Pagosa's Past: An archaeological look at Chimney Rock

2020/12/oldtimer-214x300.jpg Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Loggers had to improvise during the old days. This circa 1900 logger seems to be improvising with railroad ties and fence posts. The logs will roll down the fence posts from a flat rail car.

By John M. Motter

PREVIEW Columnist

Dr. Frank W. Eddy, University of Colorado at Boulder, directed a more recent study of the Chimney Rock Indian ruins during the summers of 1970, 1971 and 1972. We rely primarily upon his monograph, “Archaeological Investigations at Chimney Rock Mesa: 170-1972” for the following description of the people who lived there.

Cultural remains of the Pueblo Period II dating from A.D. 925 to A.D. 1125 were identified.

Eddy relates a legendary account obtained from the elders of the Taos Pueblo that seems to indicate the twin pinnacles of Chimney Rock served as a landmark since prehistoric times. According to the legend, the mesa and its pinnacles are a shrine used by the Day People (a Kiva group) of Taos Indians who dwelt in the area before moving to the Rio Grande Valley. 

The shrine could have been dedicated to the twin war gods, well-known in Pueblo mythology. Eddy reasons that the Chimney Rock Pueblo was built on the upper mesa not for practical reasons, but for its superb and elevated view of a sacred shrine.

The principal house form at Chimney Rock was constructed from irregularly coursed sandstone masonry, sometimes with multiple stories. One set of buildings, the High Mesa group, is thought to have been built and inhabited by colonists from the Chaco community of New Mexico. It is thought that the Chacoans lived among the indigenous members of the Chimney Rock culture.

Farming was probably practiced on alluvial flood plains at the base of Chimney Rock Mesa. Water for domestic purposes could have been carried to the mesa top from the Piedra River, Stollsteimer Creek or Devil Creek, a considerable portage.

Eddy estimated the human population of seven dwelling clusters scattered on or near Chimney Rock Mesa at from 1,215 to 2,025 people, a number comparable to Pagosa Springs’ population in 1984.