Over the last thousand years the Cerrillos Hills, with its
tricultural heritage, have held an unusually
important place in the history of the American Southwest. The Cerrillos Hills
turquoise and lead deposits played a central role in the commerce and economy of
the prehistoric Indians of the greater Rio Grande Valley, and it is probable that
these mineral deposits influenced the early Spanish explorations and settlement
of New Mexico.
The layers of lifeways in these hills, from pre-Columbian shrines, excavations
and stone tools to Spanish-American and Anglo-American recreation, ranching, and
commerce, give us our identity, define our cultural character, and constitute our
heritage. To see and touch the mines that were dug by prospectors a hundred years
ago, the stumps of the trees they cut for firewood and shoring, and the sites of
their tents and the walls of their shelters is far more meaningful and memorable
than simply reading about it in a book. The Cerrillos Hills Historic Park brings
us into real contact with our real history.
Pottery sherds found in the Cerrillos Hills date the use of
the mineral resources from about AD 900, and the Hills are the source of much of
the lead that was used for glaze paint by Rio Grande Pueblo potters between AD
1300 and 1700. Analysis of the sherds in the Cerrillos Hills indicated a large
portion of them came from the nearby San Marcos Pueblo, which between the middle
1300s and the middle 1400s was the major center of pottery-making in the upper
Middle Rio Grande Valley. Archaeological sites present today and associated with
the Puebloan mining activities in the Hills include turquoise pits, quarries, lead
or galena mines, refining areas, workshops, hearths, campsites, and sherd areas.
The Mina del Tiro, on private property
adjacent to the CHHP lands, is perhaps one of the most ancient and longest-worked
galena lode mines in the New World.
Petroglyphs on Cerro de la Cosena (on BLM land)
- images courtesy Daniel Weber
The morning star as a bird
Badger? attacking a snake
The arrival of the Spanish with the Coronado
entrada of 1540-42 certainly passed within a few miles of the Cerrillos
Hills, but for whatever reason -- the Indians of the Galisteo Basin had suffered
recent depredations by Teya or other raiders from the Plains and were particularly
wary of these newcomers, or possibly the mines at the time were temporarily closed
down -- the Puebloans were reluctant to disclose the location of the mines. In any
event, the Spanish quested for gold and disdained turquoise, not a formula that
would recommend the resources of the Hills to them.
Subsequent entradas in the 1580s and 1590s were successful
in visiting the Cerrillos Hills and obtaining ore specimens for assay. In 1591,
Captain Gaspár Castaño de Sosa visited many of the region's pueblos. He gave
several of the pueblos the Spanish names by which we know them today, including
"San Marcos where the mines had been discovered". While de Sosa went on to visit
other pueblos a portion of his party remained for 17 days at San Marcos. They
prospected and "...made many tests which showed silver..."
In the mid 1600s a cattle ranch was established south of the Santa Fe River near
Alamo Creek and the nearby hills were given the name Los Cerrillos. In 1695,
Governor Vargas appointed a mayor for El Real de los Cerrillos
which qualifies it as the oldest Western mining settlement for which we
have a clear record. El Real de los Cerrillos was
abandoned and probably destroyed during the revolt of 1696.
Some time after the Reconquista, perhaps about 1700, the
Rio Grande potters ceased to make glaze-decorated pottery, and presumably the
mining of lead ore by the Puebloans ceased at the same time. However, Puebloan
turquoise mining in the Cerrillos Hills continued into the twentieth century,
with historical records showing inhabitants of Santo Domingo, Cochiti, San Felipe,
and San Ildefonso all making use of the mines.
Spanish activities in the Cerrillos Hills during the first hundred years are
poorly documented. Spanish mining laws were strict, so whatever mining was carried
out by the Spanish colonists was probably done without the benefit of official
sanction and concomitant records. It was only as recently as 1970 that the
archaeological evidence confirming 17th century Spanish mining and smelting in
the Cerrillos Hills was discovered by George O. Bachman, USGS.
Late in 1879 there was a mining boom in
the Cerrillos Hills fueled by an influx of "Anglo" miners -- a probable misnomer;
the details of the ethnic makeup of these miners will be reported here in the
future -- many of them escaping from the labor unrest and strikes of Leadville,
Colorado. The Cerrillos Mining District was formed
and in a very short time over 1,000 claims were registered. [A mining claim was
customarily 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) along the lode vein and 150 feet
(45.7 meters) on either side of it.] Many towns sprang up in the Cerrillos Hills
area, one of the first called Dimmick's Camp, later known as Carbonateville
(and possibly Turquoise City, which alternatively may be nearby). Carbonateville,
named for the putative nearby lode of silver carbonate, has left its mark in
history in that Territorial Governor (and sometimes mine-owner) Lew Wallace was
resident at the Carbonateville Hotel while he worked on the galley proofs of his
Biblical epic "Ben Hur".
The picture to the right is Carbonateville in the Spring of
1880, shortly before the construction of the Carbonateville Hotel which was built
in the center left foreground. Image courtesy H.Milford.
The Village of Cerrillos
was established in 1879 as a tent camp between the lead and silver of the
Cerrillos Hills to the north and the coal of Madrid and the gold of Placer and
Ortiz Mountains to the south. It flourished as a natural point of access to both
areas, but it was the arrival of the railroad in 1880 that assured the fate of
the Village of Cerrillos would be different than that of Carbonateville.
A few of the mines survived into the 20th century. The American Turquoise Company,
an agency of Tiffany, New York, was active around the turn of the century,
especially at Turquoise Hill on the north side of the Cerrillos. World War I
breathed additional life (ironically) into several lead-zinc-manganese-silver
operations, most notably the Cash Entry and the Tom Paine mines. The Depression
of the 1930s saw the end of production mining, and with the exception of some
minor starts related to World War II and the frenzy for consumer products that
followed it -- the Tom Paine reopened for a while -- the activity in the
Cerrillos Hills has since that time been classified as "hobby mining".
In the middle 1970s the now defunct Occidental Minerals Corporation (Oxymin)
pursued the creation of a large-scale acid-leach copper mine in the Cerrillos
Hills but was unable to convince the State Environment Department that their
proposed mine could be operated without polluting the ground water, and the
project was terminated. Community disapproval, difficulty securing water rights,
and the price of copper were also factors in this decision. Outside of but
adjacent to the lands of the Cerrillos Hills Historic Park there is a present-day
gravel mining operation on the same site as the January 1977 Oxymin underground
test detonation. This mine is currently (mid 2003) not in operation.
This website is maintained by the Cerrillos
Hills Park Coalition
and is dedicated to the creation, enhancement and stewardship
of an historical, recreational, and cultural open space in
Cerrillos Hills, Santa Fe County, New Mexico, USA