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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access April 21, 2023

Movement or Diaspora? Understanding a Multigenerational Puebloan and Ndee Community on the Central Great Plains

  • Sarah Trabert EMAIL logo , Matthew E. Hill and Margaret E. Beck
From the journal Open Archaeology


Many Indigenous groups in North America have long-held practices of using migration and movement in response to environmental and social changes. Diasporic communities, composed of migrants maintaining significant connections to their former homelands, were likely once common in refuge areas of North America, but not always recognized by archaeologists. Many Puebloan peoples in the Northern Rio Grande region of the US Southwest used movement as a way to escape Spanish colonial control after AD 1600, yet retained connections to their homelands. This Puebloan diaspora had far-reaching consequences for Native peoples across the Southwest and neighboring regions like the Great Plains. Here, we briefly summarize how diasporas are defined globally and the ways in which these definitions could shift to help us model diasporas in North America. Using the Pueblo diaspora and a multi-generational Pueblo–Ndee (Apache) community in the Central Great Plains as example, we explore the intricacies of identifying diasporas for North America within the contexts of Indigenous resistance and adaptation.

1 Introduction

For Native peoples in the US Southwest, colonial powers were a pervasive and violent disruption to their daily and ceremonial lives. Resistance to this invasion took many forms, both active and passive, and often involved a high level of creativity and social and economic flexibility (Aguilar & Preucel, 2019; Liebmann, Preucel, & Aguilar, 2017; Wilcox, 2009). Some northern Rio Grande groups in what is now northern New Mexico responded by intensifying social and economic relationships with Puebloan and non-Puebloan groups living in the surrounding mountains and Great Plains – and even leaving the Rio Grande Valley to join them (Habicht-Mauche, 2000). Decisions to stay or leave the Rio Grande were not made at a community level, but likely were based on established personal alliances and relationships (Bernstein, Fender, & Sanchez, 2019; Habicht-Mauche, 2000; Mills, 2011). The Scott County Pueblo (14SC1) was one such refuge for a group of Puebloan migrants. In this case, a small family group traveled over 500 km to western Kansas and built a seven-room masonry pueblo within a Ndee (ancestral Apache) community who had resided in the area for several centuries (Figure 1).

Figure 1 
               Map of study area with the general locations of sites mentioned in text.
Figure 1

Map of study area with the general locations of sites mentioned in text.

Spanish chroniclers (e.g., Forbes, 1960; Thomas, 1935; Twitchell, 1914) suggest that Puebloan people moved only temporarily to the Great Plains, but their cohabitation at 14SC1 and surrounding sites with Ndee residents indicates a more permanent presence. Rather than returning to the Rio Grande, these migrants became an integrated component of the Ndee society and lived an essentially Great Plains lifestyle for generations. In our previous work (e.g., Beck & Trabert, 2014; Beck, Trabert, Hill, & Hill, 2016; Hill, Beck, Lengyel, Trabert, & Adair, 2018; Trabert, Eiselt, Hill, Ferguson, & Beck, 2016; Trabert et al., 2022), we have uncritically situated the Puebloan migrants at 14SC1 as part of the larger Puebloan diaspora without fully considering the implications of the term “diaspora.” The current article looks at this issue in greater detail.

Migration occurs when autonomous households or small suprafamily groups – and more rarely, large populations – make a one-way residential relocation to a different environment for periods of time longer than typical seasonal rounds (Buchanan, 2020; Cabana & Clark, 2011; Clark, Huntley, Hill, & Lyons, 2013). Some migrations are considered diasporas, in which people either choose to or are forced to leave their homelands but maintain significant social, political, economic, religious, and/or demographic relationships with those homelands after their departure (Kanter, 2011; Mills, 2011; Mills et al., 2016). Diasporic communities retain connections to their formal homelands through memories, significant objects, architectural and material practices, language, religion, trade, and occasional visits (Cipolla, 2017; Lilley, 2004, p. 289). These connections set diasporic communities apart from other forms of migration. The distinction between migration and diaspora is not merely semantic, but highlights how we identify and interpret movement in the archaeological record.

In rethinking our interpretations of the 14SC1 community, it is vital to connect our work with literature on diasporas more broadly and Indigenous diasporas in North America specifically. Discussions of diasporas in North America frequently address African diasporas, describing how enslaved peoples carried their language, religion, culture, and material practices to the Americas and created multigenerational connections to their homelands (Malouchos, 2020; Marshall, 2020; Orser, 1998). Other examples include nineteenth- and twentieth-century Chinese and Japanese diasporas to the US (e.g., Camp, 2020; Kennedy & Rose, 2020) and the pre-contact movement away from Cahokia in the American Bottom or the Four Corners regions of the American Southwest (Clark et al., 2013, 2019; Lyons & Clark, 2012; Mills et al., 2016). A 2020 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory featured articles about social, demographic, economic, and political changes following the dispersal of Cahokia residents after AD 1150 and offered guidelines for studying Indigenous diasporas in the Americas. In applying their recommendations to our own work at the Scott County Pueblo, we see an opportunity to reconsider not only our interpretations of this possible diasporic community, but also whether the full suite of characteristics in the definition of “diaspora” fit the community at 14SC1 and other similar Native American sites.

We begin by reviewing recent archaeological work on diasporas, describing how these movements are commonly defined and the ways that researchers are continuing to expand those definitions in Native North America. We then briefly describe what is known about the sixteenth- to seventeenth-century Puebloan diaspora and the Scott County Pueblo, a mixed Puebloan–Ndee community in western Kansas. We summarize the timing, nature, and material evidence for the Puebloan–Ndee occupation and then discuss whether it is appropriate to characterize this community as diasporic. Understanding diasporas as an active response to colonialism is especially critical given all too common assumptions of Indigenous cultural loss and displacement in similar situations. Instead, diasporic communities hold on to elements of their identity they believe to be the most important and they maintain multi-generational connections to their homelands even if they were forced to leave.

2 Modeling Diasporas in North America

Diasporas (as outlined by Brubaker, 2005) were originally bounded in archaeology by three defining characteristics. First, diasporic communities are made up of a dispersed population that chose to or are forced to leave their homeland. Second, diasporic communities retain a nostalgia or longing for their homeland that shapes their identity and is reflected in collective memories of their homeland and a desire to return there at some point in the future. Finally, these communities remain separate and distinct from their host communities resisting assimilation (Brubaker, 2005; Buchanan, 2020; Safran, 1991). This final characteristic is often a branching off point for researchers as some stress this boundary maintenance as important for identifying diasporic groups (e.g., Brubaker, 2005), while others argue that a dispersed community can maintain a connection to their homeland while also experiencing cultural fluidity and creolization (e.g., Cipolla, 2017). Some researchers, such as Cohen (2008), argue that there could be multiple kinds of diasporas, such as colonial diaspora or trade diaspora, where boundary maintenance might be more diffuse and less important to the communities themselves.

Critiques regarding how the diaspora concept is applied are as numerous as the various definitions of the term. Given the nested nature of diasporas as a subtype of migration, there is disagreement about whether migrants’ separation from their new neighbors, or boundary maintenance, is integral to defining them as a diasporic community (Cipolla, 2017; Clifford, 2007; Lilley, 2006; Malouchos, 2020). More restricted criteria may alienate Indigenous diasporas during and after colonization as forced cultural change occurred due to settler colonial policies aimed at assimilation (see Cipolla, 2017; Lilley, 2004, 2006 for more detail). Dispersed communities could maintain their connections and nostalgia for their homeland but might not have remained separate from neighboring settler populations. Rather than focusing on boundary maintenance in the stricter geographical or cultural sense, researchers might recognize that a diasporic community’s experiences and values could set them apart from their neighbors creating social distinctions that could be just as strong as more traditional boundaries (Cipolla, 2017). Furthermore, an emphasis on displacement and loss in our definitions of diasporas is so often problematic for Indigenous peoples as many retain the feeling that while forcibly removed, they never truly left their homeland and have fought to return to significant places or at least gain temporary access to visit (Clifford, 2007; Lilley, 2006). We risk much in viewing diasporas as a series of trait lists that have criteria that can be checked off – cultures and communities are not homogenous and unchanging. Diasporas are instead a social concept where boundaries and identities are made and remade as perceptions and connections to homelands shift and change (Baltus, Baires, Malouchos, & Madhusudan Mehta, 2020; Clifford, 2007; Lilley, 2006).

Even in situations where settler colonialism is not a factor, there is a need to rethink and perhaps expand our defining criteria and modeling of diasporas for Indigenous populations in North America. For example, a multitude of processes surrounding identity reformation, boundary maintenance, and cultural fluidity operated during the Cahokia Diaspora, following the breakdown of this Mississippian urban or near-urban center in the late twelfth century (King, 2020). While some families left Cahokia to settle in neighboring areas, others then left again forming new diasporic communities with connections to Cahokia even further away (King, 2020). The diasporic community continued to expand over time as the ideas, religion, architecture, and material practices seen at Cahokia are replicated in new settlement generations later (Buchanan, 2020; King, 2020; Malouchos, 2020).

This reconceptualization of Cahokia’s decline as a diaspora places less emphasis on boundary maintenance and instead focuses on links between dispersed communities and their ancestral home as these diasporic groups continue to adapt and change as they settle into new physical and social environments. A dispersed community’s identities and practices are bound to change, but that change does not mean they lose their connections or nostalgia to their ancestral homes. As Buchanan (2020, p. 76) states, “nostalgia is an orientation – of self, of community, of space, of material engagement,” and symbols and objects associated with that former homeland can be transformed to re-envision the past while hoping for the future. Diasporic communities can and will experience change. The associated ethnogenesis and complexity can be better understood by studying the relations that people have to their former and new homes, with the objects they brought with them and the new ones they produce, and the relationships with ideas and practices that are also connected to home yet changing (Cipolla, 2017; Malouchos, 2020). Archaeologists increasingly recognize that communities and the interconnected relationships between people, places, and objects are ever changing; so it stands to reason that diasporic communities would also be in a perpetual state of remaking identities and boundaries. These changes do not make them any less part of a diaspora, but rather it is their connections to their former homes despite these changes that make them diasporic.

Other North American archaeologists have noted that diasporas are part of tribal histories as groups left their homelands due to political upheaval, conflict, persecution, environmental stress, and/or the arrival of settler colonizers (Clark et al., 2019; Conrad, 2021; Lakomaki, 2014; Lyons & Clark, 2012; Schneider, 2015; Shaler, 2020, 2021). Mills argues that the “great migrations” seen in the Puebloan Southwest in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries shared characteristics of diasporas. Large numbers of people were displaced, moving to communities in distant locations creating “zones of hybridity and heterogeneity…transform[ing] local historical trajectories” (Mills, 2011, p. 358). Clark and colleagues (2019, p. 263; Birch, 2013) have described the social process as “coalescence” in which groups of different cultural backgrounds come together and form new inclusive ideologies and regional economies. But as seen throughout the multiple diasporas in the US Southwest, many Native American groups maintained connections to their homelands through pilgrimages, place names, and oral traditions (Mills, 2011). Many would argue they never truly left those places, and they remained a distinct people no matter how far they were forced to move or how assimilated they might appear to outsiders (Lakomaki, 2014; Shaler, 2020). Diasporas are then examples of resistance and adaptation rather than loss for Native American communities.

Indigenous diasporas in North America occurred for a variety of reasons and could last generations as diasporic communities continued moving away yet staying connected to their homelands. The methods by which communities retain their distinct identity may be ephemeral. How might then we recognize them archaeologically? Traditionally, diasporas were noted in places and time periods where there are historically documented dispersals of people. These historical records led archaeologists to look for material correlates of those previously known movements (Malouchos, 2020). Owen (2005, pp. 48–49) suggests that the abrupt appearance of material culture and practices in a new place may indicate the dispersal of people to that area and the continued use of symbols and presence of trade goods could reflect a connection to a diasporic group’s homeland. Furthermore, Hegmon et al. (2016) found that while migrants and local Indigenous groups might renegotiate their identities to facilitate co-residence, this did not mean they considered themselves a socially cohesive community. In their study of Kayenta migrants to the San Pedro Valley in southern Arizona in the late thirteenth century, Hegmon and colleagues found that migrants increased the production of material markers of their difference compared to their Indigenous neighbors, effectively persisting through their differences rather than homogenizing their material culture and assimilating it (Hegmon et al., 2016). While boundary maintenance is traditionally associated with diasporic communities globally and would be reflected in the stark differences between the diasporic community and their neighbors, we know from more recent archaeological examples, such as Hegmon et al.’s (2016) work, that negotiating identities and material culture in these migrant contexts is much more complicated (Clark et al., 2013; Lyons & Clark, 2012). It is far more likely that one may have archaeological evidence for the presence of a diasporic community with connections to their homeland that may or may not be set completely apart from their neighbors. Instead, Cipolla (2017) argues that diasporas must be viewed through a relational framework to focus on how dispersed groups maintained connections to their homelands while simultaneously adapting their relationships with the peoples, objects, and places in their new homes. It is then their relationships to their ancestral homeland and their relationships with the land, people, and objects of their new space that define a diasporic community. Diasporas are not an event but a social process of becoming with material links to the past and present (Baltus et al., 2020; Malouchos, 2020).

We use “diaspora” here to mean the movement of dispersed groups into an area outside of their traditional territory where people maintain clear connections and nostalgia for their former homeland. We recognize that these diasporic communities may or may not be separate from their new neighbors and that diasporic communities might move locations over time. If groups continue to hold connections to their ancestral homeland, even over multiple generations, then they should be considered part of a diaspora. In this sense, diasporas differ from other forms of migration because there is that strong connection to an ancestral homeland and evidence for the retention of cultural and material practices of special importance even in mixed social settings. Given these considerations, could the 14SC1 community be part of the larger Puebloan diaspora if they formed a multigenerational blended community in Kansas?

2.1 Contextualizing the Puebloan Diaspora: Rio Grande Pueblos and Their Plains Neighbors

Contact and exchange between sedentary farming groups living in pueblos (single or adjoining square to rectangular adobe clay structures with multiple rooms and flat roofs) along the Rio Grande Valley in northern New Mexico and their neighboring, more mobile Plains groups have a deep history (e.g., Barr, 2005; Beck, 2022; Blasing, 1981; Brosowke, 2005; Brosowske & Bevitt, 2006; Kidder, 1932; Lange, 1957; Wedel, 1967, 1982) (Figure 1). For centuries, if not millennia, interactions were undoubtedly multifaceted and involved the peaceful exchange of information, people, and goods in certain situations, and raiding and violence during other periods as the relationship changed over time.

However, a significant intensification to the Plains–Pueblo relationship began around AD 1450. Habicht-Mauche (1992, 2008) and others (e.g., Baugh, 1991; Jenks, 2005; Spielmann, 1983, 1989, 1991) noted that this change in regional interaction is likely a function of 1) the appearance of Ndee peoples (Plains Apache) in the region, 2) a realignment in the organization of the Puebloan economy, and 3) a shift by certain Caddoan-speaking societies (known archaeologically as the Wheeler and Garza complexes) in the western southern Plains toward a more specialized bison-oriented lifestyle.

This change is witnessed by a substantial increase in the frequency of exchange between northern Rio Grande Pueblo communities and Apache groups in northeast New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and Colorado/Kansas border region and various Caddoan-speaking bands in western Oklahoma, west Texas, and even as far north as central Kansas (Eiselt & Snow, 2017; Habicht-Mauche, 1992; Snow, 1981). These exchange networks moved bison hide, fat, and meat, Alibates Flint, bone tools from the Plains and maize, Rio Grande Glaze Ware ceramics, and cotton from the Rio Grande Pueblos. More socially prestigious items, including Jemez Mountain (New Mexico) obsidian, Pacific Coast and Gulf of California shell beads, salt, tobacco, and turquoise, were also likely part of this exchange network (Creel, 1991; Eiselt & Snow, 2017).

Archaeology and ethnohistoric accounts also indicate people moved between these regions (Castañeda et al., 1990; Forbes, 1960; Habicht-Mauche, 1992). Various processes such as captive taking, marriage alliances, and people leaving their homes as refugees were likely responsible for moving people between sedentary pueblo communities. These “foreign” women in both Plains and Puebloan societies would likely have served as natural facilitators to connect specific Plains groups to certain pueblo communities (see Eiselt & Snow, 2017; Ford, 1972).

However, beginning in the 1620s, and intensifying following the reconquest of New Mexico by the Spanish in 1694 after the Pueblo Revolt (1680–1692), the expansion of Spanish missionary efforts greatly disrupted the Puebloan society and permanently altered the Pueblo and Plains exchange network at least as it had occurred during the last few centuries (Beck, 2022). Spanish attempts at religious conversion, forced relocation, limiting access to traditional landscapes and resources, and cohabitation with missionaries, combined with the effects of European disease and droughts, too made it difficult for many Puebloan groups to be self-sufficient (Barrett, 2002; Herr & Clark, 1997; Kulisheck, 2010; Liebmann, 2017). This period was also characterized by increased factionalism among Puebloan communities. Some Puebloan members appeared to be more willing to accept Spanish dominion than others (Barrett, 2002; Brugge, 1969; Schaafsma, 2002; Wilcox, 2009) Furthermore, the Spanish began to take direct control of the trade relationship Puebloan groups had and desired to actively encourage contact between these groups in certain situations, while openly inhibiting interactions in other instances (Anderson, 1999; Kessell, 2003). For example, due to their history of conspiring with the anti-Spanish Puebloans, the New Mexico Governor temporarily forbade the Apache from entering pueblos to trade in the mid-1660s (Barrett, 2002).

These colonial disruptions also result in shifts to the loci for Plains–Pueblo exchange. Trade fairs at Taos, Picuris, and Pecos were important at least until the AD 1730s (Forbes, 1960; Ford, 1972, p. 27; Kessell, 1987). Later, regional trading occurred at colonial settlements, such as San Miguel del Vado, Abiquiu, and Santa Fe, and was controlled by Hispanos and Genízaros (Native peoples captured by Indigenous raiders and sold to Hispano settlers) rather than Puebloan people. At the same time, Apache and Caddoan-speaking groups of the Plains were increasingly driven out of the Plains–Pueblo trade by Ute and the Comanche, who eventual become the dominant Plains group in the trade relationship (Montgomery, 2019).

At the start of the colonial period, Pueblo–Plains trade fairs at pueblos were grand affairs (Forbes, 1960; Ford, 1972; Kessell, 1987). When the Comanche or Apache would visit a Puebloan trade fair, it would involve hundreds of men, women, and children leading huge packs of heavily laden dogs, intending to stay at the pueblo over the winter to trade (Eiselt, 2022; Forbes, 1960; Kessell, 1987). However, over time these visits to the pueblos became less frequent and shorter in duration, often lasting just a few days, and involved fewer visitors.

The items of exchange and their relative value changed throughout the colonial period as well, with a shift toward more specialized processed and manufactured goods. Later in time, finished hides from the Plains groups and European metal tools, guns, ammunition, and horses from New Mexico were the most valued items being exchanged. The increasing colonial need for labor meant that human captives brought to New Mexico by Plains groups become critical to the exchange economy (Castañeda et al., 1990; Ford, 1972; Jenks, 2005; Lange, 1957; Spielmann, 1983, 1991).

But movement of people was not unidirectional. Puebloan groups periodically traveled to the Plains for trade, often at the direction of Spanish authorities. These trade trips would usually include small groups of mostly men. During these trips, the Puebloan traders would take part in bison hunts or conduct searches for Comanche, Apache, or Ute camps (Eiselt, 2012; Ford, 1972; Montgomery, 2021; Seymour, 2014). These trips onto the Plains were dangerous because not all mobile groups were friendly to the Puebloan traders, and these trips could involve loss of horses, supplies, personal freedom, or even the lives of these Puebloan travelers (Brooks, 2002).

These economic and social relationships with their Plains neighbors also provided Puebloan communities with destinations to travel to when they chose to escape Spanish colonial interference by strategically leaving their homelands. This Puebloan diaspora is marked by movement over varied distances with some Puebloan groups leaving their own homes to travel a short distance to neighboring pueblos not under direct Spanish control while other Puebloan groups traveled hundreds of kilometers to find refuge. For example, there are records of Southern Tiwa groups moving to northern villages such as Taos or Picuris, or various Rio Grande groups moving in with Jemez, Zuni, or Hopi communities to the west (e.g., Herr & Clark, 1997; Preucel, 2002; Wilcox, 2009), and the deep connections between Tewa groups and the Diné (Navajo) (Anschuetz & Wilshusen, 2014; Warburton & Begay, 2005). Other groups traveled much longer distances as parts of the Great Plains served as refuge for at least small groups of Puebloan peoples displaced from their homes. As Herr and Clark (1997, pp. 375–376) outline, Spanish documents also recount (e.g., Forbes, 1960; Thomas, 1935; Twitchell, 1914, pp. 279–280) Taos and Picuris residents leaving their northern Rio Grande communities to move to an area called “El Cuartelejo” to reside alongside Ndee groups on the Plains (Eiselt, 2012). Archaeological evidence from the Scott County Pueblo (14SC1) support these accounts of Puebloan migration to the Great Plains and provides an opportunity to discuss how these movements out of the American Southwest serve as evidence for diaspora.

3 The Central Plains Apache: The Dismal River Complex

During this larger Puebloan diaspora, the western High Plains was the homeland of the Plains Apachean groups (archaeologically known as the Dismal River complex). More than 280 Dismal River archaeological sites are known from western Kansas, western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and southeastern Wyoming (Hill, Trabert, & Beck, 2022). Researchers have used ethnographic and archaeological evidence to conclusively link these Dismal River sites with Athabascan-speaking ancestral Plains Apache or Ndee peoples (Brunswig, 1995; Eiselt, 2012; Hill & Trabert, 2018; O’Brien, 1984; Schlesier, 1972; Wedel, 1947, 1986). Ndee peoples migrated to the Plains relatively late in the Precontact period from the north (Ives & Janetski, 2022; Magne, 2012). Although the timing and nature of the Ndee arrival to the Plains and Southwest are still debated today (see Hill et al., 2022; Seymour, 2012), current research clearly shows that despite the cultural blending that took place as Athapaskan speakers interacted with other Indigenous groups on the Plains and in the US Southwest, there is a set of characteristics in the archaeological record that define a Ndee presence. Ndee peoples shared a commitment to a mobile lifeway, were large game hunters, rarely participated in long-distance trade networks, and adopted the local materials, customs, and practices of their new neighbors (Eiselt, 2006, 2012). We argue elsewhere that Dismal River chronology, house form, use of micaceous ceramics, and possibly lithic tool types support a connection with Ndee groups (Hill & Trabert, 2018). These elements of their lifeways were considerably distinct from contemporary Central Plains cultures, such as the ancestral Pawnee and Wichita.

Dismal River peoples shared elements with many “Plains” traits, such as semi-sedentary habitation and low-intensity horticulture. They lived in semi-permanent villages or campsites used by farming bison hunters (Gunnerson, 1968; Hill et al., 2022). Eastern Dismal River sites show evidence of semi-permanent occupation, a mixed horticultural and hunting lifeway, and extensive use of ceramics (Brunswig, 1995; Gunnerson, 1968; Trabert, 2015). Western Dismal River sites suggest more mobile groups of hunter-foragers living in expedient structures such as tepees or rock shelters at short-term sites where they discarded fewer ceramic vessels (Brunswig, 1995; Gunnerson, 1968; Hill et al., 2022). Dismal River ceramics were made using paddle and anvil construction techniques common to the Plains leaving vessel surfaces plain (smooth) or simple stamped. Their ceramics are typically tempered with fine sands, mica, or a combination of both. They are typically dark in color, decoration (when present) is confined to the lip, and they do not have slipped surfaces (see Trabert, 2015 for detailed discussion). Jar forms dominate Dismal River ceramic assemblages, and most are small to medium in size, with constricted necks and flaring to upright rims. Bowls, water bottles, and other vessel forms are not commonly found at Dismal River sites (see Beck & Trabert, 2014; Trabert, 2015 for detailed description of vessel form comparisons).

Dismal River houses are generally circular wickiup-style structures with five base posts and a central hearth that is surrounded by external roasting pits. Their use of granite-rich sands containing mica as temper in their ceramics also sets them apart from other Plains groups, connecting them to Ndee and Puebloan peoples in the northern Rio Grande region. They arrived in the Central Plains in the fourteenth century and abandoned permanent settlement in the region by the early nineteenth century (Hill et al., 2022).

4 The Pueblo on the Plains

Groups of people who live in distinctive pueblo architecture can be found across the American Southwest, especially in northern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. However, the Scott County Pueblo (14SC1) is located hundreds of kilometers north and east of traditional Puebloan influences, located in what is now western Kansas along the banks of Ladder Creek, a tributary of the Smoky Hill River (Figures 1 and 2). It is the only known site of its type on the Great Plains.

Figure 2 
               Reconstructed walls of 14SC1 pueblo.
Figure 2

Reconstructed walls of 14SC1 pueblo.

The first excavations at the site occurred in 1899 (Martin, 1909; Williston & Martin, 1900) and they identified a seven-room masonry structure measuring 16 m × 11 m (Figure 2). At the time of excavation, the lower 45–60 cm of the pueblo’s original walls were still intact. The floor and walls of the structure were well plastered, and each room contained one or two centralized rectangular slab-lined hearths, and a large trough metate within a walled bin was found in one room (Martin, 1909; Williston & Martin, 1900). A mix of Plains- and northern Rio Grande-style artifacts was collected from within the pueblo structure. Large quantities of Ndee pottery, large thin biface tools from local raw materials, and faunal remains from local species were found alongside painted and slipped pottery from northern New Mexico (Tewa Polychrome, Bandelier Black-on-Gray, Kapo Black, Tewa Red, Pecos Red, and others), obsidian, Olivella shell from the Gulf of Mexico, and ceremonial pipe (cloud blower) fragments of Southwest design (Martin, 1909; Williston & Martin, 1900).

Waldo Wedel continued excavation at the site in 1939 and focused on deposits located outside the pueblo as did Tom Witty and the Kansas Historical Society (KHS) who worked at the sites for several years in the early 1970s. The KHS excavations found a Ndee baking pit under a room wall of the 14SC1 structure (Wedel, 1959; Witty, 1971, 1975, 1983). The excavations by Wedel and Witty outside of the pueblo uncovered mostly Ndee artifacts, such as ceramics similar to other Dismal River vessels, and a small quantity of painted and slipped Puebloan sherds (Trabert, Hill, & Beck, 2022).

Although Wedel was never convinced that Puebloan peoples lived at the site, the architectural and artifact evidence from the 14SC1 pueblo structure led Williston, Martin, and Witty to suggest that Puebloan migrants lived at the site. The 14SC1 pueblo’s square room block, thick masonry walls, slab-lined hearths, mealing bin, and sleeping platform are very distinct from structures typically found on the Central Plains (see Roper, 2006a; Steinacher & Carlson, 1998; Wedel, 1959 for summaries of Plains-style architecture). One must look outside of the Central Plains to find masonry architecture such as the irregular-shaped multi-room stone-slab houses found at Antelope Creek Phase sites in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles (Drass, 1998), or the Diné “pueblitos” of New Mexico (Gunnerson, 1969; Towner, 1996), or the northern Rio Grande pueblos.

Witty argued that Puebloan migrants constructed the site, suggesting they might be former residents of Taos and Picuris pueblos who fled New Mexico in the mid-to-late seventeenth century to escape Spanish colonial activities (Preucel, 2002; Thomas, 1935). Witty’s conclusions are largely based on Spanish accounts of two distinct movements from northern Rio Grande pueblos to the Plains. First, some residents of Taos Pueblo moved to a place called “El Cuartelejo,” a location poorly described but generally assumed to be located on the Great Plains (Gunnerson, 1987; Twitchell, 1914). Second, residents of Picuris Pueblo (along with other Puebloan and Apache allies) left their pueblo in 1696 fearing Spanish reprisal for their participation in the 1680 Revolt. This group traveled east and north to Cuartelejo and settled on the Plains for about a decade, until they supposedly sent word that they wished to return to their homes in New Mexico. Locational clues in Juan de Ulibarri’s account led researchers to conclude that they could trace his route to the vicinity of the Scott County Pueblo (Champe, 1949; Terrell, 1975). This documentary evidence paired with archaeological data led researchers to link the Scott County Pueblo with the El Cuartelejo mentioned in the Spanish documents, which then led to conclusions about who built and occupied the site (residents from Picuris and Taos alongside Apache allies) and when (post-1680).

However, recent radiocarbon analysis questions the validity of using these documentary records to understand the Scott County Pueblo. Our current chronology indicates that the masonry pueblo structure was built sometime between AD 1610 and 1635 and was later burned between AD 1650 and 1685 (see earlier estimates in Hill et al., 2018). Therefore, the movement of the people into western Kansas who built the pueblo was not a response to historic accounts of population movements related to the AD 1680 revolt or subsequent events, but likely part of the early and middle seventeenth-century Puebloan diaspora in and out of the Rio Grande valley, likely in response to earlier Spanish demands for tribute and labor (Barrett, 2002). In fact, there is a good probability that the Scott County Pueblo was abandoned prior to the 1680 revolt.

The construction of the 14SC1 pueblo between AD 1610 and 1635 occurred roughly when the Northern Rio Grande ceramic type Tewa Red first appeared (around AD 1620) and predated types such as Tewa Polychrome and Kapo Black (which first appeared around AD 1650). This means that at least some of the 14SC1 ceramics that were made in the Northern Rio Grande Valley could not have been brought to the site by the original Puebloan migrants but were acquired later. Scott County Pueblo residents clearly maintained ties to populations in the Northern Rio Grande region through trade or continued population movement (Hill et al., 2018, p. 70).

4.1 The Legacy of a Puebloan Presence

Within 5 km of 14SC1, there are 18 Ndee (Dismal River) sites that likely have connections with the 14SC1 Puebloan occupation. Most localities are low-density surface artifact scatters which are difficult to date. As previously stated, Ndee residents predate the appearance of the Puebloan migrants in this region by perhaps a century or more (Hill et al., 2018). There is a Ndee component at 14SC1 that is stratigraphically and chronologically earlier than the pueblo, and likely was occupied or recently abandoned at the time of the construction of the pueblo. Four nearby Ndee sites (14SC106, 14SC301, 14SC304, and 14SC409) have been intensively studied and were probably occupied by descendants of the pueblo occupants (Figure 1). Sites 14SC301, 14SC304, and 14SC409 have multiple radiocarbon dates that postdate the pueblo at 14SC1, suggesting they were occupied after the pueblo was abandoned (between AD 1680 and AD 1820) (see Hill et al., 2018). A French gunflint was recovered at 14SC409 that likely dates to after AD 1675 corroborating the radiocarbon date range (Hoard, 2009). As discussed in the following, a number of these sites have clear archaeological expressions of a continued Puebloan presence.

Site 14SC301 is located less than a km from the 14SC1 pueblo (Figure 1), and is associated with several roasting pits, including one that contained a human burial (Gunnerson, 1969; Hoard, 2009; Witty, 1983) and a dense concentration of artifacts with both Ndee and Puebloan attributes. In 2009, the site was surveyed by archaeologists with Kansas State Historical Society, and they recovered more than 300 artifacts including at least three slipped sherds (one red, one buff, and one black) that share similarities to Puebloan ceramic types as well as numerous Dismal River ceramics (Hoard, 2009). The 14SC301 burial was discovered in the early 1950s and was found in a pit with burned walls and filled with ash and charcoal. Gunnerson (1969) suspected that the person in the burial, a young male in his early twenties, was Apache due to the nature of the burial pit and its placement within a site dominated by Dismal River ceramics but could not confirm that affiliation based solely on physical traits of the skeleton.

Site 14SC304 is located less than 2 km north and east of 14SC1 (Figure 1). Gunnerson (1968, 1998) recorded the presence of a Ndee wickiup-style structure (3.6 m in diameter, with five posts surrounding a central hearth) like those at Dismal River sites in Nebraska and dissimilar to other contemporary structures on the Plains. A few artifacts, including flaked stone debitage, stone scrapers, ground stone shaft abraders, and several sherds (841 Dismal River Gray Ware, 47 red-slipped, 3 Kapo Black, and 2 micaceous), were also recovered (Trabert et al., 2022). Gunnerson (1998) believed that these red-slipped sherds were an imitation of Tewa Red and created a new type called Ledbetter Red (see also Beck et al., 2016).

A third site of interest, 14SC409, is located several hundred meters south of 14SC1 (Figures 1 and 3). Site 14SC409 covers an approximately 11,000 m2 area with scatters of pottery, flaked stone, and bones visible on the surface. Several years of excavations by Kansas Archaeology Training Program, the University of Iowa, and University of Oklahoma crews recovered side-notched triangular projectile points, lithic spokeshave, scrapers, Dismal River Gray Ware ceramics, red-slipped pottery, Kapo Black ceramics, three probable post holes, and a human burial (not excavated) (Hoard, 2009; Trabert, Hill, & Cooley, 2017).

Figure 3 
                  Site 14SC409.
Figure 3

Site 14SC409.

5 New Insights Regarding the 14SC1 Community

Multiple lines of evidence indicate that a small group of migrants from the northern Rio Grande pueblos settled in western Kansas to live beside Ndee peoples already in the area. While Spanish documents suggest that Puebloan groups were leaving their homes to travel to the Great Plains to seek refuge, the 14SC1 pueblo likely predates the recorded migration (Thomas, 1935). This type of architecture has no precedent among Plains peoples and clearly provides evidence for the migration of Puebloan groups to the area as they sought refuge with their Ndee allies. A critical question is whether this settlement should be characterized as a more isolated migrant community or a diasporic one that maintained connections with their homelands.

5.1 Evidence of Nostalgia Toward Homelands

A key distinguishing characteristic of diasporic communities is the nostalgia they feel toward their former homelands which can manifest in their continued relationships with the peoples and lands they left behind. As previously described, archaeologists have identified material evidence of this nostalgia in the continued use of architecture, settlement organization, manufacturing methods, artifact styles, and practices in new diasporic settlements. Rather than adopting many of the practices, styles, and forms of their new neighbors, diasporic communities retain elements of their former homes as memory markers which can persist for generations.

While a pueblo structure was built at site 14SC1, it is an isolated example of Puebloan architecture in western Kansas. This style of architecture was not continued after the pueblo was abandoned, and instead, descendants lived in Ndee-style wickiup structures at sites 14SC304 and 14SC409. However, in other areas of their lives, most notably their ceramics, we see evidence for the continuation of important practices over multiple generations that likely served to link the descendants of the initial migrants to their ancestral homeland thus ensuring that this diasporic community persisted.

The initial Puebloan migrants who traveled to western Kansas would have brought their own technology and culinary practices with them that they learned in their natal groups. These socially significant elements of their habitus would be reflected in their ceramic technology and foodways which would regularly remind them of their former homelands (Bourdieu, 1977). The enduring nature of foodways in multiethnic social environments and the links between foodways, ceramic technology, and identity are widely accepted in archaeological research (Atalay & Hastorf, 2006; Clark, 2001; Dietler & Herbich, 1998; Gumerman, 1997; Rubertone, 2000; Twiss, 2012; Wilk, 1999). Our work has shown that Puebloan communities made and used pottery in very different ways from their Plains and Ndee neighbors (see Beck & Trabert, 2014; Trabert, 2015 for more detailed discussion), and these different manufacturing techniques (raw material selection, vessel construction, and surface finish) and foodway practices (vessel form and use) persisted at not only the 14SC1 pueblo, but also at sites 14SC301, 14SC304, and 14SC409.

Ceramics recovered from sites within the Ladder Creek valley fall under several major categories: painted and/or glazed northern Rio Grande types, Dismal River Gray Ware sherds, ceramics that share elements of Puebloan manufacturing practices and/or form (red slipped sherds), and ceramics tempered with mica-rich granite. To better understand where and how these ceramics were made, we combined macroscopic, petrographic, and chemical compositional analyses in our study of Dismal River Gray Ware, red-slipped sherds, and micaceous ceramics. These different lines of evidence indicate that Puebloan potters (and their descendants) maintained ceramic and foodway traditions for generations continually recreating links to the raw materials, manufacturing techniques, and vessel forms of their former homeland (Beck & Trabert, 2014; Beck et al., 2016; Trabert et al., 2016; McGrath et al., 2017).

Vessel forms used by northern Rio Grande and Ndee households differ, and Puebloan-style short-upright or short-inverted necked vessels are not found in Plains assemblages. Beck and Trabert (2014) found evidence for the construction and use of these short-upright or short-inverted neck jars at 14SC1 (approximately 4% of sampled ceramics). Another difference in northern Rio Grande and Dismal River vessels is the use of bowls in their foodways. Beck and Trabert (2014) explain that one could expect a higher bowl-to-jar ratio in Puebloan assemblages than in ceramics recovered from Plains’ sites. The 14SC1 assemblage had a bowl-to-jar ratio of 0.21:1, which is more like other Puebloan sites than assemblages from other Central Plains sites. In comparison, Trabert (2015) and Trabert et al. (2017) found very few examples of bowl forms in Dismal River ceramic assemblages outside of Kansas. Potters living at 14SC1 maintained Puebloan traditions in their preference for bowls in preparing and serving food and created vessel forms similar to their previous northern Rio Grande communities.

Compositional analyses reveal that some purported Southwestern ceramics, principally red-slipped sherds and micaceous ceramics, were made in the Plains. Sites 14SC1 (n = 51), 14SC304 (n = 47), and 14SC409 (n = 65) have all yielded these northern Rio Grande-style ceramics. Beck and others (2016) took a sample of red-slipped sherds from all three sites (n = 148) and subjected them to microscopic paste observation, petrography, and oxidation analyses. They found that the majority of red-slipped sherds were manufactured using local materials present in the greater Ladder Creek valley in Kansas and that a small minority (n = 8) came from vessels manufactured in the northern Rio Grande region of New Mexico.

The trade of Northern Rio Grande Valley ceramics occurred after the migrants arrived in Kansas and continued well after the Scott County Pueblo was closed, thus documenting ties between New Mexico and Kansas for generations. In addition, the ability of the potters in Kansas to replicate the bright red slip of the locally manufactured copies of Tewa Red also changed over time. Local potters initially had difficulties in replicating the bright red Tewa slip color, potentially because of a shift to bison dung for pottery firing in the Plains. At later sites (e.g., 14SC304 and 14SC409), the color of the red slip is a significantly better match for Tewa Red (Beck et al., 2016), indicating improved control of the firing process. Persisting efforts to produce a highly visible red slip strongly suggests that it was an important marker of heritage and identity to the people living in this part of Kansas. However, the later potters did allow their ceramic technology to change. Other “Puebloan” aspects of their ceramic-manufacturing process diverged over time; interior smudging was abandoned, and surface polish became more faint and less carefully executed.

These results show that potters living at the post-pueblo Lake Scott sites in western Kansas continued pottery traditions originating in the Northern Rio Grande region. It would have been difficult to superficially copy the appearance of these vessels given the amount of knowledge necessary for their construction (which materials to select, how to slip vessels, how to fire them to achieve the appropriate color), and it would have been a very significant departure from the pottery traditions of Ndee peoples. Therefore, we do not think that Ndee people living in the area simply saw Tewa Red ware vessels and decided to copy them. It is more likely that women (and their descendants) from the northern Rio Grande were living at these sites producing pottery in a traditional and significant way. Additionally, these red-slipped vessels are not found at other Dismal River sites outside of the Scott County community. If these sherds were superficial copies made by Ndee potters, we would expect to see more widespread distribution of them at other sites and this is not the case.

Ceramics manufactured from micaceous materials are also recovered in small numbers at all three Ladder Creek sites. Many previous researchers (e.g., Brunswig, 1995; Wedel, 1959) assumed that the micaceous ceramics originated in New Mexico and were traded to Dismal River groups. However, Trabert (2015) noted a great deal of variation in the amount and type of mica present in these ceramics and subjected a sample to petrographic (n = 10) and chemical (neutron activation analysis) compositional analyses (n = 49). Trabert and colleagues (2016) found that only a small percentage of the micaceous ceramics matched paste and compositional expectations for northern New Mexico source districts. In contrast, the remainder of the micaceous ceramics sampled did not match any previously tested micaceous clay deposits in the Southwest or Great Plains. Petrographic and chemical compositional analyses suggest that these ceramics were likely tempered using mica-rich granites found along the Front Range of Colorado and/or Laramie Mountains of Wyoming. Trabert et al. (2016) concluded that most of the Dismal River “micaceous” pots were manufactured by potters living near western sources of mica-rich materials, such as the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. Exchange networks were also occasionally utilized to acquire micaceous vessels made in northern New Mexico.

Furthermore, Picuris Pueblo oral traditions maintain that the 14SC1 pueblo is part of their history showing unbroken links between the migrants who traveled to western Kansas, the diasporic community that formed there, and Picuris descendants today. During a visit to bless the 14SC1 site in 2015, Picuris elder, C.A. Tsosis, stated “this area has been a sanctuary, not only for my people, but for Native Americans who were moving around this area” (The Scott County Record, 2015, p. 1).

6 Implications of Research and Conclusions

Spanish colonial activities in the early Contact period led many Puebloan peoples to leave their northern Rio Grande homes and migrate to neighboring communities to seek refuge. This Puebloan diaspora led to groups migrating to other areas of the American Southwest and at least a few to the Great Plains. Long-standing and complex relationships between groups in the American Southwest and their neighbors made this migration possible and those bonds were undoubtedly strengthened as Puebloan peoples settled alongside their hosts. Considered alone, the Kansas case is different than many diaspora examples because small numbers of people took part. But the movements of small groups traveling hundreds of kilometers to get to Kansas were just one part of a much larger diaspora of people leaving the Rio Grande Valley as Spanish colonizers settled in the region. However, while this small group of people traveled to the central Great Plains to settle with their Ndee allies, they shared commonalities with others who were part of this diaspora but did not travel as far from home. The Kansas participants like others who left the Rio Grande actively maintained connections to their ancestral homelands and their identity even after several generations. At the same time being so far from home meant that they had to form new relationships with local population and adapt their practices.

Our analysis of architecture and ceramics from the pueblo at 14SC1 and later sites 14SC304 and 14SC409 indicate that Puebloan migrants built a masonry pueblo at 14SC1 much like the homes they left behind, but they and their descendants chose to live in Ndee-style wickiup structures after the pueblo was closed. Utilitarian pottery recovered from all three sites show evidence of Puebloan manufacturing practices and style preferences alongside typical Ndee-made ceramics. Technological elements such as method of construction (coiled versus paddle and anvil), use of red slips, and preference for short-upright jar forms and bowls all point to a desire to stay connected to the materials, foodways, and memories of their homelands. These ceramic memory objects continued to be used when the migrants and their descendants began living even more closely with their Ndee partners, inside Ndee houses. The construction, appearance, and use of these Rio Grande vessels required specialized knowledge that was passed down, likely so the next generation would also retain a nostalgia for an ancestral homeland they might never have visited.

The Puebloan migrants did not live entirely separated from their Ndee neighbors. The Scott County pueblo was built on top of an earlier Ndee camp and both Puebloan and Ndee material culture was recovered from within and outside of the structure. A few decades later, the Puebloan migrants and/or their descendants continued living in the area producing objects that linked them to their homelands ensuring that this diasporic community continued well past the initial migration to the region. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Puebloan migrants did not maintain cultural boundaries separating their new community from their neighbors. Instead, they adopted some elements of Ndee life while also recreating cultural touchstones in the form of ceramic vessels from their homes to retain their connection and nostalgia for the places they had to leave behind.

This multigenerational plural community was a dynamic meeting space for a myriad of identities that were continually negotiated, persisting until the early eighteenth century. What remains clear is that the Puebloan migrants and their descendants retained material connections to their former homeland while allowing other cultural boundaries to blur. Characterizing this community as diasporic recognizes the complex social processes at work for this relatively small group of people while simultaneously connecting their experiences in western Kansas with broader continent-wide colonial processes. Furthermore, characterizing their community as diasporic emphasizes the lengths the migrants went to maintain connections to their ancestral homeland. Their migration was not an event or in isolation, but rather a process of negotiations and remembering that lasted for generations (Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4 
               Rio Grande Pueblo artifacts recovered from interior of Scott County Pueblo during Williston and Martin’s 1899 excavation: (a) Tewa Red, cat 4644B, University of Kansas; (b) Tewa Red, cat 4644H, University of Kansas; (c) Tewa Red, cat 4644C, University of Kansas; (d) Tewa Polychrome, cat 4644N, University of Kansas; (e) Tewa Polychrome, cat 4644O, University of Kansas; (f) Kapo Black, cat 4643S, University of Kansas; (g) Tewa Red with sooted and burnished interior, cat 4644I, University of Kansas; (h) Clay tubular pipe (Kidder, 1932) with red slip and incised design, cat 4520, University of Kansas; and (i) Class II (Kidder, 1932) clay pipe with diamond cross section, cat 4556, University of Kansas.
Figure 4

Rio Grande Pueblo artifacts recovered from interior of Scott County Pueblo during Williston and Martin’s 1899 excavation: (a) Tewa Red, cat 4644B, University of Kansas; (b) Tewa Red, cat 4644H, University of Kansas; (c) Tewa Red, cat 4644C, University of Kansas; (d) Tewa Polychrome, cat 4644N, University of Kansas; (e) Tewa Polychrome, cat 4644O, University of Kansas; (f) Kapo Black, cat 4643S, University of Kansas; (g) Tewa Red with sooted and burnished interior, cat 4644I, University of Kansas; (h) Clay tubular pipe (Kidder, 1932) with red slip and incised design, cat 4520, University of Kansas; and (i) Class II (Kidder, 1932) clay pipe with diamond cross section, cat 4556, University of Kansas.

Figure 5 
               Examples of Ledbetter Red sherds: (a) 14SC1 bowl interior (cat 24297), (b) 14SC304 bowl exterior (spec 315), and (c) 14SC304 bowl interior (spec 316).
Figure 5

Examples of Ledbetter Red sherds: (a) 14SC1 bowl interior (cat 24297), (b) 14SC304 bowl exterior (spec 315), and (c) 14SC304 bowl interior (spec 316).

Special Issue on Archaeology of Migration: Moving Beyond Historical Paradigms, edited by Catharine Judson & Hagit Nol.


We would like to thank the staff at the Kansas Historical Society, Lake Scott State Park, and Smithsonian Institution for their support and encouragement during this project. We also gratefully acknowledge and thank the numerous students and volunteers who have worked in the field and lab with us over the years.

  1. Funding information: Financial support for this project was provided by National Science Foundation Grant (# 1316758) (to MEB and ST), Smithsonian Institution Graduate student fellowship (to ST), AIA-NEH Grant for Archaeological Research (to MEH and MEB), University of Iowa Social Science Funding Program (to MEH), and University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (to MEH and MEB). These sponsors provided financial support alone and did not have a role in the study design, collection, analysis, interpretation of results, writing of this article, or on our decision to submit to Open Archaeology for publication.

  2. Author contributions: MH and MB first identified the Scott County, Kansas sites as ones in need of further sampling and analysis; the data presented here were collected and analyzed by MB, ST, and MH as part of a joint collaborative effort. ST prepared the original draft of manuscript with contributions from all coauthors and the order of authorship was determined based on level of contribution to this specific article.

  3. Conflict of interest: Authors state no conflict of interest.

  4. Data availability statement: The ceramics datasets generated and analyzed for this study by Trabert are available through the Digital Archaeological Record at Datasets generated and analyzed by Hill and Beck can be found in their publications which are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Received: 2022-09-29
Revised: 2023-02-27
Accepted: 2023-04-04
Published Online: 2023-04-21

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

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