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Black History Month: George McJunkin

Updated: Feb 29

Article Edited and Republished from Capulin Volcano National Monument Facebook by Ranger Rachel


During Black History Month, we remember and honor George McJunkin, a well-known name in history 'round these parts of Northeastern New Mexico, as well as North American archaeology.


When African American Cowboy and Amateur Archaeologist George McJunkin found his “Bone Pit” in 1908, he recognized his find as something special. The bones he found were bison bones, but they were much bigger than modern bison; he thought they could be from an extinct species. Later on his discovery would be named the "Folsom Man" Archaeological Site.


Folsom Man Site
Folsom Man Site

McJunkin spent the rest of his life trying to convince people to take an interest in his site. However, the site would not be excavated until 1926, four years after McJunkin’s death.


George McJunkin circa 1907
George McJunkin circa 1907

After a flash flood in August 1908 hit the town of Folsom, New Mexico (approx. 29 miles from Raton, New Mexico) and killed 18 people, McJunkin was tasked with fixing a fence along a ranch when he discovered the bones sticking out of a bank.



Wild Horse Arroyo where George McJunkin's discovery was made.
Wild Horse Arroyo where George McJunkin's discovery was made.

His “Bone Pit” led to some amazing discoveries. The bones belonged to Bison antiquus, an ancient bison species that died out over 10,000 years ago. These were massive animals standing at 7.5 feet and shoulder and weighing up to 3,500 pounds. While these fossils were amazing to find, it was what was found wedged between the ribs of one of the animals that reset human history in North America.


A Folsom Point in bison rib bones.
A Folsom Point in bison rib bones.

There embedded in the fossil was a small, flint point. But why was this important?

Up until the discover of what became known as the Folsom Site, it was thought that Native Americans had lived in North America 2,000-4,000 years ago.


George McJunkin
George McJunkin

The Folsom point proved that humans had inhabited the continent for much longer; the fossils have been dated to be over 10,000 years old. Other discoveries across North America pushed the date of human occupation back to over 20,000 years since the Folsom Site discovery.


Folsom Man Archeological site
Folsom Man Archeological site

George McJunkin’s information was disregarded by the scientific community because they considered him an uneducated cow hand and his contribution in finding the site was ignored for many years. His part in the discovery was not recognized until 1972 when archaeologist George Agogino brought the full story of the discovery of the Folsom Site to light.


George McJunkin
George McJunkin

George McJunkin, who was an ex-slave, would later be known to make one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. McJunkin was indicted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in April 2019.


Today, parts of McJunkin's discoveries can be heard about and viewed at the Folsom Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.


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