When Keith and I were in the fifth grade one of our classmates at Central Grade School , a girl named Ruth Durett, came to school with an ornate, silver-handled dagger she’d dug up in her back yard. It was known that Coronado had camped a while in the vicinity of Portales, and in those days Portales people had a lot of interest in Spaniards and conquistadors.
Ruth’s dagger became an object of envy, conjecture and debate. Billy ‘the kid’ Bonney had also hidden from the law and raised cattle for a while at Portales Springs. Some thought the dagger might have belonged to him.
Eastern New Mexico University was right there on the edge of town. Ruth’s parents evidently thought someone out there might be helpful identifying the age, at least, of the artifact. Took it out there and left it for examination. Vanished into thin air, that dagger.
The people who came here a while, lived their daily adventures and died couldn’t resist scattering their belongings all over the countryside. Nobody paid a lot of attention to them for a longish while, but sometime during the 19th Century a fascination became an obsession with many. Acquiring them by any means whatever became the rule of thumb, on the one hand, preserving them if they couldn’t be conveniently stolen, on the other. The British Museum’s an example of stolen ones that eventually made their way into preservation. Same with other museums.
And naturally there are legions of academians, anthropologists, who’ve developed protocols and rituals of method for stealing them in approved ways, vilifying anyone who loots the sites without the proper credentials. Nowadays they have the law on their side. Probably today, ENMU would have found a light-of-day legitimate means of stealing Ruth’s dagger.
Even so, it’s not always easy to resist picking off pieces of the past. I described in an earlier entry how Mel inadvertently tried to carry Oola’s skull home with him. Exploring Alley Oop’s Home Circa 1947 and how something similar got Squirelly Armijo into all manner of difficulties. ‘Squirrelly’ Armijo Survives his own Funeral
Maybe something in all that explains the popularity of Gale’s ‘Hanging Tree’ belt buckles. A number of years ago Gale managed to acquire a mesquite tree they’d cut down somewhere with a history of having criminals hanged from the branches. Naturally he brought it home and over the years made belt buckles, all manner of jewelry items from it to sell at art and craft shows.
Not everyone wants a hanging tree belt buckle, but a lot of people do. I’ve never been able to quite wrap my mind around why. For me, having my belly button rubbing against a piece of wood that was part of a long series of dangling partici-whatchallits just doesn’t have a lot of appeal. But I hold my pants up with galluses, anyway. Rarely wear a belt.
As for artifacts, I was never attracted to run off with Oola’s skull, either. Though I do wear this arrow head I figure offed my old prospector on the mountain hanging on a thong around my neck. [Recapping the Lost Gold Mine Search]