People have lived in the Big Bend region for roughly 12,000 years, one culture succeeding another with wavelike regularity. The hunter-gatherers who lived in the Davis Mountains between AD 700 and AD 1300 are known as the Livermore culture, and they eventually spread over most of the area between the Guadalupe Mountains and the Rio Grande, ranging from the Pecos River in the east to what is now Hudspeth County in the west. They traveled in bands of 15 to 25 people, harvesting piñon nuts, prickly pear tunas, and acorns. The Livermore people are thought to be the first humans in the Big Bend to hunt deer, rabbits, and other game with bows and arrows, using a distinctive arrow point with a pair of barbs that stick out at right angles from the base. The community flourished for six centuries, and then it disappeared, to be replaced by another culture, called the Cielo complex. But at some point before the Livermore people vanished, they buried an extensive cache of arrow points and fragments on the summit of Mount Livermore, the tallest peak in the Davis Mountains.
The cache was excavated and preserved by Susan Janes, who moved from New Hampshire to Fort Davis with her telegrapher husband in 1893. In September 1895 the Janeses’ son, Charles, and his friend Tom Merrill climbed the 8,382-foot-high Mount Livermore and found a cairn on its highest point. They demolished the cairn and discovered a scattering of arrowheads underneath it. Thinking that they had found an Indian grave, they took some of the points home. A few weeks later they returned with Charles’s parents and Tom’s brother, Jesse. Susan ascended the peak riding sidesaddle, and near the top she dismounted and let her pony pull her the rest of the way by its tail. She had an interest in Indian artifacts and had a small museum of relics and mineral specimens at her home. She realized that what the boys had found was not a grave but a ritual cache, a religious offering to the gods. Over the next eleven years she made six more trips to Mount Livermore to excavate the cache, lugging a camera and tripod with her on the final trip, in 1906, to prove that the cache had been buried on the summit. Understanding the importance of keeping the site’s findings together, she implored other people who had taken arrow points from it to turn them over to her. She displayed the artifacts in her museum, where Harvard archaeologist Charles Peabody examined them while on a survey of the Big Bend in 1909. After viewing the Livermore Cache, he wrote, “It is hoped that Mrs. Janes will publish a detailed account of this discovery, which may prove unique.”
Janes carried on a spirited discussion about the Livermore Cache with an unnamed Smithsonian archaeologist, who insisted that it was a utilitarian cache, buried by its makers for future use. Janes disagreed. Her experiences on top of Mount Livermore, which included watching a thunderstorm break over Fort Davis, had convinced her that it was a ritual cache with religious significance, confirming in her mind that the highest point of the mountain was sacred to the people who had buried it. Janes was widowed in 1906, the year that she made her last trip up Mount Livermore, and she supported herself for the next ten years by operating a grocery store in Fort Davis. She moved to El Paso in 1916, taking her collections with her, and in 1929, shortly before moving to Los Angeles, she donated the cache and the rest of her collections to the fledgling museum at Sul Ross State University, now the Museum of the Big Bend, in Alpine. She died in Los Angeles in 1934.
Today’s archaeologists support Janes’s conclusions about the ritual nature of the site. Robert J. Mallouf, a former director of Sul Ross’s Center for Big Bend Studies, has been researching the Livermore people since 1981. He says that many of the points in the cache were deliberately broken before being buried, and he has reassembled nearly two hundred of them. Yet it is hard for him to draw many firm conclusions about the day-to-day culture of the Livermore people from the cache. Pieces were stolen from the original collection when Janes displayed it at the Fort Davis School and at the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy, in El Paso (now the University of Texas at El Paso), and more pieces disappeared after it went to Sul Ross. Even worse, Mallouf says, over the years other Livermore points were inadvertently added to it. The collection now totals 1,763 arrow points and fragments, but there is no way to tell how many of the points were part of the original find. Still, it remains one of our most valuable sources of information about any of the early people who lived in the Big Bend.
Mallouf’s work in interpreting the Livermore Cache was made much easier in 2002, when another mountaintop cache was discovered on a ranch west of Mount Livermore. Mallouf and other archaeologists from the Center for Big Bend Studies have helped excavate 1,250 Livermore points and fragments from this location, now called the John Z. and Exa Means Cache, which is also housed at the Museum of the Big Bend. The Means Cache provides an uncontaminated baseline for comparison to the Livermore Cache.
Another important discovery is a nearby rock shelter called Wolf Den Cave, facing Mount Livermore on the slopes of Pine Mountain. Wolf Den Cave was first excavated by Mallouf’s team of archaeologists a decade or so ago. At the back of the shelter they found a rock projecting from the floor that had been shaped to resemble the top of Mount Livermore and then daubed with streaks of pigment, evidence that supported Janes’s conviction that the Livermore Cache was a ritual offering.
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