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It has existed for over a millennium. It was hidden from view by trees, brush and the overhang of the top of the cliff. The Utes knew of it and considered it sacred. Odds were high that the Spanish, in their explorations of the Southwest had come across it. However, the new, white homesteaders of the land in Southwest Colorado were unaware of it and of course credited with it’s “discovery”.
The place (re)discovered: the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde
Discoverer: Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason.
Date: December 18, 1888 (a mere 127 years ago today)
Story goes, Wetherill and Mason, were out wrestlin’ up some stray cattle near Wetherill’s ranch in Mancos Canyon, and came across the cliff dwellings. Prior to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency in 1901-1909, when National Parks and Monuments were created, many ancient or historical sites were at the mercy of the settlers who “found” them. In the case of the cliff dwellings, Wetherill and his brothers decided on promoting it as tourist attraction,1 . The Wetherill brothers even built roads to the site to make it more accessible.2 This was quite an accomplishment for Colorado.3
In 1898, Mr. Wetherill relocated to New Mexico and set up a trading post among the Navajos. Sadly, Mr. Wetherill and his Navajo neighbors did not always get along. While varying accounts of witnesses at the time make the true story a bit unclear, the general narrative is that on June 22, 1910, a Navajo man was severely mistreating a horse and Wetherill and a fellow companion went to confront the accused Navajo man. The Navajo, claiming self-defense, shot Wetherill dead.4 Wetherill’s companion was shot at, but came away unscathed. The Navajo, Chis-Chilling Begay, was arrested, tried and sentenced to the penitentiary for several years.
Oh, so many many stories can be found in the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection!