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.
Still, I'd like to see a ton of pictures right away.
Darn, even one person can't keep a secret.
Yeh, let the government jerks carry away all the best pieces to some university.
No one will ever see these artifacts. They'll just sit in a drawer somewhere to rot away. Other artifacts will be stolen by government/university jerks and sold on the black market.
Waldo should have set up a private corporation or foundation to care for the property.
Note 4WD track proceeding up the canyon to the left (west). I suspect the ruins begin somewhere in the center of the map frame and proceed west up the canyon. Note: if this doesn't open up in "large" map size format (according to the legend on the left), click on "large" and update.
All of us who are familiar with Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Canon de Chelly, Hovenweep, Bandolier, etc. recognize this is a very significant find.
But this site is even more important than the article claims, because this is a Fremont site. The Fremont were the next door neighbors of the much better known Anasazi. The reason the Anasazi are better know is that they left more stuff behind. One of the few things we know about the Fremont is that they were different than the Anasazi, but still had contact with them, and had cultural similarities, such as petroglyph styles. This site may answer how different their culture really was from the Anasazi.
Someone needs to nominate this man for a Congressional Medal of Honor.
This is a great treasure .
There is a museum in Sacramento that has a plexiglass floor over an archaeological dig area. It is hard to adjust to venturing out onto an area that feels like you are walking on air.
That would be the one of the best ways to perserve parts of this area. They could make a plexiglass walkway over the paths of the tour area. They could also install alarms to notify them if someone decided deviate from the tour path.
http://www.shovelbums.org/field%20schools/2004/us-field-schools-2004.html (search for "range creek", missed the op)
which included cannibalism....
Anyone here ever hear about a secret part of the grand canyon that supposedly has egyptian writings etc.? The part of the canyon has Egyptian names and the government has sealed it off. Fortean stuff but I can never find anymore info..
"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,"
That sort of solution might allow much earlier public access. Even so, I'd guess that it would be no less than 10 years before any of us could get in there. Just to build a public road and visitor facilities will require an environmental impact statement, blah blah blah.
How in the heck do you come across interesting articles like that? Mine was easy. It was an AP article.
I've had the pleasure of visiting several Anasazi sites in the Southwest and am most impressed by Chaco Canon -- Casa Bonita, et al.
There is a strong spiritual sense about these places. They were home to people we can reach out to and almost touch, as you describe.
They inspired my wife to reach out to her ancestors, launching her into the hobby of geneaology.
If you follow the creek up stream on the map series you linked you can eventually find the cabin (and loading chutes) referenced in the article.
Or find another person like himself to keep an eye on it. If I were in his shoes, I'd take my chances with private ownership as opposed to turning it over to the gov't.
"During the same era, in the northern stretches of what is now the Moab/Green River area, there was another group of agriculturalists, the Freemont people, who also cultivated corn. The two cultures 'overlapped' across this region from A.D. 1 to A.D. 1275."
Beginning around 1200 A.D. both the Anasazi and Fremont begin leaving the area. Today, the Hopi, Zuni and some other Pueblo tribes, now living in New Mexico and Arizona, are thought to be the descendants of the Anasazi culture. The Fremont culture has no known link to any modern tribe.
Something I find peculiar in both these articles. They are referred to as Freemont People, not Freemont Indians.
After our discussion yesterday and earlier today, now you've REALLY got me interested in ancient cultural migrations. Your comment here is only throwing wood on the fire.
Nancy Yaw Davis
The Zuni Enigma
Did a group of thirteenth-century Japanese journey to the American Southwest, there to merge with the people, language, and religion of the Zuni tribe?
For many years, anthropologists have understood the Zuni in the American Southwest to occupy a special place in Native American culture and ethnography. Their language, religion, and blood type are startlingly different from all other tribes. Most puzzling, the Zuni appear to have much in common with the people of Japan.
In a book with groundbreaking implications, Dr. Nancy Yaw Davis examines the evidence underscoring the Zuni enigma, and suggests the circumstances that may have led Japanese on a religious quest-searching for the legendary "middle world" of Buddhism-across the Pacific and to the American Southwest more than seven hundred years ago.
Nancy Yaw Davis holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Washington. Author of numerous articles, she has long researched the history and cultures of the native peoples of North America. Her company, Cultural Dynamics, is located in Anchorage, Alaska, where she lives.
What an awesome find. Thanks for posting this!
"the ground still littered with arrowheads, arrow shafts, beads and pottery shards in places."
My grandfather told my mother of similar places he would picnic at with his family in the 19teens. They considered that stuff trash at that point in time.
Sorry, that's not the way real archaeologists work. Don't believe me? Send me a private post and I'll be happy to share 35 years of experience with you.
Did these little people walk all the way across the desolate Bering Strait land bridge and then across Alaska all the way down to Utah? It's not easy walking across that kind of terrain.
To actually enter the area, the trip involved a 4 wheel drive adventure, rafting and backpacking. I'm not sure but, I believe that he had to meet with or have a guide from the tribe.
Something tells me you'd be interested in this, and have probably already been in the area.
Yep, here in Texas, we officially spell it "archeology" (without the "ae" diphthong...)
Texas Archeological Steward