To many of us, the names Wetherill and Mesa Verde seem intertwined simply because the Wetherills discovered Cliff Palace. But why were they the ones to do it?
We have to go back to 1832 when Benjamin Kite Wetherill (B.K. as he became known throughout his life) was born the 12th child of an Irish family that had immigrated to the United States. He was a small man but was raised with a firm belief in the Quaker society and that belief well made up for his stature.
His extended family established a foundry and machine shop in Chester, Pennsylvania but B.K. left that family success and lived with native tribes for some years before ending up in Iowa where he married Marian Tompkins in 1856. In 1872, at the age of 42, he left his family in Leavenworth and spent time on the Osage reservation. He became one of the Quakers that President Ulysses S. Grant used to mediate with native tribes.
In 1876, B.K. returned to his family and worked as a lead miner with two of his sons in Joplin, Missouri. He was poisoned from breathing the lead dust and once again left his family behind. He became a miner in Rico but that lasted only until he and two friends decided to check out the Mancos Valley. He leased some farmland thinking at the time that he would supply crops to the mines in Rico.
In 1880, he asked his son Richard to help Marian bring the family to the Mancos Valley. A few of the sons were working for the railroad and that gave the family the opportunity to receive passes for the journey. The railroad, however, only went as far as Alamosa where B.K. met the family. His son Al described the journey on into the Mancos Valley as very arduous.
With the help of the family, B.K. had bought some land and soon he enlarged the homestead to 600 acres. On the property was a rather large stone structure that caused B.K. to wonder about those people who had lived there in the past. As Quakers teach, he felt that the people he began to call the Aztecs were his equals, as were all other people.
B.K. named his ranch the Alamo because in Spanish, Alamo meant poplar trees and he had planted two long rows of cottonwoods on his ranch. His health continued to worsen and more of the responsibility of running the ranch went to his sons. Unlike other settlers, B.K. continued doing what he knew best and became friends with the Ute people. Again, unlike others who simply trespassed, he negotiated with the Ute people to run cattle on property down the Mancos River and up into canyons that fed into it.
And thus it was in 1887 that Richard and his brother-in-law, Charles Mason, while looking for stray cows, stared with wonder at the ruins they named Cliff Palace.