A NEW MEXICO PRIMER FOR STUDENTS OF ALL AGES
In the Beginning
In the Miocene, Pleistocene, Oligocene and other scenes the oceans laid down beds of limestone and sandstone. Large reptiles roamed the land that began to form. Meteors hit, volcanoes erupted, earthquakes occurred, and the dinosaurs became oil. The earth moved about, pushing up mountains here, breaking them off there, and all the while rain and wind eroded them. Seas receded, icecaps formed, and melted. New Mexico had everything from glaciers to rain forests. Today it is mostly desert with less surface water than any other state.
It eventually lost touch with the sea coast by 600 miles in any direction. The various kinds of mountains it developed cut off moisture-laden breezes, creating rain shadows, otherwise known as deserts. The mountains also collected snow and rain, which ran downhill creating rivers, which ironically run through some of the driest deserts. Go figure.
A while after the last ice age a few humans wandered into New Mexico from the north. They were culinary tourists, looking for food in the form of prairie dogs, giant bison, woolly mammoths, camels and horses—which they ate, not rode. They killed these animals with spears tipped with beautiful flint heads called Folsom points. They camped at Folsom, Clovis, in the Sandias, and other places. For reasons we can only guess, the animals died out and the early humans either died or went home.
Because this will become an issue later, we must note that these guys were not necessarily Indians, just humans. Eventually more humans came through the northwest from the Far East—that is, Asia—and by about 5000 years ago they were what would later be called Indians.
They, too, roamed around hunting animals, piñons, prickly pear fruit and shelter. They liked caves, if any were to be had. Otherwise they dug holes and covered them with branches. They had fire, so living where wood was available was good. That was in the more mountainous regions of New Mexico. Somewhere along the way some of them domesticated corn, beans, squash and chile, plus a few turkeys. Thus was born New Mexican food.
To raise these crops they had to stay put. They learned to build with rock and trees. A thousand or so years ago the Chaco Culture of the San Juan Basin was a result of this knowledge. Like all humans they overdid it. They used up resources, fought over them, watched the climate change, and finally had to move again. This happened several times. By the 1300s the Chaco people were living near the Rio Grande, still farming and building villages.
It should be no surprise that these people worshipped the sun, the rain and the animals which fed them. Their lives were generally short and uncertain. There were never very many of them, relatively speaking. Then their problems got worse. New nomadic hunters appeared from the north who attacked them. The newcomers were initially Athapascans, known later as Apaches and Navajos. Uto Shoshonean peoples also appeared. The Navajo named the ancient pueblo dwellers whose ruined villages they saw Anasazi—our ancient enemy. The Navajo called themselves The People. They were human after all, and quite capable of labeling others who were different.
This is a good time to point out that each group/tribe was a different ethnic group, speaking a different language or dialect and following different customs. They were as diverse as Europeans, Africans and Asians. We speak of Pueblo or nomads referring to a style of life, not a language group.
From the 1300s to the 1500s these stone-age peoples merrily battled for control of New Mexico’s limited resources, using their stone weapons and tools.