Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  9 (1884–85), 825–35.

Española and Its Environs

Birge Harrison


Essay, Travelogue


Physical Geography, Railways, Anthropology, Archaeology, Race, Mining, Mineralogy

    Travelling through New Mexico on the 'adventurous little narrow-gauge' of the 'Denver and Rio Grande Railway', the artistic narrator remarks on the 'weird and Dantesque' landscape which is dominated by 'leagues of wild volcanic débris and weary stretches of arid alkali plains' (825). Once he and his wife reach the town of Española they at once note the presence of 'that remarkable race of sedentary Indians which has of late been attracting so much attention', and determine to visit some 'peculiar cave dwellings which have been such a puzzle to archæologists' (826). The caves prompt reflections on the lives of their 'prehistoric inhabitants' who 'must have been content with the very smallest modicum of comfort' (828 and 830). Present-day Mexicans are, as a rule, 'a diminutive, chétif, and dark-skinned race, with a considerable admixture of Indian blood' who will 'never work more than just enough to eke out a bare subsistence', and there is no 'race prejudice so inveterate as that which exists between the Mexicans and [...] their "white neighbours"' (832). Nevertheless, in New Mexico the recent 'irruption of modern ideas has brought with it the modern lust for gold', and now even the 'lazy and careless Mexicans [...] examine specimens of mineral with as curious an interest as the oldest Colorado miner. Every man in the country carries in his pocket a lump of green or blue mineral and a microscope', and 'there is no code of honor in the world more exacting than that which requires of all old miners that they shall admire one another's "mineral"' (835).

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