In the summer of 1997, a
medicine man visiting the home of Judy "Montana" McWilliams
and Rosemary Aitken saw a band of Ute Indians walking across their land.
They were his ancestors of long ago who traveled
and summered here before it was developed in the 1920sand
only he saw the vision of them that day.
"This is a very enchanting place,"
the medicine man said, before performing a healing ceremony for McWilliams
who had just lost her father. He was standing on the grounds of the
Na-Te-So Pueblo-a 2-acre property on Tesuque Roadand
he was not alone in his assessment.
Others believe the enchantment of Na-Te-So dates
to its beginnings in 1925 when Navajo, Tesuque and San Illdefonso Indians
were recruited from the Southwest to build the adobe dwellings, modeled
after a real mission in New Mexico. That includes current owners McWilliams
and Aitken, who hope the next family to buy Na-Te-So will be as captivated
by its history as they have been for the last 16 years.
The home, including four casitas (small adobe
houses) with wood-burning fireplaces and a large workshop, is for sale.
Developed by Denver's mortuary magnate George
Olinger for promotion of the Indian Hills subdivision, a summer colony
he envisioned for city dwellers, the Indian village was designed to
draw the tourist trade. There were art shops offering beadwork, silver-smithing,
textiles and potters who became famous for their worksuch
as the late Luis "Wo-Peen"Gonzales and his wife, Juanita.
There was a museum, a ceremonial house and a kiva used as a special
gathering place. It afforded visitors a chance to peer into the lives
of the natives, to see how they worked, played and worshiped.
In addition, an artist colony developed across
the road, drawing writersand musicians.
Only a few short years after the pueblo opened,
however, the stock market crashed. Despite the renovations to Parmalee
Gulch Road, which had been carved wide into the landscape with comfortable
grades and a fine gravel surface, Denverites were no longer inclined
to travel an hour away or spend their dwindling revenues.
For years the village remained unoccupied and
deteriorated before Willard Spence, a Denver minister and avid potter,
purchased it in 1949. He had become fascinated with the traditional
pottery of the Pueblo Indians on a church-sponsored retreat in New Mexico.
Believing it to be "poetry of the Earth" he was determined
to make that poetry immortal in vessels of his own making.
When he returned from the retreat, he purchased
the remaining structures of the Na-Te-So Pueblo and prepared to restore
portions of it. He purchased a large kiln and soon opened Indian Hills
Pottery. Nine years later, when his daughters headed to college and
he accepted a call from the church in Wisconsin, an artist friend took
over operations on Spence's behalf. But after moderate success, the
pottery shop closed in 1961.
Reports followed of hippies and an assortment
of domesticated animals living at the pueblos after that. One owner
was an art teacher who rented out the casitas for a rumored $100 a month
but was stingy with water, prompting those who occupied it to haul water
from a community well a few miles away.
One couple, now New York attorneys, showed up
on McWilliams' doorstep one day, eager to take a peek at the casita
where they once lived without water, remembering those adventures as
By the time McWilliams and Aitken bought Na-Te-So,
in 1990, several of the buildings made of hand-carved mud bricks were
gone. The two became especially motivated to renovate the remaining
buildings when they watched the wall of one casita fall to the ground
during a heavy rain.
Familiar with adobe, when she spent summers
as a child in Taos, McWilliams buried herself along with Aitken in research
about restoration processes. In the mid-1990s they discovered a group
called the Collaborative that provided surveys of the structures and
connected them with Native American Indian artisans who helped reconstruct
the adobe over the course of about two years.
The Indians set up teepees on the property and
performed ceremonies to sanctify the land. The authentic bricks used
in the reconstruction process were shipped on a flatbed truck from Espanola,
N.M. After they were installed, cement stucco was applied to the outside
adobe to protect it. They also hand-peeled the vegas (beams) for the
roofs. Currently, there are four guest casitas and a large workshoptwo
of which still require some "interior" renovation.
When they bought it, the previous owner knew
little of its history, but McWilliams and Aitken have accumulated stacks
of it since in the form of postcards, brochures, photos and other memorabilia.
More details are immortalized in museums and libraries and the memories
of local schoolchildren who have visited Na-Te-So during annual field
The main house is now roughly 3,000 square feet
and includes portions of the original residence designed by Jean Allard
Jeancon, who also lived there and ran the Na-Te-So operations. The sunken
great room now has a passive solar wall; the outdoor gardens have a
fountain, hot tub room and attached greenhouse. The casitas have wood-burning
McWilliams and Aitken will soon be moving to
Denver and plan to travel more. McWilliams, who majored in journalism
loves photography and gardening, is a retired engineer and once worked
for the office of energy conservation under Gov. Roy Romer. Aitken,
who was unavailable for an interview, enjoys restoring old buildings
and she works at the Tattered Cover Bookstore.
"This property owns me," McWilliams
said. "I want to put on my vagabond shoes."
As McWilliams describes it, the duo's stay there
has been, well, enchanting. To this day, when friends visit from out
of town, they walk through the gates and their cares melt away.
"This is a Norman Rockwell community,"
she said, describing the annual Fourth of July parade-an event that
spreads young families along Parmalee Gulch Road to gather candy tossed
from passing floats and most always, except this year, includes a late
show of fireworks sponsored by the local fire department in a field
near the pueblo.
The owners may be a hard act to follow, for
they have fully embraced their time here busying themselves with the
development of a community plan along with other residents in years
past, and they joined the local improvement association to champion
issues of water quality and other benefits.
"It's not just a house; it's truly a lifestyle,"
explained McWilliams. Yet she hesitates to overemphasize the historic
responsibilities, lest she scare away a perfect buyer.
The property is zoned commercial and with work
could be turned into a bed and breakfast, though McWilliams and Aitken
hope it becomes the property of another caring family-in particular,
one that is concerned with the environment, one that cares about the
history of Na-Te-So and the local community.
"Obviously, that's asking a lot,"
McWilliams said. "But Indian Hills is the best place to live and
raise your kids." (Or, grandkids, since this pair have 13 between
Indian Hills may be brimming with friendly tribes
now, but in times past, its beauty provoked jealousy, according to local
The Ute were the first to discover the 2,200
acres of nearby rocks rimmed with evergreen forests. They camped there
and were so enraptured by the land, some say, that bitter feuds between
them and other tribes, such as Arapaho and Cheyenne, developed over
their attempts to possess it.
Its no wonder that fancy copy in advertising
literature from the 1920s describing the newly formed "Indian Hills"
subdivision flaunted that attraction.
For this community, complete with an Indian
pueblo, could "soothe the most troubled heart-bring indescribable
surcease to the urban-weary-make God seem nearer and the petty problems
of life far away and cause hope to spring anew within the breast."
The Na-Te-So Pueblo is priced at $659,000--for more information contact
Metro Broker agent Blaine Frangas at XXX-XXX-XXXX.
Information for this article
was compiled from historic documents, brochures and photographs and
older news clippings from the Canyon Courier, Denver Post and Westword.