Skip to comments.Rancher unveils Indian site kept secret for years
Posted on 06/24/2004 7:04:48 PM PDT by Dog Gone
SALT LAKE CITY -- For more than 50 years, rancher Waldo Wilcox kept most outsiders off his land and the secret under wraps: a string of ancient Indian settlements so remarkably well-preserved that arrowheads and beads are still lying out in the open.
Archaeologists are calling it one of the most spectacular finds in the West.
Hidden deep inside Utah's nearly inaccessible Book Cliffs region, 130 miles from Salt Lake City, the prehistoric villages run for 12 miles and include hundreds of rock art panels, cliffside granaries, stone houses built halfway underground, rock shelters, and the mummified remains of long-ago inhabitants.
The site was occupied for at least 3,000 years until it abandoned more than 1,000 years ago, when the Fremont people mysteriously vanished.
What sets this ancient site apart from other, better-known ones in Utah, Arizona or Colorado is that it has been left virtually untouched by looters, with the ground still littered with arrowheads, arrow shafts, beads and pottery shards in places.
"It was just like walking into a different world," said Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones, who was overcome on his first visit in 2002.
Wilcox, 74, said: "It's like being the first white man in there, the way I kept it. There's no place like it left."
The secret is only now coming to light, after the federal and state governments paid Wilcox $2.5 million for the 4,200-acre ranch, which is surrounded by wilderness study lands. The state took ownership earlier this year but has not decided yet how to control public access.
"It's a national treasure. There may not be another place like it in the continental 48 states," Duncan Metcalfe, a curator with the Utah Museum of Natural History, said today by satellite phone from the site.
Metcalfe said a team of researchers has documented about 200 pristine sites occupied as many as 4,500 years ago, "and we've only looked in a few places."
Wilcox said some skeletons have been exposed by shifting winds under dry ledges. "They were little people, the ones I've seen dug up. They were wrapped like Egyptians, in strips of beaver skin and cedar board, preserved as perfect," he said.
The Fremont, a collection of hunter-gatherers and farmers, preceded more modern American Indian tribes on the Colorado Plateau.
Archaeologists believe the sites may have been first occupied as much as 7,000 years ago; they could shed light on the earliest inhabitants of North America, who are believed to have arrived by way of the Bering Strait about 10,000 years ago.
The settlements are along the Range Creek, which sustained ancient people in the canyon until it possibly dried up in a drought, Wilcox said.
These days, the creek runs year-round, abundant with trout and shaded by cottonwood and box elder trees. Douglas fir covers the canyon sides. The canyon would have been rich in wildlife: elk, deer, bighorn sheep, bear, mountain lions, wild turkeys -- all animals that Wilcox said are still around, but in lesser numbers because of hunters.
"I didn't let people go in there to destroy it," said Wilcox, whose parents bought the ranch in 1951 and threw up a gate to the rugged canyon. "The less people know about this, the better."
Over the years, Wilcox occasionally welcomed archeologists to inspect part of the canyon, "but we'd watch 'em." When one Kent State researcher used a pick ax to take a pigment sample from a pictograph, Wilcox "took the pick from him and took him out of the gate."
Although the University of Utah hired a seasonal caretaker and students from three Utah schools are working the sites this summer, Wilcox worries about looting.
He said he gave up the land on a promise of protection from the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, which transferred the ranch to public ownership.
The promise barely assured Wilcox, but he said he knew one thing: "I'm getting old and couldn't take care of it." He said he asked $4 million for the ranch but settled for $2.5 million, moved to Green River and retired.
It was not until 2002 that archaeologists realized the full significance of Range Creek.
While many structures are still standing or visible, others could be buried. Archaeologists have not done any excavations yet, simply because "we have too big a task just to document" sites in plain view, Jones said.
After The Associated Press started inquiring, Metcalfe decided to hasten an announcement.
Next week, he plans to take news organizations to the ranch, which is 30 miles off the nearest paved highway over rough, mountainous terrain. A gate inside Range Creek canyon blocks access; from there a dirt road continues about 14 miles down the canyon to a ranch house, now a hub of archaeological activity.
"untouched by looters"
the govt, sierra club, leftist idiots, national geographic (now), other "we know better than you" types ....
A truely FACINATING read. Thank you so much for posting this.
I would love to see it. We visited Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff, AZ where Anastazi Indians lived 900 years ago and in the cliff houses the handprints of the women are still fresh where they used mud to line the walls of the rooms. I put my hand in one print of a right hand and it fit perfectly. Very funny feeling like touching someone from yesteryear today. They lived a nice lifestyle there in that cool wooded primitive place mmear a desert..
An incredible read.
I wonder how much of the $2.5 mil Big Stupid Government will steal back in tax theft?
If this account is anything close to accurate, this will be a bigger deal than Mesa Verde National Park.
Pretty interesting. I am envisioning a large resort concept, incorporating condominiums, timeshares, theme park, retail complex, golf course/fitness center, and monorail system, all constructed in an "arrowhead-friendly" fashion, scheduled for completion in late 2007.
Good thing this man didn't let anybody in on his secret. Otherwise government would claim eminent domain and he wouldn't get a penny for it.
That's not how eminent domain works. But he still sold this for a fraction of the revenues it's going to generate.
I hope it's true. I'm afraid I'm getting so old I'm just too cynical, these days. Now that I've had time to digest what I read, I'm having some doubts.
You & me both. I felt the same way...hoping it's true, but not sure if it can be believed.
Great article! I would love to see it.
i too hope this is preserved.