The History of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
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The end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century saw few non-Indians in the lower Gila Valley. The power of the Spanish Empire was dwindling by the turn of the century; Mexico won her political independence from Spain by the 1820's and, concentrating on the central problems of a new republic, barely maintained the outpost town and garrison at Tucson.

The westward-expanding republic of the United States was, as yet, represented in the southwest only by a few individuals of the hardy breed of mountain men and beaver trappers. Being on the Gila river, a beaver stream in the 1800's, the Casa Grande may have been seen by the Patties, and probably was seen by Powell (Paulino, Pauline) Weaver. There is an inscription on one of its walls which now reads "P. Weaver 18 . . ." One Powell Weaver, "Old Mountaineer" is listed at Tucson, Arizona in the census of 1860; the frontiersman is known to have been in this area in the 1830's. Early references to the inscription give the date variously as 1831, 1832, or 1833; possibly the last digit was not clear even in the late 1880's. But the third digit was plain enough so that it could be described, as Mr. Pinkley did in a letter dated 1938, as a "square topped or draughtsman" 3. And the conclusion is plain enough—the first attention the Casa Grande received from the Americans was not entirely beneficial; later, other travelers were to follow this example and scratch their names into the remarkable plaster of the Great House, until the appearance of some of the walls was destroyed by names of people who visited it the easy way, by train or stage coach.

Other Americans were to add to our knowledge of the ruin by recording its condition at the time of their journey.

In 1846 the United States was at war with Mexico; General Kearny, commanding "The Army of the West" was ordered to cross the southwest to California, exploring military routes, determining the political temper of the inhabitants, and raising the U. S. flag over the towns of the area. The Army came down the Gila and camped at the Pima Villages in the vicinity of the Casa Grande. Lt. William H. Emory, assigned to Kearny as topographical engineer, later submitted "Notes of a Military Reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California", and records the ruin as it appeared to them on November 10, 1846: "About the time of the noon halt, a large pile, which seemed the work of human hands, was seen to the left. It was the remains of a three-story mud house, 60 feet square, pierced for doors and windows." [By this time debris and wind-blown soil had evidently accumulated to the depth shown in photographs of the 1880's, obscuring the lower story of the tower and making it appear only three storied.] "The walls were 4 feet thick, and formed by layers of mud, 2 feet thick. Stanley made an elaborate sketch of every part; . . ." (Emory 1848: 81-82).

Captain A. R. Johnston's account, is more detailed and includes references to: "The large casa was 50 feet by 40, and had been four stories high, but the floors and roof had long since been burnt out. The charred ends of the cedar joists were still in the wall. I examined them, and found that they had not been cut with a steel instrument; . . . there was no sign of a fireplace in the building; the lower story was filled with rubbish," [excavation in 1891 showed the second story filled with "rubbish"] "and above it was open to the sky; the walls were 4 feet thick at the bottom, and had a curved inclination inwards to the top; the house was built of a sort of white earth and pebbles, probably containing lime, which abounded on the ground adjacent . . . About 200 yards from this building was a mound in a circle a hundred yards around; the center was a hollow, 25 yards in diameter, with two vamps [ramps?] or slopes going down to its bottom; it was probably a well, now partly filled up; . . . A few yards further, in the same direction, northward, was a terrace, 100 yards by 70. About 5 feet high upon this, was a pyramid about 8 feet high, 25 yards square at top" (Fewkes 1912: 64-65). This is the earliest description of the Casa Grande ball court (later noted by Bandelier 1892: 458) and of the neighboring village, Compound B.

Kit Carson was probably with Emory and Johnston at Casa Grande; Kearny had met him along the Rio Grande and induced Carson to return with them as scout. Lt. John T. Hughes wrote "About sunset the same day they came to the Pimo villages on the south side of the Gila." Captain Johnson observer. Their answer to Carson when he went up and asked for provisions was, "Bread is to eat, not to sell—take what you want" (Fewkes 1912:68).

Following the end of the Mexican War and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, members of the Mexican Boundary Survey visited the Casa Grande. In July, 1852 John Russell Bartlett wrote of the ruin in some detail, and sketched the ruins from the southwest. Mounded debris against the Casa Grande and the second-story fill of fallen ceiling dirt led him to Emory's mistaken conclusion as to the actual height of the building; he saw the coursed walls as the result of using "cases" or forms, a postulation which was disproven by later observations (Pinkley 1920: 2, 13; 1935: 4, 12, 19). He notes that: "The outer surface of the wall appears to have been plastered roughly; but the inside, as well as the surface of all the inner walls, is hard finished"; and "The southern front has fallen in in several places, and is much injured by large fissures, yearly becoming larger, so that the whole of it must fall etc long. The other three fronts are quite perfect."

Bartlett's account continues with the first recommendation for preservation of the Casa Grande. "The walls at the base, and particularly at the corners, have crumbled away to the extent of 12 or 15 inches, and are only held together by their great thickness. The moisture here causes disintegration to take place more rapidly than in any other part of the building; and in a few years, when the walls have become undermined, the whole structure must fall, and become a mere rounded heap, like many other shapeless mounds which are seen on the plain. A couple of days' labor spent in restoring the walls at the base with mud and gravel, would render this interesting monument as durable as brick, and enable it to last for centuries" (Fewkes 1912: 66-67).

That part of Arizona south of the Gila was bought from Mexico by the United States in the Gadsen Purchase of 1854. Among the travelers who recorded interest in the Casa Grande during the next 30 years were Captain F. E. Grossman, Charles D. Poston, J. Ross Browne, and Richard J. Hinton. J. Ross Browne records observations on the terrain and remains of an ancient canal between Sacaton Station and the Casa Grande, as well as the condition of the ruin. This group of visitors probably did not leave the Great House in quite as good condition as they found it: ". . . we took our departure . . . late in the evening, well laden with curiosities. Every member of the party had his fragment of pottery and specimen of adobe and plaster" (Browne 1869: 120).

The first "resolution" for preservation of the ruin may have been made in 1877 by the group which was showing Richard J. Hinton, a San Francisco newspaperman, the wonders of Arizona Territory. Hinton's The Handbook to Arizona describes the Casa Grande as they saw it on December 13, 1877, with a reference to the interior walls having been "coated with some sort of cement or varnish which has a reddish-orange hue, and which at the present time can be peeled off by a penknife." Then, "The party after holding a meeting and adopting resolutions urging the formation of an archaeological society for Arizona of which they offered to become members, raised a small American Flag upon the walls, took luncheon in the ruins, and went on their way to Tucson" (Fewkes 1912: 69).

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Last Updated: 02-Nov-2009