One rare bird, lost but not forgotten

When it was discovered in February of 1907, it was written about extensively and an article heralding its discovery ran in newspapers across Colorado with headlines that read "Rare Aztec Curio."

"Mr. Charles M. Smith about five miles north of Cortez, Mr. Adam Lewey, who is in charge of the work, found in the dirt on the floor of a room that was being excavated, and near the wall, a stone Aztec charm that shows a high degree of artistic skill and ability," a Feb. 21, 1907 Montezuma Journal article read.

"This charm made of brown hematite of iron stone, is in the shape of a bird, with its wing outspread and is one and one-half inches from beak to tail and one half inches across the back. On the back of the neck is a rectangular piece of turquoise inlaid, on the back are two pieces of turquoise, triangular in shape, with the points towards each other, while on the tail is another piece of turquoise, rectangular in shape, with the edge towards the tail serrated like the edge of a saw."

The bird had a small hole drilled through the underside of the body

"It is in fine condition and it is very doubtful its counterpart is in existence," the article stated.

The artifact was immediately put in a bank vault and became property of the group constructing the Manitou ruins.

Michele Hefner, today's general manager of Manitou Cliff Dwellings, said that object is not in the museum. Today's museum has an impressive collection of whole pots, gathered from across the United States and Mexico, but the collection is not the same as it was when the museum first opened.

After the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Ruins Company, which was incorporated in late 1906 for $200,000, went bankrupt, a colorful character took over.

Her name was Vida Ellison, she bought the ruins from the state and was an avid collector of artifacts.

"She would dress like Native Americans and even was rumored to rub grape juice on her skin so that it would appear darker," Hefner said.

Ellison purchased the replica cliff dwellings in 1913 and owned them during The Great Depression.

A book titled "Extraordinary Women of the Rocky Mountain West" claims that after Ellison died, her 23-room Briarhurst Manor was ransacked and most of her collections of artifacts were stolen.

Hefner says there is a rumor that Ellison had hidden vaults on the estate and most of those artifacts, originally gathered in the Southwest, were locked away and nobody knows where they are. The Briarhurst Manor still stands today in Manitou Springs and is a popular place for weddings.

So the location of the much-heralded bird is unknown.

Ellison did donate a collection of pottery and artifacts to the Colorado Historical Society. The collection included 500 items, but a quick check of those items shows that not a single one looks like the bird described.

When the Purdy family purchased the museum, it remains in the family today, there were hardly any artifacts in the museum and the family went about acquiring more, most of which did not come from the southwest, Hefner said.

"A lot of them came from a museum that closed in Oklahoma and others from across the west," Hefner said.

Where are the original artifacts purchased by the former sheriff of Montezuma County, following the $200,000 incorporation of the original company that built the ruins?

When contacted by the Star, Phil Hamilton, who is the great grandson of Adam Lewey, he didn't recall anything about his grandfather's involvement with Manitou.

But he did remember the bird when described to him over the phone.

"Oh, I remember my mother talking about that," he said. "I never saw it."

Where is it today?

"It's a mystery," Hefner said.