November 23 (November 13, o.s.)

New Mexico: Governor Vargas, deciding he needs to investigate the rumors of mercury deposits in the Hopi country while he is there, asks some of the people at Awatovi Pueblo, near his campsite, about the substance called almagre that they use as a purple body paint and topical medicine and the mysterious Cerro Colorado where it apparently comes from.  To begin with, he barters with some of the local people for a sample of the ore to send back to Mexico to be assayed to see if it really does contain mercury.  He then begins to ask around about the location of the Cerro Colorado and how to get there.

The first person he finds with knowledge of the Cerro is a Spanish-speaking Hopi from Oraibi named Francisco.  When asked about the Cerro, he replies that he has only been as far as the salinas that are fourteen days’ travel away in the summer, when the days are long.  Just beyond the salinas is a canyon, and beyond it is a river.  The river can be forded when it is low, but it is high in the rainy season and when the snowmelt comes down from the mountains in the spring.  The Cerro is on the other side of the river and can be seen from the near side of it.  This is the extent of Francisco’s knowledge, and he admits that he has not been up to the Cerro himself.

Vargas continues asking around and finds a Zuni man named Pedro.  When he asks him, using Francisco as an interpreter, if he has been to the Cerro, he replies that he has been there twice.  Vargas, excited, begins to ask him more questions.  One of his officers who speaks Zuni interprets along with Francisco to ensure total accuracy in translation and understanding.

Vargas first asks how many days it takes to get to the mines at the Cerro and how many water holes there are on the way.  Pedro replies that there is a water hole at quite some distance, and another one a little closer where the Havasupais live.  A little closer than that is a small pool that collects rainwater.  Further along is a place with significant water, but it is boxed in and inaccessible to horses.  It can be crossed on foot, however.  From there it is more than a full day’s journey to get to the Cerro.  The almagre is extracted from a deep pit, and when people go there to mine it they sleep on the Cerro, where there is no water, and take a long time coming down from it the next day.

Vargas next asks about the size of the vein.  In reply Pedro picks up a melon and says that it is about that size.  He also says that sometimes the almagre changes or loses its color, and he points to the dust on his boot as an illustration.

The answers Pedro gave are not very encouraging, but Vargas records them anyway and prepares to send them to the viceroy along with the sample when he returns to El Paso.

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Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on November 23 (November 13, o.s.)  
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