Life with the Navajos in Chaco Canyon (1997)
by Kathryn Gabriel
"Beginning in 1897 Marietta Wetherill set up house in a remote archaeological site near the Navajo reservation, while her husband, Richard, excavated the Anasazi ruins and created a trading post empire. Marietta and the Navajo women collaborated in midwifing, healing, and surviving the dry desert. Medicine men shared their rituals and taught her about the stark reality of aboriginal life. Out of confusion, rage, or conspiracy, a Navajo man murdered Richard in 1910, but Marietta's friendships endured. They beseeched her to tell their story and in 1954, a year before her death, she recorded her extraordinary experiences on more than 70 audio tapes. These tapes form the basis for this book".
The Story of Ruth Wetherill
Marietta and Richard Wetherill had five children. The last was Ruth, born two weeks before Richard was murdered by an angry trading post customer near their home in Chaco Canyon in 1910. Marietta remained in Chaco Canyon less than a year before moving to a valley in the Jemez mountains near Cuba, New Mexico. She was assisted by a friend named Ray Miera from Cuba, Bill Finn and another cowboy. She loaded her five children onto a wagon and drove straight east to the beautiful Jemez mountains establishing her new home there. It was in stark contrast to the hot dry Chaco Canyon area. The cool days and nights and a valley of lush grass beneath giant Ponderosa Pines were perfect for raising livestock. She began to increase her holdings as young Richard gathered Mustangs. It was here that Ruth died one year to the day after Richard was killed.
Ruth Wetherill's Grave Site in the Jemez Mountains
Before Ruth's death her older sister's Marion and Elizabeth were playing in the streambed below their cabin gathering Wild Iris flowers. They returned to the cabin with bundles of flowers. Marion gave Ruth a Wild Iris which she promptly ate. Wetherill family members have repeated this story for several generations and suggested this caused her death because of the poisonous principle in the Iris plant. Some of the facts bear this out as the season of her death is part of the bloom cycle of the Wild Iris. There is however, a discrepancy in the symptoms Ruth exhibited and the actual symptoms of Wild Iris poisoning. The discrepancy lies in the literature that describes the poisonous compound and it's location in the plant, which is in the roots and not the flowers. Family lore has indicated that Ruth had breathing problems and was taken outside of the cabin in the evenings into the cool night air to help her breathing. In addition Marietta said "her finger nails were turning blue". The poisonous principle of the Wild Iris does not cause these symptoms or anything close to it. Marion blamed herself her entire life for Ruth's death but in fact had nothing what so ever to do with it. Marietta even blamed her for the death. It may never be known what caused Ruth's death exactly, but the wild Iris flowers did not contribute to it. In any event it was a tragic death which followed the murder of her father and subsequent events which included the death of Bill Finn.
In 1954 the heirs of Marietta Wetherill at her behest gave the University of New Mexico, Maxwell Museum, her extensive collection of Native American artifacts, textiles, silver work and other items . With the help of Dr. Kathryn Klein,
Inventory of the donation Click here
Click here to see photos of the collection.
The Marietta Wetherill home in Albuquerque as it is today in 2012. The home was built by her son Robert Wetherill in the 1950's and paid for by all four of her children. When the home was originally built it was surrounded by farmland. It is on Nara Visa Rd which was originally named Peach Avenue.
Monticello Canyon in central New Mexico has warm Springs in several places along the meandering route of the Alamosa River. This canyon and the 98 ºF warm Springs was where the Apache Chief, Geronimo and his band hid from the U.S. Calvary prior to his capture in 1886. Cochise and Victorio both Chiricahua Apache leaders also frequented here. This may also be where Marietta Palmer Wetherill met Geronimo as a young girl. In Marietta's 1950 taped interview with Lou Blachy she indicates that she met Geronimo as a young girl of nine when she was alone in camp in 1885 when Geronimo and followers rode up to her. She said it was in the Mogollon Mountains. I believe the area she was in may have been Monticello Canyon which is east of the Mogollon's but very near the Mogollon's as they are visible in the distance. She indicated that her family left her in camp while they excavated ruins above the camp. These may have been the Ojo Caliente ruins at the entrance to the Monticello Box Canyon. More research needs to be done to verify the location but seems plausible. Click here
This plant is poisonous if eaten and was implicated in one year old Ruth Wetherill's death. The toxic compounds are found in the rhizomes and not found above ground. This fact calls into question whether the ingestion of the flowers caused Ruth's death. The poison causes severe gastric distress. The gastric distress symptom has not been passed down in family discussions about Ruth's death.