A feud that sparked the move of Manitou

Piecing together how an entire ruin left the Southwest

TODAY, Manitou Cliff Dwellings gives tourists a short and condensed view of what life may have been like 800 years ago inside cliff dwellings. These rocks likely came from a local ranch in 1906, solving that mystery was a journey in itself.


This is the second part of a series of articles about the mystery of the moved ruin. To see the first part, go to www.doloresstar.com and click on "The Mystery of the Moved Ruin."

By Shannon Livick

Dolores Star Editor

Like any good story, this one begins with a feud.

The feud was between two well-to-do women: Lucy Peabody and Virginia McClurg.

The two women loved archeology, to say the least, and were founding members of the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association, a group of women formed to protect the now famed cliff dwellings.

Peabody and McClurg had a falling out just before President Roosevelt signed the law in June of 1906 which created Mesa Verde National Park. McClurg campaigned that the park be donated to the Cliff Dwelling association and "not controlled by the national government." Peabody felt the national park designation was the best route.

The ladies of the Cliff Dwelling Association were split and at one point the well-to-do-ladies, ladies that would crawl up into the dusty cliff dwellings wearing their Sunday's best, resorted to name calling.

Peabody called McClurg "Mrs. Flora McFlimse McStingee" in notes compiled by James Snead, an anthropology professor, which were provided recently to the Star. The notes were compiled from the papers of early archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett in and around 1907.

So the plan to move a ruin was hatched.

Peabody wrote to Hewett the following of Manitou: "I regret exceedingly that this miserable business could not have been stopped."

But surprisingly McClurg's name is not referred to in any museum information at Manitou nor in the newspaper archives associated with the construction of Manitou.

Today, Michele Hefner, manager of the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, said that the ruin provides a great hands-on experience that you can't get anywhere else.

There isn't much information at the museum about the origin of the rocks, "But at the time, it was rumored that people were doing anything to get to artifacts, even using dynamite," Hefner said.

Further investigation into the yellowing 100-year-old newspaper archives and the piles of information compiled by local historian Fred Blackburn tell a greater story.

The disagreement led to the split of the association chartered with the protection of the ruins and the formation of another.

The Montezuma Journal Nov. 29, 1906: "The Manitou Cliff Dwelling Ruins company was incorporated today for $200,000."

That would be a chunk of change even today, and would be closer to $4 million in today's economy.

The Montezuma Journal stated in 1906, "W. S. Crosby of Colorado Springs is here purchasing such Aztec relics as he can secure. He is a member of a syndicate that purpose to reproduce the Aztec ruins in a gulch near Manitou, whose walls are precipitous and considerably like those where these ruins are found. They will take stone from the scattered ruins over this valley, transport them to Colorado Springs, and rebuilt them in the mission. We understand that he secured most of the relics to be had in Cortez."

Other articles defend the actions of those in Manitou.

In the 1906 article, Crosby states, "That it was a misapprehension to suppose that any attempt was being made to remove ruins from government ground . The ruins we have gathered have all been taken from patented ground and have been purchased from ranch owners. Not a stone has been removed from the Indian reservation, yet we have succeeded in getting some very fine specimens. One ruin in particular which we proposed bringing to Manitou contains forty rooms and this ruin has never been explored."

Articles discuss the considerable "loose change" being brought into the area and how the artifacts were quickly leaving the area in exchange.

To help their process, the Manitou Cliff Dwelling Ruins Company hired Adam Lewey, a former Montezuma County Sheriff, to secure artifacts, stones and even Navajo rugs, for the company.

Lewey, is in himself a colorful character. As a young child he was kidnapped, not once, but twice by Native Americans and stumbled across an artifact that the family still talks about today, an artifact that was described in great detail in newspapers of the time. An artifact that to this day, no one knows where it is.

This artifact was so valuable, it made front page news in several area papers, including Telluride, and was quickly locked in a vault.

This artifact was shipped to Manitou and dug up on property outside Dolores. Most likely, the very same property where the ruin rocks were hauled out.

A blurry black and white photograph shows a man crouched in front of a stone wall.

The photograph was published in a 1919 book written by Jesse Walter Fewkes titled "Prehistoric Villages, Castles and Towers of Southwestern Colorado."

The photograph may hold the key to finding out where 40 car loads of ruin rock came from. Rock that was loaded onto the train in Dolores in 1906, shipped over 300 miles to Manitou Springs and rebuilt to look like parts of Mesa Verde National Park.

In the book, Fewkes says this about "The Blanchard Ruin."

"Several years ago, private parties constructed at Manitou, near Colorado Springs, a cliff-dwelling on the combined plan of Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace. The rocks used for that purpose were transported from a large mound on the Blanchard ranch near Lebanon, in the Montezuma Valley, at the head of Hartman's draw, about six miles south of Dolores."

Fewkes was famous for overseeing the excavation of Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace ruins and petitioning for the antiquities act, he also made an extensive survey of the Southwest and published his findings in the book.

The photograph doesn't mean much to the casual observer. You can't see the face of the man. And you can't see any easy to recognize landscapes in the background. But to Mark Varien, archaeologist and director of research at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, the photograph of the wall tells a story that will help solve the puzzle.

A puzzle that led the Dolores Star, Varien and Blackburn to a bare field outside Dolores. A field overlooking the Montezuma Valley, a field with a clear view of Escalante Ruins outside Dolores, a field with hidden secrets to tell.

MICHELE HEFNER, today’s general manager of Manitou Cliff Dwellings, holds up a picture of Vida Ellison, a colorful character, who bought the cliff dwellings in Manitou after the association that built them went bankrupt. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

MICHELE HEFNER, today’s general manager of Manitou Cliff Dwellings, holds up a picture of Vida Ellison, a colorful character, who bought the cliff dwellings in Manitou after the association that built them went bankrupt.

THIS PHOTO appeared in a 1919 book written by Jesse Fewkes that describes how the Manitou Cliff Dwelling rocks came from this site six miles south of Dolores. Enlargephoto

courtesy photo

THIS PHOTO appeared in a 1919 book written by Jesse Fewkes that describes how the Manitou Cliff Dwelling rocks came from this site six miles south of Dolores.