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El Cuartelejo: High Plains Laws and Identity—

Service Learning the History of a Bioregion




Linda Davis-Stephens

Colby Community College

1255 S. Range

Colby, KS 67701


785-462-3984 Ext. 333

Professional Paper Presented at Community College Humanities Association, Southwestern Regional Conference
"Trails Through Time: Common Bonds through the Humanities"
Nov. 3, 2000, Santa Fe, New Mexico




This paper will highlight the recent years of campus/community Service Learning between Colby Community College and local museums and historical societies by students in my classes. Colby Community College is in the Central High Plains, a bioregion in the northeast quadrant from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Just 40 miles south of Colby is El Cuartelejo, the northernmost pueblo site in the U. S. that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. El Cuartelejo has been a link through time and space between Southwestern and High Plains cultures. My course work has involved students in this link.


El Cuartelejo: High Plains Laws and Identity—
Service Learning the History of a Bioregion

For over nine years I have been a college instructor in humanities and social science courses. Colby Community College is in a bioregion known as the Central High Plains. This bioregion is the northeast quadrant from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over the millennia a confluence of cultures has lived an international existence in the marginal High Plains.

Just 40 miles south of Colby is El Cuartelejo, the northernmost pueblo site in the U. S. El Cuartelejo was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. El Cuartelejo has been a link through time and space between Southwestern and High Plains cultures. My course work has involved students in this link between peoples and places in the bioregion.

This paper will highlight the recent years of campus/community Service Learning between Colby Community College and local museums and historical societies by students in my classes. I am happy to have this opportunity to represent our educational institution and our ancient historical ties.

Reading from the Language of the Land

A long time ago, about four hundred years, some people left the Southwest to live at El Cuartelejo. They were commonly known as a Tiwa speaking Puebloan people--Picuris. When the Spanish sent Ulibarri to ask the Puebloan people to return to the Southwest he mapped his route to El Cuartelejo. He found the people living among the Plains Apache. While there, Ulibarri dispatched three parties to visit Apache rancherias at Adisdade, Nanhe, and Sanaslesli, located in a northerly arc 40 leagues from El Cuartelejo (Stephens 1981: 10).

Some interpretations of his route show the site in Colorado. Kansas’ history tells the story of the Pueblo in the place now known as Scott Lake, near Scott City, Kansas.

Plains Apache people had lived in the area previous to the arrival of the Picuris (Schroeder 1959: 19-29). Professional reports have identified the Apache there as a people having lived in the Dismal River area of Nebraska (Schlesier 1972: 106). The Picuris early 18th century arrival to El Cuartelejo may actually have been more of a return to familiar homelands than an escape route.(Schlesier Interview,11/2/00)

Nowadays the land has been flooded by reservoir water. The Pueblo floor plan remains laid out and diagramed by the Park Department for visitors to reconstruct in their minds’ eyes.

This home was part of the watershed known as the Smoky Hill River. This ancient riverbed cuts through the limestone of the Ogallala Formation deep into the floor of the Inland Sea of North America.

Students from primary schools up through college come to wonder at the rare creatures in Big Springs close to El Cuartelejo. Biology teachers give exciting field trips to this place of wonder. Some of my Spanish language class students videotaped our fieldtrip to El Cuartelejo. I gave the tour in Spanish.

The magnificence of the area is not only from the dawn and dusk brushing of colors over the mesas. The attraction in the landscape is the first glance of the horizon, that breaking view of the Smoky Hill River. It is not the water it is the divide. From east to west the divide looks blue, more like smoke, hazy almost like a mirage some days.

For over 400 years, probably over 400 generations of people, the commanding view has caught the eye of the serene traveler. As I approach the area from the north with a vanload of college students I draw their attention to the ladder of rivers, the draws and divides from Colby to El Cuartelejo. I point out the flora and fauna, the changing seasons, the population patterns people have left in the land.

Many schoolteachers in the region keep a yearly calendar date for class field trips to the lake and Jurassic surroundings. Landmarks such as Little Jerusalem, Monument Rocks, and Battle Canyon give the teachers a grand repertoire of oratories to draw the students into the land.

Overall, I have learned from the land and the people how precious life really is. There is an essence to life in this land. Some people have noticed. Some have tried to live accordingly. Others have remained foreign to this place-- even to the point of destruction of vital elements.

Residents who listen to the language of the land recite its messages with a sense of place. From whichever direction one travels into the Smoky Hill River Basin one feels the descent into a layer of the universe below the familiar flora and fauna of the grasslands (Kleinsorge Interview 10/18/00). Whoever remains along the Smoky and its tributaries must live by the law of the land or vanish.

Living the Law of the Land

The law of the land was not something made up by followers of the Code of the West. The ecological laws of the land are still active and maintain their jurisdiction. Perceptive students have experienced these essential teachings. It is not easy to put on paper with words. This what I am describing is active learning in its utmost experiential form. Not everyone is prepared for an experience of this nature. There are different comfort zones and levels of participation students maintain.

One of the teachers from the land was Edward Red Hat I, Keeper of the Cheyenne Sacred Arrows. He taught me to see beauty in a land where most people see nothing at all. Ed Red Hat, his wife, and family showed me their landmarks, named long ago by their Cheyenne-Tsistsistas relatives. We traveled ancient trails across the Smoky Hill, Republican, Platte and Cheyenne Rivers—known as the Ladder of Rivers. Cheyenne place names extend from Canadian Prairie Provinces, the Mississippi River, the Rio Grande, and the Rocky Mountains. Cheyenne geography includes landmarks surrounding El Cuartelejo and along the trails from Minnesota to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and from Montana to Old Mexico.

When I teach, I speak from the lessons of the land--as much as possible--for those who are ready to listen, learn, and experience. Some try to tell me the Indians are gone. The buffalo are replaced by cattle. Wheat and corn have replaced the grass. For many years I have listened, with increasing patience, to the cant of conquest. I have been fortunate to hear that song of destruction repealed by the symphony of coexistence and reciprocity.

The laws of the land become the laws of the people. Some people come and go--in their thinking they are not part of the land; they are apart from the land. Sometimes they never realize that what they do to the land they do to themselves and their children. Some people have learned to see that the Indians and buffalo have never vanished afterall.

Service Learning—For the Land

For several years I have involved students from Colby Community College courses in Service Learning projects. The community recipients of the past projects have included local historical societies and museums, law enforcement centers, and college departments.

The Spring 2001 community recipients would include the same as listed above with the addition of one other. EduKan online course students in the two courses I teach this semester have shown me that Service Learning could be possible even for Web-based classes.

Besides continuing the campus/community-based educational projects presently underway, I would like to develop Service-Learning projects for students enrolled in the EduKan courses. I am listed with EduKan in Spring 2001 for instructing the two courses I teach this Fall—Native American Cultures and Cultural Anthropology.

I will instruct students to do Service Learning projects in their respective communities similar to what has been developed locally around Colby Community College.

The local community needs have been identified and met by working closely with community leaders. Specific projects students have done include oral interviews, community surveys, archival research and documentation, and media-related documentation.

These projects involve skills specific to the courses of instruction. Students not only learn communication and social skills from text and classroom but in authentic situations that matter in everyday life. Students bring their experiential learning back to the classroom as presentations for graded credit. This activity serves as a Reflection Group experience for the students to learn from one another.

Community recipients have provided feedback and evaluation of students’ experiences. The instructor has provided forms for logging tasks and evaluation of student participation. Community recipients conduct an exit interview with the student at the close of each project.

The project contributes to the development of student’s citizenship and leadership characteristics by modeling to the community recipients’ behavior and taking responsibility for setting and accomplishing the tasks at hand.

The knowledge from the disciplines contribute to the Service-Learning projects by providing structure and form to the learning process. Subject area worksheets, pamphlets, and study guides facilitate use of the campus/community learning environments. The professional instructor moderates and guides the subject area learning activities.

All this educational procedure is conducted through institutional affiliations. The foundations of my instruction remain firmly in relationships people have to the places where they live.

Service Learning, Action Anthropology, and the Great Plains Experience

I live in the marginal area of the Central High Plains where the steppes east of the Rockies spread out to the open country. Each day I commute to teach at Colby and climb 500 feet altitude onto the loess plateau. Deep beneath is the continental uplift.

Streams and rivers flow eastward from the Smoky Hill to the Republican River. A few miles west of the 100 ‘ West Meridian timber stands vanish along the streambeds. Earthlodge building ended east of Colby at Tom Cat Creek and Museum Creek.

Dismal River Apache housing was also found along Museum Creek, a tributary of the South Solomon River. Students of history and archeology could have a lifetime of research along the six mile stretch of this watershed. Several of my students have already been involved in documentation of sites here.

A Rock shelter of Battle Canyon,

near El Cuartelejo, has been identified and marked by local history buffs. Although offensive to some people, the site has been called Squaw’s Den. Many states are changing and updating the place names from using offensive words. Kansas has not yet followed the lead. Many college and high school teams in western Kansas and southwest Nebraska still use Indian mascots and derogatory language for sports events.

The rock shelter was a natural cover for women and children in 1878. The Central High Plains was a war zone then. Local histories and county landmarks identify and locate battlegrounds and massacres from the time gold was found in the Rockies in 1859 to the railroad town building of the 1880’s.

The women and children were sheltered from the military pursuit of their people—the Cheyenne. The event is known as the Last Indian Raid locally. It is more appropriately known as the Great Escape during the War to Save the Buffalo among Cheyenne. Students learn in the local public schools of historical accounts characterizing the Indians as thieves, rapists, and murderers. In my classes, students learn of the Plains wars as high crimes and unsolved mysteries; retaliations, broken treaties, trespass, and insurgency.

Students doing service learning collect oral histories, make documentary videotapes, and do projects for local historical societies and museums. Their work is building the history of a bioregion. Students learn the local history by surveying the material culture and natural landmarks of the area.

For the past three years, the Prairie Museum/Thomas County Historical Society has received National Park Service funds and Service Learning Project benefits to do Reconnaissance Surveys and reports of Colby historic buildings. These works will be useful for preservation planning for local landmarks of town and countryside.

Sappa Creek

Meandering streambeds along the watersheds reveal primary locations for historical built environments. With imagination and the right questions, students can build a historical account of who, what, when, where, how, and speculate why places appear in the landscape where they do.

The thick stone walls of the house like structure have been identified as a possible rancheria on Sappa Creek from the Apache communities of the 1600’s.

Cheyenne oral tradition mentions life in the Plains among a diversity of peoples. One account tells of Cheyenne living in rock homes built by Apache.

I have been on the Santa Fe Trail before—from Wichita, KS, to New Mexico. A graduate student and I were doing Cheyenne action anthropology. Our project was research and fieldwork on Indian Cultural Centers and Museums. We were gathering, compiling and comparing examples from the Southwest for Cheyenne traditional leaders.

I came to Santa Fe 25 years later from along the Ancient Traders and Trappers Trail near Colby, crossing the Ladder of rivers, living by El Cuartelejo.

El Cuartelejo Site

A student and I are working with the Prairie Museum of Art and History in Colby to gather information about Indian exhibitions. This Service Learning project is reminiscent of action anthropology. Thorough research and preparation can make authentic presentations of communities, family histories, ethnic landmarks, and cultural identities in the Central High Plains for the entire history of human occupation of the land. The purpose is to serve the needs of the host population while doing educational research. In this case, the host population is not only the local historical society but also the Cheyenne, Apache, and other peoples who have made these places their homes.

Through active learning and respectful inquiry students can surpass the litanies of denial, dispense with stereotypes, and change the cant of conquest. With open minds in open country students have the freedom to investigate unsolved mysteries, survey uncharted territory, and chart the place of peoples in the Plains for over ten millennia.


El Cuartelejo Webliography and Sources

Colby Community College Web Site Contacts

Prairie Museum of Art and History, Colby, Kansas. Contacts for Thomas County Historical Society

EL CUARTELEJO Historical marker in Scott County State Park

Keystone Gallery on US Highway 83 between the towns of Oakley and Scott City, KS overlooks Monument Rocks (Chalk Pyramids) fossil outcroppings of the Kansas Badlands region. Gallery collection includes late Cretaceous fossils from the Kansas Niobrara formation. The gallery features a wide variety of merchandise and artwork.

Located north of El Cuartelejo.

Web site links to the following:

Steele Homestead Museum

El Cuartelejo Indian Pueblo

Squaw's Den "Battle Ground"

Lake Scott State Park Today

Lake Scott State Park Map

History and Photos from Lake Scott State Park

Interview between Tom Witty and Rick Stevens.

Photo depicts what the may have looked like when inhabited by the Taos Indians at the turn of the 18th century. The structure had no doors in the walls, but was entered from the roof using a ladder.

El Cuartelejo, Scott Lake State Park, Scott City vicinity

Beck, Warren and Ynez Haase. Historical Atlas of New Mexico. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press. 1969.

Davis-Stephens, Linda. "Cheyenne Action Archeology". In: Research Frontiers in Anthropology by Carol Ember, Melvin Ember, and Peter Peregrine, Eds. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Pages 73-114. 1998.

Davis-Stephens, Linda. "Cheyenne Action Archeology, Steps to Ecological Laws of the Tenth Millennium". Professional Paper presented at the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Williamsburg, Virginia, July 26-Aug. 1, 1998.

Kleinsorge, Judy and Sue Taylor. "Personal Interview about regional history at the Prairie Museum of Art and History, Colby, KS". October 18, 2000.

Schlesier, Karl. "Rethinking the Dismal River Aspect and the Plains Athapaskans, A.D. 1692-1768". Plains Anthropologist. Vol. 17. Columbia. 1972.

Schlesier, Karl. "Action Anthropology and the Southern Cheyenne." Current Anthropology. 15 (3): 277-299. 1974.

Schlesier, Karl. Plains Indians, A. D. 500-1550, The Archaeological Past of Historic Groups. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 1994.

Schlesier, Karl. "Commentary: A History of Ethnic Groups in the Great Plains A. D. 150-1550". In: Schlesier, Karl. Plains Indians, A. D. 500-1550, The Archaeological Past of Historic Groups. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Pages 308-381. 1994.

Schlesier, Karl "Personal Interview about Plains-Southwest Relations, Corrales, NM", Nov. 2, 2000.

Schroeder, Albert. A Study of the Apache Indians—Part II—The Jicarilla Apaches. Santa Fe: U.S. National Park Service Region Three Headquarters. Pages 19-29. 1959.

Schroeder, Albert, A Study of the Apache Indians. New York: Garland Press. 1974.

Schroeder, Albert. "Development in the Southwest and Relations with the Plains". In: Schlesier, Karl. Plains Indians, A. D. 500-1550, The Archaeological Past of Historic Groups. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Pages290-307. 1994.

Stephens, Bryce. "Towards the Horizon-Northwest Kansas". Unpublished Paper. 1981.

Wilson, D. Ray. Kansas Historical Tour Guide. Carpentersville: Crossroads Communications. 1987.