THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
NATIVE AMERICANS IN YELLOWSTONE
Yellowstone today still contains many native-american artifacts and structures. It is illegal to remove any of these artifacts or even to move them from the spot they are discovered. The fines are heavy for anyone who does so. If you do find an artifact that seems noteworthy, note the exact location and report it to a park ranger.
These amazing dwellings were used as temporary shelters as the tribes made seasonal migrations to hunting and fishing areas. Several still stand in Yellowstone. Unfortunately they are among the most sensitive of places and are easily disturbed. Thus only general locations will be given. The following list is by no means complete but should give an idea of how many of these remarkable shelters may still be standing in Yellowstone.
This is the most publicized of the Yellowstone wickiups. Its location is available at the Horace Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth. Its condition is not very good due to souvenir hunters over the years.
There are actually two wickiups present along Wickiup Creek in the park’s northwest corner. They are not particularly secret, as many folks have hiked to these. Nice photos of them can be seen in the lobby of the Lake Hotel. Rumor has it that there are more signs of habitation another mile upstream.
THE NORTH BOUNDARY
A ranger on poacher patrol made a significant discovery near the parks north boundary and passed along this story. He found several wickiups still standing side-by-side; almost like a "little camp". This sight does not appear to be in any record I can find. It may be the largest group still present in Yellowstone.
THE PITCHSTONE PLATEAU
There have been rumors to the effect that a rather significant wickiup site is located somewhere on the Pitchstone Plateau. The word is that at least three wickiups are present here and that it is one of the more studied sites in the park. It supposedly contained dozens of buffalo skulls until the park service removed them a few years ago.
The Gallatin Range contains at least two wickiup sites that to my knowledge are undocumented. It is to be expected that these mountains would be rich with native-american cultural sites. The Bannock Trail had several branches through these peaks and were traveled extensively during the summer months.
SOMEWHERE NEAR OLD FAITHFUL
Very little information is available about this site. A lone wickiup not far from Old Faithful was seen by a park employee, who unfortunately was never to re-locate it in the deep forest to the north and east of the geyser basin.
THREE OTHER WICKIUP SITES
Three other important sites for wickiups are the Specimen Site (Located near Specimen Ridge), the Abiathar Site (in the northeast corner), and the Bridger Lake Site (just outside the park in the remote southeast corner). All three of these sites have been studied to some degree.
These are not in Yellowstone but are far to the northeast near the town of Emigrant, Montana. Again the creek has been named for the dwellings along its banks.
A MYSTERY STONE
At the waters edge on the banks of Lava Creek there exists a very interesting stone with peculiar inscriptions carved on it. The rock is very large of basaltic lava which has very smooth faced section on which the letters have been made. Because the inscriptions are not in English and have not been translated as far as I know, I suspect the writings are a native-american language of some kind.
INDIAN BURIAL SIGHTS
These are among the most sacred locales in Yellowstone. Needless to say, exact locations are unavailable.
The Fishing Bridge area.
A remote meadow high in the Absarokas near the park’s east boundary.
A MYSTERIOUS SKELETON
In 1996 a fisherman was looking for a good spot to cast along the shores of one of the park's many lakes when he stumbled across a human skeleton. He reported it a ranger and an investigation was begun immediately. Treating it as a possible homicide the park service began tests on the remains. Much to their surprise, the bones turned out to be roughly 1,000 years old. Several local tribes were consulted as to the possible tribe of the remains. The consensus was that he or she was probably Crow. They surmised this by the direction the body lay and the way it looked. The most interesting part of the story is that in the end the body was re-buried on the spot with members of the Crow tribe presiding over the ceremony.
One of the most intriguing early signs of human habitation that can be found in Yellowstone are prehistoric stone circles. There are many of them throughout the park, in fact there are many all across the state of Montana. They are commonly called teepee circles, but their origins probably had nothing to do with teepees.
They generally appear as half-buried rocks in an almost perfect circular pattern. And although soil builds up very slowly in Yellowstone, some of them are almost completely covered with earth. Often you'll find one overlapping another, and still others have double-rings. They're not always distinct. In the Lamar Valley there are a few more complex patterns which have double stones going around the perimeter. They are usually on sites that are not what you would call good campsites. Often they are up on mountainsides in secluded locales, and sometimes well up on mountain peaks themselves.
In Yellowstone these rings are very old. Their ages are generally hypothesized at 1,000 to 2,000 years with some estimates going back as early as 5,000 years. Dr. Carling Malouf of the University of Montana has studied nearly 1,200 of these rings throughout the state. He has found no evidence of human habitation in them. They seem to have no hearths, no bones, and no projectile points. He has concluded that they certainly pre-date the time when the Indian had the horse (so were not packing tee-pee poles and heavy hide covers around from place to place). Exactly what their purpose was is not known, the best that can be determined is that they may have been circles of memory, or they may have something to do with religion or vision quests.
They are located all through Yellowstone but particularly at the north end of the park.
OTHER PAST DISCOVERIES
Here is a short list of some discoveries of native-american artifacts in decades past.
Arrowheads have been found on Sulphur Mtn. in the Crater Hills area of the Hayden Valley.
The lakeshore south of Rocky and Sandy Molly islands contain some artifacts. 4 arrowheads, one scraper, one knife, and a number of chips were found in only an hour by a past research team. This area was used extensively by Indians. Today however, they are closed to human travel to protect sensitive White Pelican nesting sites.
A hydrothermal area above Lone Star Geyser near the Firehole River yielded 17 different artifacts during a past survey.
A spearpoint was found at Norris.
A jasper knife was found along the horseshoe turn near Little America Flats between Roosevelt and the Lamar Valley.
The north slopes of Mt. Everts do contain some native-american archeological sites. There are definite ruins attributed to the Shoshone. They appear to possibly be old abandoned corrals and/or traps.
THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
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