Our Culture: Understanding, Interpreting, and Preserving Our Human Past

October 25, 2018 pixelmark

vintage construction image
Written by Mike Cook / Photography courtesy Human Systems Research

Nonprofit Human Systems Research delves into the history of Southern New Mexico.

Human Systems Research, Inc. (HSR) has kept a low profile since it was founded in 1972 in Las Cruces, but “our footprint is everywhere throughout Southern New Mexico,” says Debra Dennis, Ph.D., who has been HSR’s executive director for the past quarter century.

From its home in an historic building at 535 S Melendres St., HSR quietly continues to engage in the archaeological research, historic preservation, and public education that have taken it from projects in downtown Las Cruces to the sites of an historic gunfight in the Lincoln County War, a major Indian Wars battlefield on what is now White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), and a frontier between two ancient cultures in the Black Range Mountains north of Las Cruces.

Debra and other staff of the nonprofit HSR are deeply involved in the restoration of the historic Amador Hotel in downtown Las Cruces, built in the 19th century by Martin Amador, patriarch of one of the city’s most important families. Not far away, HSR helped create the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum more than 20 years ago, and excavated the site and helped draw up the plans for Mesilla Bosque State Park. HSR archeologists also “dug through sand dunes to identify and preserve the lost Fort Fillmore (1851-62) cemetery outside Mesilla,” Debra points out.

Dennis headshot imageFor more than 20 years, HSR was the sole-source archaeological contractor at WSMR, helping to conduct a federal-to-state land transfer that created Oliver Lee State Park and restoring Lee’s ranch house in Dog Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. HSR also brought children back for the first time in more than 50 years to the homes they had lost when their families were evicted by the U.S. government as it created the missile range.

Aided by more than 50 volunteers, HSR staff painstakingly researched an 1880 battle between Apache leader Victorio and the U.S. Army—including 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers—in the Hembrillo Basin on what is now missile range property, helping to define the battlefield’s 900 acres and tracking every weapon used in the two-day fight. They also excavated the range’s first trash dump, documented the birth and development of the US rocket program, and helped write White Sands’ social history.

“We ended up filling the (WSMR) museum from prehistoric time up through the Space Age,” Debra notes.

At the north end of the Black Range in Socorro County, HSR continues the Cañada Alamosa Project, “the study of 4,000 years of agricultural history in the Monticello Box Canyon northwest of Truth or Consequences, including the leading edges of contact between the northern and southern Pueblo cultures.” That work has been recognized by the New Mexico State Historian and the state Historic Preservation Division as an educational milestone in southwestern archeology.

Beginning this September and continuing through next February, HSR will sponsor a series of lectures about the ongoing work of the Cañada Alamosa Project. Speakers will include Project Director and (HSR Associate Director) Karl Laumbach, who will give an overview of the nearly two decades of work conducted so far at the site, and retired soil scientist Curtis Monger, Ph.D., who will talk about “what people were there when,” Debra explains, and their agricultural histories. Additional speakers will discuss projectile points, ceramics, trade and other historical and cultural aspects of the site, she said.

Next March, HSR will host its eighth annual Buffalo Roast, bringing authentic, Colorado grass-fed buffalo meat to a Las Cruces fundraising event that has sold out the last three years.

This year’s speaker is author, researcher, and Little Bighorn archeologist Dr. Doug Scott, who helped HSR conduct its Hembrillo Battlefield research, pinpointing the locations of soldiers and Apaches engaged in the fight by the location of cartridges found at the site.

HSR staff have even done research into the building that HSR has occupied for about 20 years on Melendres Street. The one-time home of COAS bookstore, the building dates to December 1937 when it was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp headquarters. The US Department of War (that was the name of the Department of Defense until 1949) converted the site into US Army headquarters for a prisoner of war camp that housed both German and Italian prisoners during World War II.

“Fueled by equal parts of ingenuity, faith and perseverance, energized by volunteers and fortified by community support,” Debra says, “HSR is looking forward to the years ahead as it continues to passionately embrace its role in understanding, interpreting and preserving the past while teaching others about our shared history.”


For more information, volunteer opportunities and to make donations, contact Debra Dennis at 575-524-9456 or ddennis@humansystemsresearch.org. Or visit humansystemsresearch.org and exhibition.canadaalamosaproject.org

View from Pinnacle Ruin

This photo was taken from the Pinnacle Ruin looking down the Cañada Alamosa. It runs down and empties into the Rio Grande. You may recall the deep canyon on I-25 just north of T or C that has all the wind flags and warnings that is something of a S shape and it comes to the top of Mitchell Point. After that, the interstate flattens out for a long stretch running north to the Red Rock exit (Mile marker 100).

The post Our Culture: Understanding, Interpreting, and Preserving Our Human Past appeared first on Las Cruces Magazine.

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