Date of visit:
September 26, 2000
For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
We rate this site a:
Middle of nowhere
Small but fascinating
Modest entry fee
To the Park
Choosing the route
|The Zuni Indians descended from desert hunter-gatherers. About 2,000 years ago, they joined in a general shift toward the cultivation of crops that gave birth to the Southwest's Anasazi tradition.
In time, small villages appeared along the streams of this arid land. As more centuries passed the Anasazi built large multi-storied towns laid out around plazas.
The Zuni towns centered on the Little Colorado River drainage. As trading middlemen between the Anasazi world and other cul-tures of the Southwest, the Zuni played a central role in the transmission of trade items and Cultural values.
|A'ts'ina Ruin (see gallery) atop El Morro dates from the time of larger towns. Archeological evidence shows that A'ts'ina and nearby massive pueblos were built about the same time - in the late 1200s.
After only 50 or 60 years they were abandoned. (Perhaps they were meant only to be temporary: unusual heat and drought may have driven the Zuni from the river valleys to the high ground around El Morro.)
For the Zuni people A'ts'ina and sites continue to be sacred places, parts of a larger homeland that once stretched far beyond today's Zuni Reservation. The symbols and pictures communicate both the mundane and the spiritual. Eventually a new breed of travelers took inspiration from the Indian scribes. With points of steel they continued the story in records of conquest and colonization.
|New World Colonizers
||The second generation of conquistadors - those who had missed the Mexican conquest - pursued a medieval myth of golden cities to be found at a place called Cibola. Shipwrecked soldiers wandering from Texas through New Spain's northern deserts heard stories of Indians who lived in cities yet farther north. If this was Cibola, it meant the chance to relive the glories and riches of Aztec Mexico.
But for explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and those he led in 1540, the Zuni and other Pueblo Indian towns proved disappointing. They were modest outposts of central Mexican civilization. These Pueblo Indians lived in solid towns, pueblos built of masonry or adobe. They gained a sufficiency from their agriculture. But their riches were intangible - the songs and ceremonies that kept them in harmony with the spirit world and with each other - not the gold of Aztec or Inca.
Decades passed as New Spain's frontier slowly pushed northward lured by discovery of silver deposits. In 1581, the Franciscan brother Fray Augustin Rodriguez shared leadership of an expedition that revisited the pueblos of New Mexico. Inspired with religious zeal, Fray Augustin and another friar stayed on with the Indians when the expedition returned. This episode was important. It foreshadowed the primary purpose of New Mexico as the northern outpost of New Spain: Lacking riches, the future colony was even-tually supported and justified as a field of missionization. Salvation of Indian souls would serve both God and State.
Another expedition, sent to search for the two friars, resulted in the first historical record of El Morro. Antonio de Espejo headed north to the Rio Grande pueblos, where he confirmed that the Franciscans had been killed. Then he explored westerly toward Zuni. On March 11, 1583, he recorded his stop at a place he called El Estanque de/ Pehol (the pool at the great rock). In 1598 Don Juan de Onate officially colonized New Mexico. He brought 400 colonists and 10 Franciscans north, along with 7,000 head of stock. From the beginning, hard winters, lack of food, and the great distance from Mexico caused hardship and discontent among the colonists. Onate's explorations finally killed the last hopes for quick riches. Returning from one of these expeditions, Onate inscribed( photo1 ... b/w drawing1 ... reads )his name at El Morro on April 16, 1605 - the first known historical inscription on the rock.
There followed scores of other Spanish inscriptions as governors, soldiers, and priests took the El Morro route to Zuni and other western pueblos.
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These brief notes in stone give a thumbnail sketch of New Mexico's Spanish history as it happened on those far-western marches. Routine records of passage - a name and a date attached to the standard pasó por aqui - vary with accounts of battle and revenge for an ambushed detachment or a martyred priest. For this was the very fringe of the New Mexican frontier, far from Santa Fe. The western Pueblo Indians used this distance to buffer Spain's religious and secular controls.
Over the years, resentment of these controls forged Pueblo Indian unity. They revolted in 1680 and killed or drove the Spaniards from New Mexico. After the Reconquest by Don Diego de Vargas (recorded by the general on El Morro in autumn 1692), peace and war alternated on the western marches, according to the character of the missionaries and governors. By 1750 the energies of both Church and State had declined in the poor and isolated province of New Mexico. This was caused partly by increased warfare with encircling Navajo, Apache, Ute, and Comanche Indians. Few Spanish travelers passed by El Morro during this period.
A final surge of Navajo campaigns, trail blazing, and visits to the Zuni and Hopi pueblos occurred as the 1700s shaded into the 1800s. But in fact the western pueblos and El Morro stood beyond the effective dominion of Spain. During the years under Mexico, 1821-46, the New Mexicans devoted their western frontier energies to war with the Navajo Indians north of the Zuni-EI Morro area. Indian travelers had the rock and its pool mainly to themselves.
||The Mexican-American War (1846-48) made New Mexico part of the United States. Army expeditions to the Zuni country and into troubled Navajo land began immediately. Lt. James H. Simpson of the Army's Topographical Engineers accompanied one of these and, with artist Richard Kern, took a side trip to El Morro in September 1849. The beautiful inscriptions
( b/w drawing8 )inspired the men to two days of labor copying them. Midway through their task, the men paused before the "exquisite picture" of the shaded pool, then climbed to El Morro's crest. From the aerie of the abandoned ruins, they took in the "extensive and pleasing prospect" below. Simpson's was the first written description of what he named Inscription Rock, and Kern's drawings the first recording of the inscriptions.
Emigrants to California used the El Morro route. One group, escorted by a company of dragoons, passed through in 1849. Another party that same year robbed the hospitable people of Zuni, who traditionally welcomed and fed all travelers. A later party left 26 names on the rock.
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Army exploration and railroad survey expeditions stopped at El Morro in 1851 and 1853. A few years later (1857) the Army experimented with camels for desert trans-portation. Thus did a caravan more Arabic than American pass by El Morro.
An 1868 Union Pacific survey party looked for a rail route past El Morro. But the 35th parallel route, earlier recommended by the Topographical Engineers, took the trains through Campbell's Pass some 25 miles north of El Morro.
When the first train steamed over the Continental Divide in 1881, the old trace past El Morro was obsolete as a long-distance thoroughfare. Traditional traffic between Acoma and Zuni persisted. The Navajo Indians and Mormon settlers of the nearby Ramah district continued to pass by as trade, herding, and ranching demanded. But the shift of mainline transportation north of the Zuni Mountains ended the historic function of El Morro as a watering place and camp on the long trail between the Rio Grande and western deserts.
|Site Gallery 1 - The Sandstone Formation
|Site Gallery 2 - A'ts'ina Ruin