IN CHACO CANYON in northwestern New Mexico, some 60 miles from any railroad, running stream or highway worthy of the name, are the ruined pueblos of a race that has vanished. It left no written records on stone, clay or papyrus and whether or not its blood still courses in the veins of any existing native tribe or tribes no man knows. It is believed, through a study of the tree rings of ancient timbers taken from the ruins, that the inhabitants of Chaco settled there at least 1,000 years ago and have been gone for about 700 years. The tree rings and meagre skeletal remains indicate the tribe departed in a body and due to a mounting continuance of devastating drouth rather than on account of the ravages of some contagious disease or the onslaughts of an armed foe.
In a ten-mile segment of the narrow canyon, which cuts through the desert floor like a Grand Canyon of the Colorado in miniature, lie the silent ruins of eight great pueblos or apartment houses. They were built of thin sandstone slabs, covering vast spaces of ground, and once rose to a height of five stories. Chief of these is Pueblo Bonito, referred to in this story as Beautiful House.
The writer was so impressed on a visit to Chaco Canyon that he made another trip the next summer, then another, in the meantime reading all he could find about the discovery and exploration of the ruins. Tramping the worn stairs cut in the stone of the cliffs by ancient dwellers, journeying from one ruin to another and delving into their mysterious past with the aid of obliging students of archaeology, he was seized with a desire to restore those great houses in memory, to portray and dramatize life as it had once existed there and to lead back to those cold, naked rocks the spirits of those who had departed.
The undertaking was handicapped by the fact that there was no definite history attached to the locale or any traditions concerning the ruins in its folklore. But, luckily and fortunately, the writer one day stumbled upon a legend that was related by Navajo Indians to Lulu Wade Wetherill who, with the assistance of Dr. Byron Cummings, put it into brief but readable shape for publication years ago in a magazine, "Art of Archaeology."
It is the hope of the writer that those who have studied and investigated the ruins of Chaco Canyon and the relics found there as well as those who may do so in the future will find their opinions, calculations and deductions have not been violated to any marked degree through the development of a short Navajo legend to book length by a play of the imagination.PAUL JONES