Sunday, November 24, 2013
Coyote Fence Origins
Weather: Fragments of snow Friday and Saturday, with more last night; 9:01 hours of daylight today.
Friday’s snow fell on leaves that warmed it before it reached the roots. On trees and shrubs, the leaves were on the ground. On perennials, dead or green leaves and flower remains caught it several inches above. Captured snow melted into the ground after the snow on bare earth or gravel had disappeared. In some cases, the aerial parts may have acted as snow fences to trap snow on one side, so more moisture would seep down.
Saturday’s snow was heavier and reached the ground. By then, the plants had had 24 hours to adjust to new conditions. They needed it for the snow that fell early this morning.
What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae and other evergreens, cholla and other cacti; leaves on Apache plume, roses, fern bushes, Oregon holly, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, dog violets, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, golden spur columbine, oriental poppies, scarlet and blue flaxes, Dutch clover, sweet pea, bouncing Bess, anthemis, cheat grass.
What’s red: Coral beardtongue leaves.
What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, catmints, California poppy, chocolate flower, golden hairy aster leaves.
What’s yellow or turning yellow: German iris, golden spur columbine leaves.
What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.
Animal sightings: Horses are eating grasses and hay remains in local fields.
Weekly update: When I first moved here, people told me coyote fences were traditional, implying part of the original material culture of the Española valley.
Now, I’m more credulous. Fences usually are made from inexpensive, easily available materials, use familiar construction techniques, and don’t burn. Wood is none of those. Adobe walls were probably more common when barriers were needed. In the more mountainous north where ranches developed, wooden rails probably were used to keep animals in pastures.
Vertical board construction is rare. Natives and Spanish-speakers used dried clay. English and Germans used horizontal logs. American invented balloon framing. French are the ones who used vertical board construction in the New World. Their earliest fur trading forts had palisades when rocks weren’t available for high walls.
Coyote fences probably are one of the hidden contributions of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. They not only are found in northern New Mexico, but also in the San Luis valley of Colorado.
Around 1834, William Sublette built Fort William below South Pass on the North Platte. His trading station for Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other northern tribes was built of logs. According to one German naturalist who passed through, Friedrich Adolph Wislizenus, "the outside is made of cottonwood logs, about fifteen feet high, hewn off, and wedged closely together."
John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company bought the operation in 1841. When John Charles Frémont passed through in 1843, the log buildings had been replaced by "a quadrangular structure, built of clay, after the fashion of the Mexicans, who are generally employed in building them. The walls are about fifteen feet high, surmounted with a wooden palisade."
Construction of the palisades were not recorded. Early posts may simply have been pushed into soft ground. The mounted ones certainly had to be lashed together. I would guess lashing was introduced by Native workers, not Spanish-speaking ones.
The United States army bought the buildings in 1849 to protect the trail to Oregon. They renamed it Fort Laramie.
The other important trading station was on the Arkansas river near modern-day La Junta, Colorado. When the Bent brothers built their compound in 1833 with Ceran St. Vrain, everything was adobe. The outer walls were 15' high and 4' thick.
How then, did the palisades of the northern fur traders reach people living under the Mexican government along the northern Río Grande? When Kit Carson settled in Taos, he married a local Mexican girl and lived in an adobe compound.
The name for the fencing offers a clue.
When the United States took over northern Mexican territory in 1848, the locals were seen as being Indians who should live on reservations and Mexicans who had land. The cultural differences between the pueblos, the Navajo, and plains tribes weren’t recognized. Neither were cultural groups within Spanish-speaking society.
While the northern pueblos did not encourage social relations with the colonists, other natives had different experiences. After the Reconquest, the Spanish government in México had problems repopulating the area. First, it sent families from Mexico City and Zacatecas, many of whom were mestizos. Carson’s wife’s ancestor, Jose Jaramillo Negrete, was among those recruited in Mexico City.
Angelico Chavez says, in those first years around Albuquerque, those with the status of proper colonists were called españoles. When their sons produced children with native or mestizo servants, the children were called coyotes. If the children of coyotes then married españoles and behaved properly, they might be restored to españole status. His family history is filled with fathers reacting to their wayward sons and grandchildren, and churches recording coyote or españole on official papers.
In the north, Comanche captured Natives from other plains tribes. They were sold as servants, but often ransomed and allowed to settle the buffer zones between the colonial settlements and the Ute and Comanche frontiers. When they mingled with local Spanish-speakers, their children were called genízaros. Sometimes, the older term, coyote, also was used.
Doris Swann Avery says most were Apache, Ute, Kiowa, Pawnee, and Comanche. Navajo claim they became the primary subjugated group
The term genízaro eventually was used for any detribalized Native, including servants brought from México and those evicted by the pueblos. When the United States became the greater danger, Rubén Cobos says coyote was recycled to refer to "offspring of a mixed Anglo-American Indo-Hispanic marriage."
Local coyote fences probably were built first in wooded areas of the north where men lived who weren’t comfortable or held no stake in the endogamous Spanish-speaking villages. They reflect contributions from all the groups living in the west. The French probably were responsible for the idea of a barrier of poles. Natives lashed them together. Americans strengthened them with post and rail frames.
The one thing they were not is effective against coyotes. Hungry canines will dig under or leap over most barriers to get to pasturing sheep. If you want that kind of fence, government wildlife specialists suggest the most effective use 13 strands of electrified wire. Even then, they suggest keeping guard dogs to bark when one gets in.
Avery, Doris Swann. Into the Dens of Evil: The Genízaros in Colonial New Mexico (2008).
Barbour, Barton H. "The Fur Trade at Fort Laramie National Historic Site" (2000) is the source for quotations from Wislizenus and Frémont.
Chavez, Angelico. Chávez: A Distinctive American Clan of New Mexico (2009 edition) pages xiv and 199-200.
Cobos, Rubén. A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish (1983).
Green, Jeffrey S., F. Robert Henderson and Mark D. Collinge. "Coyotes," Internet Center for Wildlife Management website.
1. Purple coneflower head, 22 November 2013.
2. Saltbush, 22 November 2013. When the leaves and heads have fallen, the debris collects snow on the ground.
3. Saltbush, 23 November 2013. When the heads remain, they collect the snow.
4. Prostate German iris leaves collect snow, 22 November 2013.
5. Fallen leaves under cold-wary rose of Sharon collect snow, 22 November 2013.
6. Grasses under a young cherry act as snow fence to collect snow and protect the stem graft, 22 November 2013.
7. Coreopsis leaves act like scoops to collect snow, 22 November 2013.
8. Snow remains on debris near winterfat, 22 November 2013.
9. Snow collects in leaves and flower fluff along branches of winterfat, 23 November 2013.
10. Clouds Friday morning after the snow had stopped, 22 November 2013.