Montezuma Castle
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Chapter 1
The Prehistoric Ruins of the Verde Valley in the Nineteenth Century

"We were (and perhaps still are) attracted to ruins, no matter what their size or age. Their shabbiness served to bring something like a time scale to a landscape, which for all its solemn beauty failed to register the passage of time."

—John Brinkerhoff Jackson, A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time

The prehistoric ruins of the Verde Valley have fascinated and impressed visitors to the region for centuries. As Europeans and European Americans gained knowledge of and explored these sites, however, they altered the context in which they existed. Ruins such as Montezuma Castle had remained well preserved up to this point largely because of the limited human contact and disturbance since the Sinagua inhabitants' abandonment of them. Yet as curious explorers, travelers, and researchers investigated the ruins, they brought with them their own values and understandings. The cultural lenses through which these visitors viewed prehistoric resources informed how they interpreted and treated them. Accounts of the early historical explorations of the ruins of the Verde Valley thus provide insights into their changing significance and use. Unfortunately, however, few records of these early explorations exist.

In the first of these documented journeys, Antonio de Espejo, following reports of rich mines, entered the Verde Valley in 1583. The Espejo expedition was initially organized to rescue two friars who had remained in New Mexico after the 1581—82 expedition headed by Captain Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado. The company of fifteen men set out from Valle de San Gregorio in Chihuahua, Mexico, and headed north along the Rio Grande to the Pueblo of Pualá in New Mexico, where they discovered that the friars had been murdered. Having a great interest in prospecting and seeking riches, the members of the party decided to explore the country before returning and journeyed from Santa Fe to Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi villages, where they heard rumors of distant mines. The party then split up, and Espejo and four others departed with Hopi guides to investigate the reports of the rich mines to the west. [1] It appears that these travelers were the first Europeans to enter the Verde Valley and describe the features of the region, including its ruins.

Two different records provide information about Espejo's trek to the mines: the journal of Diego Pérez de Luxán, the chronicler of the expedition, and the account Espejo himself wrote shortly after his return from New Mexico. Although there has been debate about the location of the mines and the route traveled, most scholars now believe that the party passed through the Verde Valley to reach mines in the vicinity of Jerome (figure 2). [2] Luxán's journal of this trip is considered to include an accurate description of the natural features of the Verde Valley and to support the theory of the presence of the expedition in the region. The following passage possibly refers to the Beaver Creek area: "This river we named El Río de las Parras. We found a ranchería belonging to mountain people who fled from us as we could see by the tracks. We saw plants of natural flax similar to that of Spain and numerous prickly pears. We left this place on the seventh of the month and after marching six leagues we reached a cienaguilla which flows into a small water ditch and we came to an abandoned pueblo." [3] The cienaguilla and small water ditch mentioned were probably Montezuma Well and the prehistoric irrigation canal flowing from its outlet. The abandoned pueblo could have been one of the large ruins beside the Well.

Figure 2. Routes of Espejo and Far´n to the mines. From Katherine Bartlett, "Notes upon the Routes of Espejo and Farfan to the Mines in the Sixteenth Century," New Mexico Historical Review (January 1942), map following p. 24. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The account of the expedition that Espejo wrote later also describes an area with a striking resemblance to the Verde Valley and lends weight to the theory that the Espejo party traveled through the area:

The region where these mines are is for the most part mountainous, as is also the road leading to them. There are some pueblos of mountain Indians, who came forth to receive us in some places, with small crosses on their heads. They gave us some of their food and I presented them with some gifts. Where the mines are located the country is good, having rivers, marshes, and forests; on the banks of the river are many Castillian grapes, walnuts, flax, blackberries, maguey plants, and prickly pears. The Indians of that region plant fields of maize, and have good houses. They told us by signs that behind these mountains at a distance we were unable to understand clearly, flowed a very large river. [4]

Other references in the Espejo and Luxán accounts further substantiate the claim that the expedition journeyed through the Verde Valley. [5] These accounts thus document the first European presence in the valley and their probable encounter with Montezuma Well and its prehistoric ruins. Not overly inspired by the ores found in the mines, however, the small group returned to Zuni to meet the others in their party.

The next explorer to enter the Verde Valley was Marcos Farfán de los Godos. With eight companions and Hopi guides, he explored mines rumored to be to the west of the Hopi villages. Don Juan de Oñate, who had been awarded a contract for the conquest and settlement of New Mexico, sent Farfán on this expedition in November 1598. In all likelihood, Farfán followed the same route taken by the Espejo expedition of 1583. [6] Accounts of this expedition include several references to places that correspond to sites in the Verde Valley. These descriptions of the terrain suggest that the company traveled in the vicinity of Beaver Creek and made its way to the mines near Jerome. The rich veins of ores found in these mines duly impressed Farfán and company, and they staked out many claims. The records of this expedition, however, do not contain any mention of prehistoric ruins or structures. Oñate visited the region in 1604, following approximately the same route Espejo and Farfán took to the Verde Valley. His party passed through the valley and ventured west along what is now known as the Bill Williams River to the Colorado River, along which they descended until reaching the Gulf of California. In the accounts of his travels, Oñate made no reference to Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, or any other prehistoric ruin in the Verde Valley. Following these early visits to the region by Spanish explorers, there exists no known record of European visitation to the Verde Valley for more than two hundred years. [7]

The Espejo and Farfán expeditions found evidence of the mineral resources of the Black Hills near the present-day town of Jerome; Farfán's party even staked out claims on the mines. But the Spanish did not immediately settle the region. Through the 1600s and 1700s, the nearest Spanish outposts were located in what is now New Mexico, California, and southern Arizona, south of the Gila River. The isolated Spanish settlements, far from the major centers of power and wealth in Mexico, were largely self-sufficient and devoted much of their resources and energy toward survival rather than to continued exploration and expansion. Although the king of Spain granted his approval in 1726 to establish missions in the area between the Pimería Alta to the south and the Hopi villages, attacks by Apaches prevented further exploration of this territory. The Spaniards instead concentrated their efforts on their previously established settlements and missions. Historians are now discovering new information about activities in Arizona during the Spanish and Mexican periods. [8]

Fur trappers and mountain men were the first European Americans known to enter the region. In the early 1800s, these men followed many of the rivers of the Southwest in search of fur and adventure. Although only limited records of their explorations exist, a few accounts suggest that groups traveled along the course of the Verde River and nearby Beaver Creek. In 1826, a party of trappers worked their way up the Salt River to its junction with the Verde. At this point, the company divided. One group, following James Ohio Pattie, trapped the Salt to its headwaters in the White Mountains. The other, led by Ewing Young, followed the Verde to its source in the mountains southwest of the town of Williams. [9] Young reportedly trapped along the Verde again in 1829, this time taking a party of forty men, including a teenager named Kit Carson, from Taos toward the Salt River, known at the time for its fine trapping grounds. They trapped the Salt to the mouth of the Verde and from there "meandered that stream to its source." [10] With such a large outfit, it seems possible that some of the men followed Beaver Creek up far enough to have seen Montezuma Castle. However, whether any of the trappers and adventurers who came to the Verde Valley in the early 1800s saw Montezuma Castle or Montezuma Well remains unknown; they left no detailed records of their travels.

With the transfer of the Southwest to the United States after the Mexican-American War and the Gadsden Purchase, the federal government initiated explorations and surveys of its vast new domain. The publications from these expeditions included information about many previously undocumented prehistoric dwellings of the region. The earliest mention of the ruins of the Verde Valley was made in Lieutenant A. W. Whipple's "Report upon the Indian Tribes," which documents his 1853— 54 survey for a railroad route to the Pacific. This report contains a passage from the journal of Antoine Leroux, a guide for the survey party, written during his return from California to New Mexico in May 1854. In this passage, Leroux describes the ruin sites he discovered while making his way up the Verde River:

We were struck by the beauty of some ruins, very likely those of some Indian town, and being in the centre of an open valley. The walls of the principal building, forming a long square, are in some places twenty feet high and three feet thick, and have in many places loop-holes like those of a fortress. The walls were as regularly built as those of any building erected by civilized nations; to judge by the decay of the stones, these ruins might be several centuries old, (maybe those of some Montezuma town). Heaps of broken petrified vessels are strewn in all directions. Near camp are the ruins of another Indian village. Those ruins show that this country was once under cultivation; who were its inhabitants, and what became of them, is hard to tell. . . . The district passed over is mostly covered with old ruins. [11]

Although it is doubtful that Leroux describes Montezuma Castle in this entrythe ruin is only twenty feet high and is located in an open valleyit seems certain that he came upon some of the many prehistoric sites in the Verde Valley. Of note in this passage is his observation that the area was once under cultivation; he may have discovered the network of irrigation canals constructed by the prehistoric inhabitants of the valley. In his report, Lieutenant Whipple added his own interpretation to Leroux's observations of the Verde Valley ruins. He notes:

The river banks were covered with ruins of stone houses and regular fortifications; . . . From his [Leroux's] description, the style of the building seems to be similar to chichiticales, or red house, above the Pimas, rather than like the Indian towns of New Mexico. In other respects, however, Leroux says that they reminded him of the great pueblos of the Moquinos. The large stones of which those structures were built, were often transported from a great distance. At another place he saw a well-built town and fortification about eight or ten miles from the nearest water. He believes that, since they were built, the conformation of the country has been changed, so as to convert springs and a fertile soil into a dry and barren waste. . . . This conforms to the Indian traditions of the Montezuma era, attributing to the high mesas an arable soil; and also partially accounts for the desertion of some of the more recent pueblos of New Mexico. [12]

The mention of "some Montezuma town" and "Indian traditions of the Montezuma era" in Whipple's report reflects the popular belief of the time that Aztecs constructed the ancient ruins of the Southwest. Allusions to the Aztec leader in the naming of prehistoric ruins appeared as early as the eighteenth century. A report of a 1762 visit to the Casa Grande ruins in southern Arizona contains the first of many subsequent references to the "house of Montezuma." [13] The widespread use of this name is evidence of the commonly mistaken interpretation of southwestern ruins that persisted until the twentieth century. Around the 1850s, the name Montezuma became even more popular for places in the Southwest after veterans of the Mexican-American War marched home from the Halls of MontezumaMexico City. Bostonian Walter Hickling Prescott's publication of his popular history of the Spanish defeat of Montezuma's Aztec empire also encouraged the use of the name. In his 1843 Conquest of Mexico, Prescott suggested the possible Aztec origins of the ruins of the Southwest when he mentioned that the Aztecs and Toltecs had come from the northwest, "but from what region is uncertain." [14]

In the 11 May 1864 edition of the Arizona Miner, an editorial written by a chief justice from El Paso exemplified the widespread acceptance of Prescott's theory of the Aztec's southwestern origins. The author recommended that the capital of the Territory of Arizona be named Aztlán in memory of the ancient Aztec empire that, he claimed, occupied the present location of the territory. [15] His suggestion, however, was not accepted. Yet when New Englanders arrived to establish the new government of the Territory of Arizona in 1864, territorial officials platted a capital town that they named Prescott, "an appropriate commemoration of the great American authority upon Aztec and Spanish-American history." [16] The officials stuck with this theme when they named the main streets of the new town Cortez and Montezuma. Nearby, miners in the Agua Fria River Valley called their gold camp Montezuma City, and soon other miners gave the name to ruins to the east. By the late 1880s, however, historian H. H. Bancroft wrote in an infuriated tone that the haphazard misnaming of places in Arizona should be discontinued because evidence indicated that the prehistoric peoples of the Southwest were not the ancestors of the Aztecs. Bancroft attributed the origins of the Montezuma myth to the Spanish but noted that his and others' research dispelled this myth by pointing to the cultural differences between the Aztecs and the Pueblo communities. [17]

The naming of Montezuma Well has been associated with the exploits of King S. Woolsey's second expedition against a band of Apaches. Organized by Woolsey to prospect east of the goldfields around Prescott and to seek retribution for the theft and property damage that local settlers had suffered, the group of roughly one hundred men drew rations from Fort Whipple and set out for the Tonto Basin in late March 1864. This second expedition followed Woolsey's infamous Massacre at Bloody Tanks, an event better known as the "Pinole Treaty," in which Woolsey and his men murdered an estimated two dozen Apaches at what was supposed to have been a treaty negotiation. [18]

The second expedition was unsuccessful in its main goalthe punishment of the Apache leader Wahpooetah (Big Rump), considered the principal perpetrator of the settlers' misfortunes. Running short of provisions, the party decided to head back to Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch after only three weeks in the field. [19] In his narrative of the expedition published in the Arizona Miner, Henry Clifton described the return journey. His account contains the first known published use of the name Montezuma Well:

We arrived at the Verde on the third day, nothing of note happening, except the discovery of a small lake, or more properly speaking, an immense spring, some two hundred yards in breadth, of circular form. The water was clear, and as blue as the sea. It was very deep, and on one side there flowed out a stream sufficiently large for two sluice heads. This spring is surrounded on three sides by high bluffs, and in these bluffs were caves either natural or cut out, which were walled up in front, with door ways and passages from one room to another. They were probably built by the Aztecs. We gave the name of Montezuma to the well. In the afternoon of the 16th we struck out from the Rio Verde, to Woolsey's Ranch on the Agua Fria, the knawing of hunger urging us to a quick pace. [20]

It is unknown who in the party bestowed this name upon the limestone sink, but the appellation for the Well, and subsequently for the Castle, has endured since this incident. [21]

Whatever the origin of their names, Montezuma Well, Montezuma Castle, and the other ruins of the Verde Valley received increasing attention during the period of settlement in the area. In January 1865, a small party headed by James M. Swetnam set out from Prescott to explore the Verde Valley. [22] After traveling for three days, the men came to the bank of the Verde River and looked for potential farmland. They decided on a point at the confluence of the Verde and Clear Creek, and then went back to Prescott to make preparations for establishing their settlement. Despite warnings to abandon the venture, a group of nineteen men left Prescott with six wagonloads of supplies and reached the Verde four days later. They began construction of a stone fort forty by sixty feet atop the remains of a Sinagua ruin. The settlers then cleared the surrounding land, planted crops, and dug an irrigation ditch. However, the small community endured attacks by Yavapai and Apache Indians later that spring, and the settlers, fearing the loss of their crops and cattle, called on officials at Fort Whipple, the army post in Prescott, for military protection. [23]

With most of its regular troops engaged in the East at the end of the Civil War and with few volunteer troops available, the U.S. Army had difficulty in providing a garrison for the Verde Valley settlers. The first troops finally arrived in August 1865. Under the command of Lieutenant Antonio Abeytia, the eighteen men of the First Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, were poorly equipped and proved ineffective in protecting the settlement. For an undocumented reason, the settlers relocated the original camp at Clear Creek upriver to a site approximately a mile above the junction of Beaver Creek and the Verde River. Here, the army established a permanent post known as Camp Lincoln. The arrival in September 1866 of the first regular troops signified the army's commitment to the Verde Valley, and the European American population in the area surrounding the post grew as a result. [24]

Among the first troops assigned to Camp Lincoln was a peripatetic traveler by the name of Edward Palmer, who served as acting assistant surgeon for the post in 1865 and 1866. Palmer, who had emigrated to the United States from England in 1849, became an ardent student of botany and natural history, and routinely collected field specimens during his numerous adventures in South America, the American West, and Mexico. His natural curiosity and his zealousness in obtaining specimens earned Palmer a reputation as being "perhaps the nineteenth century's greatest botanical and natural history field collector." [25]

In addition to performing surgical duties and participating in scouting parties and raids against hostile Apache and Yavapai Indians while stationed at Camp Lincoln, Palmer actively explored the numerous prehistoric ruins located in the Verde Valley. Although other soldiers from the post visited prehistoric sites for the sake of curiosity or to obtain artifacts as souvenirs, Palmer's inquisitive nature directed him to a more scientific study of the ruins and the natural and cultural features surrounding them. In particular, his interest in botany led him to collect samples of preserved plant and food remains. These collections, and Palmer's speculations about the lives of the ancient people who cultivated them, have been credited with laying the foundations for the modern fields of ethnobotany and archaeobotany. [26] An example of such investigations can be seen in Palmer's notes from his 1866 explorations of ruins and caves located along the banks of Beaver Creek and Clear Creek, in which he described the types, distribution, and characteristics of preserved samples of corn and grapes. From analyzing these specimens and comparing them with contemporary varieties, Palmer drew conclusions about the size of the prehistoric population of the area as well as the cultivation and land-use practices of its inhabitants. [27] Writing about his visit to what was most likely Montezuma Castle, Palmer applied his knowledge of natural history to describe the geologic features of the cave in which the Castle is located, the large timbers used in its construction, samples of textiles made from the fibers of a locally grown plant, and several corncobs found next to a human skeleton. [28]

Montezuma Well
Figure 3. Sketch of Montezuma Well by Edward Palmer, ca. 1866. This sketch is among the earliest known images of the Montezuma Well ruins. It is of particular significance because of Edward Palmer's role as one of the pioneers of southwestern archeology.

Palmer also devoted his attention to studying the prehistoric cultural features that he observed during his explorations of the Verde Valley. His notes describe details of his investigations of several burial grounds, the dwellings and irrigation features surrounding Montezuma Well, and the four-story structure conspicuously built into a cliff above Beaver Creek (undoubtedly Montezuma Castle). They include observations about construction techniques, architectural styles, uses and manufacture of different types of artifacts, and burial practices. His sketch of Montezuma Well, which accompanies these notes, is among the earliest known images of this site (figure 3).

Palmer's work in the Verde Valley has recently been considered to be of great regional significance. Archeologist Marvin Jeter, who has researched and written about Palmer's life and work, argues that his investigations of the ruins of the Verde Valley should be credited as the first scientific work in southwestern archeology. [29] Although Palmer did not receive professional training in archeologyhis fieldwork and writings predate formal education in the discipline in the United Stateshis studies in botany and natural history led him into ethnobotany, which in turn directed him into the fields of archaeobotany and archeology. The notes from his studies of the ruins of the Verde Valley indicate that, even as early as 1865—66, Palmer employed approaches and techniques from the fields of archaeobotany and archeology. [30] In reference to Palmer's 1870 and 1875 investigations of prehistoric sites in southwestern Utah as well as his work as a field assistant for the Mound Exploration Division of the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology during the early 1880s, Jeter makes the case that Palmer was ahead of his time with his early, albeit sometimes flawed, uses of archeological interpretive concepts such as archeological stratigraphy, association and context, formation processes, and ethnographic analogy. [31] It is likely that Palmer employed some of these innovative archeological techniques during his pioneering investigations in the Verde Valley.

Unfortunately, however, few of the products of these early efforts remain in existence today. Although it appears that Palmer gave a small number of artifacts and records to the Smithsonianhe reported sending two preserved corncobs that he discovered in rock caves near Camp Lincoln, and researchers have indicated his contributions of maps, drawings, and photographs of sites in the Verde Valley (including Montezuma Castle) [32] the vast majority of his collections were tragically lost following his hospitalization at Fort Whipple in late 1866 to recover from symptoms of malaria and head injuries that he received when thrown from a mule earlier that year. [33] Palmer reported that he had assembled an extensive collection of artifacts from numerous ruins across the Verde Valley but, owing to his illness, was unable to transport these items with him to Fort Whipple. On leaving Camp Lincoln, he entrusted his collection to the post's new commanding officer, who promised that he would send them to Palmer at the first opportunity. Much to Palmer's consternation, his collection never arrived, and he later learned that the artifacts were either thrown away or taken by soldiers at the post. [34] After a few years of working and traveling across the country, Palmer returned to Camp Verde (formerly known as Camp Lincoln) in the summer of 1869, this time as a member of an expedition cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Army Medical Museum. [35] Failing to locate his earlier collection, Palmer hoped to make new explorations of the ruins in the area. His notes reflect his frustration about his inability to replace his lost collection, however: "Owing to Indian hostilities I could not travel without troops. It is vexatious to lose things after they have been obtained at such great sacrifices and privations; and once lost may not be gotten again, especially the articles from the ruined buildings in rocky ledges." [36]

The hostilities that prevented Palmer's efforts to replace his collections also affected new settlers to the region during the 1860s, and the military force gradually increased in size and effectiveness. In November 1868, in order to avoid confusion with other posts named after the assassinated president, Camp Lincoln was renamed Camp Verde (in 1879 the post was renamed Fort Verde). After continued problems with cramped quarters and outbreaks of malaria, the camp was moved in 1871 to its present location farther away from the river, and a new fort complex was constructed. Lieutenant Colonel George Crook became commanding officer of the Department of Arizona in June 1871 and used Camp Verde as one of his main bases. His campaigns against the Apache and Yavapai tribes were highly effective and forced the surrender in 1873 of Chalipun and 2,300 Apache and Yavapai people. [37]

With troops stationed at Fort Verde, more individuals explored and recorded their impressions of the area. Because of the proximity of the post to many prehistoric sites, soldiers frequented nearby ruins and published descriptions of them. In his reminiscence of the campaigns with General Crook, John G. Bourke described visits to a site not far from the military trail to the Mogollon Rim and related discoveries of other ruins in the valley. On one occasion, officers from Fort Verde escorted the territorial governor's party on an excursion through the valley, which included a trip through the cliff dwelling along Beaver Creek. [38]

In 1869, a group of military officials inspected various prehistoric sites, and an observer with the party wrote the first lengthy published description of the ruins at Montezuma Well and Montezuma Castle. In addition to noting the numerous cave dwellings in the bluffs along the Verde River and Beaver Creek, the author described in detail the ruins built into the cliffs surrounding the Well. The writer commented on the well-preserved masonry walls, the small entrances, defensive loopholes, smoke-blackened interior walls, hand prints preserved in plaster, and items found inside the ruins, such as corncobs, pieces of gourds, seeds, stone mortars, pottery sherds, and portions of cloth and twine. He also explored the Swallet Cave ruins at the Well's surface and noted similar details to those of the cliff ruin. Based on the discovery of foodstuffs and handmade goods, the author speculated that the former inhabitants of the site were an agricultural and manufacturing people. Judging from the traces of their prodigious activity and the number of ruins observed in the valley, the writer estimated that "this country was once as densely populated as any of the eastern States of the Union now are." [39]

The recorder of the party's explorations also described "the most perfect of any of these ruins," undoubtedly Montezuma Castle. The group investigated the rooms of the structure, although no mention is made of the ascent up the cliff. In describing the interior features of the Castle, the author attributed the excellent preservation of the building materials to their sheltered location and to the hot, dry climate of the country: "Were it not for this, nothing would have been known of these now extinct people." [40]

Another army officer, William C. Manning, wrote an article for the June 1875 edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine in which he described the exterior and interior features of Montezuma Castle. Next to the larger cave, he observed, were "lower caves about ten feet from the bottom of the cliff, and may be entered with some difficulty by climbing the projecting points of the bluff." These caves were probably the Castle A ruins, located adjacent to Montezuma Castle. Entry into the Castle was facilitated by ladders, "which have at best a precarious foot-hold on narrow ledges." However, no existing records document who installed these unsteady ladders, how long they were in place, and how many others entered the Castle by these means. In his article, Manning also observed ten to twelve inches of "bat lime" covering the floors of the rooms, irrigation canals, and ditches in the vicinity of the ruins, and the numerous pot sherds found in and taken from the Castle. The discovery and removal of artifacts unfortunately established a pattern that most of the later visitors to the Castle followed. In addition to visiting Montezuma Castle, Manning traveled to "an extinct volcano known as Montezuma's Well." Although he gave an erroneous location for the Well ("nearly fourteen miles south of Camp Verde"), he depicted its ruins and natural features fairly accurately. [41]

The regular presence of army troops and the increased settlement of the area provided more observers of the prehistoric ruins of the Verde Valley. [42] By the early 1880s, much of the land along the Verde River and Beaver Creek had been staked. As farmers moved to the valley bottom and cattlemen herded their stock to graze the surrounding rolling hills, Montezuma Well and land in the vicinity of Montezuma Castle were included in claims to homesteads and ranches. In the 1870s, Wales Arnold ranched in the area of Montezuma Well, built a home nearby, and kept a small rowboat in the Well. Sam Shull had the first squatter's right to Montezuma Well and the surrounding ranch property. After building a shack and living there for several years, he traded it to Abraham "Link" Smith for forty dollars, a pair of chaps, and one horse. In 1888, William B. Back acquired the ranch at Montezuma Well from Smith for two horses; Smith later recalled that he was pleased to have "doubled his investment" by the trade. In 1892, a short-lived post office called Montezuma operated at the Well, and three years later the Montezuma School District was organized. [43]

During this period of regional growth, descriptions and general impressions about the prehistoric ruins and people of the Verde Valley appeared more frequently in the national press and in popular books. Newspaper editors and reporters compiled travel and descriptive articles and began to publish books on places of interest in the Arizona Territory. Between 1877 and 1887, several such works included sections on the ruins of the Verde Valley. First to appear was Arizona As It Is (1877), a collection of newspaper articles written by reporter Colonel Hiram C. Hodge during his travels throughout the territory in the mid-1870s. [44]

Hodge noted the large number of ruins that extended throughout the Verde Valley and described in detail the walled dwellings along Beaver Creek, now known as Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well. In contrast to Manning's report, Hodge noted the absence of ladders by which to gain entrance to the Castle. The difficult vertical ascent had to be accomplished "by clinging to poles and jutting points of rock, and occasionally obtaining an insecure foot-hold but a few inches wide." He added: "But a few whites have ever succeeded in exploring this cave, and it took us several hours to accomplish the feat in safety." Hodge's explorations inside the cliff dwelling turned up a few stone axes, metates, and other stone implements. He feared that future visitors would strip the ruins of their artifacts. This anxiety prompted him to recommend that the ruins be properly excavated in order to provide information about the mysterious ancient people who built and occupied them. [45]

Montezuma Well
Figure 4 (top). Picnic at Montezuma Well, ca. 1875. Photograph caption reads, "Crest of bluff around Montezuma Wells. Lt. Hyde (General); Mrs. Broyton; Lieut. W. H. Carter; Mr. Arnold; Mrs. Arnold; Indian boy; Dr. Reagles; Major Broyton; Left, under tree, Cpt. Adam Kramer, 6th Cavalry." From Wm. H. Carter Collection, National Archives, Still Photo Branch, Army Record Group 111-SC.

Figure 5 (bottom). Ruins along the rim of Montezuma Well in the late 1890s, photo by C.H. Shaw. These ruins of a pueblo at the rim of Montezuma Well were substantially more intact in the late 1890s than they are today. University of Arizona, Special Collections (Arizona Photos collection, N-7264).

Hodge also provided a careful portrait of Montezuma Well and the ancient dwellings nearby. He observed that the ground surrounding the Well was strewn with various bits of broken pottery. The scenic view and the curiosity sparked by the prehistoric ruins attracted many people to the Well. Hodge wrote: "This is a pleasant resort for picnic and other parties from Prescott, Camp Verde, and elsewhere. . . . Some large open-mouthed bottles have been placed on the shelving rock of the great cave with such inscriptions as seem appropriate to the time and place" (figure 4). However, as more visitors came to the Well, more and more artifacts were removed from the site by pothunters and souvenir collectors, and the ruins themselves suffered damage. The author described the walls of the pueblos at the edge of the Well as standing twenty feet high in places; the remains of these walls today are just a few feet from the ground (figure 5). Although Hodge called attention to the need for the scientific exploration of the ruins of the Verde Valley to shed light on their origins and history, he and other writers published articles that attracted curious visitors and created potential threats to such prehistoric sites. [46]

Prescott cowboy, politician, and editor of the Hoof and Horn, William "Bucky" O'Neill contributed another publication on these ruins. In Central Arizona (1887), a promotional book compiled for prospective settlers, cattlemen, miners, and health seekers, he portrayed in glowing terms the advantages of the region, its resources, and its antiquities. After presenting an inaccurate history of the area, which included a mythical description of a 1530s visit to the Verde Valley by Marcos de Niza, O'Neill described the ruins of the valley, the cliff dwelling on Beaver Creek (including a photograph of Montezuma Castle), and Montezuma Well. He wrote: "When and how this Aztec divinity became associated with the well is uncertain, as it has borne the title 'Montezuma Well' from a 'time when the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.'" These ruins thus offered a source of curiosity for travelers to and settlers of the Verde Valley alike. O'Neill understood the potential of such prehistoric resources and extended an invitation in his article to antiquarians and students of ethnology to visit Arizona to study and investigate its innumerable ruins. [47]

Even before O'Neill's invitation, more serious investigations of the Verde Valley had already begun, as government-sponsored surveys studied and evaluated the resources of the new territories in the West. In Ferdinand V. Hayden's Tenth Annual Report of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey, a section on ethnographic observations of the region written by Walter J. Hoffman includes a detailed description of a "large and imposing cliff fortress." In addition to listing details of its construction, Hoffman noted the condition of various elements of the Castle. Although the structure as a whole appeared in excellent shape, certain features showed signs of deterioration. The report mentioned rocks near the room entrances that were "gradually crumbling and breaking off in fragments through disintegration" and pieces of plaster that were falling off the outer walls. In contrast, however, Hoffman observed that the wooden lintels over the doorways were "in as substantial a condition as when first placed there." [48] The observed damage to the Castle may have resulted from natural erosion over time or from the recent influx of visitors.

Montezuma Castle
Figure 6. Sketch of Montezuma Castle from 1878. From Walter J. Hoffman, "Ethnographic Observations," in Tenth Annual Report of the United States Geographical Survey of the Territories, Embracing Colorado and Parts of Adjacent Territories (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1878), plate LXXIX.

Ascent to the Castle was apparently made by scrambling up the talus slope below and scaling a portion of the cliff walls. Hoffman did not mention ladders at the ruins, but he noted that the pile of broken rocks at the base of the cliff made the ruins more accessible than at the time they were originally inhabited, "when rope ladders or similar contrivances were probably necessary." Hoffman's report included the first known published image of the Castle (figure 6). The drawing captures the features of the Castle fairly well, but inaccurately depicts the surrounding landscape. The illustration not only makes the cliff look like a masonry wall constructed by giants rather than the limestone formation of which it is made, but also places the creek waters too close to the cliff walls. The drawing shows no ladders, and one can imagine a hardy soul clambering up the pile of broken rocks at the base of the cliff to gain access to the Castle interior. Despite its errors, this illustration furnishes a look at the condition of Montezuma Castle in the late 1800s and can be compared to later images of it. [49]

Dr. Edgar A. Mearns, an army surgeon stationed at Fort Verde between 1884 and 1888, produced the first published scientific study of the prehistoric ruins of the Verde Valley in his 1890 article in The Popular Science Monthly. He had developed an early interest in natural history while studying the flora and fauna around his home in Highland Falls, New York. When he arrived at Fort Verde, his curiosity concerning the people whose prehistoric buildings covered the Verde Valley led him to pursue a scientific investigation of these ruins.

In his article, Mearns referred to the large fortress structure on the right bank of Beaver Creek as "Montezuma's Castle," providing the first published record of the Aztec ruler's name being applied to the Castle. Previously it had been associated only with the name of the Well. Mearns also mentioned that four wooden ladders, which the post quartermaster of Fort Verde had provided, facilitated entry into the Castle. [50] With ladders providing easy access, there is no doubt that a greater number of people were familiar with and visited the ruins during the period of Mearns's investigations than at any previous time.

Mearns wanted to document the features of the ruin before they were further jeopardized by visitors and souvenir hunters. His detailed descriptions of the rooms, building materials, and features of the Castle reveal his astute perceptions and scholarly insights. Mearns's report also includes a photo of the ruins, precise ground plans of the five levels of the structure, and an account of his careful excavation of the Castle interior. Of this work, he noted:

Upon my first visit, in 1884, it was evident that nothing more than a superficial examination had ever been made. In 1886 I caused the débris on the floors to be shoveled over. This material consisted of a quantity of dust and broken fragments of pottery and stone implements, together with an enormous accumulation of guano from bats that inhabited the building. This accumulation, in the largest room of the top floor, was four feet in depth. As no one had ever disturbed it, the floor was found in exactly the same condition in which it was left by the latest occupants. [51]

The excavations turned up a large quantity of assorted artifacts, which were then removed from the Castle: stone metates, axes and tools, shells and shell ornaments, paints, preserved foodstuffs, bone implements, pieces of cloth, basketwork, and pottery fragments. Mearns donated his collection of several thousand artifacts and his field notes from the explorations of Montezuma Castle to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In addition, he sent the skeletal remains that were unearthed and taken from the ruins to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C. [52] Although Mearns took detailed notes of his excavations, his removal of the artifacts denied later archeologists valuable clues about the lives of those who occupied Montezuma Castle. However, his investigations of the Castle did represent the most comprehensive and detailed research yet undertaken.

Mearns focused his attention primarily on Montezuma Castle, but he also surveyed other sites in the region. His article in The Popular Science Monthly included descriptions of several ruined pueblos in the vicinity of the Verde River and a map depicting the locations of ancient dwellings of the Verde Valley. His notes also contain valuable information about these other Verde Valley sites. One site he described is unquestionably now known as the Tuzigoot ruins: "Site # 49. LocationVerde River and slough. Top of hill near a slough of the Rio Verde known as Peck's Lake. Description and remarksFallen and ruined walls of a good-sized village. Near this place are interesting proofs of the engineering capacity of these people in conducting their irrigation ditches." [53] Mearns thus presented the first documented reference to the Tuzigoot site. Because the ruins were essentially buried under collapsed walls and rubble, nearly fifty years passed before they were carefully investigated. [54]

Mearns expressed concern that the increasing settlement of the region might threaten these resources and the information that they could provide properly trained researchers. He observed:

Before our departure from Fort Verde in 1888 three railroads had penetrated toward the heart of the wilderness by which we were surrounded. Settlers were thronging in to engage in lumbering, mining, or stock grazing in the mountainous portions, or to cultivate the soil of the irrigable valleys. Already the valley of the Verde begins to assume somewhat of the appearance that it presented centuries ago, when irrigated and cultivated by the populous cliff dwellers. [55]

Recognizing the vast prehistoric resources of the Verde Valley yet to be studied, Mearns advocated a "systematic exploration of the ruins to be undertaken at once, either through private enterprise or by some one of the educational institutions of our country, before the treasures contained in them become scattered through the curiosity of unscientific relic-seekers." His experience with the Montezuma Castle excavation proved that considerable information and a large collection of valuable specimens could result from such a systematic examination. [56] The transition to more scientific studies of prehistoric ruins occurred around the time of Mearns's investigations. During this period, professional archeologists conducted new research on the resources of the area.

The period of the 1880s and 1890s saw southwestern archeology develop as a serious subject of study. The federal government contributed to the emergence of the discipline by sending archeologists and ethnologists into the field to collect data on the antiquities and cultures of the region. Cosmos Mindeleff and Jesse Walter Fewkes, archeologists with the Bureau of American Ethnology, conducted the first of these studies. [57] Created in 1879 and directed initially by Major John Wesley Powell, the bureau had the mission of gathering information on the cultures and histories of Native American tribes before they were lost in the wake of rapid westward expansion and development. In 1892, Cosmos Mindeleff surveyed the lower Verde River, covering the area from West Clear Creek to Beaver Creek. Although primarily concerned with masonry structures and cavate lodges, he also observed irrigation ditches, agricultural areas, and artificial depressions later identified as ball courts. Mindeleff understood the significance of the Verde Valley remains because of their unique location between the northern districts and the ruins of the Gila and Salt River Valleys. Yet at the same time, he noted the limited knowledge of the archeological region and the need for further studies. Mindeleff was the first trained archeologist to investigate the area. His work was published in the bureau's 13th Annual Report, and his notes, maps, and photographs of the prehistoric resources of the Verde Valley are of special significance because agricultural and ranching activities in the area later destroyed much of what he surveyed. [58]

Archeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes came to the Verde Valley in 1895 to conduct a survey of the ruins near the headwaters of the Verde River and the upper valley, north of Camp Verde to the area around Sedona. He, too, was principally concerned with the survey and scientific analysis of the prehistoric resources of the region. Fewkes concentrated his study on the cliff dwellings around Oak Creek Canyon, but he also investigated several cavate lodges that Mindeleff had previously visited. His report includes a rather detailed geological, archeological, and cultural description of Montezuma Well and its ruins. In addition, he commented on the Hopi people's familiarity with the Well and the references to the site in their mythology. Fewkes collected data to support the claim of some Hopi that the ancestors of a particular clan came from an area to the south, which he thought to be the Verde Valley. He took photographs and sketched plans of many pueblos and cliff dwellings in order to document the ruins and to find a possible link between the Hopi and the builders of the prehistoric structures of the Verde Valley. After comparing the archeological styles of the two regions, he found no conclusive evidence to support the Hopi origin myth. Fewkes returned to the Verde Valley in 1906 to do further research on the Hopi connection to the ruins, but again found nothing definitive. [59] His studies, however, published in the Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Reports, expanded the knowledge of these ruins and documented their conditions at the time of his research.

The government ethnologists' surveys of the Verde Valley made an important contribution to the understanding of the archeology of the area and opened the door for later research. Mindeleff and Fewkes completed only limited excavation. Their surveys were mainly directed toward determining the extent and significance of the archeological resources of the region. [60] After Fewkes concluded his research in 1906, serious study of Verde Valley archeology ceased for almost a quarter of a century. In the meantime, the ruins experienced increased popular interest and subsequent threats. These trends came to the attention of a group of concerned citizens and sparked the first efforts to preserve the ruins of the area.



A Past Preserved in Stone:
A History of Montezuma Castle National Monument

©2002, Western National Parks Association
protas/chap1.htm — 27-Nov-2002