CHAPTER XIV: PREHISTORIC RUINS OF ARIZONA.


Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER XIII: INDIAN TRIBES: LOCALITY, NUMBERS, AND GENERAL OBSERVATIONS. Next: CHAPTER XV: SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION.


[page 177]

ONE of the most interesting features connected with an exploration of Arizona is the examination of the ruins of a prehistoric race, who were evidently well advanced in civilization, and possessing many of the comforts and conveniences of civilized life. These ruins consist of towns and cities, of irrigating canals, of stone implements, pottery ware, etc., and of rude hieroglyphics and pictures of men, animals, birds, reptiles, and other objects, animate and inanimate, painted on, or cut deep into rocks in different sections of the Territory.

A thorough study and examination of all the many wonderful ruins, and of matters connected with them, would take a lifetime.

In the great valleys and plains bordering the Gila and Salt rivers, the buildings were constructed almost wholly of concrete, while those in the mountains were mostly of stone. The aceiques, or irrigating canals, were of great length and size, and conducted the water from the great rivers, far over great tracts of


[page 178]

country now incapable of cultivation, for want of water, and which must at that time have been well supplied and cultivated by that old and numerous race. The stone implements consist of stone axes, stone hammers, stone rings, stone metats for grinding grain, etc.; and the broken pottery consisted of many patterns and kinds, sizes and forms, painted and unpainted, glazed and unglazed; some of which were of beautiful color and finish, the painting and glazing being apparently as fresh and perfect as when completed, hundreds if not thousands of years since.

The stone implements and pottery are found in large quantities in and around the old ruins, along the irrigating canals, and scattered here and there to some extent over a large portion of the territory.

A brief description of a few only of the old ruins will be given, sufficient, it is to be hoped, to awaken attention to them, and to induce some society or organization, the General Government, or some wealthy and generous individual, to take measures for a thorough exploration of them.

In traveling up the great Gila Valley, from Yuma to Tucson, many of the old ruins will be found at but little distance from the stage road. At Gila Bend, one hundred and twenty-five miles east from Yuma, and eight miles from where the Oatman family were murdered by the Tonto Indians, in 1851, are some extensive hiereglyphics, called the Painted Rocks.


[page 179]

This mass of rock rises from the surface of the plain to a height of perhaps fifty feet, the uppermost being a broken ledge, from which masses have fallen off, and the whole covering less than an acre of land. On the standing ledge, and on the broken masses at its base, are carved deep in the surface rude representations of men, animals, birds, and reptiles, and of numerous objects real or imaginary, some of which represent checker-boards, some camels and dromedaries, insects, snakes, turtles, etc., etc.; and on the broken rocks at the base of the ledge are found on all sides like sculptured figures, some of which are deeply imbedded in the sand. These pictured rocks present much of interest to the thinking mind, and when examined by some one versed in hieroglyphical reading, may be found to give some clue to the time of making and the people who made them.

Farther up the Gila Valley, for a distance of one hundred and fifty miles, the whole valley is covered in places, for miles in extent, with the ruins of irrigating canals, houses, towns, and cities, on both sides of the river.

In places are found the outlines of reservoirs, embankments, raised plateaus, etc., and the houses and towns seem to have been laid out with due regard to the points of the compass, as though the builders had some knowledge of astronomy, or at least of the north star.


[page 180]

The best preserved building in the valley of the Gila has been designated the “Casa Grande,”—Great House—though in size it is much inferior to many others, but being better preserved is so called. The Casa Grande ruin is forty-five feet wide, and sixty-three feet long, and the walls now standing are nearly forty feet high, or, four and a half stories. The walls are of concrete, over five feet thick at the base, and the tiers of concrete are thirty inches each in height.

The early Jesuit Fathers who explored this country in the latter part of the sixteenth and during the seventeenth centuries, described the old ruins very minutely, mentioning also the great irrigating canals, the stone implements, and the broken pottery ware scattered profusely over the plain. Their description would well answer a description at the present time. The old Fathers could obtain no information from the then existing Indians as to who built the towns and cities then in ruins, any more than can now be obtained of the Pima Indians, and in answer to questions asked by them, they received the same answer as was given the author by the Pima Indians, which was Moc-te-zu-ma.

No other answer or information could be obtained from them, and they evidently knew no more about the builders than ourselves.

The great irrigating canal, Which is near the Casa


[page 181]

Grande ruin, is almost entirely obliterated where the soil is of a rich sedimentary character, and can there only be traced by the broken pottery, as the canal is entirely filled by the rains and storms of past ages; but where it was cut through hard, cemented, and stony ground, it is easily traced and in places open for hundreds of yards to a depth of five to ten feet, having a width of fully twenty-five feet.

The Casa Grande ruin is on the south side of the Gila River, and nearly four miles distant from it, surrounded by a great plain from twenty to fifty miles in extent. It is about twelve miles below Florence, the county seat of Pinal County. The great irrigating canal commences some fifteen miles above Florence, where the water was taken from the river, and can be traced far down the valley towards Maricopa Wells, a distance of nearly fifty miles.

It is evident that this, and numerous other canals of like character, were excavated by a numerous and industrious people, and that they carried out the earth in vessels of pottery ware on their heads, the same as the Chinese are said to do now.

No implements of iron have ever been found in or around the old ruins, nor the bones of any large domestic animal, such as the horse or ox.

They were evidently constructed in an era of time corresponding to the Stone Age of Europe.

The vegas, or beams, which supported the upper


[page 182]

floors of the houses, were no doubt cut by them with stone axes, as the ends remaining in the concrete walls present that appearance.

These vegas, as well as the other wood-work of the interior of the Casa Grande, and other buildings examined, were burned out as though destroyed by an enemy, which was perhaps the case. On the north side of the Gila River, and extending a distance of many miles below Florence, are many other old ruins, some of the buildings being over one hundred feet in length, with a corresponding width.

About two miles west of Florence, on the north side of the river, between the homes of Mr. Stiles and Mr. Long, is a stretch of hard, stony land, through which another of the large irrigating canals was cut, and where, for several hundred yards, one can ride on horseback in the canal, which is yet so deep one cannot look over its banks on either side, when sitting on his horse.

Four miles to the west, on the line of the canal, are the ruins of another old town, the outlines of some of the buildings being easily traced. One of them is one hundred and twenty feet long, and eighty feet wide. It was surrounded by a wall of concrete and stone, portions of which now remain; and this wall was one hundred and thirty feet long on two sides of the building, and two hundred and twenty-five feet long on the other two sides, forming


[page 183]

a kind of court-yard inclosing the building. This court-yard was filled in on the south and east sides with earth to a depth of four feet.

The soil in the valley of the Gila is very rich, and with the large supply of water furnished by these great irrigating canals, the valley must have been very productive, and capable of supporting a numerous population.

Sixty miles to the north of Florence, in the great valley of Salt River, at different distances from the town of Phœnix, the county town of Maricopa County, are other old ruins, more extensive than those in the Gila Valley.

In the Salt River Valley, within a radius of thirty miles, are the ruins of several large towns, some of which are over three miles in extent.

Six miles east from Phœnix, and two miles from the Hellings Mill, now owned by Major C. H. Vail, are the ruins of a large town, near the centre of which is one very large building, two hundred and seventy-five feet long, and one hundred and thirty feet wide. The debris of this building forms a mound which rises thirty feet above the surrounding plain. The walls of this building are standing about ten feet in height, and are fully six feet thick. There seem to have been several cross walls, and the whole was surrounded by an outer wall, which on the south side was thirty feet from the main wan; on the east,


[page 184]

sixty feet; on the north, one hundred feet; and on the west side, sixty feet.

On the north, and at the northwest corner, were two wings, perhaps guard or watch houses. On the south of the outer wall was a moat, that could be flooded with water from a large reservoir fifty yards, to the south. Several other large reservoirs are at different points in and around the main town, which was over two miles in extent.

A large irrigating canal runs to the south of the large building, which was from twenty-five to fifty feet wide. This canal took the water from Salt River eight miles above, and can be easily traced for twenty miles or more below.

The people who excavated these canals must have had a knowledge of engineering, as they are cut on a true and perfect grade. Several engineers who have surveyed canals for irrigation along the line of the old ones, acknowledge that they cannot improve the grade, or gain an inch of grade to the mile.

The largest of the old irrigating canals, visited and examined by the author, is some twenty-five miles above Phœnix, on the south side of Salt River, near the point where the river emerges from the mountains. This one, for eight miles after leaving the river, is fully fifty feet wide. For this distance it runs in a southwest course through hard, stony ground, and enters on a vast stretch of mesa or tableland,


[page 185]

which extends south and southwest from thirty to sixty miles, having an elevation above the river of nearly one hundred feet.

At about eight miles from where this great canal leaves the river, it is divided into three branches. each twenty-five feet wide, one of which runs an east of south course, one nearly south, and the third south-west, the three probably carrying water sufficient to irrigate the whole of the immense plateau of table land before mentioned. Two miles west of where the main canal branches are the ruins of a large town which extends along the mesa for many miles.

Near the centre of this town are the ruins of the largest building yet discovered. Its ground measurement is 350 feet by 150 feet, with outer walls, moats, embankments, and reservoirs, outside the main walls, and ruins of smaller buildings in all directions.

The presumption is, from a careful consideration of all the circumstances connected with the old ruins, that the large building, one of which is found in every town, was a temple, perhaps for sun worship, as there are many evidences that they were sun worshippers.

On the line of the branch canals, distant many miles from this one, are other ruins of towns similar to the others described. Below the great canal and the large ruins described, extending through what is called the Tempe Settlement, are other irrigating


[page 186]

canals of nearly equal size to the others, and which were taken out of the river many miles below the large one mentioned, and along these are also the ruins of great houses and towns.

In the Pueblo Viejo, or upper Gila Valley, are the ruins of some ten or more old towns, with irrigating canals, etc., of the same character as those in the great valleys of the Gila and Salt rivers.

Some of the ruins in the Pueblo Viejo Valley are near mountain spurs where rock is abundant, and these were built of stone instead of concrete. This beautiful valley is one hundred and fifty miles north-east from Tucson, and contains about one hundred thousand acres of choice farming land, which was evidently all cultivated by the old prehistoric race.

Well towards the upper end of the valley, on a piece of table land, elevated above the river some fifty feet, are the ruins of a considerable town, large reservoirs, some round and some square, connected by canals. One of these reservoirs is two hundred feet square, and walled up on the inside ten feet in height.

The inhabitants of these old prehistoric towns were evidently cremationists, as from time to time a few burial urns of pottery ware have been found, filled with ashes and small pieces of partially burned human bones. These cremation or burial urns were quite small, about the size of a large coffee cup, urn


[page 187]

shaped, and generally inclosed in two or three larger ones, the largest of all being from twenty to thirty inches in diameter, and turned bottom side up over the smaller ones, thus shielding and protecting them and their contents.

The ruins of this ancient race are found over a wide extent of country, from the great valleys mentioned, for a width of fifty to one hundred and fifty miles and for four hundred or more miles in length, far to the northeast, to the country of the Zuñis.

Through this whole section of country, in almost every little valley among the mountains, are ruins of houses, towns, irrigating canals, and other evidences of their work, the buildings being almost wholly of stone. On the summits of the highest mountains, along this whole distance, are the ruins of what are supposed to have been their temples of sun worship, and perhaps also a place for refuge in time of danger. A few only of the hundreds examined will be described.

Some twenty miles south from Prescott, and two miles north from Walnut Grove, in sight of Captain Bartlett's house, is a mountain top with a walled inclosure of about two acres. The wall surrounding this inclosure is in places ten feet thick, and ten to fifteen feet in height. Inside this wall are the ruins of fourteen old stone houses.

Six miles southeast from Captain Bartlett's, on the


[page 188]

east side of Milk Creek, is another mountain top, three thousand feet above the little valley below, and on this summit there is also a walled inclosure, containing about five acres. The wall is very heavy and high, and inside it are the ruins of twenty-four stone buildings from twenty to thirty feet square. The ruins of a stone causeway, leading from a south spur of the mountain to the main summit, can be traced for fifty yards. It is twelve feet wide, built up on the sides with bowlders of a ton in weight, between which were filled in smaller stones and earth.

From this summit, a grand panoramic view can be had of the surrounding country for a long distance, embracing mountains, valleys, and plains.

Several miles up the Hassayampa Creek from Walnut Grove, and some eight or ten miles south from Prescott, are many ruins of stone houses, some on the high hills bordering the Hassayampa, and some in the valleys near the creek; some of those in the valleys near the creek are surrounded by large pine forests, and inside the walls of one of the ruins were three large pine trees of hundreds of years growth.

There are many ruins around Prescott, and one series is in the village just west of Granite Creek, on Judge Fleury's land. This series is on an elevated plateau, some two hundred feet above the creek, and they were originally fenced in by a large stone wall,


[page 189]

most of which has been taken away for use in the town.

For a distance of sixty or seventy miles west there is a continuation of ruins of stone houses, fortifications, temples, etc., without number. They extend into the eastern part of Mohave County.

The ruins are plentiful around Williamson's Valley, Walnut Creek, Camp Hualapai, Mount Hope, and other places. The most prominent are on the summits of high mountains.

In Chino Valley, twenty miles north from Prescott, are some interesting ruins, well worthy a visit and thorough examination. Chino Valley is rich and fertile, contains a few fine farms, and was no doubt formerly a favorite locality for the ancient race, now unknown. The ruins extend for a long distance in and around the valley, there being a series of nearly a score in sight from almost any point in the valley. The springs which water the valley were long since used for irrigation, there being yet evidences of them to be seen.

Within less than one hundred feet of Mr. Banghart's residence are a series of ruins of stone houses, five in number, surrounded by a stone wall. The earth has accumulated around the wall and houses to a depth of several feet since their destruction, which was evidently the work of an enemy.

Mr. Banghart has partially excavated one of these


[page 190]

buildings to a depth of five feet below the surface. The inner walls of the room were plastered, and the walls were partly of concrete and partly of stone. On the west side he found a number of large ollas1 filled with what was evidently burned or charred beans and corn. Near the southeast corner he found portions of three skeletons, one of a large man, one apparently of a woman, and the other of a child, and near them a water olla. They were evidently killed inside their building while defending it. Mr. B. also found nearly a dozen stone axes and hammers in excavating this room. The stone of which the wall and buildings were made was trachyte, and must have been brought from a volcanic mesa, about one mile to the west, where they are abundant.

One mile north of Mr. Banghart's is a very large stone building on the summit of a hill, which was probably a temple or a fortress, also built of stone, and the stone were square dressed.

In a cañon yet a little further north are a few small cave dwellings of considerable interest, but difficult of approach. In this cañon the Verde River takes its name, though there are some small tributaries many miles to the southwest and west, and along the Verde, in its winding course of nearly one hundred and fifty miles, are continued evidences of the work of the ancient people of the country. 1


[page 191]

Four miles below Mr. Banghart's, and two miles to the north of the Hon. John H. Marion's sheep ranch, is a high hill overlooking the Verde River, and a series of ruins of stone houses, inclosed by a stone wall on the south side, which in places is twenty feet high, and twelve feet wide. The other sides of the hill are abrupt and precipitous, and two to three hundred feet perpendicular.

Three miles further to the east is one of the highest mountain peaks of the country, and its summit is inclosed by three tiers of stone wall, a few hundred feet apart. Old stone ruins of an extensive character crown its summit, and here perhaps was a great temple for sun worship for many long years.

To the east of Prescott eighteen miles, in the Agua Frio Valley, on the site of the present residence of Mr. Nathan Bowers, there was a very large ruin of a stone building, which was one hundred and sixty feet square. From the debris of this building, a large double stone house, one smaller one, and much stone wall have been erected, and there yet remains on one side, a pile of debris four or five feet in height.

On the hills around are many other old stone ruins, as well as on the summits of high mountains in every direction, and for long distances.

In the Verde Valley, forty miles east from Prescott, and extending up and down that valley for long distances, are scores of stone ruins similar to those heretofore


[page 192]

described. They are found also in all the contiguous valleys of Beaver, Oak, and other creeks, on the hills and the mountain summits, as elsewhere.

Opposite Camp Verde, a short half mile on the eastern side of the river, are many large stone ruins on the bluffs overlooking the river, the walls of which are standing twenty to thirty feet high, and immense quantities of broken pottery are strewn freely over the ground. Two miles down the river, and a half mile east of it, on a stretch of table land elevated above the river bottom one hundred feet or more, is what was, as is supposed, an ancient burial ground. It covers nearly one hundred acres of ground. The graves were inclosed by stones placed in an oblong circular form, from two to six feet in diameter.

Beaver Creek enters the Verde River a half mile above Camp Verde, coming in from the northeast. This section of country is a limestone region, in which are some of the most interesting cave dwellings to be found in Arizona. Beaver Creek is hemmed in much of the distance for many miles, by abrupt, perpendicular bluffs of limestone, in which are many interesting old cave dwellings. They are mostly walled up in front, and at a distance look like the natural stony bluffs.

In two of these cañons, some six miles up the creek on the north side, are several caves some twenty feet above the creek, in two of which are perfect cisterns,


[page 193]

made of cement, and almost as hard as marble, and as perfect as when made. On one of them are prints of the hands of their makers, indented in the cement while in a plastic state, and also the print of the tiny hands of a small child, no doubt made by the little one in childish glee and play. Though both man and child have long since passed away, and have been forgotten for unknown ages, the imptint of their hands remain yet to tell a long forgotten story of the unknown past. How long ago these imprints of the little hand were made, none can tell, but there they are full and fresh as when first made. The changes of time, the warring of the elements, and the upheavals and commotions of mother earth, have failed to impair or obliterate those hand pictures, and there they will probably remain for ages to come, telling their silent story of the long, long past.

Three miles below these caves are numerous others in a high bluff on the north side of the creek. This bluff is nearly or quite four hundred feet high, and is almost perpendicular.

The largest of the caves is ninety feet across in front, walled up to its very top, a distance of over fifty feet, and difficult and dangerous to enter, as the opening is nearly one hundred feet above the base of the cliff. The debris from the cave is piled up against the foot of the perpendicular wall rock for nearly one hundred feet, from which point explorers


[page 194]

must climb the face of the vertical wall rock nearly the same distance to reach the opening to the cave. This must be done by clinging to poles and jutting points of rock, and occasionally obtaining an insecure foot-hold but a few inches wide.

When once in the cave, it is found to be divided into many rooms. The extreme height is fifty to seventy-five feet, as near as one can judge. The wall in front is laid in mortar, or cement, and near its uppermost part are two port holes, from whence the dwellers within could obtain a view of the country for a great distance around. But few whites have ever succeeded in exploring this cave, and it took us several hours to accomplish the feat in safety. When first explored there were found in it a few stone axes, metats, and other stone implements.

Continuing on to the northeast from Prescott, for two hundred miles, there are scores and hundreds of other ruins, and hieroglyphical paintings, extending to the Zuñi Village heretofore described.

From what has been written descriptive of a few of the many hundreds of ruins found in Arizona, the intelligent reader will readily concur in the opinion, that sometime in the long distant past, a numerous race of a semi-civilized people lived and occupied most of Arizona, a race far antedating the present Indians, and far superior to them in industry and intelligence, and possessed of a good degree of patient


[page 195]

resolve, and of untiring perseverance. They must have been tillers of the soil, and peaceable and quiet in their habits. Their implements of stone were well formed, and must have required great patience and long continued toil in their manufacture, as most of them were of volcanic and other hard rock. But few insignificant implements of the war and chase have ever been discovered in or around their ruins, from which fact the inference is drawn that they were a peaceable and quiet race, more inclined to the pursuits of peace than of war.

To the present time, not one of the old ruins has been fully excavated or explored. This is to be regretted, as much of an interesting and instructive character might be discovered, which perhaps might lead to some definite knowledge of the builders, as to what race they belonged, the time when they occupied the country, and their probable fate.

It is to be hoped that an official or private exploration will soon be made of these most interesting ruins, which might result in the obtaining of some such definite information respecting the ruins and their makers,—of the interesting people who once tilled the rich soil of Arizona, and roamed through its mountains.


Notes

1. A large earthen vessel, pronounced O-ya.

Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER XIII: INDIAN TRIBES: LOCALITY, NUMBERS, AND GENERAL OBSERVATIONS. Next: CHAPTER XV: SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION.




© Arizona Board of Regents