Most Native peoples derive from the group that left Asia in rafts and went along the coast until reaching the area of Monte Verde, Chile (Puerto Montt). There were at least four major migrations away from southern Chile, including two to North America: to southern California and to South Dakota along the Missouri River. The group in South Dakota lived in the Black Hills before spreading out to the east as the ice sheets melted at the end of the Ice Age.
It was likely while they lived in the Black Hills that they began to send exploratory parties out on all the main branches of the Mississippi River system. This is how the Keresan, also called Keres Pueblo, ended up in New Mexico. This is their story. It is a story necessarily tied to the famous Clovis points, producing a surprise that no one could have predicted.
The Dakota-Lakota group who made up the exploratory group to New Mexico – and became Keresan – would have likely gone down the Bad River to the Missouri River and down the Missouri to the Mississippi. Having gone done partway on the Mississippi, they would have then paddled up the Arkansas River and split off to the left on the Canadian River; going up that all the way to Logan, New Mexico. At that point they left the Canadian River and walked south. They still spoke the ancient Ch’orti’ spoken in southern Chile at that time and spoken by the Dakota-Lakota ancestors. They left a trail of place names that can be translated using Ch’orti’.
There is no clear reason for the name of the Canadian River. It has been proposed that it sounds like the Caddo name for the Red River. However, I believe it was named by the first Keresan people in about 11500 BCE and over 9,000 years before the Caddo people moved to the area. In Ch’orti’ it is k’a naht ti’ an and means “desirable current far from the mouth (Mississippi).” It was coincidental that in modern times this name would sound like the descriptive for a person from Canada.
The first Dakota-Lakota group explored the area around eastern New Mexico until they made an interesting discovery at a place they would name Clovis or Kelopis. Clovis is k’el lo’ pi ix and means “companions’ points to break open the loose (animals).” The “loose” are a reference to the buffalo, perhaps the points were inside or beside the skeleton or carcass of a buffalo(s). “Companions” mean fellow humans. It signifies a group of humans other than the Dakota migration to the Great Plains. While it could reference the Chumash who arrived to the west coast before the Dakota arrived to the Great Plains, there is no evidence of Chumash or related language groups in or beyond the Rocky Mountains. The only other group this could have been were the ancestors of the Zuni, who have a dental structure unique in the Americas, which indicates they were a product of a distinct passage to the Americas. Since they were at Clovis prior to the Keresan-Dakota, the Zuni ancestors possibly made the passage to the Americas prior to the Monte Verde passage.
Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The name Keresan provides a clue that the Keresan-Dakota found the Clovis spear inside the carcass or skeleton of a buffalo at Clovis. Keresan is k’er ehtz ahn and means “observe the split open runner.”
Most names around Clovis speak about the Clovis points that the Keresan-Dakota found. Curry County, the county were Clovis is located, is kur ri and means “next to the points,” referring to the Clovis points. Texico is nine miles east of Clovis and is te’ ch’i’h ik’ k’o and means “tooth on large stick in the air.” While some will say Texico is a combination of Texas and New Mexico, it is likely a much older name. Tooth is an expression for the Clovis point, while large stick is the spear that the point was placed on, thrown into the air. Perhaps the spear(s) that was left there was not so old to have disintegrated. Nearby Farwell also speaks of the Clovis discovery. It would be bah ahr wehl and means “time of the rip in the body,” referring to the spear in the buffalo body or skeleton at Clovis.
By Arturo de Frias Marques (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
St. Vrain is an example of an indigenous name sounding like a European saint name. St. Vrain, a town about 17 miles west of Clovis, is pi ri in and means “beside the first people,” referring to the ones at Clovis. About 20 miles northeast of Clovis is Bovina, Texas. It means po’ pi in ha’ or “first companions’ water hole.” Today there is a depression northwest of the town that may have been a permanent lake then. Further northeast is Friona, which is pi ri on nap and means “beside the forgotten companions of the past.” This indicates without doubt that the Keresan did not encounter the first ones, the Zuni. Rather the first ones were forgotten, no longer there – at Clovis.
The Keresan probably left most of the points at the Clovis site. Archeologists have found a cache of points there. They probably brought a few back home to the Dakota-Lakota in South Dakota, where they were replicated, marking a new stage in buffalo hunting on the northern Great Plains. But the Keresan, those in the original Dakota exploration group, were sent back to New Mexico/Texas to keep alive the important place names there. And back in New Mexico and Texas they started to hunt themselves. Alternately, they may have spent a period hunting buffalo there before first returning to South Dakota.
A few names in the broader area indicate that the Keresan were buffalo hunting with the new Clovis spears. Lazbuddie, Texas, is an interestingly named town 30 miles east of Clovis. It probably has a Ch’orti’ origin and would be latz buh ut ti’ and means “narrow cut opening in the eye.” This could either be referring to the remains at Clovis or a buffalo killed by the Keresan. Lazbuddie, Bovina, and Friona are in Parmer County. A deterrent to living there was the river system – only seasonal creeks. Parmer is par mer and means “impossible to boat (navigate).”
Then there is the name of the state, Texas. It is tech’ as and means “practice opening up.” I believe this refers to practicing throwing the spear. A similar meaning to Texas is Castro, the county immediately east of Parmer. Castro is k’a as te’ ro’ and means “practice with the stick (spear) on the satisfying loose one (buffalo).”
The town Dawn, 35 miles southwest of Amarillo, might have an English origin to its name, or it may be Ch’orti’. In Ch’orti’ Dawn is ta’ an and means “remains of the runner,” runner was commonly used to name the buffalo. Sudan, Texas, also speaks of hunting buffalo. It is 45 miles southeast of Clovis and is suh ta’ an and means “hide of the remains of the runner,” likely referring to wearing the buffalo hide during the winter. Another town’s name is more specific about the buffalo hide being a winter coat. Quitaque is located 125 miles east of Clovis. In Ch’orti’ Quitaque is ki ta’ ak’ k’er and means “tenderness for the skin of the remains of the broke-open.”
In the Tucumcari area it appears that buffalo meat was prepared, perhaps to put on canoes to take back up to South Dakota once it was dried. Tucumcari is tu k’um k’a ri and means “beside the rinsing of the flesh of the satisfying one.” Twenty miles northeast is Logan, along the Canadian River. Logan is lo’ ok’ ahn and means “divide in two the desirable loose runners,” referring to cutting the buffalo flesh in pieces.
At some point the Keresan settled along the Canadian River, north of Amarillo. The name Potter County may come from this time. Potter would be po’ ot ter and would mean “shelter in the hole (valley) between the ridges.” From here they divided in two groups. It’s not clear who the second group was beside the Keresan - perhaps the two groups of Keresan. Borger, a town on the Canadian River, is bor cher and means “swell and spread out.” This would indicate a later time when the Keresan had grown enough that they divided into more than one group. Later the Keresan would move to the Rio Grande area in two groups.
Of the seven dialects of the Keresan, three have names that may date back to when they still spoke Ch’orti’, representing different families. The Acoma would be ak’ om ha’ and mean “covering of froth river,” perhaps referring to the Rio Grande above Albuquerque where there are many rapids. The Cochiti would be k’o os ch’i’h ti’ and means “tooth fit into the opening of the large one (buffalo),” which would refer to the lineage of the person who first discovered the Clovis point. And Zia is si ha’ which means “series of rivers” and could refer to the region in northern North Mexico that gives rise to the Pecos and the Canadian rivers, as well as the path of the Rio Grande.
The language of northeast New Mexico and far western Texas is clear. The Keresan ancestors discovered the Clovis points left by another group of people, most likely the Zuni ancestors. The Keresan ancestors shared them with the Lakota-Dakota ancestors back in South Dakota and then returned to New Mexico and Texas to live and hunt buffalo. There is no “Clovis people” as suggested. Instead there are two distinct groups of humans who used the Clovis points – the Zuni ancestors who invented the Clovis points and used them mostly in the western U.S., and the Lakota-Dakota ancestors and related groups who used them mostly in the eastern two-thirds of the continent, including the Keresan in New Mexico and Texas.