Nate Harrison at SDSU
A new exhibit, titled
"The Archaeology of
Nate Harrison: Legacies and Legends of an African-American Pioneer in San Diego County," opens September 15, 2008, and runs through January 15, 2009. The exhibit will be on display in the Donor Hall. To kick off the exhibit opening, Seth Mallios, professor of anthropology at SDSU and director of the Nate Harrison Historical Archaeology Project, gave a free lecture in Room LL430 of the library on September 15.
Nate Harrison is one of San Diego County’s legendary pioneers. Fables
abound regarding this former enslaved African-American from the South
who lived high upon the west slope of Palomar Mountain into the early
1900s. There are numerous quaint tales of his frontier life. For example,
this rugged yet compassionate mountain man allegedly added lizards to
his coffee grinds for extra flavor, made batches of homemade mountain
lion jerky, and met every visitor with a warm smile.
historical photos add to his legend. Over two dozen stunning turn-of-the-century
black-and-white photographs of Harrison exist. He is shown in various
poses; sitting at his cabin, engaging with white traveler-tourists, and
walking his dogs. Harrison may be the most frequently photographed 19th-century
San Diegan. It was as if he was San Diego’s version of the Eiffel
Tower; tourists frequently took his picture to prove that they had visited
the precipitous mountain and made it to the top.
Historical archaeology has the potential to evaluate, scrutinize, broaden,
and deepen insights into Nate Harrison’s life and legend. This report
presents findings from the inaugural 2004 San Diego State University field
excavation season at the Nate Harrison site. The three-week field school
successfully located the remains of Harrison’s cabin and uncovered
over 6,100 artifacts that date to Harrison’s late 19th-century and
early 20th-century occupation at Palomar Mountain. Although there had
been previous pot-hunting on the site, the 2004 excavations marked the
first scientific archaeology on the property.
Current land owners Jamey and Hannah Kirby not only allowed excavations
on their property, they went out of their way to make the field school
a resounding success. They gave the archaeological team unlimited access
to their campsite, latrine, generator, and tractor. In addition, their
interest in local history and care for the site over the years has been
nothing short of inspirational.
Kirby property is about two-thirds of the way up the west slope of Palomar
Mountain. It is off of Nate Harrison Grade, northeast of Pauma Valley.
USGS aerial photographs and topographic maps offer an overview of the
region. The site location is not specified here for confidentiality and
security reasons established by the California Environmental Quality Act
(CEQA) and maintained by the South Coastal Information Center (SCIC).
circa 1823 - 1920
"Born a Slave ...
Died a Pioneer."