Wetherill Wetherill

A History of Discovery  


On November 29, 1893 Richard Wetherill his two brothers, Al, John, photographer Charles Lang, Harry French, and Jim Ethridge left from the Alamo Ranch in Cave 7Mancos, Colorado through McElmo Canyon To Bluff City, Utah. While in Bluff the party took on additional supplies and two more additions to the expedition, Bob Allen and Wert Jenks Billings. 35 year old Richard Wetherill led the Hyde Exploration Expedition searching for ancient ruins and artifacts. The group headed into Cottonwood Wash and the Milk Ranch on the North Fork of Whiskers Draw. Richard suspected a group of people older and different from the Cliff Dwellers may be present and deeper excavations may be necessary to find them. The area he chose was the Milk Ranch. The area is described by Albert R. Lyman in 1917 from a county history manuscript beginning in 1883 with his son Platte D. Lyman and two other men building a house and corral in the Cave 7 valley. The brackets are by Winston Hurst:

[p.35] About the middle of March [1883], Benjamin Perkins, Samuel Wood and Platte D. Lyman went with a team and wagon and some saddle horses to the Little Valleys to build a house and corral. . . . It seems the improvements these three men began, were later included in what became the Milk Ranch.”

[p.50] In [1886] Willard Butt ran a dairy at what since has been known as the Milk Ranch. . . .”

[p.52]On the 9th of May, 1886, “Bob Allan took the news [of the killing of Amasa Barton at the Rincon Trading Post] to the Milk Ranch, where his father [John Allan] was running a dairy. At the ranch he found his father, his two sisters, Aggie and Lizzie, also Miss Magnolia Walton, Miss Stella Hyde and her brother Frank Hyde. It was decided the young folks should go to Bluff without delay, they started on horseback, and covered those thirty odd miles in record time, leaving the senior Allan to guard the ranch.”

It is obvious the Cave 7 area has a long history of use by locals. It seems to have been an excellent Cave 7location for ranching and building homes. The area must have had water available year around and excellent protection from the elements as well as grazing for cattle. Winston Hurst found a reference by the military to Cave 7 in an official report of an 1886 military reconnaissance expedition out of Ft. Douglas. They made an encampment at the present location of Monticello and recon’d out all over the county. Among other things, the report references the Milk Ranch on both its map and in the written text, and reports that two families were in residence there in summer 1886. Winston suggests they were the Willard Butt and John Allan families.

Here’s a quote by Winston Hurst's Great Uncle Albert R. Lyman’s diary, May 3-4, 1898 (Marriott Library Special Collections, Brigham Young Univ.Book 3 p. 63):

"3rd A.m. packed up. I mended some shoes & fixed some cartridges for my revolver.... Pa [this is Platte D. Lyman, my Gr. GrFa.—WH] & I started for the Elk. 5 head of horses & packs & the two we rode. Started about twelve Oc. I went ahead & led a pack. Trimmed the bullets down as I rode. We camped below the correl in the Butler.... 4th We just got packed up & it began raining. When we were wet through it quit raining and began snowing. We finally got so near froze that we had to stop & build a fire but the packs were so heavy we only stopped long enough for an agravation. I was wet & nearly froze. I walked about 4 miles to get warm. In the first valley I went down to look at some horses but saw some wigwams & knew they were Indians. Camped at the cave in the milk ranch correl. I am wearing an old slouch hat, ducking coat, big overalls, old boots, spurrs & a revolver. I have got a bible along & it with my gloves are soaked [from rain and snow]. We are camping in a cave out of which had been dug 125 human skeletons."

The ranch was a cheese and milk production facility that grazed cattle in this portion of the valley. The cattle had free range of the canyon including Cave 7.  It is obvious cattle used Cave 7 as a refuge because of the many cow chips that were scattered around. Platte D. Lyman is the Great Grandfather of Winston Hurst who helped refind Cave 7 in 1990.

Ruin in the Cave 7 alcove.Cave 7 was previously excavated by people from Bluff City, Utah so there were few Cliff Dweller artifacts remaining.  When Richard Wetherill arrived and began excavations, he noticed the various strata of soil had colors that were unusual and so decided to dig beneath previous Cliff Dweller excavations finding the first skeleton. He coined the term Basketmakers for this new group of people.  He wrote his benefactor Talbot Hyde:

"Our success has surpassed all expectations….In the cave we are now working we have taken 28 skeletons and two more in sight and curious to tell, and a thing that will surprise the archaeologists of the country is the fact of our finding them at a depth of five and six feet in a cave in which there are cliff dwellings and we find the bodies under the ruins, three feet below any cliff dweller sign. They are a different race from anything I have ever seen. They had feather cloth and baskets, no pottery–six of the bodies had stone spear heads in them."

The geology of the the Whiskers Draw area is vastly different than the time of Richard Wetherill and the Milk Ranch. Today it would be impossible to drive a wagon into the draw and would actually be difficult for a horse and rider to manage. The advantage the Milk Ranch had in the valley was the ability to fence the lower canyon of North Whiskers Draw with a relatively short fence to impound cows over a large area. Whiskers Draw to Cave 7The valley was actually a flat plain with very little vegetation. Today Cottonwoods line the area with very tall grass mixed with Rubber Rabbit Bushes on the edges. The valley has eroded to bedrock allowing the establishment of Cottonwoods. The area in front of Cave 7 has eroded at least 10 feet to bedrock.

Richard Wetherill

 Richard Wetherill


John Wetherill

John Wetherill


Al Wetherill

Benjami Alfred Wetherill


Winston Hurst 

Winston Hurst

Winston Hurst and Owen Severance reentered Cave 7 in 1990 after its location had been lost for more than a hundred years.

Wetherill Inscription in 1893

Cave 7 Wetherill inscription