Curator’s Corner: George McJunkin, Unsung Archaeology Hero

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections

George McJunkin

George McJunkin was born a slave in Midway, Texas. When he was about 10, the Civil War ended and he and his family were freed. He was born into a ranch and cowboy life and spent most of his life in the saddle. Mr. McJunkin worked at several ranches in Texas before finally settling in New Mexico.

The cowboys he grew up around taught him to read and write. As a young man he also taught himself to speak Spanish, play the guitar and violin. He loved history and archaeology and that love would play a pivotal role in Mr. McJunkin’s incredible find.

In 1908, the small New Mexico town of Folsom (near Raton) experienced a horrible flood that killed 18 of its citizens. After this terrible event, McJunkin was on horseback assessing the damage done to the fences and arroyos at the Thomas Owens Pitchfork Ranch where he worked. Upon entering an arroyo named Dead Horse, he noticed something odd. Huge rib bones were sticking out of the side of the arroyo and since George knew his archaeology, he knew they weren’t from any modern animal species.

McJunkin was correct; the bones were from a species called Bison antiquus, an animal that had died off with the mega fauna at the end of Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. But even more striking amongst those ribs were projectile points, clearly put there by a group of humans.

He knew what he had just discovered. At the time of his incredible find, the archaeological establishment thought humans had only been on this continent for several thousands of years. Finding a point stuck in a bison that’s been gone for 10,000 years is proof that someone’s data is wrong.

McJunkin tried for years to get archaeologists to come see the site, to no avail. Finally, ten years later a man named Harold Cook from the Denver Museum of Natural History came to Folsom and did some exploratory digging with George. McJunkin had sent projectile points and some bone samples to Cook several years earlier.

Sadly, a full blown archaeological expedition was not launched at the Folsom site until after McJunkin’s passing in 1922. If it had not been for George’s passion for archaeology and keen eye, it may have taken much longer for us to discover that people had been on this continent for over 10,000 years.

Today, the type of point McJunkin found amongst those bison bones is called a Folsom Point, named for the little town of Folsom. It is the earliest type of projectile point found in both North and South America, and (if you ask me) one of the most striking. I have never found one personally, but always said if I ever do you’ll hear my holler from miles around.

In 2019, McJunkin was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. There are small exhibits dedicated to him at the Denver Museum of Natural History and the New Mexico History Museum. You can visit McJunkin’s grave at the Folsom Cemetery. The last time I went to visit him, there were fresh flowers on his grave, I gave him some more. I guess someone out there loves George as much as I do.

History Herald: Smokey Bear, a New Mexico Hero!

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager

Hello from your History Herald!

Smokey BearDid you know that in 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, crews discovered a major wildfire driven by strong wind? As the crew battled to contain the blaze they received a report of a lone bear cub seen wandering near the fire line. Suddenly, the firefighters were caught directly in the path of the fire storm. They survived by lying face down on a rock bed for over an hour as the fire burned past them. Nearby, the little cub had not fared as well. He took refuge in a tree that became completely charred, escaping with his life, but also badly burned paws and hind legs. The crew removed the cub from the tree and a rancher among the crew agreed to take him home. A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish ranger heard about the cub and drove to the rancher’s home to help get the cub on a plane to Santa Fe, where his burns were treated and bandaged.

News about the little bear spread swiftly throughout the state. Soon, the United Press and Associated Press broadcasted his story nationwide and many responded, inquiring about the cub’s recovery. The state game warden wrote to the chief of the National Forest Service, offering to present the cub to the agency as long as the cub would be dedicated to a conservation and wildfire prevention publicity program. The cub was soon on his way to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., becoming the living symbol we know and love, Smokey Bear. Smokey received numerous gifts of honey, and so many letters that they dedicated a private zip code just for him!


He remained at the zoo until his death in 1976, when he was returned to his home to be buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, where he continues to be a wildfire prevention legend. In 1952, the popular anthem was written, and due to the song’s popularity and the addition of “the” between his name, Smokey Bear has been called “Smokey the Bear” by many adoring fans, but, in actuality, his name never changed. He’s still simply, Smokey Bear.

Now that summer is in full swing and outdoor adventure beckons, please remember to enjoy the outdoors responsibly so that together we may protect this beautiful state and all who call her home!

Learn more about Smokey at

Sources and Resources for at-home learning:

Books About New Mexico Heroes

The Life and Legend of George McJunkin, Black Cowboy

The Life and Legend of George McJunkin, Black Cowboy

by Franklin Folsom
This book is a great introduction to the history of black cowboys in New Mexico. McJunkin was a former slave who went on to make an instrumental archaelogical find in northern New Mexico — read more about this amazing man in our Curator’s Corner this week. Although this book is written for a young adult audience, it’s a great read for all ages.

Jewish Pioneers of New Mexico

Jewish Pioneers of New Mexico

by Thomas Jahne

Due to unrest and discrimination in Europe, Jews began immigrating to America in large numbers during the nineteenth century. The first two waves of immigration that brought Jews to New Mexico were German men in the 1840’s and 50’s, and Eastern Europeans coming with the railroad in the 1880’s.

This book tells of the adventures that unfolded for young Jewish merchants, tradesmen, and laborers, who were determined to build a successful life in the west. This is a fascinating read and a true rags-to-riches story as many of the families written about here became some of New Mexico’s most prominent, productive citizens.

Leslie Marmon Silko — Storyteller


by Leslie Marmon Silko

An incredibly woven book of photography, poetry and ceremony, Storyteller is a biography like no other. Silko blends tales of her childhood in Laguna Pueblo, her Amer-European education and her Native American education, her family and her religious tradition all against the desert backdrop of her home.

This book is beautiful, featuring incredible black and white photographs of her homeland. Silko also draws from Inuit culture, where she spent time while writing her critically-acclaimed book Ceremony.

This blending of narrative styles, photos, cultures, traditions and lifeways makes for an incredibly engaging read.

Storyteller won worldwide acclaim when it was published in the early 80’s and is now considered a classic of Native American literature and biography.

Las Golondrinas Heroes: Louann Jordan and Pat Kuhlhoff

Every once in a while, someone comes along that makes a big impression. Here at Las Golondrinas, we have been blessed with so many wonderful volunteers, staff members and members that we have decided to feature them from time to time via our Las Golondrinas Heroes column. Two of our biggest heroes who have left us over the past year are Louann Jordan and Pat Kuhlhoff, two strong, amazing women who shared passions for history, New Mexico and the Las Golondrinas mission.

Louann Jordan
Louann Jordan

Louann Jordan had a 45-year relationship with Las Golondrinas. Over that time she served as a staff member, a volunteer, and a close confidant to the LG family. It is thanks to her that we have our name, El Rancho de las Golondrinas – the museum was originally called The Old Cienega Village Museum — she suggested the name somehow include the swallows that fly through the property, and thus the name was changed.

Over the years Louann curated exhibits, designed the font that makes up our current logo, illustrated maps of the property and worked at countless festivals and special events for the museum. She was an incredible artist and had a passion for this museum and the land on which it sits. Louann passed away earlier this year, but has left an amazing legacy to Las Golondrinas.

Pat Kuhlhoff was also an aficionado of New Mexico history, volunteering at the New Mexico History Museum, leading historic walking tours of downtown Santa Fe, volunteering for trails organizations and volunteering at Las Golondrinas.

Pat and her husband Gene moved here in 1989 after falling in love with the high desert and the vast history surrounding Santa Fe. Gene passed away in 1991, and Pat threw herself into volunteering for a number of Santa Fe organizatons, including the Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe Symphony and, of course, Las Golondrinas. Dan Goodman once said of Pat, “She has a knack for understanding and explaining history and engaging visitors, getting their imagination going.”

Pat Kuhlhoff
Pat Kuhlhoff

Pat passed away in 2019 and her presence at Las Golondrinas is sorely missed.

Both Pat and Louann had such passion for this special place, which makes them true Las Golondrinas heroes. Both women wanted to ensure that their legacy included Las Golondrinas, giving posthumous gifts to the museum through their wills.

We are so grateful to both Louann and Pat for that generosity — of time, of talent, of energy. It is thanks to heroes like them that we are able to continue the important work and mission of Las Golondrinas.

If you would like more information on legacy gifts or including Las Golondrinas in your will or estate, Email Jackie Camborde, Director of Development.

Adopt an Animal!

churro sheep
Did you know that it costs approximately $300 a year to feed, house and care for just one of our churro sheep, burros or goats? If you want to have a direct impact on our most popular ranch residents, we hope you will ADOPT an ANIMAL today — our latest addition of an adorable baby lamb, is featured in the above photo! Your name will appear on signage near our churro sheep pen this summer, and we’ll send you a photo of some of our menagerie!
All gifts to our annual fund go to support all that we do at Las Golondrinas. We are fortunate to have a private foundation that matches ALL GIFTS to our annual fund as well, so whatever you choose to give is automatically doubled!
If you have any questions about giving, click HERE to email Jackie Camborde, our Director of Development.

YouthWorks Culinary Team Providing Meals from El Rancho de las Golondrinas Kitchen

Beginning March 26, the YouthWorks Culinary Team is joining with Santa Fe Public Schools to cook and distribute nutritious, reheatable meals to Santa Fe youth ages 1-18. The team, working out of the commercial kitchen at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum, will be preparing take-and-go boxes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Pickup for these meals is Monday through Friday, 10:30am – 12:30pm at Chaparral Elementary, Ramirez Thomas Elementary, Aspen Elementary, and Kearny Elementary. In addition, Santa Fe Public Schools will offer breakfast and lunch pickup at Capital High and Sweeney Elementary 10:30am-12:30pm weekdays.

Founded in 2001, YouthWorks is a cutting-edge, innovative organization offering a continuum of services designed to reconnect “at-risk” and disadvantaged youth with our community through education, employment training, and job placement.

El Rancho de las Golondrinas is the Southwest’s Premier Living History Museum dedicated to preserving the history and cultures of New Mexico and providing unique hands-on-history experiences.

Working out of the commercial kitchen at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum, YouthWorks is the primary food vendor for all of the museum’s festivals June through October.

Both El Rancho de las Golondrinas and YouthWorks are honored to be working together to help our community in this time of need.

If you would like to help these organizations fulfill their missions and service to our community, please donate and find volunteer opportunities at: 

CONTACT:  Jackie Camborde, 505.501.9238

Colcha embroidery artist showcases work at China folk art market

Julia Gomez Colcha Artist
Julia Gomez flips through photos of Churro sheep. The sheep, she said, are used to make wool that she gathers, cleans, dyes, weaves and uses for embroidery.

Longtime Traditional Spanish Market artist Julia Gomez has become an international ambassador for New Mexico’s heritage crafts.

For the past four years, Gomez has showcased her colcha embroidery at a folk art market in China called the Belt and Road International Forum for Cultural Heritage Cooperation and Exchange & Handcrafts Fair. She represents not only Santa Fe but the entire U.S. at the market, which hosts artists from 20 nations.

“I am the only American there,” she said.

Gomez dons a fiesta dress and cowboy boots for the market as part of her effort to raise awareness of the Spanish Colonial craft.

“I want [the world] to know about it,” she said.

Gomez, 78, a retired teacher, learned to embroider from her mother when she was about 10, stitching small designs on pillowcases and tea towels.

In the 1980s, she read a book about colcha and enrolled in a class taught by embroiderer Monica Sosaya Halford at the Museum of International Folk Art. In the 2000s, after Gomez had retired from teaching at De Vargas Middle School, weaver Beatrice Maestas Sandoval introduced her to El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum in La Cienega that raises Churro sheep and harvests their wool. She then began to immerse herself in the craft.

“I love the story of the sheep,” Gomez said, crediting the animals with enhancing her passion for the traditional craft.

Originally from Spain, Churro sheep were brought to the Southwest in 1598. The breed thrived in the desert climate and their wool was integral to keeping Spanish colonists warm during winter.

“The settlers and explorers, they lived off those sheep,” Gomez said.

She helps gather wool at Las Golondrinas after the sheep are sheared. Then she skirts the fleece, removing its dirty edges, cleans it, spins it and colors it with natural dyes made from marigold, onion skin, Navajo tea and cochineal beetles.

“And then, if you have any energy left, you embroider,” Gomez said with a laugh. “The embroidery is just one small part of the process.”

Stitching just one flower can take nearly eight hours, she said, and completing a full piece can require up to two weeks of daily work.

She says she enjoys every step of the process. “It’s very relaxing and it’s rewarding,” she said.

Her appearance at the folk art fair in China was prompted by a visit several years ago from an official from the Chinese government who attended the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. Gomez said the woman visited Las Golondrinas, where she met Gomez and learned about colcha embroidery. The following year, the woman emailed Gomez an invitation to the newly launched festival in China.

Gomez attended for the fourth time in mid-November, she said. Her invitation always arrives just two to three weeks before the fair, “so you have to hustle,” she said.

But showing at the fair is worth the effort — the Chinese government pays the airfare and hotel for her and a guest.

In November, Gomez brought a close friend, Barbara Romero Alba, who also is a colcha artist. The women arrived in Jinguan for the five-day market, which is held in a different city each year. Afterward, they made a quick trip to Beijing to visit Gomez’s daughter, Saramaria Gomez, who teaches English there.

The goal of her participation in the market, Gomez said, is to connect with people from all around the world.

“Now I have friends in Nepal, in India, Belgium, in Holland,” she said, adding, “I want to be a good ambassador.”

She brings a map of the U.S. to her booth at the market, with a circle around New Mexico and images of Churro sheep. Assistants write Chinese translations on the map and photos for guests to better understand the context of colcha.

“The Chinese really don’t know much about the United States, and they were really interested in and fascinated about New Mexico,” Gomez said.

Gomez and Alba, both Santa Fe natives with roots in the area that date back generations, want to bring that same awareness of local culture to younger people in their hometown. Their mission is to keep the art of colcha alive.

“I do feel like we’re losing our culture,” said 70-year-old Alba. “Our ancestors did this kind of work. … But our grandkids, they don’t know our culture because you can’t get ’em away from their phones.”

She added, “We want to take history and put it in the children’s hands. I want to keep it going.”


Curator’s Corner: Spindle Whorls

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections

Here is a little insight on an overlooked object, but one that helped keep us clothed for a very long time.

Spindles are long sticks used to spin yarn, and the Spindle Whorl is the weighted piece at the end that helps maintain the spindles speed and spin.

Spindle Whorls were made of a myriad of material — coral, amber, stone, antler, and as shown in the photo to your left, pottery. For the past 9,000 years, the spindle and its ever-trusty helper the whorl has been spinning fabrics all around the world.

When weaving artifacts are found, often the spindle is gone, having been made of an organic material (often wood) that is no longer with us. Since the whorl was often made of tougher stuff, it is usually the thing that is found for the archaeological record.

Spindle Whorls have been found everywhere — Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas – where there is fabric to be woven, there are spindle whorls.

The example that is in our exhibition hall at the Ranch is made of a recycled piece of Puebloan pottery that has been repurposed as a whorl. It comes from a 17th century Spanish Colonial archaeological site named LA 20,000, a site for which El Rancho de las Golondrinas is the custodian.

LA 20,000 is a site that has been researched by archaeologists, including Dr. Heather Trigg of the Fiske Center for Archaeology and her graduate students, who come to toil away in the hot summer sun to learn more about Spanish Colonial lives.

Come by El Rancho de las Golondrinas during our season (June through October 1) to watch our talented weavers use spindles and whorls with expert hands — it’s an impressive thing to see to say the least.

Save the Date : Las Golondrinas Winter Lecture Series

Join us this winter at the New Mexico Museum of Art!

January 28: Dr. Anna Nogar will speak on her book “Quill and Cross in the Borderlands: Sor Maria de Agreda and the Lady in Blue”

February 25: Charlie Carrillo gives a talk on “Voice of the Hermandad: The History and Ritual of Penitentes”

March 31: State Historian Rob Martinez’s topic is “Brujería: The History of Witchcraft in New Mexico”

All lectures take place in the Saint Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art from 6:00pm to 7:00pm, doors open at 5:15pm.

Admission is FREE for Las Golondrinas and Museum of New Mexico volunteers and members, $10 for guests.

Curator’s Corner: Pumpkins!

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections

The humble pumpkin, or Cucurbita pepo has a fascinating history, and a really interesting present. Pumpkins are actually just one variety of winter squash, the pumpkin is simply the most recognizable. One of the oldest domestic crops, humans have been having their pumpkins and eating them too for about 7,000 years. First grown in Mesoamerica and possibly the American south, pumpkins gradually spread all over the continent, because they are delicious, quite hardy and easy to grow in many climates.

Native peoples used all parts of the pumpkin, roasting the flesh or cutting it into long strips to dry for the winter. The seeds, which we all know are delicious, were eaten whole or could be ground into flour and helped fortify other dishes. The leaves and flowers were also cooked and eaten. In many parts of the world, the greens of the pumpkin are as valued as the fruit—and if you have never had a fried squash blossom I highly recommend it!

Native peoples crossbred and selectively bred pumpkins for so long, there are now an almost countless amount of varieties—just head on over to Trader Joe’s and you’ll see what I mean. After contact, the pumpkin spread all over the globe changing as it went. Today, across the world humans collectively grow about 30 million tons of pumpkins, with China leading the pack, growing about 1/3 of the world’s favorite orange squash.

Of course, the pumpkin serves as an iconic reminder of the coming of fall and Halloween. The jack o’ lantern came to us by way of a British tradition of carving vegetables, particularly turnips, for Halloween. This was said to keep away the bad spirits that came with All Hallow’s Eve. (note: if you’ve never seen a carved turnip, look to your left and prepare to be horrified.) When British, Irish, and Scottish folks immigrated to the United States they began using the much more common, not to mention larger, pumpkins. Today in America we collectively spend around $380 million on our beloved jack o’ lanterns each year—that’s a whole lot of green for a whole lot of orange!