The Arrival of the Spanish

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.


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