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.
Ah, we cover Texas too.
Let's remind our whale friend of the humongous giant hyenas that stalked the Bering Strait.. I'll have to hunt for the thread, it was a couple years ago.
On the other hand, there are museums putting artifacts in storage so junior high kids can show how they intreprate history by displaying their art.
Once, while elk hunting in a driving snowstorm I topped a ridge and noticed several rock circles highlighted by the blowing snow. I rode up the canyon and there were dozens of the circles plus some larger rectangular outlines. Had I not been horseback or if the snow had not accented them I would never have seen them. There were still piles of flint and botched arrowheads where they had sat and chipped them out hundreds of years ago.
Thanks for the ping. I think this Wilcox guy is a decent man...
This will be an interesting story to follow. :0)
Maybe we'll be able to see some pictures next week. That would be cool.
Here's an excellent picture tour of Nine Mile and driving instructions... pretty inhospitable desert country, but an amazing cruise.
Many years ago when I was young, there were potsherds all over the ground at places in Mesa Verde, Bandelier, Chaco, etc. They are long gone now, either surface collected by the parks to preserve them for study or taken by tourists. My parents would strap canvas water bags onto the outside of the car (which made for cool water to drink and water to fill the car when it boiled over) and off we'd go every summer visiting those places.
Ten years ago my wife and I backpacked into a Utah wilderness area and saw the same sorts of things I saw as a boy -- corn cobs, hemp rope, potsherds lying freely. You can still find them if you get off the beaten path. Three years ago my son and I used a GPS to hike off trail across a large Utah mesa and found an arrowhead and lots of potsherds spread across the ground. We left them where they'd been lying for centuries.
Marvelous story about the rancher and his ruin-covered land. I've never done much in the Book Cliffs except ride up dusty dirt roads and look out for rattlesnakes.
I hope so. This is awesome.
Someday you will have to take me and the Mrs for a drive to see this stuff.
Sure, from here, it's a hop east over the Wasatch into the Uintah basin, a couple hours drive both ways.
Looking at the drawings, I just can't help wondering what the original artist was like... what he was thinking about... and what in the world those symbols mean. The critter and people drawings are intuitively obvious, but some of the common designs are just curiosity provoking. There are lots of spirals... some small, hand sized, some huge - like 8 feet. Maybe it's the key to the universe, or maybe they were just scribbling :o)
I've got pics, but the CD is at work. I'll try to remember to fetch it and post some on Monday.
Great country in the Wasatch Mountains GR ! I really loved wheeling in that area when I was at Hill. Hated walking the salt flats on ordnance clearance missions at Eagle Range and Bendover Wendover........:o) I use to live at the state line casion for months when Uncle Sugars Wind Force invited us to assist in surface clearances on the bombing ranges. It was tough. Walk all day on the salt flats blowing stuff up then standing in the buffett line at the casino and losing all my TDY pay on the craps table , titty bars etc etc etc
Ahhhh Youth !
Stay safe !
Ugh. I hate the salt flats too. There's alot of interesting desert between Dugway and the bombing range (we once found a - ready? - volcano cone out there, whoda thunk). Burnt up a lota fuel, rounds, and brain cells out there many years back. Wore out a couple Yamahas, too. Wendover was always the reward for eating dust all weekend.
Maybe all that game scared them away 1,000 yars ago... Or else they picked the area clean and it couldn't sustain a human population anymore, y'know.
I don't get where people think that the American Indian was such a conservationist society. They killed as much as they could at one time, the easiest way they could do it. Like running entire herds of buffaloes over a cliff when the tribe was hungry and the herds were near, or setting fire to the prairie to drive the game toward the hunters.
Now that the government owns the property it will be looted. They should have left it in private hands.
Thanks for the ping. Nice!!
No wonder people get lost.
Thanks for the ping. Amazing story.
The archaeologists soon will (at home too).
If wonder if the Indians will try to claim it by saying their arrowheads are sacred.
It would be cool to see it. Ride up into the mountains to the ranch and go from there.
It would be cool to see it. Ride up into the mountains to the ranch and go from there.
I am encouraged to hear that your wife felt the connection to the past so strongly. There is something mystical about being confronted with an actual home in which some ancient people lived where you can touch one woman's hand through eons of time. Or hold in your hand a shard of pottery shaped and painted by another's long ago hand.
My grandmother in law once gave me a piece of 3000 year old cloth from the middle east. I could not touch it enough, or look at it often enough. Such a treasure. It disappeared with that husband. The cloth as a loss.
I am a history nut, but came to be a nut by wanting to know what sort of person, what kind of people, what could one person possibly do, think, come from, envision that would empower him, her to change the world? After 40 years of reading history I have broadened my interests, but am no less curious, insatiable actually. One thing they all seem to share. They all seem to know who they are and to have absolute convictions, good or bad. Wishy washy does not cut it then or now.
The patrol records are in the UNM library in Albuquerque. I keep thinking that I will stop by there and spend a day or two researching but I always forget or don't have the time.
I think I'd make the time.
Oh! I would LOVE to go photograph this canyon!
Don't miss this one, Civ!
Ok now. What is ET and Godzilla doing on the stone?8-)
Yes! That's where they filmed those fake moon-landings. It's also where they keep flying saucers, unicorns, Noah's Ark, the Loch Ness monster, and that long-suppressed carburetor that gets 100 mpg.
Hey, it's the flying saucers that get me...
Been all over the Book Cliffs.
George W. Bush will be reelected by a margin of at least ten per cent
Yes, a kind of jaw-dropping point here. . .
Amazing article; but the above, 2002 - year of appreciation, truly amazing. . .
If I were to have second thoughts; think they would be of the responses - the 'conclusions' that would offer that not until 2002, did anyone recognize the importance of this site. . .. . .
Perhaps the folks who visited, did suspect/know what a great site this was; but afraid that by acknowledging it; it would then get too much attention; notoriety; would not be available to them as it was. . .pristine;pure and available; and the site would taken; altered; more difficult to access - without a grant or something.
so. . .maybe it was more like: 'you've been there Frank; 'what do you think?'
Well, not bad; but have really, have seen better rocks in Sedonia. . .
Personally, cannot wait to just see pictures of these 'little people' from 3000 years ago.
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