If you happen to be traveling along Highway 70 between Lordsburg, New Mexico, and Phoenix, Arizona, you may want to plan an extra 45 minutes to make a quick side trip when you reach Thatcher, Arizona. The Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher proudly displays the Native American artifacts collected from numerous sites throughout Arizona and New Mexico by the well-trained avocational archaeologists Jack and Vera Mills during the four decades from the 1940s through the 1970s. [Far left photo via eac.edu; near left photo via travel2arizona.com.]
The Mills's work was supported in part by the Arizona Archaeological Society and encouraged and mentored by the Amerind Museum. According to one source, Vera Mills alone restored all the pottery the two of them uncovered; and it was she who wrote all of the detailed archaeological reports on the sites they excavated. One Salado site in particular - the Kuykendall Site in southeastern Arizona - has suffered so much looting and ground-modification since the Mills's excavation in 1951, that their archaeological reports and the artifacts they collected there are essentially the sole remaining source for research regarding that location. [Photo on right via eac.edu.]
Jack Mills died in 1994 at age 102. Vera Marie Burton Mills died in 2000 at age 100. Their marriage had lasted more than 77 years. Anna Neuzil and Patrick Lyons wrote in 2005:
"Despite the fact that neither Jack nor Vera Mills had a degree in archaeology, they contributed significantly to the understanding of post-A.D. 1200 population movements in the Greater Southwest. The collections from each of the sites they excavated remain important resources for developing the archaeological understanding of later periods of prehistory. "
To see a photo of the Millses and their Collection as it existed before being donated to the Eastern Arizona College, click here. To see an example of Vera Mills's pottery restoration work and a portion of the Collection at about the time Eastern Arizona College took possession of it in 1983, click here.
The Mills Collection reportedly comprises not only some 600 pottery vessels, but also an extensive assemblage of tools, jewelry, basketry, and more. Not all of these artifacts are on display. The cultures represented by these artifacts include Mimbres-Mogollon, Salado, and Hohokam, to name but a few.
Visiting the collection is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 8AM to 5PM. The tour is self-guided; brochures are available in front of the Admissions Office on the first floor, or you can download the same brochure here.
To get there, once in Thatcher turn southbound from Highway 70 onto Stadium Avenue. Drive about three or four blocks to the intersection of Stadium and Railroad Street. The Student Services Building is on the left at the corner of Stadium and Railroad. Parking is plentiful. Walk around the building to enter the main entrance on the east side of the building near the clock tower. Immediately inside the doors you will see in front of you the first five display cases of the Mills Collection. Prepare to have your breath taken away. And enjoy.