The Colorado General Federation of Women’s Clubs is celebrating their 125th anniversary by honoring early members who played a key role in the establishment of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, the public is invited to the Hemenway House pullout at 9:30 a.m. for the unveiling of a new interpretive sign dedicated to the early club members who worked to preserve the famous Ancestral Puebloan cultural sites. The pullout is on the Cliff Palace Loop, about 23 miles from the park entrance.
Park staff and club members will conduct a dedication ceremony. A proclamation signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis will be presented.
“That sign was in great disrepair until this year when our club members purchased a new one,” said Theresa Rudder, president of GFWC, Colorado. “We worked with Mesa Verde on the wording and design of the new sign and now it is ready for an unveiling.”
The title of the new sign is “Women Led the Way.” Club members donated $1,500 to purchase the new display.
The group has a long and storied history with Mesa Verde, and that support continues.
It was in Pueblo in 1897, 122 years ago, that Virginia McClurg and Lucy Peabody spoke at a state convention of the CGFWC and alerted the women of the need for saving the cultural sites at Mesa Verde. It was at that meeting that the group organized a committee for the “restoration and preservations of the cliff dwellings and Pueblo ruins in Colorado.” McClurg emerged as the chairperson of that committee.
In the book, “Women to the Rescue, Creating Mesa Verde National Park,” author Duane A. Smith wrote, “Who saved Mesa Verde? Women did. Who created the national park? Women did.”
Before Mesa Verde National Park became a preserve of the nation’s amazing archaeology and human history in 1906, it was a target of looters and full of picnic trash.
“We went to a lecture by Virginia McClurg in Denver and heard stories of outfitters with shovels and dynamite busting through walls so they could get to the artifacts and sell them,” said a park tour guide playing the Peabody role, and dressed in the attire of the time. “We got upset, because we knew the archaeology there belonged to all of us.”
Depression economics at the end of the 19th Century drove local farmers to loot ancient sites for revenue, she says. In 1900, a whole pot excavated from Mesa Verde would fetch $3,000.
Another archaeologist from Sweden simply packed up crates of artifacts and boarded the train in Durango. There were no laws against looting then, so authorities had to let him go.
“These women embarked on a quest to preserve the sites because somebody had to,” Rudder said. “They lobbied to convince Congress to make it a national park.”
After a couple of false starts President Theodore Roosevelt designated Mesa Verde National Park in 1906 “to preserve the works of man” and he also signed into law the American Antiquities Act prohibiting removal of historical artifacts from public lands.
A Mancos Times Tribune headline read: Mesa Verde brought under control of federal government to preserve cliff dwellings.” In 1906, there were 73 visitors to the new national park. Colorado was pressured to build a road into the park to allow stage-coaches to arrive with visitors.