THE ARCHEOLOGY OF THE CANYON COUNTRY
By ROBERT C. EULER
A century ago, Powell was concerned primarily with the investigation of then largely unknown territory and the description of its geological features. His interest in the aboriginal inhabitants was relegated to a somewhat secondary role. Powell often speculated about the prehistoric ancestors of these native tribes, but he rarely deviated from his major goals in order to make detailed or extensive examinations of prehistoric settlements that so abundantly dotted the landscape.
In his 36-page report on explorations in 1873 in the vicinity of Grand Canyon, for example, Powell (1874, p. 33) devoted 712 pages to ethnology and but one paragraph to "Antiquities." The rest of that report is of a geological nature. The archeological paragraph mentions prehistoric people who built stone or adobe houses, cultivated the soil, and had some ceramic art. Powell's succinct summary notes only that "The ruins of many of these houses have been discovered in the valley of the Colorado [River], and in them broken pottery, stone implements, and baskets have been found."
It is not too surprising, then, that during their two voyages through the Grand Canyon in 1869 and 1872, Powell and his men paid only scant attention to the nature of the prehistoric ruins they found. Often, in fact, many of the diarists of the party failed to mention them at all. On both trips only eight ruins were recorded in Grand Canyon and a few others were recorded upriver. This is not meant to be a hypercritical comment; Powell's task was one of primary exploration. In view of this and the hardships he faced, his lack of concern with pre-history is understandable.
Later explorers, such as Robert Brewster Stanton, who in 1889-90 surveyed a water-level railroad route through Grand Canyon, noted a few additional archeological sites. It was not until later, in the 20th century, that professional archeologists began systematic surveys. Investigations by Judd (1926), Haury (1932), Hall (1942), and Wilder (1944) added considerable data, especially about prehistoric sites on the rims of the canyon.
No trained archeologist retraced Powell's river route, however, until 1953 when Walter Taylor (1958) conducted a survey in the inner gorges of Marble and Grand Canyons. This was followed by more intensive reconnaissance by Schwartz (1960, 1963, 1965) and the present author (Euler, 1966a, 1967; Euler and Taylor, 1966; McNutt and Euler, 1966).
More than 250 sites below the rims of the canyon, 37 of them directly along Powell's river routes below Lees Ferry, have now been recorded.6 From these surveys, a rather clear picture of the nature of the prehistoric human utilization of Grand Canyon has been drawn (Euler, 1967)
Some time between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, hunting and gathering peoples, perhaps associated with the Pinto Basin-Desert Culture Complex, made and deposited split-twig animal effigies in isolated caves in the Mississippian limestone formation deep within the canyon. These, presumably, were acts of imitative magic to give ritual assurance of success in the hunt. The Pinto Basin affinities of these people remain hypothetical and are based on the discovery of diagnostic Pinto projectile points, probably made about the same time, on Red Butte near the South Rim of Grand Canyon (Euler and Olsen, 1965; McNutt and Euler, 1966).
From that archaic period until about A.D. 700, the canyon was apparently uninhabited by human groups. Then, small clusters of Anasazi (Pueblo) Indian farmers, probably ancestral to the Hopi, began to settle on the rims and in tributary canyons below. The Anasazi incursions, from the east, continued to be sporadic until about A.D. 1100. About this time, for reasons not yet clear, there was a greater influx of Puebloan peoples, culminating about A.D. 1150. Most of the archeological sites within Grand Canyon, and all but one recorded by the Powell parties, are of this period. They represent Anasazi affiliated with the Kayenta branch east of the great gorge. The Kayenta people, in turn, were closely related to the Virgin, Mesa Verde, and Chaco branches of the Anasazi (fig. 7).
Most of Grand Canyon was abandoned by the Pueblos toward the end of this period, again for reasons that remain obscure. Only occasionally, and after A.D. 1300, did Anasazi venture into the canyon, primarily the eastern section, in search of salt from the now well-known deposits below the mouth of the Little Colorado River.
Soon after A.D. 1150, ancestors of the Southern Paiute apparently moved into the canyon in small numbers from the north and occupied a few rock shelters and an occasional abandoned Pueblo ruin in the North Rim tributaries. During the same period, some ancestors of the Pai (Walapai and Havasupai Indians) moved into the canyon from the South Rim. They also favored rock shelters and carried on a similar farming-hunting-gathering subsistence. The Paiute and the Pai occupations, albeit by small numbers of families, continued until the 1880's when their range was restricted by governmental fiat, and they were removed to nearby reservations.
The Indian occupation was followed, in turn, by that of a few hardy prospectors searching for copper, lead, and asbestos. Their mine shafts and cabins, built in the two decades immediately preceding and following the opening of the 20th century, are occasionally found in Grand Canyon and, in at least one instance, explain the reconstruction of a prehistoric Anasazi "cliff dwelling." Those historic habitations, however, were in use after Major Powell's initial exploration a century ago.
During the first river trip, the party stopped briefly at the confluence of the Green and San Rafael Rivers. Powell (1895, p. 199) reported that: "Here we stop for an hour or two and take a short walk up the valley, and find it is a frequent resort for Indians. Arrowheads are scattered about, many of them very beautiful; flint chips are strewn over the ground in great profusion, and the trails are well worn."
So far as is known, this site has not been revisited.
Further downriver at the head of Glen Canyon, the party found two ruins (Powell, 1895, p. 227-228): "July 29We enter a canyon today, with low, red walls. A short distance below its head we discover the ruins of an old building on the left wall. There is a narrow plain between the river and the wall just here, and on the brink of a rock 200 feet high stands this old house. Its walls are of stone, laid in mortar with much regularity. It was probably built three stories high; the lower story is yet almost intact; the second is much broken down, and scarcely anything is left of the third. Great quantities of flint chips are found on the rocks near by, and many arrowheads, some perfect, others broken; and fragments of pottery are strewn about in great profusion. On the face of the cliff, under the building and along down the river for 200 or 300 yards, there are many etchings. * * * We run down fifteen miles farther, and discover another group. The principal building was situated on the summit of the hill. A part of the walls are standing, to the height of eight or ten feet, and the mortar yet remains in some places. The house was in the shape of an L, with five rooms on the ground floorone in the angle and two in each extension. In the space in the angle there is a deep excavation. From what we know of the people in the Province of Tusayan [the Hopi country of northern Arizona], who are, doubtless, of the same race as the former inhabitants of these ruins, we conclude that this was a kiva, or underground chamber in which their religious ceremonies were performed."
The first ruin (fig. 8) stands on a ledge overlooking the modern settlement of White Canyon, Utah, across the Colorado River from the Hite ferry and was occupied by the Anasazi about A.D. 1100 (Weller, 1959, p. 603).
The second ruin, at the mouth of Red Canyon, was excavated in 1958-59 by the University of Utah (Lipe, 1960) and named "Loper Ruin" after Bert Loper who built a cabin near the ruin in 1910 and lived there for many years. The site was of Mesa Verde Anasazi affinities of the early Pueblo III stage. Powell's suspicions of a kiva were confirmed, although the excavations revealed that it had never been completed (Lipe, 1960, p. 132). Both ruins are now submerged beneath the waters of Lake Powell.
A few miles below the second ruin, Powell and his men camped for the night. Powell (1895, p. 229) wrote:
Powell and his companions passed on through Glen Canyon without making further note of other archeological sites.
After Powell and his men left Lees Ferry on August 5, 1869, they reported no ruins (although some have since been found on the route) through out the entire 61-1/2 miles of Marble Canyon. It was not until they reached the mouth of the Little Colorado River, the arbitrary beginning of Grand Canyon (fig. 9), that the first mention was made of an archeological site. Powell noted in his journal that they reached the Flax River, as he called the Little Colorado, on August 11 (Darrah, 1947, p. 129). In his usual terse style he remarked: "Old Indian camp seen, trails footpaths." In his lengthier and somewhat controversial account (Powell, 1875a, p. 77-78), he elaborated:
George Bradley, one of Powell's chief boatmen on the trip, corroborated this observation, but in so doing, confused the identification of the prehistoric people. He noted in his journal entry of August 10, 1869 (Darrah, 1947, p. 61): "There are signs of Indians here but quite old. Cannot tell whether they are Moquis [Hopis] or Apaches. I think more likely the latter for the Moquis keep close to their villages." Bradley, of course, was unaware that this campsite and trail were well known to the Hopi who frequented it on their journeys to the salt deposits only about a mile down the Colorado River.
When Major Powell again camped at this spot on his second voyage in 1872, he made no mention of the ruin. Two of his companions, Stephen Jones and Walter C. Powell, the Major's young cousin, however, wrote briefly about it. Jones, on August 23 of that year (H. E. Gregory, in Darrah and others, 1948-49, p. 147), remarked: "Up the Flax [Little Colorado] are old trails. Probably the Co-o-me-nes [Cosninas, an early name for Havasupai] and perhaps the Navajos had been here." Walter Powell (Charles Kelly, in Darrah and others, 1948-49, p. 441), on the same date, simply noted "an old fire-place on Indian trail found near camp."
Walter Taylor (1958, p. 23) tried unsuccessfully to locate this ruin in 1953. In my first reconnaissance in 1960 (Euler and Taylor, 1966, p. 29), I noted a small, one-room stone cabin a short distance above the mouth of the Little Colorado, but the construction and the artifacts within it were of recent historic vintage. According to Daniel E. Davis:7
Numerous prehistoric potsherds were found in the face of the eroding alluvial terrace in front of Beamer's cabin during my 1960 and subsequent investigations in 1962, 1965, and 1968. It is hypothesized that Beamer, in 1889, built his cabin from the ruins of the prehistoric site that Powell's men had recorded two decades earlier.
An analysis of the ceramic materials indicates that the site [Ariz. C:13:4 (PC)] was utilized by at least three or four different ethnic groups over a long period of time before Beamer arrived on the scene. The earliest use was during the 12th century A.D. by Kayenta Anasazi peoples in an early Pueblo III stage of their culture. The site was then used by the Hopi, perhaps as early as A.D. 1300, and they continued to use the site conceivably into late historic times. At some time after A.D. 1150, the site also was visited by Southern Paiute and Pai Indians; their diagnostic pottery, probably indigenous and not representing intrusive trade ware, also has been recovered from the surface of the ruin. It is not possible to infer whether the site was in use on a more or less permanent basis or was only seasonally occupied during journeys to the salt deposits nearby. There is, to be certain, no evidence of Bradley's Apaches, who never ranged that far north, nor of Walter Powell's Navajos, who, before 1872, probably were not often seen that far west of their own territory.
Between the mouth of the Little Colorado River and Unkar Creek, some 11 miles down the Colorado (fig. 9), is the greatest concentration of Pueblo ruins to be seen anywhere along the river through Grand Canyon. Only one such site was seen by the Powell parties, although, in 1872, Frederick Dellenbaugh, artist and boatman on the second expedition, recorded what may have been a Paiute hut. On August 27, while pursuing some mountain sheep in the vicinity of the Unkar delta, he noted (Dellenbaugh, 1908, p. 224) that: "Near this point there was a small abandoned hut of mesquite logs." No one has ever been able to relocate this site. My hypothesis that it may have been Southern Paiute is based upon that the following points:
Later that same day, after making camp on the opposite side of the river, Walter Powell and Almon Thompson (known to the men as "Prof.") "climbed a peak about 500 feet high * * * ." and "Found an old stone house evidently built by the Sto-ce nee nas [Cosninas]" (Charles Kelly, in Darrah and others, 1948-49, p. 442). This is the only description given by any of Powell's party on either expedition of a large, well-preserved one-room masonry structure located on a high bluff opposite the mouth of Unkar Creek (fig. 10, top photo).9 As reported earlier (Euler and Taylor, 1966, p. 41), this coursed masonry room is 3.6 meters wide, 8.5 meters long, and has walls that still stand to a height of almost 2 meters. Two or three small rectangular openings near the top of the walls resemble loopholes. The site appears today (fig. 10, bottom photo) in much the same condition as it did when Stanton photographed it in 1890. It commands an extensive view in all directions and lies on what probably was a cross-canyon trail from the Pueblo villages in the Unkar vicinity up to the South Rim of the canyon. An analysis of its surface ceramics would indicate that it was not a Cosninas, or Havasupai, site, but was utilized by the Kayenta Anasazi in an early Pueblo III stage about A.D. 1100-1150 and may have been a "lookout" if not a defensive unit. There is no evidence for overt hostility in Grand Canyon.
On Major Powell's first trip in 1869, the party entered the Precambrian "granite" for the first time on the evening of August 13. This was about 15 miles below the mouth of the Little Colorado at what is now known as Hance Rapid where Red Canyon joins the Colorado (fig. 9). The Major noted cryptically in his journal, "Ind. camp nearby" (Darrah, 1947, p. 129). This campsite is probably the one in the sand dunes on the right bank of Red Canyon, a short distance from its mouth. Although the site [Ariz. C:13:5 (PC)] is today badly eroded, it consists of five small sherd areas, each about 3 meters in diameter. Each also is marked by charcoal-stained sand and burned, fire-cracked rocks. An analysis of the sherds indicates an occupation by Kayenta Anasazi of an early Pueblo III stage (about A.D. 1100-1150), who probably came down to the river on a trail through Red Canyon from the South Rim.
When the 1869 expedition reached the mouth of what Powell at first called Silver Creek (Darrah, 1947, p. 130) and later, Bright Angel Creek (Powell, 1875a, p. 87), he belatedly mentioned that he had "(Found some [Indian] remains at Silver Creek) (and Mill)." In his expanded 1895 publication (p. 259), he gave more details. His entry for August 16, 1869, reveals:
"Late in the afternoon I return, and go up a little gulch, just above this creek, about 200 yards from camp, and discover the ruins of two or three old houses, which were originally of stone laid in mortar. Only the foundations are left, but irregular blocks, of which the houses were constructed, lie scattered about. In one room I find an old mealing stone [the "mill" of his first journal], deeply worn, as if it had been much used. A great deal of pottery is strewn around, and old trails, which in some places are deeply worn into the rocks, are seen." Powell then attempted to interpret these ruins (fig. 11), and he wondered why the inhabitants chose such inaccessible places for their homes. He suggested that they were an agricultural people but had no lands to farm, although he also drew a parallel with the Hopi terraced gardens at the village of Moenkopi, Ariz., east of Grand Canyon. Then, without the time perspective we have today, he suggested that the Indians who had occupied the Bright Angel site fled into the canyon from the Spaniards.
Other members of Powell's party in 1869, and again on the second trip in 1872, noted these ruins. Bradley, writing on August 16, 1869 (Darrah, 1947, p. 65), remarked that "There is another old Moqui ruin where we are camped tonight. Have found the same little fragments of broken crockery as we did before." Three years later, on August 31, 1872, Stephen Jones wrote briefly (H. E. Gregory, in Darrah and others, 1948-49, p. 150) that he "Found Shinumos ruins at mouth of Bright Angel Creek." Shinumo was an alternate term that Major Powell used in reference to Pueblo ruins. Walter Powell, the following day from the same camp, noted in his journal (Charles Kelly, in Darrah and others, 1948-49, p. 445) that they "Found the remains of some Moquis houses near by with some of their mills for grinding corn."
This site [Ariz. B:16:1 (PC)] was rediscovered in 1953 by Taylor (1958, p. 22) alongside the present trail that leads from the north end of the suspension bridge across the river to Phantom Ranch. It is only a few meters above the high-water mark of the river and consists of three coursed masonry rooms. In the cliffs above are some small masonry granaries, and atop a towering, almost vertical pinnacle on the right bank of Bright Angel Creek a few hundred meters south is a small, single masonry room. The ceramic evidence from the structures near the river again indicates an early Pueblo III Kayenta Anasazi occupation, abandoned about A.D. 1150, long before the first Spaniard viewed the Grand Canyon in 1540. The only possibility of level land for agricultural pursuits nearby consists of the rock-studded sand dunes of the Bright Angel delta. A few miles up this creek, however, where the canyon widens from the narrow walled defile in Precambrian rock, are several sites of the same cultural affiliation, with ample room to accommodate the small agricultural plots that the Pueblos would have cultivated. These locations, like so many others in Grand Canyon chosen by the Anasazi for their homesites, probably did not seem inaccessible to them. On the contrary, they provided access to game such as mountain sheep, edible plants such as mesquite beans, and a long, relatively frost-free growing season for their crops of beans, squash, and corn, none of which was available to them on the rims of the canyon 4,500 to 5,700 feet above.
In the hot, rainy August of 1869, Powell and his men, after making new oars at their camp on Bright Angel Creek, continued their trip and made 10-1/4 miles on August 17. That evening, at their camp (No. 33), at a side canyon just above a rapid, the Major wrote: "Walk up creek 3 miles. Grand scenery. Old Indian Camps" (Darrah, 1947, p. 130). The only place this could refer to is the mouth of Crystal Creek, exactly 10-1/4 miles below Bright Creek Angel (fig. 9). Although there are some ruins in the Crystal Creek drainage, all are more than 3 miles from its mouth. However, perched on a gravel terrace remnant of the Crystal Creek delta (fig. 12) are four single-roomed masonry dwellings [Ariz. B:16:3 (PC)], and I believe this is the site to which Powell referred. The rooms are roughly circular, ranging from 2.30 to 4.10 meters in diameter, and are constructed of slabs of Vishnu Schist, the only building rock available in this inner gorge of the canyon. The structures are set back close to the cliff and away from the precipitous terrace face that drops sheerly to the river below. Only nine potsherds were found when W. W. Taylor and I, after receiving word of the location of the site from Otis Marston, recorded it in 1965. Five of these were of Kayenta Anasazi affinities, whereas the rest were associated with the very similar Virgin branch of the same culture. All seemed to place the occupation in the early Pueblo III stage, again dating in this area between A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1150.
By August 20, 1869, 4 days later and just slightly more than 20 miles downriver from Bright Angel Creek, Major Powell reported another prehistoric ruin (fig. 13). The party had run through some vicious rapids, made several portages, and was enduring torrential rains. They camped in a little alcove on the right bank of the river, and Powell (1875a, p. 90) set down what for him was a lengthy description:
Powell's original 1869 field diary (Darrah, 1947, p. 130) was considerably briefer. "Found remains of old Moquis village on bank, stone houses and pottery * * *" reads his only entry. John Sumner, one of the Major's most trusted companions on that first trip, was the only other member of the party to jot down a note about these ruins in his journal. He recorded the location simply by writing on August 20, "Camped on north side near a lot of Moqui ruins" (Darrah, 1947, p. 120). Powell stopped at the same place on his 1872 trip and, in his recently located field journal for that trip (Fowler and Fowler, 1969a), he noted on September 3, that they "Camped for dinner at the Shinumo Ruins above the deep side gulch."
This "deep side gulch" was Shinumo Canyon (fig. 9) and the "terrace of trap" on which the ruins were discovered is scarcely half a mile upriver and on the north or right bank. Stanton camped here in 1890 (Stanton, 1965, p. 178), and before 1900, William Bass, a prospector and early tourist guide in the canyon, had built a cableway across the river at this point on his trail to his winter camp on the Shinumo. In 1899, the noted author of the day, George Wharton James (1900, p. 197-203), photographed and described these Pueblo ruins.
This site [Ariz. B:15:1 (PC)], on the lower end of the terrace below a high hill separating the terrace from Shinumo Creek, consists of at least six single, separated, coursed masonry rooms (fig. 13). Two or three other rooms are at the upper end of the terrace about a mile upriver. Many potsherds, fragmentary flaked blades and chert chips, a mano, and two metates were found on the surface during my 1962, 1966, and 1967 visits. The masonry rooms are generally rectangular with rounded corners; they average about 3.0 X 3.5 meters in size and the walls are still standing to a maximum height of 1 meter. The sherd analysis indicates an occupation of about A.D. 1100-1150 by Kayenta Anasazi. This site, close by the river, was probably socially and politically allied with many sites occupied at the same time farther up the Shinumo drainage to the north, just as the sites at the mouths of Crystal and Bright Angel Creeks were similarly allied.
The Shinumo terrace site was the last prehistoric ruin mentioned by Major Powell on his first expedition. However, one other was noted in 1872. On September 6 of that year, as the second expedition neared the conclusion of its journey at Kanab Creek, Frederick Dellenbaugh wrote from its camp at the mouth of Tapeats Creek about 10 miles upriver (fig. 9): "A morning was spent at Tapeats Creek for examinations, and we found there some ancient house ruins not far up the side canyon" (Dellenbaugh, 1908, p. 240).
Tapeats Canyon boxes about one quarter of a mile from its mouth. It is narrow and precipitous in that stretch and to get above the cliffs to the upper end of the canyon requires some agile climbing over steep talus. Once above that, however, one can proceed along ledges and terraces for many miles. On the tops of some of those terraces, beginning about three quarters of a mile upstream from the mouth, are several Anasazi masonry ruins. None are found below this point in the narrower section of the canyon itself. Dellenbaugh must have been referring to at least one of those sites farther upstream when he wrote about "some ancient house ruins." The first site one finds in walking up Tapeats Canyon is a very obscure, small, one-room masonry site [Ariz. B:11:39 (PC)], partly hidden by a large boulder which forms one of its walls. This Pueblo structure is on the left side of Tapeats Creek, the side of most difficult access, and is some 50 meters above the water. Dellenbaugh was probably walking up the right bank and found a much larger structure, quite visible on the terrace [Ariz. B:11:38 (PC)]. This pueblo consists of four single and separated rooms flanking a series of approximately five contiguous storerooms (fig. 14). Again, as for the other sites mentioned here, the ceramic analysis of the many sherds collected indicates a Kayenta Anasazi occupation during an early Pueblo III stage, about A.D. 1100-1150.
The Paiute gardens that Powell saw on August 26, 1869 (Darrah, 1947, p. 131), apparently were near the mouth of Whitmore Wash. No trace of them or of a Paiute campsite at this point has been recorded. Although the Major remarked (Powell, 1875a, p. 95-96) that, "Since we left the Colorado Chiquito, we have seen no evidences that the tribes of Indians inhabiting the plateaus on either side ever come down to the river * * *", several Paiute and Pai campsites have since been located along the river through Grand Canyon. These seem to have been small, impermanent camps, and they cannot be dated with any precision except that they must have been in use after A.D. 1150.
Although the Powell expeditions through Grand Canyon did not contribute greatly to the archeology of the Southwest, they did, through the diaries and publications that resulted from them, show that man had inhabited that seemingly inhospitable region centuries earlier. It should have been clear to the emaciated and battered explorers that those prehistoric aborigines were in many ways much better adapted to the environment than the explorers were with their rancid bacon, soggy coffee, and mildewed flour. Indeed, the more intensive recent archeological studies centered in Grand Canyon have demonstrated not only that its depths provided adequate subsistence for a people technogically attuned to their habitat, but that movement on foot through its vast recesses was entirely feasible.
Last Updated: 13-Jan-2009