by Jose Antonio Viscarra 1823
A map produced by Don Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco
identified the Chaco Canyon area as "Chaca." This term may be a
Spanish translation of the Navajo word Tskoh, meaning "rock-cut"
or "canyon"--or Tzak aih, meaning "white string of rocks" (the later
refers to the appearance the sandstone atop Chacra Mesa). "Chaca"
is believed to be the origin of both "Chacra" and "Chaco."
As Jose Antonio Viscarra led a military force west
from Jemez Pueblo onto Navajo lands, he noted many fallen Chacoan
buildings along the way. His route became a well-used trail for
The Washington Expedition, a military reconnaissance
under the direction of Lt. James Simpson, surveyed Navajo lands,
and wrote accounts of Chacoan cultural sites. The Kern brothers
produced excellent illustrations of the sites for a government report.
W. H. Jackson with the U.S. Geological Survey (led
by Hayden), produced expanded descriptions and maps of the Chacoan
sites. Jackson noted Chacoan stairways carved into cliffs. No photos
were produced, because he experimented with a new photographic process
at Chaco, which failed.
Victor and Cosmos Mindeleff of the Bureau of American
Ethnology spent 6 weeks at Chaco surveying and photographing the
major Chacoan sites for a monumental study of Pueblo architecture.
Their photographs documented vandalism and looting. These oldest
known photos provide us with a starting point for determining the
modern effects of visitation, looting, vandalism, and natural collapse
on these sites.
After excavating Mesa Verde cliff dwellings (1888)
and other ancestral Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area, Richard
Wetherill moved to Chaco to excavate sites.