At the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, small bands of hunter-gatherers roved the Southwest. The Clovis culture, earliest of these groups, is named in reference to the eastern New Mexican town that is near the place where distinctive spear points (made to hunt now-extinct mammoth, camel, and bison) were found. Archeological evidence found near Folsom, a town in northeast New Mexico, points to a slightly later Paleo-Indian group known as the Folsom culture. Such ancient, ephemeral hunting camp sites are rare. Thousands of years after the Clovis and Folsom cultures, after large animals died out, small groups of what most likely were extended families lived in the vicinity of the Heritage Area, gathering wild plants, hunting small game, and living in the dry caves of the Southwest. They left behind only a few clues about their mobile way of life.
Sometime around 500 B.C., just beyond the western edge of the Heritage Area, Southwestern people began to grow corn. Corn supplemented hunting and wild plant gathering. A bit later, squash and beans appeared. Prior to about 200 A.D., people relied primarily on hunting. They left their corn to grow in whatever moist spots they could find and followed after game. From these beginnings, the ancestors to the Pueblo peoples developed intensified agriculture supporting larger and larger communities.
Between 200 and 700 A.D., an increasing number of people settled in villages, and planted more corn and crops. Villagers lived in small, semi-subterranean pit-houses. Archeological sites document the increased use of tools for grinding grains, as well as, use of more sophisticated stone projectile points, knives, scrapers, drills, and choppers, for specific tasks. Villagers made beautifully woven baskets, sandals, nets for hunting, and blankets of rabbit fur and cotton cloth. By 500 A. D. they were making pottery.
Despite the challenges of climate, including droughts and severe winters, the Southwest was a healthy environment in which to live. In time, people began to build above-ground, creating stone and adobe houses with a row of rooms, often for extended families. Villages grew larger in size, and farming more important.
The earliest structures in Pueblo Bonito, in Chaco Canyon, date to around 800 A.D. From this core of adobe buildings grew the sophisticated architecture of the Chaco pueblos, which date to the 11th and 12th centuries. The complex often is referred to as American’s first apartment building. Chaco, considered a center of ritual and religion, trade and exchange, was not the only such complex, as the Ancestral Pueblo people flourished. The Pueblo name comes from 16th century Spanish settlers who recognized that the native people lived in towns, or pueblos. The word continues to be used to identify the native people and the places in which they live.
Like their tools, agriculture, and architecture, Pueblo societies were complex. Religion played an enormous role in their lives and communities. Relations, marred by competition for resources and warfare, were not always harmonious. People moved, to find more game and better land and soil for their fields, and because they faced opposition from different groups and communities.
New Mexico, and the Northern Rio Grande area in particular, experienced intense occupation in the 12th and 13th centuries. Villages were as small as 20 rooms and as large as 400 to 1,000 rooms. Villages had a central space – a plaza –and kivas, which were large, underground rooms, nearly always circular, associated with religious societies and ceremonies. Nearly 300 Ancestral Puebloan archeo-logical sites have been recorded in the vicinity of Taos, some dating as early as 1000 A.D.
Prolonged, severe drought in the 13th and 14th centuries caused people to abandon their homes and migrate to new areas, including the Rio Grande Valley, where they reorganized their world and learned to interact with foreign cultures. Some large villages were built along the Rio Grande itself and others in the Heritage Area’s Chama River valley, Taos area, and Galisteo Basin. Villages included Te’ewi, Tshirege, Puyé, Otowi, Old Picuris, Arroyo Hondo, Pindi, Pueblo Largo, San Cristobal, San Marcos, and Las Madres. Some of these villages were abandoned hundreds of years ago; 19 other pueblos – eight of them in the Heritage Area – continue to thrive on the same sites, or nearby land, of their 14th- and 15th-century ancestors.
By the late 1600s, the Jicarilla (hik-a-REE-ya) Apache occupied a region extending from southeastern Colorado to the Pecos River Valley in New Mexico’s Colfax County, just beyond the eastern boundary of the Heritage Area. Named by the Spanish for the small baskets or cups (jicaras) they made, the Jicarilla established adobe villages, farmed small, irrigated fields, and had frequent contact with the pueblos and Spanish settlements of northern New Mexico. The Jicarilla were principally a bison-hunting culture and retained many characteristics of Plains Indians, such as the use of tepees.
Beginning in 1851, the United States government made several unsuccessful attempts to establish a reservation for the Jicarilla in today’s western Río Arriba and San Juan counties. In 1854, open warfare with the Jicarilla broke out after a series of raids on settlements along the lower Chama River. U.S. military forces and New Mexican militia brought the raiding to a halt, and agencies for the Jicarilla were established at Taos and Cimarron.
In 1874, the tribe entered into a treaty with the United States that established a reservation along the San Juan River in northwest New Mexico. President Rutherford B. Hayes abrogated this agreement in 1876, and ordered the Jicarilla to move onto the Mescalero reservation near Fort Stanton in southern New Mexico. Most of the Jicarilla, ignored the order and remained in northern New Mexico. Policies fluctuated often until 1887, when President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order setting aside the current reservation in Amargo, in western Río Arriba County.
The Jicarilla began moving back to Amargo from the various places they had gone. In the summer of 1987, the tribe re-enacted this trek as part of a centennial commemoration of the establishment of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation.
Raids from Indian tribes outside the area had a devastating effect on settlement during the Spanish period. The Ute and Jicarilla Apache came from the north and raided farms and herds of Pueblos and settlers. From the east, raiders from the Plains tribes, including the Comanche, had been raiding Pueblo fields long before the Spanish arrived. And increasingly, Navajo bands came from the west.
The massive forests of northern New Mexico, particularly those in Rio Arriba County, impressed travelers and entrepreneurs, alike. In 1832, forests covered almost the entire Tierra Amarilla Land Grant made by the Mexican government to Manuel Martínez, his sons, and several dozen settlers from the Abiquiú region. Following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, adjudication of the grant resulted in land sales to private interests. By 1880, attorney Thomas D. Catron, whose name often is associated with politicians and land speculators, held most of the vast land grant. By 1886, with the presence of the railroad making the timber easily accessible, Catron lost no time in exploiting the forests.
He drew in companies to expand timber operations and, by the early 1890s, at least a dozen mills were making inroads into timber tracts west of Chama. Spur lines were built to the county seat at Tierra Amarilla and south from Lumberton into forests in the Gallinas Mountains. The company town of El Vado and its sawmill began operations in 1904, and for several years timber was cut along rail lines and spurs beyond Dulce Lake. By the mid-1920s, the stands of virgin timber on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation had been clear-cut, and a mill and the rail line shut down. Operations at El Vado also closed as towns disappeared as quickly as the forests. The region’s intensive logging industry and the railroads associated with it was short-lived.
At the same time that community grant lands were being redistributed, the Homestead Act of 1862 made public lands available to settlers at low prices. Other acts followed, expanding the availability of public lands for homesteading. A study of land-use patterns in north-central New Mexico found more than 9,000 homestead applications in a region that included Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, Taos, and Sandoval counties. Approximately half of the homesteads, totaling almost 1.2 million acres, were patented when the applicants completed the required residency and usage requirements. Slightly more than half of the patented entries were issued to Spanish-surnamed individuals.
Homesteading played a major role in the settlement of western Rio Arriba County. Lindrith and other small communities were established in this region by large numbers of homesteaders in the early 20th century. Many homesteaders moved on to seek better opportunities elsewhere, but those who endured benefitted from oil and gas fields discovered in the late 1940s and 1950s. Farmer/ranchers also planted crops to attract elk and deer to their property, generating income from private hunts.
In 1969 Michael Gold discovered the area while he was a location scout on Easy Rider and bought the 800 acres which is now Gavilan Ranch in 1971. After a decade of improving the ranch, in 1983 “Cedar Mountain Camp” was launched as summer camp whose goal was to give children the opportunity to get out of the city and experience nature. In 1995 the camp was closed and Gavilan Guest Ranch was born with the intent of becoming a retreat center where groups could have conferences, intensives and workshops in a private, and rustic setting. Activities at Gavilan Ranch were put on hold in 2015 when Michael’s wife Patty had to attend to health concerns.