The pueblo were one of the few Indian groups which did any mining. Other tribes in the United States region broke off stone to make their tools, but without tunneling into the earth. Indians in the Lake Superior area quarried the native copper in this same way but the pueblo people dug as much as two hundred feet into the earth and for two substances: turquoise and coal.

Turquoise was what the miners sought oftenest, both to make their own jewelry, and to trade. Stones which seem to have come from the pueblo plateau are found in Mexico, and though we suppose the Mexicans must have had mines of their own, these have not yet been found. There are at least eight mines in pueblo country, most of them so valuable that they have been reworked by white people. The largest, at Cerillos, near Sante Fe, had a tunnel 200 feet deep and at some places the diggings are 300 or more feet wide. Another ancient tunnel goes thirty feet through solid granite and porphyry. The tools of the miners were only stone and bone. They evidently cracked the rock by fire, then hacked out pieces of it with stone hammers such as that on page 107. Finally they picked out the veins and nuggets of turquoise with picks of deerhorn. Sometimes the overhanging rock fell on the miners, as happened at the Cerillos mine in 1680. The bodies of the crushed Indians were found long afterward, fifty feet below the pit surface.

Early dwellers in pueblo country even went far afield after their turquoise. There are plenty of small deposits of the stone in the hot California desert known as the Mohave Sink. Here there are scraps of pottery and tools which show that some time before 800 A.D., people from pueblo country were camping in caves and mining turquoise in 200 different places. Evidently they did not stop to make jewelry on the spot but took the stones away and drilled at home.

The other kind of mining was for coal, and this was done by the Hopi alone. In fact, they were the only prehistoric coal miners in the United States. The dumps from their old tunnels can still be seen along the mesas and some are being opened again. From the tools found it looks as though the miners hacked into the coal seam with the long stone picks we mentioned (page 108), cracking out lumps which they broke up with a stone hammer. They tunneled into the mesa for twenty feet or so and perhaps carried the coal home in skin sacks. It is very soft, sub-bituminous and can hardly be used in a house because of its evil-smelling smoke. Probably it was used for pottery making, and some of the diggers guess that each woman may have had her own little mine.

There were salt mines, too, in Nevada and southern Arizona, but pueblo people seem to have got most of their salt from the deposits left by water at the lakes and springs where they made their sacred pilgrimages.


Pueblo men who brought home turquoise from the mines, sometimes made it into beads themselves and sometimes traded it to others who had skill in bead drilling. This was a delicate task, needing a special tool, and only a few men knew how to do it. Some, however, are using the old process to the present day, especially at Zuni. They chip a bit of turquoise or shell to about the right size and then drill a hole through it before shaping it into a bead. Thus, if it cracks during the operation, there will not be so much work wasted.

Pump drill for making holes in turquoise

Plate V-6. Pump drill for making holes in turquoise.

The tool used is the pump drill. The plate V-6 shows this device which is a shaft of wood about one foot long with a sharp point fastened to the lower end. Once this point was a sliver of flint, but now it is metal, perhaps the tip of an old file. Some distance above the point there is a disk of wood, pottery, or stone, which acts as a flywheel to keep the shaft turning after it has been given a push. Above the disk and about half way along the length of the shaft is the device for pushing. It is a stick of heavy wood about two feet long, through the middle of which the shaft passes. We may call it the cross-piece. The ends of the crosspiece are attached to a long buckskin thong, just as the ends of a bow are attached to a bow string and the thong is threaded through a hole in the top of the shaft.

To start work the driller twirls the crosspiece around the shaft by hand, thus causing the two strings to twist tight around the rod and pulling the crosspiece up higher. The point of the shaft is on the bit of turquoise he wishes to drill and he holds it there with one hand. With the other he pushes down on the crosspiece. This untwists the strings and causes the shaft to whirl. The whirling does not stop when the strings are untwisted for the flywheel keeps the shaft going, thus twisting them up in the other direction. Now the driller pushes down on the crosspiece again and the whole operation is repeated. If he pushes gently and regularly the drill will work with almost the precision of a machine. Few Indians used such a complicated device as this though it used to be known in the Old World, before the days of machines. Perhaps the Spaniards brought it in early days but its history has long been forgotten.