Please see our Cowboy History, Indian History, and Town of Mancos pages on this site for further information.
HISTORY OF THE MANCOS VALLEY by Dr. Linda Ekman Simmons
PREHISTORY: The Cliffdwellers
Looming up from the Mancos Valley floor is a mesa, a flat tableland which rises 2,000 feet. It is twenty miles wide and is cut by canyons. Tucked into the canyon walls are the remains of a civilization that existed between 600 and 1300 AD. A people who had given up their nomadic lives to cultivate corn, beans, and squash, they wore animal skins and wove robes for the cold winters. They made sandals from yucca fibers and made ornaments from bones, seeds, and stones for their necks and ears. They fashioned tools and used grinding stones (metates) to make meal from corn and made distinctive black-on-white pottery. They traded with peoples to the south, bringing cotton and other non-local goods into use. The people passed through developmental periods – the Basket Makers, the Modified Basket Maker Period, Developmental Pueblo Period, and the Classic Pueblo Period. They first lived in pithouses on the mesa tops, then in single family dwellings above the ground, and finally in rock-and-morter homes under the overhangs on the great cliffs walls (Ubbelohde, Benson, & Smith, 1982:1-8).
We know all of this from the remnants of their civilization which they left behind when they mysteriously disappeared from the area around 1300. It is likely that they drifted south, leaving such architectural masterpieces as Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and Square Tower House deserted (Ubbelohde, Benson, & Smith, 1982:8).
The ruins were probably first seen by white men when Lieutenant James Simpson noted ruined structures in the walls of the canyons in the early 1860s. Then in 1888 Alfred Wetherill of the Alamo Ranch in the Mancos Valley came upon Cliff Palace while riding the rim of a canyon. Alfred’s brother Richard and brother-in-law Charles Mason further explored the canyons. The Wetherill family gave names to many of the ruins, and eventually the family guided pack-trips into the area (Ellis, 1999:24-25). In 1906 the cliff dwellings and surrounding area were designated Mesa Verde National Park (Ubbelohde, Benson, & Smith, 1982:241).
[Please see the article about the Utes on our Indian History page on this site.]
EARLY HISTORY OF THE MANCOS VALLEY
Captain John Moss, an entrepreneur scouting for mining interests, led a party of adventurers up the Mancos River, into Montezuma Valley, past what we now call Point Lookout, and into the verdant Mancos Valley in July, 1874. They rested there a few days before moving on. Several members of his party liked what they saw and returned to make the Mancos Valley their home. Of that party six men would return to would take land in the valley. Low on rations and due to an injury to one of their group, Dick Giles, the men did not return to the valley until 1975. But they quickly began clearing their claimed land. Giles and Harry Lee built the first dwelling, a log cabin on what is now known as the Menefee place. They planted a little grain, some potatoes, and a garden. From there they headed for the hills to look for gold (Freeman, 2005:27-28).
It was mining that brought the first settlers to the Mancos Valley. However, within a year men came looking for cattle range. In 1976 the first herds arrived. [Read the Cowboy History on this website.] During the winter of 1776-77 the first white woman, the wife of Reese Richards, arrived, and her son was the first white child born in the valley (Freeman, 2005:29). Freeman writes, “In the spring and summer of 1877 the men who made real history in the new country began to arrive. Among these were Andy Menefee and wife Sarah, and three children, John, George, and Edward; Will Menefee, Joe Morefield and young bride, [and] John White…, his wife and only son…” Also, Joe Sheek, B.K. Wetherill, T.W. Wattles, Ed and Alex Ptolemy, Jim Frink, and others who would become important figures in the history of Mancos arrived that year. Menefee cared for Dick Giles who was in poor health until he passed away in 1878, the first settler to die in the valley. Menefee then purchased the Giles place from the estate (Freeman, 2005:29).
The Mancos post office was established in 1878. It was a difficult task to get the mail through by horseback in summer and snowshoes in winter. Acquiring food was also difficult, for it had to be hauled from the railhead in Alamosa by horse- or ox-team on nearly impassable roads. D.H. Lemmon built a sawmill on upper Lemmon Draw, making lumber more available for building (Freeman, 2005:30-32).
Also in 1878 the first school was opened in a small log cabin on the Root Place just south of the community. Lizzie Allen was the teacher, followed by Anna Bradford, then Anna Field. A new school replaced the cabin in 1879 and would be in use until 1887 when another school building was erected, opened in 1888, where the current elementary school sits (Freeman, 2005:33-34). In 1880-81 the Mancos School District was formed (Ellis, 1999:92). The rural Wattles School was built c. 1891 (Ellis, 1999:37). In 1897 the Menefee District #17 was formed with a small school called Frog Hollow (or the Graybeal) School. By 1897 the school enrollment in the area was 247. The school term was only four months long, and the citizenry was asking to increase to a nine month term like other schools in the county. The schools were so crowded that the Union Hall was taken over as a school (Freeman, 2005:210).
Further history of the Town of Mancos can be found on that page on this site.
Following are resources which give additional information on the history of the Mancos Valley and its environs:
“Brief History of St. Paul’s: Mancos, Colorado.” Unpublished paper, n.d.
Ellis, Darrel. Come Back to My Valley, Volume Two. Mancos, CO: Fifth Raccoon, 2004.
Ellis, Fern. Come Back to My Valley: Historical Remembrances of Mancos, Colorado. Cortez, CO: Cortez Printers, 1976, reprint 1999.
Freeman, Ira S. A History of Montezuma County. Cheshire, England: Trafford, 2005.
Grant, Bruce. Concise Encyclopedia of the American Indian. Rev. ed. Lorence F. Bjorklund, illus. New York: Wings Books, 1960.
Reddert, Lottie W. Cow Talk: The Memories of George W. Menefee: An Early Day Cattleman of the Southwest. Dolores, CO: Dolores Star, 1976.
Rockwell, Wilson. The Utes: A Forgotten People. Montrose: Western Reflections Publishing, 2006.
Ubbelohde, Carl, Maxine Benson, and Duane A. Smith. A Colorado History. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1982.
Wardrip, Molly K. Montezuma’s Trails of Time. Cortez, CO, 1993.