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Banister House   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

Banister House
Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

Mid-autumn, the sun was peering over the canyon rim when Koro-e reached the sandy bottom of the gulch. Puddles of yesterday’s rain still in the shaded shallows. The canyon twisted and turned like a writhing snake, doubling back 180-degree turn after turn for miles. The canyon was lush with vegetation, cottonwood grew thick and tall along the gulch, white Jimson weed blossoms lingered among beaver-tail cacti. Pretty to look at but toxic. Scanning the high cliffs for man-made structures, she stepped into a pool of slippery mud up to her calves. She extracted herself, backtracked, and clambered along the cliffside to bypass the gooey trap. Hers were the only footsteps in the fresh mud, animals knew where not to tread.

Alcove granary

Granary in an alcove

She passed by a shallow alcove with a well-preserved room inside. A stone-and-mortar granary, small door, no air vent, or sign of smoke-blackening. A low wall at the rim created a little courtyard. Away from the sun, this would have been a comfortable place to work in the scorching heat of summer. She wanted to climb up to take a look, but the cliff was too steep. She moved on. An hour later, she came to her destination, the Banister House.

“Magnificent!” she mouthed quietly under the picturesque cliff dwelling. She had wanted to see this ruin for a long time, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Monument. Perfectly slotted into the long alcove on a high ledge as if it were part of the cliff. She had seen pictures of this ruin but never imagined seeing it in person was so much more impressive. The rooms were mortared with clay of the same color as the cliff, only their door openings gave away the camouflage. A tall outer wall shielded most of the length of the ledge, leaving a wide gap in the middle. Two long wooden poles served as a banister spanning the open gap, fencing an open patio behind. Through that gap, she could see some of the inner rooms, made of wattle and daub. The banister made the whole complex feel more like a residence than a fortress. The dwelling overlooked a spacious slickrock bench below. She imagined the occupants leaning against the railing watching ceremonial dances in the plaza below.

Under the cliff dwelling was a round kiva, built with double layers of stones with a small square air vent in front. The wood beams on the roof were still intact, framing a rectangular entrance on top. Unlike some other kivas in the surrounding area, this kiva was quite small, likely for gatherings of just the resident families. Behind the kiva, members of the families had left their handprints on the cliff wall.

Handprints on the wall

In the winter of 1890-1891, amateur archaeologists Charles Graham and Charles McLoyd came to this ruin hunting for artefacts to sell. They dug up bone and wooden awls, a wooden paddle, pieces of cotton cloth, sandals, a ring, a bundle of yacca rope, and a ‘baby mummy’. Elsewhere in the area, they found pottery, baskets, stone tools, and arrowheads. These artefacts painted a picture of life in the canyon - building homes, making clothes and sandals, eking out a living and raising families.

Down the canyon was a pictograph panel of two groups of hand-holding figures. The larger figures donned some sort of headgear and were accompanied by a duck-like creature. There were no domesticated ducks in the New World in Anasazi time. Turkeys were domesticated both in the Southwest as early as 2,000 years ago. The duck-like creature might represent shamanism or a certain social status. The smaller figures included six adults, three children, and a dog-like animal. To Kuro-e, they looked like a nice family with their dog.

It got dark early in October, shadows spilled into the canyon. As Kuro-e walked back to the trailhead, her thoughts turned inwards. Bannister House gave her a rather different feeling than some other sites in the area. Some ruins resembled fortresses and exuded fear and paranoia, but Bannister House gave her a sense of peace. The pictographs here showed friendly people holding hands instead of weapons and shields. What impressed her the most was the dog. Perhaps, she mused, they included their dog in the pictographs, much like we include our beloved pets in our family portraits. She picked up her pace, thinking about children and dog, happy family.

Family pictographs

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