Excavations at the Sabino Canyon Ruin

Old Pueblo Archaeology
Issue Number 7, December 1996

The article appears with the permission of The Old Pueblo Archaeology Center, (520) 798-1201

Excavations at the Sabino Canyon Ruin, 1937-1950
by Don Everitt

Don Everitt, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year, was a teacher at the Southern Arizona School for Boys, a private school near Sabino Canyon that eventually became Fenster School of Southern Arizona. Everitt and William Neil Smith (see the June 1996 issue of Old Pueblo Archaeology) are apparently the only two pre-1970 excavators of the ruin who paid any attention to the context of their artifact fins and made records of the architectural features they excavated. Allen Dart

I, Don Everitt, former English and Latin instructor, Academic Advisor, and Assistant Headmaster of Southern Arizona School from 1937 to 1970, came to Tucson because of my first wife's arthritic condition, having been first hired after an interview in New York City by the Headmaster, Capt. Russell Fairgrieve. Since I was from southern New Jersey, where anything ten feet above sea level was called a hill, I was fascinated by the environment of the school, especially by the fact that there was an ancient Indian ruin on the school property. At the first opportunity, I dashed across the canyon to the wedge of land between Sabino and Bear canyons to look for artifacts.

I was struck by the maze of upright rocks, standing like small tomb-stones in line, among the desert growth. I was told these were the outlines of pit-dwellings. At least one of them had already been dug into by a former student, William Neil Smith, who later did notable research among the Seri Indians of norther Mexico. That was my introduction to the Hohokam village.

Later I selected a site well-outlined by these standing rocks, which had not been disturbed, for possible excavation. I persuaded a group of my Southern Arizona School boys to help with the work two or three afternoons a week after classes were out. Students were expected to have a two-hour period of physical activity in the afternoons, having a choice of tennis, football, calf-roping, horseback trail rides, etc. About a half-dozen chose to help me. Among the ones whose names I recall were Bob Stewart, Russ Scheidler, Monroe Long, David Naramore, Alexander Patterson, who after retirement has taken up archaeology as a hobby in New Mexico, Austin Hubbard, who lost his life in WWII in the Philippines, and Garman Harbottle, who went to Cal Tech from SAS and became an international authority on carbonating, which he has recently been applying in the field of archaeology. Harbottle attributes his interest in that subject to our shovel-work on Pit #1 at Southern Arizona School. His is at present with Brookhaven National Laboratory doing research with other archaeologists on origins and dates of turquoise artifacts.

Having selected our site, we sank a shaft in the northwest corner about two feet from the line of rocks. About two feet down we found a hard-packed surface which we assumed to be the floor. Working out from the shaft toward the stones, we found the wall of the pit. We followed the wall on all four sides before we cleared out the center. When the dirt had all been removed, we had a rectangular hole about 20 ft by 10 ft of the floor features he found in the pithouse that he and his Southern Arizona School for Boys students excavated at the Sabino Canyon Ruin between 1937 and 1950.)

Don Everitts's sketch
Don Everitts's sketch

The floor was so hard packed and smooth we could sweep it with a broom. The firepit had a few chunks of carbon still in it. In the post holes were the burnt-ends of the supports. In the floor at the north wall was a circle of small holes, which (University of Arizona Professor of Anthropology) Dr. Haury said was probably the remains of some kind of wickerwork for a storage bin or perhaps a baby-pen.

Unprofessional-like, we did not sift an dirt or take an measurements. We did find on the floor the squashed bottom of a large olla. With Dave Naramore's help I glued the pieces together, surprised at the size. This make us scratch around in the dirt we had thrown out for more pieces of the pot. We used my bedroom floor in one of the lodges as a work place. After tedious, spare- time-fitting-and-gluing piece- by-small- piece, we had a finished pot, all but about tree gaps, which we filled in with plaster of Paris. The post was about 15" tall and 20" in diameter at the widest part. It was plain without any design. Thus ended the excavation of Pit #1. It took us most of the year to do this.

Pit #2, south of Pit #1, was not so successful. We followed the walls but were not sure where the floor was or the entry way.

East of Pit#2 I dug a small trench along a line of rocks to see if I was inside or outside a pit. If the dirt had been fine, I would have assumed I was inside. But the dirt was coarse, full of large pebbles and small stones, not anything that could have been blown into an abandoned pit by the wind. So that spot was not pursued. However, I did uncover two burials: one was a handful of cremated bones all by itself and other was another collection of bones under a small inverted pot about the size of a cereal dish. I took the ones from under to pot to Dr. Haury at the University of Arizona Archaeological Department. From pieces of the skull he estimated the bones to be that of a girl about eighteen years old. I also took one of the post-stubs from Pit #1 to see if it could be dated from tree-rings, but was told the post was probably mesquite which can't be matched up with Douglass's tree-ring scale.

Unfortunately, carbon-14 dating was unknown at that time.

Only one other significant discovery was made during the seven years I worked with the boys at the ruins. Russell Scheidler saw some pieces of potter at the mouth of a gofer hole about six feet west of Pit #1. He started digging down the hole and uncovered the only whole pot we ever found. It had red designs on it and was 10" tall. This pot was eventually stolen from the school. The pot from Pit #1 finally collapsed from handling; the Fenster School has the little cereal-bowl-sized pot that covered the bones.

June 1995
signed - Don Everitt

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