The superiority of the Navajo to the Pueblo work results not only from a constant advance of the weaver’s art among the former, but from a constant deterioration of it among the latter. The chief cause of this deterioration is that the Pueblos find it more remunerative to buy, at least the finer serapes, from the Navajos, and give their time to other pursuits, than to manufacture for themselves; they are nearer the white settlements and can get better prices for their produce; they give more attention to agriculture; they have within their country, mines of turquoise which the Navajos prize, and they have no trouble in procuring whisky, which some of the Navajos prize even more than gems. Consequently, while the wilder Indian has incentives to improve his art, the more advanced has many temptations to abandon it altogether. In some pueblos the skill of the loom has been almost forgotten. A growing fondness for European clothing has also had its influence, no doubt.
Sec. II. Cotton, which grows well in New Mexico and Arizona, the tough fibers of yucca leaves and the fibers of other plants, the hair of different quadrupeds, and the down of birds furnished in prehistoric days the materials of textile fabrics in this country. While some of the Pueblos still weave their native cotton to a slight extent, the Navajos grow no cotton and spin nothing but the wool of the domestic sheep, which animal is, of course, of Spanish introduction, and of which the Navajos have vast herds.
The wool is not washed until it is sheared. At the present time it is combed with hand cards purchased from the Americans. In spinning, the simplest form of the spindle—a slender stick thrust through the center of a round wooden disk—is used. The Mexicans on the Rio Grande use spinning-wheels, and although the Navajos have often seen these wheels, have had abundant opportunities for buying and stealing them, and possess, I think, sufficient ingenuity to make them, they have never abandoned the rude implement of their ancestors. Plate XXXIV illustrates the Navajo method of handling the spindle, a method different from that of the people of Zuni.
They still employ to a great extent their native dyes: of yellow, reddish, and black. There is good evidence that they formerly had a blue dye; but indigo, originally introduced, I think, by the Mexicans, has superseded this. If they, in former days, had a native blue and a native yellow, they must also, of course, have had a green, and they now make green of their native yellow and indigo, the latter being the only imported dye-stuff I have ever seen in use among them. Besides the hues above indicated, this people have had, ever since the introduction of sheep, wool of three different natural colors—white, rusty black, and gray—so they had always a fair range of tints with which to execute their artistic designs. The brilliant red figures in their finer blankets were, a few years ago, made entirely