In the wide open spaces of southeastern Arizona you can see for miles under endless blue skies, but a team of archeology students from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, is looking for the story beneath their feet at the Chiricahua and Ft. Bowie National Monuments and the Coronado National Memorial. All three are owned and managed by the National Park Service.
"Last November, when we set out to do a mapping project on one of these sites in Chiricahua National Monument, we found several pieces of an 18th-century Spanish flintlock," says Bruce Huckell, associate professor of anthropology. "The rest of the site looked like it probably dated to the 1870s Chiricahua Apache reservation period, so whafs this 18th-century flintlock doing in a site like that? That was long outmoded technology.
"We went back to look at one site that had been recorded as a prehistoric lithic scatter and we happened to have with us the park archeologist/historian from Ft. Bowie. As we were examining the surface, he said, 'Hey, look at this," and he picked up half of a blue glass bead. Then he said, 'Hey look at this,' and he picked up a nearly complete butcher knife with the tip broken off. We kept finding stuff, a lead ball, a cartridge casing ..." Ultimately, the site yielded more than 100 metal artifacts dating to the late 19th century. Since the discovery, another dozen Apache sites have been found and documented in Chiricahua National Monument.
This may be a rare chance to document how the Chiricahua Apaches lived. The research team found rings of rocks that anchored the brush shelters called wikiups that the Native Americans used in inclement weather. According to Huckell, there were three or four bands of Chiricahua Apaches, but the central band moved throughout the Chiricahua Mountains and was led by Cochise until his death in 1874.
The Chiricahua Apaches were very mobile and it is rare to find any evidence of their temporary camps. Artifacts found at the sites, such as pieces of a Mexican style horse bit popular in the state of Chiricahua, hinted this group may have raided or traded with ranches in...