Mesa Verde National Park:
Shadows of the Centuries
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Chapter 5:
Trials and Tribulations

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK SO FAR EXISTED ONLY as a bare-bones promise on a piece of paper in Washington, D.C. The reality lay in the isolated canyons and on the mesa-top lands in far distant southwestern Colorado. Now it was up to the government to integrate the promise with the reality to create the country's first cultural park—a dream nurtured into life.

The natural first step, the appointment of a superintendent, was taken on October 8, 1906, when the secretary of the interior designated the Southern Ute agent, William Leonard, acting superintendent. Charles Werner followed him in May 1907. A search was under way, in the meantime, for a permanent candidate. Regarding this individual, Leonard suggested that "a very liberal salary would be necessary as a man qualified for the duties would not care to isolate himself at a point so distant from civilization." A "caretaker" approach to management, which Leonard believed to be the answer to budgeting problems, left the park pretty much in limbo, just as it had always been. Leonard did make an inspection tour soon after his appointment and posted typewritten placards at major ruins and at Spruce Tree camp to inform the public of the Antiquities Act and the penalties for violating it. Deeming that action insufficient, he requested that the government furnish printed placards. It would take more than those, however; Leonard warned: "To prevent depredations by organized bands of looters and tourists, a forest ranger should be stationed in the Park all the time, to patrol it." [1] The park's first winter descended soon afterward, bringing chilly days and snow and an end to that year's tourism.

Business men and women in Montezuma and La Plata counties eagerly awaited the coming spring. When they read that 26,000 visitors had passed through Yellowstone National Park in 1905, they began to calculate what that would mean in dollars and cents. Over the course of the winter, they envisioned the great influx of tourist dollars that would be generated by "way of advertising by the entire surrounding country." The golden promise of the American West seemed to be at hand.

The situation in Washington looked less sanguine. The appointment of a permanent superintendent had hit a snag. Virginia McClurg supported her husband, Gilbert, for the job; Lucy Peabody favored Hans Randolph, a major in the Colorado State Militia. In light of the bitter animosities, it would have been more diplomatic to select a neutral third party, but Randolph was appointed on August 3, 1907, and Peabody had won round two. The elated Peabody hailed Randolph as a true son of Colorado, an opinion with which the Denver Times heartily concurred. [2] The paper pointedly suggested that all those who "wish to see the park beautified and improved and property officered" should join it in supporting Randolph.

Another defeat proved to be too much for Virginia McClurg; in her disgust she did the rather foolish thing of supporting the building of a fake cliff dwelling in Manitou Springs, a neighbor of her beloved Colorado Springs. A "professor" Ashenhurst, who devised the idea, had "excavated" a ruin on private land south of Dolores, Colorado, and shipped what he found, along with stones, to Manitou Springs. Here Harold Ashenhurst, a young Texan who headed the Ashenhurst Amusement Company, busied himself in constructing a reproduction of a cliff dwelling at "the head of beautiful Phantom Canyon."

McClurg had become interested in Ashenhurst's idea soon after she lost the park fight, and she had become a company stockholder. The reaction of the Association to her involvement in such a scheme generated this headline in the Rocky Mountain News (October 25, 1906): "Society Women of Colorado Are Rent in Twain." Many members saw the Ashenhurst project as inconsistent "with the dignity of the Association" and "unscientific and hurtful" to the state. In November, in a movement spearheaded by the Durango women, who were not just a little perturbed over the creation of a rival tourist attraction, forty members resigned. That number included almost the entire Pueblo group, which was also angry about McClurg's changing of the annual meeting to Colorado Springs. One unidentified member lamented "that women interested in affairs could descend to such petty bickering."

Anyone who had watched the women sow the wind during the previous two years could have foreseen the coming whirlwind. Undaunted, McClurg claimed that the members had resigned because of politics, not because of the imitation cliff dwelling flap. [3] Her protests had no effect. The once strong Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association dwindled to include only Virginia and her loyal supporters.

The Manitou Springs replica haunted Mesa Verde for the next half century. McClurg's support gave it a semblance of credibility that Ashenhurst, stingingly referred to as a "medicine show operator," could not bestow. Although McClurg never intended the replica to be anything but an imitation to interest visitors who could not undertake the "arduous" trip to Mesa Verde, Ashenhurst had other ideas. Soon the replica was being promoted as an original, to the everlasting distress of archaeologists and park personnel.

McClurg's early contributions to Mesa Verde could not be denied. But their luster was fading now, as she tenaciously fought to maintain her reputation and her position of leadership. The Association made one more positive contribution when it raised one thousand dollars to restore Balcony House, which Virginia had visited so many years before. Young archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum, under the direction of Edgar Hewett, repaired the ruin in 1910. That last noble act of McClurg's came to an ignominious end eleven years later. In 1921, Nusbaum, by then the park superintendent, found at the Mancos railroad station a crated white marble marker that commemorated McClurg's and the Association's contributions to the park. McClurg pressured the National Park Service to install the marker "in the most conspicuous location for visitor observation" at Balcony House. The unfortunate Nusbaum found himself in the middle of what was still an emotional issue. As soon as the rest of the women learned about McClurg's move, they argued that other leaders merited equal recognition. [4] In the face of so much opposition and Park Service discouragement, McClurg eventually backed off, and the marker was returned to Colorado Springs.

McClurg's arch rival, Lucy Peabody, fared no better. Professor Hewett, a loyal ally in the park fight, wished to commemorate her role by renaming Square Tower House to Peabody House. [5] He proceeded to do so, but after several years and unspecified protests, the Department of the Interior rejected the designation.

While the women bickered in 1906 and 1907, Mancos prepared to greet Superintendent Randolph. Upon his arrival on September 2, 1907, he established temporary headquarters at the Mancos Hotel, which soon evolved into permanent quarters in the Bauer Bank Building. Mancos had received the juiciest political plum in the form of park headquarters. In the race for prominence and the tourist dollars, Mancos sprinted into a strong lead over Durango and left Cortez eating its dust. The "affable, earnest" Randolph, as the Mancos Times-Tribune described him, did himself no harm when he warmly expressed his pleasure with what he saw "in these parts," this being his first visit.

Within thirty-six hours, he left for a tour of the park, guided by that old hand, Charles Kelly. Kelly had just returned from taking Hewett and others of the Archeological Society of America on a two-week tour. After Randolph's survey, he set himself the task of creating a park out of what remained at Mesa Verde after twenty years of vandalism and visitation. Shocked by the debris left behind by Spruce Tree House campers, he quickly sent workmen to clean up the rubbish, and he issued an order that in the future no trash would be allowed to accumulate about the camp or to be left in the vicinity of the principal ruins.

Randolph announced that the work for the "immediate future" would center on a wagon road into and a reservoir within the park. He thereby put his finger on the two most pressing problems. As the Denver Times of August 11, 1907, had stated, the "timid traveler" found Mesa Verde "almost inaccessible" under the existing conditions. The establishment of a system of "good roads" and, in time, hotels and creature comforts, "inasmuch as they do not destroy the picturesque effect of the ruins," were intended to succor the "weary wayfarer." "Then indeed will the Mesa Verde National Park be second to none in the country; not even the far-famed Yellowstone Park." [6]

In the years that followed, Randolph set out to accomplish that goal, only to discover that the expense involved weighed heavily against government demands for economy. As he tried to balance the needs of scientific work, construction, and maintenance, he constantly found himself in financial straits, with funds never adequate for all the needs of the park.

In 1907, Randolph immediately ran afoul of the Department of the Interior by recommending that the two thousand dollars set aside for preservation and repair of ruins be allotted instead to construction of roads. So urgent did he believe the matter to be that he wanted to postpone building a lodge and postpone the water improvement project in order to plow all that money into roads. On October 25, back came a letter from the acting secretary of the interior stating that, while the department recognized the desirability of "early construction of good roads," it did "not deem it advisable" to depart from the plan outlined for preservation and repair. [7] So Randolph cooperated with archaeologist Jesse Fewkes and extended to him "such assistance and courtesies" as would enable him to carry out the work properly.

During those early years, the superintendent hovered mostly in the background, deferring to the better-known Hewett and to the in-the-field Fewkes. Edgar Hewett's role was limited mostly to making suggestions, and he offered one practical one—to place the superintendent's headquarters at or near one of the main ruins, where it would also serve effectively to guard the park. This simple idea threw fear into Mancos, which coveted the prestige and profit that the headquarters in town would bring. The issue became a political football. Randolph endeared himself to Mancos residents by supporting their town, and he won out. Hewett also suggested, as did others, converting Cliff Palace into a museum to hold the materials excavated within the park.

For twenty years, the distinguished-looking Jesse Fewkes, with his clipped white beard and broad forehead, had been working in the Southwest, Arizona in particular. Now in his sixties, the "grand old man" bounced from one bit of Mesa Verde research to another with unbridled enthusiasm. Somewhat of a romantic, he drove himself to make the "mystical red man known to the literate public." Fewkes continued to work during the summer at excavating ruins, clearing debris, and repairing ruins. He focused on Spruce Tree House in 1908 and on Cliff Palace in 1909. By the end of the second season, he could proudly report that Cliff Palace was in good enough condition to enable tourists and students "to learn much more about cliff dwellings than ever possible before the work was undertaken." He admitted with regret that most likely no other cliff dwelling in the Southwest had been more thoroughly looted for commercial purposes, with many of its relics now lost forever. [8] The Mancos Times-Tribune, September 3, 1909, pleased with his work, noted that the intention was not to restore the ruins to their original proportions but to "clean them out and repair them," so as to preserve them from further decay. The fact that Fewkes hired Mancos men to work on the project enhanced the paper's appreciation of him and his efforts.

Fewkes returned now and then to Mesa Verde through the early 1920s. His activities both closed and opened eras in southwestern archaeology. Fewkes's coming ended the early period of discovery and exploration of Mesa Verde, which had played such an important part in promoting scholarly and public interest in southwestern prehistory. The evolution from random pothunting, through commercial exploitation, to the awakening of scholarly interest had taken nearly two decades. Now, in a new century, the final change had come. The serious twentieth-century scientific work can be dated from Fewkes's 1908 excavations and repairs. Fewkes was sharply (and fairly) criticized later for inadequate notes, inaccurate maps, and questionable stabilization and construction methods; [9] the criticism can be said to have launched that favorite professional sport of so many Mesa Verde archaeologists: attacking and discrediting one another. He did have the knack for attracting the public's attention. As early as May 1908, he was presenting lectures to visitors about archaeology and the cliff dwellers. Those lectures evolved into the popular campfire talks of later years, which Fewkes also pioneered.

Superintendent Randolph devoted himself to more mundane matters, such as conducting a survey of roads and trails, present and future, and starting construction, when funds allowed. He devised budgets and asked for $32,400 in 1909, of which nearly half was for a projected wagon road. He also lobbied for government approval of a telephone line into the park from the Cortez-Mancos line. In 1907, he hired fifty-year-old Charles Kelly as the first permanent ranger, a logical choice since no one else knew more about the park. Kelly benefited further by being "a loyal Republican, and had the support of the people of this county—Montezuma." Outfitting for expeditions to the cliff dwellings had long been Kelly's specialty, but he quickly found out that working for the government was a different ball game. The next year, Washington would not allow him to put up tents to rent to visitors because he was a federal employee. [10] Temporary park rangers, almost exclusively from Mancos and Durango, were also hired during the summer to serve as guides.

The rangers proved to be a park asset; their presence cut vandalism dramatically. [11] Some progress had also been made toward alleviating the crucial water shortage. The little spring at Spruce Tree continued to be, as it had been since 1888, the single most important source of water, but its limited flow was soon overtaxed by the growing demand. To compensate, Randolph's crews constructed a dam in 1908 at the head of Spruce Tree Canyon to store water for pack and saddle animals and dug cisterns to catch and store water for tourists. Each of the next five years averaged 196 visitors per season, and the water reserves managed to hold out. Wells dug by erstwhile homesteaders along some of the trails furnished what little water was available for travelers going in and out.

Jesse Fewkes
Jesse Fewkes stands proudly before Mesa Verde's—and the National Park Service's—first museum. (Courtesy: Mesa Verde National Park)

Less success met efforts to improve and build roads into the park. Randolph correctly analyzed this problem as the key to unlocking the gates to a tourist rush. Handicapped by geographical isolation, Mesa Verde further discouraged twentieth-century tourists with the physical difficulties and discomforts of reaching it.

The editor of the Mancos paper fully understood these drawbacks and staunchly supported the superintendent's pleas for more funds. Over the years, Randolph slowly pushed a road up the mesa, routing it via the west side of Point Lookout and on toward the ruins. He was dismayed to find that repairs and maintenance steadily and greedily eroded his budget. He admitted in his 1910 report that the carriage road ended at the foot of the mesa; there a horseback trail joined it to a six-mile segment of carriage road on the mesa top, which had been inexpensively and easily constructed. [12] Most of the ruins were connected by horse roads, all of which Randolph promised to convert into carriage roads as soon as possible.

A group of happy 1910 campers that includes the famous archaeologist Alfred Kidder (at right in the front row). (Courtesy: Museum of New Mexico)

Over these roads traveled gradually increasing numbers of tourists. They did not come because of increased promotion, which was almost nonexistent. Only the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and its Rio Grande Southern gave much marketing help; some was generated by articles in several national magazines. Mancos, Durango, and Cortez had no way to reach a larger market; the state promoted itself only generally, not its southwestern corner specifically.

Eva Anderson was one who made the effort to reach Mesa Verde. She was astounded when her guide started out from Mancos in a driving rainstorm. No worse for the experience, Eva reached Kelly's cabin, where conditions were much like they had been a decade before, even to digging for pottery in mesa-top ruins. She did not find much, a disappointment assuaged by the adventure of climbing the "greased pole" (an old tree trunk) and "the rope" to get into Balcony House. There her party wandered about, "climbing over walls, crawling through narrow openings." On her way out, the guide cautioned to "hang on the rope," which Eva fearfully clutched: "I wouldn't let go of that rope for all the wealth of Standard Oil." Undeterred by that fearsome experience, she delighted in the rest of her fall tour of 1907.

That kind of grand adventure, Eva Anderson sensed, was swiftly disappearing. The guides discouraged relic searches as violations of government regulations. The promised new roads and an up-to-date hotel, in addition to the not "improbable ascent . . . [of the] touring car," made Eva glad that her visit had come "before all the romance was taken out of the trip." [13]

The next year, the most important government visitor yet to appear—Secretary of the Interior James R. Garfield—arrived at Mancos on a special Rio Grande Southern train. Accompanied by Randolph and Kelly, Garfield's party spent Colorado Day (August 1) in Mesa Verde, returning to Mancos the next day. The Mancos Times-Tribune, August 7, 1908, waxed eloquent over what Garfield's visit meant to future park development and to the community and its vicinity. The secretary of the interior, among his many duties, nominally administered the national parks and monuments, although each park was officially a separate unit unrelated to the others. This lack of central control handicapped the system, and it must have adversely affected Randolph's administration. Although he had made undeniable progress, he had been lax in many areas.

By the winter of 1910­1911, rumors were swirling about Mancos and rippling beyond it regarding irregularities in the superintendent's office. Whispers about a drinking problem also circulated. Jesse Nusbaum, who had come to know Randolph when he worked on Balcony House the previous summer, called Randolph an "out and out Politician." Nusbaum later claimed that local hostility (unexplained) reached such a fever pitch that the superintendent carried a "revolver at all times." [14] The Mancos newspaper failed to provide much insight into these observations, but it did mention that the superintendent had suddenly changed park headquarters from the Bauer Bank Building to the as yet unfinished First National Building. This move lent credence to the rumor that Randolph was involved in Mancos banking rivalries. In a small community such as that one, Randolph was playing with fire when he tangled with local businessmen. The excessive drinking charge would not die, further damaging his reputation. Whatever the reasons, the next spring, Edward B. Linnen, "one of the oldest and shrewdest men in the U.S. Secret Service," arrived to investigate the goings-on.

Early photographers faced many challenges at Mesa Verde. Lisle Updike is ready to take a photo of Balcony House. (Courtesy: Jackson Clark)

Mancos was rife with rumors; residents began choosing sides, as Randolph went public with his defense. The superintendent offered to resign, but his offer was refused. In the end, he was suspended on vague charges of "general neglect of duty" and serving other interests during his incumbency. More specific charges involved the misappropriation of funds (probably referring to the accusations of "padding pay-rolls" by paying for work never performed) and the use of government money for private purposes. [15] Randolph was given time to prepare his defense, but to no avail; the hearing resulted in his dismissal in April 1911.

C. B. Kelly, the local favorite to be the next superintendent, also resigned. His obvious conflict of interest resulted in Linnen's recommendation that Kelly either dispose of his stable or turn the business over to someone else. [16] The choice was not difficult—Kelly's stable and guide service promised a more profitable future than did a career as a park ranger (seventy-five dollars per month salary that summer).

So ended Mesa Verde's first era. The troubled closing scene should never overshadow the steady progress that had been made. Insufficient funding and inexperience handicapped Randolph. Nor had the federal government been as supportive as it should have been, hampered as it was by the lack of a specific agency to supervise the growing number of national parks. In a brief time span, Randolph had come face to face with nearly all the problems that would plague his successors—water shortages, stabilization of ruins, isolation, roads, promotion, and tight budgets (actually a theme of federal underfinancing and a lack of understanding on Washington's part). That this pioneering superintendent did not discover all the solutions is not surprising.


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

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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.