This presentation is part of the online document Acknowledging Landscapes: Presentations from the National Register Landscape Initiative.
Abigail Christman: I’m going to be talking about Colorado Preservations project to survey and designate rural historic landscapes and the Purgatoire River region of Southeast Colorado.
I was the survey director and architectural historian, but I’m very familiar with the project archeology, since all of the survey and evaluation were both conducted as a team with the archeologists and architectural historians working together.
In my experience, this is really unusual. Certainly, background, prior to working with nonprofits and the university, I was working as a consultant in section 106, and certainly in that realm architectural history and archeology tended to be looked at as two completely separate things. Either, you know, a site was either surveyed for one or the other discipline or else archeologists and an architectural historian would both be assigned to the same project but work in parallel rather than working as a team. I think that the success of this project has been completely dependent on the fact that we really worked and did the archeology and architectural history together.
Let me give an overview of the project, what we’ve been documenting, and then talk about some of the challenges we’ve faced.
The Purgatoire River Region Survey, the project was initiated because of the proposed expansion of the Army’s Pinon Canon Maneuver Sites. Colorado Preservation was approached by a local grassroots organization that was opposed to the expansion. The group was made up largely of the local ranching community, and it created this interest in kind of trying to make people aware of this really little known landscape, since it’s all private land, very limited access, no real survey work had been done there, so this threat kind of then opened up a unique opportunity to be able to survey these private lands, and so the goal of the project was to record previously undocumented resources, and to raise public awareness of the region.
This is our Project Area. The area in white is the area that we included in our survey. We did not survey all of that land, but that was the general boundary, so any land owner within that white area could decide that they were going to participate in the project. To give you some reference points, along the west side, the red line there, that’s I-25. The dotted line along the bottom, that’s the New Mexico state line. The grey area in the center is the maneuver site that was proposed for expansion. The kind of diagonal line is Highway 350 which is the historic route of the Santa Fe Trail. Then the Purgatoire River, which we named the project after, runs along the east side diagonally of the grey Pinon Canyon maneuver site.
The first part of the project was survey. We documented more than 450 prehistoric and historic sites at the reconnaissance level at this point. We were open to surveying anything, so it was a broad project, just looking at any resources in the area, prehistoric or historic. We recorded 58 sites at the intensive level and 56 of those were determined eligible for listing on the National Register. We produced a historic context study and a survey report and these are available for download on the California Preservation Inc. (CPI) website if anyone is interested in more project information.
Then, as part of that, we did more than 200 homesteads and they became really the key resource that we found.
If you’re interested in resource totals, here’s kind of the overview, the types that we found. The initial reconnaissance survey included both, the private lands, working with ranchers, and then we did also include some of the small rural communities that were in the area, too, and that’s where we get some of the things like the schools and some commercial buildings and churches and resources like that.
Then Phase 2, basically we were still wowed by the region, and especially by the number of intact homesteads that we found. We applied for funding to go after the second phase of the project. Then second phase was focused on documentation, getting National Register nominations done, and then also on public awareness and interpretation.
Phase 2 would narrow the focus on the homesteading and ranching history of the region, working on producing an MPDF, that’s in draft form right now, five National Register nominations for a Rural Historic Landscape Districts. We’re also collecting oral histories with ranchers that are going to be distributed via podcast. We’re working on our driving tour of the region, working with CDOT to have some interpretative signage in the region, and also working on a homesteading publication.
The rural historic landscape, what are we looking at here? When we started the project, we were really focused on the individual resources, documenting the individual sites, but really within a couple weeks of getting into the project it was quickly clear that we had to look at the larger landscape and how they all fit together, that we really needed to start looking at potential landscape designations, not just individual site listings. It just became so clear that the landscape there is a harsh [inaudible] landscape and that it really has shaped everything. It shaped the way that things were built, how agriculture has been practiced, who settled there, and that we were just really missing a key piece if we weren’t looking at the broader landscape.
We continued our homestead research. We kind of shaped some homestead questions around the landscape. Asking how did homesteaders and ranchers shape their landscape? How did they adapt their buildings and agricultural practice to accommodate the landscape? What can the landscape tell us about their agricultural practices, way of life, and cultural heritage?
Survey methodology. Our survey methodology on the project was unlike any I had done before, largely driven by the fact that we were mainly working on private lands on very large ranches, and really reliant on the property owners, the ranchers, to take us to site. We were covering such a huge area, that it would have been impossible to locate sites on our own, so we really had this team approach that both included the architectural historian and the historical archeologist, as well as including the rancher. The exchange of information here really became key, but the exchange between architectural historian and archeologist and exchange of the ranchers, the ranchers sharing information about their livestock operations, their family histories, anything they knew, stories they’d heard about these sites, and then with the survey team sharing information on what artifacts they were locating, the homesteading history on historic preservation.
Each site we walked through with the group. Architectural historian, archeologist, they had various other coming along interns and stuff, and then the rancher. We’d walk through the site together and this really provided an amazing opportunity for collaboration and debating. What was I seeing from my perspective as an architectural historian and what was Richard Carrillo seeing from his perspective as an archeologist? We’d kind of debate what was the significance of this and what was that? I learned an incredible amount about archeology as Richard kind of trained me to be an extra set of eyes and how I can locate artifacts on site.
For each site we look at, we completed reconnaissance-level survey forms that included location, photos, brief site descriptions and that included standing architecture, architectural ruin, foundation, related associated features, and artifacts.
In combining archeology and architectural history, I think of in the collaboration was really incredible because I think we both came at things with our own perspective, and then we were able to really able to combine those to get a much broader, fuller picture of the site. Expertise of the archeology that really focus on material culture and artifacts, on foundations, depressions, other evidence of previous buildings, locations and land uses, and was really focused on identifying what the fight told us about level of investment in facilities; about subsistence homestead; how are they tied into larger economic systems; what items can tell us that; what site could tell us about settlement patterns and about cultural affiliations. [inaudible] archeology also really experienced the documenting ruins, and that’s what most of the sites we were looking at were, so certainly in that way I think more typically associated with archeology than architectural history.
For architectural history, we really have a focus on identifying building type, identifying construction methods, very focused on identifying building trends, unique for vernacular adaptations, cultural influences on building technique, definitely more often dealing with intact buildings rather than ruins, but I found it incredibly useful in that we did have a lot to offer being able to look at still construction methods and building techniques, even if the buildings weren’t completely intact. Then also I think we had expertise when we got into some of the later ranch complexes, because certainly I think we have architectural historians a little more used to dealing with some of the later mid-20th century and later resources, such as the newer ranch complexes.
I think when you combine these separate areas of expertise and we’re really able to debate ideas and talk ideas back and forth on what do you think this is, how does your theory compare to my theory, I think we got a much broader picture and understanding of the homesteading in the region.
Going to talk something about kind of what we found in the region.
The landscape, as I mentioned, is really key here. A wide range of factors have influenced the region’s land uses. With the landscape, the fact that you’re dealing with a semi-arid climate, native short-grass prairie that’s very good for grazing, mainly [inaudible] grass, availability of water, not a lot in the region, there are rivers and waterways going through them, mainly in the canyon, but a lot of them don’t have water year round, they’re somewhat intermittent. The topography, the mix of open plains and canyons and arroyos and rock outcropping. Definitely cycles of drought have been very key in boom and bust in the region. Access to shipping has also been key. When railroad was built, it was key to developing agriculture in the region.
Federal land policy has had a huge impact on this region. You have a real push to get this all taken and homesteaded, government through the 1920 s expanding the homesteading acts, trying to get the land all taken, expanding the act to enlarging the homestead to 320 acres in 1909 then further expanding the 640 in 1916, so really trying to get the land taken, then dramatically reversing that in the 1930s with this is one of the areas that the resettlement administration was involved in and bought back land from the homesteaders, deciding that really maybe we should have never tried farming here and we know that was a bad idea and reverse our land management ideas. A lot has been going here that’s really affected the land.
One of the really unique things here is that it was mainly a landscape of twentieth century homesteading. The settlement in the region began in the mid-nineteenth century. It was very scattered and there are not a lot of traces of that. Mainly what we’ve seen today is this huge twentieth century homesteading boom. It seems really unique, certainly in Colorado where most areas were homesteaded earlier than that and so to really get this area that was not the typical homesteaders coming out in wagons to settle, homesteaders coming out in their model Ts.
We find automobile parts are more common than wagon parts on the homestead site, something which is very different, at least for me was a different conception of what I traditionally thought of as homesteading, and the idea that these are homesteaders, too, still homesteading in the 1920s, and really a last chance for a lot of these people. All the other kind of ideal preferred land areas had been taken and so this was the last area for homesteading. Many tried dry land farming but the region was best suited to grazing and the dry land farming efforts were not successful, and then a lot of the homesteaders left during the 1930s when it was really hard hit by drought and dust storms.
Then you have a huge number of abandoned homesteads that are incorporated into modern ranches. A lot of the homesteaders when they left sold out to local ranchers, who enlarged their ranching operations. This left this really unique landscape of homesteads that are basically just amongst the elements, unlike farming areas when smaller farms accumulated to the larger farms, the farmers demolish the farm complexes and return that land to agricultural production. They need to move the buildings so they can plow.
Well, with grazing operations on large cattle ranches, well, the buildings really aren’t in the way, so pretty much it’s just been left, and left to the effects of weathering and the occasional cow that wanders through the site.
It means that there’s really minimal disturbance on the site, so a large amount of just surface artifacts, so this is just some of the things we’d find on the site. It was amazing how much some of the sites just look like somebody just decided one day they had enough and that was it – they were leaving. We found Model Ts, we found intact bed sets, we found complete stove. They just decided that was it one day and they were just packing their suitcase and leaving the homestead.
We found a very distinctive regional architecture that was adapted to the climate and to the landscape. So there are a lot of buildings that were built into natural rock outcroppings that utilized the natural sandstone, utilized adobe, which is a form of mortar as well as building construction. A lot of dugouts were common and a lot of just situating buildings like the one in the center there, built within a boxed canyon, so very sensitive to the placing of homesteads in sheltered locations.
We also found strong, New Mexican heritage that was evident in the built environment. A large number of the settlers and homesteaders in this region were from New Mexico, and so we find the traditional features like adobe construction, [inaudible] construction, [inaudible], corner fireplaces and community buildings such as the one there is [inaudible].
It’s very much a stock raising landscape. We see both [inaudible] for sheep and cattle. You get a lot of traces, you get large stone sheep pens, [looping] sheds, and various type of fencing are found throughout the region.
It’s a region with a rich ranching heritage and a massive ranching community. For the area was used for open range ranching before the homesteading boom, so then you kind of have the homesteaders come in and then you have a period of home ranchers and homesteaders coexisting, homesteaders failing and the ranchers kind of taking back over.
Its former homesteads have been combined and large ranchers ranging kind of anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 acres. Mostly these are multi-generation ranches. La Junta remains second largest cattle market in the US. Cattle livestock sales are a huge part of the Otero and Las Animas economies, so we’ve really trying to look at how to acknowledge that whole kind of ranching history since homesteading entered the project as well.
Now, I’m just going to conclude with the session of what we saw, some of the challenges of the project. One was site access. These properties we were doing were in very remote areas, private property, a lot of them you could only get to on rough two-track roads or off road driving, so we were really very dependent on the ranchers. Later in the project we had time where we tried to find some of the sites again on our own, the GPS, and even with the GPS location it can be really challenging with the topography to find these sites. Because of the access questions, the owner involvement then was really essential. We needed the owners to find the place and then we also…We’ve learned so much from the owners participating, and I think through participating that made the owners that much more comfortable with the project as well because they knew exactly what they were doing. They were involved with the survey, they saw us out on the sites and then they kind of knew exactly what was involved in the project.
Limited historical records were another key project issue. For most of these sites, really the only historical records we had were the General Land Office records, because this area was so rural with few towns within the region. We didn’t have any historical newspaper records or local archives or historic photographs and most of the things as an architectural historian I am used to relying on. Certainly with the architecture, I’m used to dating sites based on the architecture, but with the traditional and frontier architecture, it really didn’t change. Construction methods and techniques in this region changed little from 1860s to the 1920s. In 1920s they’re still building with stone and adobe, so there’s not a lot there that you could date.
The material culture and kind of artifact record, it became key in this project and really…we really integrated it into our architectural evaluation. Artifacts are essential to determining the period of occupation of the site, the cultural affiliations and the agricultural practices. They were also very helpful in indicating the function of the buildings and the buildings were really in a deteriorated state of ruin. Sometimes the only way we can tell this is a barn versus that was a house was by looking at what type of artifacts were associated with those buildings.
Often the material culture also indicated site uses that were not in the official record such as this one, Allen Mayes Homestead site was patented in 1920s but the site includes artifacts in the late 19th century, so indicating that there were earlier squatters, maybe an unsuccessful homesteader. They never patented the land. It may have been used at a sheep camp. We really relied on that archeology to be able to fill out the picture of what was happening at these sites because the historical records were so spotty.
While I’m mentioning challenges, I think actually the most challenging part of combining the archeology and architecture was in the final product. We found it really easy to work together and survey together and collaborate in the field. I think the most difficult part for us was integrating in our written document, the disciplines both have their distinctive terminology and writing styles, so really being able to combine our reports and each one had its own survey forms that they’re used to using and so that I think was the most challenging part was to take this wonderful collaboration in the field and try to convey it in our written products.
Then another challenge was determining the nomination boundaries. We have several questions as we actually started getting to the point of working on our individual nominations and determining what exactly the boundaries would be. One of our early questions was, well, do we have to survey all the land within the boundaries because a lot of it is canyons that are very steep and covered with cactus and it’s the summer and it’s really hot and we really don’t quite have the time or energy to walk all 150 acres of some of these potential nomination boundaries, particularly most of them only accessible on foot, not ones that you can drive through. That was an early consideration, also a lot of debate about exactly how many acres do you need for a site to be a rural historic landscape? What exactly is ideal scale for a landscape?
Then, where to draw the boundaries? We were looking at what were the natural boundaries, what were the historic property lines? So in a lot of cases we chose boundaries that reflected the initial homestead patents. What are the current property lines and how does that affect us with the owner permission, and what are the visibility limits?
To show you an example, this is largest site or district that we’re nominating the Clark Canyon Rural Historic Landscape District, and it actually involved multiple homestead properties, so the image on the right in purple, that shows our proposed district boundaries. We ended up deciding to follow the canyon. The dots that are red, those are individual homestead sites. The map on the left shows all the various patents that happened in this area, so you see here that we decided to not kind of go with these patents but instead to go with the landscape and the fact that all these homesteads were choosing to locate their homesteads within the sheltered location of the canyon and so we decided to choose the natural boundaries of the canyon as the boundaries for our landscape.
Finally, there’s been also the challenge of really equally looking at the layers of history. Initially we were very focused on the homesteading history planned a new MPDF for homesteading resources, but then we realized that that really wasn’t addressing the broad ranching heritage and how it intersected with homesteading and that it wasn’t adequately including the ranching families that are there today and their heritage and history and their culture, so we expanded the MPDF to include the evolution to modern ranching and extended our period of significance for the MPDF up to 1964. Really looking more how that land usage continued to evolve and looked at how then adaptation of the landscape and homesteads becomes part of their significance, so now you could have a homestead and a later water tank and other ranching resources that all then each have their own significance in the site and are each contributing.
Damita Engel: I think everybody else is on mute, but I have a question. This is Damita. What is the significance of 1964, out of curiosity?
Abigail: We’re just picking that because of the 50 year cut off. So it’s totally arbitrary. We’re just picking it as fifty years.
Damita: I thought something maybe majorly happened in 1964 that changed ranching.
Abigail: No. There wasn’t any other clear cut-off date, so we are just going with that arbitrary cut-off date.
Barbara Wyatt: Astrid, I wonder, if you are still there, do you have any comments from the SHPO perspective about how this collaboration and this model for collaboration may work throughout the state or elsewhere in the state, at least. I also wondered how involved the SHPO office was in the design of this project.
Astrid Liverman: Sure. The sister agency of the SHPO office, the State Historical Fund, is a funder of this project. It was certainly a methodology that Abby and Richard and company put together and submitted as their grant applications, but we have been supporting them every step of the way. We’re certainly well aware of the challenges and methodologies as they evolved. I just reviewed the draft of the MPDF recently.
Barbara: Did the Army pay for this, April wants to know.
Abigail: The funding for the first phase was from the State Historical Fund from a Preserve America Grant and from a state grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, as well as also some contributions from the local ranching community. The second phase of the project, then, was funded by the Historical Fund grant as well as a grant from CDOT for some of the interpretive materials as well as some other local funders as well.
April Franz: Following up to that, the Army involvement at the beginning of your presentation, this was not mitigation related to any of their efforts?
Abigail: They were proposing to expand their maneuvers site, but that had not yet occurred, so they were not yet to the point of doing Section 106 or anything. This was kind of more of an effort in the local community to show what resources were there and why that expansion shouldn’t happen.
April: It was more of a proactive at first to get ahead of this project. Was there one leader who brought this all together and spearheaded the effort or was it just an alignment of forces at that particular time?
Abigail: Well, one of the leaders was Rebecca Goodwin, who was involved with the local coalition that was opposed to expansion. Rebecca Goodwin was on their board and she was one of ones really involved in getting Colorado Preservation involved and spearheading the survey effort.
Speaker 7: Was there very much opposition to the survey?
Abigail: No, we really didn’t face much, but that was really because it was just a voluntary. We really only dealt with the ranchers who were interested in the survey. We had enough ranchers who were interested in participating through collaboration with the local coalition that we never really had to go after additional landowners, because we had overextended budget. We had more participation than we were expecting. We were extending ourselves to try to get all the ranchers who wanted to participate to get them included. There were certainly landowners who did not want to participate, but we didn’t really have any interaction with them.
Astrid: I think Rebecca Goodwin was really fundamental in that.
She has a lot of personal and local contacts with those folks, and she went and sat with them and explained to them the process and that really facilitated the enthusiasm for participation on the part of the ranchers.
Abigail: We also had a couple really key local ranchers who we worked with early in the project and who were very supportive, and they vouched for us to their follow ranchers like, “Okay, we’ve worked with these people. They’re okay.” They really helped provide an entrance into the larger ranching community for us.
Barbara: So the ranchers were very cooperative when you were at the survey stage. When it came to the nomination preparation, were they as enthusiastic about having their properties included in the nomination?
Abigail: Definitely all of the ranchers would not necessarily been open to that, but the ones that we approached and asked, “Would you be interested in a nomination?” They were all open to it, and have been enthusiastic about talking to us again and working with us to allow additional site visits and everything and have been very engaged in the process. I think they’re really excited to get recognition for what they thought is their unique heritage but which they’re really hasn’t been much larger statewide attention to. I think they’re excited about getting some attention to their region and their ranching heritage.
Speaker 1: That’s really great. I’m sure key was the groundwork that you laid, including Rebecca, to get that level of acceptance. Any other questions?
Rick McClure: The first questions is, given that lack of historical documentation you had on the individual homesteads, can you talk a little bit about how you incorporated oral history and what role that played and what you’ve done to preserve oral history, your techniques that is?
April ?: We left out some sites. The ranchers knew more about the sites than others. We found it was very interesting, often we would find that the ranchers would name the pastures after the homesteaders. We would be out and the rancher would tell us, “Oh, this is the Martinez pasture,” and then we would go back and we’d look in the land records and find out yes, it was the Martinez homestead. Some of those names survived in the landscape. Pastures named after who had lived there previously, so some of them certainly had stories to tell, but even much more on a broader level, they could help us understand, even if they didn’t have stories of the specific homesteaders, they really understood the landscape, and how ranching had changed through the years and how cattle practices had changed and how the land had been used. They could help us identify things like, “You see that patch there, that’s clearly where somebody tried to farm and you can still tell where the land is scarred.” They were certainly very helpful in helping us understand that larger landscape evolution.
Rick: Were those interviews recorded and transcribed or preserved somewhere in the local community?
April: Some of them. We weren’t thinking so much about formal oral histories when we were doing the initial surveys, so the interviews we did off hand during the survey process weren’t preserved, but most of the ones that we had really great conversations with we’d gone back and had done more formal interviews, so those are still in the process of getting transcribed and then there is going to be a series of edited podcasts as well that Colorado Preservation is going to be producing to share the podcasts to make the interviews publicly accessible via podcast.
Rick: Great. Then my second question relates more to the boundary determination for your property and land use. We see in a lot of cases here in the West, areas where a ranch will be adjacent to federal lands and the federal lands will be used as summer range for the rancher, and so I can almost see where you could connect the two. The cattle are being driven from one piece of property onto the federal land and you have summer camps that are used by wranglers and riders and stuff on the federal land. Did you have a situation like that there?
April: That definitely happens within our larger area. The Comanche National Grasslands are within our area so we certainly have ranchers who are grazing both on their own land and then on the grasslands. It just happens that the sites we’re actually currently working on nominations for aren’t ones that the ranchers utilize the grasslands, but that certainly does happen within the region.
Speaker 2: One other question. Did you find a lot of reuse with the material culture … from the previous
April: It’s still a little spotty, but I think you are asking about reuse by the current ranchers of the material culture on site. We definitely found some where some of the stone and stuff from the historic homestead complexes had been reused to build features of their ranch headquarters. To build stone walls or barns or other aspects. We certainly found a lot of ranchers with collections of bottles and other things they had acquired from the site. Some of them had restored bed frames and stuff that they had found on homesteading sites. Certainly some of them are reusing aspects of homesteads that had had corrals associated with them. Some of them had been maintained and extended by ranchers who are continuing to use those homestead resources, and use the homesteads as cattle camps within their larger ranch.
Barbara: With the involvement of the archaeologists, are these mostly being under A and D?
April: They’re being nominated under A, C and D.
Because we feel that there is enough, although partial ruins, that there’s enough architecture to really make a case study as being significant of a type and construction materials. Because it is very unique with some of the stone construction and adobe that we feel, we’re at least making an argument, under significance for architectural type, construction methods and workmanship.
Brad Barr: I was really fascinated to hear about the interdisciplinary walk-throughs of these sites, and the notion of having a different set of eyes to see the sites in a different kind of way, and I’m curious about whether you’ve thought about or whether it might not be such a bad idea to incorporate somebody like a landscape ecologist?
April: Yeah. I think that would have been tremendously useful. We were working on a tight budget, and we only had so much public funding, but I think if we could have had a landscape historian or an agricultural historian with us as well that would have been very useful.