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The Cedar Mesa Project

Historical Expeditions into Southeastern Utah

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"In these caves in Grand Gulch are cliff houses as well as the burials of the cave dwellers. We got a perfect idea there, and can now easily separate the two classes of people and their belongings. We can get a definite idea of their way of burial, also we find that the cave dwellers, or whatever you name them, (which you should do. I named the cliff dwellers, and you should have the honor at least of naming these, since it is your expedition), buried in all caves in this region where they are dry, but we would never have been able to separate the two, if it had not been that we found them as we did at first."
Wetherill, Richard, letter to B. T. B. Hyde from Bluff, Utah, Feb. 4, 1894. American Museum of Natural History Archives, New York.

This page contains the following sections -
  • The Wetherill-Grand Gulch Project
  • Historical Expeditions into Southeastern Utah
  • References
  • Museum Locations

  • The Wetherill-Grand Gulch Project

    The mystique of Grand Gulch, a deep 75 mile-long canyon, augmented by rock art panels and cliff dwellings, inspired the question in 1986, "Wouldn't it be great to see and know what happened to the artifacts that came out of here?" (Johnson:13). This question led to the Wetherill-Grand Gulch Research Project involving a method called "Reverse Archaeology," implemented with the help of an archaeologist (Winston Hurst), many individuals, and a professional photographer (Bruce Hucko). Four avocationaists, Julie Johnson, Fred Blackburn, Ann Phillips, and Ann Hayes spent thousands of volunteer hours researching within Grand Gulch and within Museums throughout the United States, piecing information together to locate the collections which had been excavated and taken from southeastern Utah before 1900. This group, along with a number of archaeologists and BLM land managers presented their research in 1990 at the Basketmaker Symposium in Blanding, Utah, providing an archives at the Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah, of all the accumulated documents, photographs, maps, and field notes. In 1993, the papers presented at the Symposium were published by the Bureau of Land Management in a book entitled, Anasazi Basketmaker, Papers from the 1990 Wetherill-Grand Gulch Symposium, edited by Victoria Atkins. The exhibit, Landscape Remembers; Reverse Archeology in Canyon Country, in 1996 at the Utah Museum of Natural History includes artifacts "re-discovered" by this project group as well as information on their methodology and research. Cowboys and Cave Dwellers by Fred Blackburn and Ray Williamson, published in 1997 by the School of American Research, thoroughly covers the historical expeditions and subsequent discoveries since the project's conclusion.


    Up until the late 1880's only a few local ranchers had entered Grand Gulch, yet in prehistoric times it was a center of Anasazi culture. Frank McNitt (1957) reports that Charles Lang was the first to make a collection from Grand Gulch in 1880. A number of exploring parties followed, and many of their excavation sites can be located by signatures written in bullet lead or charcoal on the canyon walls. To date, over 500 historic inscriptions have been located and documented throughout the Cedar Mesa area, the documentation work having been largely done by Fred Blackburn. "Inscriptions often provide a critical link between actual site locations and the related diaries, letters, photographs, and artifact collections" (Blackburn and Atkins:42).

    Charles McLoyd and Charles Cary Graham left Colorado for Grand Gulch in December 1890 and stayed through March, 1891. After following the Mormon Trail from Bluff to Kane Gulch, they searched the rims of the canyon near present day Bullet Canyon for a route into the canyon. Finding one, they built a trail to the bottom of Bullet Canyon, carried down their gear, and then led in their horses. Excavations began at Perfect Kiva and continued through Bullet Canyon to Grand Gulch. They explored down Grand Gulch to Shangri La Canyon, near the San Juan River. Having little luck they returned to upper Grand Gulch above Bullet Canyon, excavating heavily in the large cliff dwellings between Bullet Canyon and Kane Gulch (Blackburn and Atkins:68).

    C. H. Graham kept a day-by-day account of where they were excavating in the Gulch and which artifacts they had accumulated. This collection was sold to Rev. C. H. Green for $3,000 in the spring of 1891. Rev. Green then accompanied Charles MCLoyd and other residents from Durango, Colorado, to photograph sites and to supplement his collection. This collection was exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois, and was later purchased by the Field Museum in Chicago (Phillips:105-106; Hayes:121-127).

    In his journal, C. C. Graham writes about several expeditions to "the Canyons of the Colorado. " Some of the artifacts collected were purchased from John R. Kunz by B.T.B. and Fred Hyde. This collection was given to the American Museum of Natural History and was called the "Kunz Collection." Another portion was purchased by C. D. Hazzard in 1892. The latter collection was exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition, and is now part of the "Hazzard Collection" at the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania (Phillips:106).

    In August of 1891 Warren K. Moorehead was appointed as leader of the Illustrated American Exploring Expedition (IAEE) to explore, survey, map, photograph, and secure specimens in the upper Colorado, San Juan, and smaller tributaries in southeastern Utah. Although the IAEE collection of artifacts was very small, Moorehead and members of his expedition wrote enthusiastically and romantically about their adventures and discoveries in a series of articles for the American Illustrated Magazine (Phillips:110); Their descriptions of alcoves in Butler Wash are notable.

    Richard Wetherill led two expeditions to Grand Gulch. The first was in the winter of 1893-94, and the second in late January or early February of 1897. Richard Wetherill's Hyde Exploring Expedition of 1893-1894 was significant and well documented. Eleven caves were excavated east of Comb Ridge before excavation began within Grand Gulch itself. Approximately 22 other alcoves and cliff dwellings were documented and/or excavated by this expedition within Grand Gulch and in Butler Wash (Blackburn and Atkins: 69). A major discovery of the Expedition was a Basketmaker cave containing 96 skeletons with evidence of a violent slaughter (Hurst and Turner:143-191). Wetherill excitedly wrote several letters from southeastern Utah, "We are making new discoveries having found a people still older than the cliff dwellers who occupied the same caves" (R. Wetherill 1893). These people were subsequently named the Basketmaker. The collection from this expedition was financed by B.T.B. and Fred Hyde and was given to the American Museum in New York City (Phillips:112).

    Richard Wetherill began his second expedition to Grand Gulch during the winter of 1896-1897, financed by C. E. Whitmore and George Bowles. Unlike the first expedition, Richard headed directly to Grand Gulch. Excavations were undertaken in 12 separate alcoves most of which had been excavated by previous expeditions and relic seekers, and little Basketmaker material was found. A combination of weather, lack of artifacts, and difficulty with their animals forced the early ending of the expedition (Blackburn and Atkins:87). The Hyde Brothers purchased this collection in 1897 and gave it to the American Museum of Natural History. Although a number of the original documents and artifacts were subsequently separated from the original collections, both Wetherill expeditions were well documented and photographed (Phillips: 113-119).

    C. B. Lang made several smaller collections in the canyons of Southeastern Utah between 1893 and 1900. He made detailed and accurate records of depths of artifacts, measurements, and specific locations of caves, and recorded associated artifacts as they were found. His collections can be found at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Taylor Museum in Colorado Springs, and the L.D.S. Church Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah (Phillips:113).

    In 1896 T. Mitchell Prudden visited Grand Gulch, the first of his many expeditions to southeastern Utah, resulting in his article, "Elder Brother to the Cliff Dweller." Photographs indicate that he traveled much of Cottonwood Wash and Grand Gulch following routes and excavations of the Hyde Exploring Expedition of 1893-1894. Prudden's collections are at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University (Phillips:114).

    The search for signatures, lost collections, and documents continues. The history of many artifacts will never be known because of the lack of information gathered when the artifacts were initially "excavated." Other documents, historic photos, or collections may be waiting to be rediscovered.

    Preservation of historic signatures on the canyon walls, as well as artifacts, rock art, and ruins themselves therefore is critical for further research.

    Museums, Exhibits about the Cedar Mesa Area
    Antiquities Laws and Regulations.
    Resources for Visiting the Cedar Mesa Area


    Atkins, Victoria, ed.
    1993  Anasazi Basketmaker, Papers from the 1990 Wetherill-Grand Gulch
               Symposium; Cultural Resource Series No. 24, Bureau of Land
               Management, Salt Lake City, Utah. Papers referenced from this
          Blackburn, Fred and Victoria Atkins. "Handwriting on the Wall:
               Applying Inscriptions to Reconstruct Historic Archaeological
               Expeditions;" pp 41-100.
          Hayes, Ann. "The Chicago Connection: 100 Years in the Life of the
               C. H. Green Collection;" pp 121-127.
          Hucko, Bruce. "Cave to Cave-Canyon to Canyon: Photographing the
               Wetherill-Grand Gulch Research Project;" pp 129-141.
          Johnson, Julia M. "The History of the Wetherill-Grand Gulch
               Research Project;" pp 13-28.
          Phillips, Ann. "Archaeological Expeditions into Southeastern Utah
               and Southwestern Colorado between 1888-1898 and the
               Dispersal of the Collections;" pp 103-118.
          Winston B. Hurst and Christy G. Turner II; "Rediscovering the 'Great
               Discovery;' Wetherill's First Cave 7 and its Record of
               Basketmaker Violence;" pp 143-191.
    Blackburn, Fred and Winston Hurst. "Charley Lang: Pioneer Photographer,
          1994 Musician, and Archeologist," Blue Mountain Shadows,
               Blanding, Utah. Vol 14, pp 5-13.
    Blackburn, Fred and Ray Williamson
         1997  "Cowboys and Cave Dwellers"
               School of American Research, Santa Fe.
    Hurst, Winston
         1996  "Colonizing the Dead: Early Archeology in San Juan County
               Blue Mountain Shadows, Blanding, Utah.
               Vol 17 Summer 1996, pp 2-13.
    McNitt, Frank
         1957  Richard Wetherill: Anasazi. University of New Mexico Press,
    Wetherill, Richard
         1893  Untitled letter to Gustav Nordenskiold, December 31. Copy on files
               at the Wetherill-Grand Gulch Archives, Edge of the Cedars State
               Park, Blanding, Utah.

    Museum Locations

    The table was condensed from a paper from the Grand-Gulch Project. It was compiled by Ann Phillips and shows each expedition and the current location of the collection from the expedition.

    Name                          Institution Association       Location
    American Museum of Natural History ........................ New York City, NY
    Field Museum .............................................. Chicago, Illinois
    Kansallismueo.............................................. Helsinki, Finland
    L.D.S. Museum of Church History and Art ................... Salt Lake City, Utah
    Lowie Museum of Anthropology; U. of California, Berkeley .. Berkeley, CA
    Peabody Museum ............ Harvard University ............ Cambridge, MA.
    Peabody Museum ............ Yale University ............... New Haven, Connecticut
    University Museum ......... University of Pennsylvania .... Philadelphia, PA.

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    Revised '9-Jun-2001,11:10:14'
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