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Running in the Past: Trade Networks & Messengers

Couriers Of The 1680 Pueblo Revolt

"Newsboys" And The Cocomaricopa Route

Iroquois, Aztec And Inca Messenger Systems

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Couriers Of The 1680 Pueblo Revolt

From Indian Running: Native American History and Tradition by Peter Nabokov ©1981 Peter Nabokov

OF THAT EPIC mission, this much we know.

In the late spring of 1680, messengers assembled at Red Willow (Taos Pueblo) in what is today northern New Mexico. Speaking to them was a middle-aged man born in the nearby village of Grinding Stone (San Juan Pueblo). Spaniards would record him only as Popé, and revile him as "a magician," the devil incarnate. His native name was Po'pay, and he was conspiring to overthrow Spanish rule in the southwest.

Since the Spanish had permanently settled among them in the 1590s and built their chain of missions, the Indians of these city-states had seen their lifeways disrupted and their religion defiled. Twenty years before the conspiracy was hatched at Taos, a Franciscan priest boasted of burning 1600 kachina masks. Five years before speaking to the runners, Po'pay was among forty-seven religious men who were publicly flogged in the Santa Fe plaza.

Deerskins with pictographs were handed to the runners. Po'pay told them that the uprising would come upon the new August moon, with the ripening of corn. The runners were rehearsed in the plan behind the pictographs. They were to forewarn all the seventy-odd Pueblos the Spanish had been persecuting for nearly a century, even to the Hopi villages over 300 miles away.

Word flew on foot, and August drew near. They were brought together for a second mission. given a bundle of knotted yucca-fiber cords as countdown devices, the runners were to repeat the itinerary of Pueblos. Every village was to untie a knot each day until the cords were clear. That day they should grab hidden weapons and "burn the temples, break up the bells."

We know that the information leaked out, requiring a last minute runner communiqué to push the date ahead. Two runners from Tesuque were intercepted and hanged. The revised target date: August 10.

. . . No native monuments were built to honor Po'pay or his peoples' consequent victory. Surprisingly, there is scant mention of the major war in Indian oral tradition. Superimposed on the ruins of the Santa Fe's plaza, a newly-built kiva, the Indian chamber reserved for sacred activities, did symbolize the restoration of the Pueblo Indian sovereignty. Over the next dozen years no Spaniards were to be found in this land. Although Don Diego de Vargas led the reconquest of the territory in 1692, Spanish control of the Indians was crippled forever. The church and the kiva have coexisted to this day. The revolt remains a victory.

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"Newsboys" And The Cocomaricopa Route

From Indian Running: Native American History and Tradition by Peter Nabokov

Running as a "calling" appears in other California cultures. In the Central region the Nomilaki "newsboys" enjoyed safe passage through enemy territory. To keep up their wind they were careful about diet and practiced daily. Possibly they consumed the nutty tasting chia seed, popular for its high nutritional value to California Indians further south. Candidates were between twenty-five and forty years of age; freed of other duties, the "newsboys" were community wards.

One named "Blind Martin" made the sixty mile round trip between Paskents and Tahama at night. He said he was never shot at, although he conveyed news during wartime. Coming in, he would catch his breath before reciting his message word for word as he had been given it. Two people repeated it and then the issue was opened for discussion.

Travellers to the lower Colorado River country returned with stories of Yuman-speaking runners. Among the Mojave in 1886, John G. Bourke heard about one Panta-cha who took less than 24 hours to cover nearly two hundred miles from Fort Mojave to Mojave Reservation and back. Bourke paid another Mojave two dollars for a twenty-one mile mission through heavy sand; the man made it in three and a half hours. In the same region the Cocomaricopas developed a highly regarded runner service which ultimately connected Arizona with California and Sonora, Mexico. The route was especially active toward the beginning of the nineteenth century, as Cocomaricopas and Halchidhomas carried news between San Gabriel, Mexico, Tuscon, and San Diego. Yuman runners were prized for the two qualities all runner systems regarded as critical, "endurance and reliability."

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An Efficiency Of Runners: Iroquois, Aztec
and Inca Messenger Systems

From Indian Running: Native American History and Tradition by Peter Nabokov ©1981 Peter Nabokov

In the east the Iroquois Confederacy was able to dominate upper New York State in part because of its organized runners. They ran on the 240 mile "Iroquois Trail" which bound together the Confederacy, requiring seventy hours to cover the country between the "eastern door" of the Mohawk, near present day Albany, to the "western door" of the Seneca, near Buffalo. The Quaker James Emlen records in his 1794 journal that one of Chief Cornplanter's runners, Sharp Shins, did the ninety rolling miles between Canadaigua and Niagara between sunrise and sunset. To sustain themselves the runners nibbled scorched cornmeal.

Like the Inca of Peru, the Iroquois used their runners in relays to increase range and efficiency. During the Revolutionary War, one runner left Tonawanda at daybreak to get word to Avon, forty miles away, and returned by noon. Dispatched usually in pairs, they "took their way through the forest, one behind the other, in perfect silence," according to Lewis Henry Morgan. When night fell, they navigated by the stars, using the Pleiades in fall and winter, the loon constellations in spring and summer.

Due to archaeological research, we now know that New Mexico's Chaco Canyon had some 200 miles of curbed roadways, sometimes displaying staircases over bluffs. We know that the Maya of Yucatan laid roads, known as sacbe, of white limestone; by way of them runners and porters linked up markets and ceremonial centers in the jungle.

Spanish writers refer to the seasoned runners among the Aztec of Mexico "who could run like the wind." Ceremonially they served to disperse fire from a sacred flame periodically rekindled in a central temple; functionally, they moved in relays to convey messages. Correos in Spanish, titlantil to the Aztec, they were valued for veracity as well as strength. The historian William H. Prescott says that these men, "trained from childhood," covered one to two hundred miles a day, bearing hides covered with hieroglyphic writing. Hernan Cortes wrote that within twenty-four hours of his landing at Chianiztlan in May 1519, runners had described to Montezuma, 260 miles away, his ships, men, guns and horses.

By far the greatest pre-Columbian road system ran over 2,500 miles from northern Ecuador to southern Chile. The Inca highway carried the most institutionalized of all runner organizations, the chasquis -- meaning "to exchange." The coastal stretch covered some 1,100 miles, and featured molded curbing, retaining walls where they cut through hills, and fruit trees along the shoulder. Wrinkling along the spine of the Andes, the highland road was narrower and more engineered with causeways and culverts. From both highways arteries branched east, north, and south to connect the Incan capital with the "Four Quarters of the World."

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