Pagosa’s Past: Exploring Chimney Rock

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    Photo courtesy John M. Motter
    Pagosa Bar on Pagosa Street downtown has been a popular meeting place for decades and once upon a time hosted a bare-knuckle fight featuring Jack Dempsey before he became world champion.

    By John M. Motter
    PREVIEW Columnist

    We’ve been quoting from an archaeological study of prehistoric human ruins and artifacts found on Chimney Rock by Dr. Frank W. Eddy of University of Colorado at Boulder during the summer of 1970. At the end of last week’s column, Eddy had estimated the human population at that time from 1,215 to 2,005 people.

    Continuing from last week, the Chimney Rock pueblo examined by Eddy is a three-story building containing residence rooms, store rooms and kivas. It is so like a current Pueblo Indian structure found in Chaco Canyon that Eddy concludes Chimney Rock was constructed and lived in by colonists from Chaco Canyon, probably men of a priestly order.

    It was occupied from A.D. 1076 to A.D. 1125, a duration of 50 years.

    Scientists still speculate as to what caused the Ancestral Puebloan (previously known as Anasazi) people to leave Pagosa Country in A.D. 1125. When the first Hispanic explorers and settlers from back east came to Pagosa Country, no one was living on Chimney Rock.

    Some think the Ancestral Puebloans were under pressure from nomadic Indian tribes and moved south for safety. 

    Others speculate that a severe drought which affected the entire San Juan Basin about this time could have forced the Ancestral Puebloans to look for a better agricultural climate.

    It has even been theorized that they left for religious reasons, reasons not obvious to us, but of sufficient importance to cause thousands of people to migrate southward. Whatever their reason for leaving, they were gone before the end of the 12th century A.D.

    They are thought to have moved to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. The earliest Spanish explorers in what became New Mexico encountered several Pueblo villages. Many of those villages remain, the oldest continuously occupied villages in the United States. Theories reconstructing the daily life, religion and customs of the Ancestral Puebloans are, to a large extent, developed from studies of today’s Pueblo Indians.