Mesa Verde’s early park visitors

Thursday, June 6, 2013 8:35 PM
Prof. Ed Levy with bedroll, Deac Walters, guide and a lady from L.A. pose for this early photo.
The Old Timers who were guests of Oscar Carlson, Supt. in 1956 to celebrate the opening of the new tunnel. Each one of these persons had visited the park by horseback prior to about 1910.
A Horseback trip to Mesa Verde Park in July 1909 shows, at left, Deac Walters, the guide; Ed Levy is the third person from left side, Mrs. Fitzgerald, and one of the ladies is the relative of F. M. Goodykoontz from L.A. Others not identified.
Dr. Jesse W. Fewkes, famous early-day archaeologist, excavated a number the ruins in the park between 1908 and 1922. Here Dr. Fewkes is shown in front of the first park museum which was also the first museum for the National Park Service.
Early day tourist to Mesa Verde Park. This may be the ranger cabin, pre-park days, built by Charles B. Kelly in taking care of tourists visiting the Cliff Ruins. At this time all visitors were taken in on horseback, with pack outfits.




Making Camp for the Night, July 1909.

Prof. Ed Levy was a teacher in Cortez in 1909/10. This is his story: “We camped where the Lodge now stands. We arrived by horseback coming in over the Old Longenbaugh Trail. There were no other roads available. The guide is Deac Walters from Cortez. Mrs. Fitzgerald and a relative of F. M. Goodykoontz were in the party.” (Other persons were not named).

Cortez Journal Herald, October 20, 1921: Cortez Day at Mesa Verde National Park. Last Sunday was “Cortez Day” at the Park and resulted in a registration of nearly a hundred and fifty, about one hundred and thirty of them being from Cortez and vicinity. It was sure a gala day for our people, all going into the spirit of the occasion and spending a delightful day. The weather was faultless and the roads splendid, Supt. Nusbaum being now equipped with power to haul a huge road drag over them which keeps them in fine order, they being dragged after each rain.

A superintendent’s house is one of the improvements the department is making in this park. This will be a comfortable dwelling, roomy and neat which will be just on the verge of the canyon.

The whole day was without accident except for the fact that the government truck that came down for a load of high school girls had tire troubles that made them quite late in getting to the park.

Mancos Times – October 1921. A new public campground has just been established on Mesa Verde Park. The site is westward about one hundred fifty yards from the Spruce Tree camp. The old camp, lying three-quarters of a mile from Spruce Tree and very difficult to get water on, will be abandoned.

Early Days of the Johnson Hospital.

Occasional V.I.P. were among the patients of Dr. E. E. Johnson in June 1931. Doctor was called to Mesa Verde, to the hospital there to operate on a Mr. DeMersham who was suffering from an acute attack of appendicitis. DeMersham is President of the Denver and Rio Grand Motor Bus Company and lived in Grand Junction. Doctor was assisted in surgery by another V.I.P. — Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, Secretary of the Interior in the Hoover Administration, who was a visitor to the park at the time. Doctor’s wife, Virginia, gave the anesthetic and two of their nurses assisted in the operating room. Mr. DeMersham recovered nicely and returned to his home within a few days.

Cortez Sentinel, July 5, 1956: Park’s Golden Anniversary Brings Out Old Timers. First “tourists” through the new million-dollar tunnel high-lighted the golden anniversary celebration of Mesa Verde Park, with some twelve cars to the party that was permitted to pass through the bore, to make history in park progress. In the group were many old-timer residents, including Ira Kelly of Mancos, A. M. Camp of Durango, and Mrs. George Omo, Cortez, who made their first trip into the park in 1906, the year the park was set aside by an act of Congress. There were many other pioneers there also including Harley and Walter Longenbaugh and their wives, Geo. and Chas. Menefee, George Exon and wife, Bert Saylor, Lee Kelly, and Mel Springer, early-day publisher of the Montezuma Journal.

A.M. Camp, of Durango, related how he and a party from Durango entrained at Durango at 8 a.m. one morning in 1906, arrived in Mancos some three hours later where they were met by the late Charles Kelly, livery stable operator, who was taking them on to the park. In the group was Ira Kelly, son of Charles, a lad of eleven years. He recalled, quite vividly, traveling by buggy to a point half-way between Cortez and Mancos, where the party transferred to horseback, arriving at Spruce Tree camp by nightfall. Ira Kelly followed Camp and gave a little more detail on the spot where the trail took off from the highway. It was the point oldsters recall as the half way bridge. The bridge is gone now but it was about nine miles east of Cortez. Kelly explained that the Mancos-to-Spruce-Tree jaunt was a three-day “tour,” one day up, one day there, one day back. Tickets for the trip cost $15. The price tag was an “all-expense” affair, with the Kellys furnishing the transportation, beds, eats and water.

Mrs. Clayton Wetherill, early day resident of Mancos, came from Creede, unannounced, just to take another glimpse at the park which she first visited in 1902.

Mrs. Nellie Costan, in charge of the gift shop at Spruce Tree Lodge, a sister of Mrs. John Wetherill, told of making her first trip to the park in 1904.

Mr. and Mrs. George Exon told of visiting the park — he in ’94, she in ’99.

The two Longenbaughs made the first trip into the park in ’98 with Walter drawing guide duty as he found spare time. They used the old Prather trail.

George and Charley Menefee were park visitors in ’98 and ’99.

Mrs. George Omo was in the park in 1906, with the late Sterl Thomas, as her guide.

Mrs. Clara Swank, of Cortez, told of she and Mr. Swank taking a group of young folks to the park in ’98. They slept in one big bed, she and Mr. Swank in the center, the girls on one side of them, the boys, on the other.

Erskine Mallet, of Mancos, was in the park in 1895. He entered the park from the south, down the Mancos canon to Soda, then north.

A. L. Combs came all the way from California to tell of his early adventures in the park area. He was working for Dick Granath, early day Dolores cowman, and they were scouring the mesa for wild cattle. That was back in 1903-04.

The H. H. Beabers of Cortez were park visitors in 1912 and 1915.

Fittingly concluding the program were remarks by Rangers Jean Pinkley and Don Watson. Miss Pinkley gave all credit to the female of the species for establishment of the park.

Members of the Montezuma County Historical Society wish to acknowledge the celebration of May 23, 2013, for the New Visitor Center for Mesa Verde National Park. Please call June Head, Historian, at 565-3880 or Tom Johnson, past editor of Cortez Newspapers, at 565-3321 for comments, questions or corrections on this historical article.