Richard Wetherill

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Richard Wetherill (1858–1910), a member of a prominent Colorado ranching family, was an amateur explorer in the discovery, research and excavation of sites associated with the Ancient Pueblo People. He is credited with the discovery of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde and was responsible for initially selecting the term Anasazi, Navajo for ancient enemies, as the name for these ancient people.[1] He also discovered Kiet Seel ruin, now included, along with Betatakin ruin, in Navajo National Monument in northeastern Arizona. "Slightly smaller than Cliff Palace, Kiet Seel possesses qualities that, in the eyes of some, lend it greater charm and interest."[2] Wetherill became fascinated by the ruins and artifacts and made a career as an explorer, guide, excavator and trading post operator.

Mesa Verde[edit]

On December 18, 1888, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, cowboys from Mancos, found Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde after spotting the ruins from the top of the mesa. Wetherill gave the ruin its current name. Richard Wetherill along with his father, brothers, extended family, and neighbors explored a number of the ruins, digging and knocking down walls and roofs, and gathering artifacts. The Wetherills sold part of their finds to the Historical Society of Colorado. Richard Wetherill's heirs donated a large collection to the University of New Mexico in 1954.[3]

Among the people who stayed with the Wetherills and explored the cliff-dwellings was mountaineer, photographer, and author Frederick H. Chapin who visited the region during 1889 and 1890. He described the landscape and ruins in an 1890 article and later in an 1892 book, The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers, which he illustrated with hand-drawn maps and personal photographs. The Wetherills also hosted Gustaf Nordenskiöld, the son of polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, in 1891. Nordenskiöld continued excavations begun by the Wetherills on the impressive Cliff Palace, unfortunately doing considerable damage as he dug and gathered artifacts. In 1893, Nordenskiöld published an illustrated account of his investigations called The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde. [4]

Chaco Canyon[edit]

In 1901, Wetherill, homesteaded land that included Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo Del Arroyo, and Chetro Ketl.[5] While investigating Wetherill's land claim, General Land Office special agent S. J. Holsinger made a report which strongly recommended the creation of a national park to preserve Chacoan sites.[5] President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed "Chaco Canyon National Monument" on March 11, 1907, as Wetherill relinquished his claim on several parcels of land he held in Chaco Canyon.


Richard Wetherill remained in Chaco Canyon, homesteading and operating a trading post at Pueblo Bonito until his controversial murder by gunshot in 1910.[5] Depending on the source, Wetherill's death was murder in cold blood by a Navajo Indian debtor or the loser in a gunfight caused by his own cattle rustling. Local Navajo Chiishchilí Biyeʼ‚ charged with his murder, served several years in prison, but was released in 1914 due to poor health.[5] Wetherill is buried in the small cemetery west of Pueblo Bonito. The cemetery lies just over a hundred meters west of Bonito behind a wooden fence, and also contains the burial of his wife Marietta and her uncle Clayton Tompkins.[6]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Frank McNitt, Richard Wetherill: Anasazi, Albuquerque, 1966, p. 82.
  3. ^ Marietta Wetherill page on family url
  4. ^ Fletcher, Maurine S. (Editor and Annotator) 1977 The Wetherills of the Mesa Verde: Autobiography of Benjamin Alfred Wetherill. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
  5. ^ a b c d "A Brief History of Chaco Culture National Historical Park". National Park Service. May 15, 2000. Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  6. ^ O'Niel, Zora "Moon New Mexico." Avalon Travel, 2007


Chapin, F. H. The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers. Appalachian Mountain Club, W. B. Clarke and Co., Boston, 1892. Reprinted by University of Arizona Press (1988, ISBN 0816510520)
Cordell, Linda S. Ancient Pueblo Peoples. St. Remy Press and Smithsonian Institution, 1994. ISBN 0-89599-038-5.
McNitt, F. Richard Wetherill: Anasazi. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1966.
O'Niel, Zora "Moon New Mexico." Avalon Travel, 2007
Nordenskiöld, Gustaf. Ruiner af Klippboningar I Mesa Verde's Cañons, Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Söners, 1893. Translated by D. Llyod Morgan as The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde, Southwestern Colorado: Their Pottery and Implements. Norstedt and Soner, Stockholm and Chicago, 1893. Reprinted in 1979 by the Rio Grande Press, Glorieta, New Mexico.
Wetherill, B. A. The Wetherill's of Mesa Verde. Autobiography of Benjamin Alfred Wetherill. Edited and annotated by Maurine S. Fletcher, Associated University Press, Cranberry, New Jersey and London, 1977.

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