Picuris Pueblo is a modest settlement outside Taos that has not been modernized: the roads are dirt, the adobe homes are crumbling and the trails are unmarked. As we walked up to the central plaza, a man emerged from the structure labeled “Scalp House” and headed our way.
He had long gray hair braided down his back and weathered skin, but his smile was friendly and he reached out to shake our hands. He insisted on taking us around personally. Picking up large chunks of obsidian, he laughed about the steep prices people pay for a rock that is so common in his community. He pointed out obsidian, as well as chards of broken pottery, that were embedded in the adobe walls.
Then he led us to his former house and shared stories of making bread with his mother, tending to bison on the family’s land, and farming beans and corn with his father. He exuded passion as he explained the pueblo’s artistic traditions, as well as its growing economic self-sufficiency thanks to a majority stake in the Hotel Santa Fe. Three hours later, we regretfully left him. When we checked into the hotel later that week, I mentioned his name and was told that he was the pueblo’s only medicine man and a chief elder.