Tag Archives: native americans

Nothing Ever Happens in Mayer…Until You Find Bones

C 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

When my husband and I first moved to Mayer, Arizona, the first fifteen people we met uttered the same sentence to us: “Nothing ever happens here.”

For the most part, they were right. Mayer, located south of Prescott, is a sleepy little town that once served as a stage stop and later a rail stop on the road south to Phoenix. There are a few small businesses, residents scattered in town and along the hills surrounding town, and a fine library. That’s about it.

One day in 2014, when I was working for the Prescott Daily Courier, I got a most interesting phone call. A man named Garry Cooper, who lived on the homestead of town founder Joe Mayer, had found some bones in his yard. What follows here are the articles I wrote for the Courier regarding the matter.

Mayer Resident Unearths Skeletal Remains in Yard

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

The digging of a grave for a beloved Mayer pet has led to the discovery that the spot is already taken.

Longtime resident Garry Cooper, who takes in rescue dogs, was recently shoveling out a final resting place for one of his beloved canines. “I have an elderly dog, Cubby,” he says, “and I started digging a burial spot for him.” After digging down two or three feet, Cooper found what resembled animal bones. But a friend who visited last week, and who works as a registered nurse, saw the remains and immediately determined they were human. She advised calling the police.

Local deputies from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Mayer arrived on the scene and immediately determined the burial was not recent. “We sent out an evidence technician and determined the remains to be of historic origin,” explains Dwight D’Evelyn, YSCO Media Relations Coordinator.

The case was referred to the Arizona State Museum but Todd Pitezel, Assistant Curator for Archaeology Mandated Programs confirmed on Thursday that the Museum “will not be excavating” the body. Pitezel said the case has now been referred to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. “I am consulting with the Hopi and Yavapai Prescott [tribes], and we will figure out what to do,” he says.

In the meantime several questions remain. Are the bones really those of a Native American? Whose body is it? And how did it get there?

When Cooper purchased his property in 1987, it was known as the former second home site of town founder Joe Mayer and his family. Mayer’s first home washed away in the flood of Big Bug Creek in February of 1891, so he rebuilt at the new location a bit further away from the creek. Mayer’s second home included a general store, post office and restaurant.

Mayer’s former home succumbed to fire in the early 1970’s, according to Cooper. Not much was left when Cooper acquired the property except the barn. The foundation posts were supported by metatas, grinding stones of the type local Native Americans would have used. The barn remains intact, and Cooper has since constructed a new house on the property. During various landscaping and construction projects over time, he also has  unearthed various artifacts, from glass and rusted metal to arrowheads and pottery shards.

Some of the items have been found while digging burials spots for Cooper’s other pets of the past, a total of nine in all. But there’s been nothing like this. “The two main leg bones are sticking out of the bank,” says Cooper, who ceased work and has covered the pit until officials can come and examine the remains. On Friday a member of the Yavapai Tribe, who did not wish to be identified, arrived for a brief look at the bones but declined to elaborate on what comes next.

Until an official examination takes place, speculations continue about the origins of the bones. They were found roughly twenty yards from Mayer’s former home. Cooper says the original terrain on the property was as much as two feet higher, so the body was originally buried four to five feet underground. Big Bug Creek, which runs nearby, is situated some twenty seven feet below the site. There are no records that Mayer, the little Frenchman with a big heart who was known for his generosity and kindness, offered up a final resting place for anyone prior to the Mayer Cemetery’s establishment in 1907.

Officials appear to be leaning towards the remains being of Native American origin. The theory is certainly plausible since Hohokam, Yavapai and other early agricultural tribes once inhabited the area. For now, however, the true ethnic origins of the skeleton remain a mystery. Cooper said he did not find any signs of clothing or other artifacts, just bones. He is worried, however, that the discovery might delay Cubby’s inevitable burial. “If my dog dies tomorrow,” he says, “I can’t dig another hole.”

Bones Likely Native American

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Human bones which were recently unearthed in a Mayer resident’s yard are thought to be Native American, according to authorities.

Earlier this month, Garry Cooper was digging a grave for his dog when he found some skeletal remains. Deputies at the Mayer substation called in Forensic Anthropologist and Evidence Technician Katie Hoffman, who determined the bones were indeed human, and very old. Hoffman recommended contacting the Arizona State Museum.

The remains were found on the former home site of town founder Joe Mayer. At one time the homestead included a post office, store and restaurant, but there is no evidence the Mr. Mayer offered up burial space as part of his services. By the time Cooper purchased the property in 1987 the old buildings were gone.

According to a report from the Yavapai County Sheriff, Cooper said the bones were unearthed close to the base of a large cottonwood that was once located on the property. In an interview last week, Cooper likened the tree to a “Centennial Witness Tree” across the street, which in 2012 was verified to be at least a century old. Cooper’s tree was dead, however, and he removed it.

Mayer’s cemetery was not founded in 1907. Because the area was once populated by Native Americans, and because Cooper has unearthed Native American artifacts on his property from time to time, the remains could very well date to before the town of Mayer was established. For now, however, the bones’ origins remain a mystery. “Unless it’s fully excavated, there’s no way to determine the origin,” Hoffman said.

On Thursday Todd Pitezel, Assistant Curator for Archaeology Mandated Programs confirmed that the case has been referred to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. But an official investigation to establish the origins of the skeleton may take several weeks or even months. “There’s always a lot of tape around these cases,” Hoffman said. “It can take a great deal of time.”

Mayer Bones Reburied

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

A Mayer resident who recently unearthed human remains now has an official grave on his property, as well as a new burial spot for his beloved dog.

Garry Cooper was digging a final resting place for his ill canine earlier this month when he accidentally unearthed human bones. Investigations by law enforcement and an evidence technician from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, a member of the Yavapai Tribe and officials from the Arizona State Museum concluded the skeletal remains were indeed human, and very old.

On Tuesday James T. Watson PhD, Assistant Curator of Bioarchaeology for the Arizona State Museum, visited the site to document the partially unearthed remains and rebury them. “I just want to see what material is here and what the relationship of the bones are,” Watson explained. “The most important thing is to determine whether the skeleton is Native American. If it is, obviously the tribe has say over its disposition.”

Watson, who makes about a dozen such field calls each year, says the absence of a skull could indicate the bones may have been exhumed elsewhere and reburied. Without observing morphological analysis of the cranium—aspects that would tie the bones into certain groups of ancestral people—there is no way to determine at this time whether the remains are Native American, Anglo or some other race.

Watson’s examination of the site included looking for artifacts that might better identify the remains, which according to him could be hundreds or even thousands of years old. The bones appear to be those of an adult, but it’s too soon to tell whether they are male or female. Upon completing his investigation, Watson planned to rebury the remains and dig a new grave for Cooper’s dog.

Whatever the conclusion when Watson files his official report, there are no plans to remove the bones out of respect for the body. “There is never a good reason to disturb human remains, ” he said. Cooper said he will later plant a tree to mark the spot, so that future property owners will know the bones are there.


The Utes of Ute Pass, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

For decades, Hollywood had movie fans believing all Indians were evil savages who ran around killing whites and committing barbaric acts. Such stereotyping has been countered by historians showing that America’s true natives were, like any culture, closely knit with their own society, religion and way of life that is in fact enviable. In Colorado, the Utes stand out as one of the friendliest tribes in the Indian nation. They also are the only indigenous Native Americans of Colorado. And, despite their reputation as a peaceful tribe, the Utes of Colorado were never violently conquered by another civilization. That isn’t to say they didn’t have their battles—beginning with early Spanish explorers—but it is rare to see an instance where the Utes started a fight. They just finished it.

Nobody really knows when Ute tribes first came to Colorado, or even where they migrated from. The Indians themselves simply say they have been here “since the beginning.” It is thought that the Ute nation is descended from the Desert culture, the Fremont Indians and perhaps even the Basket Makers, which would date their presence in Colorado to 10,000 years ago or more. Other sources speculate the Utes may have migrated from Mexico, since their native tongue is deemed Uto-Aztecan.

Throughout the 1600’s and 1700’s in Colorado, Utes both befriended and fought various incoming tribes, including Comanches, Apaches, and Navajos. Seven different tribes once thrived throughout the state, each with their own name, dialect and culture. The Utes commanded the mountainous regions of Colorado, guarding Ute Pass—one of the few ways to access the western portion of the state. It should be noted here that at last count, there were five areas officially known as Ute Pass. The pass referenced here today traverses a beautiful canyon west of Interstate 25 from Manitou Springs. Most recently, the area made international news for the Waldo Canyon wildfire in 2012 and the subsequent floods which created havoc along the pass in 2014.

In those early days, Manitou Springs at the bottom of the pass was regarded as a sacred sanctuary. Here, seemingly magical, bubbling springs flow from massive caverns below. The Utes believed a great god, Manitou, resided below the springs. Manitou’s breathing gave the springs bubbles and steam, bringing health to all who drank from them. To pay homage and bring good luck, the Utes made annual treks from the mountains to visit Manitou. Utes were adept at basketry, leather work and clay wares. They often left offerings of this nature, as well as beads and knives, for Manitou. Other tribes were permitted to pay homage as well, and springs were known as common ground among all nations. At the top of the pass near Florissant, however, immunity from war was forgotten; battles between the Utes and other tribes were common.

While the near the top of the pass Cripple Creek District is best known for its gold deposits and mining history, the Utes favored the area’s high country meadows as an abundant hunting ground for thousands of generations. Utes were hunters and gatherers, and the mountains offered an abundance of edible fauna, berries and wildlife. Because the District sits at an elevation close to 10,000 feet, however, the area did not make good winter quarters. The Utes spent their winters in the lower and warmer regions, such as northern New Mexico, once the snow began falling. Spring and fall were spent commuting and preparing for the alternate seasons.

After a treaty between the Utes and the Spanish was established in 1675, the Utes became accustomed to the presence of Spaniards, Mexicans and eventually, white settlers traipsing up and down Ute Pass. They traded freely with early explorers and weathered several historic events, including New Mexico Territorial Governor Juan Bautista de Anza’s quest to kill the Comanche leader Cuerno Verde in 1779, Zebulon Pike’s failed attempt to scale Pikes Peak in November of 1806, and Major Stephen H. Long’s successful climb to the top of the mountain in 1820. They also met such famous explorers as Kit Carson, explorer John C. Fremont, and English adventurer George F. Ruxton, all of whom traversed Ute Pass during the 1840’s.

The year 1859 saw the first use of Ute Pass by freighters. Hundreds of prospectors and merchants were making their way to the gold fields on the western slope of Colorado. Skirmishes between whites and Indians still occurred, but the occasional troubles hardly stopped people like Augusta and H.A.W. Tabor, who traversed the pass on their way to Leadville. Within a year, Ute Pass became known as the “Gateway to the Goldfields”. The Utes’ passiveness at the new flurry of activity was encouraged by their famed leader, Ouray, who encouraged friendships with white men. In 1863, Ouray served as an interpreter at the Conejos Peace Treaty and was subsequently appointed leader of the Tabeguache Utes. In 1873, he also assisted in negotiating the Brunot Treaty. Unfortunately many of these treaties, designed to bring peace between the Indians and the government, were later broken by the white men who agreed to them.

In the aftermath of the infamous Meeker Massacre of 1879, Ouray and another Ute, Buckskin Charlie, went to Washington D.C. to negotiate a peaceable end to the ordeal. When Ouray resigned his position as Ute leader a short time later, he appointed Buckskin Charlie his successor. Ouray died in 1880, but the town of Ouray on Colorado’s western slope was named for him. Ouray’s wife Chipeta also had two towns named for her, including the Ute Pass resort town of Chipita Park.

A Colorado native, Buckskin Charlie was orphaned by the age of 11. He became a warrior, participating in many battles against plains Indians. One skirmish left a bullet scar on his forehead. Later, Charlie served as a scout for the U.S. Army. He earned his famous nickname for the number of antelope he killed and subsequently skinned on the expedition. Buckskin Charlie reigned over the Utes for an amazing 56 years. Photographs of him often depict him wearing a moustache, a rare characteristic among Indians. Charlie encouraged his tribe to let their children be educated by whites and attend church services. He also spoke English and dressed in white men’s clothing when visiting Washington D.C.—even though the government noted his preference for the Ute tongue and his refusal to outlaw peyote and other ceremonial aspects of his native culture. Still, Charlie was patient and sensible in his dealings with U.S. officials, even when arguing over broken treaties.

As Charlie continued his negotiations, more and more whites migrated to Colorado. Throughout the years, the Utes had watched as early ranchers homesteaded on their treasured hunting grounds and began mining in the Cripple Creek District. By the 1890’s, when the District was formed, the Utes had lost their hold on the area altogether. Within a few short years, hundreds of prospect holes and mines were erasing the past. Two gulches, Papoose Gulch and Squaw Gulch, were so-named for the remains of an “aborigine woman” and a child that were found there. More than likely, they were actually Ute skeletons.

Indeed, the turn of the century held many changes for residents of the Pike’s Peak region. In 1912, the El Paso County Pioneer’s Association in Colorado Springs decided to dedicate the old Ute Pass trail to those who had used it long before any white man. Buckskin Charlie was invited to the ceremonies. Scores of Utes, dressed in full regalia, rode the pass. As the party passed into French Creek Valley just below Cascade, the Indians burst into ceremonial song. Buckskin Charlie led the pack, declaring, “I seventy years old and never been so happy.” Ute outposts were still visible along the pass as late as 1920.

Throughout his career, Buckskin Charlie maintained his outstanding reputation and personally met with seven United States presidents. He died in 1936, and some say his death was the last of the Indian frontier as Native Americans knew it. Although fewer in number, however, many Utes still live in Colorado, maintaining their peaceful lifestyles and ceremonial beliefs.

Utes and Colorado pioneers traverse Ute Pass in 1912.

Utes and Colorado pioneers traverse Ute Pass in 1912.