Traipsin’, tradin’ and explorin’

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Cattle raiser Emmet Wirt and companion Grover Vigil, a Jicarilla Apache, worked the cattle business on both sides of the New Mexico/Colorado border during pioneer times. Notice the pistol in the special holster adapted to Wirt’s right suspender. It was a weapon he used with deadly effect more than once.

We’ve been talking about trade practices circa 1830 along the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California. I reported that as a usual practice, two hand-woven blankets from New Mexico were traded at the Los Angeles rendezvous for one horse. Mules were worth more than horses. What I didn’t report was that human lives were the most valuable of all commodities traded on the Old Trail.
Hispanic slave traders captured Indian women and children — most often Navajo, Paiute or Ute — and sold them at the slave markets in New Mexico and California. Indian slaves could easily be transported along the Old Spanish Trail. Once sold, they were often taken farther south in Mexico, where they were put to work as household servants, ranch hands, concubines and miners.
According to Dennis Defa, “Captured women and girls usually landed in wealthier households as domestic servants, while men and boys were put to work on ranches and farms.”
Children were highly desirable as slaves because they easily learned Spanish and the duties expected of them. In “A History of Utah’s American Indians,” Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie reported, “It is estimated that during the early 1800s more than 66 percent of all Navajo families experienced the loss of members to slavery. Navajo children were taken from their families and sold at auction in Santa Fe, Taos and other places.”
When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the trade in Indian slaves continued. Nancy Maryboy and David Begay wrote, “Skirmishes, slave raids and massacres occurred with increasing frequency. The Mexicans condoned and even increased raiding and slave-trading efforts.”
The trade in Indian slaves continued after the United States acquired dominion over the Southwest. The legal nature of the slave system changed as young children taken from their Indian homes were “adopted into non-Indian homes so they could become civilized and Christianized” even as they worked as household slaves. Able-bodied Indian men could be acquired through the legal system, which allowed non-Indians to acquire prisoners as “indentured servants” by paying their fines.
The source for this information is Wikipedia.
Continued next week.

This story was posted on May 27, 2019.