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Historically Speaking: Geological and historic secrets of the region

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico The caption reads, "Settlement of Casaus as it appeared in 1934. Built 1891 by Casaus family, employers of Eugenio Aragon and Antonio Gonzales. Pictured is a building completed by Perfecto Casaus, April 15, 1894. Also pictured is the church where Perfecto Casaus is buried. 'The Spring,' with Perfecto's grandson, Catarino Casaus, standing in front."

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

We have so many treasures in our archives, things like old letters and correspondences, pictures, diaries, manuscripts, notes, newspapers and magazines — the list is endless.

To that end, today, I would like to share with you some old notations that were written in the 1930s by Jim Cooley. These documents give information about some amazing historical and geographical places that he explored and documented. I am unsure of where many of these places are located, outside of the description he gives. The descriptions are word for word, verbatim, of how they are written. One or two of these places are known, but it brings to question why some of these places are not more well-known. Have they been further studied, and where are they? It also brings to light why New Mexico is truly the Land of Enchantment, and this part of the state has every bit as much interesting sites as the northern part — though perhaps not as well-known. I hope you are as intrigued by these descriptions as I am.

“Billy the Kid Spring

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“Billy the Kid Spring is a small spring in a hole under an overhang in a cliff. It is said the sun never shines into the spring. The water is cool and good, a little gyp.

“The ruins have a dugout, about a hundred yards southwest of the spring is supposed to be one of Billy the Kid’s hideouts.

“The country is rough and broken. It is a very interesting place to see.”

“Eagle Nest Rock, 7-14-35

“A very prominent rock on one of the points of the lower level of San Juan Mesa is the place an eagle built a nest.

“It is about one-half mile south of Billy the Kid Spring.

“A wonderful view of the country can be had from this rock.”

“Hoot Owl Draw, 7-14-35

“A man asked Jeff White where he lived.

“‘On Hoot Owl Draw. The people living up on Hoot Owl Draw are sure mean, the farther up the draw you get, the tougher they are, and I live on the head.’”

“The Devil’s Well (Not The Devil’s Inkwell) Visited 8-20-33

“This ‘well’ is in the southwest corner of Sec.12, T3S, R 21 E. It is in a comparatively flat country, and you do not see it until you are almost on it. At the widest place it is more than 200 yards across. It is roughly circular tapering down in red soil to about 60 feet at approximately 150 feet, then a sheer of about 50 feet in gypsum (red, white and some tinted green.) I have been told by those who have been in the well, that from here it goes west a ways, then down again. In all it is about 250 feet deep.

“The easiest approach to the first drop is down a canyon from the north. This canyon has small cedar trees growing near the head. Anchored to two old axle shafts, a rusty wire ladder goes down into the hole — it does not look safe.

“The Devil’s Well is an awe-inspiring sight and the name fits the place exactly.”

“Diamond Cave, visited 11-29-36 — Maj. M.G. Fulton

“This cave is the subject of various stories of treasure and romance.

“One such story has it that in the early days, some real diamonds were found in the mouth of the cave.

“Still another story is that a Mexican was murdered for wages which had been paid to him and the money was hidden in the cave.

“Still another says (American) Indians hid valuables and other things in this cave. And some say there are finds of red (blood) handprints on some of the rocks in the cave.

“After all this storytelling, I have heard of several people going into the cave, but have not been able to find them, to talk to them.

“Without the stories and legends, it is an interesting place. It is a gypsum sink which abounds in this country around for a long ways. It is roughly circular about 200 yards across and about 150 feet deep, tapering toward the bottom to a hole just large enough to crawl into.”

“Gato Metate, visited 8-16-36

“So called because of the large number of grinding holes in the rocks in the presence of a number of wildcats in the vicinity, not so recent.

“Benju Rock is the name I have given the rock because it has intrigued the imagination, as well it might, of Ben Hall Jr., Benju is his pet name.

“Some of the metate holes are as large as 5 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep. They range in size from the usual size of metate holes, about 6 feet by 8 feet and 8 or 9 inches in depth, being oval.

“In contemplating the stupendous amount of labor involved in making the large metate holes, one stands in wonder and awe looking down into the holes. The only solution the imagination presents is the secret reservoir of water. They are all situated on top of large boulders where their presence would not be thought of unless one had knowledge of them. The outline is regularly oval, the bottom is well rounded. They all are symmetrical differing from one another only in size. The proportions are approximately the same.

“Yes, one finds pottery shards and artifacts in abundance. In studying the larger holes, one would not want to attempt to make one of them, even if one had more modern implements than the ones available to the aborigines. (In this instance, aborigine meaning a person that has been in a country or region from the earliest times.)

“Is it for the storage of water? The drainage into them is practically none. Sufficient rainfall to put water into them would make water plentiful everywhere. Would the secret knowledge of them containing water be of enough value to make the enormous labor involved be sufficient to justify them? How would they be filled? And from what source? “Can we give the elements, wind, water and frost as the cause? Not more than the (American) Indians! The presence of the common-sized metate holes in proximity pulls the imagination toward the (American) Indians. What price water?

“Gato Metate is an outcrop of Triassic sandstone, more or less massive, which has held up an escarpment of 150 to 200 feet. The escarpment faces south. The sandstone is underlaid by red clay and sandy shale. Benju Rock is one of a remnant of the sandstone left to the south of the escarpment about a quarter of a mile.

“Benju Rock on the top has one of the larger holes. It is about 6 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 or 5 feet deep. Another is almost circular, about 2 feet in diameter and 18 inches deep. Still another is about 10 inches in diameter and 16 inches deep. Beside these you will find some of the more common-sized metate holes. The largest hole has a drain which has evidently been caused by the breaking down of a seam between the layers of sediment on that far off Triassic time.

“This is not a conclusion nor is it a definite statement of cause and effect. This is a dissertation of facts and things as I saw them.”

“Pueblo Ruins and Cistern of Armstrong Ranch

“Courtesy of F.H. Armstrong, Corona, New Mexico. Visited 8-2-36

“The cistern Mr. Armstrong is standing in is 6 feet in diameter and must have been 6 or 8 feet deep while being used. It had been plastered with dark red clay, 3/4 to 1 inch thick. The soil is light red sandy loam.

“Six of these cisterns have recently been washed out by an arroyo. This cistern is the only one left to show what it had been. Until this time there had been no knowledge of them nor were their presence even suspected.

“The usual absence of well ordered thought of catching and storing water by (American) Indians in most places make the cisterns all the more interesting.

“The cisterns are about 200 yards east, of south of the ruins of the pueblo.

“Judging from the appearance of the ruins of the Pueblo it was about 100 by 200 feet with well-defined corners. The long way was nearly north and south. A wing extends toward the east from the rectangle. The pueblo must have had a court inside as a depression of 6 or 8 feet below the ruins of the wall is plain. From the outside, the walls appear to be 8 or 10 feet high. The rocks in the walls are well laid. It is said that one time, 84 rooms could be counted.

“A small house, a medium-sized house, and a long barn have been constructed from the rocks taken from the pueblo, and still the walls are 8 to 10 feet high.

“About 200 yards east of the Pueblo is found a pottery burning mound. Large lumps of burnt clay have been turned up. It was found when the field was plowed.

“A number of skeletons have been unearthed in and around the pueblo. Several in the yard of the house. As is usually the case, implements and vessels were found with the skeletons.

“A small stone hammer was found. For want of a better name, it was dubbed the ‘tack hammer.’ What could it have been used for?

“There were some clay pipes without stems, but a mouthpiece of clay.

“Railroad Mountain, (no date of visit)

“The most beautiful lesson in geology which it has been my pleasure to see.

“Railroad Mountain is an ingenious dike which has been thrust up through the earth’s crust.

“The place where it shows best is about 1 mile north of High Lonesome filling station where a draw has cut through the dike to give an almost vertical cross-section of a common geological occurrence. The stratified beds are slightly uplifted next to the dike showing that considerable pressure was exerted at the time of the intrusion.

“To the south of the dike for almost a quarter of a mile, fragments of the igneous material are found imbedded in the caliche. This tells us that at the time the caliche was being formed, the dike was higher than it is at the present time. Caliche as you know has no geological age nor has it been identified as such in a fossilized state, but is of recent origin and always near the surface. I have not found any of the dike material toward the north, having spent lots of time to determine if the fragments had traveled both ways instead of only south. This leads me to believe that to the north of the dike was higher than the dike and the south side of the dike was lower. At the present time, the country on both sides are higher than the dike.

“Where the cut shows us such a nice lesson is in the sandstone and shale member of the Dockum group, in the lower part of the Triassic. The discoloration of the shale proves that the intrusion occurred after the Triassic had already been deposited.

“On the surface where the igneous material has been exposed for a time, it has turned black because the oxide of iron has changed to another oxide of iron to change the color. The material is of a greenish color where it has not been exposed so long, and is soft. The material is very hard before it has been weathered but is still a greenish color.

“The greater part of the dike is porphyry. There is enough iron to give it its color.

“I have visited this place a great number of times. I never tire of looking at it, but always learn something new.”

“Talked with Jack McWhorter, 4-18-34

“I was up to Casaus on Sunday. It was completed in 1891. I saw the grandson of Perfecto, Catarino who did most of the talking. The son of Perfecto, and the father of Aradio were there, too. Caterino’s wife was a school teacher; they are fine people.

“We saw a marker on top of the hill northwest of the house. It was in the form of a cross and dated 1917. We asked if it was a corner of their property and they said ‘no.’ Do you know what it is there for? Yes, they told me that.

“It was an old custom that when one of the family died, the body was just put in a wagon to leave the house. The direction they traveled did not make any difference. They traveled until a stop was necessary. The reason for the stop was not the important thing. Where this stop was made, that’s the place where the spirit left the body. That is why the marker is there.”

“Feather Cave, date of visit, 4-16-39

“Mag. M.G. Fulton, Capt. G.M. Sayre and son, Mr. Sayre,

“Mr. and Mrs. Fred Miles, Jim Cooley and son.

“We inspected El Torreón on the way up.

“I have given it this name because of the feathers found in this cave.

“Sixty-two and seven-tenths miles from Roswell, or five and seven-tenths from the old Lincoln County Courthouse, on the Carrizozo Road is where you have to stop your car to get to Feather Cave. After you have gathered together all of the things you want to take, managed to get through two fences, and waited the Bonito, you are ready to commence the climb to the entrance of the cave.

“The entrance is some distance up the hill but not very near the top. As first seen, the opening does not look like much. You have to stoop to get into the cave and for about 75 feet, then it begins to get larger and you can stand erect. This far, it leads down at about a 30° angle.

“The floor is covered with litter and fine dust. The floor is not level but has holes, some 10 feet deep, and piles of dirt 6 or 8 feet high, to make you watch your step. Some paintings of hands and circles, some red, some black, some white are to be found along the walls.

“The ceiling in the lower places can almost be reached. The entire ceiling is covered with a black glossy substance which reminds one of tar. The first thought is that it was caused by smoke from fires. But soot does not reflect light.

“After careful search, some feathers attached to the roof with clay, and one string were found, a little too far to reach. The turkey may have furnished the feathers – no attempt was made to remove the feathers.

“The room is about 40 feet wide and about 200 feet long. The ceiling is not very high. In this room has been found some bones and artifacts. There is another room beyond, similar to this one. A thorough exploration of this place would be very interesting and should be done.

“In the same hill is a sheltered recess containing some circles and hands painted on the back wall.

“There is also a cave, or rather a tunnel, winding down and under the Bonito, which we did not investigate very far.”

“7-25-43 with E.A. Wahline and Marshall Connors

“Again visited feather cave. Only a string remains, not a feather. The flashlight bulbs used before are still there. The floor of the cave has been dug considerably, I suppose by Croft. Some of the pictographs have been destroyed.”

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.