The discovery of the mummy of a child in 1896 at Montezuma Castle

Montezuma CastleMontezuma Castle National Monument
(credit: John de Dios/Wikimedia Commons)

Richard Wetherill wrote about his travels and visit to Montezuma Castle with the Palmer family in 1896 in an article published in the Mancos Times, March 20, 1896. This is the part relevant to the discovery of the “Roswell Slides” mummy:

[...] At the east end of this tier of rooms is a small ledge 25 feet long and 4 or 5 feet wide. It adjoins the row of rooms, and over it all have to pass to ascend to the rooms above. In this small space I found, after a few minutes’ work, the remains of at least half a dozen children, one of which is a very fair mummy. All of these, except the mummy, were in a promiscuous mass and nothing with them. The mummy was the lower burial, and it rested in a very small excavation next to the rock on the floor of the cave. It was laid straight out; head to the east; face up; hands at its sides.

A bowl was found at the left of the head, and a small bow and arrows were lying lengthwise at the right side. The body is wrapped in cotton cloth, which is still in a state of good preservation. The grave was covered with small, round sticks placed three or four inches apart, and parallel with each other, supporting a rush mat which had been spread over the grave. Over all this was about 2 feet of debris, among which was found so many other remains.

A letter from S. L. Palmer Jr. to Frank Pinkley, dated 1939, was later published as an article “Montezuma Castle in 1896”:

It was impossible for us to determine just how many bodies were buried in this spot for most of the remains were fragmentary and almost completely decomposed, only those immediately adjacent to the cliff were preserved. There were however probably eight or ten bodies buried here. these were all small and undoubtedly children. There was but one preserved mummy and that was photographed in the exact position that it was found. The depth of the excavation probably did not exceed two or three feet, a good idea of this can be had from the photograph as the ground under the shovel and at the foot of the mummy had not been disturbed when the picture was taken. Next to the head of the mummy was found a red pottery bowl about 8 or 9 inches in diameter, fragments of cloth were wrapped about the body and several sticks one of which was intact were laying across the body as shown in photograph. Also found with the mummy was a well preserved bow and several reed arrows, these can be seen in the larger photograph of the mummy and the bow is also noticeable in the picture shoving the location of the wry before removal. The dirt that covered the burials contained charcoal and fragments of pottery indicating that part of it at least was sweepings from the rooms. Some of the material however appeared to have fallen from above possibly from crumbling walls, or thrown there by earlier excavations.

Marietta Wetherill, daughter of S. L. Palmer Sr and wife of Richard Wetherill, told the story in Marietta Wetherill: Life with the Navajos in Chaco Canyon (1992):

From the Mogollons we went on to Phoenix, and north to Montezuma’s Castle, where we camped and excavated. Found a mummy of a child about four years old, with light brown hair and a little shirt woven from cottonwood cotton, a miniature bow and arrows and pottery bowls that were probably once full of food.

3 Responses to “The discovery of the mummy of a child in 1896 at Montezuma Castle”

  1. terry the censor says:

    > There was but one preserved mummy and that was photographed in the exact position that it was found.

    Is anyone trying to find this photo?

  2. nablator says:

    Yes, there is a reference here: “Part of the Palmer collection was transferred to Montezuma Castle National Monument from Mesa Verde in 1947.[7]” Note 7. See photograph in archives at WACC (1896a; WACC Accession No. 125).

    So the WACC in Tucson should have a photograph in their archives. A FOIA request was filed (not by me). News were expected “soon” two weeks ago…

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