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Vol. IX


No. 8




Not the least important part of the great domain added to the United States fifty years ago by the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo was the territory of New Mexico. Early exploration in that section indicated that it was a field rich in archeological problems, and every new explorer brought back an account of its antiquities which rivaled that of his predecessors. Perhaps no subject excited more general interest than the ruins of the cliff-houses, a style of aboriginal dwelling of which little was known to a science yet in its infancy. From year to year knowledge of these unique structures became more accurate, and speculation as to their character less fanciful, as archeology became a more exact science. The novelty of a description of cliff-houses is past, startling theories concerning them are less frequent, and the scientific student finds before him a task technical and didacticthe accumulation of data which, when multiplied, may reveal important results. In this communication I aspire to add to our knowledge descriptions of two cliff-houses which have thus far escaped notice. It is not my purpose to discuss the character of the culture of cliff-house people.

The country between the Verde valley, north of Oak creek, and Flagstaff, Arizona, is wild and mountainous, a jumbled mass of red-colored rock forination flanked on the east and north by a spur of the Mogollon plateau. To cross these cliffs is impossible, and the road from Flagstaff south avoids them by the trail to Old Camp Verde. Along this road, especially across the malpais between Rattlesnake Tanks and Beaver Head, on a creek of the same name, one finds scanty vegetation, no water or fodder for horses, and but a limited supply of fuel for campfires. From its highest point the traveler can see stretching far to the west an area seldom designated on maps, but locally known, from the color of its cliffs, as the Red Rock country. Into that unexplored region permit me to be your guide on an archeological reconnoissance, for although now uninhabited it was once the site of a considerable population which has left ruins of uncommon size in its rugged canyons. We shall follow in our excursion the trail of an exploration which I undertook last summer on behalf of the Bureau of American Ethnology and the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and shall consider two large cliff-houses which up to that time had escaped the study of the archeologist. There are certain preliminary ideas of the distribution of man in our Southwest which, when recalled, may add a zest to our study of these ruins.

1 Read before the Anthropological Society of Washington, April 21, 1896. 36


The great plains of the Gila were, as is well known, the sites of many and populous pueblos in prehistoric times. The character of the culture of this region is well attested by the richly decorated objects which have been excavated from numerous ruins. Here rose a pueblo whose stately ruin is now called Casa Grande, and not far from the junction of the Gila and Salt rivers áre mounds indicative of the remains of large and populous villages.

The Salt river cuts across a section of southern Arizona, which was formerly most thickly strewn with aboriginal habitations, in an east-west direction, flowing for the greater part of its course almost parallel with the Gila. Its northern tributaries, the Agua Fria, Verde, Tonto, and others, have numerous ruins along their banks. Crossing the watershed which separates their sources from the branches of the Little Colorado, we come to other evidences of former habitations. The San Francisco or Verde river is an aflluent of the Salt and tributary of the Gila. It flows about due south, a constant stream of water, through a country which is in places of great aridity. The rocks which form the rim of the valley vary in character from a soft tufaceous formation, easily eroded and excavated, to lava and other hard stones. The mouth of the river is not far from the great ruins of the Gila and Salt, and the sources of some of its tributaries are in the San Francisco mountains.

The character of many of the ruins of the Verde valley has been investigated and described by Dr Mearns, Mr Cosmos Mindeleff, and others. To add one or two more to the number of ruined villages in this region is no startling discovery. It might not be of more than passing interest save for its bearing on questions of the geographical distribution of certain prehistoric people in the Southwest. None of the Verde ruins thus far described are of the same type as those we are to consider; none have a similar geologic environment. The northern limit of known Verde valley ruins is on Oak creek and at Montezuma Well; but these, like others to the south, occur in a formation different in character of erosion from that of the Red Rocks. The abandoned houses of the cinder cones of San Francisco mountains north of Flagstaff are likewise of a different character. It is instructive to know the peculiarities, if any, of the aboriginal dwellings in the rocks between them.

In the course and direction of the rivers mentioned above lies a most interesting cause of the distribution of ruins, and when the time comes to make a faithful archeological map of the Southwest we shall find, with one or two important exceptions, that the largest ruins are found along water-courses of the great rivers of the country. In all human probability migration likewise followed these high ways.

The valleys of these streams have played important parts in migrations, and may be called prehistoric pathways connecting a similar people of the north and south. In days when aborigines were obliged to follow river valleys, as Indians as well as the white man do today, the Verde valley was an important artery of migration, determining the distribution of human life in that section of the country.

An archeological map of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico will show not only the relationship of the geographical distribution of man to streams of water, but also the influences of geological surroundings on the peculiar character of aboriginal dwellings adopted by the same culture in different regions. In that way of looking at the question an archeological and a geological map will be found to have many coincidences, for men of the same culture in the adobe plains build adobe houses, in tufaceous rocks burrow troglodytic caverns, and in canyons with natural caves erect cliff-houses. The caves of the Red Rocks resemble in mode of formation those of the Mesa Verde in southern Colorado. Has that similarity led to corresponding resemblances in the architecture of cliff-houses built within them? These and many other questions impart a new interest to the two ruins we are about to consider. We have before us a detail of the effect of environment on prehistoric culture.

There is no more delightful place in the Verde valley in which to camp than among the trees fringing Oak creek, under that great buttress of rock called the Court House butte, one of the few pinnacles in the Red Rock country which is indicated on maps of the region. Near by is a ranch owned by an enterprising vineculturist named Schürmann, from whom I learned of the existence of the Red Rock cliff-houses, which lie about ten miles northwest of his ranch. There is no road leading to them, but they are easy to find by following the line of cliffs. It is very difficult to impart any very definite information regarding geographical locality in a territory so vast and little known as some sections of Arizona, but it may give some idea of the situation of the Red Rocks if I say that a straight line drawn from Prescott, the former capital of Arizona, to Flagstaff in a northeasterly direction passes through this region in the neighborhood of these new cliff ruins, which on that line are about twothirds the distance from the former to the latter cities. Their latitude is about 35° north and longitude 112° west from Greenwich, according to the best maps at my disposal.

I have purposely limited my consideration to the two largest ruins of this section, and have given to them the names Palatki, Red House, and Honanki, Bear House, using Tusayan nomenclature, notwithstanding the Hopi have no names known to me for these ruins. The region of the Red Rocks suggests the mythic land called Palatkwabi, or Red Land of the South, from which, according to their legends, came the Water House people, one of the most important components of the Hopi stock. We have definite knowledge, through legends, that this people once lived near Winslow, in a pueblo, Homolobi, at Sunset Crossing of the Little Colorado, and their legends state that they came from a Giant Cactus country, which may have been as far south as the Gila valley.

The rocks' take the form of huge pinnacles, buttes, temples, and regular structures like fortifications. When we carefully examine the sides of the cliffs in detail we find among the crevices and indentations series of defensive walls made by man for security. Most of these are inaccessible, and the wonder is how they were formerly approached by friend or foe. I can think of no better region of the Southwest with which to compare the Red Rocks than cliffs like those of the Navaho Church, often pointed out to the traveler on the railroad near Fort Wingate, and the fantastic shapes which the mountains here take rival those of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.

This region has had a dark and bloody history in years not very long past, for it was to these inaccessible canyons that the Mohave Apaches retreated and made their last stand in the Verde. Twenty years ago no white man could have entered this country unarmed, and many sanguinary conflicts between soldiers and Indians occurred a few miles from these Red Rocks. They led to the externination of the latter, who left few reminders of their former occupancy save charred “mescal pits,” fragments of basketry, and here and there a few characteristic pictographs.

In the formation of the caves of the Red Rocks the weathering has been greatly aided by gravity. The faces of the cliffs are not honeycombed, but have sharp, hard surfaces left by the fall of fragments of the exposed rock. The greatest recent erosion seems to have been at their base, and the face of the undermined cliff has been left clear cut almost perpendicularly by the falling of huge fragments, which have accumulated a considerable talus. As a result, it is common to find the upper rim of the precipice protruding far beyond the base, forming a roof-like covering to the accumulating detritus below. By this fall of great fragments, some of which are cyclopean, great caverns are made, the walls of which are the concoidal surfaces of fracture, only indirectly due to erosion. This mode of formation of caverns in the Red Rocks is different from that of some other regions of the Verde valley, and has profoundly affected the character of aboriginal dwellings in this region.

The first ruin of which I shall speak is Palatki, which lies in

1 No geologist has yet visited the country in which these ruins are situated. They are supposed by some to belong to the Jura-Trias, by others to the Carboniferous formations.

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