The Post-Pueblo Period: A.D. 1300 to Late 1700s
The Pueblo Indian migrations of the late thirteenth century did not signal the end of human occupation of the Mesa Verde region. Archaeologists see evidence of new peoples in the area in the years following A.D. 1300, including two groups of hunter-gatherers who gave rise to the modern Ute and Navajo Indians. And, in one of the most significant developments of this period, Europeans—Spanish explorers and settlers—arrived in the American Southwest, forever changing the cultural landscape.
So what became of the Pueblo Indians who migrated from the region? In their new homes in New Mexico and Arizona, they continued their long tradition of farming the land and contributed to the growth of large, thriving Pueblo communities, some of which are inhabited to this day. But they never forgot the Mesa Verde region, regarding it as one of their places of origin and the home of their ancestors.
The Post-Pueblo period was a time of great population movement throughout the American West and Southwest. By the end of the thirteenth century (probably by about A.D. 1285), the Pueblo people had left their villages in the Mesa Verde region and migrated to new homes in what today are the states of Arizona and New Mexico. And in the years following A.D. 1300, at least two different groups of hunter-gatherers are believed to have moved into the Mesa Verde region from the west and north.
One of these groups, the Utes, was living in the Mesa Verde region and adjacent areas when the first Spanish explorers arrived in the middle to late 1700s. Archaeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of the Utes had entered western Colorado centuries earlier, migrating from areas farther west. As for when they began living in the Mesa Verde region specifically, we aren't sure. Both Ute and Hopi (Pueblo Indians who today live in northeastern Arizona) oral histories say that Ute and Pueblo peoples lived in the region at the same time. Although no clear archaeological evidence has been found to support this, more research is needed.
The second group of hunter-gatherers, ancestors of today's Navajo Indians, migrated from the north. Scholars debate the exact timing of their arrival in the American Southwest, but evidence suggests that it was after A.D. 1450. They were probably in the Mesa Verde region at least by the early 1500s and possibly earlier.
A pivotal event toward the end of the Post-Pueblo period was the arrival of the Spanish, the first Europeans to enter the American Southwest. The Spanish settled in present-day New Mexico in the late 1500s, but not until the middle to late 1700s did explorers venture north into the Mesa Verde region. Although the Spanish did not build any permanent settlements in the Mesa Verde region—they were mostly interested in finding a route to their missions in California—their occupation of New Mexico had a ripple effect on American Indians living in the Mesa Verde region and beyond. From the introduction of horses, guns, and deadly diseases to their attempts to impose European language, religion, and systems of government, the Spanish were to have a profound and far-reaching impact on native cultures.
Title page for Peoples of the Mesa Verde Region