Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Nugent Brasher Strikes Again!

There is nothing I like as much as new report on Southwestern history from Nugent Brasher, and I'm pleased New Mexico Historical Review published a new report - "Coronado at the Río Bermejo: The 2019 Report on the Coronado Trail from Río Frio to Cíbola," New Mexico Historical Review, Volume 94, Number 1, Winter 2019, pp. 59-97 (article available for a fee).

Nugent Brasher is a Petroleum Geologist based in the area of Glenwood, NM. For the last two decades (at least) he's devoted vast amounts of energy to puzzling out the exact path that Coronado followed in 1540 in departing Mexico and approaching Hawikku, near Zuni - the first of the seven cities of Cíbola. He has strong opinions, but his opinions are solidly grounded in scientific fact.

In order to do this work, Brasher ranged across the landscape and followed the nearly-lost path north from Mexico. He learned bureaucratic 16th-Century Spanish in order to read the expedition's journals himself, minimizing the possibility of bad translations corrupting his understanding. He relied heavily on expert understanding of Spanish metalworking in order to identify occasional fragments he found with metal detectors. Nearly 500 years had passed since Coronado passed through, so debris from the expedition has had plenty of time to be moved, rearranged, buried out of range of metal detectors, or scavenged, and the landscape has changed in some ways too. Every tool available to the geological researcher, he utilized.

I've posted about Brasher before. I was thunderstruck by his 2007 report identifying Kuykendall Ruins in southeast Arizona as the site of Chichilticale, the long-sought, near-legendary Red House of Coronado's expedition, with Chichilticale Pass identified as Apache Pass - location of Ft. Bowie.

Brasher placed Coronado's path farther east than many had thought it to be, and often not in Arizona at all, but in New Mexico. The availability of water was the driving factor. Many proposed Arizona paths just didn't have enough water to supply such a large expedition.

This article focuses on the last leg of the journey to Hawikku - Carrizo Wash and the extinct Garcia Wash, very close to the AZ-NM state line. Brasher notes that Coronado likely used a level plateau (near the location of the modern Springerville Generating Station) as a convenient highway on the laborious journey north. Brasher writes:
From Cow Springs the landscape dictates the route - a narrow, level basalt plateau extends north from the springs for about twenty miles, offering pedestrians a high, flat, clear, straight passage through otherwise difficult country. Seasonal lakes provided camp locations along the plateau. Historic travelers dropping off the north end of the basalt plateau found lush Gallegos Well, a good environment for a camp. From there the trail continued northward for only a short distance before reaching Carrizo Valley, with its numerous springs, and a wash through which flowed red muddy water after rainfall.

It's very difficult to find old Spanish metal artifacts. The exposed ground surface back then is not the same as today's ground surface. Great care has to be employed before deploying the metal detectors and making laborious searches. Nevertheless, Brasher and crew did succeed in finding several artifacts, including an intriguing lead figurine. Lead isotope ratios were used to pin the figurine's origin to Santander, Spain, from which four expedition members were known to have hailed.

Coronado's path followed ancient Native American trails, but Spaniards didn't use that path for long - the Camino Real opened not long afterwards.

This report may be Brasher's last hurrah - he's well into retirement. What an excellent role model! May new researchers follow in his path!


Interestingly, I have some pictures of these areas, taken from overhead as I passed overhead on my occasional journeys from Sacramento to Phoenix to Albuquerque.

(February 6, 2018) Looking northwest from the northern end of the plateau, from which Coronado would have descended on his journey north. Carrisito Spring is within the cul-de-sac of the plateau's walls.

(November 6, 2014) Looking north from the northern end of the plateau, from which Coronado would have descended on his journey north.

(November 6, 2014) Looking north from the northern end of the plateau, from which Coronado would have descended on his journey north.

(May 16, 2011) Looking south-southeast, at the area straddling U.S. Highway 60, from near Quemado, NM, on the left, to near the AZ-NM state line on the right. Coronado's expedition would have entered from the upper left of this image, from Hardcastle Gap, skirted Cow Springs Draw on the right, and mounted the plateau on the right side of the image, just above center.

To assist the eye, I've free-handed Brasher's proposed path for Coronado in black, and the approximate location of U.S. Highway 60 in red. The paths cross just west of Red Hill, NM.

It's been too long since I passed through these areas.

(January 8, 2006) Just east of Red Hill, NM, on Highway 60.

(January 8, 2006) Just east of Red Hill, NM, on Highway 60.

Brasher's Map 1 - his proposed Coronado Trail from La Barranca
to Hawikku.

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