Wilcox Ranch

 History of Fremont Culture Pictures Map


Ned Eddins

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Prehistoric Native Americans:

Anasazi          Fremont Indians           Southwest Indian Rock Art 

Monument Valley                Mesa Verde                       Hovenweep

Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch      Betatakin-Keet Siel       Paleo-Indians 

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Indian Cultures:

Indian Horse     Indian Smallpox       Indian Trade Guns

Trade Beads         Indian Alcohol           Trail of Tears          

Fremont is the name given to diverse groups of Native American Indians that inhabited the western Colorado Plateau and the eastern Great Basin area from 400 A.D. to 1350 A.D.. These Indians were hunter-gatherers, and may have spoken different languages, or widely divergent dialects (Madsen).  Fremont Indians occupied this desolate land several hundred years before the first Europeans arrived in America.

Yie Bi Chie
Totem and Yie Bi Chie – Monument Valley

The semi-arid land inhabited by the Fremont and Anasazi Indians contains areas of spectacular beauty. There are more National Parks (Zions, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands), National Monuments (Hovenweep, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges, Escalante-Grand Staircase) and numerous State Parks in the homeland of the Fremont and Anasazi Indians than any other area of North America.

There were probably no more than ten thousand Native American Indians scattered across the canyonlands of Utah and high deserts of the Great Basin at any one time (Barnes).

The Mittens
East and West Mitten – Monument Valley

Harvard University’s Peabody Museum funded the Claflin-Emerson Expedition to study the Prehistoric Indian sites of Utah. A member of the Claflin-Emerson research project, Noel Morss excavated in 1928 and 1929 several prehistoric Indian sites along the Fremont River of central Utah. Morss coined the term Fremont Indians to describe the Native Americans that inhabited these early prehistoric Native American Indian sites. Morss maintained the Fremont Indian Culture was clearly influenced by the Southwest Anasazi Culture, but was not an integral part of it.

Fremont Lithic Knife
Fremont Knife

Archaeologists use four distinctive artifact categories to distinguish the Fremont Indian Culture from the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans (Madsen):

a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. Some archaeologists believe this single artifact differentiates the Fremont Indian culture from the Anasazi, or the historic Native American groups.

moccasin style constructed from the hock of a deer or mountain sheep leg. This and other moccasin types found in Fremont sites are very different from the woven yucca sandals of the Anasazi.

thin gray pottery with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay.

a distinctive rock art style used in pictographs, petroglyphs, and clay figures depicting trapezoidal human figures bedecked in necklaces and blunt hairstyles.

A question still unanswered is where did the Fremont Indians come from?

One theory is the Fremont Indians split off  from the Anasazi and headed north.

Another theory is the Fremont Indians, like the Anasazi emerged from an older desert archaic culture.

Dr. Jesse D. Jennings summarized his views on the Desert Culture (or Desert Archaic) model at the Leigh Lecture at the University of Utah in 1975 (Janetski):

From 10,000 or more years ago, until A.D. 400, the only culture represented in Utah, as well as the rest of the Great Basin, was the Desert Archaic. That culture is characterized as a hunting-gathering one, a flexible, highly adaptive life way that has characterized most of man’s worldwide history.

A new archaeological study area along Range Creek in the Book Cliff Mountains of Utah will contribute a great deal of information on the Fremont Indian Culture. Protected for over fifty years by Waldo Wilcox, a Utah rancher, the Uinta Fremont villages along Range Creek have been virtually untouched. The Wilcox ranch was recently acquired by the State of Utah. The Range Creek sites will be studied and protected by Utah’s Wildlife Resources’ Division of History and the Utah Museum of Natural History.

Fremont Indians of Utah
Fremont Indian Groups

Although the vast majority of the Fremont Indian sites have been found in Utah, there have been sites, or Fremont Indian artifacts, found in western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming, eastern Nevada, and southern Idaho. Based on thin gray-coil pottery, the Fremont Indian sites in Utah are divided into five different groups. Classifications are based on a few common traits, but this does not mean they were the same people.

Fremont Indian origins are contemporaneous with early Mogollon villages of New Mexico and Arizona. The Fremont and Mogollon Indian cultures share many characteristics of architecture and ceramic design. Fremont Indian corn appears to have been developed by the Fremont Indians from an early species found in the Mogollon highlands. This is not the same species of corn found in the Four Corners region (Stone). The corn used by the Fremont Indians, known as Fremont Dent, is resistant to drought, environmental extremes, and has a short growing season.

The Mogollon corn originated in Mesoamerica about 5600 B.C. A wild plant known as Teosinte is the probable ancestor of corn, but this is a subject of debate between botanists (Diamond). The ears of Teosinte were only a few inches long and had no covering husks.

Hybridization of Teosinte into Corn
Teosinte Precursor of Corn

New DNA corn research has shown little shared DNA between corn and teosinte. Thousands of years ago, corn under went a mutation that softened the outer membrane of the corn kernel allowing the kernel to expand. The Paleo-Indian’s contribution to the growth of the corn kernel was by selecting the biggest kernels to plant.

By 750 A.D., agriculture was beginning to be a major source of food for some groups of Fremont Indians. In some cases, the Fremont Indian agriculture used flood irrigation to grow corn, squash, and beans along the river bottoms. Some of the ditches were several miles long, and are still visible in some places today (Barnes).

Corn, beans, and squash added to the Fremont diet of native plants such as pickleweed, amaranth, pinyon nuts, globe mallow, rice grass, beeweed, berries, bulbs, and tubers along with meat from hunting. The floral and faunal material found at various Fremont Indian sites indicate a mixed horticultural and hunting-and-gathering subsistence (Stone).

Nine Mile Canyon between Price and Myton, Utah is one of the richest areas of Fremont Indian artwork. The picture below is at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon as it joins Nine Mile Canyon. The pictures of the Fremont granary, the pithouse outline, and rock shelters are located in this area.

Nine Mile Canyon Petroglyphs
Cottonwood Canyon opening into Nine Mile Canyon
Fremont Granary

This Fremont granary is across from the Fremont pithouse outline shown below. The granary is at the end of the dark ledge just above the arrow. Fremont pithouses were low semi-subterranean structures covered with brush with a fire ring in the center. Sometimes, the pithouse was covered with a mud coating. The pithouses varied in shape from circular to rectilinear and were generally about two feet deep.

Outline of Fremont Pithouse – Nine Mile Canyon

The Parowan Fremont built their pithouses close together, usually ten to twenty pithouses on a valley floor near streams (Stone). On the other hand, the San Rafael Fremont’s pithouses were usually slab-lined. They also built above ground masonry structures, often multi-roomed, that were constructed with and without mortar. In both cases, four central roof supports were used. The structures were plastered on the interior walls, and slab-lined fire pits were common. The San Rafael Fremont village sites were on hills and ridges overlooking permanent water sources and their farmland.

Rock overhangs were used by the Fremont Indians for storage and for shelter.

Red Stripped Shelter

The Fremont Culture was not a rigid society like the Anasazi. The Fremont Indians seemed to take delight in being different. Jackal houses, small unit houses, and pithouses are often found in the same village (Barnes). Despite some villages being close together, the Fremont Indians were an aggressive people and uneasy truces existed between the villages.

Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, and the bow and arrow. The scene below at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon is of a deer hunt…some claim these are bighorn sheep, but if the head is dropped to a normal position, they look more like deer. Notice the large number of fawns in the petroglyph.

Hunter Panel – Mouth Cottonwood Canyon

Animal hides were used for breechclouts, moccasins, robes, leather mittens, and other warm garments. Fremont women sewed and mended the leather, which the Anasazi never mastered.

As hunter-gatherers and settled-village lifestyle, the Fremont Indian culture lasted for about nine-hundred years. Note what appears to be a turkey on the right.

Fremont Family Petroglyph
Fremont Family – Nine Mile Canyon

By 1350 A.D., the Fremont culture was gone from the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau. The abandonment started as early as 950 A.D. in the northeastern edge of Utah with the Uinta Fremont. After the Fremont Indians left, the canyonlands were unoccupied for hundreds of years. The historical Native Americans of the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau are relatively recent arrivals (Stone). However, Lekson notes in his book, A History of the Ancient Southwest, that Uto-aztecan speaking Indians arrived with corn in the Southwest from Mexico around 1600 B.C.. The Hopi are the only Pueblo Indians that speak the Uto-aztecan language in the southwest.

There is still a question of what happened to the Fremont Indians. Some archaeologists believe the Fremont Indians were starved out, or forced out to the north and east. Gunnerson postulates the Uinta Fremont become the Ute Indians. In the cliff dwelling, the Anasazi were safe, but from there they could not protect the crops on the plateaus or the valley floors. The pacifist farmer’s fields of corn, squash, and beans were easy targets for Fremont raiding parties. The evidence is not conclusive, but Barnes states that the nomadic Fremont Indians were partially responsible for the Anasazi abandoning the four corners area. Barnes further postulates the Fremont Indians merged with a band of Shoshone and become the historic Ute Indians. Ute Indians raided the Paiute and Goshute tribes for slaves into the mid-eighteen hundreds. This seems reasonable, what is not reasonable is an aggressive, nomadic culture is going into the Rocky Mountains or Great Basin deserts when there is a readily obtainable food source to the South.

The Fremont Indian article was written by Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming.

Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Thefurtrapper.com. Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

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There have been many requests for copies of pictures from the website. The best website pictures, and others from Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, and Star Valley, Wyoming, have been put on a CD. The pictures make beautiful screensavers, or can be used as a slide show in Windows XP. When ordering Mountains of Stone, request the CD and I will send it free with the book. The Winds of Change CD contains different pictures than those on the Mountains of Stone CD. To view a representative sample of the pictures on the CD’s, click on…

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Paleo-Indians             Mesoamerican Indians                Barrier Canyon  

Betatakin          Hovenweep                Monument Valley             Anasazi

Mesa Verde               Cedar Mesa             Rock Art  Petroglyphs


Barnes, F. A and Pendleton, Michaelene. Canyon country prehistoric rock art: An illustrated guide to viewing, understanding and appreciating the rock art of the prehistoric Indian cultures of Utah, the Great Basin and the general Four Corners region. Wasatch Publishers, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1989.

Childs, Craig. House of Rain. Back Bay Books, New York, NY. 2006

Cordell, Linda S. Ancient Pueblo Peoples.  Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C. 1994.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton, New York, N.Y. 1996.

Dillehay, Thomas D. The Settlement of the Americas. Basic Books, New York, NY. 2000.

Ferguson, William M. and Rohm, Arthur H. Anasazi Ruins of the Southwest in Color.  University of New Mexico Press. 1990.

Frazier, Kendrick. People of Chaco: A Canyon and its Culture. W. W. Norton, New York, NY. 1999.

Koppel, Tom. Did They Come By Sea? American Archeology Magazine, Spring. 2002.

Lekson, Stephen. A History of the Ancient Southwest. School for Advanced Research Press. Santa Fe, New Mexico. 2011.

Madsen, David B.. Exploring the Fremont. Utah Museum of Natural History. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1989.

Noble. David Grant. Archeology Guide to Ancient Ruins of the Southwest. Northland Publishing, Flagstaff, AZ, 2000.

Roberts, David, In Search of the Old Ones Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY. 1996

Schaafsma, Polly. The Rock Art of Utah. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. 2004.

Stone, Tammy. The Prehistory of Colorado and Adjacent Areas. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1999.

Taylor, Allan. American Colonies: The settling of North America. Penguin Books. New York, NY. 2002. 

Turner, Christy G. II , and Turner, Jacqueline A. Man Corn Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric Southwest. University of Utah Press, 1999.

Walker, Paul Robert. The Southwest Gold Gods & Grandeur. National Geographic Society. 2001.

Warner, Ted J., Ed. The Dominguez Escalante Journal – Their Expedition through Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico in 1776.  University of Utah Press.

Weber, David J. The Taos Trappers-The Fur Trade in the Southwest 1540-1846.  University of Oklahoma Press. 1982.

Wenger, Gilbert. The Story of Mesa Verde National Park.  1980.

Internet Sources:

Anasazi Cultural Center, Dolores, Colorado


Anna Sofaer


Hopi Indians


Harrison Lapahie


James Q. Jacobs


Jay W. Sharp


Southwest Indian Relief Council