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Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

McCabe, Robert A.
The prehistoric engineer-farmers of Chihuahua,   pp. 75-90 PDF (6.1 MB)


Page 75

 75THE PREHISTORIC ENGINEER-FARMERS OF 
CHIHUAHUA 
ROBERT A. MCCABE' 
 Some time in the Sixteenth Century one of the Spanish explorers traveling
through Chihuahua in northern Mexico came upon a series of ruined buildings
and terraces of stone. Then as now they stand deserted in the eastern foothills
of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It may have been Alvar Nuflez Cabeza de Vaca,2
or Iberra, who perhaps saw the ruins in the period between 1535 and 1565
and called them Casas Grandes or "large houses" and large they
were indeed,
for one measured 800 by 250 feet3 and was six stories high. Who performed
the feats of primitive construction engineering, and why is not known. 
 To the gold-seeking Spaniard this desolation at the Casas Grandes was one
more bloodless defeat. How much too late were the conquerors and who were
the people they had hoped to subjugate? 
 The evidence, filtered through the minds of many historians and anthropologists,
seems to indicate that the builders of the Casas Grandes in Chihuahua were
of the same stock that built the Casas Grandes found in the Gila valley in
Arizona and at Zuni in New Mexico. The three groups of gigantic adobes are
similar in many respects. The one in Chihuahua appears to be the southernmost
site for this kind of structure. The "town builders", as Wallace4
calls them,
may have been the "Montezumas" who legends say emigrated southward
from the
fabled 
 ' Associate Professor of Forestry and Wildlife Management, University of
Wisconsin. 
 I wish to acknowledge help in the preparation of this manuscript from the
following: A. Starker Leopold for encouragement and advice; Marie S. McCabe,
Margaret B. Hickey, F. N. and Frances Hamerstrom for editorial criticism;
J. J. Hickey, A. W. Schorger and R. S. Ellarson for constructive comments;
and Patricia Murrish for patiently typing several drafts of the manuscript.
 2 Carl 0. Sauer states: "There is no evidence that they [Alvar Nuiiez
Cabeza
de Vaca's party] crossed the Sierra Madre of Chihuahua      p. 16. "The
Road
to Cibola." Ibero—Americana: 3, Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley,
1932.
 Bandelier's translation, however, has a frontispiece map suggesting that
such had happened. The route shown indicates that Cabeza de Vaca's group
passed through northern Chihuahua. 
 Fanny R. Bandelier. The Journey of Alvar Nude~ Cabe~a de Vaca and his cornpaivions,
from Florida to the Pacific 1528—1536. A. S. Barnes & Co.,
1905.
pp. 231. 
 3John Russell Bartlett. Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents
in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua. 1854. Vol. 2, D.
Appleton and Co., New York, p. 350. 
 4 E. Wallace. The Land of the Pueblos. John B. Alden Publisher, New York,
1888, pp. 285. 


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