Last updated: August 1, 2012
In 1924, the same year as the Rockefeller family's first visit to Yellowstone, they also visited the beautiful southwest and its parks. At Mesa Verde National Park John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was taken by the beauty of these abandoned desert homes. Former superintendent of Mesa Verde, Jesse Nusbaum, recalled that Mr. Rockefeller "spent hours at Cliff Palace, 'quietly contemplating this great ruin and its canyon terrain.'"
Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 A.D. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. On June 29, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to "preserve the works of man," the first national park of its kind.
Read the story of this important visit below:
Up the steep road to the mesa top in 1924 came Mr. Rockefeller and his sons John 3rd, Nelson, and Laurance. Superintendent Nusbaum led them to look down, from the porch of the temporary log cabin museum, on one silent city in the cliffs. Along the mesa top he showed them mounds under which, still unexcavated, lay the civilization of a people. Telling how, in the eleventh century, some fear drove this people from the mesa top down into the canyons, Nusbaum led the Rockefellers through crevices and up toe holds pecked in the sheer rock to Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and other great ruins - towers, terraces, whole towns built into caves.
Aware of what Nusbaum's interpretation had meant to himself and his boys, Mr. Rockefeller asked how much Congress had appropriated for the museum. "Not a cent," said Nusbaum; a friend in San Francisco had given $5,000. "I want to contribute," said Mr. Rockefeller, "and help you demonstrate the merits of your museum project with the understanding, of course, that it is properly a government responsibility, and the government will carry the load after private means have established its merit. If you feel it would benefit your plans to make any public announcement of public funds received, just say they were given by an interested but anonymous friend of the Parks."
Once again, through the generosity of Mr. Rockefeller, future generations will be able to understand and appreciate the significance of the archeological sites at Mesa Verde National Park. Rockefeller's contribution went towards the building of Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. At the museum, visitors can enjoy dioramas of Ancestral Puebloan life, view an orientation film, or take a self-guided or ranger-guided tour of Spruce Tree House. Today, the continued preservation of both cultural and natural resources is the focus of the park's research and resource management staff.
Sources: Newhall, Nancy. "A Contribution to the Heritage of Every American." Alfred Knopf. 1982.