i libri di

NA
Cliff Palace – The Story of an Ancient City
Don Watson
 

Discovery

Under the arching roof of a tremendous cave stands a silent, empty city.
For almost seven centuries it has stood there looking out across the canyon toward the setting sun. Proudly, almost haughtily, it has resisted the heavy tread of those slow centuries. Like a giant with a shawl of everlasting stone pulled closely about its shoulders it has stood with unbowed head, an eternal monument to the intelligence and industry of its builders.
Almost seven centuries ago they turned their backs on their proud city and walked away. All of the forces of nature seemed to be against them. The rains failed to fall, the springs ceased to flow. No corn grew in the fields. At last, weak from lack of food and water, and bewildered by the failure of the gods to answer their hysterical prayers, they surrendered to the inevitable. Sadly they turned their backs on the once happy city and walked down the canyon, never to return.
Cliff Palace, the crowning glory of the Cliff Dwellers, was a silent, deserted city.
In spite of the protection offered by the cave roof that shelters the entire city Cliff Palace has suffered somewhat from the leveling forces of time. The owls and the pack rats have been careless tenants and the lack of repair is evident. Some of the walls have cracked; a few have fallen. Foundations have slipped; roofs have disappeared. The once-bright plas­ter is peeling from the walls.
These minor changes have failed to dim the glory of the largest of all cliff dwellings. From one end of the cave to the other stand unbroken lines of houses. Story upon story they rise to the very roof of the cave itself. On a still higher ledge, far up under the cave roof, stands a long row of storage bins where the Cliff Dwellers once stored their abundant supplies of grain. In some of the houses paintings are still bright on the walls; in others the footprints of the Cliff Dwellers are still clearly evident in the hard-packed clay floors. At each end of the cave is the trail that once led to the corn fields on the mesa top; below the cave is the trail that led to the bottom of the canyon.
In reality Cliff Palace has not changed a great deal since that day when its inhabitants disappeared. They walked away, it is true, but they are still there. You can see them if you close your eyes.
Unfortunate indeed, is he who views this ancient city and sees only the towering walls. Unfortunate because the stones are the least important part. Cliff Palace is really built of the hopes and desires, the loves and hates, the joys and sorrows of an industrious people. It is not a cold empty city for it is still warm with the emotions of its builders. In each finger print and tool mark lie the prayers of a young couple for a stable home filled with children and happiness. Each storage bin is chinked with a farmer’s prayers for a bountiful harvest. In each plastered kiva wall is the reverence of an ancient priest for his gods. A pot is not just a piece of baked clay; it is an ancient potter’s moulded prayer for beauty and strength. Each solid wall is a testimony of success; each broken jar, each shattered human bone is an admission of defeat.
Cliff Palace is a human document. The story of the Cliff Dwellers is written there just as accurately as it could be written with a pen. We will approach it now by a long and devious route in order to see all of the steps that caused it to be built. And when we finally enter the great cliff dwelling, remember – don’t look at the walls! Notice the people they are Cliff Palace!
After Cliff Palace was deserted by the Cliff Dwellers late in the thirteenth century it stood, unmolested by man, for many hundreds of years. The owls and pack rats took it over and enjoyed its security, but from all evidences it was many centuries before men again entered the cave.
The Cliff Dwellers themselves may have intended to return when conditions became normal again but they never came back. There is no evidence that farming Indians ever lived in the Mesa Verde after its desertion by the ancient people. Other Indians came but they were hunters and they seem to have shunned the silent cave cities.
A couple of centuries after Cliff Palace was deserted an important event took place, an event that was to have a strange effect on it at a later date.
America was rediscovered!
Fifteen thousand years after the Indians discovered the continent from the west, white men entered it from the east. A new people blundered into the western hemisphere that had so long belonged to the Indians.
The newcomers were a greedy lot and they began to stretch acquisitive fingers in all directions.
Mexico was colonized and tales of wealth among Indians to the north led the Spaniards into the South­west. In 1540 Coronado was only one hundred twenty miles from Cliff Palace but he turned away. Spaniards came nearer and nearer until at last, in the year 1776, the first white man saw the Mesa Verde.
On August 10, 1776, only thirty-seven days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Escalate, a Spanish priest, camped in the very shadow of the Mesa Verde. While the American colonists were fighting for their freedom Escalante was braving the wilderness of the Southwest to gain lands for Spain and converts for the church. It seems almost incredible that at a time when the colonists along the Atlantic seaboard knew nothing of the vast wilderness beyond the first range of mountains, Escalante and his men were here in the land of the Cliff Dwellers. From their native Spain they had sailed to Mexico. From Mexico City they had trudged through the burning deserts, ever northward. At last, on August 10, 1776, they camped by a little stream in the Mancos Valley, only twenty miles from Cliff Palace.
In his diary Escalante wrote:
“10th day of August. Father Fray Francisco Atanasio awoke with a severe attack of rheumatism, which he had begun to feel the day before in his face and head, and it was necessary to remain here until he was relieved. The continued rain and dampness of the place, however, obliged us to leave. Going north a little more than half a league we turned northeast. A league farther on we turned to the west, through beautiful mountain glens, full of verdure, roses and other flowers. Two leagues farther on it began to rain copiously, which caused Father Atanasio to become much worse, and also made the road impassable. We passed on two leagues farther west, but were obliged to stop by the first of two small streams which make up the San Lazaro, otherwise called Las Mancos. The pasturage continues to be abundant. Today, four and a half leagues.”
The small stream beside which Escalante camped that night is still called the Mancos. Only a few miles below his camping place it cuts directly into the Mesa Verde. The Cliff Dwellers had known-it well. It had failed them during the great drouth. And now, on August 10, 1776, exactly 500 years after the beginning of that drouth which had caused the Cliff Dwellers to leave the Mesa Verde; Escalante, a man of a new race, camped beside the Mancos, only twenty miles from Cliff Palace.
He saw the great mesa, the Mesa Verde, without a doubt, for it looms high above the Mancos Valley. But he turned away; he was seeking the sea to the west.
During the following century many other Spaniards must have seen the Mesa Verde for there was much exploration in the region. Sometime during this period the mesa was given a Spanish name–Mesa Verde–the “green table.” The Spaniard who named it is unknown. Possibly he named it after climbing to its summit for from the valley below it is not so evident that the top is flat and eternally green. Could it be that he even saw the cliff dwellings and we have failed to find the record in the musty archives of Mexico, or Spain? No, probably not. We must consider that Cliff Palace and the other cliff dwellings were still unseen by modern man.
In 1848 Cliff Palace, although still unknown, passed from Spanish to American ownership. Slowly the new owners drew nearer. The date of discovery of the now aged cliff dwelling was close at hand.
The first known mention of the Mesa Verde was made in the year 1859. In that year an exploring expedition set out from Santa Fe, under the leadership of Captain J. N. Macomb, to explore certain territory in what is now the state of Utah. Serving as geologist for this expedition was Professor J. S. Newberry and in his geological report he wrote:
“Between the Rio de la Plata and the Rio de las Mancos we skirted the base of the extreme southern point of the Sierra de la Plata. These mountains terminate southward in a long slope, which falls down to a level of about 7500 feet above the sea, forming a plateau which extends southward to the San Juan, the Mesa Verde, to which I shall soon have occasion again to refer.”
Farther on in his report he adds:
“To obtain a just conception of the enormous denudation which the Colorado Plateau has suffered, no better point of view could possibly be selected than that of the summit of the Mesa Verde. The geologist here has, it seems to me, satisfactory proof of the proposition I have before made…”
From the manner in which he spoke of the Mesa Verde it is very evident Professor Newberry voiced a name that was in common usage. This was true also of all the rivers and mountains mentioned in his report. Their names indicate the Spaniards had done a very thorough job of christening the landmarks of the region.
From Newberry’s report it is also evident that he climbed to the summit of the Mesa Verde. His description indicates he must have scaled one of the high points along the northern rim, possibly Park Point, the highest of all. He merely climbed to the summit, feasted his geological eyes on the thrilling view over 16,000 square miles of wilderness, and descended. He was only a few miles from Cliff Palace and scores of other ruins but he failed to suspect their presence. He does deserve credit, however, for the first known mention of the Mesa Verde and for the earliest modern, ascent to its summit.
The first American settlers entered the Mesa Verde region about 1870. Miners, farmers, trappers, cattlemen, even bandits,. came pouring into the Mancos Valley and found it to their liking. None of them had ever heard of or would have been interested in the ruins. To them the past was dead and forgotten; they were looking ahead. They were interested only in taming the wilderness and in keeping their scalps firmly attached to their heads.
At that time the entire region was terrorized by the Ute Indians. Naturally a war-like group they were goaded into a frenzy by the loss of their hunting grounds. They made life miserable for the whites. Adventurous miners and trappers were slain; farming settlements lived in constant fear of the merciless warriors. The situation became acute and soldiers were finally sent in to hold the Utes in check.
To the settlers the Indians were simple hazards to be expected in the conquest of the wilderness. They were merely to be brushed aside. If they resented the brushing process; if they showed a tendency to resist the loss of their ancient tribal homes it was very unfortunate – for the Indians. The persuasive little leaden pellets of the settlers convinced one Ute after another that it was wrong to resent the loss of homes and hunting grounds. The remnants of the tribe sought refuge in natural strongholds, especially in strong­holds where there was nothing desired by the whites.
One of these natural strongholds was the Mesa Verde. Its warm lower canyons had long been the winter home of bands of Utes and they were familiar with every nook and cranny in it. The deep narrow canyons and high mesas offered sanctuary to the oppressed Indians. The settlers in the Mancos Valley respected this wilderness stronghold and it remained a place of mystery to them. From the time of Professor Newberry’s climb to the summit in 1859, we have no definite record of white men entering the Mesa Verde until 1874.
In that year a small party of explorers ven­tured Into the forbidding canyons of the great mesa. The young government far off to the east was endeavoring to learn the extent and nature of its newly acquired possessions in the far west. Small surveying parties were being sent into all parts of the vast unknown land. One of these parties drifted down from the north and entered the Mesa Verde region in the year 1874. In charge of the party was Mr. W. H. Jackson, photographer for the U. S. Geological Survey. Jackson and his men were not interested in the Mesa Verde, in fact they had no knowledge of its existence until men whom they encountered in some of the mining camps began to tell of a great tableland filled with mysterious ruins.
Jackson was intrigued and although he had little faith in the strange rumors he decided to explore the Mesa Verde. His guide on the expedition was a garrulous miner named John Moss, who claimed to have first-hand knowledge of the ruins. This chapter in the story of the Mesa Verde is extremely vague. There is no doubt that before the time of Jackson’s expedition some of the settlers knew of the Mesa Verde ruins. How much they knew is uncertain. .Some of the early prospectors or hunters may actually have seen them. The Mancos Canyon afforded a natural avenue for travel through the Mesa Verde and in spite of the Ute danger the intrepid adventurers may have used it occasionally. If they did they could hardly have failed to see the cliff dwellings that clung to the faces of the cliffs a thousand feet above the river.
On the other hand, knowledge of the Mesa Verde ruins may have come from the Indians. In a little while we will see a friendly Ute Indian giving the white men their first knowledge of Cliff Palace. Perhaps John Moss and the other miners heard of the existence of the ruins from friendly Utes or Navahos.
At any rate, John Moss knew that there were ruins in the Mesa Verde and in September 1874, he led Jackson into the.Mancos Canyon. One night they camped on the banks of the river in the heart of the Mesa Verde. A century earlier Escalante had camped a few miles farther up the same stream. Six centuries earlier Cliff Dweller maidens had filled their water jars from it.
No cliff dwellings had been seen and the men were beginning to lose faith in the stories of their guide. As dusk was settling ever the canyon the men stood about their campfire.
“Moss,” one of the men questioned, “where are those ruins that you have been telling us about?”
“Right up there,” Moss replied, with a swing of his arm that took in the whole out-of-doors.
Unimpressed the men stepped away from the campfire and began to scan the cliffs above. In the bottom of the canyon they stood in the gathering shadows of twilight but far above the cliffs were lighted by the last dying embers of the setting sun. Suddenly the men saw what John Moss had not even suspected when he had said, “Right up there.”
In the topmost cliff was a cave. In it, standing out in bold relief against the shadowy background, were small stone houses. There was a ruin up there.”
In spite of the growing darkness the men scrambled up the canyon walls. Just as total darkness fell two of them entered the little cliff dwelling. It was the earliest known discovery of a Mesa Verde cliff dwelling by white men.
The next morning Jackson and his men returned to the ruin and photographed it. Two-Story House, they named it because of a splendidly built two-story structure it contained. Excitedly they climbed about the small village, poking into every dark corner. In the debris of the cluttered rooms they found things that aided them in their wild speculations about the vanished people; pottery, corn cobs, stone tools – the Mesa Verde was beginning to give up its secrets.
Today Two-Story House still clings to the face of its cliff. It has changed little since Jackson saw it three-score years ago. Not a dozen men have entered it since that fatal day when the Cliff Dwellers left it behind.
Long ago the people of Two-Story House were neighbors of the people of Cliff Palace, the great cliff dwelling toward which we are moving. To them it must have been a metropolis, a great city, the largest they ever knew. It took only an hour for them to trot up the canyon to the larger community. Often the men of the little village must have slung their prized possessions over their shoulders and set out for Cliff Palace on trading and gambling expeditions. It was “big town” to them.
When Jackson was at Two-Story House he was very near Cliff Palace but he did not see the larger ruin. If he had gone only four miles up the nearest side canyon he would have found the amazing structure. But he was satisfied with the discovery of Two-Story House and other small ruins and a narrowly-averted clash with a band of Utes sent him scuttling down the Mancos Canyon and out of the Mesa Verde to safety. Cliff Palace was still unknown but the threat of discovery was coming nearer.
One of the early settlers in the Mancos Valley was Mr. Ben Wetherill, a rancher. In the eighties he and his five sons were living on a large ranch at the foot of the Mesa Verde. It was a typical pioneer family but in one respect the Wetherills were very different from their neighbors. Throughout all of their years of residence in the valley they had been friendly with the Utes. Instead of persecuting them as so many of the settlers did, they befriended the helpless Indians who were rapidly losing the lands they regarded as their own. Indians were welcome at the Wetherill ranch and the bonds of friendship grew strong.
As a result of this friendship the Wetherills began to run their. cattle in the Mesa Verde! At last white men were welcome in the vast stronghold of the Utes. Deeper and deeper they penetrated into the network of canyons.
As they worked with their cattle the Wetherills began to notice tiny houses standing in caves on the faces of the cliffs, They even climbed to them and as they explored the little villages their interest and curiosity mounted. The houses were merely small stone rooms, evidently built in the caves for security. In the houses the boys found things the ancient inhabitants had left behind, even the remains of the people themselves. They speculated on the origin of their finds but there seemed to be no answers. The objects found had no actual value so they spent little time in the ancient buildings. Their cattle could not be neglected for the tiny, valueless houses in the cliffs.
An interesting tale came to the Wetherill brothers ears when they became acquainted with a Ute Indian named Acowitz. In some of the canyons, he told them, were cliff dwellings that were very large. When he showed them how large they were the boys smiled for they knew he was lying. Acowitz talked on. There was one cliff dwelling that was the largest of all. When he showed them how large it was and how many rooms it contained they were quite sure he could not be believed. No cliff dwelling could be so large.
Acowitz persisted in his claims. Time after time he told the Wetherills of the ruin that was the largest in the Mesa Verde. Dubious but interested the boys began to watch the cliffs whenever their search, for cattle took them into new canyons.
At last Al Wetherill thought he saw it. He was following the bottom of a canyon in which none of the boys had ever been. Far above, in the highest cliff, he saw the arched roof of an enormous cave. Through the tops of the trees Al thought he saw houses; he could not be sure. Anxious to reach camp before darkness came he did not climb up to investigate. The boys began to consider the claims of Acovitz with less doubt. The cave seemed to exist; perhaps it did contain the largest cliff dwelling of all.
The following winter two of the Wetherill brothers, Richard and Alfred, and their brother-in-law, Charlie Mason, were again in the Mesa Verde with their cattle. Day after day they watched them, often riding the high, mesa trails in search of strays. As they rode they remembered the story of Acowitz and the cave Al had seen. Before the winter was over they intended to find it.
One snowy December day in 1888, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason pulled their horses up out of the Mancos Canyon and began to follow the trail of some stray cattle northward across the mesa top. Snow lay deep on the ground. Soft flakes filled the air. Silently the two forced their way through the heavy growth of pinon and juniper trees. Only the thud of the horses’ feet and the creak of saddle leather broke the silence. Near the edge of a canyon the growth thinned out and they finally rode out into the open.
“My God, Charlie, look at that!” cried Richard, pointing across the canyon.
In the opposite wall was a tremendous cave. Filling it from one end to the other, and rising even to its vaulted roof, was, a silent city of stone. No snow fell on the ancient city. No storm had touched it through all the centuries. It seemed as eternal as the ageless cliff that protected it.
Framed by the magnificant cave, a thin veil of snowflakes drawn across its face, the silent city cast a spell over the two cowboys. In all that vast wilderness there was no sound but the soft hiss of the snowflakes and the throbbing of the boys’ hearts. Speechless they sat in their saddles.
At last one of the horses stirred and the spell was broken.
In later years Charlie Mason told of the discovery.
“We had heard of Cliff Palace before we saw it. A Ute Indian, named Acowitz, had told us about it and we had always hoped to find it. The Utes were afraid of the ruins and didn’t go into them because of the spirits of the old people they believed were there. If we wanted to keep the Utes out of camp we just put a skull on a stick and they wouldn’t come near.”
As thee first flush of discovery passed the two boys began to search for a way to enter the ruin. Riding around the heads of two small canyons they were soon above their goal. An ancient trail led down the cliffs. Breathless with excitement they walked into the cave.
Once again the great cliff dwelling knew the touch of man. Six centuries after the despairing Indians deserted their home, two flushed, happy men walked into it. A new era had dawned, one that would see strange happenings in the Mesa Verde.
Excitedly the two cowboys began to scramble about the ruin, prying into every corner, appraising the many strange things they found. Acowitz had been right; it was tremendous. They could never hope to find another ruin as large. Throughout its entire length the cave was full of houses, simple stone rooms with small, high doorways and few windows. Here and there among the houses were mysterious circular, subterranean rooms that the boys could not understand. At the south end of the cave was a four-story structure that touched the cave roof; in the third-story room was a beautiful painting in red and white. At the north end a terraced structure also rose to the cave roof; in it was some of the best masonry in the entire cave. On an upper ledge at the back of the rave was a long row of smaller rooms. In them the boys found corn cobs, tassels and shucks. Under flat rocks where rats had not found them were a few grains of corn and some brown beans. Instantly the boys knew the ancient people had been farmers.
In the center of the cave was a graceful round tower. Every stone in it was carefully rounded to fit the curve of the wall and the entire tower tapered uniformly toward the top. In the tower was the most perfect stone axe the boys ever found. But the use of the tower puzzled them.
The ruin was in a sad state of repair. Roofs had fallen; walls had partially crumbled. Courts and passageways were choked with fallen stones,, adobe mortar and broken roof beams. Rat nests filled the darker corners and a mantle of dust and cobwebs lay over all. Out of this jumble the once-proud city raised an unbowed head. Only minor parts had fallen. The greater part of it remained as the Cliff Dwellers had left it. The crumbled parts spoke of age and the forces of decay; the unbroken walls gave mute evidence of the skill of a vanished people.
After several hours of exploring the ruin the two cowboys started back to their camp. On the way another amazing ruin was discovered, the ruin now known as Spruce Tree House. The next morning Square Tower House was found and the boys began to realize what an important discovery they had made. Unsuspectingly they had found the evidences of a vanished race of men. Surely the ruins and the ancient cultures they represented must form an important chapter in the story of mankind. Flushed with excitement they hurried back to Mancos to tell of their discovery.
Upon hearing of the amazing discoveries John Wetherill decided to investigate for himself. With three companions he made his way to Cliff Palace. Near the south end of the ruin, just back of the painted tower, one of the subterranean rooms was in perfect condition except that the roof was missing. After cleaning it out carefully the boys stretched a canvas over it and the room served as their home for a month.
It was a strange use for the ancient room. Six hundred years earlier it had been a sacred ceremonial room, a kiva, where reverent priests had conducted their ceremonies. Now it was merely a living place for men of a different race. The cowboys built their fire in the same firepit where the priests had built theirs centuries earlier. They stored their food and possessions on the same ledges where the priests had kept their sacred, ceremonial things. They slept on the floor, exactly where the tired priests had slept during their long ceremonies. The boys had no knowledge that they were profaning a place of worship. It was not until many years later that they learned they had lived in a kiva, one of the ceremonial rooms of the Cliff Dwellers.
During the month they spent in the ruin John Wetherill and his three friends searched endlessly for the things they knew were buried under the debris. In the houses, under the dust and fallen roofs, they found the utensils and tools the women had once used. In the kivas they found the ceremonial paraphernalia and tools of the men. Everywhere were the objects that had been used in the daily life of the Cliff Dwellers. It became evident that the ancient people had deserted their homes, leaving in them the things they were unable to carry. Perhaps they had intended to return and had left most of their possessions behind.
Far back in the cave where there were no buildings the most exciting discovery was made. In this part of the cave the roof was too low for houses so the Cliff Dwellers had used it for a trash room and as a roost for their flocks of domesticated turkeys.
As the cowboys dug through the accumulated trash they suddenly found themselves face-to-face with the Cliff Dwellers. For some strange reason fourteen bodies had been buried there in the trash. Natural processes had mummified them so perfectly that in some the normal expression of the faces seemed to be preserved. It was a thrilling discovery for there, except for two things, were the Cliff Dwellers. In only two ways did the mummies differ from the cowboys themselves. Only the moisture and the spark of life were missing. If they could have restored those two things the boys would have found themselves confronted with the actual builders of the ruin they were exploring. They speculated wildly on what the ancients would say if life were restored to them.
Centuries earlier, sorrowing relatives had buried them there in the back of the cave. The dry earth and trash had drawn the moisture slowly from the flesh until only the bones and dried tissues remained. Nothing was missing except the spark of life and the moisture. Everything else was in place; the bones, the flesh, the skin, the eyes, the internal organs; all were there, only very, very dry. Long hair still hung about the shoulders of the mummies and in it were the mummies of ancient lice that had once formed a happy population.
John Wetherill found fourteen mummies in Cliff Palace. It was a fitting climax to his first venture in archeology. Of the five Wetherill brothers,. John was the one who developed the greatest interest in the ancient cultures. For many years after his work in Cliff Palace he was actively engaged in exploring the Mesa Verde and making its features known to the world.
It was a strange month the cowboys spent in Cliff Palace in that winter of 1888-89. In the midst of a silent, snow-covered wilderness they lived in and explored an ancient city that was unknown to the civilized world. Centuries earlier it had sheltered the Indians. Now it sheltered the newcomers. Untouched by wind and snow they pried into the secrets of the ancient people.
The name John Wetherill and his three friends chose for the ruin indicates their feelings toward it. As they noted its high walls and towers and the security of its position they remembered the ancient castles and palaces of their childhood storybooks. With this inspiration it is easy to imagine how naturally they made their choice.
Cliff Palace was the name they gave it, an inspiring name for the greatest structure the Cliff Dwellers ever built. It is not especially appropriate for the great ruin was never a palace. Instead it was a small city, the dwelling place of hundreds of people. But the name was the choice of the men who first explored it and it reflects their feelings toward the ancient structure.
During the years that followed the discovery of Cliff Palace the Wetherill brothers discovered hundreds of other cliff dwellings in the cliffs. of the Mesa Verde. They found also that the mesa tops were dotted with additional hundreds of ancient ruins. Realizing the importance of their discoveries they began to make them known. The young pioneer nation showed little interest. It was thinking of the glory that lay ahead. It had scant time for the glories of the past. Years slipped by and the Mesa Verde was unprotected.
The Wetherills took four great collections from the ruins. Luckily these are preserved today in museums in various parts of the country. In 1891, Baron Gustav Nordenskiold, a young Swedish archeologist, excavated in a score of the larger cliff dwellings and took a splendid collection back to his homeland. Soon after his return home Nordenskiold died: is it possible that the curse of the Cliff Dweller medicine men was as potent as the curse of the Pharoahs of Egypt? After Nordenskiold’s death the collection was sold to Finland where it rests uneasily today.
Even though it could only be reached by a thirty mile horseback ride the Mesa Verde was visited by a surprising number of people. Some came only to see the ruins but many came to dig and on the return trip the packs often bulged with the things taken from the ruins. Priceless artifacts that had been unmolested so long were thoughtlessly scattered to the four corners of the earth.
As a result of these visits, however, the fame of the Mesa Verde grew and public sentiment finally came to its aid. Because of continued pressure by interested people the Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, creating Mesa Verde National Park. At last, after six hundred empty years, Cliff Palace and the other ruins were again in the care of men who were interested in their well-being. These men were of a different race and their feelings toward the cliff dwellings were very different from those of the Cliff Dwellers. To the ancient people the cave structure had meant home and security. To the new caretakers the ancient ruins were a milestone in the story of mankind and as such they should be preserved for all time.
Cliff Palace soon felt the effects of the new order for in the spring of 1909 a long deferred house cleaning began. Dr. Jesse’ Walter Fewkes, of the Smithsonian Institution, moved into the cave and began a systematic excavation of the ruin. The fallen stones and adobe, the rat nests and the litter of the centuries were carefully removed. Once again the houses, kivas, passageways and courtyards were clean and. neat. A small amount of repair work was done to prevent further deterioration. Cracks were filled with adobe mud, weak walls were braced and foundations were strengthened. No effort was made to rebuild the fallen parts and to the casual eye Cliff Palace is as it was when the cowboys found it except that the litter has been cleared away.
As Cliff Palace emerged from its mantle of dust and debris the unusual size of the cave and its ruin became more evident. The cave was over three hundred feet in length and its greatest depth was one hundred feet. At the front the great stone arch was almost one hundred feet above the terraced houses that it sheltered.
Within the cave Dr. Fewkes found over two hundred houses and in the open courts about which they clustered were twenty-three of the subterranean, ceremonial rooms now known as kivas. When Cliff Palace was in its hey-day at least four hundred people must have enjoyed its security.
To modern man Cliff Palace seems only a village. To the Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde it was much more than that. Located almost in the center of the great mesa was this largest cave of all. In it was the largest structure they ever built. To them it was a metropolis; it was the big town, the hub of their world. In their eyes it was magnified by comparison with the smaller cliff dwellings just as our modern cities are magnified by comparison with smaller towns and villages. To them it was a city, the greatest they ever knew. As an ancient city, then, we shall consider it..
Today Cliff Palace stands as Dr. Fewkes left it thirty years ago. It is not a cold, hollow shell, as one might expect after the long centuries of silence. It is warm and alive, a glorious monument to its ancient builders.
In order to gain a complete understanding of Cliff Palace and its people we will follow a long and devious trail. We will watch the Indians for 15,000 years. before we see them move into the great cave and lay the first stone. Then, after the background has been painted, we will move into Cliff Palace and live with the people for a year. Daily contact with the Cliff Dwellers will give us a true picture of the ancient culture.

 

indice libri America   indice libri   ritorna all’home page   

e-mail: info@natale.to