Hyde Exploring Expedition

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Exist Dates

1893 - 1899

Biographical or Historical Note

The Hyde Exploring Expeditions to Chaco Canyon, New Mexico excavated ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling civilizations and discovered an earlier "Basketmaker" civilization beneath the canyon floor. The expeditions were sponsored by Benjamin Talbot Babbitt (B.T.B.) Hyde and and his younger brother Frederic Erastus Hyde, Jr., were conducted under the auspices of Frederic Putnam, Curator of Anthropology in the American Museum of Natural History. Richard Wetherill was the expedition leader and guide. George Hubbard Pepper was the lead archaeologist. The Hyde expeditions also included ethnological studies by Aleṧ Hrdlička, who set up a laboratory in Pueblo Bonito.

The Hyde Exploring Expeditions (1893-1899) conducted anthropological and archaeological fieldwork in the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. The first expedition in the winter of 1893-1894 explored the civilization of the ancestral Pueblo cliff-dwelling people, then referred to as “Anasazi.” This expedition made the stunning discovery of an earlier civilization, the “Basketmakers” beneath the canyon floor of the cliff houses. A second expedition (aka the “Whitmore Exploring Expedition”) was conducted in the winter of 1896-1897 to further explore burial grounds, kivas, and cliff houses in the region. The Hyde brothers (Benjamin Talbot Babbitt Hyde and his younger brother Frederic Erastus Hyde, Jr.) financed the first expedition, purchased the finds from the second expedition, and donated the collections to the American Museum of Natural History in 1897. The Hyde brothers continued to finance archaeological work, anthropological studies, and trading posts throughout the region. These excavations of the American southwest were the first ones conducted under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. The Hyde Exploring Expedition was incorporated and a variety of commercial ventures were launched under its aegis, including a journal (The Papoose), stores, and an export trade to market ancient and modern Native American objects and artistry.

Frederick W. Putnam, Curator of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, supervised the Hyde Exploring Expeditions. He appointed George Hubbard Pepper as field director for the expedition that set out for Chaco Canyon during the summers from 1896-1899. The local guide and excavator for the Hyde Expeditions was Richard Wetherill, a rancher and self-taught archaeologist with knowledge of the region and fluency in the native Ute and Navajo languages. The physical anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička conducted ethnological research by comparing human skeletons with native peoples living in the region, including laborers on the archaeological digs. Geographical mapping of the region and analysis of the antiquity of the ruins in Chaco Canyon was assigned to Richard E. Dodge, a professor at Columbia University.

Over time, the trove of objects collected through the Hyde Exploring Expeditions were separated from their documentary and descriptive information as significant portions of the collections were dispersed, first to the University of Pennsylvania and then to George Gustav Heye’s Museum of the American Indian in New York City. The American Museum of Natural History’s original specimen numbers on objects excavated by the Hyde Exploring Expeditions were effaced and replaced by new numbers in a re-inventory by the Museum of the American Indian. The context and provenance of archaeological finds were lost in this shift of custody; the significance of objects and their research value was diminished.

Reconstruction of the history of the Hyde Exploring Expeditions has been an iterative process. In 1909, the museum launched the Huntington Southwest Survey to develop a timeline of human habitation of the Southwest, building and verifying discoveries by the Hyde Expeditions. In 1916, the museum’s Curator of Ethnology, Pliny Goddard, wrote to Clayton Wetherill to ask for help interpreting his brother’s catalogue references to locate caves and rooms referred to by numbers. In 1920, the Cartier Expedition led by Nels C. Nelson, Curator of North American Archaeology, accompanied by B.T.B. Hyde, went to Grand Gulch in an attempt to identify the particular cliff-houses and canyons from which the museum’s collection was taken. Annual Report 52 for the year 1920 states: “Completion of the reports of the Hyde explorations on the Pueblo Bonito between 1895 and 1900 has been rendered possible through two years’ special labor of Mr. B. Talbot B. Hyde of this Museum, who was the chief donor, and the active cooperation of Mr. George H. Pepper of the Museum of the American Indian, who was in charge of the excavations.” In the 1930s, the Works Project Administration put unemployed people to work, including Ms. Henrietta Jonas, who typed the Hyde Expedition correspondence in the Division of Anthropology. Today, more than a century after the Hyde Expeditions, the Wetherill-Grand Gulch Research Project continues the painstaking process of “reverse archaeology” tracing dispersed museum artifacts back to the canyon recesses and alcoves from whence they came.


    James E. Snead, Ruins and Rivals: The Making of Southwest Archaeology (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001), 22-23.
    Catalog Number. H934, The Hyde Expedition, American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology Archives
    Fred M. Blackburn and Ray A. Williamson, Cowboys and Cave Dwellers: Basketmaker Archaeology in Utah’s Grand Gulch (Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research, 1997) 47.
    “Outline History of Early Explorations,” Division of Anthropology Archives, American Museum of Natural History, 1895-34.
    The Papoose, Vol. 1, No. 1, December 1902.
    Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1981) 21, 31.
    Catalog Number. H934, The Hyde Expedition, American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology Archives.
    AMNH Central Administrative Archive, Hyde Collections, Anthropology of the Southwest
    We contacted Smithsonian: The Wetherills at Mesa Verde, David Harrell, New Mexico Historical Review, July 1987.
    American Museum of Natural History, Central Archives, Box 99, Folder 301, 1906-1909.
    “1st Wetherill Collection,” 1893-95, Accession Number 1895-34, Catalogue Numbers 29/1-293, American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology Archives.
    Anasazi Basketmaker, Papers from the 1990 Wetherill-Grand Gulch Symposium, Cultural Reserouces Series No.24. Bureau of Land Management, Salt Lake City, Utah.
    Hecktoen, Ludvig, "Biographical Memoir of Theophil Mitchell Prudden, 1849-1924" National Acadamy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs, 1925.
    The prehistoric ruins of the San Juan watershed in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, by T. Mitchell Prudden. Publisher Lancaster, Pa., New Era Printing Co., 1903.
    Lister and Lister, Chaco Canyon (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981) 24.
    Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Frederic Ward Putnam", accessed January 4, 2014
    Archive Finding Aid, Department of Anthropology, AMNH, Staff, 1873-1996. American Museum of History, Division of Anthropology Archives.


  • 1889 May: An “Ancient Aztec Relics Collection ” excavated by Richard Wetherill and companions is displayed in Durango and later Denver, Colorado. The Colorado Historical Society purchases this “First Wetherill Collection” to prevent its removal from the state.
  • 1888 December: Richard Wetherill and Charles C. Mason rediscover Cliff Palace while searching for a stray calf.
  • 1892 August 12: Fred Hyde Sr., Fred Hyde Jr., and Benny Talbot Babbit Hyde visited cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Guided by “Richard.”
  • 1893: ChicagoExternal link (Meeting) Site for World's Fair.
  • 1893 May 1 - 1893 October 30: Chicago World’s Fair (World’s Columbian Exposition) spurs interest and competition to excavate the American Southwest. Richard Wetherill meets B.T.B. Hyde and Fred Hyde Jr. again at the Exposition. Hyde brothers purchase archeological finds unearthed by Wetherill.
  • 1893 November 29 - 1894 April: Richard Wetherill leads Hyde Exploring Expedition to Grand Gulch.
  • 1894 Summer: Richard Wetherill takes the Hyde brothers on an expedition to Grand Gulch.
  • 1895: Hyde brothers donate collection to AMNH.
  • 1896: George Pepper named Assistant Curator of the Department of the Southwest and field director for Hyde Expeditions in Pueblo Bonito from 1896-1899.
  • 1896 - 1897: Richard Wetherill leads second expedition, the Whitmore Exploring Expedition to Grand Gulch.
  • 1897: Hyde brothers donate second collection to AMNH
  • 1900: Sante Fe Historical Society passes resolution against Hyde Exploring Expedition for “spoliation” of ruins.
  • 1902: New York, NYExternal link (Meeting) Thirteenth meeting of International Congress of Americanists
  • 1902: Federal Land Office restraining order against Hyde Exploring Expedition.
  • 1902 October: AMNH hosts International Congress of Americanists and displays finds from Hyde Exploring Expedition.
  • 1902 December - 1903 June: The Hyde Exploring Expedition publishes The Papoose.
  • 1903: Hyde Exploring Expedition incorporated in New Mexico.
  • 1906: Antiquities Act.
  • 1907: Chaco Canyon National Monument established.
  • 1908: B.T.B. Hyde transfers part of collection deposited with AMNH to the University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1910: Richard Wetherill is murdered.
  • 1916: B.T.B. Hyde sells part of his collection to Gustav Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian in New York.
  • 1920: Cartier Expedition goes back to Grand Gulch with B.T.B Hyde in effort to identify provenance of items remaining in AMNH collection.
  • 1930s: Works Progress Administration hires workers to type field notes in AMNH Anthropology Department from Hyde Exploring Expeditions.
  • 1987: Chaco Canyon named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • 1990: Wetherill-Grand Gulch Research Symposium.


Chaco CanyonExternal link
(Expedition Site)
Pueblo BonitoExternal link
(Expedition Site)
ChicagoExternal link

dates: 1893

Site for World's Fair.
Grand Gulch, UtahExternal link
(Expedition Site)
Four Corners RegionExternal link
(Expedition Site)
Mesa Verde National ParkExternal link
(Expedition Site)
New York, NYExternal link

dates: 1902

Thirteenth meeting of International Congress of Americanists
Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico State Fair

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

Aleš Hrdlička
Invited by Frederick W. Putnam to join American Museum of Natural History expeditions as a field anthropologist to Indian sites in the Southwest and Northern Mexico. Hrdlička conducted four intensive surveys among the Native Americans of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico between 1899 and 1902. In 1903 he was selected to head the newly created Division of Physical Anthropology (DPA) at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, D.C., a position he held for the next 40 years. (1899, AMNH Annual Report)
Allan, Robert (Bob)
associated dates: 1893-1894

American Museum of Natural History
Billings, Wirt Jenks
associated dates: 1893-1894

Cartier Expedition
Third expedition to Grand Gultch. Led by Nels C. Nelson and accompanied by B.T.B. Hyde, went in an attempt to identify the particular cliff-houses and canyons from which the museum's collection was taken.
Colorado Historical SocietyExternal link
Raised funds to purchase artifacts (Colorado Topics, June 7, 1889)
Dodge, R. E.
Dodge was assigned the investigation of the geological and geographical conditions and a study of the geological evidence of the antiquity of the ruins with special reference to those in the Chaco Cañon. (1899 Annual Report)
Ethridge, James
associated dates: 1893-1894

French, Harry
associated dates: 1893-1894

H. J. Smith Exploring Company
Date unknown Jackson Park, Illinois, exhibited Wetherills’ collection
Hyde Jr., Frederick E.
associated dates: 1893-1899

Younger brother of B.T.B. Hyde; financed and participated in expeditions to Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon; served on Board of Trustees of American Museum of Natural History. (1899 AR)
Hyde, Benjamin Talbot Babbitt
associated dates: 1893-1920

"B.T.B." Hyde was a sponsor of the expedition and a patron of the American Museum of Natural History. He directly participated in several expeditions to the Southwest and catalogued the collection for the museum until 1920. Grandson of Babbitt Hyde and heir to his Bab-O soap company fortune. Member of The Explorer’s Club, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. Funded and participated in expeditions to Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.
Koontz, John R.
The man who owned the land on which the sites were located. Purchased a large collection of objects who he later sold to Fred and B.T.B. Hyde who later donated them to the American Museum of Natural History. The collection previously known as the McLoyd and Graham collection for an unknown reason was renamed to the "Kunz Collection".
Land & Witherill [sic]
Photographers. Mancos, Colorado. (advertisement in 1893 Mancos Times)
Lang, Charles B.
associated dates: 1893-1894

Louisiana Purchase ExpositionExternal link
Exhibited artifacts
New Mexico State FairExternal link
Hyde brothers send a large exhibit to the fair.
Nordenskiöld, Gustaf von
Swedish explorer and scientist; recognized importance of Cliff Palace finds and set out to publish scientific treatise about them through excavating Step House and Wetherill Mesa with Richard Wetherill. In a political climate charged with xenophobia and amid the race by competing American museums to amass collections from the Southwest, Nordenskiöld was assailed in the press as a “foreigner” grabbing American artifacts. Collecting the summer of 1891, he was arrested on September 9, 1891 for “looting” from Mesa Verde. He beat the charges but returned to Sweden with his collection. His collection from Mesa Verde was eventually purchased by a Finnish collector who later donated them to the University of Helsinki.
Pepper, George Hubbard
associated dates: 1896-1899

Field Director of Hyde Expeditions in Pueblo Bonito. Ethnologist and archeologist; excavated Pueblo Bonito with Richard Wetherill.
Powell, John Wesley
Head of the department of Ethnology in Wahsington D.C., was in communication with B.K. Wetherill about the the possiblility of preserving the Mancos and tributary canyons as a National Park.
Prudden, T. Mitchell
A Yale graduate and doctor who spent his summers (1887-?) in the southwest studying the cliff ruins. He communicated with the Wetherills. Donated much of his object collections to Yale and several of his models of early cliff dwellings to AMNH.
Putnam, Frederick W.
Curator of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, 1894-1903. 1899 was the first of three annual visits to Chaco Canyon where he directly participated in field work.
Sixth Minneapolis Industrial ExpositionExternal link
Exhibited artifacts
Wetherill, Al
associated dates: 1893-1894

Wetherill, John
associated dates: 1893-1894

Wetherill, Richard
associated dates: 1893-1899

Expedition leader of first Hyde Exploring Expedition (1893-1894) and leader of the second expedition, financed by C. E. Whitmore, and known as the Whitmore Exploring Expedition (1896-1897).
Whitmore Exploring Expedition
associated dates: 1896-1897

Second expedition, approximately 1897 January to March. Expedition's focus was to continue the work of the first Hyde Expedition, focusing mainly on the Grand Gultch site.
World's Columbian ExpositionExternal link
Genesis of the expedition where Hyde brothers met Wetherill.

Related Resources

Wetherill, Richard, 1858-1910. Title Papers, 1893-1947, bulk 1893-1897 [microform]
associated dates: 1893-1947

Creator: Richard Wetherill Extent: 1 box ; 40 x 26 x 13 cm. Call number: Archives Microfilm #35 Repository: AMNH Special Collections
Hyde glass plate negative collection
associated dates: 1893-1899

Extent: 9 boxes Unprocessed collection. Some images available through AMNH Digital Special Collections, http://images.library.amnh.org/digital Repository: AMNH Special Collections
AMNH Special Collections Photographic Print Collection
associated dates: 1893-1899

Call number: PPC .H93 Repositiory: AMNH Special Collections

Written by: Alison Dundy
Last modified: 2019 August 8


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