Pagosa’s Past: Pagosa Country before the Europeans came

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    Photo courtesy John M. Motter
    This photo shows a pioneer family livin’ on the upper San Juan River all hooked up and headin’ to town.

    By John M. Notter
    PREVIEW Columnist

    Last week, we wrote about information contained in a 1923 report written by Frank H. Roberts based on his study of early residents in the Pagosa Country area he called the Anasazi, who are now known as the Ancestral Puebloans. Roberts closed his report with the following observation, “There remains material for historical collection beyond conception.’’

    Since Roberts’ 1923 report, ancient ruins at Chimney Rock, Stollsteimer Mesa and throughout the Four Corners area have been extensively studied. A brief description of the results of these studies, written in “Pagosa Country: The First Fifty Years,” follows.

    “For purposes of classification, experts have divided Anasazi history into time periods. These time periods are not delineated by sharp lines because change took place gradually. Two major periods are recognized, the Basketmakers and the Pueblos. The classifications are further subdivided.

    “The Basketmaker Period came first, starting about the -O- A.D. and lasting until about 750 A.D. From the beginning, the Basketmakers were a sedentary people subsisting primarily by growing corn. Hunting and seed gathering were also a significant part of their economy. Agriculture steadily increased in importance and hunting and seed gathering decreased in importance throughout the Anasazi era. During the latter years, agriculture became so successful, partly through the addition of beans as a food crop, that the Anasazi had spare time after making a living. They, therefore, devoted more time to increasingly complex housing and developed an elaborate religion.

    “Single family dwellings, known as pithouses, were used by the Basketmakers. About one-half of the vertical dimension was excavated and contained logs placed one atop another for walls. Logs were also laid across the top forming a roof. Cracks between the logs were chinked with adobe mud which hardened and helped keep out the weather.

    “The typical home had a fire pit inside and contained metates and maños for grinding corn, and slab lined storage cisterns. A winter food supply was kept in storage vaults.

    “Woven baskets and beautifully made sandals were sure to be found. The people were named for the high quality of their baskets. No bows or arrows would be found, for these came into use with a later Basketmaker period called the Modified Basketmakers.”