Range Limits: Semi-Feral Ranching in Spanish Colonial Arizona

Author(s): Nicole Mathwich

Year: 2018


In North America, the introduction of livestock as part of the Columbian Exchange had profound social and ecological consequences for indigenous communities. Historical ecology offers a holistic landscape approach to a phenomenon that archaeologically has often been viewed through shifts in diet and butchering practices. This study examines the creation of range practices at Spanish colonial Mission Lost Santos Angeles de Guevavi, near what is today Nogales, Arizona. Using multiple lines of evidence, this paper proposes a set of indicators to identify semi-feral ranching in both the archaeological and historical record. Isotopic evidence shows that semi-desert grasslands were most affected by the introduction of cattle and sheep. Faunal and historical analyses suggest cattle ages were loosely monitored, and animals were culled at an older age than optimal for meat and grease extractive strategies. These findings indicate a low investment strategy, which may have helped indigenous groups maintain traditional agricultural and gathering practices, augmenting their resilience in the colonial period. Finally, this paper explores how semi-feral cattle ranching was sustainable under historical conditions, but has since become an ecologically and politically problematic practice in the modern American West and used to justify U.S. federal interventions without community consultation on reservations.

Cite this Record

Range Limits: Semi-Feral Ranching in Spanish Colonial Arizona. Nicole Mathwich. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444356)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -114.346; min lat: 26.352 ; max long: -98.789; max lat: 38.411 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 21023