CERRILLOS DISTRICT TURQUOISE MINING HISTORY
Turquoise Hill is separated by over two miles [3.2 km] from the nearest other reported turquoise mining site (Warren and Mathien, 1985). Turquoise Hill was not included in the original 1879 Cerrillos Mining District boundaries, and had a separate place name, Turquesa, during the U.S. Period mining boom. Thus, it could be considered a sub-district of the Cerrillos District. However, it is more illuminating to consider it together with the rest of the Cerrillos District for a general understanding of its and the area's turquoise mining history, especially considering the relative lack of past documentation of prehistoric mining on Turquoise Hill.
Cerrillos Mining District
The two major prehistoric turquoise pits or mining sites in the Cerrillos Mining District based on the volume of rock moved prior to U.S. Period mining are the Castillian and Mount Chalchihuitl. Two smaller but still major prehistoric mine areas, based on early comments about size, number of pits or artifacts, and territorial success and development, are the Tiffany Mine (Muniz Claim) and O'Neil's Blue Bell. According to Warren, the O'Neil Turquoise Mine site, due to the number of features and amount of prehistoric ceramics, is a fifth major prehistoric turquoise mine area. Other than these five major sites, only seven other much smaller sites have been documented. Three of the five major prehistoric sites became the major turquoise producers of the U.S. Period: the Castillian, the Tiffany, and the Blue Bell. These three sites, or mines within 100 feet [30.5 m] of them, were the only major U.S. Period turquoise mines in the district. U.S. Period activity occurred at some of the other prehistoric sites but was short-lived and consisted of prospecting more than mining. The 1880-1881 mining at Mount Chalchihuitl, the most famous prehistoric site, was a scam that did not produce significant turquoise. No record of the territorial activity in Warren's O'Neil Mine area was located.
The only study of prehistoric turquoise mining in the Cerrillos District which provides coverage of all mines and their period of use is that of Warren and Mathien (1985). A. Helene Warren's survey of the southeastern part of the Cerrillos Mining District for Occidental Minerals (Warren, 1974) was oriented toward the eastern part of the Cerrillos District, and thus she probably did not survey the western portion of the district for prehistoric turquoise mining. Warren's report (1974), and Warren and Mathien (1985) do not mention if the western area was evaluated. All the sites described by Warren and Mathien (1985) are in a north-south belt along the eastern side of the district. They cover only turquoise mines east of a north-south line bounded on the west by Grand Central Mountain. Copper mineralization of the turquoise type is present at some locations west of this line but that area has probably not been checked for evidence of prehistoric turquoise mining. Gregory Fitch (1995) reported that the side arroyos draining into San Marcos Arroyo reveal small outcrops of turquoise bearing rock about three to four miles east of San Marcos Pueblo, which is another area deserving investigation.
"Warren and Mathien"
Warren and Mathien (1985) described ten prehistoric turquoise mining sites or areas in the Cerrillos District. Because they were denied access to Turquoise Hill by someone they thought was the owner at that time (1974-1985), they combined all of the Turquoise Hill sites under one entry. Turquoise Hill contains two separate sites. Thus there are a total of eleven known prehistoric mining sites in the Cerrillos District. Since they were not allowed on Turquoise Hill, they did not examine or map it, and obtained only four sherds from that area.
Turquoise Hill is actually a small group of interconnected hills. The two areas of known prehistoric turquoise mining are on the extreme southwestern hill (the Castillian Mine area) and extreme southeastern edge of the southeastern hill (the Tiffany Mine, the unofficial name for the Muniz Lode). The only other area of prominent turquoise mineralization is on the extreme north edge of the largest hill on the Blue Gem Lode. The pit of the "Old Castillian" is on the top of the lower western hill and is the largest of the known prehistoric workings. This pit was reported as being about one-third the size of the pit at Mount Chalchihuitl prior to extensive U.S. mining in 1880 (Lakes, 1901). The pit was deepened by U.S. mining, but probably not extended laterally as its lateral dimensions are less than reported by Lakes. Its remaining waste mounds are the most likely source of ceramic documentation of the prehistory of mining on Turquoise Hill. A large amount of waste rock piles on Turquoise Hill, including all of those below the Tiffany Mine, were hauled off by highway employees in 1983, and later returned to different locations. The dumps on the lower eastern slope of the Castillian hill are believed to be of this returned material. The returned materials would have lost their historical stratigraphy but would still contain ceramic information. A recent trench in that area, dug by an employee of the current owners, between the Council shafts and Elisa shafts, had four axe heads laying along it, indicating considerable artifact content in the waste material.
The 1879 "Old Castillian" Claim ran northeast by southwest, according to Hayward's map (1880), and was probably centered on the Castillian pit. Between 1880 and the mineral survey (MS) for the patent of the Castillian Claim in 1900, three shafts and a large open stope were developed south of the pit by Territorial Period miners. The MS done in 1900 does not mention the pit. The reason it was not mentioned was undoubtedly because it was not considered part of the work done by U.S. miners on the property. Therefore, it was not eligible for inclusion in the improvements on the claim to meet the minimum expenditure of funds needed for a patent. This indicates that the American Turquoise Company did not claim that the pit was dug by Territorial Period miners (in other words, it was present before U.S. mining and had not been enlarged). This interpretation is confirmed by Lakes' (1901) article which describes the pit as 75 by 30 feet and 16 feet deep in 1880. Lakes probably obtained that information during his field work in 1900 at essentially the same time that the MS was being performed; we therefore can be certain the pit was there in 1900.
Old Indian Prospect
The other area of known prehistoric mining on Turquoise Hill is the extreme southeastern edge of the hills. The best documentary evidence of prehistoric mining in that area is the 1879 name given to the mining claim "Old Indian Prospect". The smooth walls, with a differing patina in the two largest open pits (stopes) of the Tiffany Mine are strong indications of prehistoric turquoise mining pits. Mathien reported in 1987 that an effort to date the patina was in progress, but she later reported that it was not successful (Mathien, 1994). The other mine features on that southeast hill appear to be from the Territorial Period and show few if any signs of turquoise mineralization. Most of these other features were probably dug by Territorial Period miners in their search for gold and silver deposits (Hayward, 1880), which explains the lack of turquoise mineralization at these locations. There may be some prehistoric workings under the waste piles around the western Tiffany open stope, but no surface signs of such workings are visible.
Marshal Bonanza Hill
The closest large late Prehistoric and Historic period pueblos to Turquoise Hills were San Marcos, about three miles [4.8 km] southeast, and La Cienega, about three miles [4.8 km] west of Turquoise Hill. Five small 11th and 12th century Puebloan room blocks whose residents apparently devoted full time to turquoise mining and refining were described by Wisemann and Darling (1986). Pottery from these turquoise mining camps located between San Marcos and the Cerrillos Hills indicate that perhaps Mount Taylor Puebloans set up residence in the area to mine turquoise during the Chaco Phenomena Period.
La Cienega Pueblo
The Cerrillos turquoise mines may have been open to all Pueblos, but if any individual pueblo dominated turquoise mining it seems reasonable to assume that La Cienega or San Marcos, due to their proximity, would have been predominant. Both of these pueblos were probably mainly Tano and both were abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680-1693. After the revolt the closest pueblos were Santo Domingo and Cochiti. Nineteenth Century writers discussing the identity of Pueblos collecting turquoise in the Cerrillos Hills generally reported they were Santo Domingo or Cochiti puebloans.
"Evidence of Prehistoric and Colonial Period Turquoise Mining"
Ten turquoise mine sites were described by Warren and Mathien (1985) in the Cerrillos District. Their Figure 1 (p. 95) shows the approximate locations of these sites with the exception of Fire Fly. The locations of these sites were redrawn using Warren (1974, p. 15) and Warren and Mathien's map (1985, p. 95). The map, Locations of Cerrillos District Turquoise Mines, Figure 8 in this report, shows the location of known turquoise mines of the district by the numbers used in this report. Warren and Mathien (1985) discuss numerous dating questions of the pottery types collected at the mines. The following summary of probable mining dates compiled from their data is subject to question. Warren and Mathien's Table 10 (1985, p. 119) summarizes the ceramics from the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining District by mine feature. The totals for the district were: pre-Pueblo III 1.4 percent, Pueblo III (1100 to 1300 A.D.) 20.9 percent, Glazewares [Pueblo IV (1300-1600), and (1600-1700 period of Pueblo V)] 71.2 percent, and unknown and Historic Period 6.5 percent. "Based on the identifications of ceramic types and percentages assigned (Table 10), the greatest use of the Cerrillos District occurred during Pueblo IV" (Warren & Mathien, 1985, p. 124). Different turquoise sites had different ceramic assemblages and the following is an approximate dating of each site's turquoise mining activity. The name of the mine or site used by Warren and Mathien (1985) is followed by the probable periods of Prehistoric and Spanish Historic mining based on pottery types identified by Warren and Mathien (1985). Warren (deceased) and Mathien might not agree with this simplification of the results of their study.
Mount Chalchihuitl, from 1000-1150 to 1700.
Mina del Tiro Group, from 1050 to 1500, no historic mining.
Warren's O'Neil, from 1050 to 1500-1550, and historic mining 1650-1680.
Franklin Pits, from 1000 to 1150 and 1350 to 1450, historic mining unknown.
Bonito Mines, from 1350 to 1700s.
Blue Jay Mines, 1200?-1700?, and two post-1700 sherds.
Firefly Mine, 1000 to 1450?, no historic mining.
Grand Central Mines, 1350-1500?, and historic mining 1650-1700?.
Mount McKenzie, 1325?-1400, and 1650-1700-or-later Spanish ceramics.
Turquoise Hill, 1350? to 1600?, and the only turquoise mine site with a Spanish documentary record (1763-64) of metallic mining claims.
Turquoise jewelry was manufactured in New Mexico as early as 800 A.D., but the earliest ceramic evidence at the Cerrillos turquoise mines dates to around 1000 A.D. There were apparently two periods of major prehistoric turquoise mining activity separated by one-and-a-half to two centuries of reduced activity. The first major phase was from the early 1000s to about 1200, and the second from the late 1300s to European colonization in 1598. About 20 percent of the first period sherds (circa 1025 to 1150-1200) indicate outside commercial relations mainly to pueblos of the Mount Taylor area. There was a decline in turquoise mining from about 1200 to around 1350. In the second major mining phase from the late 1300s to 1600, ceramic types are almost exclusively of Rio Grande Pueblo types, indicating little commercial contact by the miners outside of the Rio Grande drainage of North Central New Mexico.
Asharp decrease in post-1600 sherd types indicates a decline in mining following European colonization. However, the ceramic record shows that turquoise mining did not stop. There are a small number of Historic Period ceramic types of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries which show that turquoise mining continued during all of the Spanish Colonial Period into the 1800s on a reduced scale. Written records from the U.S. Period show that Pueblo Indians continued to work the deposits on a sporadic basis throughout the 1800s, and may have continued to do so into the first two decades of the 1900s. By the end of the 19th Century, it was more economical to purchase turquoise from traders than to mine it at Los Cerrillos.