Early Visitors to Tonto National Monument

The following excerpt, written by Angeline Mitchell, describes her trip to the cliff dwellings at what is now Tonto National Monument.

Sunday, December 12, 1880- We ate breakfast long before day and were well on our way at sunrise. I rode 'Salim,' a horse of Mr. Armer's. Melinda rode Brownie, the one I got from Hook as he is not quite as gentle as Salim and Melinda is a first-class rider while I'm not of late years. We went 5 1/2 miles or so to the foot of the Ute Mountain in which the 'caves' are located. We fastened our horses to brush and climbed the mountain, which was by no means an easy task as it is covered with debris from the ruined walls. One slides back a good deal like the 'frog in the well' who jumped 'two feet forward & then fell back three.' But we finally reached the dwellings. It was far superior to what I had anticipated & worth the trouble.

The dwelling is built of small rocks laid in cement and is cemented inside and out and sets well back beneath an overhanging rock. The rock is, I should think, about 200 feet high and curves over something like this. (She sketched a side view of a pueblo under an overhanging rock.) We found traces of 33 rooms and some 18 of them are in fair preservation. It has been seven or eight stories high, or perhaps more, I should think judging from the poles still clinging high up to the rock. There was originally no opening in the outer wall but the dwellers in the house climbed up a ladder of some sort and went in at the second story, as the Zunis and kindred tribe do yet!

One room is walled up solidly without any door opening into it. Of course one can enter it now from above for the ceiling is partly fallen in. Another had a door originally but for some reason the people living there decided to close that room also and so smoothly and well was the work done that not a trace of any doorway having ever been there can be seen from the outside the room. But inside of it one can easily see the rocks filling in the doorway, laid up in cement but not cemented over on the inside. When the ceiling of this room was intact, after the door was walled up, it must have been nearly air tight and one wonders why it was done. It is located in a rather central situation in the second story.

In one room in the first story a Mr. Danforth (I think is the name) two years ago this winter found the skeleton of an infant in the wall about 5 ft from the floor, or possibly a little less. I saw the place today.

 
Black and White photo of handprints in the wall of the Lower Cliff dwelling
Handprints at the Lower Cliff Dwelling

NPS Photo/B. Smith




Another room had on its eastern wall a hieroglyphic representing probably the sun and some other lines that might be anything.

In several places are prints of fingers or of the hand complete and perfect as the day ages ago when the hands were pressed into the plastic clay.

There is much to be seen in the building that I've not time to speak of. One ought to stay a week to explore it if they hope to satisfy their curiosity.

 
Black and white photo of a doorway in the Lower Cliff Dwelling.
Doorway in the Lower Cliff Dwelling

NPS Photo/ B. Smith



Another room had on its eastern wall a hieroglyphic representing probably the sun and some other lines that might be anything.

In several places are prints of fingers or of the hand complete and perfect as the day ages ago when the hands were pressed into the plastic clay.

There is much to be seen in the building that I've not time to speak of.

One ought to stay a week to explore it if they hope to satisfy their curiosity.

 
Modern black and white photo of the Lower Cliff Dwelling.
Modern photo of the Lower Cliff Dwelling

NPS Photo/B. Smith

(She continued to describe a second cliff house, separated from the first by) a gulch... It is the most perfect I've ever seen, with traces of 22 rooms. 16 are in fair order, 3 of them and a hall are as perfect as the day they were finished.

The hall is a narrow space between two rooms and has a short flight of steps leading to a tiny landing on the upper floor.

The stairs are quite wide but very low, not more than 3 1/4 to 4 1/4 inches I should think in height, from one step to the next, and so worn by the myriad feed that ascended and descended them as to be hollow troughs in the center.

 

Last updated: August 29, 2021

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