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     At seven in the morning of August 26, 1849, an expedition of 500 U.S. Army troops and Indian guides out of Fort Marcy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, broke camp along Torreon Arroyo and headed northwest. They were beginning the tenth day of a military reconnaissance mission into Navajo country. In their company was James Hervey Simpson (see carving from El Morro below), a thirty-six-year-old first lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers. The expedition has as its primary mission "to make a movement against the Navajo Indians", who had lately been troublesome to new settlements along the Rio Grande. Lieutenant Simpson was charged with "making such a survey of the country as the movements of the troops will permit." The first week of travel took them southwest to Santo Domingo Pueblo, along the banks of the Rio Grande, and then northwest to Jemez Pueblo where they had strengthened their force with additional troops, Indian guides and scouts, and fifty-four Pueblo Indian mounted militia volunteers.
      As they left camp later in the expedition, they set course for the northwest and passed over the Continental Divide. "Seven miles from our last camp, we reached the highest point of the land dividing the tributaries of the Gulf of Mexico from those of the Pacific." Here the Divide is not along a high mountain back as it is farther to the north, but along a low rise. The elevation here is about 6800 feet. "The highest point of land just referred to reached, we commenced gradually descending its western slope - three miles more bringing us to the Rio Chaco, a tributary of the Rio San Juan; and five miles more to a point whence could be seen in the distance, on a slight elevation, a conspicuous ruin..."
     The Indians and Mexicans with them had various names for the ruin. Simpson chose for it the one offered by Carravahal, the expedition's Mexican guide: "Pueblo Pintado", meaning painted village. One guide, Hosta, the civil governor of Jemez Pueblo, told Simpson that Pueblo Pintado was built by Montezuma and his people when they were on their way from the north toward the valley of Mexico. This was to remain a popular legend for a considerable time, until tree-ring dating of the major ruins in and around Chaco Canyon showed dates around A.D. 1000. Montezuma I ruled from 1440-1469 and his grandson Montezuma II from 1503 until his death in 1520.
      Simpson and the expedition, having marched over 21 miles for the day, encamped about a mile from the ruins. After a bite to eat, Simpson and his two assistants, the brothers Edward and Richard Kern (see carving from El Morro), who were artists, topographers, and cartographers, set off to examine the ruins of Pueblo Pintado.
     Since this is the easternmost of the great Chaco ruins (seperated by about ten miles from the rest) and this is the first known written account of them, Simpson's description bears recounting in his own words:
      "We found them to more than answer our expectations. Forming one structure, and built of tabular pieces of hard, fine-grained compact gray sandstone (a material entirely unknown in the present architecture of New Mexico), to which the atmosphere has imparted a reddish tinge, the layers or beds being not thicker than three inches, and sometimes as thin as one-fourth of an inch, it discovers in the masonry a combination of science and art which can only be referred to a higher stage of civilization and refinement than is discoverable in the works of Mexicans or Pueblos of the present day. Indeed so beautifully diminutive and true are the details of the structure as to cause it, at a little distance to have all the appearance of a magnificent piece of mosaic work."
      Simpson, the Army career man who missed the lush landscapes of his native New Jersey, had finally found something amidst all the barrenness that stimulated his sense of aesthetics. Perhaps his own experience in civil engineering contributed to his appreciation of the fine but unusual building methods he beheld. His descriptions are quite detailed.
      "In the outer face of the building there are no signs of mortar, the intervals between the beds being chinked with stones of the minutest thinness. The filling and backing are done in rubble masonry, the mortar presenting no indications of the presence of lime. The thickness of the main wall at base is within an inch or two of three feet; higher up, it is less - diminishing every story bt retreating jogs on the inside, from bottom to top. Its elevation at its present highest point is between twenty-five and thirty feet, the series of floor beams indicating that there must have been originally three stories."
      Simpson counted the number of "apartments" (fifty-four on the ground floor), examined the "very small" doorways (some as small as 2½ by 2½ feet, others a foot taller), and measured the exterior ground plan (about 403 feet including the court). He found that the system of floor beams consisted of unhewn beams, six inches in diameter, laid transversely from wall to wall, overlain longitudinally by a number of smaller ones, about three inches in diameter. He speculated that most probably these had then been covered with brush, bark, or slabs, with a layer of mud mortar over that. "The beams," he remarked, "show no signs of the saw or axe; on the contrary, they appear to have been hacked off by means of some very imperfect implement." (Those implements, we now know, were stone axes.) "At different points about the premises were three circular apartments sunk in the ground, the walls being of masonry. These apartments the Pueblo Indians call estuffas [kivas], or places where people held their political and religious meetings."
     Simpson and the Kerns weren't able to finish their examination of the ruins of Pueblo Pintado before day's end, so they returned early the next morning, even though the troops had begun moving westward without them. Their curiosity had been piqued. They found fragments of pottery scattered all around, the colors showing taste in their selection and in the style of their arrangement, and being still quite bright."
      That was it for Pueblo Pintado. "We would gladly, had time permitted, have remained longer to dig among the rubbish of the past; but the troops having already got some miles in advance of us, we were relunctantly obliged to quit."
Text from People of Chaco - A Canyon and Its Culture - Kendirck Frazier 1999.



Photo shows pottery fragments still left at the Pueblo Pintado Ruins Site in 2003. Photo ©2003 Mike Letalien & Photo4Phood.com.