Casas Grandes (Span., great houses), a town of about 4,000 inhabitants in Chihuahua, Mexico, on the Casas Grandes or San Miguel river, 35 m. S. of Llanos, which first became noted for ruined edifices, apparently relics of an aboriginal race. These ruins are found about half a mile from the modern town, partly on the declivity of a small hill, and partly on the plain at its foot. They consist chiefly of the remains of a large edifice, built entirely of adobe, or mud mixed with gravel and formed into blocks 22 in. thick and about 3 ft. long. No stone appears to have been used in them, although the similar structures found in Arizona are entirely built of stone. The outer walls are almost all prostrate, except at the corners, and were probably only one story high; the inner walls are much better preserved, varying in height from 5 to 50 ft., and being in some cases 5 ft. in thickness at the base. The central parts of these, like the exterior walls, have generally fallen, leaving the corners towering above the rest. The portions remaining erect seem to indicate an original height of from three to six stories, but they are so much washed away that it is impossible to discover where the beams were inserted.
The doorways have the tapering form noticed in the ancient structures of Central America and Yucatan, and over them are circular openings in the partition walls. The stairways in Chihuahua were of wood, but in Arizona of stone. Clavigero, in his "History of Mexico," tells us that the building at Casas Grandes was erected by the Mexicans in their peregrination, and that it consisted "of three floors, with a terrace above them, and without any entrance to the lower floor. The door for entrance to the building is on the second floor, so that a scaling ladder is necessary." It is difficult to form a correct idea of the arrangement of such an edifice, but its main features seem to have been three large structures connected by ranges of corridors or low apartments, and enclosing several courtyards of various dimensions. The extent from N. to S. must have been 800 ft., and from E. to W. about 250 ft. A range of narrow rooms, lighted by circular openings near the top, and having pens or enclosures 3 or 4 ft. high in one corner, supposed to be granaries, extends along one of the main walls. Many of the apartments are very large, and some of the enclosures are too vast ever to have been covered by a roof. About 200 ft.
W. of the main building are three mounds of loose stones, which may have been burial places; and 200 ft. W. of these are the remains of a building, one story high and 150 ft. square, consisting of a number of apartments ranged around a square court. For some distance S. the plain is covered with traces of similar buildings, the nature of which cannot now be determined; and for 20 leagues along the Casas Grandes and Llanos rivers are found artificial mounds from which have been dug up stone axes, corn-grinders, and various articles of pottery, such as pipes, jars, pitchers, etc, of a texture far superior to that made by the Mexicans of the present day, and generally ornamented with angular figures of blue, red, brown, and black, on a red or wbite ground. The best specimens command a high price in Chihuahua and neighboring towns. - On the summit of a mountain, about 10 m. from the Casas Grandes, are the remains of an ancient stone fortress, attributed to the same people who built the Casas Grandes, which was probably intended as a lookout. - On the Salinas and Gila rivers, in the country of the Pimo and Coco-Maricopa Indians, and in Arizona, are ruins of like character and evidently identical origin, to which the same name is usually applied.
The Indians call all such ruins "casas de Montezuma." Of those on the Salinas little remains but shapeless heaps of rubbish, broken pottery, and the traces of several irrigating canals. On the Gila, however, there are three distinct buildings, all enclosed within a space of 150 yards. The largest measures 50 by 40 ft., and at a distance looks not unlike a square castle, with a tower rising from the centre. The southern wall is badly rent and crumbled, but the other three walls are nearly perfect; they are roughly plastered over on the outside, and hard-finished inside with a composition of adobe. The material of which they are constructed is the same as that used in the Casas Grandes of Chihuahua. The walls are perpendicular within, but their exterior face tapers in a curve toward the top. One of them is covered with rude figures. The ends of the beams, which denote by their charred appearance that the building was destroyed by fire, are deeply sunk in the walls, and show three stories now standing. The lower floor is divided into five apartments. There is an entrance on each of the four sides, but there are no windows except on the "W. side, and no traces of an interior stairway. The other two buildings are much smaller, and one of them was perhaps merely a watch tower.
Both are badly ruined. About 200 yards distant is a circular enclosure, from 80 to 100 yards in circumference, probably intended for cattle. For miles around the plain is strewn with fragments of pottery. - The origin of these ruins is a subject of doubt. They were seen nearly in their present state by the early explorers of the country, and the Indians then assigned them an age of no less than 500 years. Mr. Squier supposes them to have been the work of the aboriginal race of the Moquis.
House at Tewah, Arizona.
Late explorations have shown that the whole of the wide region drained by the Gila and Colorado rivers, now for the most part arid and desolate, was once widely if not densely populated. On the cliffs bordering the Colorado, and on the shelves of its rocky banks, in places apparently inaccessible, are remains of considerable edifices. Throughout the country west of the Rio Grande are the outlines of buildings, discernible by the stones that supported adobe walls, which have now been washed away by rains, or have been disintegrated by time. The stone buildings of the existing Pueblo Indians do not, as far as plan is concerned, differ much from those of their ancestors. They are built around courts, and are generally about three stories high; the walls receding by stages, and access being gained only by the use of ladders. When these ladders are drawn in, the various sides present a perpendicular front to an enemy, and the building itself becomes a fortress. These features indicate that before the conquest the quiet, agricultural population of what is generally called New Mexico was subject to raids or incursions from the barbarous hordes roaming to the north and northeast, against whom their casas were probably an efficient protection.
The strength of the walls of these structures was proved during the Mexican war, when it was found that they were impregnable to field artillery. To gain greater security, the ancients built on the high mesas, or terrestrial islands, that abound in the region they occupied (precisely as did the barons of Europe in the middle ages), whose level summits could only be reached by narrow and easily defensible passes, in many cases hewn in the rock. The remains of the buildings that crowned these natural fastnesses are conspicuous and interesting features in the wide region embraced between the Rio Grande on the east, the Gila on the south, and the Colorado on the west.
Moqui Town, near Tewai.