John Wetherill lantern slides, 1892
Portions of this collection are digitized

Collection ID:
Wetherill, John
Physical Description:
42 Lantern slides
This collection contains glass lantern slides shot by rancher and explorer John Wetherill (1866-1944). The photographs depict Ancestral Puebloan sites in southwestern U.S., as well as photos of Diné (Navajo) and Ute men and women.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of 42 glass lantern slides that were shot by John Wetherill (1866-1944) circa 1892. The bulk of the photographs depict Ancestral Puebloan sites at Mesa Verde and Hovenweep in southwest Colorado. Wetherill may have been escorting the H. Jay Smith Exploring Company around the region as they collected objects for a Mesa Verde exhibit at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The glass lantern slides depict cliff dwellings in a state of pre-archaeological preservation including the sites of Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, Square Tower House, Kodak House, Sandal House, and Spring House at Mesa Verde; and Square Tower at Hovenweep. The photographs also depict Oraibi Hopi Village, Montezuma Castle, and Casa Grande Ruins sites in Arizona.
A few photographs depict Ute and Diné (Navajo) men and women. One photograph of note depicts an outdoor group portrait photographed at a Ute wedding in Mancos, Colorado. The individuals depicted include George Bowles (Harvard student), Mancos Jim (Ute) and his wife, Herbert L. Cowing (1877-1956), Elmer Coston, Benjamin Kite Wetherill (1832-1898), and Richard Wetherill (1858-1910).
Several photographs in this collection also depict objects such as pottery, yucca baskets, stone axes, manos, and metates alongside Ancestral Puebloan human remains. These photographs are restricted.
John Wetherill is listed as the photographer, however, his brother Richard Wetherill (1858-1910) may have shot some of the photographs as well. The lantern slides feature handwritten labels that describe the photographs and were probably written by a Museum of the American Indian employee. Additionally, "Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, Broadway at 155th ST. N. Y. City" is printed on the back of the masking paper, which indicates that the lantern slides were most likely assembled by MAI staff.
Some lantern slides may be the reverse or mirror images of the actual scenes.

This collection is arranged in photo number order.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
John Wetherill (1866-1944) was a cattle rancher, explorer, and amateur archaeologist in Colorado. Born in Kansas in 1866 to Benjamin Kite Wetherill and Marion Tompkins Wetherill, the family moved to Mancos in southwestern Colorado in 1879. In December 1888, Richard Wetherill (John's older brother) and Charles Mason (brother-in-law), were credited with having discovered Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and Square Tower House sites at Mesa Verde, although the cliff dwellings were already known to some Native Puebloan communities in the southwest at the time. Additionally, several non-Native explorers had visited other Ancestral Puebloan sites in the region prior to the Wetherills' discoveries including Mexican-Spanish missionaries Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante in 1776; prospector John Moss in 1873; and photographer William Henry Jackson for the Hayden U.S. Geological Survey in 1874.
After the discovery, Richard and his brothers John, Clayton, Winslow, and Benjamin continued exploring and found other Ancestral Puebloan sites in the region. In 1891, the Wetherill brothers worked with amateur Swedish archaeologist Gustaf Nordenskiöld excavating Cliff House. Nordenskiöld taught them the basics tenants of archaeological excavation and trained them to keep detailed provenance records and to label objects.
From 1888-1893, the Wetherills collected more objects from Mesa Verde and eventually sold many of their collections, including a large collection to the Colorado State Historical Society (History Colorado). By 1900 John Wetherill moved to New Mexico and then Utah with his wife Louise Wade Wetherill. John continued serving as a guide and trained archaeologists and anthropologists in the region. He died in 1944.
Agnes Cowing (1880-1965), the collector of the glass lantern slides, was a librarian in New York. She most likely obtained them from her brother Herbert L. Cowing (1877-1956) or her sister Julia R. Cowing (b. 1857) who were both friends of the Wetherill family and visited the Wetherill Ranch in Mancos, Colorado in the 1890s.

Emily Moazami
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation by Agnes Cowing in 1934.
Processing Information
Processed by Emily Moazami, Assistant Head Archivist in 2017.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to For personal or classroom use, users are invited to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not modified in any way, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian. For more information please see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use and NMAI Archive Center's Digital Image request website.
Conditions Governing Use
Some images restricted: Cultural Sensitivity
Conditions Governing Access
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email:
Preferred Citation
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); John Wetherill lantern slides, Box and Photo Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
History Colorado in Denver, Colo. holds a John and Richard Wetherill photographs collection (2000.129), a Richard Wetherill manuscripts collection (Mini-MSS #3035), and a large collection of objects collected by the Wetherills. The Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives holds a collection of photographs collected by H. Jay Smith (NAA MS 2420).

More Information

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Cliff Palace (Mesa Verde, Colorado) -- Archeology Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Indians of North America -- Antiquities & archaeological sites -- Colorado Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Indians of North America -- Colorado Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pueblo (Anasazi) (archaeological) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Colorado -- Antiquities Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
cliff dwellings -- Colorado -- Mesa Verde National Park Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lantern slides Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diné (Navajo) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ute Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Museum of the American Indian
4220 Silver Hill Rd
Suitland, Maryland 20746-2863