THE POPE EXPEDITION OF THE 1850S
The general location of their camp is on the north side of the river at the confluence. We know this because the journal says
this and also specifies its relation with respect to these two rivers. The amount of reuse and disturbance in this area precludes
recognition of this camping site. What seems clear is that this is not upstream where an amateur archaeologist placed it years
"This day we (for the first time since starting) became aware of the vicinity of the Indians. About sundown we perceived the
prairie on fire about two miles from camp, up the river; the wind blowing from the northeast, and directly toward us. As the
grass and weeds were dry, and the wind strong, the flames rushed onward with great rapidity. Instant and prompt measures
were taken against this appalling danger. The prairie was fired round the camp, from the river to the creek. We were thus in a
triangle, the Pecos and Delaware being the sides—the belt of prairie we had burned, the base. There can be no doubt
whatever that this was an act of the Indians, as we could clearly see the plain fired in many and different directions at the
same time. The fire swept on round the camp, and crossing the creek some hundred yards above us, and seizing the dry grass
on the right bank, illuminated the whole plan during the night." P61, Diary of the Expedition, J.H. Byrne, assistant computer
Camp No. 18—Falls of the Rio Pecos, mouth of Delaware creek; Wednesday, March 8, 1854
"We reached our camp, Falls of the Rio Pecos, mouth of Delaware creek, at five minutes to 10 o’clock a. m. We were
fortunate enough at this point to discover an excellent crossing, about 100 yards from the mount of the Delaware
creek. The water rushes over “falls,” in a bold and rapid current, at a rate of nine knots per hour. The river at this
point has a good rocky bottom; is about eighty feet wide, and two and a half feet deep. There are seven little islands,
through which the stream flows with great force. This crossing presents no difficulties whatever, only requiring a few
hours’ labor to cut down the banks on either side, to permit wagons heavily loaded to cross without trouble. Those
who are acquainted with the several crossings of the Pecos below this say it is by far the best along the river." P59-60,
Diary of the Expedition, J.H. Byrne, assistant computer
Same camp—Saturday, March 18, 1854.
"Some surveys made to find the levels of the river: the result is a fall of three feet one inch in three hundred feet."
P66, Diary of the Expedition, J.H. Byrne, assistant computer
Camp No. 16, March 6, 1854
"The wagonmaster, on his return, (as above mentioned,) reports that at the Pecos he discovered a
fire—still burning—at which some Indians had been cooking. From their tracks they were on foot,
and appeared to have crossed the river. This was near the mouth of the Delaware creek, our
proposed camp for to-morrow night." P59, Diary of the Expedition, J.H. Byrne, assistant computer
"A stone monument was erected on the summit of a hill on the
right bank of the Delaware creek, for reference on the survey
across the Llano Estacado." P66, Diary of the Expedition, J.H.
Byrne, assistant computer.
This stone monument, formerly a large rock cairn was located in
the field. Unfortunately it has been vandalized, dug by someone
looking for treasures. Still evidence of the stone monument
remains and the feature can be reconstructed.
How can we be so sure that this is the stone monument
referenced in the diary? Because every other hill in the area
was examined and this is the only one with a 'cairn." Though
vandalized it is possible to see what this was. Also, looking
upstream, it is clear that this monument was placed to mark the
upper edge of the drainage rather than the creek itself and this
is what the surveyors would have mapped.
While encamped at the mouth of Delaware Creek Pope sent exploratory parties off in different directions. He sent one north to
find the "Sacramento River." The account of this side expedition notes interesting details that allow us to track his trip.
"I camped having marched thirty-seven miles. About three miles from camp I met a party of Apache Indians, under their head
chief, Negrite, who had a paper from the commanding officer at Fort Fillmore, giving him good character. P 65
Traveled a mile along the bank of the Pecos…I then ascended the plain, and at the distance of half a mile came suddenly
upon a stream, which I concluded to be the Sacramento. This river is about 50 feet wide, and six feet deep at the mouth—a
slight bar forming on the right bank: The bottom is gravelly and hard; in some few places there are quicksands. The river
varies from two to fifty feet in width, and in depth from one to fifteen feet. Its course in some places zigzag, and there are
three or four hackberry trees on the right bank near its mouth. The water is clear and good, having a slight metallic taste.
There is plenty of cat-fish and suckers of a large size near the mouth of the river. Trout can be caught higher up the stream. P
Examination of the area via aerial photography indicates that there is no other river that qualifies, based on distances given
and other attributes. This is the only river that is the correct distance north and that has a bend in the river, as described.
While it does not go exactly due west it goes southwest and then bends to the north east. He was probably deceived by the
orientation of the mountains and simply assumed that the river went went into the mountains, a common mistake even today.
This interpretation seems reasonable given that there are no other channels anywhere near the vicinity that would have held
water and those that are closest (Black Canyon and Rocky Arroyo) do not have conspicuous bends in their course.
Artist Harry Sindall captured this historic crossing at Falls of the Pecos,
just up from the confluence of Delaware Creek and the Pecos River.
Sindall accompanied Pope on this campaign.
The cairn was placed at the edge of the watershed not at the edge of the wash. This is because Pope was
mapping the edge of the drainage basin not the wash itself.
Cairn is just beyond the left edge of the photo, while Delaware Creek is just beyond the hill on the right side of
the photo, and just beyond the right edge of the photo. This is the only cairn-like feature in the area.
Photo faces to the west.
Artist Harry Sindall painted this scene of the Pope's Well
encampment, showing the relationship between features and
the nature of structures and features present.
Evidence of indigenous activity is found all
around the mouth of the creek. This structure
seems to date to the prehistoric period but
thermal features located nearby probably
span many centuries of use.
Captain John Pope
"I went up this river five and a half miles due west; it then turned
to the northeast. At the bend of the river I found an Indian town,
consisting of five or six wigwams." P 65
This small house outline may have been one of those referenced
by the expedition. A nearby pipeline may have removed the four
or five others. It is also possible that we have yet to find these
From this description, however, we are inferring that what are
being referenced are brush structures, perhaps with rock ring
bases, rather than tipis. We are suggesting that 'wigwam' was
used intentionally to convey this type of construction. Moreover,
no tipi rings are present in the area, supporting this notion.
Recreational activity, oil and gas construction, and overbank flow
on the river could all have contributed to the erasure of the
house features referred to by the expedition.
Aerial image of Dark Canyon and Carlsbad showing the
general route and miles traveled (5.5) up river.
This is the Falls of the Rio Pecos at the mouth of
The crossing is represented by shallows where
bedrock is visible above the water line.
Looking downstream from the 5.5 miles point the
general route is fairly clear given that there are limited
flat lands south of the river, with steep and rugged
limestone ridges on either side.
He was south of the river because they note that they
backtracked a half mile, forded the river, and then went
north for about 3 miles to a domed hill where they
could obtain a view. In this image the forde is at the far
end of the photo where the steep ridges slope
downward, allowing passage.
Looking west and northwest from a high point at about 5.5 miles it is possible to see the completion of
the extreme bend in the river where it turns northeast. They did not continue upriver because their goal
had been reached. They were attempting to discern if there was timber present and if it could be
floated downstream into the Pecos and down to the contruction site.
Evidence of use by highly mobile groups is
present throughout this canyon and their
remains are difficult to see. This wall to an
enclosure is barely discernable but is indicated
by upright slabs that have become tilted and by
SIDE EXPEDITION TO DARK CANYON
A modern photograph was taken from approximately
the same area (although probably a little more to the
east). He was probably sitting on a wagon when he
painted the scene because he was much higher up.
The sky was clearer too so that Guadalupe Peak
could be seen in the distance, which was not visible
on the day this photo was taken.
The conical tents were on the left side of the photo
near the center on the ridge line.
Cut metal from large cans may indicate that indigeous groups
reused this location later, after it was abandoned. They may have
scavenged material from the site to use for their own purposes,
including to make arrow points and tinklers.
On the other hand, many Hispanic and Euro-American groups
living on the fringe, beyond the economic sphere of mainstream
society, used and reused materials, adapting them to new
purposes, improvising as needed to accommodate everyday
needs in their remote location. Repurposing is a factor of
material availability and connection to supply rather than
ethnicity. This debitage tells little of who cut the can and what it
was used for. Discovery of the resulting implement would provide
more information on who is responsible.
Thermal features are present on the surface
and partially buried beneath the surface. Some
of these may indicate use before Pope and
some may be indicative of this post-Pope use.
Still others may relate to Pope's presence. The
one shown in this image is the most recent and
clearest, and even has charcoal exposed on the
surface. All the other poential thermal features
are indicated only by a few pieces of burned
limestone mostly buried beneath the sandy
A map drawn by Don Clifton many years ago
shows much of the camp. It illustrates the
rings for the rectangular tents used by Pope
and the officers on the high ridge to the right
in the painting and it shows the well site in
the low area between ridges. What is missing
is the third locus where the enlisted men
camped in the conical tents.
One of the stone enclosures that surrounded
the rectangular tents on the high ridge to the
northeast where Pope and his officers lived.
A deep rectilinear cut in the ground, through the
limestone bedrock, marks the location of the well,
also shown in the artists painting near the base of
the slope of the ridge.
In this image we are looking down from the highest point where Pope had his tent,
past the well location, and to the enlisted men's living area where the concical
tents are shown. The two tents were positioned to the left or east of the two-track
road as it reaches the top of the low ridge.
Four clearings that may represent the locations for four distinct conical tents are visible in the field. The two most distinct
ones are located on the north end of the ridge where the painting shows them. The clearings are so vague that most
archaeologists would not consider them features, as is evident from the map shown above. Artifacts are associated with
two of these, but no evidence of the fires shown in the painting could be found. The slope in front of and to the east of the
conical tents is eroded and it is likely that evidence for these thermal features has eroded away.
The two images above show one of the clearings from two different directions where a conical tent was located.
Artifacts are present and associated with two of the rings, including historic and prehistoric (flaked stone) ones.
One reason they are so vague is that tent pegs were likely used instead of stones so there are no stone rings
surrounding the features. It is widely recognized that structures may have been present on many sites that have
not left evidence, and this is one of those instances. Yet evidence is present, it is simply less obtrusive than many
archaeologists are willing to accept. Cumulatively there is sufficient evidence to argue for the presence of these
conical tents but their presence would have been missed were it not for the painting. The evidence is sufficient
to verify the accuracy of the painting as well.
Some of the artifacts present are clearly period
specific, verifying that the artifact assemblage
belongs to this occupation.This image shows a
There are also artifacts from what is presumed to
be an earlier occupation as well, but these include
only flaked stone.
THE SIBLEY TENT
A tent has been invented by Major H. H. Sibley, of the army, which
is known as the “Sibley tent.” It is somewhat similar to the
Comanche lodge, but in place of the conical frame-work of poles it
has but one upright standard, resting upon an iron tripod in the
centre. The tripod can be used to suspend cooking utensils over the
fire, and, when folded up, admits the wooden standard between the
legs, thereby reducing the length one half, and making it more
convenient for packing and traveling. Illustration: Sibley Tent.
This tent constituted the entire shelter of the army in Utah during
the winter of 1857-8, and, notwithstanding the severity of the climate
in the elevated locality of Camp Scott, the troops were quite
comfortable, and pleased with the tent.
In permanent camps the Sibley tent may be so pitched as to give
more room by erecting a tripod upon the outside with three poles
high and stout enough to admit of the tent’s being suspended by
ropes attached to the apex. This method dispenses with the
necessity of the central upright standard.
When the weather is very cold, the tent may be made warmer by
excavating a basement about three feet deep, which also gives a
wall to the tent, making it more roomy.
The tent used in the army will shelter comfortably twelve men.
One of its most important features, that of admitting of a fire within
it and of causing a draught by the disposition of the wings, is not,
that I am aware, possessed by any other tent. Moreover, it is
exempt from the objections that are urged against some other tents
on account of insalubrity from want of top ventilation to carry off the
impure air during the night.
FROM: UntraveledRoad (Website). The text is in the Public Domain.
The distinctive top on this tent is captured in the
historic Sindall painting.
Wooden or metal stakes hold the sides in place and
this image shows that there was no material on the
bottom, leaving it open to the bare earth. if firehearths
were built inside these should be evident today and
may be revealed through excavation.
The tripod is visible in this image in the center of the
tent, indicating that the fire hearth would not be
Locus 3 is on the lowest ridge and is represented by an artifact
scatter (historic and prehistoric), four tent rings, and at least one
thermal feature. The tent rings are paired and include those
shown in the Sindall painting at the north end of the locus, plus
two additional ones. Although these two southernmost tent
clearings are not shown in the painting they are of the same
character as those to the north. The fact that they are paired like
those to the north also suggests they are tent clearings.
Most of the historic artifacts (and the greatest diversity) are
located near Ring 1. Few are near rings 3 and 4 although there is
a light scatter of historic artifacts and flaked stone across the
The two-track road is probably historic, relating to the site
occupation. The Sindall painting shows a covered wagon
between Rings 1 and 2, suggesting that this road was there at the
time. The aerial shows that the track does not end, as was
previously suggested, but that it continues on to the southwest,
dropping off the ridge where it joins another track.