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Native American Beginnings

Learn of the long history of indigenous people in the Sandia mountains.

Native American BeginningsNative building site at Mud Spring

The oldest archeological evidence, at Sandia Cave, is located approximately nine miles north of the Center land in Los Huertas Canyon. Folsom points found there indicate that prehistoric man hunted in the east mountains between 8700 and 8500 BC.  Based on the archeological evidence, thousands of years passed before the first permanent communities, the pueblos, were established early in the 13th century. Indications are however, that nomadic Native Americans, probably Apaches, hunted and occasionally grew crops on a limited basis in the area surrounding the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in the centuries just before the Puebloans arrived. 

 The first year-round residents were the Pueblo Indians who established a large network of pueblos along the eastern slopes of the Sandia and Manzano mountains, stretching from Paako in the north to Gran Quivera in the south. The San Antonio Pueblo, only 1.5 miles south of the center, was probably first built around the same time as the nearby Tijeras Pueblo; building materials there were carbon dated to 1313 A.D.  The pueblos flourished and grew in population through about 1360, when the populations began to decline, most likely as a result of Apache raids; in any event, the pueblos were eventually abandoned in 1415.  During the prosperous years, scattered small settlements like the ones on and near the center were established near the large pueblos. The “Indian Ruins” noted on old maps near the stock pond are typical of such small settlements: located in a transitional vegetation zone, near a water source, and between 6200 and 6800 feet in elevation.   

The Mud Spring ruin, found just over the Center’s Boundary on Forest Service land at 7205 feet elevation, may be from a slightly later period. Based on pottery shards found there, archeologists believe the site was occupied between 1475 and 1525, some years after the larger pueblos in the area were abandoned.  The two room (and possibly two story) structure was constructed of local sandstone and limestone and was most likely used as a permanent, possibly seasonal home and base for raising crops nearby; a broken matate (or mealing stone) indicates that corn was cultivated.   

The large pueblos, including San Antonio, lay abandoned by 1415, but Apache, Comanche and Ute continued to hunt in the area around the center.   Even before the village of Albuquerque was founded in 1706, the Apaches were mounting raids on the Spanish settlers from Tijeras Canyon, then known as Cañon de Carnue.  In 1704, General Diego de Vargas led a campaign against the raiders camped in the canyon, but they simply faded away into the surrounding hills.