• Red cliffs descend into the water of Bighorn Canyon

    Bighorn Canyon

    National Recreation Area MT,WY

Fort Smith Medicine Wheel

For almost two centuries, the Fort Smith Medicine Wheel has been a serene, spiritual location for Native Americans, particularly the Crow people, to come mediate and practice their cultural traditions. Many people have visited this sacred site, which sits high atop a commanding bluff overlooking the Bighorn River.

According to Crow Indian legend, there was once a very handsome man who fell into his mother’s firepot, burning his face. His mother cared for him with great love and eventually he recovered, but his face was terribly scarred. He, who was beautiful, was now called ‘Scarface or ‘Burntface by others in his tribe. Due to this taunting, he fled the village and hid high in Medicine Mountain.

Many Years later, a young woman and her grandmother were in the Bighorns, on Medicine Mountain, berry picking. The two became lost. After several days of wandering, the grandmother was very weak, and the young woman became concerned about her. One evening, a figure appeared outside the shadows of their campfire and mysteriously left them food and water. This happened several nights in a row. Eventually the young woman and Scarface fell in love and were married. Upon returning to his people, Scarface built the Fort Smith medicine Wheel, which overlooks the Bighorn River.

The Fort Smith Medicine Wheel, built around 1850, is much smaller that the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains of north Central Wyoming. This medicine wheel has a small central cairn of stones about five feet in diameter with six spokes, in pairs, radiating from it. These spokes range in length from 44 to 51 feet. However, the spokes running south and west are on a very deep slope, therefore grazing livestock could have easily dislodged some of the stones. The shortest spoke, only 44 feet, has a road across the end of it and since the other spokes are nearly 50 feet long, some of these stones may have been dislodged from traffic.

It is hard to say what prompted Scarface to build the Fort Smith Medicine Wheel, or why he constructed it the way he did. One theory is that the land may have sloped after he built it, due to erosion and development. Perhaps, he built it as a monument to imitate the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, which he lived near for so long. These unanswered questions are part of the mystery and intrigue of the Fort Smith Medicine Wheel.

Throughout the years the Crow people have performed their mediations at the wheel and this practice continued up until recent times. Unfortunately, this tradition, along with many of the old way of doing things, has now come to a close due to the development in the Bighorn River Valley.

Did You Know?

View of the monocline looking north from Dryhead

Over the past 65 million years, with a dramatic increase the last 5 million years, 5800 to 7500 feet of rock layers have eroded off the top of Bighorn Canyon. More...