Friday, November 04, 2016

Ruins in the Southwest, a Query

I am currently working on a book on legal systems very different from ours, one chapter of which deals with the Plains Indians. One of my sources is an account by someone who was captured by Comanche, spent three years as their slave, and eventually escaped. It contains a description of some elaborate ruins that he claims to have observed.
“I saw, with infinite astonishment and surprise, the dilapidated ruins of a large town. In the midst of the falling walls of a great number of buildings, which, in some remote age, beyond doubt, had lined spacious streets, was what appeared to have been a church or cathedral. Its walls of cut stone, two feet thick, and in some places fifteen feet high, included a space measuring two hundred feet in length, and, perhaps, one hundred in width. The inner surface of the walls in many places was adorned with elaborate carved work, evidently the labor of a master hand, and at the eastern end was a massive stone platform which seemed to have been used as a stage or pulpit.” (Nelson Lee, Three Years Among the Comanches, Baker Taylor Company, Albany, N.Y. 1859.)
Lee was captured at a location that he describes as about 350 miles northwest of Eagle Pass, which would put him at about the southeast corner of what is now New Mexico, but traveled a substantial distance with his captors thereafter. 

I am not aware of any ruins in the area that come close to fitting his description. It occurred to me that one of my readers might be. If, as I suspect, the description is fictional, intended to make a better story, that casts some doubts on other elements of his account more relevant to my interest in it.


At 2:06 PM, November 04, 2016, Blogger Kevin Erdmann said...

It's not an exact match, but the description reminds me of Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, which contains ancient pueblo-type ruins which are pretty impressive for their age. They include large structures with a lot of ritual spaces, buildings that are (or were) multi-stories tall in places, etc.

At 7:30 AM, November 05, 2016, Anonymous Doctor Mist said...

Chaco Canyon was what came to my mind as well, but that's a long ways from southeastern New Mexico. And what he described sounds a bit better preserved than Chaco Canyon, though it's not clear how long ago this was.

At 10:25 PM, November 05, 2016, Blogger David Friedman said...

Many thanks--I suspect that's it. He traveled quite a long distance with his captors, so from one corner of New Mexico to the opposite corner doesn't seem unbelievable.

Judging by the Wiki article, the ruins don't make a very close match to his description, but they are comparably impressive.

At 8:57 AM, November 06, 2016, Blogger Chris Hibbert said...

A tangentially related event in another supposed-to-be-taken-as-true story. Somewhere in the middle of "The Long Walk", which describes an escape from a Siberian prison camp, and subsequent walk to India, the following occurs. Our heroes are walking through the Himalaya foothills, and see a distant creature. It is larger than human, walks upright, and is quite hairy (or wearing fur head-to-toe). The group of travellers can't close enough to get a better view. The author doesn't describe the incident in great detail, nor dwell upon it at length. The reader must draw her own conclusions.

At 7:32 AM, November 10, 2016, Anonymous Bill Walker said...

There are church ruins all over NM.

Apparently at least one of them contains mixed Indian features (a kiva) and Spanish.

At 10:36 AM, November 19, 2016, Anonymous HLS2003 said...

The description sounds reminiscent of Pecos National Monument in Pecos, NM. That is in northern NM, not southern, but it would depend on how far they had traveled.

At 9:25 PM, December 29, 2016, Blogger LadyUrsula said...

Somewhat further north of Chaco Canyon, just in Colorado, are the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. Without considering the time and people involved, this sounds similar.


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