We cannot know who were the first residents of Wupatki Pueblo, but we do know the last two. They were Courtney Reeder Jones and David Jones. The newly wed couple — he the second ranger at Wupatki National Monument, she his wife — spent their honeymoon and first few years of their lives together in an apartment fashioned from a second story chamber in the pueblo.
Their story, preserved for us in Courtney's extraordinary diary of letters (Letters from Wupatki, Univ. of Arizona Press, L. Rappoport, ed.) is a poignant look at young love and hard work during the waning years of the Great Depression and the build-up to WWII. In addition, it serves as a snapshot of the daily doings of a developing and challenged National Park system.
Courtney Reeder, a slender and bright-eyed archaeology student from Nebraska, met David Jones, an archaeologist and NPS employee, in Tucson during a University of Arizona archaeology field excursion. They were soon married and on their way to David’s posting at Wupatki, and to their basic but comfortable — and certainly unique — dwelling in what Courtney always referred to as “the ruin.” The year was 1938, and their apartment was eight centuries old.
Her stories are taken from the letters she wrote to family and friends, detailed, articulate, witty and compassionate anecdotes of her and David’s lives. Wupatki, like much of northern Arizona, was still quite isolated and inaccessible. Courtney wrote her family and friends of her growing friendship with Mary-Russell and Harold Colton, of the extended Navajo family of the Peshlakais who lived on the Monument, of impassable roads and legendary snowstorms, and of the keen companionships and simple pleasures of two young people with scant money but immensely exuberant optimism.
In addition to Wupatki, David Jones was also custodian of Sunset Crater National Monument. Courtney did as much work as her husband, but without the remuneration. The wives of the southwestern National Park and Monument rangers referred to themselves, tongues firmly in cheek, as HCWPs: Honorary Custodians Without Pay, and they circulated among themselves a newsletter called "The Grapevine," filled with information, writings, poetry, and Park Service and personal news. They were a tight and cohesive group.
The Joneses were great friends of the various members of the Peshlakai family, traditional Navajos who vividly lived their history. The women and men of the two disparate cultures bonded successfully, and her stories of their interactions are tenderly delightful.
It was not all work, however. The Joneses rambled over much of northern Arizona and beyond, travels which Courtney describes with an easy and eloquent precision that invokes a gentle nostalgia. She describes finding, on a bitter winter day, the remains of a cook fire and a roasted horse, at what we now know as Lomaki’s Box Canyon pueblo. She writes of festive gatherings at Cameron and Grey Mountain trading posts, and all night Navajo healing “sings" followed by mountains of roasted mutton. She tells of living with the Coltons when David was away — the daily rounds of museum and domestic work in wartime Flagstaff, and much more — as an always engaged and interested interlocutor.
The opening to their apartment can still be seen at Wupatki Pueblo, although the interior was removed long ago. After a few years, Courtney and David moved into an elegant and spacious stone house built for them by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The house still stands, slightly dated among the more modern buildings, just south of the Monument's Visitors Center.
Courtney’s accounts of the building, finishing, and furnishing of the house are wonderful. To visit that house with its patios and vigas is to step back in time seventy-odd years, and it’s easy to imagine Courtney Reeder Jones watering plants, polishing floors, and tending to their little adopted daughter, while perhaps David is on the roof chasing leaks or in his office with the typewriter. They are, without a doubt, part of the magic of the magical Wupatki National Monument.
Courtney gets the last word, written in the late 1980s, after what might have been her final visit to Wupatki: “I still dream of sitting under a tree, spinning wool with the Navajo ladies, and looking out over the desert.”