Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Richard Wetherill

Richard Wetherill

Overview
Richard Wetherill a member of a prominent Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 ranching family, was an amateur explorer in the discovery, research and excavation of sites associated with the Ancient Pueblo People. He is credited with the discovery of Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace
The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The structure built by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples is located in Mesa Verde National Park in their former homeland region...

 in Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It was created in 1906 to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world...

 and was responsible for initially selecting the term Anasazi, Navajo
Navajo language
Navajo or Navaho is an Athabaskan language spoken in the southwestern United States. It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages .Navajo has more speakers than any other Native American language north of the...

 for ancient enemies, as the name for these ancient people. He also discovered Kiet Seel ruin, now included, along with Betatakin ruin, in Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument is located within the northwest portion of the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.Navajo National Monument preserves three of the most intact cliff dwellings of the ancestral puebloan people . The Navajo people who live here today call these ancient ones Anasazi...

 in northeastern Arizona.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Richard Wetherill'
Start a new discussion about 'Richard Wetherill'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Richard Wetherill a member of a prominent Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 ranching family, was an amateur explorer in the discovery, research and excavation of sites associated with the Ancient Pueblo People. He is credited with the discovery of Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace
The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The structure built by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples is located in Mesa Verde National Park in their former homeland region...

 in Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It was created in 1906 to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world...

 and was responsible for initially selecting the term Anasazi, Navajo
Navajo language
Navajo or Navaho is an Athabaskan language spoken in the southwestern United States. It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages .Navajo has more speakers than any other Native American language north of the...

 for ancient enemies, as the name for these ancient people. He also discovered Kiet Seel ruin, now included, along with Betatakin ruin, in Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument is located within the northwest portion of the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.Navajo National Monument preserves three of the most intact cliff dwellings of the ancestral puebloan people . The Navajo people who live here today call these ancient ones Anasazi...

 in northeastern Arizona. "Slightly smaller than Cliff Palace, Kiet Seel possesses qualities that, in the eyes of some, lend it greater charm and interest." Wetherill became fascinated by the ruins and artifacts and made a career as an explorer, guide, excavator and trading post operator.

The Wetherill family's good relations with local Indian tribe
Indian tribe
In the United States, a Native American tribe is any extant or historical tribe, band, nation, or other group or community of Indigenous peoples in the United States...

s, including the Ute
Ute Tribe
The Ute are an American Indian people now living primarily in Utah and Colorado. There are three Ute tribal reservations: Uintah-Ouray in northeastern Utah ; Southern Ute in Colorado ; and Ute Mountain which primarily lies in Colorado, but extends to Utah and New Mexico . The name of the state of...

s, allowed them access to many canyon
Canyon
A canyon or gorge is a deep ravine between cliffs often carved from the landscape by a river. Rivers have a natural tendency to reach a baseline elevation, which is the same elevation as the body of water it will eventually drain into. This forms a canyon. Most canyons were formed by a process of...

s on Ute controlled land. The family maintained a guest house at their ranch
Ranch
A ranch is an area of landscape, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. The word most often applies to livestock-raising operations in the western United States and Canada, though...

, offering tours and helping people obtain collections of artifact
Cultural artifact
A cultural artifact is a term used in the social sciences, particularly anthropology, ethnology, and sociology for anything created by humans which gives information about the culture of its creator and users...

s. Early explorers like the Wetherills were interested in either experiencing the curious ruins and relic
Relic
In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial...

s or collecting artifacts for museum and university display. Modern archaeologists are appalled at the damage done by early explorers and scholars but note that, in contrast to the modern focus on understanding the people
People
People is a plurality of human beings or other beings possessing enough qualities constituting personhood. It has two usages:* as the plural of person or a group of people People is a plurality of human beings or other beings possessing enough qualities constituting personhood. It has two usages:*...

 and culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 that created the sites, preservation was not a concern at that time.

Mesa Verde



On December 18, 1888, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, cowboys from Mancos
Mancos, Colorado
The town of Mancos is a Statutory Town located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The population was 1,119 at the 2000 census.The town of Mancos is located in southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners, at the base of Mesa Verde National Park, and holds the trademark for "Gateway to...

, found Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace
The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The structure built by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples is located in Mesa Verde National Park in their former homeland region...

 in Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It was created in 1906 to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world...

 after spotting the ruins from the top of the mesa
Mesa
A mesa or table mountain is an elevated area of land with a flat top and sides that are usually steep cliffs. It takes its name from its characteristic table-top shape....

. Wetherill gave the ruin its current name. Richard Wetherill along with his father, brothers, extended family, and neighbors explored a number of the ruins, digging and knocking down walls and roofs, and gathering artifacts. The Wetherills sold part of their finds to the Historical Society of Colorado but kept the larger share of the collections.

Among the people who stayed with the Wetherills and explored the cliff-dwelling
Cliff-dwelling
Cliff dwelling is the general archaeological term for the habitations of prehistorical peoples, formed by using niches or caves in high cliffs, with more or less excavation or with additions in the way of masonry....

s was mountaineer
Mountaineer
-Sports:*Mountaineering, the sport, hobby or profession of walking, hiking, trekking and climbing up mountains, also known as alpinism-University athletic teams and mascots:*Appalachian State Mountaineers, the athletic teams of Appalachian State University...

, photographer, and author Frederick H. Chapin
Frederick H. Chapin
Frederick H. Chapin was an American business man, mountaineer, photographer, amateur archaeologist and author. He is best known for his exploration of mesas and ruins found in the Mesa Verde area of Colorado. Although his book is relatively unknown today, his descriptions, maps and quality...

 who visited the region during 1889 and 1890. He described the landscape and ruins in an 1890 article and later in an 1892 book, The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers, which he illustrated with hand-drawn maps and personal photographs. The Wetherills also hosted Gustaf Nordenskiöld
Gustaf Nordenskiöld
Gustaf Nordenskiöld , Swedish scholar of Finnish descent, a member of the Nordenskiöld family of scientists and the eldest son of polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and Anna Maria Mannerheim...

, the son of polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld
Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld
Freiherr Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld , also known as A. E. Nordenskioeld was a Finnish baron, geologist, mineralogist and arctic explorer of Finnish-Swedish origin. He was a member of the prominent Finland-Swedish Nordenskiöld family of scientists...

, in 1891. Nordenskiöld continued excavations begun by the Wetherills on the impressive Cliff Palace, unfortunately doing considerable damage as he dug and gathered artifacts. In 1893, Nordenskiöld published an illustrated account of his investigations called The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde.

Chaco Canyon


The ruins of Chaco Canyon have been known to the outside world since the 1850s, when a military survey
Surveying
See Also: Public Land Survey SystemSurveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, and science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them...

 project passed through the area. The location was so remote, however, that formal archaeological work did not began until 1896, when a party from the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History , located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world...

 began excavating in Pueblo Bonito
Pueblo Bonito
Pueblo Bonito, the largest and best known Great House in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, northern New Mexico, was built by ancestral Pueblo people and occupied between AD 828 and 1126....

. This "Hyde Exploring Expedition" spent five years in the region, sending collections back to New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and even operating a series of trading post
Trading post
A trading post was a place or establishment in historic Northern America where the trading of goods took place. The preferred travel route to a trading post or between trading posts, was known as a trade route....

s.

In 1901, Wetherill, who had worked for the Hyde family in Chaco Canyon, homestead
Homesteading
Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of simple self-sufficiency.-Current practice:The term may apply to anyone who follows the back-to-the-land movement by adopting a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. While land is no longer freely available in most areas of the world, homesteading...

ed land that included Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo Del Arroyo, and Chetro Ketl. While investigating Wetherill's land claim, General Land Office
General Land Office
The General Land Office was an independent agency of the United States government responsible for public domain lands in the United States. It was created in 1812 to take over functions previously conducted by the United States Department of the Treasury...

 special agent S. J. Holsinger made a report which strongly recommended the creation of a national park
National park
A national park is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently A national park is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or...

 to preserve Chacoan sites. President Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

proclaimed "Chaco Canyon National Monument" on March 11, 1907, as Wetherill relinquished his claim on several parcels of land he held in Chaco Canyon.

Death


Richard Wetherill remained in Chaco Canyon, homesteading and operating a trading post at Pueblo Bonito until his controversial murder by gunshot in 1910. Depending on the source, Wetherill's death was murder in cold blood by a Navajo Indian debtor or the loser in a gunfight caused by his own cattle rustling. Local Navajo ‚ charged with his murder, served several years in prison, but was released in 1914 due to poor health. Wetherill is buried in the small cemetery west of Pueblo Bonito. The cemetery lies just over a hundred meters west of Bonito behind a wooden fence, and also contains the burial of his wife Marietta and her uncle Clayton Tompkins.

To many modern archaeologists Richard Wetherill remains a villain -- an uneducated cowboy who plundered the ruins of the pre-historic civilization of the Southwestern Indians. To others, he is an honest man whose accomplishments, the first excavations of the great ruins at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, may outweigh his faults. Adding to the enigma of Wetherill is the manner and controversy related to his death.