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Unexpected discovery unveils history.

In the wide open spaces of southeastern Arizona you can see for miles under endless blue skies, but a team of archeology students from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, is looking for the story beneath their feet at the Chiricahua and Ft. Bowie National Monuments and the Coronado National Memorial. All three are owned and managed by the National Park Service.

"Last November, when we set out to do a mapping project on one of these sites in Chiricahua National Monument, we found several pieces of an 18th-century Spanish flintlock," says Bruce Huckell, associate professor of anthropology. "The rest of the site looked like it probably dated to the 1870s Chiricahua Apache reservation period, so whafs this 18th-century flintlock doing in a site like that? That was long outmoded technology.

"We went back to look at one site that had been recorded as a prehistoric lithic scatter and we happened to have with us the park archeologist/historian from Ft. Bowie. As we were examining the surface, he said, 'Hey, look at this," and he picked up half of a blue glass bead. Then he said, 'Hey look at this,' and he picked up a nearly complete butcher knife with the tip broken off. We kept finding stuff, a lead ball, a cartridge casing ..." Ultimately, the site yielded more than 100 metal artifacts dating to the late 19th century. Since the discovery, another dozen Apache sites have been found and documented in Chiricahua National Monument.

This may be a rare chance to document how the Chiricahua Apaches lived. The research team found rings of rocks that anchored the brush shelters called wikiups that the Native Americans used in inclement weather. According to Huckell, there were three or four bands of Chiricahua Apaches, but the central band moved throughout the Chiricahua Mountains and was led by Cochise until his death in 1874.

The Chiricahua Apaches were very mobile and it is rare to find any evidence of their temporary camps. Artifacts found at the sites, such as pieces of a Mexican style horse bit popular in the state of Chiricahua, hinted this group may have raided or traded with ranches in Mexico.

The peaceful time for the tribe was short. In the early 1870s, this area was set aside as a reservation for the Chiricahua Apaches. From 1872-76, members of the tribe lived here without fear of being hunted by the U.S. military. Then the reservation was dissolved by the U.S. government and the land opened up to ranchers for settlement. The Chiricahuas were sent to San Carlos, a reservation along the Gila River in central Arizona.--a place they detested.

The loss of the reservation created ongoing conflict between the Chiricahua Apaches and the Army until 1886, when the Apaches surrendered and were deported to Florida. They then were moved to Alabama and ultimately to Ft. Sill, Okla. Huckell relates that, in 1913, they were released from prisoner of war status and about two-thirds of the group moved to the Mescalero Apache reservation in southern New Mexico. The remaining members stayed in Oklahoma.

The artifacts Huckell and his students are finding date to the reservation period. Huckell reports they see glimpses of the people in the artifacts: a ring so small it probably belonged to a child; bent wire bracelets worn by men or women; a needle used in sewing garments; a part of a necklace. Bits and pieces of tin cans were cut up and fashioned into small funnel-shaped ornaments called tinklers. They were sewn onto garments or tied to objects and valued as decorations or for the sounds they made.

"It's a great puzzle. We have essentially a handful of pieces. We don't really have the picture on the box top to tell us what it should look like. We don't know if we have the corner pieces to start with. We just have stuff," explains graduate student Chris Merriman.

"Trying to figure it out is a fantastic challenge. It's something that never really gets boring."
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Title Annotation:Apache Nation
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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