Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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The first people who discovered the Waterpocket Fold left barely a trace, by today's standards: no paved roads, public architecture, or parking lots. Although their impacts to the landscape are subtle--and made more so by the wear of passing centuries--their sign is abundant and legible to the practiced eye. In fact, the intriguing material remains of the area's prehistoric inhabitants were recognized as worth protecting as early as 1937, when Capitol Reef National Monument was established. More recently, the federal government has also come to recognize that the interests of American Indian people in their own heritage are worth protecting, too. Consequently, the National Park Service now strives to give tribes a greater voice in cultural resource management issues. This voice will surely grow louder in the coming years.

Who Were The First?

The earliest well-documented human activity in North America dates to around 12,000 years B.P. (Before Present). Exactly when those first Americans, called Paleo-Indians by archeologists, initially set eyes on the Waterpocket Fold will probably never be known: they traveled light, made no permanent structures, and moved frequently, leaving little dateable material behind. It was long assumed that the apparent paucity of Paleo-Indian (and more recent Archaic) artifacts within Capitol Reef National Park meant that the first people had avoided this rugged, desert landscape. More recently, however, Paleo-Indian artifacts have been recovered near the park, and Archaic-style dart points (ca. 2,000 to 8,000 B.P.) exist throughout the Waterpocket Fold. Barrier Canyon style rock art, dating to the late Archaic Period, is also known in different areas of the park. Clearly, people were here at least several thousand years ago, and convincing evidence of mammoth-hunting Paleo-Indians at Capitol Reef is eagerly anticipated. [1]

The Fremont And Ancestral Puebloans

The Formative Period (ca. 700 to 1400 B.P.) saw the most intensive use of the land prior to European settlement. Increasing reliance on domesticated plants to supplement hunting and gathering enabled larger, more sedentary kin-groups to live along the perennial drainages of the Waterpocket Fold. Investigator Richard Hauck, who has completed several archeological surveys in the park, observes:

The most prominent of the several archeological contexts defined for Capitol Reef is the Formative stage occupation. This context is significant because the park is the type location of both the Fremont Culture (Morss 1931) and the Fremont style rock art (Schaafsma 1971). The vast majority of [documented] sites in the park that can be securely dated and assigned a cultural affiliation are Fremont or Anasazi [2]--these are the two Formative stage cultural groups that utilized the Capitol Reef region from approximately A.D. 200 to A.D. 1275 with the most intensive occupation A.D. 800 to A.D. 1275. [3]

The Fremont Culture has always been hard to define. Geographical and environmental variation in the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau seem to have engendered slightly different cultural adaptations, but similarities among the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloans are strong. For many years, in fact, they were considered variants of the same culture, sharing projectile point styles, corn-beans-squash subsistence, and other traits. Now, however, archeologists differentiate the Fremont Culture largely by its pit house and above-ground adobe, stone, and jacal structures; distinctive grayware pottery; one-rod-and-bundle basketry; small, clay anthropomorphic figurines; leather moccasins; rock art emphasizing anthropomorphic figures and shields; and its lack of kivas. [4]

While most early archeological investigations were conducted near the drainages of the Fremont River, evidence of the more well-known Ancestral Puebloan culture has more recently been found throughout the southern and southwestern portions of the park. Rocky Mountain Regional Archeologist Adrienne Anderson notes:

The general string of Anasazi ceramic and structure sites that occur on the western side of [the] Waterpocket Fold, in the Circle Cliffs, through Boulder, UT, to the Kaiparowitz [Plateau] indicate that the western side was not only a travel route but was occupied by the Anasazi. [5]

Because of probable aboriginal trails along the eastern side of the Waterpocket Fold, some are now speculating that the area also served as a prolonged contact point between the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont cultures. [6] If continuous trading and cultural interaction between these diverse groups did indeed take place, it could help explain why regional similarities in cultural traits existed. If this idea can be further substantiated, it could easily increase the importance of Capitol Reef as a significant prehistoric crossroads.

Controversy abounds regarding the fate of the Fremont people. Some argue that a combination of drought and the influx of Numic-speaking populations at around 700 B.P. may have forced an abrupt change in lifestyle and abandonment of their distinctive cultural traits, if not of the entire region. They may have become or intermarried with Numic speakers such as the Ute and Southern Paiute, or moved southward to become or merge with Puebloan groups in Arizona and New Mexico. Whatever the cause, the diagnostic traits of Fremont culture disappear from the archeological record by around A.D. 1275. [7]

Protohistoric Period

The Waterpocket Fold was not as much the barrier to American Indians that it was to Euro-Americans. According to National Park Service Ethnographer Rosemary Sucec, Southern Paiutes and Utes living here before the arrival of Euro-Americans adapted to the semi-arid environment of the Waterpocket Fold through a settlement pattern called "transhumance." To best utilize the wide range of plant and animal resources available seasonally at different elevations, these people moved camp regularly. Seeds were gathered from grasses within Capitol Reef, and animals such as antelope, mountain sheep, and rabbit were hunted there. [8]

The traditional eastern range of the Kaiparowitz band of the Southern Paiute is believed to have encompassed what is now Capitol Reef National Park. However, several other Southern Paiute bands, including the Koosharem, Kaibab, and San Juan Southern Paiutes, also may have used the area. In addition, the Weeminuche and Moanunt bands of the Southern Ute evidently harvested resources here.

The most unusual protohistoric artifacts in the park's collection are the elaborately decorated buffalo-hide shields found by Ephraim Pectol in the early 1920s, beneath a shallow overhang on public lands east of Torrey. The large pedestrian shields (so called because they are too large to have been used by mounted warriors, and hence are assumed to have been used by men on foot), have been radiocarbon dated to around A.D. 1700. [9]

Unique in their design and construction, the shields have been compared to rock art motifs of the protohistoric American Indians of the Colorado Plateau. Unfortunately, the cultural affiliation of these shields is currently undetermined. [10]

Other possible evidence of historic American Indian occupation of the area include a historic train petroglyph, a panel depicting horseback riders, and ceramics of the Southern Paiute style. [11]

Ute and Southern Paiute use of Capitol Reef has only recently received the attention it deserves. Simply relying on the sketchy journals of late-19th century explorers who encountered American Indians outside of the present park is not enough. Since little, if any, mention is made in published ethnographic accounts regarding aboriginal occupation of the Waterpocket Fold, oral histories provided by contemporary American Indian elders will have to fill in the gap. [12] An ethnographic overview and assessment is currently underway and, it is hoped, will shed light both on late prehistoric Indian occupation and original distributions of native plants and animals.

Initial Archeological Discoveries

Unfortunately, the ethics of archeology were quite different from now when the first Euro-American settlers arrived in Utah; some professional archeologists, in fact, paid Utahns to dig up sites and burials. In the early days of Fruita, at least one man gathered up pots, baskets, knives, moccasins, and a few mummies, trading this "wagon of stuff" from the area for a horse and saddle. [13]

In the early days of the discipline, archeologists themselves could be just as destructive, digging and collecting without recording provenience or making adequate notes. According to the first custodian and historian of Capitol Reef, Charles Kelly, Don Maguire of Ogden and a Dr. Talmage of Salt Lake City (presumably archeologists) scoured southern Utah for artifacts in 1892-93, for display at the Chicago World's Fair:

As near as can be learned, [Maguire] excavated a dwelling site on the south side of Fremont river, on a bench just east of the Tine Oyler ranch. His digging destroyed nearly all evidences of original construction. [14]

Such destruction also visited a small site on a bench overlooking Utah Highway 24: there are the shattered remains of several masonry granaries, along with the inscribed names of three men, supposedly French archeologists, and the date 1893. Only a few corn cob remnants and potsherds remain in the backdirt. [15]

The most well-known collectors of Capitol Reef area artifacts were Torrey residents Charles Lee and Ephraim Pectol. Between them, they amassed an impressive collection of several hundred objects, including complete pottery and baskets, a figurine in a cradleboard, and numerous stone, bone, and leather objects. [16] Although Pectol regularly published articles explaining how (in his opinion) the artifacts corroborated the Book of Mormon account of aboriginal settlement of the New World, he left few, if any, notes regarding site provenience. Lee, likewise, kept no notes, the sole purpose of his collection evidently being to generate income. Because of this lack of careful documentation during these early years, the scientific value of these intriguing artifacts is limited. [17]

Archeological Researchers

The first careful, systematic, and analytical work at Capitol Reef was accomplished during field visits by archeologist Noel Morss in 1928-29. As part of Harvard's Peabody Museum expedition to the Southwest, financed by Mr. and Mrs. William Claflin and Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Emerson, Morss examined and excavated sites along the Fremont River and its tributaries, in the company of local guides. His observations led to a new and clearer understanding of Southwestern prehistory.

Here, along the "northern periphery" of Anasazi country, were sites and artifacts that long had been considered variants of that well-known culture. Morss, however, noted consistent, distinguishing stylistic differences from those typically made by Ancestral Puebloans, particularly in the rock art styles, dwellings, footgear, basketry, and pottery he found along the Fremont River. In his opinion, the differences warranted a new cultural classification: the Fremont Culture, named after the river drainage along which the sites lay.

Although Morss' work is excellent, particularly by the professional standards of his time, his notes and maps are not detailed enough to correlate positively with sites more recently recorded. In fact, it appears that just one of the sites he investigated actually lies within the park; the others are in the drainages west of the 1971 park boundary. [18]

As a direct result of Morss' work, the Peabody Museum petitioned the Department of the Interior to include within the proposed monument those Fremont sites along the Fremont River canyon and in Fish Creek Cove, near Teasdale. Although these boundary changes were later dropped, the scientific knowledge and publicity gained from Noel Morss' research helped the area meet the "scientific interest" criterion necessary to establish a national monument. [19]

More recent archeological research undertaken at Capitol Reef is referenced in the bibliography at the end of this chapter.

Management Concerns

As mentioned earlier, the archeological significance of the area is a key reason why Capitol Reef was first set aside as a national monument. National monuments are established by presidential proclamation under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, and they must meet strict criteria to qualify for such status (The act also prohibits the removal of artifacts from federal lands: it was passed by Congress to stop the free-for-all plundering of prehistoric sites in the Southwest.) So, although the area's unique and spectacular geology was the primary qualifier for monument status, the abundance of Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan sites at Capitol Reef was also a significant factor. [20]

While there have been numerous archeological surveys of the headquarters area, along road and utilities corridors, and along perennial streams, a comprehensive, park-wide survey is needed to understand settlement patterns across the fold. This would help resource managers to predict where certain kinds of sites are most likely to occur. Such a comprehensive survey, by Brigham Young University, began in 1996 and will continue for several more summers.

The archeologists, presumably, will encounter previously undocumented rock art panels in the course of their survey. Hundreds of panels, perhaps thousands of individual figures, are pecked into canyon walls and boulders throughout Capitol Reef. Often a sheep or shield pecked into the darkened patina of a weathered boulder is now the only archeological evidence of human presence hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago. Many of the more accessible panels have been "updated" by the names of explorers, early settlers, cowboys, miners, tourists, and local residents. The oldest names are now, themselves, of historical significance; the rest are considered vandalism. But the real threat today is from the innocent damage of hundreds of visitors who create their own trails (often through delicate sites), to approach, touch, or even take rubbings of these fragile figures. While the public has a legitimate interest in these panels, and while most visitors do not intentionally damage them, the rock art must be preserved for future generations. The problem facing management is how to accommodate intensive visitation while improving the integrity of the panels and nearby sites. Site monitoring and public education are currently seen as two of the most productive ways to address the problem.

Capitol Reef greatly enhanced its management of cultural resources when the park's first archeologist was hired in 1993. Much of the archeologist's time is spent working with rangers to monitor, patrol, and protect archeological sites, improving site protection through public education, minimizing effects of development and visitation through planning and cultural preservation efforts, and consulting with American Indian tribes.

Tribal consultation has become a major management effort. Today, the Hopi, 18 other Puebloan groups, and some Paiute people claim direct descent from the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people. Even the Navajo Tribe, considered by archeologists to have arrived in the region within the past 500 years, has claimed affiliation. As tribes traditionally associated with the Capitol Reef area (either through ancestral or more recent, historic use), these groups are legally entitled to be consulted on a variety of management issues. These may include issues that touch on planning, interpretation, museum holdings and exhibits, development projects, archeological research, Traditional Cultural Properties, and natural resources of customary interest to them. Clearly, tribal involvement in park management will continue to increase in coming years.

As more archeological and ethnographic surveys of Capitol Reef National Park are completed, we will better understand the first human beings to penetrate and utilize the Waterpocket Fold. While the fold's harsh, twisted geography has been a barrier to some, it is clear that the Capitol Reef area served as a crossroads for American Indians for many millennia.


Anderson, Adrienne. "Archeological Resources of Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Arches National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument, Southeastern Utah." On file, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1978.

Callaway, Donald, Joel Janetski, and Omer C. Stewart. "Ute." In Great Basin, pp. 336-367. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 11. Ed. Warren L. De'Azevedo. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1986.

Gunnerson, James H. An Archeological Survey of the Fremont Area. University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 28. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1957.

______. The Fremont Culture: A Study in Culture Dynamics on the Northern Anasazi Frontier. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 59, No. 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum, 1969.

Hartley, Ralph J. "Archeological Survey, Capitol Reef National Park, 1979." On file, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1980.

Hauck, Richard F. "Archeological Evaluations in Capitol Reef National Park." Draft prepared by Archeological-Environmental Research Corporation, Bountiful, Utah. On file, National Park Service, Intermountain Regional Office, Denver, 1991.

Houk, Rose. Dwellers of the Rainbow. Torrey, Utah: Capitol Reef Natural History Association, 1988.

Hughes, Richard E., and James A. Bennyhoff. "Early Trade." In Great Basin, pp. 238 - 225. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 11. Ed. Warren L. De'Azevedo. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1986.

Kelly, Charles. "Archaeological Research in Capitol Reef National Monument." Charles Kelly Unpublished Writings. On file, Unprocessed Archives, Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah, 20 February 1945.

Kelly, Isabel. "Southern Paiute Bands." American Anthropologist 36, No. 4:548-560, 1934.

______. Southern Paiute Ethnography. University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 69. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1964.

Kelly, Isabel T., and Catherine S. Fowler. "Southern Paiute." In Great Basin, pp. 517-524. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 11. Ed. Warren L. De'Azevedo. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1986.

Lister, Robert H. The Glen Canyon Archeological Survey. University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 39, Part 1. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1959.

Loendorf, Lawrence, and Stuart Conner. "The Pectol Shields and Their Relationship to Shields in Rock Art." Unpublished manuscript, Research Study Proposal No. 141. On file, Division of Resource Management, Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah, 1992.

McCoy, Ronald. "Circles of Power." Plateau Magazine Vol. 55, 1991.

Midwest Archeological Center. "Cultural Sites Inventory: Capitol Reef National Park Archeological Overview and Assessment." On file, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Lincoln, Nebraska, January 1993.

Morss, Noel. The Ancient Culture of the Fremont River in Utah: Report on the Exploration Under the Claflin-merson Fund, 1928 - 29. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol. 12, No. 3. Cambridge: The Museum, 1931.

Mulroy, Mary E., and Makoto Kowta. "An Archeological Survey of Capitol Reef National Monument." On file, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1964.

Noxon, John, and Deborah Marcus. "A Preliminary Report on the Rock Art of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah." On file, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1978.

O'Connell, Kevin J. "Archeological Surveys, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks." On file, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, Lincoln, Nebraska. 1984.

Sucec, Rosemary. "Ethnographic Resource Inventory and Assessment for the Burr Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah. In Cooperation with the Kaibab Paiute Tribe, the Kanosh and Koosharem Bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute." On file, Intermountain Regional Office, National Park Service, Denver, 1994.

Tipps, Betsy L. "The Burr Trail Archeological Project: Small Site Archeology on the Escalante Plateau and Circle Cliffs, Garfield County, Utah." On file, National Park Service, Intermountain Mountain Regional Office, Denver, 1991.


1 Midwest Archeological Center, "Cultural Sites Inventory: Capitol Reef National Park Archeological Overview and Assessment," on file, Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln Nebraska, January 1993, 7-8; Richard F. Hauck, "Archeological Evaluations in Capitol Reef National Park," draft prepared under contract for the National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Region, August 1991, 13-14.

2 Modern Puebloan tribes object to the use of the Navajo term "Anasazi" (interpreted by some as "ancient enemy") to designate their ancestors. Therefore, the National Park Service has adopted new terminology, "Ancestral Puebloans," to refer to that culture. --Ed.

3 Hauck, 15.

4 "Archeological Overview and Assessment," 10.

5 Anderson, Administrative History draft review comments, January 1995.

6 Ibid., 12; Hauck, 15.

7 Archeological Assessment," 12-13; Hauck,

8 For more information, see the references provided at the end of this chapter.

9 Lawrence Loendorf and Stuart Conner, "The Pectol Shields and Their Relationship to Shields in Rock Art," unpublished manuscript, 1992, Research Study Proposal No. 141, on file, Capitol Reef National Park, Division of Resource Management, 21.

10 Ibid.; Ronald McCoy, "Circles of Power," Plateau Magazine Vol. 55 No. 4, 1991.

11 The horseback figures in Grand Wash are purportedly the work of a non-Indian former resident of Fruita, according to former maintenance employee Eugene Blackburn (personal communication, March 1992). The man who claimed to have created the panel is now deceased. His claim seems unlikely, however, because the panel is mentioned in an early 1930s state planning report (see Chapter 8). It is possible, however, that the man added his work to an existing panel, as two artistic styles are evident.

The train petroglyph was likely created by local people, who also inscribed a line drawing of a cowboy and their own names on the prehistoric panel.

The grayware pot was identified as Paiute in origin by Brigham Young University archeologist Joel Janetski, in 1983.

12 Rosemary Sucec, Administrative History draft review comments, January 1995. For more detail, see references at the end of the chapter. The early exploration journals are discussed in Chapter 3.

13 Charles Kelly, "Archeological Research in Capitol Reef National Monument," 20 February 1945, Charles Kelly Unpublished Writings, on file, Capitol Reef National Park unprocessed archives, Torrey, Utah.

14 Ibid., 3.

15 Efforts to identify these individuals have failed. Their names are unfamiliar to modern French archeologists, and the men likely were not trained archeologists, at all.--Ed.

16 Charles Lee was a son of the infamous John D. Lee, executed for his role in the Mountain Meadows immigrant massacre; Ephraim Pectol was a Mormon bishop, local businessman, and an elected state representative who helped promote establishment of the original monument.--Ed.

17 For many years after the deaths of Lee and Pectol, their combined collection was displayed and stored at Capitol Reef. Most of the artifacts, on loan to the park service, have been recalled and now are in possession of the Pectol family. The three Pectol shields are permanent National Park Service property, having been turned over to the federal government in 1932 by Bishop Pectol, who had illegally collected them from public lands.--Ed.

18 Noel Morss, The Ancient Culture of the Fremont River in Utah, Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology 12, No. 1 (Cambridge: The Museum, 1931); Rose Houk, Dwellers of the Rainbow (Torrey, Utah: Capitol Reef Natural History Association, 1988), 13-15; "Archeological Assessment," 1.

19 Conrad Wirth to Ephraim Pectol, 25 January 1935, File 100, Accession #79-60A-354, Box 1, Container #63179, Records of the National Park Service, Record Group 79 (RG 79), National Archives - Rocky Mountain Region, Denver (hereafter referred to as NA-Denver). See Chapter 8 for details.

20 Alfred Runte, National Parks: The American Experience, 2nd ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979) 71-72. See Chapter 8.

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