taste, as though they have been kneaded with lard. Another yellow seed, like rice, abundant only when it rains a great deal, has a very sweet taste. The Indians prepare it as they do the others, roasting or toasting it to reduce it to flour, and making their soups and bread; but this rice cooked without other preparation is much like vermicelli, and swells a great deal. They have plenty of sugar and sugar cakes (melcocha), concerning the preparation of which I will speak in following chapters.


The Indians in this mission and its environs are well proportioned in body, but they do not have the best faculties of mind, and they are of feeble spirit. This apparently is attributable to their condition and the kind of life they lead, always fearful and unable to retire or make excursions of more than four or five leagues from the port of the Punta de Pinos, lest they come into conflict with their opponents who resist and persecute them on all sides. They love the Spaniards very much, and recognize in them a shelter and protection of which they have an absolute need. Nearly all of them go naked, except a few who cover themselves with a small cloak of rabbit or hare skin, which does not fall below the waist. The women wear a short apron of red and white cords twisted and worked as closely as possible, which extends to the knee. Others use the green and dry tule interwoven, and complete their outfit with the deerskin half tanned or entirely on tanned to make wretched under skirts which scarcely served to indicate the distinction of sex, or to cover their nakedness with sufficient modesty.

They are governed by independent captains, both those near the mission and those who are more remote within the territory mentioned. They’re warlike, as are the Indians everywhere else, and they inter their dead where they fall, having no chosen spot for burial. When they desire a truce in any battle, or show themselves peaceful upon any other occasion, they loosen the chords of their bows in ordered that their intention may be understood. If two of the natives quarrel with each other, they stand body to body, giving each other blows as best they can, using what might be called spatulas of bone, which they always carry for the purpose of scraping off their perspiration while in the bath and during the fatigue of their marches. But as soon as blood is drawn from either of the combatants, however little he may shed, the quarrel is forth with stopped, and they become reconciled as friends, even when redress of the greatest injury is sought.

They do not have fixed places for their villages, but wander here and there wherever they can find provisions at hand. Their houses are badly constructed, consisting solely of a few boughs placed in the circular arrangement. Their marriages, as in San Antonio, are celebrated with the barbarous practice of scratching each other when they cohabitate, a foolish practice committed even by the newly converted and baptized, although the reverend fathers labor much with them in order to dissuade them from it. The dances and festivals are similar to those which have been explained in another chapter. They have a game which is frivolous enough but which has interest supplied by wagers; it is like this: an Indian takes any little thing and hides it in one hand; closing both hands, he holds them out to the other player, who must guess in which hand the object is. All this is accompanied by various postures and gestures, the players and spectators singing while guessing is in progress. The gain or loss amounts to a quiver, a skin, a handful of seeds, or some such thing.

These Indians have a kind of bath – – although I do not know whether it deserves the name were not – – which conforms in a way with the temescales which are found throughout the kingdom. They erect a hut of branches, stakes, and fagots, after the fashion of an oven, without any air passage what ever. The Indian gets into it, and others make fire for him with small pieces of wood near the door, and the one who was inside receives a good scorching for an hour, during which he perspires copiously, scraping himself with the poniard or spatula mentioned above. This done, he comes out quickly, and goes out to wash himself all over in cold water wherever he may first find it. They have a custom of repeating this alternation, the first bath being in the morning, the others being at midday and at night. The women do not use these baths.

I have already said that seeds which the Indians are accustomed to maintain themselves are here somewhat scarce. Those who are in this mission and nearby obtain few acorns, the lack of which they supply in part with blackberries and strawberries, which abound around the point of the Monte de Pinos; there are many boletes or mushrooms, and another wild fruit about the size of an ordinary pair which is eaten roasted and boiled though it is somewhat better. The tree which bears it is rather whitish, like a figtree, but not very tall. When it bears fruit it sheds its leaves entirely. The cones of the pine tree are small, and the nuts are extremely so, but very good and pleasing to the taste. The method of gathering them is to build a fire at the foot of the tree, which in a few hours falls, making the fruit available without difficulty.



Speaking now of the natives who are remote from the district: it is first to be noted that those of the Valle de San Francisco are the ones who have the most culture and are least savage. They have their hemispherical houses about four yards diameter, and live very sociably, fixing their residences in large villages which, since they become infested with fleas in the spring time, they abandoned for the purpose of passing this uncomfortable season in a little brush houses which they construct a short distance from their villages.

They are provided with many and various seeds for their sustenance; they do not lack for any kind of birds and land mammals or timber which have been mentioned in connection with other places. Here seen are some trees so large that eight men all holding hands could now span one of them. It is not known to what species they belong, but they have been called sabinos on account of their enormous, gigantic size.

The Indians who live in the direction of the Punta de Año Nuevo, eight leagues inland and about 12 leagues from this Royal Presidio, are of good features, their skin is not so dark, and they wear long mustaches. They are very clever at going out to fish embarked on rafts of reeds, and they succeed, during good weather, in getting their provisions from the sea, especially since the land also provides them with abundance of seeds and fruits which have been mentioned a little above, although the harvesting of them and their enjoyment is disputed with bow and arrow among these natives and their neighbors, who live almost constantly at war with each other.

All those remote from Monterey within the bounds of the 20 leagues which have been indicated, have for their god the sun, to whom they offered, with gesticulations and ceremonies, all that we gave them, and they are accustomed to make various demonstrations of joy every day before this planet rises, while yet the dawning of the morning is announcing his coming. They believe in the transmigration of souls, asserting that those of the dead go to live in a certain island of the sea, from whence they come to enter the bodies of those who are born. Their dead they interred in places like regular cemeteries, with the exception of those who die in war, for the latter are eaten.


The captains wear their cloaks adorned with feathers and a great coiffure of false hair folded back upon their own. The common Indians wear a small cloak which reaches to the waist; in their hair they interweave cords or bands with beads, among the folds of which they bestow the trifles which they need to carry with them. The most common of these small articles is a small horn of the antelope containing tobacco for smoking, wrapped in leaves. They gather great harvests of this plant and grinding large quantities of it mixed with lime, from this paste forming cones or small loaves which they wrap in tule leaves and hang up in the house until quite dry. They assert that as a food is very strengthening, and that they can sustain themselves on it for three days without nourishment; they usually partake of it at supper.

The arrangement of their villages is like a chain, not continuous, however, but broken, and in front of their dwellings they erect storehouses or barns in which to keep their seeds, implements, and so forth.

They have stone mortars very much like the metates of this kingdom, jars of the same material, and trays of all sizes made of wood or reeds artistically decorated with fibrous roots of grass which always keep their natural color, which is variable according to the species.

They sleep upon skins of animals, and cover themselves with others skins.

The figure and form of these Indians is graceful; both men and women are taller than ordinary. The men have the custom of smearing their heads in the form of a cross (the efficacy and mysteries of which are yet unknown to them) with white mud. The women observe in their dress and styles of San Luis Obispo, but with greater neatness and decency; they have also the fashion of wearing the hair in a toupe with a braid.

Their government and economics

Besides their chiefs and villages, they have in every district another one who commands four or five villages together, the village chiefs being his subordinates.

Each of them collects every day in his village the tributes which the Indians pay him in seeds, fruits, game, and fish. If a robbery is committed, complaint is made to the captain, who holds a council of all the Indians to deliberate concerning the punishment and reparation due. If the theft is of some eatable or some utensil, as is usually the case, the entire punishment inflicted upon the robber is the return of the object stolen or its equivalent. But if the theft is that of a virgin, whom the robber has ravished, they must inevitably marry; the same practice is observed in the case of a simple rape which may occur without abduction. It is to be noted that here no one has more than one wife.

The subordinate captain is under obligation to give his commander notice of every item of news or occurrence, and send him all offenders under proper restraint, that he may reprimand them and hold them responsible for their crimes. During such an act the culprit, whether man or woman, remains standing with disheveled hair hanging down over the face.

Everything that is collected as the daily contribution of the villages is turned over to the commanding captain of the district, who goes forth every week or two to visit his territory. The villages receive him ceremoniously, make gifts to him of the best and most valuable things they have, and they assign certain ones to be his followers and accompany him to the place where he resides.

They have two meals within the course of the natural day, one before dawn which lasts an hour more or less, and another in midafternoon which lasts for the space of four hours. When it is finished they set themselves to smoking tobacco, one after the other, from a great stone pipe. If there is to be a dance in celebration of a wedding or a feast, they dance until dawn, or, if they stop sooner, they set alert watchmen in the customary places, who give signals between themselves and for the entire village, by whistling or strumming the cords of their bows, thereby giving notice that the enemy is approaching, that a house is burning, or that there is some other accident in the silence of the night.

Marriages and games

The friends and relatives of those who have been married together from various villages each one bringing his small gift for the new couple, and also his supply of food for the three or four days during which the festivities are to last, and other things ready to barter or exchange for what they need. They eat and dance and sing joyously during the days of festivity, and when these have passed, everyone returns to his home. The games they play on these and other occasions are of three different kinds as follows:

One, which is participated in by women only, is like this: many of them being seated in a circle, they take a large basket or reed tray beautifully decorated, into which they put a number of snail shells filled with tar (chapopote). These are cast from the hand by the one who plays, who rubs them all so that they may fall with the mouth down, against the bottom of the tray, in order that they may roll. The game is decided by the number of shells which stopped mouth up, whether they are fewer, an equal number, or more than those which stopped mouth down. The turn passes to another when one loses thus the play goes round from hand to hand in turn, each one wagering some small article appropriate to the woman’s use.

The man, who like to divert themselves without fatigue, play another game no less sedentary and quiet than that of the women. They put a wooden tube, three spans long and one in width, on a very level, clean floor which they make smooth by covering it with fine sand. They then take ten sticks of the same length and shape, each one marked one face only with a small sign made with crossed lines. The player throws them toward the two all at one time so that they may fall upon the floor. If they all fall with the mark outward, the player has won; if not, he is followed by another until the shot is made.

Finally there are other games that they play which give good exercise, depending not at all upon chance, but contributing entirely to dexterity or industry. They prepare a quadrilateral , very level and smooth, and ten yards long with a width sufficient so that two Indians may run in it side by side, the whole place being enclosed with a hedge of branches and grass a little more than the span in height. Into this enclosure two players enter, one on each side, face-to-face, each of them carrying in his hand the stake four yards long, ending in a good point. One of the Indians throws upon a little wheel made of strong straps fastened together so as to leave in the center hole about the size of a real; they both instantly hurl their stakes, measuring the shot so as to catch the wheel or threaded upon the stake before it falls to the ground. He who first does this, or who does it oftenest, overcomes his adversary, and wins the game.


They have a kind of wild bastard onion, which when cooked can be substituted for soap for washing woolen clothes; when roasted, it can be eaten. I doubt not that it is the soap root of the Mexicans. There is another onion called cacomistli which has a very good flavor like that of the sweet potato, and still another which is the root of a tuberous grass about like a head of garlic, which is good to eat without any preparation; it is called capulin.

There is another kind of rice similar to turnip seed, the plant of which is like the wild amaranth, which is found commonly in the canyons of the mountains. There is also a grass seed having a stalk like wheat, which, when sufficiently compressed, yields a rich flower, being of the oleaginous variety. These natives also eat laurel berries toasted; they are bitter, like kidney beans, with a little oil. The seed of the cattail reed is utilized for making pinole of a chocolate color; the roots yield flower for marchpanes which are of sweet flavor, and finally from the flour in season they make another pinole, yellow, and as sweet as curds. The teczuma is a flower similar to the rose of Castile, which grows on a shrub three spans high; on its stalks or stems grow berries like little buttons from the middle of the plant upward. Fire is set at the root to make the buttons eject a very oily seed, called pil, from which another substantially nourishing flour is made.

There is a kind of shrub like the Mexican texocote, from the fruit of which a very nourishing drink, somewhat acid like the tamarind, is made by soaking the pulp in the water. Another fruit grows in racemes, the berries of which are about the size of chickpeas, which is like the spiny manzanillo of Spain. Roasted in hot ashes, it tastes very good to the Indians, and even to the Spaniards.

The juice of the reed grass is obtained, after it has been harvested in season, by exposure to the sun for four or five days, when it can be shaken from the leaves, coagulated, dried, falling like the manna of the apothecary shops.

Native sugar is made from the olive like fruit produced by a very leafy, tufted shrub 6 feet high with a stem of reddish color and leaves like those of the mangrove. The preparation of the sugar is so simple that it consists in gathering the ripe fruit, separating the pulp from the seed, and pressing it in baskets to make cakes of sugar when dry and of a good consistency.

To omit nothing that is observed in these regions, I will say that there are two kinds of plants from which the natives obtain thread sufficiently strong for their needs. One of them grows in moist soil, and is very much like true hemp, at least I take it to be so, and the other grows on dry ground, and has leaves like the wall that, as she colored and downy, with a white flour. When the flower falls, it is time to utilize the plant. Neither of these plants grows to a height of more than three or four spans.

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