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“One man sprinkled meal on the snake, the other attracted its attention by tickling it with the bahoo, while the first grabbed it by the neck and dropped it into the bag. The men sometimes catch the snakes while moving, but they believe that they must first sprinkle the snakes with meal. The catching party on its return to the pueblo puts the snakes in the estufa to wait for the day of the dance.
“Some twenty or thirty feet from the sacred rock, north, and a little in front of the houses, the snake bosky is built. It is a low, stone inclosure, covered with long cottonwood boughs, standing upright, shaped like a Sibley tent, say eight feet, and fastened together where the branches begin, leaving the branches free, with a cotton cloth about it. The antelope men came in single file, passing along the edge of the mesa, turning to the left and back in front of the snake bosky, then around the sacred rock, continuing to follow the ellipse they had described until they had passed the bosky several times, moving in a quickstep. They halted in front of the bosky and faced toward it; their priest advanced, made an invocation, and threw sacred meal in over the bag containing the snakes. He had the meal on a large black plaque of straw. It was a 'gate open' plaque. The men then sang a low chant that was like the moaning of the wind before a storm; all the time an accompaniment of rattles, with which the men were provided, was kept up, producing a pattering sound like that of falling rain. This peculiar, muffled sound was obtained by using the rattles, which are made of cottonwood, round and flat, instead of the gourd, which is pear-shaped.
“At the conclusion of the chant the snake order made its appearance from the estufa, like their brothers of the antelope order, in single file, preceded by a stalwart leader, who carried a bow and a quiver filled with arrows. His hair and that of his followers fell loosely down the back, the front being banged just above the eyes. This leader also carried a buzz, or stick, attached
. to a string, which he would twirl through the air, making a noise like distant thunder. On the tops of their heads the men wore tufts of brown feathers. Their kilts were buckskin, dyed a brownish color, streaked with designs in black and white, and resembling a snake. Their moccasins were brown, and the general tone of their entire decorations was brown, which made all the more distinct the zigzag lines of white on their arms and bodies, which represented lightning. The forehead and lower legs were painted a pinkish color, their chins white, their upper lips and faces from the bottom of the nose to the ears black, and each wore a bandolier, or leather strap, over the right shoulder and down over the left hip. Attached at intervals to the lower part of this armament were numerous brown clay balls, tied to a band just above the calf of the leg; each one wore a rattle made of a turtle shell and sheep toes. As they came upon the scene, beyond the sacred rock, the antelope order faced about. The snake order made the circuit of the open space between the houses and the east side of the mesa three times before halting, then faced toward the snake bosky, in front of which is a deep hole, said to lead down to the ‘under world'; it is covered with a very thick plank, upon which each one of the performers stamped with great force as they filed over it. A belief exists among them that whoever breaks this cover by so stamping upon it during a ceremony will succeed to a grand fortune of some kind.
“After the three circuits had been made they took position in line facing the snake bosky, on the two flanks of which stood their brothers of the antelope order, who joined them in a weird song, the time being kept by the snake men taking a half step backward with the right foot, bringing the heel down with a quick movement, which caused the turtle shells and sheep toes to give, in their combined rattle, a noise not unlike the warning of the rattlesnake. The movement is measured and effective. As soon as the song was through the snake men again made the circuit of the small space between the houses and the east edge of the mesa, going around the sacred rock from left to right, near which stood a number of maidens arrayed in ceremonial dresses, who carried bowls of sacred water, with which they sprinkled the dancers as they passed, using the eagle feathers in the manner of the priests of the antelopes.
“Now the thrilling part of the performance or ceremony began. As the men returned by the same circuitous line and reached the space in front of the snake bosky, the bag having been opened and the snakes bountifully sprinkled with sacred meal by the priest, each dancer, as he came up, was handed a snake by the priest; the dancer then, after placing in his mouth a quantity of blue clay, which he carried in his left hand for the purpose, as a bed for the snake, placed the snake (some ambitious dancer would take two small snakes) between his teeth, the head always toward the right shoulder and about four inches from the corner of his mouth.
“There were a hundred snakes in all, many of them rattlesnakes, but there were bull snakes, racers, and others, in size from six inches to four feet long, and they squirmed actively, doing their best to get away. As soon as the snakes were in the dancer's mouth he would be joined by an attendant from the antelope order, who placed himself upon the right of his brother, the right arm of the latter and the left arm of the former about each other's backs. The antelope attendants carried in their right hands large bahoos (prayer sticks), with which, the feathers waving backward and forward, they kept the snakes busy and, watching their movements, prevented them from striking. In the above manner, by twos, they continued the strange march, going round and round the sacred rock, from left to right, receiving baptisms of sacred water and meal from the maidens as they passed them. This they did six or seven times. The snake dancers threw their heads back and kept them as high as they could.
“Now and then a snake got loose and fell upon the ground and began to glide away or coil to strike, but the attendant was ever watchful and
never failed to so attract the snake's attention with the bahoos as to enable the dancer to pick it up and replace it in his mouth. The dancer was always careful to seize the snake just back of the head.
“Each dancer kept the first snake handed to him. If it was a small one, the next time around he would obtain another small one, and thus have two in his mouth, and one man I saw with three long slender snakes. Another man had but one small snake, which was entirely in the mouth except the head, neck, and just enough of the body to resemble a twisted cigar. Sometimes a dancer carried one or two snakes in his hands while he danced.
“The incessant shaking of the rattles in the hands of the men was done apparently to attract the attention of the snakes and confuse them.
“Near the conclusion of the ceremony one of the priests made a large circle on the ground in the plaza, or square, and when completed the dancers, as they passed it, deposited the snakes within its borders, where they were permitted to remain for a short time. It can be easily imagined that the mass of writhing snakes thus suddenly released and piled together, made rather a hideous and forbidding spectacle, but not more so than when they were making vain endeavors to release themselves from the dancers' jaws; still all this is not more repulsive than the performance given by so-called snake charmers, women particularly, who travel with shows and exhibit in museums in civilized life.