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This mural by artist George Nelson depicts daily life at Firecracker Pueblo. The details are based on archeological evidence. Courtesy of the artist and the Institute of Texan Cultures.
This mural by artist George Nelson depicts daily life at Firecracker Pueblo. The details are based on archeological evidence. Courtesy of the artist and the Institute of Texan Cultures.
Major geographical features in the area. The red X marks the location of Firecracker Pueblo.
Major geographical features in the area. The red X marks the location of Firecracker Pueblo.

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Aerial view of Firecracker Pueblo taken in 1980 after the first rooms of the pueblo were exposed. Across Highway 54 is an abandoned fireworks stand that gave the site its name.
Aerial view of Firecracker Pueblo taken in 1980 after the first rooms were exposed. Across Highway 54 is an abandoned fireworks stand that gave the site its name.

Firecracker pueblo was abandoned in the late fifteenth century and is, in fact, one of the latest examples of a Jornada Mogollon pueblo known.

The projectile points found at Firecracker represent raw materials from local sources. The small triangular arrow points were made and used by the pueblo occupants, but several of the larger, side-notched points are dart points from earlier cultures perhaps picked up as curiosity items.
The projectile points found at Firecracker represent raw materials from local sources. The small triangular arrow points were made and used by the pueblo occupants, but several of the larger, side-notched points are dart points from earlier cultures perhaps picked up as curiosity items.

In the early fifteenth century, farmers in the Hueco Bolson near modern day El Paso, Texas, established a small village or hamlet probably near their corn and bean fields. They were part of the Jornada Mogollon culture and lived during the latter part of what is called the El Paso phase or Pueblo period. But instead of building a pueblo, they first constructed the type of house used by their ancestors: pithouses. The small pithouse village was probably lived in only during certain seasons of the year when the farmers needed to tend nearby crops.

The investigations at Firecracker Pueblo produced the first definitive evidence that pithouse structures resulted from short-term or seasonal occupation by puebloan peoples. Earlier researchers thought that all pithouses dated to earlier periods. Pithouse rooms, such as the one from Firecracker that is shown on the right, have now been found at other sites in the region. Although smaller than most pueblo habitation rooms, Room 13 has many of the same characteristics: a plastered hearth, caliche-plastered floor, and post holes. After it was used for habitation, it was apparently turned into a storage room. It was then that the perishable roof and upper walls caught fire and the contents of the room burned. A layer of burned materials including charred shelled and cob corn, beans, and gourds was found directly on the floor.

Soon the pithouses were replaced by a more substantial adobe pueblo that grew to 16 rooms or so, some of them habitation rooms and others used for storage. The rooms in the pueblo were larger than the pithouse rooms, but had many of the same features including a small plastered hearth near each doorway. Outside the pueblo archeologists found many pits and activity areas such as small cooking hearths, trash dumps, large roasting pits, and borrow pits dug to obtain adobe and caliche building materials.

But the most enigmatic finds were dozens of cylindrical pits, some small and some large. These are now believed to be storage pits where surplus food—probably corn and beans—was stored during periods when people were not living at Firecracker. If this interpretation is correct, fifteenth century farmers were much more mobile than was previously thought. Perhaps this reflects the difficulty that farmers had during this period.

Firecracker pueblo was abandoned in the second half of the fifteenth century and is, in fact, one of the latest Jornada Mogollon pueblos known. All across the Southwest and northern Mexico, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were times of great change. Centuries-old traditions apparently came to a fairly rapid end within a few generations as large and small pueblos were abandoned. These changes were probably caused by a variety of factors including overpopulation, overspecialization in agriculture, and climatic shifts to drier and less predictable conditions.

In this exhibit you can learn more about the Jornada Mogollon and Firecracker Pueblo. The site was excavated over a 10-year period by numerous volunteers including members of the El Paso Archeological Society and the Texas Archeological Society, as well as students at UT El Paso. Many people who noticed the excavations as they drove by Highway 54 north out of El Paso joined the effort as well. The many years of hard work at Firecracker Pueblo produced long lessons and big surprises.

You might want to start by reading about the Jornada Mogollon and then the Introduction to Firecracker Pueblo.

Cattails growing in marshy area below Los Tules, New Mexico. Prior to modern agriculture and reservoir construction, marshes were formerly present along much of the Rio Grande Valley. Many of the largest and most intensively occupied Jornada Mogollon pueblos are located along the river.
Cattails growing in marshy area below Los Tules, New Mexico. Prior to modern agriculture and reservoir construction, marshes were formerly present along much of the Rio Grande Valley. Many of the largest and most intensively occupied Jornada Mogollon pueblos are located along the river.

View across Rio Grande Valley from a pithouse village located on an alluvial fan near Los Tules, New Mexico. Organ Mountains in background.
View across Rio Grande Valley from a pithouse village located on an alluvial fan near Los Tules, New Mexico. Organ Mountains in background.
Archeological crew mapping surface artifacts as part of a highway project in the interior of the Hueco Bolson.
Archeological crew mapping surface artifacts as part of a highway project in the interior of the Hueco Bolson.
Room 13, a shallow pithouse, was part of a small pithouse village that immediately preceded the construction of the pueblo.
Room 13, a shallow pithouse, was part of a small pithouse village that immediately preceded the pueblo.
Looking west across the first four rooms of pueblo to be excavated.
Looking west across the first four rooms of pueblo to be excavated.
Feature 1, a good example of a common outside feature, cylindrical in shape with a flat bottom. These were frequently trash-filled, and sometimes contained cached grinding stones. These pits were likely used for concealed storage during periods of short-term or seasonal abandonment of the site. By matching broken artifacts, it was determined that most of these features probably used during the occupation of the pueblo and not that of the pithouses.
Feature 1, a good example of one of the most common and enigmatic outside features is a cylindrical pit with a flat bottom. These were frequently trash-filled, and sometimes contained cached grinding stones. These pits were likely used for concealed storage during periods of short-term or seasonal abandonment of the site. By matching broken artifacts, it was learned that most of these features were used during the occupation of the pueblo and not that of the pithouses.