Friday, August 9, 2013

Tommy Foy at Mesa Verde 1888

How could I not remember that the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings which are perched high atop a green mesa can only be accessed by way of winding roads with sheer drops all around? Our last visit was twenty or so years ago and all I remembered was climbing into pits and marveling at the ruins. Apparently, my fear of heights required that my traumatized brain hide all memories of the scarey parts of the previous trip. What remained was the knowledge that great grandpa, Tommy Foy, had been among the cowboys who first gazed out on Cliff Palace and the desire that my grandchildren get to visit the site. According to a note Aunt Eva Tuttle wrote in 1932 about her visit to Mesa Verde, "The trip to Cliff Palace was not so hazardous or difficult. However it would take a guide to find the path that led down and then up the canyon through crevices of rock and the steps cut out of the rock." Not only were the Foys fearless, but some of the Tuttle women as well! Hey, kids, they would be proud of you as you hiked into every nook and cranny you could find!

Morgan Family at Spruce Tree House 2013

We returned from Colorado this past week having taken a family vacation to the Mancos State Park and Mesa Verde National Park. I had asked the park rangers how the cows got on top of the mesa in the first place and why the cowboys thought they could find them. The rangers, although perhaps a little skeptical about the claim that MY grandpa was as an unnamed participant, listened and then offered the opinion that looking for cattle was likely the cover story to view mysterious ruins with the help of a Ute Indian guide. That isn't the story the grandpa told, but listen to that yourselves.

After participating in the Bluff Mission for a time, William Bosley Foy began searching for new grazing land. With range wars brewing in the southwest Utah Territory during 1887, he left Denie's family in Bluff hoping they would be safe until he found a place to locate. "Fifty miles to the north William found what he was searching for - a great sage plain stretching from the foot of the Blue Mountains eastward into Colorado...(1)" He soon had moved Lucinda's family from Blue Valley by way of Green River to the little settlement that would later be known as Monticello.

Abajo or Blue Mountains east of Monticello

"Just across the border in the southwest corner of Colorado, settlers had been sinking their plows and irrigating the fertile little valley along the Mancos River for several years. It was from this and other Colorado towns that the San Juan settlers freighted most of the supplies to their isolated communities, and Mancos had the nearest Post Office. Although the majority of the people in the valley were non-Mormons, there were enough who had heeded Apostle Francis M. Lyman's reference the Mancos country as a desirable place for the saints to make a home to have been organized into a ward. When President Hammond sent forth the word to help build up the new settlements near the Blue Mountains, at least two families - Rogerson and Bell - answered the call. With the cattle in the cooperative herd, William could turn his interest entirely to farming.

"William and Tommy (William and Lucinda's oldest son living home at the time.) soon heard of the Mancos Valley and as they needed to replenished their supplies, they headed for Colorado and before long were well acquainted with the area.
Brothers Tommy (Thomas Bingham) and Perry (Perry Elijah) Foy

"Up to this point William and Lucinda had kept their family close to the church, but could they remain faithful so many miles from their former friends and associates? Riding and working on the open range they were bound to rub shoulders with the lawless element that sought refuge there. Many of the cowhands who worked for the larger cattle companies in the area were wanted by the law in other statres and worked for these remote outfits because there was little chance of their being caught away out there. Of course not everyone the boys would meet were outlaws, but that country sure had more than its share of bad ones. No telling who they might fall in with that would lead them astray. Some Mormon boys escaped their stogy lifestyle and sought excitement or wealth by turning rustler and preying on the very society that had bred them. The notorious McCarty brothers and Butch Cassidy had come from Mormon families and were know to frequent towns such as Monticello, Moab, Green River, and Mancos. Just recently those same men had trained their get-away horses at Mancos, then after robbing the bank at Telluride they made their escape by way of Monticello and the Carlisle Ranch where they visited with Latigo Gordon, the foreman, before moving on through Moab and Green River. The boys might meet such men anywhere, anytime.

"The Mancos Valley was rich with new green grass, watered by the clear mountain streams. Most of the saints who constituted the ward resided in a neighborhood know as Webber, named after the first settler, a non-Mormon. The town was strung out over the entire six-mile length of the valley which tapered from two miles wide at the north end to a mere canyon on the south. At the foot of this canyon on the Mesa Verde a family of Quakers had homesteaded among the cottonwoods and silver aspens. They were friendly to their Mormon neighbors and so Tommy became acquainted with the five Wetherill boys.

Point Lookout at the tip of the Mesa Verde by Steve Harbula
"The Mancos River, a tributary of the San Juan, rises in the Laplata or Parrot Mountains northeast of Mancos. Dominating the landscape of the Mancos River Valley were the jagged sandstone mesas carved over the centuries by the deep-cutting of the Colorado, Little Colorado, and San Jan Rivers. One of these mesas had been seen rising out of the desert by some forgotten Spaniard who pictured it as a tremendous green table and called it Mesa Verde. This mesa seemed to retain the spirit of those ancient Anasazi Indians who first inhabited it, because it was never really home to anyone else. The Utes regarded its ghostly ruins as a fearsome, unholy place. The Spaniards never remained there. Even the cattlemen who grazed their stock from Monticello to the mesa country found it too challenging to settle.

"Although most of the settlers around Mancos lived in fear of the Ute Indians, the Wetherill family got along well with them. Consequently the Indians allowed the Wetherills to winter their livestock on the reservation in the great Mancos Canyon to the south. Their cattle had a tendency to drift up the canyon and scatter across the mesa top which rose from 1000 to 2000 feet above the surrounding country on all sides. The 20 mile long and 15 mile wide mesa top was scored with deep canyons which all drained toward the south. Each of these large canyons had countless smaller side canyons.

"Ute Wickyups" illustrated in Land of the Cliff-dwellers

"Tommy (who had just turned 20) had hired on and was riding with the Wetherill outfit across this vast snow-covered mesa one snowy day in December of 1888 searching for stray cattle belonging to the Wetherills. The wilderness of jumbled canyons and flat-topped hills was for the most part unexplored by white men, but the men would cover most of it as they searched for missing cattle.

"Not only were they searching for cattle, they searched for something they weren't certain even existed. It seemed quite impossible that in that trackless wilderness a large town had been built into a cave. But Acowitz, a neighborly Ute, had insisted that somewhere to the north in one of the numerous canyons was the "biggest of all" Anasazi villages. Inconceivable as it seemed, Tommy and the others still watched the cliffs as they rode along the canyon rims - just in case.

"It was evident Indians had lived on the mesa at some time in the past for they came across a number of stone houses built under overhanging cliffs. In the small stone rooms they found bits of potter, corncobs, and a few stone tools, but they still found it impossible to believe Acowitz's story of a great cave containing a large town.

"They kept criss-crossing the mesa on their horses until they eventually came upon some cow tracks. They followed the tracks which led them always to the north through the thick snow-covered forest - country similar to the wilderness areas in Pagarit and the remote canyons of the Elk Mountains. The terrain was slashed and cut by gullies and canyons walled by rimrock where cows could easily hide during the regular roundup in the dense growth of pinion and juniper trees growing in the arroyos. If a cow once managed to escape, it was easier for it to avoid capture the next time. Those animals that habitually evaded the cowboys became known as runnycades ... Although the chase was more hazardous on stormy days, these rides for stray cattle were usually made in the late winter or early spring when the cows had just come through the hard part of the year and were a little on the weak side ... Winter gave the cowboys two other advantages they needed. It was easier to locate the animals by their tracks in the snow and when the rider jumped a cow in heavy snow, the cow had to break trail for the horse ...

"Along the overhanging walls of the mesa's canyons many cliff dwellings remained hidden from view until a rider chanced to rimrock at the edge of the cliff. Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason were riding where the threes began to thin out and the rock ledges of an unseen canyon began to click under their horses' feet. A light veil of snow danced and swirled on the eddies of the wind hiding the canyon below ... They rested their horses and tried to get their bearing, probably thinking it wasn't fit for man or beast to be out looking for wild cows, when a sudden updraft of air opened to view across the canyon the 'biggest of all.' A silent ethereal stone city sheltered in an enormous cave ... Acowitz was right.

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado. Photographed by Gustaf Nordenskiƶld in 1891.
"Standing quiet and protected under the caprock was a complex of stone houses piled story upon story rising as much as four stories high to the arched cave roof. The swirling snowflakes temporarily hid some of the ruins, and rubble and bushes concealed others. One large ruin on the canyon rim was completely covered by a high mound of earth, but ten other ruins lay cold and silent within their sight.

"The other men soon heard about the find and came riding to the site. On their side of the canyon they found a free-standing ruin shrouded in a regrowth of timber and brush. Being entirely different i8n design than the exquisite ruins across the canyon, they could only surmise that it must have been some sort of temple or ceremonial structure. They gazed in awe-struck wonder at the magnificent palace of by-gone days across the canyon. The delicately graceful city lay sheltered and protected in the depths of the gaping cave mounth whose bulging lip was blackened, and striped with desert varnish. The crude stonework testified of the Indian's  hasty retreat to the safety of the cliffs and their need to get shelters built quickly. In the foreground numerous underground ceremonial kivas added their circular shapes to the unbelievable scene unfolding before them ...

"When Tommy would tell his grandchildren of the unforgettable day so many years later, he could recall it just as vividly as if he were seeing it for the first time - they were the first white men to ever see the now famous Cliff Palace on the Mesa Verde.

"For all intents and purposes Tommy was still in charge of the [family's] cattle - those in the Bluff Pool and those that had been left on the Henry Mountains because William was planning to devote most of his time and efforts to farming. So, Tommy left for the settlements to bring more of the herd into the San Juan ...(1)"

Tommy and his brother, Perry, left the area to collect their brother, Will, whose help they would need to cross the Grand River. He would also stop to see Juliette Burr in Teasdale to whom he would become married two years later. It is Juliette's family for whom the Burr Trail is named in southern Utah. The Foys and the Burrs left their mark on the land and in the hearts of their descendents. As the brothers left, the Wetherills were exploring more canyons and finding more ruins. The rest is history.

Many mysteries still exist about Grandpa Tommy's participation in the discovery of Cliff Palace. He often told his children and grandchildren about the events of that day. Did he go with Richard and Charlie as they explored or did he return with the other hands to continue the search for cattle? Was Acowitz actually with the party as some accounts claim or did he honor the Ute superstition and leave the cowboys to find it on their own? Neither Tommy Foy's name nor those of the other riders that day were included in the historical record as they, likely, returned to their hired duties. Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason recruited the rest of their family, however, and soon photographers, archeologists and tourists would abound.

1. The History of Thomas Bingham Foy written by Inez Foy Barker, his granddaughter - copyright claimed and used with permission.
The picture of Point Lookout is used with the artist's permission. The photos of the Ute wikiups and Mesa Verde are now in the public domain.

More sources to view:
Richard Wetherill,8                                    
Picture of Richard Wetherill and Acowitz: See photo #10
Mesa Verde National Park
In case you want to follow the Burr Trail:

Also: A fascinating story about the ancients who lived in the Four Corners area written by Zeke (Ezekial) Johnson in 1954 when he was 85 years old. 

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