Archaeology in Tucson Newsletter
Vol. 12, No. 3
Lost Spanish-Colonial Artifacts: Clues to Ancient Trails
John H. Madsen, Arizona ost or discarded on overland journeys, sometimes cached in hilly nooks and crannies, late-seven- L t e e n t h , e i g h t e e n t h , a n d e a r l y - n i n e t e e n t h c e n tury Spanish-Colonial artifacts turn up today throughout southeastern Arizona and south- western New Mexico. They are plucked from the landscape by individuals who recognize them as curiosities. I have seen them mounted on stable walls, displayed in fanciful glass boxes on dining room tables, or packed away in cardboard boxes. Very few of these artifacts make their way to museum collections. -
It was my interest in the Coronado expedition (A.D. 1540-1542) that got me started on my search for isolated Spanish-Colonial artifacts. I theorized that if sixteenth century artifacts were lying around in small private collections, they could be traced back to where they had been found, which might help me locate the American Indian trail(s) followed by Coronado from the Sonora River Valley to Cibola (Zuni). Despite the fact that there are multiple first-person accounts of an expedition
State Museum, University of Arizona
that involved hundreds of persons and thousands of cattle, horses, and sheep, the exact route taken by Coronado remains a topic of ongoing debate.
Lacking the time to bang on every ranch house door in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, I decided advertising was the easiest way to acquire information about Spanish artifacts from the region. In 1992, I prepared a simple flyer which friends helped distribute far and wide.
Almost immediately I was invited by a ranching family to see their collection of Spanish horseshoes. The flyer also sparked an interest in citizens who wanted to share their discoveries of odd metal objects. Since then, reports of Spanish artifacts have trickled in on a regular basis. I have examined 53 historic artifacts thus far and 24 have been verified as authentic Spanish-Colonial objects. These artifacts can be assigned to one of three categories: 1) Horsemen's Hardware (spurs, stirrups, bits, and horse and mule shoes); 2) Armament (spontoons, swords, and knives); and 3) Miscellaneous Objects (coins dating prior to 1821, a medallion, a copper bowl, a copper spoon, lead ingots, glass and copper beads). So far, none of these artifacts appear to be from the Coronado expedition.
If Not Coronado, Then Who?
Clearly, some party or parties from Spanish-Colonial times must have had a role in dispersing these items across the landscape.
When plotted on maps, some of the artifacts cluster in close proximity to eighteenth century Spanish presidios like Terrenate and San Bernardino. A few intriguing artifacts suggest a possible tie to a 1795 journey that had its start at the Tucson Presidio.
The Expedition of Captain Jose de Zuniga of the Tucson Presidio
The Zuniga Expedition is an obscure event in Arizona history, but the expedition was of
Top: Re-creation of a portion of the original flyer distributed by the author.
Left: Distribution of Spanish and Mexican artifacts in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.