The Fabled Zuni Turquoise Mine

        Most chroniclers of the Spanish invasion, several attempts over two centuries, found the subject of turquoise irresistible. The Zunis were imagined long before they were found.  The magic number was seven, and the Spanish tried over an over to find the “seven islands of Atlantis, seven great caves, and, of course, the “Seven Cities of Cibola” where there were vast stores of gold and turquoise.  Boy were they disappointed.

         But the notion of a Zuni source of the blue stone was persistent.   Sam Yost, writing for the Santa Fe Weekly Gazettein 1858, devotes two paragraphs to the prized stone he calls Chalquiguithe, “a bluish green stone, something after the torquoise [sic], is found very rarely however, and prized higher than anything else by the Indians.”

         “It is found, I believe, somewhere near Zuni.”  (Quoted in Woodward, 1938:44)  Over the years several older Zunis have told me the mine does exist, but it is a taboo subject and the location moves around depending on the teller.  More importantly, I have never seen stone attributed to this fabled mine.

         The inimitable Frank Cushing went looking for the Zuni mine the first winter he was there, 1879, and it became quite an adventure.  On his first stop with a Mormon bishop his saddlebags were ransacked and he lost most of his food and the grain he had brought for the mule.

This small green stone is about the size of a little finger nail was apparently an offering found years ago at Hawikuh is likely from the Zuni Mountain mine.

This small green stone is about the size of a little finger nail was apparently an offering found years ago at Hawikuh is likely from the Zuni Mountain mine. 

       They crossed the Continental Divide and found the ancient diggings Cushing was hunting.  His companions went on their way and Frank estimated he was seventy-five miles from Zuni.  He discovered his companions had stolen the nice rope he borrowed from the trader, Graham.  The replacement rope was poor and the next night the mule disappeared as well.

         But he had found numerous ancient diggings, some still being mined.  Cushing came upon “two immense excavations—one seventy-five by forty-five feet in diameter.”  The stones he describes must have been azurite and malachite, cousins to turquoise and all of them found with copper.

         Without his mule or food, in midwinter and not far from the Divide in the Zuni Mountains, he set off for Zuni alone, following the animal’s tracks.  The second night he was struck by a blizzard and high winds, making it difficult to keep a fire.

         Near death several times Cushing finally arrived back in the village.  But he was sure he had seen the source of the Chalchihuitl though it is vague as to what the stone actually was.  But there is a turquoise mine not far from Blue Water, southwest of Grants, NM.

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