OUTDOORS: Western Colorado’s early archaeologists

Squint Moore visiting Harold Huscher’s cabin in Roubideau Canyon in 1988. (Courtesy photo/Bill Harris) 

This past weekend the Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS) held its annual conference in Montrose. CAS has been around since 1935 and the local Chipeta Chapter formed a few weeks after the state organization was founded.

As a long-time member of the chapter, I was asked to present a brief history of the Chipeta Chapter as part of the conference’s morning program. I joined the chapter in 1984 and had learned about the chapter’s history from some of the early-day members.

When I joined the chapter, I met one of its charter members, Carlyle (Squint) Moore. Squint and his sister, Ruth had joined the chapter when they were teens. They both had more than a passing interest in archaeology. During their spare time they roamed the hills around their Pea Green home finding a plethora of artifacts and sites.

It was during those forays into the backcountry that they encountered Harold Huscher, a budding archaeologist who had built a small house in Roubideau Canyon, west of Olathe. Huscher eventually went to work for the Denver Museum of Natural History under the auspices of Dr. Marie Wormington.

Huscher and his wife, Betty Holmes, conducted extensive research in west-central Colorado and published their findings “The Hogan Builders of Colorado” in the September 1943 issue of Southwestern Lore.

In the late 1930s Huscher assisted Dr. Wormington with the excavations of the Moore and Casebier Sites near Olathe that Squint and Ruth had brought to Wormington’s attention. Those sites became the focus of “Archaeological investigations on the Uncompahgre Plateau” that Wormington co-authored with Robert Lister in 1956.

Squint’s knowledge of local archaeology made him an icon in the minds of local avocational and professional archaeologists. In the years following our meeting, Squint participated in every project the chapter organized besides taking chapter members to sites he and Ruth had found so many years ago. In 1997, Squint was awarded CAS’ most prestigious honor, the C.T. Hurst Award.

Other chapter members who made major contributions to the early history of the Chipeta Chapter were Dexter Walker and Monte Sanburg. Dex owned the photo shop in town and had a vast collection of black and white photos of the sites he visited. He and Ernest Ronzio accompanied C.T. Hurst on his first visit to Tabeguache Cave.

Monte Sanburg was the president of the Chipeta Chapter when I joined. He had served in that capacity on and off for over 30 years. He also served as state CAS president in 1960. He and Squint had advised Bill Buckles about local sites when he was working on his doctoral dissertation “Ute Prehistory Project.” CAS recognized Monte’s contributions to Colorado archaeology in 2008 by awarding him the Ivol Hagar Award, CAS’s highest honor bestowed on an avocational archaeologist.

During my research into CAS’ history the one individual who caught my eye was C.T. Hurst, the primary CAS founder. Hurst was a professor at Western State College in Gunnison. He organized a field school each summer for his students visiting six different sites in the West End of Montrose County between 1939 and 1948. Hurst would report the results of his findings annually in CAS’s journal “Southwestern Lore.”

I was able to locate copies of “Southwestern Lore” and poured over them with keen interest. I made it a goal to track down all of Hurst’s sites and spent years knocking around the West End in search of those sites. I located the last one, Cottonwood Cave, with the help of Brian Haas, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist in 2015.

Hurst’s premature death in 1948 ended a career that would have surely produced many more insights into western Colorado’s prehistory. The history of the archaeologists of the Western Slope is as interesting as the archaeology, itself.

Bill Harris has traveled the backcountry of the Colorado Plateau since 1976 and is author of “Bicycling the Uncompahgre Plateau.”

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