KRQE - CIMARRON, N.M. (KRQE) – Could it be a message left by some of New Mexico's first explorers?
A set of mysterious stone pillars found in the state's remote northern forest has sparked that question. They're carved stone pillars covered with symbols that clearly have a history — but a history, so far, no one seems to know anything about.
One man has now made it his quest to find the answer. He's hoping someone will step forward to help solve the mystery that spans across decades near Cimarron.
"Who made it? How did it wind up in northern New Mexico? What does it mean?" asked Louis Serna.
A northern New Mexico native who was born and raised in Springer and Cimarron, Louis Serna has spent his retirement writing about the people and places that make-up northern New Mexico's history.
"This has been my life you know, so to speak, history and exploration," said Serna.
As he looks at images of the first stone pillar he found at a Cimarron business, Serna's excitement is easy to notice. He calls the mystery behind the stone pillars one of New Mexico's most intriguing, comparable to "Mystery Rock," or what some know as the "Los Lunas Decalogue Stone" on Hidden Mountain in Valencia County.
"It had some meaning to somebody, and the big question is who?" said Serna of the pillars he's interested in.
Serna's questions, along with the mystery he's now found himself in the middle of, began on July 7, 2013, in the lobby of the St. James Hotel in Cimarron.
"I was walking around the lobby there, kind of looking for anything of interest," said Serna.
That's when Serna says he noticed a single, white stone pillar tucked away in the corner.
"I looked at it and with my previous experience, Middle East experience, I noticed that there were symbols on there that certainly did not have anything to do with New Mexico," said Serna.
Serna says the hotel's front clerk told him the pillar was a "Santa Fe Trail marker."
"I knew that it wasn't that, so I went back to it, and I looked at it all around, I took pictures of it, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, here is a real mystery,'" Serna recalled.
While land grants were also common in the area, Serna doesn't believe the pillars marked the boundary of any land grant, either.
Serna's photos show the stone is covered with symbols that are carved into the rock. Predominantly, each side features a Templar cross. Serna believes the crosses are a major indicator that the pillars are from Middle East.
"I think that it was made in the Middle East and brought here, at some expense, at that time," Serna said. "Then, when it was brought here, instead of dropping it off on the East Coast or in the Gulf of Mexico, or in the Pacific, it was brought all the way through the country, into northern New Mexico."
While history mainly points to New Mexico's first known foreign settlers coming from European countries, Louis thinks the Spanish and other Europeans didn't make the pillar either.
"Since the theme is the Templar cross, then I think we're talking about Jerusalem, the Middle East, the (Solomon) Temple," said Serna.The Stone Pillar's First Appearance
In an effort to figure out the stone pillar's history, Louis says he then tried to figure out how it got inside the lobby of the St. James Hotel. That's when he contacted one of the hotel's former owners, Ed Sitzberger.
Serna said Sitzberger detailed a story from 1987 involving a local rancher who's said to have brought the stone to the hotel after finding in the nearby forest.
"Around Cimarron there are very large ranches, cattle ranches, and one of them was owned by the McDaniel family," said Serna. "And at one time, Milton McDaniel had been the head of that ranching operation."
Serna says Sitzberger told him McDaniel "had gone up into the Valle Vidal area" to "look for grazing land he could lease from the state for his cattle."
"While (McDaniel) was up there, McDaniel says he had found this stone and not knowing what it was, or who it belonged to, or anything else, he loaded it in the back of his pick-up and brought it into town, into Cimarron," said Serna, retelling the story he heard from Sitzberger.
Serna says Sitzberger told him that he kept McDaniel's stone pillar in the lobby of the hotel as something to display for the guests, or a "conversation piece."
"It's been there ever since," said Serna, even though he said the hotel has changed ownership several times.
After KRQE News 13's story first aired on May 23, 2017, an individual claiming to be a member of the McDaniel family contacted KRQE to dispute the narrative Serna offered on the original discovery of the stone pillar in St. James Hotel. The person claimed the stone was initially "found" on McDaniel family property, and was not found in the Valle Vidal region. The individual declined to provide a timeline of the discovery, or any further information for publication.
It's unclear how accurate the St. James Hotel stone pillar origin story is, or exactly where the first stone came from, but Serna says he hasn't gotten much more help from others in attempting to figure out the stone's history – besides the one story he claims Sitzberger told him.
"I've been doing this now for four years," said Serna. "I don't know why there's this reluctance to get into this."
Serna says he's tried to get help from archeologists at the University of New Mexico, the Office of the New Mexico State Historian, historians with the Bureau of Land Management, even local religious organizations like the Freemasons. However, Serna says no one has been that interested.
"Unless that object was what they call "in situ," or "in place," then they really don't have interest in it because it could be a hoax, it could be whatever," said Serna of his experience working with university archaeologists.
Finally, Serna says he reached out the U.S. Forest Service. That's where the mystery deepened.A Second Pillar, In Situ
"To say the least, I was amazed," said Serna.
An archaeologist with the Questa District of the Carson National Forest found a second white stone pillar, similar in size and with similar markings in the area of the Valle Vidal, Carson National Forest.
"(The archaeologist) said it's in a small cemetery," said Serna, who won't say exactly where it was found, for fear that others might vandalize the statue.
While the second known stone pillar is surrounded by what appear to be grave stones, Serna doesn't think the pillar is a grave stone.
"Oh no, it's absolutely it's not," said Serna. "For one thing, you know, obviously there's no name on it and no birth date, no death date, no nothing like that."
Serna also thinks that the other surrounding grave stones can be explained by superstition. He thinks settlers and fur trappers of the past may have thought the stone signified sacred ground, then buried people near the pillar.
"Everything about it just screams that it's from the Middle East," said Serna, of both of the pillars.
Louis believes both pillars carry religious symbols, starting with the peaks bordering the top of each stone.
"If you see pictures of the temple, I'm talking about Soloman's Temple, you see these parapets at the top of it," said Serna.
Serna says he has shown the photos to a rabbi in Albuquerque as well, who raised his own theories.
Pointing to a cup on one of the sides of the pillar sitting in in the St. James Hotel, Serna believes it might be a menorah.
"The earliest menorah had only two candle holders on it," Serna said he was told by the rabbi he spoke with.
A small circle towards the top of the pillar at the St. James Hotel might also be an Egyptian sun symbol, according to Serna.
"Or, the all-seeing eye," said Serna.
On the pillar still standing in the wild, Serna says an eight-point star is evident.
"The eight point star is an ancient symbol," said Serna. "The Templar Knights, when they started their crusades, they took their eight-point star as their badge."
So what does it all mean? Serna thinks the pillars could be a message.
"I think it's a message, it's a message for somebody that was to follow," said Serna. "Possibly a colonization effort, and possibly, with that in mind, I think to myself, ‘Well, if I was going to do that, I would leave a marker for describing whatever."
Serna can't be sure though.
"I'm not an archaeologist, but since I don't have archaeologists helping me, I had to kind of develop a theory about all of this and I've done that," said Serna.
He now hopes other historians can help him solve the mystery.
"You can see by the white hair that I'm not getting any younger," said Serna. "I would love to be able to solve this before I'm done."
If you want to contact Louis Serna about the mysterious stone pillars, you can email him at email@example.com, or find more contact information, including his phone number on his website.
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