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Anthropology prof’s new book explores Hispanic heritage of southeastern Colorado

In her new book, Bonnie Clark explores a Hispanic heritage that stretches back to the 16th century.

The prairie of southeastern Colorado can be foreboding. There is little vegetation, fewer trees and a sense of never-ending emptiness.

But to Bonnie Clark, an associate professor of anthropology at DU, the region is rich in Hispanic history.

In her new book, On the Edge of Purgatory, An Archaeology of Place in Hispanic Colorado (University of Nebraska Press and the Society for Historical Archaeology, 2011), Clark explores a Hispanic heritage that stretches back to the 16th century, when southeastern Colorado was the northernmost boundary of New Spain. By the late 1800s, the region was a U.S. territory, but the majority of settlers in this difficult environment remained Hispanic families.

In an area located between Trinidad and La Junta, on the edge of the Purgatory River, Clark and crews of students found and explored the infrastructure of a small settlement she and other archaeologists named La Placita. In her book, Clark combines archaeological research, ethnography, and oral and documentary history to examine the everyday lives of the people who lived there over time.

“The locations where people intended to stay, where they cared to make their mark on the land, stand out,” she writes of La Placita in her book. “I find it such a compelling place because its Hispanic inhabitants worked very hard to make it one. Everywhere you look there is evidence of craft, whether in the improved natural water source, the carefully leveled stone masonry, the built-up garden terraces or the walkway lined with curbstone.”

This was unlike much of Colorado in the 1800s, when people did only the minimum to shelter themselves from the elements in the state’s mining towns. “They had little expectation of staying and little intention of creating a place,’’ she writes. “They had a ‘take the money and run’ ethos.”

In her book, Clark explores the reasons people left La Placita and a small nearby settlement, ranging from pressure from large cattle ranchers that led to the loss of grazing lands, to the community’s location, far from its Hispano homeland.

“We will never know precisely why La Placita was abandoned,” she concludes. “They may have lost this home, but it will always be part of their homeland.”



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