New Mexico’s Equestrian Nomads: Comanche, Jicarilla Apaches and Utes


Field Trip

Friday, March 27, 2015, 8:00 am–4:00 pm

Rio Grande GorgeRio Grande Gorge By Severin Fowles.Rio Grande Gorge By Severin Fowles.

SAR resident scholar Severin Fowles is currently researching the intrusion of the Comanches and Utes into northern New Mexico during the 17th and 18th centuries. At the same time, SMU professor Sunday Eiselt has been investigating the colonization of the northern Rio Grande by the Jicarilla Apaches following their expulsion from the Plains by the Comanche. Dr. Fowles and Dr. Eiselt will co-lead this field trip to explore several sites in the Rio Grande Gorge, which offer insight and evidence of these nomadic, equestrian people in 18th-century northern New Mexico. The Rio Grande Gorge is a formidable place often overlooked as an archaeological site, but this alien landscape was prehistorically used by many indigenous people, including Hispano populations. “The gorge was a kind of oddity that archaeologists once saw primarily as a barrier to pre-Columbian people’s movement,” says Fowles. “Now we’re thinking about it as a world unto itself—a highly meaningful and elaborately marked world.”

Sunday Eiselt’s Becoming White Clay: A History and Archaeology of Jicarilla Apache Enclavement revisits the history of the Jicarilla Apache in New Mexico. Eislet writes that “The Jicarilla Apache are an amalgamation of nomadic tribes that in the 18th century migrated off the plains and settled in the northern Rio Grande of New Mexico…they fought alongside the Pueblo Indians in the Revolt of 1680 and later resisted Comanche raiders, sometimes as contract fighters and security guards for the Spanish and American trade caravans. Then quietly, deliberately and peacefully they slipped off the radar of Spanish colonization and U.S. Manifest Destiny until 1888, when the Jicarilla became the last Native American tribe forcibly settled on a reservation.”(SMU Research Blog, 2/12/13)

This trip offers participants a unique opportunity to study little-known rock art panels that document the arrival of these equestrian tribes into New Mexico’s cultural landscape and the impact these nomadic tribes had upon Puebloan and Hispanic villagers. We will visit several rock art sites and shrines−in the newly established Rio Grande del Norte National Monument−that are helping to re-define our understanding of the Rio Grande gorge as a ritual landscape.

Activity Level: Moderately Difficult, includes a 2.5 mile round-trip hike into the gorge on a relatively flat trail, but requires some scrambling over boulders to access the rock art panels.

Cost: $95 per person, includes guides’ honoraria, transportation, and a picnic lunch.

Download the 2015 Spring Field Trip Registration Form

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