ELEVEN national monuments in the States of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado illustrate the history of our southwest from the times when prehistoric man dwelt in caves hollowed in desert precipices down through the Spanish fathers' centuries of self-sacrifice and the Spanish explorers' romantic search for the Quivira and the Seven Cities of Cibola.

The most striking feature of the absorbing story of the Spanish occupation is its twofold inspiration. Hand in hand the priest and the soldier boldly invaded the desert. The passion of the priest was the saving of souls, and the motive of the soldier was the greed of gold. The priest deprecated the soldier; the soldier despised the priest. Each used the other for the realization of his own purposes. The zealous priest, imposing his religion upon the shrinking Indian, did not hesitate to invoke the soldier's aid for so holy a purpose; the soldier used the gentle priest to cloak the greedy business of wringing wealth from the frugal native. Together, they hastened civilization.

Glancing for a moment still further back, the rapacious hordes already had gutted the rich stores of Central America and the northern regions of South America. The rush of the lustful conqueror was astonishingly swift. Columbus himself was as eager for gold as he was zealous for religion. From the discovery of America scarcely twenty years elapsed before Spanish armies were violently plundering the Caribbean Islands, ruthlessly subjugating Mexico, overrunning Venezuela, and eagerly seeking tidings of the reputed wealth of Peru. The air was supercharged with reports of treasure, and no reports were too wild for belief; myths, big and little, ran amuck. El Dorado, the gilded man of rumor, became the dream, then the belief, of the times; presently a whole nation was conceived clothed in dusted gold. The myth of the Seven Cities of Cibola, each a city of vast treasure, the growth of years of rumor, seems to have perfected itself back home in Spain. The twice-born myth of Quivira, city of gold, which cost thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of Spanish ducats, lives even to-day in remote neighborhoods of the southwest.

Pizarro conquered Peru in 1526; by 1535, with the south looted, Spanish eyes looked longingly northward. In 1539 Fray Marcos, a Franciscan, made a reconnaissance from the Spanish settlements of Sonora into Arizona with the particular purpose of locating the seven cities. The following year Coronado, at his own expense, made the most romantic exploration in human history. Spanish expectation may be measured by the cost of this and its accompanying expedition by sea to the Gulf of California, the combined equipment totalling a quarter million dollars of American money of to-day. Coronado took two hundred and sixty horsemen, sixty foot-soldiers, and more than a thousand Indians. Besides his pack-animals he led a thousand spare horses to carry home the loot.

He sought the seven cities in Arizona and New Mexico, and found the pueblo of Zuñi, prosperous but lacking its expected hoard of gold; he crossed Colorado in search of Quivira and found it in Kansas, a wretched habitation of a shiftless tribe; their houses straw, he reported, their clothes the hides of cows, meaning bison. He entered Nebraska in search of the broad river whose shores were lined with gold—the identical year, curiously, in which De Soto discovered the Mississippi. Many were the pueblos he visited and many his adventures and perils; but the only treasure he brought back was his record of exploration.

This was the first of more than two centuries of Spanish expeditions. Fifty years after Coronado, the myth of Quivira was born again; thereafter it wandered homeless, the inspiration of constant search, and finally settled in the ruins of the ancient pueblo of Tabirá, or, as Bandelier has it, Teypaná, New Mexico; the myth of the seven cities never wholly perished.

It is not my purpose to follow the fascinating fortunes of Spanish proselyting and conquest. I merely set the stage for the tableaux of the national monuments.


The Spaniards found our semiarid southwest dotted thinly with the pueblos and its canyons hung with the cliff-dwellings of a large and fairly prosperous population of peace-loving Indians, who hunted the deer and the antelope, fished the rivers, and dry-farmed the mesas and valleys. Not so advanced in the arts of civilization as the people of the Mesa Verde, in Colorado, nevertheless their sense of form was patent in their architecture, and their family life, government, and religion were highly organized. They were worshippers of the sun. Each pueblo and outlying village was a political unit.

Let us first consider those national monuments which touch intimately the Spanish occupation.


Eighty miles southeast of Albuquerque, in the hollow of towering desert ranges, lies the arid country which Indian tradition calls the Accursed Lakes. Here, at the points of a large triangle, sprawl the ruins of three once flourishing pueblo cities, Abo, Cuaray, and Tabirá. Once, says tradition, streams flowed into lakes inhabited by great fish, and the valleys bloomed; it was an unfaithful wife who brought down the curse of God.

When the Spaniards came these cities were at the flood-tide of prosperity. Their combined population was large. Tabirá was chosen as the site of the mission whose priests should trudge the long desert trails and minister to all.

Undoubtedly, it was one of the most important of the early Spanish missions. The greater of the two churches was built of limestone, its outer walls six feet thick. It was a hundred and forty feet long and forty-eight feet wide. The present height of the walls is twenty-five feet.

The ancient community building adjoining the church, the main pueblo of Tabira, has the outlines which are common to the prehistoric pueblos of the entire southwest and persist in general features in modern Indian architecture. The rooms are twelve to fifteen feet square, with ceilings eight or ten feet high. Doors connect the rooms, and the stories, of which there are three, are connected by ladders through trap doors. It probably held a population of fifteen hundred. The pueblo has well stood the rack of time; the lesser buildings outside it have been reduced to mounds.

The people who built and inhabited these cities of the Accursed Lakes were of the now extinct Piro stock. The towns were discovered in 1581 by Francisco Banchez de Chamuscado. The first priest assigned to the field was Fray Francisco de San Miguel, this in 1598. The mission of Tabirá was founded by Francisco de Acevedo about 1628. The smaller church was built then; the great church was built in 1644, but was never fully finished. Between 1670 and 1675 all three native cities and their Spanish churches were wiped out by Apaches.

Charles F. Lummis, from whom some of these historical facts are quoted, has been at great pains to trace the wanderings of the Quivira myth. Bandelier mentions an ancient New Mexican Indian called Tio Juan Largo, who told a Spanish explorer about the middle of the eighteenth century that Quivira was Tabirá. Otherwise history is silent concerning the process by which the myth finally settled upon that historic city, far indeed from its authentic home in what now is Kansas. The fact stands, however, that as late as the latter half of the eighteenth century the name Tabira appeared on the official map of New Mexico. When and how this name was lost and the famous ruined city with its Spanish churches accepted as Gran Quivira perhaps never will be definitely known.

"Mid-ocean is not more lonesome than the plains, nor night so gloomy as that dumb sunlight," wrote Lummis in 1893, approaching the Gran Quivira across the desert. "The brown grass is knee-deep, and even this shock gives a surprise in this hoof-obliterated land. The bands of antelope that drift, like cloud shadows, across the dun landscape suggest less of life than of the supernatural. The spell of the plains is a wondrous thing. At first it fascinates. Then it bewilders. At last it crushes. It is intangible but resistless; stronger than hope, reason, will—stronger than humanity. When one cannot otherwise escape the plains, one takes refuge in madness."

This is the setting of the "ghost city" of "ashen hues," that "wraith in pallid stone," the Gran Quivira.


Due west from Albuquerque, New Mexico, not far from the Arizona boundary, El Morro National Monument conserves a mesa end of striking beauty upon whose cliffs are graven many inscriptions cut in passing by the Spanish and American explorers of more than two centuries. It is a historical record of unique value, the only extant memoranda of several expeditions, an invaluable detail in the history of many. It has helped trace obscure courses and has established important departures. To the tourist it brings home, as nothing else can, the realization of these grim romances of other days.

El Morro, the castle, is also called Inscription Rock. West of its steepled front, in the angle of a sharp bend in the mesa, is a large partly enclosed natural chamber, a refuge in storm. A spring here betrays the reason for El Morro's popularity among the explorers of a semidesert region. The old Zuñi trail bent from its course to touch this spring. Inscriptions are also found near the spring and on the outer side of the mesa facing the Zuñi Road.

For those acquainted with the story of Spanish exploration this national monument will have unique interest. To all it imparts a fascinating sense of the romance of those early days with which the large body of Americans have yet to become familiar. The popular story of this romantic period of American history, its poetry and its fiction remain to be written.

The oldest inscription is dated February 18, 1526. The name of Juan de Onate, later founder of Santa Fe, is there under date of 1606, the year of his visit to the mouth of the Colorado River. One of the latest Spanish inscriptions is that of Don Diego de Vargas, who in 1692 reconquered the Indians who rebelled against Spanish authority in 1680.

The reservation also includes several important community houses of great antiquity, one of which perches safely upon the very top of El Morro rock.


In the far south of Arizona not many miles north of the boundary of Sonora, there stands, near the Gila River, the noble ruin which the Spaniards call Casa Grande, or Great House. It was a building of large size situated in a compound of outlying buildings enclosed in a rectangular wall; no less than three other similar compounds and four detached clan houses once stood in the near neighborhood. Evidently, in prehistoric days, this was an important centre of population; remains of an irrigation system are still visible.

The builders of these prosperous communal dwellings were probably Pima Indians. The Indians living in the neighborhood to-day have traditions indicated by their own names for the Casa Grande, the Old House of the Chief and the Old House of Chief Morning Green. "The Pima word for green and blue is the same," Doctor Fewkes writes me. "Russell translates the old chief's name Morning Blue, which is the same as my Morning Green. I have no doubt Morning Glow is also correct, no doubt nearer the Indian idea which refers to sun-god. This chief was the son of the Sun by a maid, as was also Tcuhu-Montezuma, a sun-god who, legends say, built Casa Grande."


The holes worn by erosion have been enlarged for doors and windows

Whatever its origin, the community was already in ruins when the Spaniards first found it. Kino identified it as the ruin which Fray Marcos saw in 1539 and called Chichilticalli, and which Coronado passed in 1540. The early Spanish historians believed it an ancestral settlement of the Aztecs.

Its formal discovery followed a century and a half later. Domingo Jironza Petriz de Cruzate, governor of Sonora, had directed his nephew, Lieutenant Juan Mateo Mange, to conduct a group of missionaries into the desert, where Mange heard rumors from the natives of a fine group of ruins on the banks of a river which flowed west. He reported this to Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, the fearless and famous Jesuit missionary among the Indians from 1687 to 1711; in November, 1694, Kino searched for the ruins, found them, and said mass within the walls of the Casa Grande.

This splendid ruin is built of a natural concrete called culeche. The external walls are rough, but are smoothly plastered within, showing the marks of human hands. Two pairs of small holes in the walls opposite others in the central room have occasioned much speculation. Two look east and west; the others, also on opposite walls, look north and south. Some persons conjecture that observations were made through them of the solstices, and perhaps of some star, to establish the seasons for these primitive people. "The foundation for this unwarranted hypothesis," Doctor Fewkes writes, "is probably a statement in a manuscript by Father Font in 1775, that the 'Prince,' 'chief' of Casa Grande, looked through openings in the east and west walls 'on the sun as it rose and set, to salute it.' The openings should not be confused with smaller holes made in the walls for placing iron rods to support the walls by contractors when the ruin was repaired."


From a photograph by T. H. Bate


One of the best-preserved ruins of one of the finest missions which Spanish priests established in the desert of the extreme south of Arizona is protected under the name of the Tumacacori National Monument. It is fifty-seven miles south of Tucson, near the Mexican border. The outlying country probably possessed a large native population.

The ruins are most impressive, consisting of the walls and tower of an old church building, the walls of a mortuary chapel at the north end of the church, and a surrounding court with adobe walls six feet high. These, like all the Spanish missions, were built by Indian converts under the direction of priests, for the Spanish invaders performed no manual labor. The walls of the church are six feet thick and plastered within. The belfry and the altar-dome are of burned brick, the only example of brick construction among the early Spanish missions. There is a fine arched doorway.

For many reasons, this splendid church is well worth a visit. It was founded and built about 1688 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, and was known as the Mission San Cayetano de Tumacacori. About 1769 the Franciscans assumed charge, and repaired and elaborated the structure. They maintained it for about sixty years, until the Apache Indians laid siege and finally captured it, driving out the priests and dispersing the Papagos. About 1850 it was found by Americans in its present condition.


The boundary-line which divides Utah from Arizona divides the most gorgeous expression of the great American desert region. From the Mesa Verde National Park on the east to Zion National Monument on the west, from the Natural Bridges on the north to the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert on the south, the country glows with golden sands and crimson mesas, a wilderness of amazing and impossible contours and indescribable charm.

Within this region, in the extreme north of Arizona, lie the ruins of three neighboring pueblos. Richard Wetherill, who was one of the discoverers of the famous cliff-cities of the Mesa Verde, was one of the party which found the Kit Siel (Broken Pottery) ruin in 1894 within a long crescent-shaped cave in the side of a glowing red sandstone cliff; in 1908, upon information given by a Navajo Indian, John Wetherill, Professor Byron Cumming, and Neil Judd located Betatakin (Hillside House) ruin within a crescent-shaped cavity in the side of a small red canyon. Twenty miles west of Betatakin is a small ruin known as Inscription House upon whose walls is a carved inscription supposed to have been made by Spanish explorers who visited them in 1661.

While these ruins show no features materially differing from those of hundreds of other more accessible pueblo ruins, they possess quite extraordinary beauty because of their romantic location in cliffs of striking color in a region of mysterious charm.


But the Indian civilization of our southwest began very many centuries before the arrival of the Spaniard, who found, besides the innumerable pueblos which were crowded with busy occupants, hundreds of pueblos which had been deserted by their builders, some of them for centuries, and which lay even then in ruins.

The desertion of so many pueblos with abundant pottery and other evidences of active living is one of the mysteries of this prehistoric civilization. No doubt, with the failure of water-supplies and other changing physical conditions, occasionally communities sought better living in other localities, but it is certain that many of these desertions resulted from the raids of the wandering predatory tribes of the plains, the Querechos of Bandelier's records, but usually mentioned by him and others by the modern name of Apaches. These fierce bands continually sought to possess themselves of the stores of food and clothing to be found in the prosperous pueblos. The utmost cruelties of the Spanish invaders who, after all, were ruthless only in pursuit of gold, and, when this was lacking, tolerant and even kindly in their treatment of the natives, were nothing compared to the atrocities of these Apache Indians, who gloried in conquest.

Of the ruins of pueblos which were not identified with Spanish occupation, six have been conserved as national monuments.


Many centuries before the coming of the Spaniards, a deep gorge on the eastern slope of the Sierra de los Valles, eighteen miles west of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was the home of a people living in caves which they hollowed by enlarging erosional openings in the soft volcanic sides of nearly perpendicular cliffs. The work was done with pains and skill. A small entrance, sometimes from the valley floor, sometimes reached by ladder, opened into a roomy apartment which in many cases consisted of several connecting rooms. These apartments were set in tiers or stories, as in a modern flat-house. There were often two, sometimes three, floors. They occurred in groups, probably representing families or clans, and some of these groups numbered hundreds. Seen to-day, the cliff-side suggests not so much the modern apartment-house, of which it was in a way the prehistoric prototype, as a gigantic pigeon-house.

In time these Indians emerged from the cliff and built a great semicircular pueblo up the valley, surrounded by smaller habitations. Other pueblos, probably still later in origin, were built upon surrounding mesas. All these habitations were abandoned perhaps centuries before the coming of the Spaniards. The gorge is known as the Rito de la Frijoles, which is the Spanish name of the clear mountain-stream which flows through it. Since 1916 it has been known as the Bandelier National Monument, after the late Adolf Francis Bandelier, the distinguished archaeologist of the southwest.

The valley is a place of beauty. It is six miles long and nowhere broader than half a mile; its entrance scarcely admits two persons abreast. Its southern wall is the slope of a tumbled mesa, its northern wall the vertical cliff of white and yellowish pumice in which the caves were dug. The walls rise in crags and pinnacles many hundreds of feet. Willows, cottonwoods, cherries, and elders grow in thickets along the streamside, and cactus decorates the wastes. It is reached by automobile from Santa Fe.

This national monument lies within a large irregular area which has been suggested for a national park because of the many interesting remains which it encloses. The Cliff Cities National Park, when it finally comes into existence, will include among its exhibits a considerable group of prehistoric shrines of great value and unusual popular interest.

"The Indians of to-day," writes William Boone Douglass, "guard with great tenacity the secrets of their shrines. Even when the locations have been found they will deny their existence, plead ignorance of their meaning, or refuse to discuss the subject in any form." Nevertheless, they claim direct descent from the prehistoric shrinebuilders, many of whose shrines are here found among others of later origin.


For fourteen miles, both sides of a New Mexican canyon sixty-five miles equidistant from Farmington and Gallup are lined with the ruins of very large and prosperous colonies of prehistoric people. Most of the buildings were pueblos, many of them containing between fifty and a hundred rooms; one, known to-day as Pueblo Bonito, must have contained twelve hundred rooms.

These ruins lie in their original desolation; little excavation, and no restoration has yet been done. Chaco Canyon must have been the centre of a very large population. For miles in all directions particularly westward, pueblos are grouped as suburbs group near cities of to-day.

It is not surprising that so populous a desert neighborhood required extensive systems of irrigation. One of these is so well preserved that little more than the repair of a dam would be necessary to make it again effective.


Small though it is, Montezuma Castle is justly one of the most celebrated prehistoric ruins in America. Its charming proportions, and particularly its commanding position in the face of a lofty precipice, make it a spectacle never to be forgotten. It is fifty-four miles from Prescott, Arizona.

This structure was a communal house which originally contained twenty-five rooms. The protection of the dry climate and of the shallow cave in which it stands has well preserved it these many centuries. Most of the rooms are in good condition. The timbers, which plainly show the hacking of the dull primeval stone axes, are among its most interesting exhibits. The building is crescent-shaped, sixty feet in width and about fifty feet high. It is five stories high, but the fifth story is invisible from the front because of the high stone wall of the facade. The cliff forms the back wall of the structure.

Montezuma's Castle is extremely old. Its material is soft calcareous stone, and nothing but its sheltered position could have preserved it. There are many ruined dwellings in the neighborhood.


Four miles east of the Roosevelt Dam and eighty miles east of Phoenix, Arizona, are two small groups of cliff-dwellings which together form the Tonto National Monument. The southern group occupies a cliff cavern a hundred and twenty-five feet across. The masonry is above the average. The ceilings of the lower rooms are constructed of logs laid lengthwise, upon which a layer of fibre serves as the foundation for the four-inch adobe floor of the chamber overhead.

There are hundreds of cliff-dwellings which exceed this in charm and interest, but its nearness to an attraction like the Roosevelt Dam and glimpses of it which the traveller catches as he speeds over the Apache Trail make it invaluable as a tourist exhibit. Thousands who are unable to undertake the long and often arduous journeys by trail to the greater ruins, can here get definite ideas and a hint of the real flavor of prehistoric civilization in America.


Thirty cliff-dwellings cling to the sides of picturesque Walnut Canyon, eight miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. They are excellently preserved. The largest contains eight rooms. The canyon possesses unusual beauty because of the thickets of locust which fringe the trail down from the rim. One climbs down ladders to occasional ruins which otherwise are inaccessible. Because of its nearness to Flagstaff several thousand persons visit this reservation yearly.


Fifty miles northeast of Silver City, New Mexico, a deep rough canyon in the west fork of the Gila River contains a group of four cliff-dwellings in a fair state of preservation. They lie in cavities in the base of an overhanging cliff of grayish-yellow volcanic rook which at one time apparently were closed by protecting walls. When discovered by prospectors and hunters about 1870, many sandals, baskets, spears, and cooking utensils were found strewn on the floors. Corn-cobs are all that vandals have left.

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Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009