View from the West

Miner’s shoes in the Bonita Peaks

It is fortuitous that the launching of our new blog coincides with Saving Places, a state-wide conference where folx from all over Colorado come to present on and discuss issues surrounding historic preservation. The conference itself is born out of partnerships- the non-profit CPI (Colorado Preservation, Inc), and the state agency History Colorado are the drivers who create the conference every year, but many, many other organizations come together to support the endeavor. Saving Places is nearly as diverse as the historic resources in Colorado itself.

For those who are unfamiliar, Colorado is vast. It takes approximately 10 hours to drive from one edge of the state to another, and along the way, east to west, you pass through beautiful plains dotted with ranches and small towns with dusty main streets, through the foothills and the front range, where the booming modernity of metro Denver reaches north and south to touch the edges of Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, through the mountains that undulate up and down and back and forth, to the western slope which will take you all the way to Utah if you are not careful. The lower left corner of the state is a hybrid of the mountains and the desert places that make up the southwest in the popular imagination.

A view of Camp Hale

The history here is deep. We have archaeological sites that date back ten or eleven thousand years, marked by long stone spears with a tell-tale flute that illustrates the longevity of humans in this state. Historically, meaning when Euro-Americans first began recording people who occupied these lands, there were at east 48 tribes who called this state, or portions of this state, home and who today still identify ancestral lands. There are probably many more tribes whose names we don’t know, but whose artifacts we find in dry soils. Today two Native American Tribes, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute, still physically live here, occupying reservations in the area of that was traditionally the home of the Pueblo, and whose ancestors built monumental architecture that has survived the ravages of occupation and attempted erasure.  Written beside these remains of a deeper past are the ranchers and miners who came to Colorado beginning in the 1860s seeking their fortunes. They were preceded by trappers and traders who take advantage of the trails that criss-crossed the continent by easterners heading to the golden lands of California, people who needed supplies and human contact.  These histories often dominate the quieter stories of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who shaped the southern portion of the state, becoming Americans as the border crossed them, with or without their permissions; the African-Americans who served as “Buffalo Soldiers” in a hostile land fighting battles in a western theater of the Civil war that is often left out of the history books; or those African-Americans who came seeking breathing room and freedoms from jim crow oppression of the post-emancipation south.  Later Chinese immigrants found their way here, following imagined routes for a railroad they were expected to build. Colorado continued to grow, the Europeans and euro-Americans continued to come, building towns and cities, extracting shiny rocks, introducing cattle and sheep and new irrigation techniques to make an arid land green. And when the country was plunged into xenophobic panic, the federal government forced Japanese-Americans out onto the plains, confining them in a prison where, despite the oppression, they built a semblance of a normal life for their small children and their grandparents and watched their fathers and sons fight for a country that tried to demonize them.

A pueblo in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

These are the places that are written on our landscape and that the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation at History Colorado is responsible for helping to preserve and steward. We do that in many different ways. We have a staff of 15 people who help federal agencies follow their responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act; we have state laws that offer *some* protection to historic sites; we offer technical assistance to communities and people trying to grapple with preserving and interpreting their sites; we administer the National and State Registers (our latest review board was two weeks ago, which is a total bummer for the life of this blog); we have training programs in archaeological skills and methods for citizen scientists; we do a lot of outreach through lectures, workshops, and public talks; we are responsible for the Unmarked Burial Program that helps to return Native American remains that do not fall under NAGPRA back to the ground; we maintain the official site files and database for the state that includes over 300K historic sites; and we engage in our own research. OAHP is embedded in the State Museum, so we also work with our colleagues on collections, curation, exhibits, grant programs through the State Historical Fund, and then all these similiar activities reimagined at our six community museums that are found around the state. This week we’ll be engaging with over 800 participants at Saving Places about all these issues, and how we are collectively responsible for preserving our diverse heritage, whether it’s an archaic open camp site, a victorian manager’s house at a mining site, or a site that was the location of important LGBTQ civil rights events. Over the next three months I look forward to sharing all this with you, and showing you what some government archaeologists do all week.

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