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Adventure - the Gila Wilderness

Mogollon, Pueblo & Apache


The 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.

Some 40 rooms were constructed into the cave, housing about 70 people. The timbers supporting the ceilings have been dated at AD 1280

A 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.

But 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 dreaded Apache.

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 bounty.

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.

Fraser Bridges

More Gila Wilderness Pages:


Enjoying the Wilderness

About the Park



Mogollon, Pueblo & Apache

Nearby Attractions

About the Wilderness Area




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