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The mystery of the moved ruins

The history of a ruin that left the Southwest

TODAY, visitors drive right up to the reconstructed cliff dwellings, learn about southwest archeology, climb up into a balcony house and walk around a kiva.


In the year 1906, 40 box cars rattled their way down the train tracks and out of Dolores - nothing new for the time, a time when freight was big business in Dolores. Boxcars of cows, sheep and apples often left daily to other destinations.

But these boxcars were filled with something different, something irreplaceable - a ruin that would forever leave Southwest Colorado.

The ruin rocks' final destination was Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs. There a wealthy group rebuilt the ruins in the side of a blasted-out cliff. The ruin was constructed to look like Mesa Verde National Park and was geared to bring in visitors at 25 cents a piece.

It was promoted as a cheaper and easier way to see a cliff dwelling. The real thing - Mesa Verde National Park - was far away and involved a long journey that included a day of horseback riding.

But where exactly did those ruin rocks come from? That is a question that has puzzled historians and archeologists for over a century. That question took The Dolores Star and others well over a year to answer.

Today, one can still visit the rocks that came from the Four Corners and arrived in Manitou Springs at the train station. Today, it costs just under $10 to tour the ruins.

And if only those rocks could tell the story of their journey.

They would tell a story of betrayal, greed, treasure hunters and secret vaults. They would tell the story of how one act, the creation of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906, set off a chain of events that led to the removal of an entire ruin and many artifacts from the Southwest.

The year was 1906.

It was a year for the record books.

It was the year of the famous street duel in Durango between the City Marshal Stansel and Sheriff Thompson. Both men emptied their six-shooters at high noon. The sheriff was killed and the marshal was seriously injured during the duel, which stemmed from a disagreement about allowing gambling.

It was the year Mesa Verde became a National Park.

It was also the year of the antiquities act, which was created, in large part, because of the occurrence of widespread looting of archaeological sites on federal land.

When cliff dwellings were first discovered, it was written about in magazines nationwide. The cliff dwellings and surrounding archeology put the Southwest on the map. Soon, artifacts were in big demand and many were willing to pay a hefty price for a piece of history that made Southwest Colorado famous in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"Artifacts were being actively traded as currency," said Fred Blackburn, author and local archeology historian.

Blackburn has often wondered where the Manitou rocks came from. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings call the rebuilt ruins "authentic" and claim the ruin came from McElmo Canyon.

That is something that has always puzzled Blackburn and others.

"There was no train in Cortez," he said.

It would make much more sense to get a ruin that would have been closer to Dolores. Rocks are heavy, after all, and there were only horses or teams of oxen to haul them.

Blackburn can survey today's landscape, ridgelines and canyons of Montezuma County. Sagebrush, rocks and juniper all tell him a story of what now lay beneath and what once was above ground. He can see kiva depressions and rubble mounds were others see hills and dips.

But it seems, solving the mystery of the moved ruin, is much harder than that.

Tom Hayden a local historian and guide up at Mesa Verde National Park has also wondered where the ruins came from, the area is littered with sites, but where exactly do you find a site that was moved.

"These sites were all built around springs," Hayden said in early 2012, while scanning the horizon. "This whole area was full of villages and these villages were just huge."

Many say more people lived in the Southwest 800 years ago, than do today.

And as one looks, shielding their hands to block out the winter sun. The homes and barns that dot the Montezuma County landscape fade away. Stone walls spring up in their place. Villages with courtyards can only be imagined.

But to Blackburn, Hayden and archeologist Mark Varien of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, the stories are still there, buried in newspaper archives, artifacts and science.

A blurry photograph in the back of a book written in 1919 has helped solve a mystery that is 107 years in the making.

But like all good stories, this one starts with a feud, a feud between two well-to-do women of the time, a feud between two women who were passionate about archeology.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles that tries to solve the Mystery of the moved Manitou Springs Ruins.

A GROUP OF MEN pose near the newly constructed Manitou Cliff Dwellings, around 1906 or 1907. While the history of the attraction is well documented once it opened, it is unclear exactly how a group of individuals decided to move an entire ruin from Southwest Colorado and reconstruct something that looks like Mesa Verde 350 miles away. Enlargephoto

Courtesy/Manitou Cliff Dwellings

A GROUP OF MEN pose near the newly constructed Manitou Cliff Dwellings, around 1906 or 1907. While the history of the attraction is well documented once it opened, it is unclear exactly how a group of individuals decided to move an entire ruin from Southwest Colorado and reconstruct something that looks like Mesa Verde 350 miles away.

ROCKS used to construct the Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings near Colorado Springs were likely hauled from a site near Dolores, but finding out the story behind these rocks that traveled 350 miles over 100 years ago is another story in itself. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

ROCKS used to construct the Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings near Colorado Springs were likely hauled from a site near Dolores, but finding out the story behind these rocks that traveled 350 miles over 100 years ago is another story in itself.

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