Resistance on the Turquoise Trail: Los Cerrillos

From Pecos Ruins we drove back towards Santa Fe and then down Highway 14 — tourism demands everything have a branded identity and the Turquoise Trail is no different. But it was awesome.

First stop, Los Cerrillos. I’ve always used cerrillos to mean matches, but it also means little hills (ooooh, cerros, cerrillos, I get it), which is where the name comes from.

There is a small, quite amazing mining museum there.

Los Cerrillos

Here we discovered that…

Indian Turquoise Takers are not a myth.

Los Cerrillos

I’ve transcribed some of the text, the column on the right is from the New Mexican (the orthographic curiosities are from the original, I kind of made up paragraphs). The Tiffany mine is called so because it was owned by the American Turquoise Company, who sold almost all of their turquoise directly to that Tiffany, the great jewelers empire:

After years of Effort J.P. McNulty Manager for Tiffany, Succeeds in Getting Four nabbed. The story of the removal of turquoise from the Tiffany mines by Indians who still feel that they have a right to the semi-precious stones used in the ceremonies appears to be anything but a myth. For years J.P. McNulty, in charge of the mines has been complaining that Indians stole the turquoise by night, especially on moonlight nights. but ti was an extremely difficult task to get proofs. There are now four Indians in the local jail, brought hither yesterday morning by Deputy Sheriff Montoya of Cerrillos. they will probably be given a hearing today or tomorrow. U.S. Attorney Francis C. Wilson will represent them.

A representative of the New Mexican Interviews one of the Indians this afternoon in jail. Ne, like his three companions of turquoise taking propensities, wore a red scarf around his black locks and held a lighted cigarette in his mouth. The red man punctuated his sentences with puffs from this cigarette, “My name it is Marcial Quintana” said the Indian, “I live at Cochiti. I go to Turquoise mine to get turquoise, that is true enough, we want turquoise. Indians from Santo Domingo bring us turquoise to Cochiti, that is true enough, but they ask big prices for it. We hear this mine was open, and nobody watched it or care about it. We see sheriffs coming but not try to escape. We think we can get turquoise from mine which nobody watched.”

Column to the right: Letter written by McNulty to R.A. Parker, President of the American Turquoise Company

Cerrillos
New Mexico
Dec 21st 1910

R.A. Fulton Esq
81 Fulton Street
New York City
Dear Sir:–
As I have written you many times that I could get no assistance from the Authorities in Santa Fe to capture the Indians I offered a reward of $25.00 two week ago to Apolonia Mariz + for him to get some one to assist him to capture the Indians, so he got another Deputy Sheriff to come with him. I was in Cerrillos on Saturday + paid for a telephone message to Sheriff Closson to meet the two Deputies at Bonanza (two miles from the mines) + he promised to meet them @ 11-pm, but failed to come; but through my instructions the two Deputies caught four of the Cochiti Indians in the Castillian mine about 2-30 Saturday night (on Sunday morning) + there were six Santo Domingo Indians in the mine with the Cochiti Indians up to ten o’clock but the six left the Castillian mine + came to the Muniz mine.

There’s no real way to know for sure, but I might have been a little pissed at the Santo Domingo Indians had I been one of the four arrested. But it turns out that the mine owners weren’t actually working the mines anyway. From the friends of the Cerillos State Park site:

The price of turquoise declined in the late 1890s and collapsed between 1909 and 1912. The American Turquoise Company developed another turquoise mine near Hatchita in southwest New Mexico but it was closed prior to 1909. By 1912 an oversupply caused a crash in turquoise mining …. After about 1909 McNulty was only doing assessment work at the Tiffany Mine (MRUS, 1911, p. 1070). Even the annual assessment work stopped with the  patenting of the claims, and thus a reasonable ending date for turquoise mining on the hills is 1912.

What they don’t mention is that the mine was also subject of a court case disputing the American Turquoise Comapny’s ownership. this is from The Sandoval Signpost:

In 1896, McNulty encountered a group of four men on the mine’s grounds, claiming to be picnicking. He accosted them, and escorted them from the property. One of these men, Mariano F. Sena, soon filed a claim in the local courts, saying the mine was part of an old Spanish land grant, and that the ATC had to vacate and pay him $50,000. The lawsuit dragged on until 1911, when it was finally resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. By then, the ATC had spent so much of its profits on legal fees that debt began a slow suffocation, finishing the company off in 1917.

Of course, in terms of ownership and rights, we all know who was there first and who had been mining there for centuries. The same site notes that:

The Spanish word for turquoise, turquesa, has the same origin as the English word, “turkish stone”, but the word turquesa was generally not used in New Mexico. The word Chalchihuite or Chalchihuitl, from the Nahuatl Indian language of Central Mexico was used in New Mexico by the Navajos and other groups for turquoise into the late 1800s.

Which is rather fascinating.

I found some amazing old photos of the mine itself:

Herculano Montoya at the Tiffany mine (1937). Palace of the Governors Photo Archives
Herculano Montoya at the Tiffany mine (1937). Palace of the Governors Photo Archives
Herculano Montoya of Cienega at the Tiffany Turquoise Mine near Turquoise Post in Cerrillos, New Mexico
Herculano Montoya of Cienega at the Tiffany Turquoise Mine near Turquoise Post in Cerrillos, New Mexico

More views of the museum, which is an immense collection of all kinds of things collected from the surrounding area:

Los Cerrillos

Los Cerrillos

And this wonderful old town of old adobes and frame houses and even an old opera house:

Los Cerrillos

Los Cerrillos

Los Cerrillos

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