Mogollon people occupied the Gila River
headwaters more than 800 years ago. These early
ground-dwellers built pit houses, grew beans and
corn, gathered food and hunted for game. Later
in the period, the Mogollon crafted the
distinctive black-on-white pottery. By the
1200s, the Mogollon no longer lived here,
disappearing or moving to other regions, and the
area was occupied by pueblo dwellers. They lived
in the open, as did the Mogollon, but also built
protected homes in the cliff of a side canyon.
The cliff dwellings found here date back to the
1200s. The Indians occupied five of the seven
caves which are located far above stream level.
They farmed on the mesa above the cliffs.
40 rooms were constructed into the cave, housing
about 70 people. The timbers supporting the
ceilings have been dated at AD 1280
one-mile loop trail begins next to a small
visitor center at the cliff dwellings parking
lot. The trail is level for awhile, providing a
good view of the dwellings high above. A series
of stairs takes visitors to the dwellings, 180
feet above trail level. "Triple Cave" is the
most impressive of the caves, having three large
openings. Using stone, the occupants built rooms
on two levels, supporting the upper level with
wooden beams. They brought their corn down to
the cave to grind, so they built a food storage
area, and also a ceremonial room.
they left their secure and comfortable homes.
Like the Mogollon and the Anasazi, the Pueblo
people abandoned the cliff homes, at about 1300.
Much later, Apache used the region for hunting
and lived in villages, up to the time of the
Gadsden Purchase and the arrival of American
homesteaders. A small army camp was established
in the late 1800s, where the village of Gila Hot
Springs now sits, to guard the settlers from the
troubles between foreigners and the Apache had
their roots during the Spanish period, from
about 1600. The inevitable result of Spanish
settlement in the nearby Santa Cruz Valley and
the Rio Grande Valley to the east was an ongoing
conflict for power over the land. Apache were
captured and put into slavery and, beginning in
1835, those with Apache scalps were awarded a
The Gadsden Purchase only made things
worse. In 1856, gold was discovered at
Piños Altos, north of Silver City,
bringing more prospectors and miners to the
region. A major incident occurred at
Piños Altos in February 1861, involving
Cochise, his followers, and a small U.S. Army
unit. Three members of Cochise's family were
killed by soldiers in the ensuing conflict, and
the wars began in earnest. Several incidents
ensued in the mountainous Gila River country.
The last Apache to live in the area which is now
the Gila Wilderness departed by 1900.