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Title: Cliff Dwellings of the Mesa Verde - A Study in Pictures
Author: Watson, Don
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cliff Dwellings of the Mesa Verde - A Study in Pictures" ***

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                         _A Story in Pictures_

    [Illustration: Mesa Verde Museum Association Logo]

                              _Don Watson_

                     _Mesa Verde Museum Association
                        Mesa Verde National Park


Although the Spaniards were in the Mesa Verde region as early as 1765,
there is no record of their having seen the cliff dwellings. It is
probable, however, that they gave the great mesa its name, which in
Spanish means, “green table.” First mention of the name was made by
Professor J. S. Newberry, a geologist, who climbed to the summit of the
mesa in 1859. From the manner in which Newberry used the name, “Mesa
Verde,” in his report there can be no doubt that it had been applied
prior to that time.

In 1874, Mr. W. H. Jackson, later famous as the “Pioneer Photographer,”
came into the region. Immediately upon reaching the mining camps of the
La Plata Mountains, Jackson, who was making a photographic survey for
the government, began to hear of ancient ruins in the Mesa Verde.
Intrigued by these stories he hired a garrulous miner, John Moss, to
guide him to the ruins which were said to be in the cliffs of the canyon
of the Mancos River.

Entering the canyon on September 9, 1874, the party traveled slowly,
carefully scanning the cliffs far above. According to John Moss the
ruins would be found in caves in the sheer sandstone faces. Although
many weary miles were covered no cliff dwellings were seen and by the
time evening camp was made the men were beginning to lose faith in their
guide. Impatiently one of the men asked Moss where the ruins were.
Without looking up from the campfire Moss waved his arm at the cliff

Suddenly the discovery came. Just as the last rays of the sun lighted
the uppermost cliff one of the men spied a small dwelling. Seven hundred
feet above them it clung to the face of the cliff. The men began to
scramble up the canyon wall and just as darkness fell Jackson and
another man entered the little ruin. The next morning Jackson returned
for his pictures. Thus fame came to the little cliff dwelling shown in
the picture below. Not only was it the first Mesa Verde cliff dwelling
known to have been entered by white men but it was definitely the first
ever to be photographed and the first to be named. Jackson called it
Two-Story Cliff House. Although Jackson discovered more small cliff
dwellings in the Mancos Canyon, Two-Story Cliff House was the finest and
the only one he named.

    [Illustration: Two-Story Cliff House

This picture duplicates the first photograph ever taken of a Mesa Verde
cliff dwelling. Discovered in 1874, the ruin is the first known to have
been entered, photographed and named.]

A year later, in 1875, another government survey party passed through
the Mancos Canyon. Only a mile from Two-Story Cliff House the leader of
the party, Mr. W. H. Holmes, discovered a much larger and more imposing
cliff dwelling that Jackson had missed. To this ruin, shown in the
picture below, he gave the name Sixteen Window House.

    [Illustration: Sixteen Window House

This cliff dwelling, discovered in 1875, was the second to be named. The
name was given because of the holes in the lower wall.]

                     THE DISCOVERY OF CLIFF PALACE

Although the small cliff dwellings of the Mancos Canyon were discovered
in 1874, fourteen years passed before the largest of the cliff dwellings
was found. Very little is known about that intervening period of
fourteen years. There is considerable evidence that a number of
prospectors and cattlemen were in the canyons of the Mesa Verde. Without
doubt ruins were seen but the evidence is fragmentary and indefinite. We
must move up to the year 1888, for the discovery of the greatest of the

At this point one name becomes especially prominent in this story of
discovery, the name Wetherill. It is encountered in almost every tale of
early exploration and it is found in a great many of the ruins, carved
or written on cave walls. In 1881, Mr. B. K. Wetherill moved into the
Mancos Valley and settled on a ranch a few miles north of the Mesa
Verde. In the Wetherill family were five sons, Richard, John, Alfred,
Clayton and Win. Addition of a brother-in-law, Charles Mason, rounds out
the group of men who did the most work in discovering and exploring the
ruins of the Mesa Verde.

The Wetherills were noted for their friendliness toward the Ute Indians
who occupied the Mesa Verde and surrounding areas. In the early eighties
the Utes began to allow them to winter their cattle in the Mancos
Canyon, which bordered the Mesa Verde on the east and south. Immediately
the men began to notice small cliff dwellings. They entered a number and
even scratched about to see what was buried in the ruins. Rapidly their
interest grew, especially when a Ute, named Acowitz, told them that in
one of the canyons to the north was a cliff dwelling that was larger
than all the others. His description of its size sounded unbelievable
but from that time on the Wetherills had it in mind as they worked with
their cattle. Once Al thought he saw it. Walking along a canyon bottom
one evening he saw in the cliff, far above, the arching roof of a great
cave. But darkness was coming and he did not climb up to it.

Actual details of the discovery of the greatest cliff dwelling are
somewhat confusing for as the different men told the story in later
years there was some variation in the minor details. On one point,
however, there was no disagreement. Credit for being the first white men
to enter Cliff Palace goes to Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law,
Charles Mason. Many years later Mason, in an article in the Denver Post,
told of this stirring event which took place on December 18, 1888.

“In December 1888, Richard and I started out to explore. We followed the
Indian trail down Chapin Mesa, between Cliff and Navaho Canyons, and
camped at the head of a small branch of the Cliff Palace fork of Cliff
Canyon.... We rode out to the point of the mesa.... From the rim of the
canyon we had our first view of Cliff Palace, just across the canyon
from us. To me this is the grandest view of all among the ancient ruins
of the Southwest.”

    [Illustration: Cliff Palace

On December 18, 1888, two cowboys discovered Cliff Palace, the largest
of the cliff dwellings. The picture duplicates the view they had from
the opposite canyon rim.]


After first sighting Cliff Palace from the opposite canyon rim, the two
cowboys decided to enter the great cliff dwelling. Again we go to the
words of Charles Mason for this part of the story.

“We rode around the head of the canyon and found a way down over the
cliffs to the level of the building. We spent several hours going from
room to room, and picked up several articles of interest, among them a
stone axe with the handle still on it. There were also parts of several
human skeletons scattered about.”

When archeologists excavated Cliff Palace twenty years later it was
impossible to visualize the ruin as it had been at the time of
discovery. Time after time it had been dug into by the early explorers
and no part was undisturbed. For a picture of the ruin as it was on the
day of discovery we must again refer to the story told by Charles Mason.
While some of his ideas would be hard to support his impressions as he
first walked through the greatest of all cliff dwellings are of

“The final tragedy of the cliff dwellers probably occurred at Cliff
Palace. There is scarcely room to doubt that the place withstood an
extended siege. In the entire building only two timbers were found by
us. All of the joists on which floors and roofs were laid had been
wrenched out. These timbers had been built into the walls and are
difficult to remove, even the little willows on which the mud roof and
upper floors were laid were carefully taken out. No plausible reason for
this has been advanced except that it was used for fuel.

“Another strange circumstance is that so many of their valuable
possessions were left in the rooms and covered with the clay of which
the roofs and upper floors were made.... It would seem that the
intention was to conceal their valuables so that their enemies might not
secure them.... There were many human bones scattered about, as though
several people had been killed and left unburied....

“It seems to me there can be no doubt that the cliff dwellers were
exterminated by their more savage and warlike neighbors, the men being
killed and the women being adopted into the tribe of the conquerors,
though in some cases migrations may have become necessary as a result of
drouth or pressure from outside tribes.”

Mr. Mason did not realize how near the truth he was when he suggested
that, “migrations may have become necessary as a result of drouth or
pressure from outside tribes.”

    [Illustration: Cliff Palace

When the cowboys entered Cliff Palace on December 18, 1888, the great
ruin did not look as it does in this picture. This view, taken from the
south end of the ruin, shows its present condition. In 1888, the courts,
passageways and rooms were deep with the rubble of fallen walls and
collapsed roofs. This debris was removed in 1909, and only the standing
walls remain today.]


After discovering Cliff Palace the two cowboys decided to separate and
search for more ruins. Mason rode off to the north while Wetherill went
more to the west. After riding a short distance Wetherill came to the
rim of a small canyon. Riding around the head of the canyon and looking
back under the eastern cliff he saw another great cliff dwelling,
pictured below. Since it was late afternoon he did not enter the ruin
but returned to the camp near Cliff Palace.

While not as large as Cliff Palace, this second cliff dwelling, which
they later named Spruce Tree House, was in a better state of
preservation. Many of its walls still stood at their original height,
touching the roof of the cave. Several of the rooms had their original
ceilings. Spruce Tree House has since proved to be the best preserved
large cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde.

At the head of the canyon only a hundred yards from Spruce Tree House
was a wonderful spring. Because of the fine flow of water the cowboys
often camped there. Later park headquarters were located there and the
first road came directly to it. It was because of this permanent water
supply that all modern developments were located in the Spruce Tree
House area.


Spruce Tree House was one of the cliff dwellings excavated by the first
archeologist to work in the Mesa Verde. In 1891, less than three years
after the discovery, the Swedish archeologist, Baron Gustav
Nordenskiold, was excavating in the cliff dwellings.

Nordenskiold, a member of the Swedish nobility, had read of the Mesa
Verde ruins and had decided to excavate some of them. In July 1891, he
arrived at the Wetherill ranch and hired John Wetherill as his guide and
foreman. Three more men were hired as laborers and for four months the
group excavated in the cliff dwellings.

Spruce Tree House bears Nordenskiold’s inscription, “Number 1 House.”
Cliff Palace bears the inscription, “No. 2,” and in all, twenty-two
ruins bear numbers left by Nordenskiold.

The archeological specimens recovered by Nordenskiold were taken to
Sweden but at the present time are in the National Museum, in Helsinki,
Finland. In the collection, as cataloged today, are about 600 specimens.
While it is a good collection it does not deserve the fabulous
reputation it has acquired. Although Nordenskiold reached the Mesa Verde
in 1891, the finest things had already been taken out by the cowboys.
His collection contained a number of outstanding specimens but in its
entirety did not compare with the collections taken out by the cowboys

    [Illustration: Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House was the second large cliff dwelling discovered by the
cowboys. Richard Wetherill saw it from the canyon rim on the same day
that he and Charles Mason found Cliff Palace. His view on that wintry
day of December 18, 1888, probably was much like this.]


After discovering Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House, Richard Wetherill
and Charles Mason returned to their camp. The next morning they started
off to visit Spruce Tree House, which only Richard had seen the day
before. As they rode across the snow covered mesa they misjudged their
direction and bore too far to the south. Coming to the rim of a deep
canyon they found, not Spruce Tree House, but another large cliff

Although not as large as the two they had found the day before it was
still much larger than any they had seen previously. The outstanding
feature of the ruin was a tall square tower, a four-story structure that
rose against the cliff. Because of it they later named the ruin Square
Tower House.

The two men now began to realize the importance of their discoveries.
During the past few years they had seen many small ruins along the
Mancos Canyon to the south. Now they had pushed up the canyons to the
north and in the space of two days had found not only the ruin Acowitz
had called the “greatest cliff dwelling,” but two more large ruins. As
they sat on their horses above Square Tower House they could see that
off to the north and west were many more canyons. Surely more of the
mysterious structures awaited discovery.

                          THE FIRST EXCAVATION

Filled with a desire to tell others of their surprising discoveries they
returned to the Wetherill ranch and spread the news of the great ruins
they had found. Immediately John Wetherill decided to visit Cliff
Palace. With three other men he set out and only four days after the
discovery the men entered the ruin and began to excavate.

Near the south end of the ruin a kiva was in perfect condition except
that the roof was missing. Stretching a piece of canvas over it the men
moved in and for three weeks the ancient ceremonial room served as
living quarters as they excavated the great cliff dwelling. This was the
beginning of serious excavation by the cowboys. The discovery of the
large ruins made them feel that the recovery of articles left behind by
the Indians might be a profitable business. As Charles Mason stated
later in referring to one of their expeditions, “This time we went at it
in a more business-like manner. Our previous work had been carried out
more to satisfy our own curiosity than for any other purpose but this
time it was a business proposition.”

On this first expedition the men kept no record of what they found. In
later years two things stood out in John Wetherill’s memory. Throughout
the ruin they found a profusion of baskets and in the low room in the
rear of the cave they found fourteen mummies.

    [Illustration: Square Tower House

The third large ruin discovered by Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason
was Square Tower House. The tower which gave the ruin its name is the
tallest structure in the Mesa Verde, one wall measuring thirty-three
feet in height. In this ruin, of seven kivas and about seventy rooms,
two of the kivas have remarkably well preserved roofs.]


                       THE PERIOD OF EXPLOITATION

Within a short time after the discovery of the major ruins a large
number of men were digging in the cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde. The
Wetherills were able to sell several collections, one for $3000, and
word spread that digging was profitable.

That the ruins suffered greatly from the work done during the early
years is everywhere evident. Below is Long House, probably the saddest
example of what careless excavation did to the ruins. Long House was,
without doubt, the second largest cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde,
rivaling Cliff Palace in size. Now little remains standing. But careful
study of foundations, broken bits of masonry and the outlines of rooms
on the cave walls indicates that the cave was once full of high
structures. The great mass of stones that can be seen sliding down into
the trees all across the front of the cave is an indication of the
amount of masonry that once stood in the cave. Tales have come down to
us indicating that dynamite was used by some of the early explorers in
opening up the ruins. Dynamite fuse found in Long House lends support to
these stories.

The work of some of the diggers was careless and ruthless. They had no
consideration for the ruins for their only thought was of the sales
value of the artifacts recovered. An indication of this can be seen in
the fact that a banker in a nearby town “grub staked” men to dig in the
ruins. Supplying them with food and equipment he received a percentage
of their profits from the sale of artifacts.

The vast wealth of material taken from the ruins was widely scattered
and much of it has disappeared. Of all those who excavated in the Mesa
Verde during the early years probably only the Wetherill brothers kept
records on what they found. Most of their collections were sold to
museums and the Wetherills were encouraged by the museums to keep
careful notes. These collections, even though they may now be in distant
parts of the world, have value because of the records the men kept.

In 1889 and 1890, a writer named F. H. Chapin spent several weeks in the
Mesa Verde traveling with the Wetherills. The extent of their
excavations is indicated by some of the statements in his famous book,
“The Land of the Cliff Dwellers.”

“Up to March 14, 1890, they had examined in all one hundred and
eighty-two houses.... They visited one hundred and six houses in Navaho
Canyon alone....”

The thoroughness with which the ruins were excavated can be seen by a
statement made by Charles Mason in writing about one of their collecting
trips. “In spite of the fact that all of the cliff dwellings had been
worked two or three times, we succeeded in making a very good showing.”

    [Illustration: Long House

Long House is one of the many ruins in the remote western part of the
park. It was once the second largest cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde.
Today little is left for much of it was demolished by the early
explorers. Fifteen kivas can be counted but because of the tumbled
condition it is impossible to estimate how many rooms it once contained.
One early writer who saw Long House in 1890, stated that it was the
largest cliff dwelling that had been discovered in this region. Perhaps
at that time much more of Long House was standing.]


                         EXCAVATION AND REPAIR

The larger ruins of the Mesa Verde were discovered in 1888, and for
eighteen years they were without protection. Anyone who wished to could
excavate in them and since there was a ready sale for the artifacts a
large number of men engaged in commercial excavation. The ruins suffered
greatly during this period for there was no realization that the area
would ever be accessible to the general public.

In 1906, through the efforts of interested people, a portion of the mesa
was set aside as Mesa Verde National Park and since that time the ruins
have been protected. A superintendent and the first rangers reached the
new park in 1907, and the period of commercial excavation came to an

At that time there was no road and the park could be reached only by a
ride of thirty miles on horseback. In spite of this, visitors began to
come and it soon became apparent that in time there would be heavy
visitation. Equally apparent was the fact that the ruins were in no
condition to receive visitors. Weakened by centuries of neglect and
further weakened by the careless work of the early explorers many of the
ruins were in poor condition. They could not long survive the impact of
the thousands of visitors who would begin to arrive as soon as the first
road was built. The answer to this problem was excavation and repair of
ruins that were to be visited by the public.

In 1908, Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, of the Smithsonian Institution, excavated
Spruce Tree House and the picture below shows the ruin as it looks
today. First the ruin was cleaned out. When the work began, the courts,
passageways, and ground floor rooms were filled, sometimes to a depth of
several feet, with fallen stones, caved roofs and trash. As this debris
was removed, only a few articles of value were found for the early
excavators had been thorough in their work. The repair work consisted
simply of strengthening the weak sections so there would be no further
deterioration. Crumbling foundations were strengthened; leaning walls
were braced; cracks were filled with adobe mortar. In all the work there
was no thought of restoration for too much modern work would destroy the
spirit of the ancient ruin.

In his report on the work in Spruce Tree House, Dr. Fewkes stated, “The
intention of the author has not been the reconstruction but the repair
of Spruce Tree House. Walls in danger of falling, especially those that
have suffered a thrust from the perpendicular, have been so treated as
to prevent their falling. No radical reconstruction of the rooms has
been attempted; the walls have not been built up, but the skylines
remain practically as they were before the excavations were begun.”

    [Illustration: Spruce Tree House

The view of Spruce Tree House shows the ruin after excavation. In 1908,
the debris was cleaned out and necessary repairs were made. At the time
of excavation, Dr. Fewkes counted eight kivas and 114 rooms. He
estimated, however, that it had once contained at least 140 rooms. Large
sections of the ruin still stand at their original height and several
rooms have their original roofs.]

                         ARCHITECTURAL DETAILS

Study of the cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde has revealed a surprising
similarity of architecture throughout the area. The structures were the
work of a single tribal group and a definite pattern was followed by all
the members. Some cliff dwellings were small, others very large, the
size depending entirely on the size of the cave. The area covered by the
tribe embraced the Four Corners sections of the present states of
Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. But in all the cliff dwellings
constructed by the members of this far-reaching tribe certain
architectural features are commonly found.

Below are shown some of the details that characterize Mesa Verde

    [Illustration: No. 1.

Most of the doors were small rectangular openings, usually two or three
feet above the floor. The average dimensions of forty doors measured in
Cliff Palace were: height, 25 inches; width, 16 inches.]

    [Illustration: No. 2.

T-shaped doors are less common than the rectangular openings, some ruins
having many, others very few. The T-door is simply a standard door with
the added notch at the bottom. It is a much more convenient door for if
the hands are placed on the two ledges it is quite easy to fold the legs
and swing through the opening.]

    [Illustration: No. 3.

Windows are not common in Mesa Verde ruins. When present they are small,
often little more than peepholes. Note the door slab leaning against the

    [Illustration: No. 4.

Doors were closed with thin sandstone slabs. A small stick set into the
masonry under the lintel kept the door slab from falling through.]

    [Illustration: No. 1.

These small built-in shelves are very common on the inside walls of the
rooms. Evidently they were for the storage of household articles.]

    [Illustration: No. 2.

Plastered walls are extremely common, the plaster being made of clay of
various colors. The wall shown here has orange-red designs on a white
background. The three-triangle design is found more often than any other
design element, being especially common in kiva paintings.]

    [Illustration: No. 3.

Typical Mesa Verde masonry is made of rather large, well shaped stones,
set in thick layers of adobe mortar. Small stones, or spalls, were
forced into the mortar to compact it in the joint.]

    [Illustration: No. 4.

Masonry in the cliff dwellings often exhibits surprisingly smooth
surfaces and clean sharp lines. The stonework in this wall is of the
highest quality.]

    [Illustration: No. 1.

Roofs of the rooms in the cliff dwellings were constructed of poles and
adobe. The covering layer of packed adobe was from three to five inches
thick and was smooth and hard.]

    [Illustration: No. 1.

Logs, poles and withes of various sizes were used in constructing the
support structure for the roofs. Usually one or two heavy timbers
spanned the room. Smaller poles were placed at right angles to the heavy
joists and were in turn covered with a solid layer of slender withes or
split poles. Addition of the layer of packed adobe completed the roof.]

    [Illustration: No. 2.

Square towers, two to four stories in height, were common in the cliff
dwellings. The builders, however, were not actually constructing
“towers,” as we think of them. They were simply building living rooms
one on top of another in order that additional families might enjoy the
security offered by the caves. Sometimes these tall structures appear as
towers merely because adjacent high structures have fallen.]

    [Illustration: No. 3.

Tapered, round towers are not common in the cliff dwellings. Round rooms
are occasionally encountered, but of these carefully constructed,
tapering round towers there are only a few. No special use can be
suggested as nothing unusual has been found in them. The round tower
pictured is in Cliff Palace. The faces of all the stones are curved to
fit the circular shape.]

    [Illustration: No. 2.

These narrow platforms, or balconies, were often constructed under
second, third and fourth story doors. Sometimes they were merely small
platforms but often they were long walks connecting upstairs rooms.]

    [Illustration: No. 3.

Masonry columns are not at all common in the cliff dwellings. Possibly
this construction feature was just coming into use for only three have
been found. The column pictured is in Spruce Tree House. It rests on a
first-floor wall and supports a third-story room.]


The term “living room,” as we use it today, is really not a good term
for the rooms in the cliff dwellings. Actually these were, for the most
part, sleeping and storage rooms. Probably few of the activities of
daily life took place in them. The real “living space” was the great
open areas in the villages, the kiva courts and the terraced housetops.
The cave itself served as a roof over the entire village and the people
probably spent most of their active life outside the rooms.

Most of the rooms were small and dark. In the pictures below the small
size of the doors is clearly evident and the few windows were little
more than peepholes. Very few of the rooms had fires inside so the light
was poor. Weaving, sewing, pottery making, and such activities could not
have been carried on inside the rooms.

For the most part the rooms should be considered as sleeping and storage
rooms. If an adult could stretch out at full length on the floor the
room was large enough for sleeping purposes. If it were too small for
normal sleeping it served as storage space for food supplies and family

In the winter there may have been more crowding into the rooms. However,
it must be remembered that fires were seldom built in the houses so
there was little warmth unless a person actually bundled up in skins and
blankets and went to bed. The fires were built in the courts and on the
open roofs and in cold weather the people probably huddled about them.

    [Illustration: This upper section of Double House is typical of the
    small, high caves that are so common in the Mesa Verde. The rooms
    were very small and the roof so low that a person could not stand
    upright. Only a narrow ledge was left between the houses and the
    sheer cliff. The kivas were at the foot of the cliff and most of the
    activities may have been carried on there.]

    [Illustration: These structures at the south end of Cliff Palace
    were from one to four stories in height. The rooms were built one on
    top of another so more families could enjoy the security of the
    cave. In front of the houses was a row of kivas. The kiva roofs and
    the house roofs provided space for the activities of daily life.]

    [Illustration: In constructing their houses the Indians did not try
    to change the cave to fit their needs. Notice how the house walls
    were made to fit the irregularities of the cave. Working with tools
    of stone they seldom tried to cut into the cave walls.]

    [Illustration: The north end of Balcony House is an outstanding
    example of ancient architecture. The rooms are much larger than
    usual and the masonry is of the highest quality. The balcony is the
    finest in the Mesa Verde. In front of the houses was a large court
    that was shared by the various families. The low parapet wall at the
    right protected the people, especially the children, from the high
    cliff in front of the cave.]


To the person who views a cliff dwelling for the first time the most
interesting feature is the underground ceremonial room. Modern Hopi
Indians call these rooms “kivas,” and this term is commonly used. The
kivas in Mesa Verde cliff dwellings developed from earlier pithouses and
exhibit a high degree of standardization. Although there are occasional
variations almost all Mesa Verde kivas contain the same standard
features. Kivas are thought to have been used chiefly by the men and
served as combination ceremonial rooms, club rooms, council chambers and

    [Illustration: No. 1.

Mesa Verde kivas were underground rooms, usually circular or roughly
circular in shape. The log and adobe roof covered the room completely
except for the small hatchway in the center. Secrecy was thus provided
for events that took place in the kivas. The hatchway in the roof served
not only as an entrance but also as a smoke hole for the small fire that
burned below. Usually the hatchway was the only entrance but a few kivas
had side tunnels leading to nearby rooms. As will be explained later,
the kiva roof was one of the most important areas in a cliff dwelling
for it formed a large open court. Most of the daily activities of the
people took place in these courts. The kiva pictured is in Spruce Tree
House. The roof has been reconstructed to show the original appearance.]

    [Illustration: No. 2.

The kiva pictured here contains all features common to the kivas of the
Mesa Verde ruins. Warmth and light were provided by a fire that burned
in the large pit in the floor. The hatchway in the roof served as a
smoke hole. As the smoke and warm air rose through the hatchway, fresh
air was drawn down the ventilator shaft. The small hole at the top of
the picture is the opening of a vertical ventilator shaft which extended
down to the rectangular opening at the base of the wall. Between the
firepit and the ventilator a stone slab served as a deflector, keeping
the fresh air current from blowing across the fire. The low shelf around
the kiva wall served as storage space for articles of all types. The low
pilasters on this shelf, usually six in number, supported a log and
adobe roof. Note that the shelf is wider on the far wall, next to the
ventilator shaft. The use of this deeper recess, which was usually more
or less toward the south, is not known. In the back wall of this recess
were two small niches which served as storage space for small articles.
The one remaining feature is the small hole in the floor in front of the
firepit. This same feature exists today in the kivas of some of the
present-day Indians. It is called the “sipapu” and serves as a symbolic
entrance to the Mother Earth.]

    [Illustration: No. 1.

The kiva roof was supported by an ingenious framework of cribbed logs.
As was mentioned above, six low stone pillars usually were constructed
on the bench that encircled the kiva. Short logs were laid from pillar
to pillar forming a circle of logs entirely around the room. A second
circle of logs was placed on the first, with the logs cutting the angles
in the first set. Another and another circle of logs was added—in the
kiva pictured there were eight layers of logs altogether. As the circles
rose they grew smaller and a dome effect was created. Finally logs were
placed across the opening and a covering layer of adobe completed the
roof. While this was an ingenious method, the roofs had a serious
weakness. The entire weight of the roof rested on the first layer of
logs. When one of these logs broke, the entire roof usually collapsed.
As a result few of the kiva roofs are in place today. The one pictured
is in Square Tower House.]

    [Illustration: No. 2.

This kiva, which is in Cliff Palace, exhibits masonry of the highest
quality. The smooth, sharp corners of the three pilasters, the true
rectangular wall niches, the smooth plaster and the tamped adobe floor
were the work of skilled craftsmen.]


It is impossible to picture life in one of the large cliff dwellings
unless the architectural unit shown below is taken into consideration.
This small section of Spruce Tree House consists of a kiva partially
surrounded by a group of rooms. This relationship of kiva and houses is
so common in the larger caves that it must indicate deliberate planning
on the part of the builders.

In Spruce Tree House there are six of these kiva courts, almost
identical to the one shown here. In each case the kiva with its flat
open roof is partially or completely surrounded by houses.

In considering the kiva court shown below it is quite possible that the
houses were occupied by a group of closely related families, perhaps a
small clan. In the high rear wall nine doorways can be seen. Each door
opened into an individual room that had no side or rear doors. In these
small, cell-like rooms the people slept and stored their possessions.

The active life of the people from these houses was in the open court
and on surrounding roofs. There was ample room for all and it was here
that they cooked, ate, worked, and played. The overhanging cave roof
sheltered the entire village from the elements and there was little need
for the people to use the small dark rooms except at night. There was
little privacy for individual families; probably all of the residents of
this court area lived together like one very large family.

About twenty rooms seem to have opened into this kiva court. Certainly
it should not be considered that there were that many individual
families. But it is evident that a large number of people occupied the
rooms and shared the open court. In the left foreground can be seen the
hatchway of a second kiva. The roof of this kiva formed another court
which was surrounded by another group of rooms much like those shown at
the right.

The kiva itself should not be tied too closely to the clan or group of
families living around it. Customs in some of the present-day Indian
Pueblos lead to the belief that a kiva was used by a religious society
and men from other parts of the village and other clans could have been
members of this ceremonial group. The kiva may have belonged to the clan
which lived around it and may have been taken care of by the men of this
clan. But its ceremonies would have been conducted by a religious
society to which belonged men of various clans.

    [Illustration: Kiva Court in Spruce House.]


It is impossible to look at the cliff dwellings without wondering why
the Pueblo Indians chose to build their homes in the cliffs. A few of
the ruins are in large, open, airy, easily accessible caves, that to the
casual observer might seem like rather decent places in which to live.
But most of the caves are not of this type. The majority are high on the
cliff faces—many are merely narrow high ledges on which a few rooms
could be perched.

For many centuries the Pueblo Indians of the Mesa Verde area lived on
the open mesa tops and in the broad fertile valleys. They were a settled
agricultural group, highly skilled in all their arts and crafts. Then,
rather suddenly, they left their pleasant pueblos and moved into the
caves. Within a short time there were few Indians left out in the open.
What caused this sudden change in their way of life? In order to answer
this question it is necessary to consider the entire background of the
Pueblo Indians of this area.

The earliest evidences of these people indicate that they were well
established in the Mesa Verde region shortly after the birth of Christ.
Originally a hunting people, they had received corn and squash from more
southern neighbors and were turning to a settled agricultural life.

At first they seem to have had no houses so, at least for part of the
year, they occupied the caves. After a time they began to experiment
with simple pithouses. When substantial houses had developed they left
the caves and built their villages in the open. For many centuries they
lived in the open valleys and on the broad mesa tops. The population
grew and the tribe spread over a wide area. The architecture developed
steadily and by the twelfth century the people were living in hundreds
of pueblos, constructed of stone and adobe masonry.

Late in the twelfth century the people began to move and the population
began to diminish. Some of the people left the area, drifting off to the
south. The rest began to search for defensive locations for their
villages. In the Mesa Verde the villages were moved to the caves of
which there were many hundreds in the numerous canyons. By the early
part of the thirteenth century most of the Indians had moved to the
caves and during the last few generations the people were in the Mesa
Verde it appears that few lived in the open.

There can be little doubt that the movement to the caves was caused by
the arrival of an enemy group. In many parts of the Southwest, the same
thing happened. Evidently some nomadic group, perhaps the earliest of
the Apaches, came into the area and began to harass the Pueblo Indians.
In the interest of health the peaceful farmers began to build their
homes where they could defend them against marauders.

After living in the open for many centuries the Pueblo Indians of the
Mesa Verde moved to the caves and constructed the cliff dwellings. There
can be little doubt that this move was prompted by a desire for
defensive locations.

    [Illustration: Double House, part of which is shown here, is an
    excellent indication of the Pueblo Indians’ desire to utilize the
    caves. The ruin is in seven sections, not all of which are shown,
    and indicates a desire to build in easily defensible places, no
    matter how small or difficult of access they were. All together,
    Double House has about seventy rooms, with several kivas along the
    base of the cliff.]

                          DEFENSIVE LOCATIONS

The majority of the cliff dwellings are in locations more or less like
those shown below. Villages like these could easily have been defended
against raiders armed with bows and arrows.


From a modern viewpoint a cave might not appear to be a safe place for a
home. All thought of modern warfare must be forgotten, however, and
ancient methods must be kept in mind. When it is considered that the
cliff dwellers lived in bow and arrow times it is not difficult to see
the cliff dwellings as defensive structures. Because of the location and
the type of construction, they served as excellent forts against bow and
arrow attack.

Some of the villages were at the base of the cliff and were easily
accessible. But the inhabitants of such towns had to defend only the
front of the cave and their thick walls would have suffered no damage
from arrows. The men of a large village, such as Spruce Tree House or
Cliff Palace, could have repulsed a small raiding party without too much
difficulty. The small high villages were comparatively safe because of
the difficulty of access. Some caves were reached by ladders; others by
toe-holds cut in the cliff. In many of the small high cliff dwellings no
evidence of a trail can be found. They were too high for ladders, the
cliffs were too steep for toe-holds, and no ledges led to them. One can
only suppose they were entered by means of ropes.

Although the cliff dwellings were excellent defensive structures they
were weak in one respect—the water supply was outside the caves. Of the
hundreds of cliff dwellings probably not more than a score had springs
within the cave. In almost every case the women carried water from
nearby, or distant springs. In all probability the people did not have
to worry about actual sieges. The enemy people were hunters who traveled
in small bands. Word of a raiding party would have spread quickly for
there were few isolated villages where the people could not call to the
next village and so on along the canyon. It was possible to call across
even the largest canyons and warnings would have traveled well in
advance of the raiders.

In their large jars the villagers could have stored considerable water
and with their supplies of food could have withstood short sieges.
Actually the raiders would have starved out first for being hunters they
could not have stayed long in one place. And to lay siege to one village
might have invited concerted action by the residents of several nearby

    [Illustration: Casa Colorado.

This village of about twenty rooms received its name because of the
reddish tint of its walls. Although the cave is not high, it could be
entered only at the right side. Defensive walls were constructed to
guard the entrance.]

    [Illustration: Ruin No. 12.

Although this cliff dwelling has only twenty rooms, it contains five
kivas. High on the cliff face, the village was entered by means of a
narrow ledge at the right.]


It is difficult to discuss the cliff dwellings without dividing them
into groups according to size. The hundreds of ruins vary from one room
to over 200 rooms. Only by dividing them into groups is it possible to
show the relative abundance of ruins of various sizes. The table given
below is of no real importance. It is merely one person’s way of
dividing the ruins by size for discussion purposes. One could just as
well divide them into three groups or ten groups. And the number of
rooms selected for each group is only of relative importance. The
numbers merely provide a yardstick for discussion purposes. For
convenience only, the hundreds of cliff dwellings will be divided into
the following five size groups:

  Very large       more than 100 rooms.
  Large            51 to 100 rooms.
  Medium           21 to 50 rooms.
  Small            6 to 20 rooms.
  Very small       1 to 5 rooms.

Before considering the relative abundance of the ruins in the various
groups it would be well to consider the total number of cliff dwellings
in the Mesa Verde. The answer is, of course, that no one knows and
probably no one will ever know. There are too many canyons and too many

In 1891, Richard Wetherill told Nordenskiold, the Swedish archeologist,
that there were more than 500 cliff dwellings in the Mancos Canyon and
its side canyons. Many more were discovered later. Certainly no one knew
the ruins of the area better than the Wetherills. As Charles Mason
stated, their search for ruins was a “business proposition.” If Richard
Wetherill felt there were more than 500, it probably is a safe figure to
use. How many “more,” is of little importance.


Probably not more than four of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings fall into
this group. The difficulty is that of all the cliff dwellings only eight
have been completely excavated. It is impossible to make even a fairly
accurate count of the rooms in a large unexcavated ruin for the mass of
debris often hides the lower walls.

Cliff Palace, with its 23 kivas and more than 200 rooms is, of course,
the largest, but originally Long House may have been a close rival in
size. Long House was so badly knocked about by the early explorers that
it is impossible even to estimate how large it once was. Certainly it
was second in size. The other two that fall into this group are Spruce
Tree House and Spring House. Excavation and careful counting of rooms
would perhaps add one or two more to this group but at present one can
not be certain.

    [Illustration: When the matter of size is considered, Cliff Palace,
    of which a portion is shown here, heads the list. Dr. Jesse W.
    Fewkes, who cleaned out and repaired the ruin in 1909, counted 23
    kivas and over 200 rooms. Originally it contained many more rooms
    for several high sections had fallen before excavation.]

                         LARGE CLIFF DWELLINGS

It is difficult to suggest how many of the cliff dwellings fall into the
51-to-100-room group. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, as has been suggested, it is difficult to count the rooms
in an unexcavated ruin. What was once a large ruin may be little more
than a mass of fallen stones. Evidences of upper stories often have
disappeared entirely. If one enters a cave and counts the rooms that are
in evidence it is usually safe to assume that many more have disappeared

Another difficulty is that little of the Mesa Verde has been explored in
modern times. The remote parts of the mesa, over half of which is Ute
Indian Reservation, have had little exploration since the days of the
cowboys. Hundreds of the ruins have not been entered in modern times. It
is doubtful if any living person has been in one hundred of the Mesa
Verde cliff dwellings. Distant views have been had of a great many but
only a small number in the more accessible areas have been entered.

Thus it is difficult to estimate the number of ruins that contained from
51 to 100 rooms. Probably there were a dozen—perhaps there were twice
that many. A more definite answer must await further exploration.

In this discussion of the large ruins one thing becomes evident. Only a
small portion of the people lived in the larger villages. The bulk of
the population was in the smaller villages, of which there were several

    [Illustration: Kodak House

Kodak House is an excellent example of a large cliff dwelling. It is
also an excellent example of the ruins that were badly treated by the
early explorers. Large portions of this ruin were pushed out of the cave
by the men who were digging for articles of value. Kodak House appears
to have contained at least seventy rooms originally.]

                      MEDIUM-SIZED CLIFF DWELLINGS

It is impossible to make even a close estimate of the number of ruins in
this 21-to-50-room group. They are to be found in all the canyons and
only an exhaustive survey will reveal the actual number. Perhaps there
are a hundred of them—probably many more.

As one explores the canyons and enters more and more of the ruins a
surprising fact becomes evident. Ruins which at first glance seem small
can turn up a surprising number of rooms. A distant view across a canyon
may reveal only a few broken walls. Upon gaining access to the cave,
perhaps by swinging down on a long rope, the first glance still reveals
little. Then, as the ruin is studied carefully, it begins to grow.

The only evidence of a three or four story structure may be rows of
small holes in the cliff where the ends of roof beams once rested. A
thin line of plaster running up the cliff may be the only indication of
a high plastered structure that once stood there. Sometimes, fifteen or
twenty feet up on a cave wall, a bright red spot may be seen on the
sandstone. This is mute evidence that a structure once stood there for
the red discoloration of the sandstone was caused by a small cooking
fire that once burned on a third or fourth story roof.

Thus the difficulty of estimating the number of ruins of any particular
size is evident. In all probability, not half of the canyons have been
explored to any extent by archeologists. Perhaps not more than one-third
of the cliff dwellings, especially the small high ones, have been
entered by anyone since the days of the early cowboys.

A great deal of exploration and careful study will be necessary before
the actual archeological wealth of the Mesa Verde will be known.

    [Illustration: Balcony House

Balcony House, shown here, is an excellent example of the medium-sized
cliff dwellings. In size it is near the top of the group for it contains
two kivas and about forty-five rooms. In several respects Balcony House
is one of the outstanding ruins and is the favorite with most visitors.
Its location on the face of the cliff gave it outstanding defensive
possibilities. The only entrance was a narrow ledge that ran about 400
feet along the face of the cliff. At one point the trail passed through
a narrow crevice. This the Indians blocked with high walls and final
access to the village was through a narrow crawl tunnel.

The outstanding feature of this ruin is an excellent spring in the back
of the cave. With this supply of water and their strong defenses, the
people had little to fear from enemy raiders.]

Below are four ruins that fall in the medium-sized group. They contain
from twenty-five to forty rooms and are typical of the scores of ruins
of this size that are to be found in the many canyons. In some of the
ruins pictured few structures remain standing but careful search reveals
evidence of the many rooms that have disappeared. These were once
bustling little agricultural towns of a few dozen people. Without doubt
the peaceful farmers prized the security of their high-flung villages.

As more and more of the ruins are entered and studied, one fact becomes
increasingly evident. Of the entire population of the Mesa Verde,
relatively few people lived in the larger cliff dwellings. For every
cliff dwelling of more than fifty rooms there were scores of smaller

The larger towns may have been important centers in some respects. They
no doubt offered excellent trading possibilities for the men from the
small towns. Perhaps a man from one of the small villages had a fine
tanned buckskin that he wished to trade for jewelry. Certainly his best
business opportunities would have been in one of the larger towns like
Long House or Cliff Palace. When an important ceremony was held in one
of the big communities, probably men flocked in from all the nearby
small villages to enjoy the event. They came not only to view the public
portions of the ceremony but to participate in the feasting, gossiping,
trading and gambling that accompanied it.

If the large communities were important to the people of the small towns
it probably was only in the ways mentioned above. They did not look to
them for leadership for certainly there was no union among the people.
Probably there were never more than a few thousand Pueblo Indians in the
Mesa Verde at any one time. They lived in hundreds of more or less
independent villages. While some of these villages seem large and
impressive today, they may have had little real importance in ancient
times for only a small percentage of the people lived in them. The bulk
of the population was in the hundreds of small towns each of which was
an independent community that contained no more than a few dozen people.

    [Illustration: This unnamed cliff dwelling has few standing walls.
    There are definite indications, however, of more than twenty-five

    [Illustration: Buzzard House.

Although this ruin has little protection from the elements, several
structures are in good condition. It was once a village of about
twenty-five rooms with one or more kivas at the foot of the cliff.]

    [Illustration: Daniel’s House.

This is one of the highest cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde. The
cowboys were unable to get into it and it was finally entered for the
first time by park service men in 1915. A large collection of artifacts
was ample indication that the early explorers had not been in the ruin.
This probably was the cliff dwelling referred to by John Wetherill when
he stated that there was one he and his brothers were never able to
reach. The ladder dates from 1915, and is no longer safe for use.]

    [Illustration: This unnamed cliff dwelling once contained forty or
    forty-five rooms. It had excellent defensive possibilities for in
    times of trouble the upper section could have sheltered all the
    people of the village. Carved inscriptions in this ruin indicate
    that early explorers entered it as early as 1884.]

                            THE SMALL RUINS

Below are pictured four cliff dwellings that are typical of the many
that contain from six to twenty rooms. Most of the ruins in this group
are located high on the cliffs and often are extremely difficult to

As we drop down to the smaller ruins the actual number of ruins
increases. In the many canyons of the area almost every cave was
utilized by the Indians. There were far more small caves than large ones
and as a result there are far more of the smaller cliff dwellings.

It is not even wise to try to estimate the number of cliff dwellings
that contain from six to twenty rooms. Certainly it doesn’t take much of
a ruin to contain six rooms. No one has the slightest idea how many
there may be so we will say hundreds, which means anything from 200 up.

A village of less than twenty rooms did not house many families. It
would seem to have been a poor defensive unit for there would have been
only a few men in such a village. In most cases the location made up for
the small number of defenders. The majority were high in the cliffs and
it would not have been too difficult for a handful of men to defend a
village that could be entered only by a ladder, a toehold trail, or a
rope from the top of the cliff.

Although these villages were small, they were surprisingly well built.
Some of the outstanding masonry in the area is to be found in these
small, high ruins. Cliff Palace, the largest of the cliff dwellings,
contains excellent examples of well-cut stones, sharp straight wall
corners, well-built doors and smooth wall plaster. But the finest work
in Cliff Palace can be matched in many of the smaller ruins.

In the ruins below it is clearly evident that there was little space for
the activities of the people. In most cases the front walls rose from
the edge of a sheer cliff and there were no courts and few house roofs,
as in the larger cliff dwellings. In most of these small high villages
the daily activities were carried on either inside the houses or below
the village at the base of the cliff.

    [Illustration: This unnamed cliff dwelling is in the far
    southwestern corner of the park. Originally it contained two kivas
    and about a dozen rooms.]

    [Illustration: A small high ruin of not more than six rooms. It can
    be entered only from the top by means of a rope and while it is near
    park headquarters, it has not been entered in recent times.]

    [Illustration: The House of Many Windows.

This ruin of one kiva and about ten rooms is in Cliff Canyon, near Cliff
Palace. It has an outstanding defensive position.]

    [Illustration: A small unnamed ruin of six rooms. No kiva is in
    evidence but there may be one somewhere along the base of the


It has already become obvious that as the size of the ruins diminishes
the number increases. An estimate of the number of these tiny ruins
would sound unreasonable. It probably is safe to say, however, that
there may be as many of these very small ruins as there are of all the
others together.

Below are typical examples of the small high ruins that contain from one
to five rooms.

All of the canyons have these very small ruins—a count would run into
the hundreds. In all probability many have not been entered in modern
times for they are so small and high as to be scarcely worth the effort.
Probably some have not even been seen by white men. Since they are
located on cliff faces often they can be seen only from the opposite
canyon wall. And when they are in deep recesses and crevices they can be
seen only from certain points and only when light conditions are exactly

                          WHAT WERE THEY FOR?

One cannot view these small ruins without wondering about their intended
use. In some cases, of course, they were dwellings. Often they contained
from three to five well-built rooms which, even though high on the
cliffs would have housed a few people. Life in such villages may have
been a bit nerve-wracking but at least the people enjoyed a defensive
advantage. Usually these tiny structures did not contain kivas. Often
several of the small villages were close together and they may have
shared a kiva that was somewhere along the base of the cliff.

Most of these very small ruins contained only one or two rooms and they
were often incredibly high on sheer canyon walls. Usually the rooms were
small; sometimes there was scarcely room enough for a man to crowd
inside. Certainly these were not living rooms for families. And it is
doubtful if they were storage rooms for they were often located some
distance from other villages. Surely food would not have been stored
where it could have been reached by anyone with monkey-like climbing
ability and no fear of heights.

Many suggestions have been made about the small high cliff dwellings but
each ends with a question mark. Were they homes? Did they serve as
storage rooms? Did antisocial individuals live in them? Were they
hideouts that resulted from excessive enemy activity? Did daring
youngsters build them “just for fun?” Or were they simply the result of
a fad—was it considered quite clever to build in breath-taking places?

    [Illustration: This cliff dwelling was simply a wall built across
    the opening of a tiny cave. The space thus enclosed was divided into
    two small rooms, each with its own door. In spite of the fact that
    there is little protection from rain and wind the smooth plaster on
    the front wall is in excellent condition.]

    [Illustration: This is typical of the innumerable single room
    structures that are to be found in the nooks and crannies in the
    cliffs. The ruin pictured is less than three feet high and the
    longest dimension is about four feet.]

    [Illustration: Containing five small but well-built rooms this
    structure was without doubt a dwelling. There was little space for
    the activities of the people but the location provided excellent
    security. With small amounts of food and water in the village the
    residents probably had little fear of raiders.]


Spring House is an example of the large cliff dwellings in which further
excavation may produce valuable archeological material and information.
As has already been mentioned the early explorers worked extensively in
the ruins and removed an amazing amount of material. Ruins like Spring
House, however, contain such deep masses of debris that it is possible
the cowboys did not do a thorough job of excavation. If the lower
section of this cave were excavated valuable material might be found in
the deeper levels.


Many centuries before the Pueblo Indians built the cliff dwellings their
ancestors lived in the caves of the Mesa Verde region. At first they had
no houses and the caves provided shelter. After a time pithouses
developed and these structures were sometimes built in the caves.
Finally the people deserted the cliffs and as the centuries passed the
evidences of the early occupations were covered with earth and sand that
accumulated. When the people returned to the cliffs centuries later they
built their cliff dwellings on top of the earlier material, not knowing
or not caring that it was there.

In order to recover the material left by the earlier people it is
necessary to excavate under the cliff dwellings. One project of this
type has been carried out and the results are an indication of what
further excavation may reveal under some of the larger ruins. In 1926,
three pithouses were found in the lower levels of Stephouse Cave, which
is across the canyon from Spring House. In 1891, Nordenskiold realized
that earlier people had lived in the cave although he did not dig deeply
enough to find the pithouses. As he dug into the debris he found two
pieces of crude early pottery and in his book Nordenskiold stated, “It
is possible that both these vessels are older than the rest of the
pottery from the cliff dwellings. Perhaps they are the work of a people
who inhabited Stephouse Cave before the erection of the cliff village.”

Later, the Wetherills found more of the early pottery. They even dug
through a portion of one of the pithouses and they, too, suggested that
an earlier people had lived there. Finally in 1926, Park Superintendent
Jesse L. Nusbaum excavated that section of the cave and found the three
pithouses under several feet of debris left by the later people who had
lived in the cliff dwelling.

If the evidences of the earlier occupations are found in the caves it
will be in situations like that pictured on the opposite page where
great depths of debris protected them from the early explorers. Little
is known of the occupation of the Mesa Verde by the earliest
agricultural people. Further knowledge will come only upon excavation of
the lower levels of some of the caves.

    [Illustration: Spring House, part of which is shown here, was one of
    the largest of the cliff dwellings. The fragmentary walls in the
    lower section indicate that structures two or more stories in height
    once filled this part of the cave. This village probably contained
    more than 100 rooms. A spring behind the walls at the left end gave
    the ruin its name.]


Two ruins have been found in the Mesa Verde that seem quite different
from the rest. All evidence indicates that these structures were not
dwellings but were built for some special purpose. When they were
excavated, they contained practically nothing that served to indicate
their intended use, but because of certain construction features they
are thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes.

                               SUN TEMPLE

This large structure stands on the point between Cliff and Fewkes
Canyons. While it is not a cliff dwelling it was, without doubt,
constructed by people who lived in cliff dwellings nearby. Within
one-half mile of Sun Temple are twenty cliff dwellings and it is
believed that people from some or all of these may have worked together
to construct this large ceremonial building.

Sun Temple is a D-shaped structure, 121 feet long and 64 feet wide. At
the time of excavation some of the walls were more than 11 feet in
height and originally all of the outer walls probably were a little
higher than that. The walls, which contain some of the best masonry in
the Mesa Verde, have an average thickness of about three feet. There are
no doors in the outer walls and there is no evidence of a roof. The
building contains twenty-four rooms, of various shapes, three kivas and
a large court. Nine of the rooms have no doors; they were simply deep
cells entered from the top.

The most unusual feature of Sun Temple is its evidence of careful
planning. It was not built haphazardly, as were the cliff dwellings, but
according to a preconceived plan. The main, perhaps the original
section, is D-shaped with the parts arranged in almost perfect symmetry.
When the second section was added the building retained the D-shape.

Sun Temple is without doubt the most mysterious building that has been
found in the Mesa Verde. Because of the evidence of careful planning,
the unusual symmetry of its parts, and the complete lack of any evidence
that it was a habitation, Sun Temple is considered to have been
constructed for special ceremonial usage. The name Sun Temple is
misleading, however, for the nature of the ceremonies will never be

    [Illustration: Sun Temple]

                              FIRE TEMPLE

This unusual structure is located in a shallow cave in Fewkes Canyon,
only a short distance from Sun Temple. Like Sun Temple it exhibits a
symmetrical arrangement which indicates careful planning on the part of
the builders.

In the center of the open court is a large firepit, on either side of
which is a low rectangular crypt. At each end of the court stands a two
story structure. Originally most of the walls were covered with a white
plaster and on this a number of geometric and animal figures were
painted in red.

Few artifacts were found in Fire Temple at the time of excavation and
there was no indication that it had been used as a dwelling. Because of
this and the symmetrical arrangement it is considered to have been used
for ceremonies. The name, Fire Temple, is misleading for there is no
possibility of determining the nature of the ceremonies.

    [Illustration: Fire Temple]


Cliff Palace occupies a huge crescent-shaped cave on the east side of
Cliff Canyon. The cave itself measures 325 feet across the front and its
greatest depth is just over 100 feet. The ruin covers the entire floor
of the cave and parts of it rise to the cave roof. The ancient builders
made no effort to alter the cave to fit their needs. They simply made
their structures conform to natural contours and when seen under certain
conditions of light the houses seem almost to be part of the cliff

Because of its location visitors are able to get better views of Cliff
Palace than of any of the other cliff dwellings. Several points on the
opposite rim of the canyon offer striking distant views and the high
cliffs at each end of the cave are perfectly located for spectacular

Seen from any angle Cliff Palace is a magnificent structure and visitors
sometimes have difficulty in believing that it is real. Here in the
midst of a vast wilderness of canyons is this great ruin, sheltered for
seven centuries by the enormous cave. It is a strange setting for the
ancient city and it has an unreal quality for visitors who see it for
the first time.

Baron Nordenskiold, who saw Cliff Palace in 1891, felt something of this
when he told of his first view of the ruin in his book, “The Cliff
Dwellers of the Mesa Verde.”

“In a long, but not very deep branch of Cliff Canyon, a wild and gloomy
gorge named Cliff Palace Canyon, lies the largest of the ruins on the
Mesa Verde, the Cliff Palace. Strange and indescribable is the
impression on the traveler, when, after a long and tiring ride through
the boundless monotonous pinon forest, he suddenly halts on the brink of
the precipice, and in the opposite cliff beholds the ruins of the Cliff
Palace, framed in the massive vault of rock above and in a bed of sunlit
cedar and pinon trees below. This ruin well deserves its name, for with
its round towers and high walls rising out of the heaps of stones deep
in the mysterious twilight of the cavern, and defying in their sheltered
site the ravages of time, it resembles at a distance an enchanted

    [Illustration: The picture is ample proof that Cliff Palace was the
    greatest architectural achievement of the Pueblo Indians of the Mesa
    Verde. Without doubt, this huge ruin, sheltered for seven centuries
    by its tremendous cave, gives a greater thrill to the person who
    views it for the first time than any other ruin. Each cliff dwelling
    has its interesting features but Cliff Palace, with its great size
    and impressive setting, stirs the imagination more than any of the

                       THE PEOPLE OF CLIFF PALACE

As you look at Cliff Palace today, it is difficult to see it as it was
when it was alive. Many of the walls have fallen and only small bits of
masonry remain as indications of houses that once were there. Rebuild
these walls in your imagination and then, most important of all, place
flat adobe roofs on the houses. Now see how it has changed! It is no
longer a ruin—it has become a terraced apartment house, fitted into the
sheltering cave. The more than 200 rooms rise in at least eight levels
from the front of the cave to the high structures in the rear.

As your imagination restores the village to its original condition the
people begin to appear. Since it is evening all of them have returned to
the security of their cave home. The men have come back from the fields
and from the hunt. The women have returned from their search for roots
and berries and the girls have made their last trip to the springs,
returning with jars of water balanced on their heads. The children,
urged by the calls of their mothers, have ended their play in the canyon
and on the cliffs and returned to their homes. Only the dogs and turkeys
are outside the village: they are searching for scraps of food on the
great trash pile below the cave.

As the shadows lengthen the 300 or 400 inhabitants are safe within the
shelter of their fortress-like village. Cooking fires have been kindled
and columns of smoke drift lazily up the cliff and into the sky. The
odors of corn bread and stewing or roasting meat rise on the evening air
and soon the people separate into many small family groups for the
evening meal. Now it is quiet: only the murmur of low voices rises from
the cave. The day’s activities are over and the happy, contented people
are ready for the night.

If you would like really to see the people, scroll down.

    [Illustration: In order to feel the real glory of Cliff Palace, see
    it toward evening when the slanting rays of the setting sun cast a
    warm glow on its walls. Walk out to the point from which this
    picture was taken—the high cliff at the north end of the cave. Sit
    quietly for a time—then let the imagination drift back seven


Sometimes visitors to the Mesa Verde find it difficult to see the
Indians who once lived in the cliff dwellings. It is not always easy for
the imagination to carry one back through the centuries to the time when
there was life in the caves. Minds geared to the frantic pace of modern
times are not always able to see the thousands of Indians who once lived
in the cliff dwellings.

In order to make it easier for visitors to see the people, dioramas like
the one pictured are displayed in the museum. The ancient villages have
been reproduced in miniature. In them are not only the people, engaged
in their many activities, but all the things they used in their daily
lives. The diorama pictured below is a reproduction of Spruce Tree
House, one of the largest of the cliff dwellings. One-half of the
thirteenth century village has been reproduced as accurately as
possible. In it 50 people are engaged in the various activities that
occupied the inhabitants of the village seven centuries ago. The adult
human figures are four inches high and all objects are on the same

As one stands in front of this diorama it is no longer necessary to try
to imagine the life of ancient times. Here in miniature is a cliff
dwelling and its people. Houses and kivas are being built—some of the
men work diligently while others sit on the walls and criticize. Some of
the men are making tools and weapons—one is telling stories to a group
of boys—another has just returned from the hunt with a fat rabbit.
Several old men bask in the sun and talk of bygone times when things
were better. Some of the women are cooking over flickering fires—others
care for tiny babies. Some of the young women are grinding corn while
others are returning from the spring with great jars of water on their
heads. Children are playing in the courts and one youngster is helping a
baby brother take his first toddling steps. Since it is harvest time the
products of the farms are being brought to the village. Brightly colored
ears of corn are being spread out on the roofs to dry and piles of
yellow squashes may be seen in the courts.

Dioramas like this one provide for visitors the most important part of
the Mesa Verde Story, the part that is so often missed. The excavated
cliff dwellings that visitors enter are empty. Seven centuries ago the
Indians themselves walked away, driven to the south by enemies and a
great drouth. Most of their belongings were left behind but the early
explorers and later archeologists removed them.

Because of this a cliff dwelling may seem, at first glance, to be an
empty house. Too often visitors see only the stone walls and fail to see
the people who built them. One must always remember that a cliff
dwelling is the architectural expression of a settled, industrious
agricultural people. For a thousand years they lived in the Mesa Verde
region. From a simple beginning their culture developed steadily and the
cultural peak was reached during the thirteenth century. This was the
century of the cliff dwellings. Because of strong enemy pressure the
people moved to the caves and built the cliff dwellings for which the
Mesa Verde is famous.

                          THE END OF THE STORY

Just before the close of the thirteenth century the story ended. Menaced
by their enemies and with their existence threatened by the great drouth
of 1276-1299 A.D., they moved to the south and east. Gradually they
mingled with other Pueblo Indians and soon were no longer recognizable
as a Mesa Verde group. Their descendants are to be found in some of the
present-day Indian Pueblos along the Rio Grande, in New Mexico.

    [Illustration: The scene pictured is from a diorama in the Mesa
    Verde Museum. In this carefully reproduced cliff dwelling the former
    inhabitants carry on the many activities of their daily lives.]

                            REFERENCES CITED

  Chapin, F. H.
    1892.  The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers. W. B. Clarke and Co., Boston.

  Fewkes, J. W.
    1909.  Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park: Spruce-tree
          House. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 41.
    1911.  Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace.
          Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 51.
    1916.  Excavation and Repair of Sun Temple, Mesa Verde National
          Park. Reports of the Department of the Interior for 1916.
    1916.  The cliff-ruins in Fewkes Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park,
          Colorado. “Holmes Anniversary Volume,” pp. 96-117. Washington.

  Holmes, W. H.
    1878.  Report on the ancient ruins of Southwestern Colorado,
          examined during the summers of 1875 and 1876. United States
          Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories for
          1876, 10th Annual Report, pp. 383-408.

  Jackson, W. H.
    1876.  Ancient ruins in Southwestern Colorado. U. S. Geological and
          Geographical Survey of the Territories for 1874, 8th Annual
          Report, pp. 367-81.
    1929.  The Pioneer Photographer. World Book Co., Yonkers-on-Hudson,
          New York.

  Mason, C. C.
    1917.  Article on discovery and exploration of the cliff dwellings
          of Mesa Verde National Park. The Denver Post, July 1, 1917.

  Nordenskiold, G.
    1893.  The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde. Translated by D. Lloyd
          Morgan. Stockholm.


                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Corrected a few palpable typographical errors.

—Placed illustration captions below the corresponding illustration.

—Modified references to illustration locations to correspond to the
  reality of a flowing eText, e.g. “shown on the opposite page” might be
  converted to “shown below” or “shown here”.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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