Old West Lifestyle & Stories


On December 18, 1888, the fantastic ancient Indian ruins of Mesa Verde located in southwest Colorado was discovered by Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law.

The Wetherill family had been ranching the rugged southwest lands of Colorado since 1881, and Richard and his brothers often explored the canyons and mesas for Indian ruins.  Once, while looking up the mouth of Cliff Canyon, Wetherill was approached by a Ute Indian named Acowitz who supposedly told him, “Deep in that canyon and near its head are many houses of the Ancient Ones.  One of those houses, high, high in the rocks, is bigger than all the others.  Utes never go there, it is a sacred place.”  Although Wetherill was intrigued, his ranching duties kept him from exploring the area.

One day Wetherill and his brother-in-law, Charles Mason, were searching for stray cattle on top of a broad mesa when a heavy snow began to fall.  Fearing they might ride over a cliff in the blinding snow, they dismounted and were moving ahead on foot when they came to an overlook point.  From across the canyon they saw a snow-blurred image of a magnificent stone city three stories high and perched high up a cliff wall under a massive rock overhang.  Fascinated, Wetherill and Mason abandoned their search for the stray cattle and climbed up and explored the ruins for several hours.

Archaeological studies found the Cliff Palace, as it became known, was built during the 13th century, when the Anasazi moved from the top of the mesas onto ledges and caves along the canyon walls, presumably to better defend themselves against invaders.  Eventually a prolonged drought that started around 1275 forced the Anasazi to abandon their magnificent cliff dwellings.

Wetherill collected thousands of artifacts from the Cliff Palace.  Most of the artifacts ended up in museums, where they could be studied by professional archaeologists and viewed by the public.  In order to protect the site from further looting and degradation, the Congress created Mesa Verde National Park in 1906.

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