Humans experience, adapt to and influence climate at local scales. Paleoclimate research, however, tends to focus on continental, hemispheric or global scales, making it difficult for archaeologists and paleoecologists to study local effects. Here we introduce a method for high-frequency, local climate-field reconstruction from tree-rings. We reconstruct the rain-fed maize agricultural niche in two regions of the southwestern United States with dense populations of prehispanic farmers. Niche size and stability are highly variable within and between the regions. Prehispanic rain-fed maize farmers tended to live in agricultural refugia--areas most reliably in the niche. The timing and trajectory of the famous thirteenth century Pueblo migration can be understood in terms of relative niche size and stability. Local reconstructions like these illuminate the spectrum of strategies past humans used to adapt to climate change by recasting climate into the distributions of resources on which they depended.