Before the Spanish Entrada

Evidence of Clovis, Folsom, and Oshara/ Upper Rio Grande Cultures in Questa Area

The Questa area has been a crossroads and hunting ground for humans for almost as long as they have been in North America. The reasons for this are most likely a combination of geography, climate, and abundance of wildlife.

Probably the earliest humans who visited this area were the Paleo-Indian Clovis and then Folsom people, who were descendants of the people who crossed the land bridge from Siberia in Asia over the Bering Straits around 13,600 years ago during the last Pleistocene ice age (3). Evidence found in northeastern New Mexico—particularly beautifully wrought fluted stone projectile points—indicates that these hunter-gatherer people roamed this
area 8,000 to 15,000 years ago, hunting the rich wildlife in the area.

Prehistoric artifacts found near Questa in the foothills of Pinabete Peak. Ages range from 200 to 2,300 years before present (BP).

Wildlife included mammoth (Clovis hunters), horse, camel, an extinct form of bison (Folsom hunters), tapir, sloth, and deer all living in a wetter climate than today and in a savannah-like landscape of shallow lakes and pine (4). A Clovis projectile point, unearthed near Clovis, New Mexico, is the “oldest, well-defined projectile point in the New World” (5). Many of these early campsites and kill sites have been found close to the Questa area, just east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

As the climate changed and became warmer and drier, probably around 6500-5000 BC, the wildlife disappeared and these early peoples moved further east on the North American continent. Archaeological evidence of these early peoples has been as close to Questa as the Blanca Peak and Great Sand Dune areas and San Antonio Mountain.

By the time of the late Clovis and early Folsom people, there were large, well-organized hunting parties who took advantage of the large herds of bison on the Great Plain. It is believed that these peoples knew how to preserve large quantities of meat and use the hides for clothing and shelter—a way of life that continued until extinction of the great herds in the late 19th century (6). These groups were followed by the Cody complex people (6800-6400 BC), and then at around 6500—5000 BC, a group of people known as the Yuma culture hunted throughout the area of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico (7).

The first real archaeological evidence of humans in the Questa area is that of the Upper Rio Grande Culture, which is also called the Oshara Culture (8). Believed to be the direct ancestors of the Anasazi people, these hunter-gatherers hunted, traveled through, and lived in this area about 5000 years ago. By then, the climate was pretty much the same as it is now and bison were probably the main game present.

The archaeologist Louis Renaud traveled extensively throughout this area in the 1940s, tracking down evidence of the Upper Rio Grande Culture. He found several sites in the Questa area that he described as tool-making sites, where he unearthed blades, side scrapers, choppers, and points made of basalt and obsidian. He also found lookout sites, fireplaces, and rock shelters. Bones found at these sites were from deer, antelope, bison, and smaller animals. There were no ceramics.

The fact that many of the sites Renaud found were at the edges of canyons, on top of volcanic rock plugs, or on high rock spurs indicated that perhaps these were lookouts and defensive positions; thus, this group of people could have been an intrusive culture entering an area occupied by other people.

Renaud found many trails coming up the east side of the Rio Grande from the Chama area and Pajarito Plateau, up the valley to the Sand Dunes and to the Walsenberg area and La Veta Pass. These trails perhaps indicated that the sites in the Upper Rio Grande Valley were way-stops on long annual trips. Renaud’s evidence indicated that the Upper Rio Grande Culture area, using present landmarks, was bounded on the north by Alamosa, on the east by the Sand Dunes, on the west roughly by US 285 to Tres Piedras, and on the south by Arroyo Hondo (9). Later surveys in the area, particularly around Guadalupe Mountain, have unearthed over 16,000 chipped stone items.

Further archaeological evidence of the Upper Rio Grande Culture was found in Questa in an archaeological survey performed in 1992 before the construction of the Questa by-pass road. This survey uncovered artifacts from the Arachaic, Anasazi, Pueblo, and Jicarilla time periods, showing that the Questa area was used for the last 5200 years by Native American groups. The oldest materials found in this survey were radiocarbon dated to as early as 3200 B.C. (San Jose 3200 BC—1800 BC). Many ancient hearths, obsidian, chert, and basaltic artifacts, and stone tools were uncovered in this survey (10).

Upper Rio Grande Culture people probably migrated with the seasons in small family groups to exploit resources available for food, water, toolmaking materials, pigments, fiber. They used rockshelters as windbreaks and built huts as shelter. Either the entire household would move together from place to place or the women and children would stay at a base camp and the men would follow the herds and game. During this period (around 2500- 2000 BC), wells began to be dug and agriculture (maize and squash) was introduced from Mexico (11).

For subsequent periods, the Cabresto survey showed that the heaviest visitation of the Questa area occurred during Pueblo IV period. These researchers felt that this long-standing visitation of the Questa area indicated deliberate visits rather than people fleeing in haste through the area (12).

The Cabresto survey also unearthed artifacts from the following cultures—En Medio 800 BC to 400 AD; Basketmaker III 400/500-700 AD; Pueblo I 700-900 AD and later (II, III, IV); Pueblo IV 1330-1600 AD. For orientation, it was around 1300 AD that the cliff dwellers from Mesa Verde, Chaco, and Canyon de Chelly migrated to the Rio Grande Valley; it is believed they were forced from their cliff dwellings by Utes and Athabaskans (13).

The north and south buildings of Taos Pueblo date from about 1350 AD, although Taos people may have been in the area earlier. They may also be descendants of Anasazi living in the Four Corners area who migrated out of that area after a drought that occurred around 1200 AD, or they may have come from tribes from the north.

Evidence of Jicarilla Apaches living in the Questa area before 1680 was also found in this survey. It is known that these Apaches aided Taos Pueblo during Pueblo Rebellion in 1680. Apaches del Acho (thought to be later called Jicarilla Apaches) were reported by Vargas in 1694 as living on the Red River north of Taos (14), and the finds during the Cabresto survey support this report. The Questa area was most certainly a hunting area for these people. Athabaskan speakers arrived in northeastern New Mexico in 16th century, then spread to west and south to become the present-day Apache and Navajo groups (15).


It should be pointed out that not much archaeological exploration has been done in the Questa area and, indeed, in northern New Mexico. But for more detailed information about what has been uncovered about these early occupiers, consult James H. Gunnerson’s Archaeology of the High Plains (16).

Utes (mostly Mouache and Capote bands) reached this area by around 1500AD. They were to become closely intertwined with life of early Questa-area settlers. Also visiting the area for hunting were Comanches and perhaps other Plains Indians tribes.

With the entry of Spain into the northern New Mexico area, the Indians had new elements to deal with—new ideas and goods as well as conflict over land. Pedro de Castenada, a member of the 1540-1542 Coronado expedition describes the Plains Indians they encounted as well as the “multitude of cows [buffalo] that they were numberless” (17). These Spaniards visited a settlement of 200 houses made of buffalo skins. Casteñada wrote that “the maintenance or sustenance of these Indians comes entirely from the cows, because they neither reap nor sow corn.”

In 1599, Don Juan de Oñate described the Indian nations he saw in northern New Mexico. “We have seen other nations, such as Querechos or Vaqueros, who live among the Cibola [Pueblo Indians] in tents of tanned hides. The Apaches, some of whom we also saw, are extremely numerous. Although I was told that they lived in rancherias, in recent days I have learned they lived in pueblos the same as the people here….They are a people that has not yet publicly rendered obedience to his majesty” (18).

Notes

3. Wade, Nicholas and John Noble Wilford. New world ancestors loss 12,000 years. The New York Times, July 25, 2003.

4. Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. Post-Pleistocene Archeology, 7000-2000BC In Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1979, pp. 31-42.

5. Agogino, George A. A brief history of early man in the western High Plains. In Early Man in Western North America. Symposium of the Southwestern Anthropological Association, San Diego, 1968.

6. Gunnerson, James H. Archaeology of the High Plains. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Office, Denver, CO, 1987, pp. 7-39.

7. Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. Post-Pleistocene Archeology, 7000-2000BC In Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1979, pp. 31-42.

8. Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. Post-Pleistocene Archeology, 7000-2000BC In Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1979, pp. 31-42.

9. Renaud, E.B. Archaeology of the Upper Rio Grande Basin in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Archaeological Series, Sixth Paper. Department of Anthropology, Univesity of Denver, Denver, CO, 1946.

10. Condie, Carol J., and Landson D. Smith. Data recovery at eight archaeological sites on the Cabresto By-Pass Road north of Questa, T29N R13E, Questa Ranger District, Taos County, New Mexico for Carson National Forest. Quivira Research Center Publications, 203, Albuquerque, 1992.

11. Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. Post-Pleistocene Archeology, 7000-2000BC In Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1979, pp. 31-42.

12. Condie, Carol J., and Landson D. Smith. Data recovery at eight archaeological sites on the Cabresto By-Pass Road north of Questa, T29N R13E, Questa Ranger District, Taos County, New Mexico for Carson National Forest. Quivira Research Center Publications, 203, Albuquerque, 1992.

13. Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. Post-Pleistocene Archeology, 7000-2000BC In Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1979, pp. 31-42; Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. The reconstruction of the archaic culture in the southwestern United States. In Contributions to Southwestern Prehistory, Eastern New Mexico University Contributions in Anthropology, vol. 1, no. 1, Feb 1968, pp 19-23. Eastern New Mexico University Press, Paleo Indian Institute, Portales, NM.

14. Gunnerson, James H. Archaeology of the High Plains. Bureau of Land Management, Colo- rado State Office, Denver, CO, 1987, pp. 7-39.

15. Irwin-Williams, Cynthia. Post-Pleistocene Archeology, 7000-2000BC In Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1979, pp. 31-42.

16. Gunnerson, James H. Archaeology of the High Plains. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Office, Denver, CO, 1987, pp. 7-39.

17. Hammond, G.P., and A. Rey. Onate: Colonizer of New Mexico. Albuquerque, 1953; Hammond, George P. The search for the fabulous in the settlement of the Southwest, In D.J. Weber (ed.) New Spain’s Far Northern Frontier: Essays on Hispanos and Indians in the American West, 1540-1821. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1979, pp 17-33; Hammond, George P. and Agapito Rey, eds. Coronado Cuarto Centennial Publications 1540-1940, vols V and VI: Onate, Colonizer of New Mexico 1595-1628. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Hammond, George P. The search for the fabulous in the settlement of the southwest, pp. 17-33. In David J. Weber (ed.) New Spain’s far northern frontier: essays on Hispanos and Indians in the American West, 1540-1821. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1979.

18. Hammond, George P. The search for the fabulous in the settlement of the southwest, pp. 17- 33. In David J. Weber (ed.) New Spain’s far northern frontier: essays on Hispanos and Indians in the American West, 1540-1821. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1979; Hammond, George P. and Agapito Rey, eds. Coronado Cuarto Centennial Publications 1540-1940, vols V and VI: Onate, Colonizer of New Mexico 1595-1628. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Hammond, George P. The search for the fabulous in the settlement of the Southwest, In D.J. Weber (ed.) New Spain’s Far Northern Frontier: Essays on Hispanos and Indians in the American West, 1540-1821. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1979, pp 17-33; Thomas, A.B. Spanish exploration of Oklahoma 1599-1792. Chronicles of Oklahoma 6(2): Juen 1928; Thomas, A.B., Spanish expeditions into Colorado. The Colorado Magazine I, 289-300, 1924.

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