March 10, 2003

Reading the rocks: Hopi history in petroglyphs


KEYWORDS: Hopi petroglyphs ancient Indian tribes Wind Mountain petroglyphs at Three Rivers Hopi tribes of New Mexico and Arizona ancient site of Casas Grandes in Mexico Joe Ben Sanders sacred Hopi lands archeology of New Mexico Jornada Mogollon Hopi Tularosa Basin Hopi oral traditions Bear Clan Coyote Clan Parrot Clan Kachina Clan clan clans three-rivers site Hopi stories legend legends Casas Grandes Spider clan Snake clan ceremonial deer Moki Mochi Hopi word for awl Three Rivers petroglyph Petroglyphs of the pueblo Casa Grande telescopic vision archeology books Palatkwapi petroglyph poster petroglyph art print

AUTHOR: Elva K. Osterreich, Staff Writer for the Alamogorda News

Joe Ben Sanders has spent 27 years looking at the Wind Mountain petroglyphs at Three Rivers, N.M. He has made controversial connections with the Hopi tribes of New Mexico and Arizona and the ancient site of Casas Grandes in Mexico.

Sanders believes that the ancient Mogollon and the Hopi share the same story, that they are indeed the same people. He believes that the ancestors of the Hopi gradually migrated through southern New Mexico on the way to sacred Hopi lands.

“We have three archeologies not three cultures,” Sanders said of the currently held archeological belief that three different groups of peoples roamed early New Mexico.

Whitefeather - Petroglyph I

Petroglyph I


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The Jornada Mogollon Hopi, as Sanders calls them all, spread up through southern New Mexico and the Tularosa Basin from Mexico. The three-rivers site contains the evidence and history to support this migration.

According to Hopi oral traditions, the Bear, Coyote, Parrot and Kachina clans migrated south together after the Emergence, Sanders said. The symbols of all these clans can be found at Three Rivers.

There are two Hopi stories, Sanders said, about the destruction of Palatkwapi, or the mysterious red city of the south, which Sanders believes is Casas Grandes.

“I know it has to be Casas Grandes,” Sanders said.

Deborah Hiatt - Sacred Mountain

Sacred Mountain

Deborah Hiatt

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One story says that Spider clan destroyed Casas Grandes, the other says it was destroyed by the wrath of the Snake.

In either case the story goes, two children, twins, escaped the destruction together. One of the children was a boy, Tawahongva, and the other a girl, Tawiayisnima. Together they traveled north looking for their parents.

The children found a ceremonial deer, Moki, who offered up his life to save the children. The deer told the boy to kill him but not to break its bones but rather to make an awl out of its leg bone and wear it around his neck, which he did. An awl, in Hopi, is “mochi,” leading to the name, “Mochi,” for the Hopi people, Sanders believes.

Judith Durr - Whispers of the Past

Whispers of the Past

Judith Durr

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At Three Rivers petroglyph bird track line up the stories told by the rocks, Sanders said.

Sanders knows each rock on the mountain like the back of his hand. Keeping up to him is trouble and not getting twisted around by the stories is a challenge, but its worth it to make the trek in Sanders’ world.

“This site can prove everything,” Sanders said.

The girl and boy twins can be found in many rocks on the mountain. The Moki deer is there to symbolize its clan and the children. It usually appears without a leg, signifying it is indeed the same deer the twins killed.

Ginny Hogan - Corn Ceremony

Corn Ceremony

Ginny Hogan

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Petroglyphs of the pueblo (Casas Grandes), with ladders and a spiritual blanket the people were supposed to weave over the land lead to images of destruction, on one side the destruction is caused by snakes and on the other by spiders.

Some of the final images include the spiritual blanket frayed and falling apart with the cohesive symbols on it gone.

The petroglyph writers not only left their images in the stone, they also used the stone’s natural and unnatural features to enhance the writing.

They would work around a knob on the stone indicating telescopic vision.

Cecilia Henle - Many Ponies

Many Ponies

Cecilia Henle

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When the people started using telescopic vision for the wrong things and turned to witchcraft, they lost the telescopic vision.

“Live simple. Migrate,” Massau told them but they gave up the simple ways and destruction followed, Sanders said.

Maps left by the petroglyph writers wrap around the rocks to indicate direction.

Cecilia Henle - Hunt


Cecilia Henle

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Places where the rock had been damaged or chipped away by natural forces are used symbolically. Moki’s head is destroyed in one of the images, signified by a natural break in the rock.

The almost exact miniature of building above Casas Grandes appears in miniature in the rocks at Three Rivers, a miniature model enhanced by petroglyphs, Sanders said.

The archeologists in Santa Fe are cultural thieves, Sanders said. They turn up artifacts but “you can’t dig up religion.”

David Atkins - Gatekeeper


David Atkins

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Sanders is an archeologist himself. His company specializes in doing archeological studies for oil and gas companies. His company is doing so well he doesn’t have to do the work himself anymore, he hires other archeologists to do it and he studies the Three Rivers petroglyphs.

Sanders has written 42 books on area subjects including several on the Three River Petroglyphs, one on Bent, and many other local archeological subjects.

His books can be found for sale at the Tularosa Reporter office, 501 Granado St. in Tularosa.


Elva K. Osterreich is a Staff Writer for the Alamogordo News.

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