A Unique Apache National Forest "Find"

FROM:  Myron & Nancy Calhoun, 2001 PIT (Passport In Time) Volunteers

TO:  Cynthia Benedict  Forest   Archaeologist  Cibola National Forest
     Cliff Nicholl     District Archaeologist  Magdalena Ranger District
     Linda Popelish    District Archaeologist  Mount Taylor Ranger District
     Rebecca Stoneman  District Archaeologist  Mountainair/Sandia R. District

CC:  Other PIT Volunteers Denver Burns, Dan Caspary, Orville Daniels,
     Jean Fulton, George Leighton, Joanne Morgan, and Shana Stern
For the uninitiated, PIT (Passport In Time) is a program which coordinates volunteers assisting the National Forest Service in some of its many duties and functions.   Nancy and I spent a very-enjoyable week dry-camping in a part of the Cibola National Forest in central New Mexico and doing "surveying and recording" -- that is, we volunteers spaced ourselves 10-20 yards apart and tried to stay in a (ragged) line while walking back and forth (think "grid") over an entire section (640 acres) of National Forest, "surveying" (i.e., looking for) signs of ancient-American occupation and then, when we found a more-than-usual amount of "sign" in one area, "recording" what we found.

We were lucky with our vehicle (an old pick-up truck), but one of the Forest-Service trucks had two flats in the 17 miles between the nearest paved road and the campsite!

The whole experience was lots of fun, and we heartily recommend it!
Nancy and I wanted to visit some friends near Quemado, NM, after our PIT week, so that's where we headed after leaving the Cibola camping area Friday afternoon.   We found our 97-year-old friend (and owner of Mount Trechado (a.k.a. Mount Techado) -- but that's another story) as hale and hearty as anyone that old can be (but he died in 2005), but the others were out of town, so we mostly just "bummed" around.   (There are many "neat" archaeological sites to visit near Quemado if you know where to look and if you have permission to do your looking on private land!)

On Sunday, 6 May, 2001, we drove south from Quemado, NM, on highway 32 until we were about a mile past the Apache National Forrest sign.   After eating lunch under a tree on the side of the highway, we climbed the fence and, just to "kill" a few hours, started our own little survey.   For about two hours we found just enough potsherds to keep us interested, but then we found an area with big potsherds that were so numerous (easily more than any two sites we had seen in the Cibola NF) and so varied (don't recall seeing any St. Johns Polychrome, however) that we decided we had hit the mother lode!

The room-block (perhaps 4-6 rooms with a small courtyard?) was easy to identify, so we criss-crossed the area around it for another couple of hours, just looking at the beautiful psycho-ceramics (cracked pots).   After having been embarrassed by Cliff's finding a broken axehead, I was, perhaps, looking more carefully than ever before, so I saw what appeared to be one end of a river-rounded rock barely sticking out of the ground.   When I picked it up and turned it over, it was a small mortar! After noting its location, I ran to show it to Nancy, who was properly impressed.   But then she asked "Did you find the pestle?"

When I started scanning the ground near where I found the mortar, Nancy said "Why not look in the same hole?", so I used the mortar to scoop some more sand out of the hole and found....   well, just look at the pictures:

Picture 1 shows approximately how the pestle was nestled between the mortars, but you'll have to imagine them totally closed and almost totally buried.

Picture 2 shows the pestle and mortars after opening; the orange-and-white stick (six inches per color) is the walking stick Nancy started using after leaving her blue one at the last site we recorded in the Cibola PIT area.   (If one of you is around when someone finds that one someday, tell them to keep it with our compliments).

Picture 3 is a close-up; the white ruler is one of the PIT six-inch rulers, and the potsherds are something Nancy wanted in the picture just so I wouldn't be getting all the glory!

Apparently, several hundred years ago, an AmerIndian nestled the three stones together and left them on the ground, thinking "I'm tired and there's always tomorrow."   But tomorrow never came!   (Or perhaps he -- or she -- stored them in a little cloth or leather bag, dropped or otherwise lost the bag, and the bag disappeared in the next 700+ years?)

Unfortunately, we needed to move on toward Canyon de Chelly, where we were to act like tourists for a few days, so I buried the "find" a little deeper than it was originally and noted its distance from every rock, shrub, stump, tree, and fence post in the area!

Cynthia, Cliff, Linda, or Rebecca: we would appreciate it if one of you could forward our little story and pictures to the appropriate Apache National Forest person(s).   Nancy and I would dearly love to return, record the entire site, and "collect" our neat find for the appropriate person(s) or agency before someone else digs it up and takes it home.

The REST of the story (kudos to Paul Harvey):

Shortly after making the above report, I received a phone call from John Pierson, Apache National Forest Ranger, who asked me one question: "After you ate lunch in that little grove of trees, did you cross the fence on the east side of the road or on the west side of the road?" After a short pause for me to remember which direction was which, I said "On the west side", and he said (and I'm sure I could hear his voice gloat) "Then you were on private land!"

One of our friends in the Quemado area is a rancher, and, in that almost-desert where, in good years there may be enough grass to feed eight cows per square mile (but, in recent droughty years, maybe four cows if the elk don't eat it first!), ranchers have to own a lot of square miles just to run a few cows.   So, after my heart had pounded a few seconds, I responded "Does that land belong, perhaps, to [and I named our rancher friend]?"

I could almost hear Ranger John asking himself "How in this world does a Kansas college professor know the name of the New Mexico rancher who owns that in-holding in the National Forest?", and there was a really-long pause before he answered "Yes".   And then I replied "Good!   Our families have been friends for at least forty years; I'll call him to let him know we were trespassing on his land and promise to take him out and show him our 'find' the next time we visit."

I did call our friend and apologized for trespassing, and then -- two years later -- we returned to New Mexico to visit and show him "our" treasures.   He called it "a once in a lifetime find" we'll never be able to beat and suggested we probably oughta take up another hobby!
Several years later I learned, from a publication from Harvard University's Peabody Museum: "The William's Site: A Frontier Mogollon Village in West Central New Mexico" by Watson Smith, that we were probably on the western edge of that village. The site was excavated because a new highway was going to run right through the middle of it.
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This page was last modified on Sunday, 14 April, 2024.