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The Jornada Mogollon

This map shows the core area of the Jornada Mogollon as defined by archeologist Donald J. Lehmer in 1948. The dashed line shows the area sometimes known as the "Eastern Jornada" where other Mogollon-related pithouse villages and small pueblos are found that share many similarities. Courtesy of Pat Beckett.
This map shows the core area of the Jornada Mogollon as defined by archeologist Donald J. Lehmer in 1948. The dashed line shows the area sometimes known as the "Eastern Jornada" where other Mogollon-related pithouse villages and small pueblos are found that share many similarities. Courtesy of Pat Beckett.
Rounded sherd used as a pottery smoothing tool at Firecracker Pueblo. This sherd is from a polychrome (multi-colored) vessel from the Casas Grandes area in northern Chihuahua, Mexico. By studying the distribution of such distinctive pottery types, archeologists are able to trace the extensive trade networks connecting the Jornada Mogollon with neighboring peoples.
Rounded sherd used as a pottery smoothing tool at Firecracker Pueblo. This sherd is from a polychrome (multi-colored) vessel from the Casas Grandes area in northern Chihuahua, Mexico. By studying the distribution of such distinctive pottery types, archeologists are able to trace the extensive trade networks connecting the Jornada Mogollon with neighboring peoples.
Turquoise pendants, marine shell beads, pottery, and many other items were traded widely among the Jornada Mogollon and groups in distant regions. These items are from Firecracker pueblo.
Turquoise pendants, marine shell beads, pottery, and many other items were traded widely among the Jornada Mogollon and groups in distant regions. These items are from Firecracker pueblo.
Chupadero Black-on-white jar, a popular trade item from the Gran Quivera area in central New Mexico. From Embree Pueblo on Rio Grande north of Las Cruces.
Chupadero Black-on-white jar, a popular trade item from the Gran Quivera area in central New Mexico. From Embree Pueblo on Rio Grande north of Las Cruces.
Red ware jar from small pueblo near Firecracker Pueblo. Locally made and has four suspension holes drilled below and evenly spaced around the rim. Similar modification is seen on pottery made in the Casas Grandes area.
Red ware jar from small pueblo near Firecracker Pueblo. Locally made and has four suspension holes drilled below and evenly spaced around the rim. Similar modification is seen on pottery made in the Casas Grandes area.
Observatory room at Hot Well Pueblo at sunrise on the winter equinox.
Observatory room at Hot Well Pueblo at sunrise on the vernal equinox.

The western tip of Texas and adjacent areas of southern New Mexico and northern Mexico have a distinctive archeological tradition known as the Jornada Mogollon. The "jornada" comes from the Jornado del Muerto—journey of death—a reference to a desolate stretch of the Camino Real (King's highway) used by the Spanish on their way north from El Paso to Sante Fe. Just north of Las Cruces, the terrain forced travelers to swing far to the east of the Rio Grande through a waterless basin between mountain ranges. "Mogollon" refers to the archeological remains left by the later prehistoric peoples in much of southern New Mexico, east-central Arizona, northern Chihuahua, and far western Texas.

The Mogollon tradition is one of the "big three" cultures in the Southwest (the others are the Anasazi and Hohokam) and is the largest in geographical extent spanning some 400 miles east-west and as much as 500 miles north-south. Various Mogollon "branches" have been defined to describe the cultural variation across such an immense area including the Jornada Mogollon, the branch farthest to the east. Across the Mogollon region, many similar cultural patterns can be traced, although the timing and expression of these patterns varies from branch to branch.

Perhaps the most fundamental shared pattern—one that is paralleled in the Hohokam and Anasazi areas—is the shift through time from hunting and gathering to agriculture and from highly mobile to increasingly sedentary lifeways. Early Mogollon peoples, between roughly A.D. 400-800, lived in small pithouse villages and hamlets. After A.D. 800 or so, pithouse villages were built on an increasingly larger and more elaborate scale as agriculture became more important. By A.D. 1150, Mogollon peoples began building masonry and adobe pueblos, similar to those of the Anasazi, with increasingly concentrated populations relying heavily on agriculture. But by A.D. 1400-1500, much of the Mogollon area was depopulated and Mogollon culture ceased to exist as a distinctive archeological expression. Most archeologists now believe that the Mogollon and Anasazi cultures were both ancestral to the Pueblo peoples first seen by Coronado in 1540.

The Jornada Mogollon area saw many of the same cultural developments that were taking place elsewhere in the Mogollon area as well as the Anasazi area to the north. By about A.D. 400 (or earlier) pithouse villages were established by peoples making distinctive El Paso Brownware ceramics. They were experimenting with cultigens—corn, beans, and squash—but still lived on mainly wild plants and animals. Through time the villages became larger and more complex as reliance on agriculture increased and more permanent settlement was possible. Extensive trade networks were developed between different areas of the Southwest including the more sophisticated regional center of Paquimé (Casas Grandes) in northwestern Chihuahua.

Around A.D. 1200, the first pueblos— rectangular, multi-room living compounds made of coursed adobe brick—appear in the Jornada area. Over the next 250 years, numerous pueblos were established, some lasting for several generations, others soon abandoned. Agriculture was now the mainstay of the economy and an ingenious variety of farming techniques was employed including dry land, runoff diversion, and in some cases, irrigation. In the Hueco Bolson where Firecracker Pueblo is located, there were few opportunities for anything but runoff diversion, a method best suited for farming the alluvial fans at the base of the mountains. But, because the area was very dry and subject to drought, the small farming communities lived a precarious existence. Several bad years in a row were probably enough to force the people to move to a better location.

The Pueblo period, or El Paso phase (A.D. 1200-1450), in the Jornada Mogollon saw a great deal of interaction with other regions, especially the Casas Grandes culture to the south in Mexico, but also southwest New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, as well as the Anasazi area to the north. This is most easily seen and documented in the pottery types and shell ornaments. Trace-element studies have shown that certain types of pottery were moved long distances. Types such as Mimbres Black-on-white, Chupadero Black-on-white, Playas Red Incised, and El Paso Polychrome were all widely distributed across distances of 200 miles and more from their production centers. As the name suggests, El Paso Polychrome was produced locally in the Hueco Bolson, at Firecracker Pueblo and many other sites.

Partial El Paso Polychrome vessels from Firecracker. On the left is an olla or jar and on the right is a bowl. Courtesy Tom O'Laughlin.
Partial El Paso Polychrome vessels from Firecracker. On the left is a jar and on the right is a bowl.

By the late fifteenth century, virtually all of the Jornada Mogollon pueblos had been abandoned, including Firecracker, and the regional population dropped precipitously. Archeologists debate the reasons why, but most likely it was a combination of factors including overpopulation, an overly specialized agricultural economy, and an unfavorable climatic shift to drier conditions and less predictable rainfall. We are not entirely sure what happened to the people. Some may have stayed in the area in small bands and family groups and shifted back to hunting and gathering. The Manso and Suma peoples encountered in the El Paso vicinity by the early Spanish could be descendants of Jornada Mogollon groups, but were said to be hunters and gatherers who did not grow corn or make pottery. Other Jornada Mogollon people probably moved north into the Salinas area of central New Mexico and became part of the pueblos at Gran Quivira and other localities visited by the Spanish.

However it happened, most of the Jornada Mogollon area was abandoned before the Spanish arrived. It is not coincidence that the same thing occurred in other nearby regions such as the Casas Grandes area in northern Mexico and the Mimbres area in south-central New Mexico. This was a time of tumultuous change all across the American Southwest and Northern Mexico, one that archeologists are still trying to understand.


Across the Mogollon region, many similar cultural patterns can be traced, although the timing and expression of these patterns varies …

Pueblo period red mask pictograph at Hueco Tanks.
Pueblo period red mask pictograph at Hueco Tanks.

Click images to enlarge  

Most archeologists now believe that the Mogollon and Anasazi cultures were both ancestral to the Pueblo peoples first seen by Coronado in 1540.

Partial El Paso Polychrome jar or olla and a fragmentary ladle from Firecracker.
Partial El Paso Polychrome bowl and a fragmentary ladle from Firecracker.
Large El Paso Polychrome jar with plumed serpent design found at Paquíme (Casas Grandes). The shiny luster has been added during conservation. Photo by Vernon Brook.
Large El Paso Polychrome jar with plumed serpent design found at Paquíme (Casas Grandes). The shiny luster has been added during conservation. Photo by Vernon Brook.
Playas Red Incised jar from Robledo Mountain Pueblo near Las Cruces. Playas Red was one of the most widely traded pottery types and is found from southeastern Arizona to Trans-Pecos Texas and from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico south to the Rio Conchos in Mexico.
Playas Red Incised jar from Robledo Mountain Pueblo near Las Cruces. Playas Red was one of the most widely traded pottery types and is found from southeastern Arizona to Trans-Pecos Texas and from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico south to the Rio Conchos in Mexico.
Unusual pueblo room at Hot Well Pueblo thought to have been an observatory. Hot Well is located near Hueco Tanks and is one of the largest pueblos in the Hueco Bolson. Photo by Vernon Brook.
Unusual pueblo room at Hot Well Pueblo thought to have been an observatory. Hot Well is located near Hueco Tanks and is one of the largest pueblos in the Hueco Bolson. Photo by Vernon Brook.