New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies

Cookes Peak

Project name: Cookes Peak
Type of sites: Prehistoric residential, historic industrial, and historic ranching/agricultural
Periods of use: Archaic, Formative, Protohistoric, Spanish Colonial, American Territorial, and New Mexico Statehood
Dates: ca. 6,000 BC–AD 1945
Project director: Matthew J. Barbour

The Cookes Peak Abandoned Mine Survey 

Between May and October 2011, OAS conducted archaeological survey in the Cookes Range, north of Deming, New Mexico. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department and their Abandoned Mine Lands Program. This program prepares old and physically dangerous New Mexico mines for closure as part of a federally funded environmental health and safety program. OAS archaeologists have been documenting prehistoric and historic sites and mining features that may be impacted by these closure activities.Cookes Peak survey crew

We surveyed over 3,000 acres and documented about 2,300 archaeological features, many of them associated with mining activities in the Cookes Peak area between the 1870s and 1940s. The mining features included typical hard-rock mining remnants such as adits, shafts, open cuts, prospect pits, trenches, and waste rock piles. Habitation areas such as dugouts, tent pads, and trash scatters were also encountered.

Documenting these types of features does more than the very important task of providing the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department with the location and documentation of dangerous mines; it contributes to our understanding of the past use of New Mexico’s natural resources. For example, examining the type of hardware used in a mine shaft entrance can help determine when the shaft was dug, and documenting the stone the shaft was dug in can help identify the type of mineral targeted for extraction. When viewed collectively with other features in the area, this data can begin to provide a behavioral and chronological narrative of mineral extraction in the Cookes Range.

Nearby refuse can also help date features. Function-based analysis of diagnostic artifacts such as glass bottles and tin cans can often provide clues to how an area was used. For instance, the role of a specific structure is sometimes unclear. However, a nearby trash scatter with large quantities of kitchen items and children’s toys can indicate the structure served as a residence. If a large number of machine parts or scrap-metal fragments are found nearby, the building may have been a garage or a blacksmith or machinist shop. These findings can provide an account of how space was organized through time. When supplemented with the limited archival information available on Cookes Peak, this temporal and functional analysis can produce valuable results.Clark Draw hunting blind

In addition to mining features, Native American sites and ranching activities are represented in the project area. Many of the Native American sites are thought to be associated with mobile hunter and gatherer groups dating to the Archaic period (ca. 6000 BC–AD 600); late preagricultural and early agricultural groups, including the Mogollon Culture, dating to the Formative period (ca. AD 600–1450); and a possible Apache presence dating to the protohistoric (ca. AD 1450–1600) and historic (AD 1600+) periods. By examining the characteristics of artifacts and features, archaeologists can determine the type of site (e.g., base camp, logistical camp, resource-procurement site, etc.) and the types of resources exploited, ultimately helping us to arrive at a better understanding of environmental adaptations in the highlands of the northern Chihuahuan Desert.

In one instance, we encountered a large high-elevation camp on a remote ridgeline. Based on its location and in-field artifact analysis, we think that this area may have been a ranchería occupied by the Warm Spring Apache band in the early nineteenth century. The ridgeline affords sweeping, expansive views to the west, north, east, and southeast, and the sites of five named springs are visible from the ridge. Artifacts at this site included slab mutates, roughly fashioned chopping tools, and a diagnostic arrow point. Features including a large compound ring midden, a large burned rock midden, and stone alignments may have been the sites of Apache wickiups.

Ranching in the area dates to the around the beginning of the twentieth century. Two large ranching families, the Hyatts and the Woods, own land in the project area. The Hyatt family settled the Cookes area in 1889. Their ranching activities predate most of the mining in the region, and their old ranches (White House, Rock House, and the U-Ranch), corrals, stock tanks, and wells dot the desert landscape. Unlike the miners, these steadfast ranchers never left the Cookes Range and continue to serve as its guardians.

OAS is excited to be involved in this challenging project, which is documenting a significant part of the New Mexico’s past and helping to make the landscape a safer place for hikers, hunters, and rockhounds.