The Pueblo tribes of New Mexico share a rich cultural heritage that extends back to the time of the ancient cliff dwellers. Today there are 17 Indian pueblos scattered throughout northern New Mexico. Many of these lie within the Rio Grande basin but a few, like Acoma and Laguna, are located some distance from the valley. Each of the pueblos maintains a tradition of preserving ancestral values and culture. Many times this is expressed in their crafts and artwork. The Zuni pueblo is world-famous for its exquisite silver and turquoise jewelry, while Cochiti pueblo is known for its seated "storyteller" dolls and figurines. Several pueblos are renowned for their pottery, including Acoma, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Laguna. Some are famous for their ceremonial dances. These include San Felipe pueblo and Santa Domingo pueblo.
Many of New Mexico's pueblos have declined in population through the years. Pojoaque pueblo may have suffered the most. The pueblo was devastated by warfare and disease during the late 1600's and early 1700's. Picuris pueblo presents another example of the dramatic change in fortunes that swept the pueblo tribes of New Mexico. At one time the largest pueblo, Picuris has dwindled to less than 400 inhabitants. It is now one of New Mexico's smallest pueblos. The Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate named the village "Grande Pueblo de Pecuris"; "grande" in reference to the great size of the pueblo and "pecuris" for the inhabitants themselves. But the centuries have not been kind to this smallest of Tiwa pueblos.
Picuris pueblo lies nestled on the banks of the Rio Pueblo, which drains the western flanks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Picuris Indians have occupied this site for 750 years. Like all pueblo tribes, the Picuris have always been a spiritual people. To them the land is sacred. To the early Picuris, some locations were especially sacred. One of these was Jicarita Peak, located 14 miles southeast of Picuris pueblo.
Jicarita Peak lies in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo range. Rising to 12,835 feet, Jicarita Peak is part of a cluster of 12,000 to 13,000-foot peaks that includes Truchas Peak, Trampas Peak, Penasco Grande, Chimayosos Peak, and Pecos Baldy. Jicarita Peak is the northernmost peak of this group of mountains.
The rugged mountains east of Picuris pueblo have always been hunted by the Indians. In the summer of 1863, a Picuris Indian named Juan Gallule was hunting on the slopes of Jicarita Peak when he came upon an unusual sight. There, camped on the sacred mountain, were two white men. The white men were friendly enough; they invited the Indian into their camp and fed him. Their presence on the mountain was a mystery until Juan noticed a quantity of gold nuggets piled inside the tent! Juan thanked the white men for the meal and continued circling the mountain, searching for game.
Later that fall, the two white men turned up in Denver, Colorado. Their stay there was brief and fatal; both were found dead in their hotel room. The two dead prospectors left behind a legacy. There, hidden in their packs, were a handful of gold nuggets and a crude map describing the location of a concealed mine on Jicarita Peak! Needless to say, a number of prospecting expeditions were mounted in search of the mine, but none were successful. The hidden mine on Jicarita Peak has never been found.
In spite of the many legends of rich gold mines in the southernmost peaks of the Sangre de Cristos, the actual output of the precious metal is probably less than 200,000 ounces. The bulk of this production has come from a single mine in San Miguel County. Located about 20 miles south of Jicarita Peak, the famous Pecos Mine has been a source of copper, lead, silver, and zinc in addition to gold. For many years, the complex ores of the Pecos Mine were basically unworkable. The metals proved to be too difficult to extract using the primitive smelting processes of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Pecos Mine eventually poured out a stream of precious and base metals, including nearly 180,000 ounces of gold.
The Mora River placers were located in the Mora River valley, about 10 miles east-southeast of Jicarita Peak. Also known as the Rio La Casa District, these placer deposits yielded small amounts of gold in the mountain gulches and old river terraces near present-day Cleveland. The placers were never rich and no production has been recorded from this area.
The short-lived Picuris and Glen-Woody districts are located 20 miles northwest of Jicarita Peak. During the late 1890's, a prospector named W. M. Woody discovered a large mass of gold-bearing quartzite, just south of Pilar. The ores were extremely low grade, but there was a lot of it. A mining camp called Glen-Woody sprang up in 1902, but it didn't last long. The Picuris and Glen-Woody districts did produce a modicum of placer gold. Stream gravels in the area were sluiced and dredged in 1908, but production was probably less than a few hundred ounces of gold.