Mesa Verde National Park:
Shadows of the Centuries
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Chapter 1:
Terra Incognita

ACROSS THE CANYON, the startled cowboys saw a never-to-be-forgotten sight. Years later, that first impression remained vivid in Charlie Mason's memory:

From the rim of the canon we had our first view of Cliff Palace. . . . To me this is the grandest view of all among the ancient ruins of the Southwest. We rode around the head of the canon and found a way down over the cliffs to the level of the building. We spent several hours going from room to room and picked up several articles of interest, among them a stone axe with the handle still on it. [1]

Mason and his brother-in-law, Richard Wetherill, made history that December day in 1888. The ruin they eventually named Cliff Palace was only one of many that they and their friends would explore in the weeks ahead. They carried the news of their find far beyond Alamo, their home ranch. Those men rode into history that December and rode out with controversy—the first of many that would figure in the Mesa Verde story. Two discovery dates were claimed, two reasons for the trip were asserted, and even the credit for the first sighting of Cliff Palace was debated. [2] In the excitement, no one had the foresight to jot down the salient facts soon after the events occurred.

Far more important in the long run was the fact that the discoverers explored the region, gathered artifacts, and successfully promoted what they had seen and collected. The once-silent canyons of Mesa Verde would never be the same again; the present had caught up with the past. Yet although Wetherill and Mason forever changed the solemn stillness, they were not the first to have explored the ancient ruins in the Mesa Verde or in neighboring Mancos Canyon.

More than a century earlier, Spaniards had journeyed into the region. Twice in 1765, Juan Maria Antonio Rivera led expeditions out of the Rio Grande Valley northwestward in search of precious metals and trade. His men saw ancient ruins but made no identifiable reference to Mesa Verde in their journal. Nothing proves that the Spaniards were the first Europeans to travel into present-day southwestern Colorado, but they did leave the first written record. [3] Eleven years later, the more famous Dominguez-Escalante expedition followed Rivera's footsteps, though with a different purpose—to find a route to the recently founded California missions. Profit was not the primary motive of the expedition. This group passed north of Mesa Verde but again made no mention of it that can be identified as such. After an August 10—11 camp on the Mancos River to allow Fray Francisco Atanasio to recover from a cold and fever, these explorers reached the Dolores River Valley to the northwest. Here Escalante recorded in his journal on August 13, 1776, that they had discovered a small settlement of ancient times, the same type as those of the Indians of New Mexico. [4]

These two probes into this unknown land provide the earliest recorded glimpses of the region around Mesa Verde. But the hush of lost centuries would only slowly be broken. Spanish traders and explorers must have come north in the generation that followed, but they left no written evidence. The American trader William Becknell—"the Father of the Santa Fe Trail"—who had opened the Santa Fe Trail, turned to trapping in the winter of 1824—1825. His winter quarters probably lay within the boundaries of the present park and, as trapping was poor, he had plenty of time to look around. Becknell found an "abundance of broken pottery . . . well baked and neatly painted" and many small stone houses, "some one story beneath the surface of the earth." [5] His letter to the Missouri Intelligencer gave Americans their first description of the ruins in that part of the Southwest, then a part of recently independent Mexico.

The Dominguez Escalante expedition had faded to a memory by the time the route to California was finally opened in 1829—1830. On November 7, 1829, Antonio Armijo led about sixty men out of the isolated village of Abiquiu in what is now New Mexico. After many tribulations, he reached California's San Gabriel Mission in late January 1830. En route to California, Armijo marched to the La Plata River and a day later reached the San Lazaro (Mancos) River. Tantalizing questions arise: Did the party descend the canyon to the San Juan River, or did it skirt Mesa Verde to the south and then reach the Mancos River below the future park? Armijo's sketchy diary gives no details of how he reached camping points or of what he found. [6] Yet although Armijo did not describe the ruins he and his party must have seen, the expedition was responsible for calling further attention to the area.

The Spanish Trail did not follow Armijo to the San Juan; instead, it returned to Escalante's route. The Old Spanish Trail, the "longest, crookedest, most arduous pack mule route in the history of America," would become a minor commercial route during this period. Both the north and south sides of Mesa Verde had now been explored. Each year the area became a little better known, but no one had as yet been motivated to attempt a climb of the region's prominent mesa. Since most of those passing by saw only the rugged, cliff-lined north side of the mesa, their reluctance was understandable.

Orville Pratt, a young lawyer on his way to California in September 1848, described the land that ranged between the Animas and Mancos rivers as one of the "most attractive countries" he had yet seen in New Mexico. [7] Moving on to the Dolores River Valley, he drastically changed his tune, calling the country by "no means very desirable." This reaction, typical of many early visitors, did little to promote an attractive image to lure future settlers.

Pratt made no mention of Mesa Verde, which by now was being identified by that name. Who gave it the name and when remains a mystery. Most likely, it was Spanish or Mexican sheepherders, although they viewed the mesa from a considerable distance because of the presence of the Ute Indians, who claimed the land that included Mesa Verde. [8]

On August 8, 1859, an adventuresome soul finally dared to climb the mesa. Geologist Dr. John S. Newberry came as a member of the 1859 San Juan Exploring Expedition. (The party itself actually skirted Mesa Verde to the north but in the process gained the distinction of being first to use the name in an official capacity.) The breathtaking view from the mesa top prompted this comment from Newberry: "To us, however, as well as to all the civilized world, it was a terra incognita." Finding nothing to interest him further, Newberry came down and the group moved on. The expedition failed to receive recognition when attention was diverted from it by the Civil War. And as its leader, Major John N. Macomb, complained, Newberry never finished his part of the report. [9] The journal was not published until 1876, and by then Mesa Verde had found new fame.

As an element of added interest, the Macomb party had encountered some "lost Mexicans," who provided evidence that official parties were not the only ones in the region during these years. More proof comes from a weathered name and date found in Bone Awl House in Soda Canyon: "T. Stangl, 1861." [10] By the time of the unknown Stangl's visit, the mining frontier had extended temporarily to the Animas Valley, only a day's ride from Mesa Verde. However, the Civil War, the mountainous isolation, and the Utes, who still claimed the land that included Mesa Verde, collectively deterred settlement. No profitable mining discoveries had yet been made in the San Juan Mountains, but legends of mining and lost gold mines, which dated back to the Spanish period, would lure miners back in 1869—1870—and with them, eventual permanent settlement.

The end of Mesa Verde's tranquility came with the appearance of a party of California miners, led by the fascinating, enigmatic John Moss, who claimed the title of captain. Their mining and their ranching on the Mancos River brought permanent settlement in 1873. Moss, a slender New Englander, had been led by his roving spirit to an acquaintance with the Utes and their language. He was able to negotiate a private treaty for the land in La Plata Canyon (northeast of Mesa Verde), and at its mouth, he established Parrott City, named for his benefactors, the Parrotts of San Francisco banking fame. They earned little more from their investment than a few geographic names, although Moss and his men explored, ranched, and mined for several years. Parrott City, with fewer than one hundred residents, had no rivals in southern La Plata County, which at that time stretched throughout southwestern Colorado.

Neither the mining efforts nor the camp amounted to much, but a chance meeting on August 27, 1874, between Tom Cooper, one of the party, and his old friend from Omaha, William Henry Jackson, set in motion the chain of events that increased interest in the area and in Mesa Verde and that eventually led the Wetherills to Cliff Palace. Pioneer photographer Jackson, an adventuresome member of the Hayden Survey, was photographing in the San Juan Mountains to the northeast of Mesa Verde, where miners were once again caught up in an excitement that was also the primary reason for that season's survey. Jackson's striking photographs made during Hayden's 1871 Yellowstone expedition helped to publicize that region and to persuade Congress to create the nation's first national park. Now this native New Yorker, a born-again westerner since his 1866 arrival on the frontier, turned his unquestioned photographic talents and catholic interests farther south. Cooper whetted Jackson's interest in something besides mining with his stories of the wonderful ruins the Moss party had found. Cooper promised to show his friend some of the more important ones, if the survey party would come to the camp on the La Plata River. Jackson and New York reporter Ernest Ingersoll could not resist that temptation and journeyed southward.

There at Parrott City, which Jackson described as a "few small tents and some brush 'wickiups,' " they met Moss and fell under the spell of his undeniable charm. So persuasive was his "entertaining company" that the Hayden group stayed to vote on election day, Jackson explaining that there were no residency requirements. When Moss offered to guide them to the site of the ruins, they moved off to the southwest to his ranch on the Mancos and into the canyon beyond.

As they started down the rough trail on September 9, 1874, the survey crew saw evidence of ruins and other signs of habitation and stopped to visit three or four rather unimpressive sites. By late afternoon, Jackson had begun "to feel a little doubtful & discouraged," because he had found nothing that "really came up to my idea of grand or picturesque for photos." After a supper of sowbelly and bread, he discussed his doubts with Moss, who pointed to the nearby cliff.

Jackson peered through the gathering darkness: "I see it. I beheld something that appeared very much like a house." With great excitement, they left at once to investigate the phenomenon. Only Jackson and Ingersoll persevered; the others turned back because of the late hour. By dint of much "pushing and hauling," according to Ingersoll, they reached the ledge, explored briefly, and "got down easily" to camp, guided by the glow of the "glimmering camp fire." [11]

The next morning Jackson returned to photograph what became known as Two Story House, a nine-room ruin on the extreme east end of Moccasin Mesa (directly east of Chapin Mesa). With Moss leading the way, Jackson took the first photographs of a cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde region. The men then trekked down the Mancos Canyon, going about forty miles west to McElmo Canyon and the Hovenweep area, each one rich with its own unique ruins. Their return to Parrott City completed the circle of Mesa Verde. In light of their excitement and interest, why did they not probe farther into Mesa Verde? Jackson referred to his sojourn as a "hasty trip." Perhaps a better explanation is his description of the Mancos and its side canyons that went northward into the mesa: "[a] thick-matted jungle of undergrowth, tall, reedy grass, willows, and thorny bushes, all interlaced and entwined by tough and wiry grapevines bordering its banks upon either one side or the other." [12]

Two Story House
William H. Jackson photographed Two Story House in September 1874. Jackson's photographs helped to call attention to the region. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

Jackson gave Moss credit for his "accurate knowledge of the locality of the ruins and the best way to reach them," which makes it evident that Moss's party had indeed prospected the region. No gold or silver ever rewarded their efforts there, although Ingersoll did report a coal outcropping. Their disappointment sent them back to the La Plata Mountains, ignorant that what they had found might be worth far more than the minerals that eluded them.

News of the ruins traveled surprisingly fast, especially considering the mountainous isolation of Parrott City. At the time of Jackson and Ingersoll's arrival in Denver in July, before the start of the survey, "strange stories" were already being circulated in the city by prospectors who told of "marvelous cities of the cliffs" in southwestern Colorado. [13]

On Jackson's heels came William Holmes, the geologist of Hayden's San Juan division, who enthusiastically wrote that he had been "assigned the very agreeable task" of examining the ancient remains. He came to Mancos Canyon in August 1875, where he found inscribed upon the ruins photographed by Jackson the names of three men who had accompanied the photographer. He also discovered, about a mile from Two Story House, a much more imposing cliff dwelling that Jackson had overlooked. Moss gave Holmes the only two-handled mugs that he obtained during his trip. Holmes collected pottery and would subsequently write an article on it, in which he quoted Moss several times. Appreciating what he had seen, Holmes forecast an exciting future: "It seems to me probably that a rich reward awaits the fortunate archaeologist who shall be able to thoroughly investigate the historical records that lie buried in the masses of ruins, the unexplored caves, and the still mysterious burial-places of the Southwest." [14] Jackson, Ingersoll, and now Holmes—writers all—left accounts of their adventures and discoveries in documents that ranged from newspaper articles to government reports.

And they did more. Before the nation's one-hundredth birthday party, celebrated with the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, Jackson and Holmes spent six months shaping clay, forming molds, and casting in plaster exact scale models of southwestern archaeological sites. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Jackson compiled a model, in its natural colors, of "one of the curious and interesting villages of the ancient Aztecs of southern Colorado." (Jackson's generation—logically enough in their view—connected these ruins with the better-known and seemingly more advanced Aztec culture.) For their efforts the two men were rewarded with a bronze medal; their display "drew almost as many visitors as Dr. Alexander Graham Bell's improbable telephone." [15] Jackson wearied of the same questions asked of him over and over again and was glad to leave Philadelphia behind and return to the Southwest for a third visit in 1877.

Jackson and Holmes, through their articles, photographs, and exhibits, called the public's attention to the wonders of southwestern Colorado, which had become a state in 1876. Their efforts sparked the beginning of a national archaeological interest in Colorado's prehistoric ruins. One of Moss's men even had a letter published in a Detroit newspaper that told what he had found. [16]

Evidence that the publicity also attracted international attention comes from a lecture by Alfred Morgan on "Cliff-houses and Antiquities," delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool less than a year after the closing of the Exposition. [17] The published article in the Society's journal displayed Morgan's complete reliance on Jackson, Holmes, and the Hayden Survey. The map, drawing, and ground plan of the ruin, all of which were included in the article and avidly perused, came from the 1876 survey report.

Soon people were enticed by the publicity to come to visit and dig around the Mesa Verde area; local residents made a hobby of collecting artifacts they found. One John Howe wrote to the Rocky Mountain News to tell of his 1877 visit; William Morgan went into Mancos Canyon the next year, guided by local rancher John Gregor. Morgan recounted his finds for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Visitors appeared in numbers sufficient to justify an 1880 advertisement by an Animas City business, Myers and West's Livery, Feed and Sale Stables: "We furnish complete outfits, including tents, camp equipage, etc.," for persons desiring to visit the "far famed Aztec ruins on the lower Animas" or the cliff dwellings on the Rio Mancos. [18]

Despite its growing fame, Mesa Verde was plagued by isolation, the hardships of travel, and even the potential danger posed by the Utes (everyone trespassed on their land when visiting Mesa Verde). Colorado's Western Slope, the area west of the Continental Divide, trailed the eastern slope by a decade in settlement and general development. Frank Fossett, in his 1876 edition of Colorado, expressed a still prevalent reaction to the "region of the dead cities of the ancient Aztecs. . . . [It] remained a terra incognita." [19]

Even so, enough collecting was under way that in Denver the state's first governor, John Routt, a Civil War veteran and mine owner, had shown concern for the ruins and expressed dismay over losing the collections to private individuals. In his annual message in 1879, this conservative, reform-minded governor encouraged the state legislature to take measures to preserve "as far as possible the ancient ruins of Southwestern Colorado from total obliteration." Routt recommended retaining all so-called school land (the Ordinance of 1785 reserved one square mile of each township as a bounty for public schools) upon which ruins were found for the benefit of archaeology and establishing a state museum to provide suitable care for collections. [20] The legislature failed to act, the moment passed, and the ruins remained at the mercy of sightseers. The problem of depredation did indeed cry for a solution before more damage could be done. The rapid settlement now coming to the region surrounding Mesa Verde benefited the visitor but threatened the ruins.

Ranchers and farmers began settling in the Animas Valley in the 1870s, responding to the needs of the miners in the San Juans. The little village of Animas City, where Myers and West were domiciled, grew along the banks of the Animas River and reached a population of 286 by 1880. As the crow flies, the town sat slightly less than thirty miles east of Mesa Verde; by horseback, the distance was much greater. Somewhat closer to Mesa Verde lay Mancos, which took root in 1879—1880 where Moss's miners had pastured their stock. To the west in the Montezuma Valley (these early settlers were determined to tie the Anasazi into the Aztecs, if by no means other than geographical names), settlement came a little later, but by 1886 the hamlet of Cortez had a name and some businesses. Thus, small communities struggled for existence on the northeast and northwest corners of Mesa Verde, while ranchers and farmers settled along its northern boundary. The army established Fort Lewis about twenty miles southwest of Animas City to protect all these pioneers. [21] Modern America was coming to this terra incognita.

Meanwhile, the railroad—that wonder of this age of America—penetrated these hinterlands. The city fathers of Animas City made a fatal mistake when they refused to accept the terms of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad as it moved toward the mining heart of the San Juans. As retribution, the railroad company created Durango in 1880, two miles down river. Within six tumultuous months, Durango's population soared to over two thousand, making it the largest community on Colorado's Western Slope. The town's precipitous growth encouraged the parent Rio Grande Railroad to promote the region as never before. When the track was laid in July 1881, the comforts of train travel ended the tourist isolation of Mesa Verde forever. Now it sat only thirty-plus miles beyond the Durango depot, and some of those miles could be traveled by a stage owned by Horace Tabor, Colorado's famous silver millionaire. Where Tabor went, other investors followed, and Durango grew and prospered.

It is not surprising that travel to the area's ruins picked up noticeably in the 1880s. Durango newspapers were filled with accounts of visitors and locals who rode down the Animas to the Aztec site or west to the Mancos and beyond. Relic collecting caught on as a popular pastime; "pot-hunting" has frustrated archaeologists ever since. The collectors came from everywhere, despite the deterrent of rattlesnakes. Among the officers from Fort Lewis who visited some of the Mancos ruins was Dr. Bernard Byrne, who very cautiously climbed through them, praying all the while not to encounter one of the rattlesnakes. He found no rattlesnakes but was rewarded with pots and the "mummy" of a child. [22] At least as early as 1887, an array of relics was exhibited in Durango. As the pot-hunters collected, they speculated wildly about the origins of the people who once resided in southwestern Colorado.

No one had yet penetrated the canyons of Mesa Verde to find any more prehistoric structures, however. That hiatus ended in the winter of 1883—1884, when S. E. Osborn spent months among the cliff dwellings. As he later told readers of Denver's Weekly Tribune-Republican, December 23, 1886, he passed "many pleasant days . . . among those ruins." He and a companion, Walter Hayes, carved their names on the wall of a cliff dwelling in lower Soda Canyon on March 20, 1884, thereby perpetuating a tradition that unfortunately has lasted even into the present.

Osborn, a native of Iowa, was prospecting at the time and discovered coal beds, of little economic value, in the Mancos Canyon. Readers of his accounts were intrigued by what he found, which may have included Balcony House and Cliff Palace, a "building" 250 feet in length and six stories "in height in front." Osborn gathered "dozens, yes hundreds of relics . . . that would have made the heart of an antiquarian glad, but did not carry one away with me when I left." He mentioned that other prospectors had named some of the canyons. The Wetherills later learned about ruins in those canyons from trappers, prospectors, and freighters, so it was clear that Osborn was not the only one to enter them. His fame came from writing about the experience. [23]

Another who ventured to this part of the West was Virginia Donaghe, a New York Graphic correspondent. This pleasantly attractive, fashionably plump young woman came to Mancos in 1882 "in a freighter's wagon, seated on a vinegar barrel." "Wet, weary and uncomfortable," but determined to see the ruins despite some Ute troubles, Donaghe managed to secure a small cavalry escort from Fort Lewis and to explore a couple of small ruins. Undaunted by her misadventures, she vowed to come back; for the moment, she returned to Colorado Springs to her teaching and poetry. In 1886, she did go back to Mesa Verde, intensifying what became her lifelong passion with it and with the cliff dwellers. [24] Married in 1889 to Gilbert McClurg, who encouraged and supported his wife's interest, Virginia McClurg had found her cause.

signature on stone
S. E. Osborn spent at least part of the winter of 1883—1884 in Mesa Verde. He was in southwestern Colorado as early as 1882. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

So popular had the region become by 1885 that George Crofutt added a chapter about it to his GripSack Guide of Colorado. He included drawings and a good description of tourist attractions to be found in La Plata County, now reduced in size after being divided into several more counties.

All this attention bothered the Tribune -Republican editor, who renewed the plea in December 1886 to "preserve the remains from destruction." He called for Congress to set aside part of the Mancos Canyon as a park and to make appropriations for preserving the ruins and constructing roads and trails to make them accessible to tourists. The "vandals of modern civilization" threatened to destroy these ruins, the editor cried; "It is for this reason that Congress should provide for their preservation, or else turn them over to the State in order that it may preserve them."

State pride also had a stake in Mesa Verde's future, and at least one Denver newspaper was determined to uphold Colorado's honor: "Colorado is looked upon as crude and new. But in the Canon of the Rio Mancos there are ruins which are so old that in comparison with them the oldest buildings of the East seem but as the work of yesterday." [25] That was a slap at easterners, who tended to look down their noses at Colorado. State chauvinism or not, the clarion for preservation had been sounded, but again it went unheeded.

The philosophical musings of newspaper editors and other writers attracted little attention in the Mancos Valley, where the struggle just to make a living on the isolated Colorado frontier dominated everything else. Visitors to the ruins certainly eased the hardships by bringing money into the valley, but tourism seemed somewhat exotic to these pioneers. More typical were the efforts of Benjamin (B. K.) Wetherill and his family to establish a cattle ranch against the usual long odds. A restless Ben Wetherill had brought his family to Mancos in 1880. Married twenty-four years before, he and his wife, Marion, had lived in Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri before they moved to Colorado in 1879; by then, the family consisted of five sons and a daughter, all reared in a Quaker household. Twenty-two-year-old Richard, the quiet and gentle, yet firm, eldest son, emerged quite naturally as the leader of his brothers, who all worked as a team to make the Alamo Ranch and farm successful. In his fifties and not in the best of health, Benjamin did more supervising than tolling in the fields.

The family lived to the south and west of tiny Mancos; only rarely did the Wetherill name appear in newspapers of nearby Durango. At a meeting in October 1881, the Wetherills joined with neighbors to petition Governor Frederick Pitkin about Indian depredations. When sister Anna married Charles Mason (who so endeared himself to the family that he literally became one of the brothers at the ranch and a partner in their Mesa Verde adventures), a short notice appeared in The Idea, as did one praising B. K. Wetherill's "fine wheat" exhibit at the fair in 1887. B. K. received more praise six weeks later in November, when the "result of industry and hard labor" could be seen in his farm, described as enclosed with a substantial board fence and divided up into fields ranging from four to ten acres. [26] All in all, though, nothing remarkable distinguished the Wetherill family from their friends in the Mancos Valley in these closing years of the American frontier.

For the Wetherill boys, cattle ranching held more interest than the more mundane farming. It gave them the freedom to ride and explore the valley. Richard, like his father, loved to roam, though he was confined at the moment to the Mancos Valley and its environs by family responsibilities. His next two younger brothers, Al and John, were the most involved with Richard's activities during these years. Both were experienced at a variety of jobs, took easily to ranching, and had reputations as good cooks. Hardworking Al, the horse breaker of the family, was the closest in age and companionship to Richard. Unlike some of their contemporaries, the Wetherill family befriended the Utes and treated them fairly. The Utes, in turn, allowed the Wetherills to graze their cattle on Ute land without intimidation. The family quite naturally moved down the Mancos Canyon to winter their stock in its more sheltered, warmer depths. Each winter they set up a camp to keep track of the cattle, and with time on their hands, they explored the side canyons.

The Wetherill brothers came across numerous sites on their own and learned of others from various people, including a Ute named Acowitz. Acowitz confided to his friend Richard that many houses of "the old People—the ancient ones" could be found deep in what later came to be called Cliff Canyon. The Utes, though, never went there, believing that when the spirits of the dead are disturbed, "then you die too." [27] The Wetherills, unfettered by such cultural beliefs, had no fears. In their leisure hours, sometimes trailing cattle, they began to search out the secrets of Mesa Verde.

Their searches led to cliff ruins in the canyon walls and pottery and other relics buried under the debris of the ages. They realized that others had been there before them to dig and damage. Mason visited Balcony House in 1887 and signed his name in charcoal on the cave roof; Al was the most inquisitive and enlisted Richard and Charlie in support of his interest.

Al was given credit by Mason and the others for the first actual sighting of Cliff Palace one wintry afternoon near dusk in 1887—1888. After a long day of scouting up and down canyons, Al had neither the energy nor the time to follow up on his discovery. He told Richard about it later, but the cattle business had to come first, and they proceeded to drive the herd back to the ranch. [28]

They did manage to gather at least one small collection of pottery and stone implements, which Benjamin sent to Denver to Mrs. J. A. Chain, wife of a Denver bookseller and stationer. As a visitor to the Wetherill Ranch, Mrs. Chain had taken a short trip down the canyon, exploring some cliff dwellings in the process. Much interested in what she had seen and done, she may have asked Benjamin for the collection. Or perhaps he believed her absorption in the subject sufficient to warrant sending the collection to Denver. The Wetherills: Al, Win, Richard, Clayton, and John. They opened, publicized, and, along with Nordenskiold, named many of Mesa Verde's ruins. Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park.

By now, the Wetherills realized that their hobby could pay financial dividends. Tourists arriving at the ranch in the summer and fall supplied welcome income, even while somewhat disrupting life. Frederick Chapin, who stayed with the Wetherills in September 1889, left perhaps the first recorded impression of their place. Cordially welcomed, he immediately felt at home. Everything about the ranch, with its large and well-filled barns and a strong and compact log house, gave "evidence of thrift and comfort." A later guest was amused by that "queer, pleasant house," with its added rooms that poked out in all directions and gave proof of a growing family and prosperity. The Wetherill boys, the Alamo Ranch's prime resource, were hailed as "hardy young fellows of uncommon versatility and energy." [29]

That December day in 1888 when Richard and Charlie spotted and climbed into Cliff Palace changed their lives and put the Alamo Ranch on the map of Colorado. They did not sense it, but from that moment on, neither their lives nor the towns of Mancos, Cortez, and Durango would ever be the same. A new era had dawned for American archaeology in southwestern Colorado, as one hundred years of exploration and a decade of delving into Mesa Verde had reached a culmination. The Wetherills did not know what else lay in those canyons, but they, Mason, and their friends determined to uncover and explore whatever the centuries had to hide.


Mesa Verde National Park: Shadows of the Centuries
©2002, University Press of Colorado
All rights reserved by the University Press of Colorado

smith1/chap1.htm — 06-Oct-2004

Copyright © 2002 Duane A. Smith, published by the University Press of Colorado. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University Press of Colorado.