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Recovering history through metal detection

1930s hygiene items. Milk of Magnesia toothpaste and the handle from an early double edge razor. USDA Forest Service photos by Mark Gutzman.

NEW MEXICO – Seventeen volunteers under the USDA Forest Service’s Passport-in-Time heritage program came to New Mexico from as far away as Washington State and Georgia to assist archaeologists in learning more about what happened historically near the Lincoln National Forest’s Baca campground. 

The survey uncovered artifacts ranging from the Civil War through World War II. Many of the artifacts have verified much that we already knew through archival research, while many others have generated new questions as well as provided insight into the life and times of those living through the Great Depression. One artifact, an early button from a Marine Public Health Service uniform, may indicate that nurses from nearby Fort Stanton looked after the girls attending Camp Capitan. Additionally, a cannonball, tent lifts and an Indian War period button may indicate that there was once a military camp next to the site of Baca Ranger Station. 

In the fall of 1933, the Lincoln National Forest designated 20 acres of the site as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp location. This area was named Camp Saturnino Baca F-17-N. The CCC boys worked through the summer of 1934 and then were transferred to the Mayhill, New Mexico camp when the LNF condemned the camp for winter occupation. The CCC buildings sat vacant for a year and then were re-occupied by the Unemployed Girls Education Camp, a program under the National Youth Administration for rural girls with no access to schools. Renamed Camp Capitan, the program operated on the site year round for 5 years, and once again the camp was abandoned in 1940 when money ran out for the program. In December 1941, Japanese railroad workers and their families from Clovis, New Mexico, were brought to the vacant camp buildings for their protection against the mobs that were angry about the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Thirty-two individuals, including two families with children born in the U.S., lived at the camp through 1942, after which they were ultimately sent to internment camps.  

There is much more to learn about these three different occupations at this site located on Baca Campground along with the nearby site of Baca Ranger Station (1907 – 1929).  Future plans are to excavate three trash pits at the Baca Ranger Station site, which should produce materials from the early to mid-1900s, and to conduct additional metal detecting surveys upon and around the Baca Campground.

One of many tent lifts or tent rope tighteners recovered; and an Indian Wars period enlisted button. USDA Forest Service photos by Mark Gutzman.

Passport-in-Time volunteers detect history at the Lincoln National Forest's Baca Campground. USDA Forest Service photos by Mark Gutzman.