I had taken a fine Merriam’s gobbler on the first morning of my Wyoming hunt, so I hiked around here and there on the expanse of state-owned land in Goshen County that borders Nebraska to the east. I was in rocky country that forms the southern edge of the Black Hills, the bulk of which is in nearby South Dakota. Big ponderosa pines dominate the flora. My trek also approximated the historic edge of Cheyenne territory where it bordered lands controlled by the Arapahos. I had permission to cross private land to get to this paradise where, for years, I never saw evidence of another human being.
I came upon a low ridge where a long draw was intersected by a short one. At the low point of this juncture, a spring of cold, clean water emerged. My ridge overlooked this spring from 125 feet above. The ridge top was treeless, flat and was virtually paved with arrowhead chips. My hand placed anywhere within a 50-foot circle would cover chips. I wondered why I found no nearly complete, but imperfect arrowheads.
Some pondering gave me a possible answer. An almost complete arrowhead snapped awkwardly near its completion might cause the artist to fling the stone in disgust and likely with Indian profanity in an expression of frustration. Had I time to search 25 to 150 feet out from the chips, I might have found the rejects.
I stood in awe looking out over the hills to the southeast, where the morning sun would warm the buffalo hide tipis year round. I visualized water being easily carried up the mild slope in skins or pottery. I stood in a special place. I vowed to return. But I never got back there where families made arrowheads to take game animals for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. I go there often in my mind.
Another time I was moving along the south bank of the Green River in northwest Colorado. I found blackened clay walls across the river on the north bank that were 10 feet above the river level. There were several of these scorchings along the vertical cut. And above them were typical Ute Indian drawings of deer and wild sheep. These had to have been made at grade before the Green had cut through a dozen feet of rocky bottom with the sand it carried in its stream.
It may have been Otero County, east of Pueblo, Colo., in transitional country that lies between the foothills of the Rockies and the high plains where I was hunting a population of Rio Grande turkeys (never knowing if the birds would turn out to be Merriam’s.) This is the historic range of the Jicarilla Apache Indians. I was on closely controlled private land. There, on a cutbank almost covered with vines and brush, were carefully drawn plains animals and the typical stick men with bows and arrows; art as created by many ancient tribes.
In northeastern Colorado’s Weld County lies the Pawnee National Grasslands (NGL). The area is roughly 30 miles by 60 miles in size. One can explore and hunt on these lands as well as those of the Comanche NGL in southeastern Colorado. I visited one site of “tipi rings” that dot the landscape within the Pawnee NGL. These are also known as “stone circles.” They are perfect circles of stones lying at intervals used to hold down the bottom edges of animal hides that covered tipis. Some pottery found near one site was dated 215 BC. Some 249 such rings have been documented in the Pawnee NGL. Look for rings atop flat ridges overlooking vast areas where bison once roamed.
There is plenty out there to see if you take the time to look. If you go, research these sites online and remember, this is very remote country. There are no people and no evidence of modern civilization for many miles. There is only the leavings of perhaps hundreds of earlier inhabitants who lived there; but very few at a time.
Otha Barham is an author and musician. He lives in Meridian.