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Chapter IV:

Richert, Campbell, And Vivian

In July 1955, Roland Richert, who assisted Gordon Vivian on the Mobile Stabilization Unit based at the Chaco Canyon Field Station, came to Gila Cliff Dwellings for three weeks to stabilize the ruins with the help of five Navajo laborers. On Sundays, while his crew rested, Richert scouted the national monument and its vicinity, collecting grab samples from six different sites, which he later sent to Emil Haury for identification.

From the cliff dwellings, he picked up 15 decorated sherds, which were eventually sorted in the following categories:

Bold Face B/W20%
Three Circle B/W13%
Tularosa B/W53%

Based on these ceramics and the architecture of the cliff dwellings, Richert stated in his stabilization report that the cliff dwellings exhibited the climax of the Mimbres phase of the Mogollon culture and modified Steen's earlier inferences, which he had read, by pushing the initial dates back to A.D. 900 and the last dates to perhaps as late as A.D. 1400. Richert acknowledged the small size of his sampling but felt that additional "representative collections" from several nearby surface ruins did substantiate a Classic Mimbres occupation of the area and "a later influence from the north, possibly Tularosan in character." [44]

TJ Ruin
The TJ Ruin lies on a bluff overlooking the Gila River, near the confluence of the West and the East forks.

One of the nearby surface ruins from which Richert had also taken a sherd sampling was the TJ Ruin, and based on these ceramics the site was identified as Mimbres "into and beyond the classic period." [45] In other words, the multi-component nature of the site was finally recognized, and appreciation of the ruin began to rise. When E. B. Danson visited the area for the first time in 1962, he expressed such interest in the anticipated excavation of the TJ site that excavation at Gila Cliff Dwellings was almost an afterthought. [46]

Not long after Richert returned to Chaco Canyon, his supervisor, Gordon Vivian, took personal leave in order to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings, where he followed "Doc" Campbell up and down enough hills until he had a sense of the archeological wealth of the area—much as Bandelier had done 70 years earlier. The urgency of Vivian's and Richert's interest in the local archeology stemmed, of course, from the 1955 MISSION 66 prospectus from the regional office, which arrived at Campbell's while Richert was supervising stabilization of the ruins. In view of potential improvements to access into the Gila forks area, the prospectus proposed abandoning Gila Cliff Dwellings (i.e., donation to the state of New Mexico) and acquiring a site more representative of the "prehistoric culture of Southwestern New Mexico." Upon his return, Vivian cautioned the general superintendent of Southwestern National Monuments that the area should be thoroughly studied before abandoning it. [47] His memorandum supported a previous letter by Campbell, the custodian, who was meanwhile drawing maps.

One of Campbell's maps, first made for Richert during his stabilization work, was a sketch of Cliff Dweller Canyon. The map noted nine other sites within the national monument in addition to the cliff dwellings themselves and another 13 sites still in the canyon but beyond the monument boundaries. Another map located 13 other sites, including the TJ Ruin and the West Fork Ruin, along the West Fork and within a mile and a half of the monument. Although these surveys were informal, the importance of many of the sites was soon corroborated by Dale King, who had been sent from the regional office in response to Campbell's and Vivian's letters, and within a year by then Regional Archeologist Steen. Combined with Richert's samplings, Vivian's reconnaissance, and the solicited opinions of such prominent authorities as Danson, the Campbell's maps helped to bring informed attention to a sequence of local prehistory that appeared to cover nearly 2,000 years, a span apparently greater than any area managed by the National Park Service.

In 1956, when Vivian wrote an archeological resume of the Gila forks locale, he classified the cliff dwellings as a Classic Mimbres phase site. Coupling this classification with a line from Erik Reed's 1949 overview about zoomorphic pottery designs completed the normative tendency to extrapolate "from the Mimbres Valley to fill in the enormous lacunae in knowledge about the Upper Gila." [48]

Vivian's classification was based on Richert's sherd samplings, of course, and elsewhere he acknowledged possible late influence at the cliff dwellings by the Tularosa culture, an affiliation based on the ceramics, a suggestion by Danson, and an unexplained reference to style in architectural rebuilding. In 1955, most of the country along the San Francisco River and the Tularosa River was about to be parsed from the Mimbres branch, which would establish Reserve and Tularosa phases as distinctly non-Mimbres in the Mogollon taxonomy. This division was intimated in Joe Ben Wheat's general synthesis of the Mogollon culture, published the same year [49] and stated flatly by Danson two years later. [50]

The purpose of Vivian's resume was not, however, to clarify obscurities of territory and potential subdivisions of culture. He was arguing instead for an expansion of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in order to include "a unique and valuable sequence of Mimbres culture from beginning to end." The operative word, so to speak, was sequence. He focused on sites representative of each phase of the Mimbres branch, marshaling authoritative corroborating support and adding as a fillip to his argument the threat of inevitable despoliation at the Heart Bar (TJ) Ruin, the last best Mimbres ruin. Apparently for the sake of simplicity, Vivian skipped over the issue of Tularosa influence in his resume, eliding the word even from his quotation of Reed. He closed his sequence of phases with two scenarios: a proposed late migration into the Gila forks by Salado people, possibly from the more northern Pinedale-Cibola area; and a declining but continued occupation by Mimbres people under Salado influence, an idea that he tentatively endorsed with the A.D. 1286 date for the cliff dwellings and with late pottery from the TJ site. The significance of this dendrochronological date had been shifted from being the last Tularosa date to an early Salado date.

The resume and a new consensus about the importance of archeology around Gila forks led ultimately to the expansion of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1962.

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Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001