A strange relic found in the Kannah Creek valley in the 1960s, which at first appeared to be of Spanish colonial origin, later proved to be a Masonic Knights Templar sword scabbard from the mid-19th century.
But investigating that relic led David Bailey and the Western Investigations Team, known as WIT, to re-examine the location where the Masonic relic was found and to ultimately discover Spanish colonial artifacts dating from the 16th century.
Bailey, curator of history of the Museums of Western Colorado in Grand Junction and director of the multi-disciplinary WIT, has just published a book titled "Historic Mysteries of Western Colorado: Case Files from the Western Investigations Team."
In it, readers will learn about the Masonic relic discovered by the Clark family of Kannah Creek in 1961, and how the Clarks worked with Bailey and WIT to recover the long-missing relic, and determine its origin. Although it's from the 1800s, it predates white settlement of the area and no one knows who left it.
Readers will also learn how WIT moved from that project to the Redoubt Site at Kannah Creek, where the remains of what may have been an early Spanish outpost were found, along with pieces of a Spanish wheellock pistol, a dagger and balls from a small Spanish cannon.
"Historic Mysteries of Western Colorado" provides a two-fold experience for readers. First, it explains mysteries of this region, some of which have been around for centuries, as well as others that are more modern.
Equally important, it leads readers through the processes that WIT used to ferret out the explanation for those mysteries, or at least determine as many facts as possible. Proceeds from the book go to the museum.
WIT was formed in 2005 with Bailey as its director and Rick Dujay, then with Mesa State College, as its scientific coordinator.
WIT is a collaboration between the Museums of Western Colorado and Colorado Mesa University, as well as other individuals and organizations. Its mission is "to investigate western Colorado mysteries, combining in-depth historical research with the latest scientific technology."
The first major project undertaken by WIT was to re-examine evidence related to Colorado's famous cannibal, Alferd Packer.
So it's no surprise that the first chapter in Bailey's book is a narrative about that multi-year project.
The project involved closely examining a revolver in the museum's collection, and several archaeological digs at the site near Lake City, where Packer was accused of killing and eating his five companions in the winter of 1874.
With assistance from CMU interns and others, and using modern equipment at the university, Bailey, Dujay and the WIT team made a solid case for Packer's claim that, while he did eat the remains of his colleagues to stay alive, Packer did not murder them. I
nstead, it was fellow prospector Shannon Bell who killed the other miners. Packer shot and killed Bell in self-defense when Bell attacked him with a hatchet.
Bailey's book gives a detailed description of the team's effort's to determine what really occurred in the snowbound camp 145 years ago, and how WIT arrived at its conclusions.
Large sections of Bailey's book are devoted to his research into early Spanish interest in this region. It was believed the mythical Seven Cities of Gold may have existed near here. Later, reports of bearded men who may have been Europeans, living near the Colorado River spurred more Spanish exploration of the area.
Additionally, there are chapters about the possibility that western Colorado and Utah were the ancient homeland for the people who became the Aztecs of Mexico.
Bailey also reports on investigations that produced unexpected results. One such project involved what appeared to be an ancient rock floor buried on a ranch near Collbran.
First identified in 1937, and written about in The Daily Sentinel, the floor seemed to be evidence of an early civilization with sophisticated stone-work techniques.
After digging up a portion of the floor, and consulting with both geologists and archaeologists, as well as researching reports on similar phenomena worldwide, Bailey and the WIT team determined the floor was a natural geologic formation, not a product of an ancient civilization.
It was a perfect example of what Bailey described as producing "better history through science."
"We were one of the first multi-disciplinary teams in the country," he said. The team has involved archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, and forensic scientists.
A number of the CMU students who worked as interns on early WIT projects have gone on to careers in related fields, Bailey said. One works with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, while another is a forensics investigator with the state of Washington.
CMU President Tim Foster and the university were key in making WIT's projects successful, Bailey added. They provided student interns and donated $25,000 in the use of scientific equipment for analyzing artifacts.
One WIT project, which examined two ancient-looking battle axes found on the White River, proved they weren't Spanish colonial halberds, but were interesting, nonetheless.
WIT determined one of the axes was a 19th century tobacco cutter that was used as a promotional item for the Battle Axe Tobacco Company.
The second axe, with an Arabic inscription, proved to be something imported by Europeans for trade with Indians, and probably belonged to a Ute.
Con men were also a part of western Colorado's history. Bailey's book details the efforts of brothers who were called the Palisade Pirates. The brothers named Bailey – no relation to David – briefly owned the Palisade-area ranch started by Grand Junction founder George Crawford.
By 1908, however, financial setbacks in other businesses led the brothers to sell the ranch, then solicit goods for a fictitious settlement in Australia.
Instead of heading down under, they took several hundred thousand dollars' worth of goods and bank notes and absconded to Honduras. They also carried weapons, apparently destined for a planned revolution in Honduras.
News stories of the time touted the Bailey brothers as modern-day pirates. They were eventually arrested, one in New York and one in Vancouver, B.C., and sentenced to prison.
Another western Colorado hoax documented in the book involved elaborate artifacts, created apparently just to fool people.
In the 1950s, a man named Jack Daniels Stirling used Mayan and Easter Island hieroglyphics to produce stone tablets, which he placed at sites in Cactus Park and eastern Utah, along with ancient-looking pottery. Stirling hoped his faux artifacts would convince archaeologists that they had found the remains of an ancient civilization.
That was indeed the initial response when some of the artifacts were first found. But when they were brought to the attention of WIT, the team quickly proved they were modern, not ancient.
A report on the fake artifacts in The Daily Sentinel led Stirling's daughter and granddaughter to contact Bailey and explain why the artifacts had been created and planted.
WIT continues to work on a variety of projects, including more excavations planned in Kannah Creek and the examination of an old tunnel at a hotel in Ouray.
David Bailey will be discussing his book and signing copies of it at Grand Valley Books, 350 Main Street, from noon to 2 p.m. May 25.
He will do another book signing for museum members at the Museum of Western Colorado at 5:30 p.m. June 13.
Bob Silbernagel's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.