Prehistoric Times (10,000 BP through AD 1300)
The region in which the Hawkins Preserve is located has been used by humans for thousands of years. The earliest inhabitants of the Montezuma Valley were hunters and gatherers who probably arrived about 10,000 years ago during what archaeologists have designated as the Paleoindian Period. Remains from this time period are all surface finds of diagnostic spear points, suggesting that big game hunting was a major focus.
Archaic Period hunters and gatherers, probably descendants of the big game hunters, occupied the region for the next 8,000 years hunting big and small game and foraging for wild plants such as berries, pine nuts, seeds, and roots. Their principal hunting weapon was the atlatl and dart, and grinding implements (manos and metates) were important plant processing tools. Archaic artifacts have been identified on two sites within the Hawkins Preserve.
About 3,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Basketmaker Period, the first farmers appeared in the region growing corn, beans, and squash they had acquired from neighbors to the south. Evidence of corn in this region has been dated to about 3,000 years ago in sites in southeastern Utah and near Durango, Colorado. Basketmaker peoples lived in small groups initially and constructed small shallow pithouses as dwellings. Hunting and gathering was still an important aspect of their life during much of the year, and the bow and arrow makes its first appearance in the area. Later, the Basketmakers lived in larger communities and constructed more elaborate pithouses; they also began making pottery. Basketmaker occupations have been documented in the vicinity of the Hawkins Preserve, and one scatter of surface artifacts on the property has been identified as dating to Basketmaker times.
About AD 700, the farmers began to construct their dwellings and storage rooms with stone and mortar, ushering in the Pueblo Period. At first, the buildings were arcs of masonry rooms with large upright sandstone slabs making up the first course of the walls. In front of the masonry rooms were jacal structures that served as living space. The pithouse had been transformed into a kiva that served as a ceremonial as well as a habitation structure. Pottery manufacture had become a major industry with various kinds of painted jars and bowls being produced for cooking and storage.
Two hundred years later, Pueblo peoples began constructing larger villages containing complex multi-story houses with numerous incorporated kivas, towers, great kivas, and water containment structures. Around the countryside were numerous farmsteads and small buildings for storing corn and other crops. Pottery manufacture had become an art with elaborately painted jars, bowls, pitchers, ladles, and effigy figures being traded over a large area. The largest sites on the Hawkins Preserve may have been constructed at this time.
About AD 1150, Pueblo peoples began to build many of their villages at the heads of canyons and in the cliff walls below them. The villages were compact structures with multi-story rooms, towers, and kivas, all conforming to the dimensions and shapes of the cliff overhangs in which they were built. Areas farmed were on top of the mesas above the cliffs; sometimes stairs were constructed between the villages and the fields. The most spectacular examples of these cliff dwellings occur in Mesa Verde National Park about five miles southeast (and upslope) of Hawkins Preserve. Pottery manufacture continued and became even more artistic with delicately painted mugs, pitchers, and bowls predominating.
By AD 1300, the peoples who had created the villages and farmed the land where they had lived for over a thousand years abandoned the Four Corners area. Archaeologists believe they left for a combination of reasons: prolonged droughts, resource depletion and competition, increased social tension between groups, and possibly invaders. The descendants of these people are believed to live along the Rio Grande River in northern New Mexico and in eastern Arizona.
Historic Times (AD 1800 through 1950s)
Historical activities within and adjacent to the Hawkins Preserve have had a major impact on what we see there today. Livestock grazing, coal mining, urban sprawl, and vandalism have altered plant and animal communities and traces of the prehistoric past. Slightly east of the Preserve, Henry L. Mitchell and his family were first historic residents of the area; they settled sometime in the 1870s across the creek from the springs that bear their name. Mitchell’s little settlement grew to include a saloon and a store supplied with goods freighted from Mancos, and for a time, there was also a post office that went by the name of Toltec. According to Lewis Henry Morgan (1965), who visited the place in 1878, “a Mr. Mitchell was successfully cultivating, at the time of our visit, wheat, oats, maize, and the garden vegetables.”
Mitchell Springs was the first water source for the settlement of Cortez located about a mile to the north. When the town was founded in 1886, water was collected from the springs and hauled into town. This continued until 1893 when water from the newly developed Montezuma Valley Irrigation Canal reached Cortez.
Coal mining below the rim of McElmo Canyon and adjacent to the Hawkins Preserve began with the settlement of Cortez and continued into the 1930s. Early on, coal was mined from small shafts dug into the cliffs and was used for home heating and cooking purposes. Later, coal from the same deposits was used to power the first electrical generation station in Cortez.