Steven D. Decker

Number of words: 9200 (prox.)
PO Box 828
Parowan, UT 84761

by Steven D. Decker


Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures and their development. Its subsets are archaeology, biological, cultural, and linguistic anthropology. When I tell people that I am studying anthropology, I often hear, “I know where these mounds are that have never been dug. Can you do that now?” Well . . . no! That answer usually gets one of two responses, a look that seems to say, “Well, that’s useless then” or one that seems to say, “you coward,” as if daring me to dig in violation of ethics, rules, or laws.

Hopefully more a short story than a research paper, this writing is a look at certain anthropological sites of Iron County, Utah. Admittedly, it focuses mostly on archaeological sites, but it also touches on cultural and biological anthropology, however slightly.

The style of writing is new to me. I have written extensively as a reporter of facts. I have taught the need for proper citations in academic works, both in text and bibliographically, on the college level. In this work, however, as it was presented for approval, I’m trying something different. (Yes, “I’m” – I would normally never use a contraction in formal writing unless quoting someone). I’m writing in the narrative non-fiction style, a style that is factually accurate, but reads more novel-like, though this writing will never reach novel-length. This style is new to me, and it is fun to give it a go. After all, what is college for if not to try new things.

It might be helpful to understand my philosophy: Just because we don’t know something or just because science hasn’t verified something does not mean that it did not happen or does not exist. If we are content to believe only what we think we know, why are anthropologists studying? Why are archaeologists, historians, astronomers, or physicists still digging into the unknown?

There is no doubt that what we call native people have made marks (literally) on Iron County for centuries. That does not mean we know when the first person walked across these mountains or through these deserts, when the first man died here, when the first woman gave birth. In a land that has repeatedly been plowed, planted, grazed over, camped on, and mined, the odds are astronomically against finding charcoal from that first campfire or bones from that first death. 

Speaking personally, I am unwilling to write off a possibility just because there is no current basis for proof. Being skeptical, on the other hand, is often a prudent choice. Take for instance Louis L’Amour’s novel, Jubal Sackett. It tells the story of native people, far to the north of Iron County, hunting down and killing a woolly mammoth and, perhaps, a giant sloth in the 17th or 18th century. Possible? To say “no” is to close a door to facts that could lie at the foundations of the oral tale, though cautious skepticism is never out of order.

On one occasion I had opportunity to visit with author and anthropologist W. Michael Gear (People of the Earth series) about L’Amour’s assertion (albeit in a fictional work, L’Amour was generally quite well researched). Gear scoffed and immediately dismissed the notion based on lack of evidence. I would much rather approach such a question as unproven through evidence.

An aphorism used by scientist Carl Sagan, military strategist Donald Rumsfeld, and others, comes to mind: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” For example, for years it was asserted that horses were brought to America by Columbus on his second voyage. Yet, there are those who contend, and are using data to suggest, that Columbus simply reintroduced horses to America. They assert that Equus Caballus may have originated here and migrated to Eurasia. In considering the geographical and topographical vastness of the Americas, and the lack of recorded history, I am unwilling to definitively and perfunctorily dismiss a migration or an extinction event among horses. I am, however, willing to accept that there is no evidence of horses in the Americas during a certain period. 

Perhaps, with few exceptions, I simply find myself unwilling to use absolute language. That being said, I am more than willing to begin with what we think we know.

So, it is not my intention to give a blow-by-blow account of excavations or an inventory of pot sherds or beads or bones found. Rather, my intent is to give a feel for the anthropology of the county. To best tell the story I am trying to tell, I have mixed and mingled some of the commonalities of various sites. 

Finally, it must be acknowledged that we do not have access to all of the results of academic excavations. Many of the findings remain unpublished.


This primer begins with a story of exploration. Both anthropologists and explorers travel to unknown regions, live among and record their impressions of cultures different from their own, and survey geographic land tracts. If not for their interaction with the Paiutes, the Dominguez-Escalante expedition may have perished. Only days after their decision to return to Santa Fe, the expedition ran out of food. They received supplies from Paiutes who, they noted, were the only Indians that the expedition met that practiced anything but a hunter-gatherer subsistence. Certainly, if not the first, Dominguez and Escalante were among the first Europeans to meet the native people of Iron County.

It is 1776. October to be exact. Brigadier-General Benedict Arnold is leading the new United States Navy in the Battle of Valcor Island, and he is losing. The American Revolution is in full swing. King George III rules Great Britain, including the American colonies; Louis XVI reigns in France; Charles III rules Spain; and it is just possible that the word “cocktail” is coined, this month, when a patron ordered a glassful of “those cock tails” from an Elmsford, New York, bar that was decorated with bird tails.

In what will become Iron County, Utah, snakes slither through grass and around pinyon and juniper trees. Coyotes howl and prowl in the night, just as they have done for centuries, and just as they will do for centuries to come. Surface water is more abundant in the southwest desert than it will be in centuries to come. The “Paa”utes, interpreted as Water Utes, have spent, perhaps, seven or eight centuries in this area. Though they are nomadic in the sense that they ascend to the high country to hunt and gather during the summer months, they have developed irrigation systems to support planting.

The decision to be made on this cold fall day in 1776 has nothing to do with snakes or coyotes or native people. Like decisions being made far to the east, today’s decision addresses nothing short of revolution. For three months, Spanish born Silvestre Valez de Escalante and Mexican born Francisco Atanasio Dominguez, Catholic padres, have been searching for a route from Santa Fe, Mexico to the west coast. 

Maybe Santa Fe, Spain would be a better description. Mexico did not receive independence from the Kingdom and Empire of Spain until the Treaty of Cordoba in 1821. Then, because of the Mexican-American War, (1846-1848), that began over a land dispute involving Texas (a dozen years after the battle of the Alamo), Mexico lost vast amounts of territory – 525,000 square miles including all or parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah. When Mormon settlers arrived in what would be called Utah in 1847, it was, though briefly, Mexican territory. 

For Dominguez and Escalante, those battles are the unknown future. Their concern is that winter is coming and the little group has already suffered from the recent storm and cold. It is decided that they will turn back to Santa Fe.

Turning back is difficult for some in the group. Even while Benedict Arnold is leading a revolt by engaging the greatest armada in the world, Dominguez and Escalante are trying to quell a revolution by those members of the expedition who had “conceived grandiose dreams of honors and profit from solely reaching Monterey, [California].” Father Escalante is a meticulous record keeper and Cartographer Don Bernardo Miera figures prominently in Escalante’s journal today. Because of Bernardo’s trouble-making, Escalante records, “even the servants [are] giving plenty to bear.”

Who knows whether Bernardo is simply intent on reaching Monterey or whether he actually has no idea of the vastness of the country they are in, but he assures the party that they are only a week from Monterey. In fact, the fastest route by automobile in the 21st Century would take 11 hours and cover over 700 miles. Assuming the little party of explorers could average 15 miles a day, they are still six weeks from their destination. In addition, they would either have to make a winter crossing of the Sierra Nevada range, or move south to circumvent it. In 70 years the Donner Party would face the trials of a winter crossing attempt. Their experience would include a descent into cannibalism.

The American Revolution would rage on for another seven years, racking up over 10,600 casualties, including 4,400 deaths. Next year, George Washington and his troops will suffer at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In four years, Benedict Arnold would commit treason and Escalante would be dead at the age of 30. 

The padres settle their revolution more biblically than the warring revolutionaries along America’s east coast. Like ancient disciples in need of replacing Judas Iscariot, the padres cast lots. Not to be forgotten are the stakes of the lot-drawing. If the lot determines that the group continue to Monterey, Don Bernardo will become the leader and guide. After all, he believes Monterey is close and, Escalante writes, “everything started from his ideas.”

In the high desert of what would become Utah, west of present-day Parowan and north of present-day Cedar City, the lots fall. (Some have implied intrigue in the casting of lots, intrigue that assured the padres would prevail). The group turn their faces toward Santa Fe. Their pace quickens. The padres are still the leaders and Father Escalante exults, “this we all heartily accepted now, thanks be to God.” The next 83 days are spent returning to Santa Fe under the leadership of Dominguez and Escalante.

Had the fathers camped a little more east, they might have found the writings of a civilization that far preceded their own or any of the natives that the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition had encountered. But, to what avail? They were not archaeologists and they had already seen and recorded rock art. They were explorers, arguably the leading edge of the great westward movement that would, in 1845, be dubbed Manifest Destiny.

Neither the American Revolution nor the great Westward Movement has entered the mind of the breechcloth-clad, brown-skinned man who pecks images into the rock at the Parowan Gap about 1,000 years after the life of Christ. How could it? They would not occur for centuries. It would be five hundred years before gold seeking Spaniards would come to the continent, and nearly 800 years before Dominguez-Escalante would cross the desert a few miles to the west.

The man is not fat. There is not enough food for that, but he is full, for now, and he is probably carrying more fat than he has all year or will be for the next year, assuming he survives another year. While his physical activity will decrease in winter, winter will also be a time for rationing – there must be enough food to see him and his charges through until spring. Activities increase in the spring when subsistence farming will begin. Summer brings long, hot, dry days of travel and, at least for some, migration to the mountains. The above ground granary at Median Village (near present day Summit), at the southern end of the Parowan Valley, indicates no attempt to hide food stuffs and, thus, suggest year-round habitation of the village.

Fall brings fruits of the harvest. Farmed maize, squash and beans, grass fattened animals for hunting, and the gathering of ripened seeds and nuts - these are his staples. This fall, he believes he has supplies enough for those under his charge. If he did not, he would not be warming himself in the sun. 

We do not know what the man calls himself or even what he calls his people. In 1931, a Harvard archaeology student gave this people the name of Fremont, so that is what we will call him and his people. Historically, they will be categorized within the Basketmaker III to Pueblo II periods. 

Some say Fremont’s people moved into areas far to the north and east of the Parowan Valley some 400, maybe 500, years after the life of Jesus Christ. Subsistence and survival is a day-to-day concern. Over time Fremont’s ancestors moved south and west, and ended up here. Their family tree could extend to the Anasazi, the ‘ancient ones.” (The ancient ones would not have called themselves by that name any more than Fremont called his people Fremont. Just as a university student named the Fremont, the Navajo named the Anasazi).

Others, like University of California Los Angeles’s Clement W. Meighan will suggest the possibility of a different origin. He will first conjecture, based on the absence of extensive trade with the Anasazi, that Fremont and his people were a Great Basin people who came to adopt Puebloan characteristics. The Anasazi were Puebloan.

He will later raise another possibility: the people could be colonists from the south who spread north out of Arizona. With admittedly little to go on, Meighan will reason that this people may not be Basin people based on skeletal remains found at the Paragonah site, at the northern end of the Parowan Valley. The remains are more consistent with those found in Arizona and New Mexico, though Meighan concedes there are few skeletal materials from Basin inhabitants for comparison. Culturally, he believes, early Paragonah inhabitants exhibit Anasazi cranial deformations, kiva-like structures, and Puebloan burial rites that tie them closer to people south of them than to those of the Basin. 

What we can assume is that Fremont, like his namesake-people, has the adaptability and flexibility exhibited by humankind. (Modern humans also exhibit resilience and adaptability. How else could the Earth’s population have grown to nearly seven billion people?)

At times when resources are plentiful Fremont adopts a somewhat sedentary lifestyle. In bad times, when resources are flung far afield, he retreats into small, family-sized units to better utilize the receding resources.

Fremont and his people are experts at survival. They have learned from their ancestors and from their contemporaries. Whether by socio-cultural interaction or intuition, and perhaps in fits and starts, agriculture associated with native farming societies of Mexico and the Southwest is evident among the Fremont.

Now, times are good. Several contemporary Fremont sites have been established: Parowan (Mortensen and Adams-Hyatt), Paragonah (perhaps the largest community), and Summit (Median Village and Evans Mound). 

Today Fremont sits at the Parowan Gap pecking his tale into the rocks. Exactly what his writings mean will become a matter of speculation. The funniest trick would be that it is all just graffiti, a mere doodle.

“Unlikely,” future scholars will say speculating that Native Americans would have no time for such foolishness. They would not waste their time. Yet, some of those same scholars would come to tout the hunter-gatherer way of life as one of more leisure than modern, post-industrial existences. Anthropologists who study such things have determined that hunting and gathering, while skill intensive, is not labor intensive. The average work week of a hunter-gatherer would not exceed the modern 40-hour work week, and could be as little as half that. If modern man has time for graffiti, why not the ancients? 

After all, in 1886, HSH pecked his initials and the year into rock; so did “CW” and a myriad of others. Perhaps, in our desire to ascribe romance and meaning to the noble ancients we overlook their impulses, their impishness, their desire to simply say, “Hey, I was once here.”

We can imagine Fremont sitting in the sun, etching a rock face. But do we know it was Fremont? What if it was Mrs. Fremont. Perhaps the wife and kids were playing amid the boulders and rock faces while Fremont hunted. Maybe she has come to harvest pinyon nuts or dig bulbs while he chips away at the stone. After all, the engraving gives no indications of the engraver’s sex.

Geraldine M. Greenwood, who worked with Meighan in 1954, sums it up nicely. Speaking of petroglyphs (carvings into a surface, as opposed to pictographs, pigment applied to a surface) Greenwood would write, “Do they have religious significance? Are they war records? Do they tell of the hunt? Or do they merely represent a form of prehistoric doodling?” Realistically, and somewhat refreshingly, she will answer her own question, “Probably they relate to all of these in varying degrees.”

In years to come, Nal Morris will examine the glyphs at the Parowan Gap, consult with modern Paiutes, survey the surrounding area, and conclude that the Parowan Gap is a combination calendar and map. As one stands at certain carefully placed ancient cairns in valley surrounding the Gap, solstice and equinox episodes are marked by sunsets in the gunsight “V” of the Gap. Modern Paiutes indicate the precisely arranged valley stones, glyphs, and the Gap’s cleft represent a map of travels. Other petroglyphs show pinpoint consistency with lunar cycles. 

Is the Gap, then, an ancient observatory? An ancient temple? Early Mormon explorers to the valley were told that the Gap was “Gods own house.” As Greenwood posits in 1954, perhaps it is all of these.

Greenwood, like Meighan, sees Puebloan influence at the Parowan Gap, whereas the Smithsonian Institute scholar, Neil M. Judd, who examined the area in 1917, 37 years before Meighan and Greenwood, would suggested Shoshonean influence – a Great Basin people. Indeed, Greenwood writes “that the petroglyphs . . . were made by peoples of different cultural groups at different times. The conclusion of Judd that ‘. . . the larger proportion . . . are obviously of Shoshonean origin’ should be regarded as not yet determined.”

Meighan would come to consider that Fremont, who is pecking away at the rock, may have been, or may have descended from, southern colonizers. This assertion would be based on several things, including an image of the horned rattler, an image not otherwise recorded this far north. Of course, this could also simply prompt the question of whether sidewinders or horned rattlesnakes could once have lived where Fremont is, or whether Fremont is a traveler and is simply depicting what he has seen. Another pointer to the Fremont’s development from the Southwest, is a representation of human figure very near Paragonah. The form of representation, is unique to this valley, but not unusual for the Southwest.

What of pictographs? Was Fremont a painter also? Did differing artists or record keepers prefer differing mediums? Petroglyphs at the gap are found pecked into the rock. One image is pecked out in bas-relief. That is, the material surrounding the image was chipped away rather than the image being chipped into the rock. In Red Creek Canyon, and other places in Iron County, pictographs are the chosen recording form. In some instances, they are in close proximity, even intermingled. 

Is this simply an attempt at mixed media, or does it indicate differing peoples or generations? If Greenwood is correct, if various cultures at various times are responsible for the images, then a one-size-fits-all description or interpretation would certainly be misleading.

Perhaps both the camps are correct: Judd and Meighan/Greenwood. Perhaps when 19th, 20th, and 21st century onlookers examine the ancient sites they see the influence of multiple cultures and multiple peoples.

Unfortunately, as we travel to July 1917, Fremont is long since dead. He is not here to answer questions. His ilk has deserted the Parowan Valley. Nobody knows exactly why or where they went.

Dr. Neal Merton Judd, an archaeologist for the United States National Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is standing on a large earthen mound at Paragonah, Utah. The mound is 225 feet in diameter and 10 feet tall. It represents Judd’s work this summer.

This is the third consecutive year Judd has been here. His works from 1915 and 1916 remain unpublished. In fact, the observations of this year will not be published until 1919 and will constitute a mere twenty written pages with several additional plates of photographs and graphics. 

Judd is an academic. Over the next two years, he will write in the academese of the day referring to himself in the third person, “The writer had the honor of directing the work . . ..” He forwards the distinction between laity and academics, “It must be confessed that, for the layman, there is but little of the spectacular in the results of the expedition. The student of history, on the other hand, will find much to hold his attention . . ..” He repeatedly shows frustration that the southern third of the structure he is about to dig has been adulterated. Finally, his writing describes the local population as liars who create “deliberate fabrications whose chief purpose seems to be the willful deception . . ..” This last statement refers to reports about local tales of riches, “gold, silver, and iron artifacts” said to be in ancient houses and kivas like the ones on which Judd stands. He emphatically states that there are none, and never have been. 

Judd is, perhaps, correct on all counts. He writes as the academic that he is. Newspapers (Ogden Standard, Salt Lake Tribune, Parowan Times, Salt Lake Telegram), report with some hopefulness that the excavation is taking place, but shed no light or local flair on the project and report no follow-up accounts. 

As for riches, stories of Aztec, and possibly other, gold abound in Utah in the early 20th century, and they will continue. Judd announces definitively that such riches “have never been discovered in pre-Spanish villages.” Yet, two questions continue to taunt: First, did the stories originate from an actual find? Second, if one heard of ancient riches and found ancient structures, wouldn’t one would be sorely tempted to explore the possibility?

Like any good scientist, Neal M. Judd has done his homework. He knows that this area in the foothills between Red Creek and Little Creek Canyons has been surveyed before. He believes that previous estimates of scholars like Dr. H. C. Yarrow, 1872, of 400 mounds in the vicinity is possibly exaggerated. Still, he allows some leeway in estimates because of the cultivation of the area and damage caused by permanent settlement. He seems to align himself with the 1893 estimates of Henry Montgomery and Don Maguire who excavated the sites concurrently for the University of Utah and the Chicago World’s Fair, respectively. Forty years later, Clement Meighan would agree more closely with Yarrow.

For now, the sage brush covering the mound is being burned, exploratory trenches are begun, and teams and scrapers are employed in removing the earth that has already been examined and tossed aside by workmen. As he progresses he finds two distinct types of ruins at the Big Mound: house remains and ceremonial room remains, with their associated structures.

Even through his exasperation with the disturbed site, Judd is optimistic. He is sure that the “perfect example” of ancient architecture is to be found here. Based on the examples of the houses he excavates, Judd estimates the height of the walls only between 4 ½ and five feet tall. A few decades later, Meighan would put them closer to six feet. 

Judd is quick to note that the height of the walls does not necessarily correlate to the height of the inhabitants. He sees no reason to assume that the ancient people he studies were short.

Walls are plastered and smoothed with mud. Judd finds no windows in the houses. Ventilation, he notes, did not concern the inhabitants. Ingress and egress was accomplished through a hole in the roof, the same hole that let smoke out, or that let weather in when a hatch cover was not in place. 

Judd’s believes his examinations uncover a flaw that the ancients never overcame: the beams, over which succeeding layers of mud and smaller material were laid to create the structure’s roof, never extended past the outer edge of the structures. The homes had no eaves. During wet weather, storms not only lay, wet and heavy on the roofing materials, but water ran off the roof and down the mud walls causing excessive erosion of the structures. The result? Structural collapse. These collapses, Judd would note, often laid the foundation for the next structure as their mud-smoothed rubble became the floor for the next layer.

Judd continues to uncover the past. Deeper and deeper he goes into the red Paragonah soil. Eventually, his digging uncovers holes along the south interior of what he calls room 10, in the Big Mound. Now down to just 20 inches above the floor, into the west wall are four holes, 11 inches apart. On the east side are another set of holes. They averaged four inches apart. He posits that beams would have spanned the south side of Room 10 from west hole to east hole forming a trapezoidal shelf, bench, or bunk. No other structure that Judd excavated at Paragonah contained a similar feature. He records this bench “represents one of the few examples of built-in benches” discovered to date.

Judd’s examination of the structures in the Big Mound, combined with his research of the prior two years, led him to believe that people left their living quarters for three reasons: First, they fell down. Erosion and weight collapsed the structures. Second, based on the charred ends of upright posts, he suggests they burned down. Much of the infrastructure was mud, but it was mud daubed over flammable wood. Third, the facility may have simply become so filled with debris, dirt, and dust that the residents found them untenable. In this case, he believes, the old hut was simply torn down and the natural materials used to restart a new one.

Judd also finds circular rooms that suggest to him that the builders were people of Puebloan roots. Though he does not find certain details like a sipapu (a fire screen), he has no difficulty using the Hopi term, kiva. While the dwellings he excavates have a wattle and daub construction, the kiva’s mud plaster is spread directly onto the earthen walls left by excavations of the ancients.

Large kiva structures were difficult to maintain. Earthen walls and heavy roof structures led to eventual collapse. Structures were apparently abandoned easily when collapse occurred. For example, Judd writes, “Kiva I may be considered as merely a contraction of a larger, similar room whose floor and north wall were retained as part of the later building; it seems a confession on the part of its builders that they lacked the skill necessary to construct successfully so large a structure as that which it replaced.”

As Judd excavates. he collects bone fragments belonging to deer, antelope (assumedly pronghorn), mountain sheep (of which there are also petroglyphs in the valley), bear, and other animals including buffalo. He notes the presence of squash seeds, beans, corn, and pinyon nuts, indicating the people a knowledge of agriculture.

Then Judd’s finds lead him to something else. “[U]ndoubtedly,” he has concluded, inter-tribal commerce reached the Parowan Valley (and, yes, it could be connected to the drug trade). A well-known California type tubular stone pipe is found at Paragonah. (Another is later found at Summit). The pipe has no bowl. Rather it resembles a hollow cigar. Judd does not speculate whether the inter-tribal trade was directly between those of the Parowan Valley and some California-based tribe, or through a series of exchanges that edged the pipe ever farther east.

Judd’s summary and conclusions are pretty simple. First, the community had no community planner: “The shelters seemingly were erected without serious consideration of their possible interference with the general plan of the village.” Second, the presence of “Ceremonial chambers adjacent to the secular structures suggest that at least three clans had united in the establishment of the village.” Why he decides to wait until the summary of his writing to bring forward this second opinion is unknown. What methodology or means of deduction he uses in this assumption is unknown.

Let’s move, now, to June 1954. A summer training field school from the University of California Los Angeles is at Paragonah, Utah. They are surveying and preparing to excavate two mounds. They know that they are not the first to examine these resources. In addition to local digging by curious residents, Neil M. Judd was here almost four decades earlier. Between Judd’s excavations and this troupe of eleven undergraduates, two graduate students, and two staff members that now survey the site, the University of Utah has also excavated this area. Clement W. Meighan leads this project. Meighan’s presence is in addition to those he enumerates. The students who have gathered at the site are from UCLA, Arizona State, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara, Columbia University, Brigham Young University, and Bethel, Delaware. Observing a terrain “somewhat overgrown with weeds” and “covered with Russian thistle [and surrounded with] sagebrush and cheat grass” the field school prepares for six weeks of excavation and analysis.

The dig progresses, and Norman E. Coles, a member of Meighan’s team, is experiencing something that Neil M. Judd never did at Paragonah. He is examining human remains. Two sets, in fact.

The first set of remains in incomplete. It has no right arm bones, no hands, no right scapula, and only part of the left. Coles does have the skull and speculates it belongs to a young adult male because certain cranial sutures are still open and the third molars (or wisdom teeth) have erupted (usually between ages 17-21), but show minimal wear. Coles is not sure, but from what he can tell from the pieces of pelvis that he has, he thinks the skeleton is male. A male who, judging from the sacrum, had spinal bifida.

Coles does not defer about the second skeleton: young adult male, 22-26 years old, died of chronic osteomyelitis (bone infection).

In 1973, on the far south side of the Parowan Valley, Jesse Jennings would find a 30- to 35-year-old male buried, with accoutrements (great horned owl skin, magpies, bones, a mat, etc.) in the subfloor of an Evans Mound pit. These burials differ dramatically from the little reported Mortensen site, in Parowan, and from at least some at Median Village where bodies were found in detritus heaps.

When buried, not simply discarded, the deceased are generally described as being on their back, in a flexed position with knees raised to chest. One person buried in Paragonah seemed to be in this general position, but had the appearance of being thrown into the grave because one arm flailed out. Paragonah burials were covered over with a layer of smoothed mud. Some graves were lined with bark and twigs. Why some were buried “in style” and others “thrown away” remains unanswered.

Moving forward to 1978, Walter A. Dodd, Jr., is a doctoral candidate at the University of Utah. He is tasked with an undoubtedly onerous job. Dodd is to write a publishable account of the final year of excavation at the Evans Mound near Summit. The account took two years to complete, as indicated by editor and project excavation supervisor Jesse D. Jennings’ in-document forward dated October 1980. So, the published report about the final of four consecutive years of digging the Evans Mound (1970 to 1973, inclusive), was published by a doctoral candidate who had never visited the site and had access only to field notes. (Jennings is quick to point out that if errors exist, they are not the fault of Dodd, but should be credited to the field notes).

Still, Dodd’s study will be 119 pages, including introductory pages and references, and reports the itemization of 33 structures (25 pit dwellings and 8 granaries), and roughly 25,000 pottery sherds or ceramic features, 2,000 flakes stone artifacts, 600 pecked or cut stone articles, 1,650 pieces of worked bone, 7,800 bone fragments, and at least 25 human burials. In addition to Dodds’ writing, Jera K. Pecotte will generate an 11-page document, including references, about two human burials recovered during the final year of excavation. 

Evans Mound and Median Village (discussed in a moment), are quite likely the two most excavated sites in the county. Jennings, writing specifically of the Evans Mound:

“The Evans Mound is very well known to students of the Fremont, having been the scene of many excavation programs since the late 1950s. The archaeological programs were initiated and carried out in the beginning by field schools by the University of California at Los Angeles. The UCLA program was followed by many years of excavation by Richard Thompson of Southern Utah State University [sic., Southern Utah State College now Southern Utah University]. None of these efforts was ever reported. In 1970 Thompson invited the University of Utah to conduct its field school at the site. Though initially hampered by lack of maps and other controls, with the advice of Dr. Thompson it was possible for the University of Utah to carry on extensive work over a period of four summers in areas apart from the previous excavations.”

The first three years of excavations at the Evans Mound were reported in a master’s thesis by Michael S. Berry. The fourth and final season, perhaps the most informative season, is assigned by Jennings to Dodd.

Walter Dodd begins to compile and write. He writes in detail – trench depths, diameter of fire pits, thickness of walls. The record is available for those who are interested. Among Dodd’s writing are the goals for each of the four years that the “U” (University of Utah) excavated the Evans Mound. 

The goal of the 1970 excavation was to simply “determine the depth and nature” of the site. In stark contrast to the painstaking images of whisk-brooming away layers of soil or debris, a backhoe was utilized to trench beside parts of previous excavations. In addition, all or part of five pit dwellings and six granaries were partially or fully excavated.

The 1971 season was devoted to excavation of pit dwellings and granaries. 

“Total recovery of information’ was the goal for 1972. Accuracy of sampling was assured, “finer stratigraphic distinctions than are usually practicable were utilized,” and pollen and floatation samples were gathered.

Fantastic results about the culture of the inhabitants of the mound were found in 1973, the final year of excavation by the “U.” “Clear evidence” was found that cultural activity in “Area A,” southwest of the primary mound, postdated development at the Mound. That is, archaeologists discover that the Evans Mound is the only site in the Parowan Valley that “demonstrates culture change through time” – the population was at this location long enough to evolve culturally. Living quarters become square, rather than round, pottery styles change, and storage facilities become personal rather than communal.

Walter Dodd observes that the correlation between Evans Mound and Median Village, contemporary and just over a mile apart, remains unknown. What Dodd, and those who investigated the site do believe is that no more than five of its 14 pit houses were occupied at one time.

Situated on arable land with access to Summit Creek, Median Village horticulturalists are corn growers, and possibly cultivate squash and beans. Its storage granary is above ground, indicating that the Village is occupied year-round and that someone is there to tend and guard the foodstuffs. They remain heavily dependent on local game, unlike their Ancestral Puebloan neighbors to the south (Virgin Anasazi) who depended much more deeply on agriculture. Intuitively it seems reasonable that this difference is a result of elevation. Growing seasons are shorter here. The site was occupied for 120 years beginning about 900 AD.

Intensely, and rapidly, excavated in 1968 by the “U”, the archaeological work at Median Village is a rescue operation commissioned ahead of the construction of I-15. A single story is printed about it in the Iron County Record. The Record reports that Fremont Indians migrated to Utah as early as 500 A.D., (earlier than some other timelines) flourished with agriculture, and left ahead of Anasazi expansion from the Southwest and Shoshoni-speaking tribes from the North.

Jesse Jennings, the same Jennings who would return to oversee work at the Evans Mound oversaw the recovery work on this “large” settlement that was believed to have 30 to 40 inhabitants.


“The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That statement is attributed to Civil War-famed General “Fightin’ Phil” (Philip Henry) Sheridan. Sheridan claimed he never said it. 

Though it offends 21st century sensibilities, it could be that many contemporaries unwittingly repeat the sentiment in a slightly amended fashion, “The only interesting Indian is a dead Indian.” Simply asked, are we more interested in the Fremont villagers of yesteryear than in the living, breathing Paiutes whose tribal headquarters is in Cedar City?

While scholar-scientists of the mid-1950s are digging up prehistoric Native American civilizations, certain extant Native Americas may not only be getting ignored, a Utah senator is leading the fight to see that they are disenfranchised. Senator Arthur Vivian Watkins is in his second, and last term. He hopes that, among other things, he can eliminate laws that treat Native American differently from other Americans. He hopes to dismantle the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and to terminate federal guardianship of tribes. In short, the senator is hoping to mainstream the Indians. He wants them released from the “yoke” of federal supervision. He wants them liberated to handle their own affairs. (It would be an interesting study to survey the modern population to determine how many believe Watkins was correct). Under Watkins’ plan, however, mineral rights on Paiute land are to be retained by the government. 

Watkins’ push toward federal termination of tribal recognition is not inclusive. It applies only to “certain tribes, bands, and colonies of Indians in the State of Utah.” Those “certain” entities are the “Shivwits, Kanosh, Koosharem, and Indian Peaks Bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe.” The much larger (and perhaps more politically weighty) Ute and Navajo tribes are left undisturbed. Because of Watkins’ efforts, on September 1, 1954 Public Law 83-762 goes into effect, signed by President Eisenhower. Soon, reports of spiking, but unnamed, disease and alcoholism emerge.

Paiute tribal identity remains thus until this forgotten people catch the eye of freshman Senator Orrin Hatch and first term Representative Dan Marriott in 1979. (Though to be fair, President Nixon had laid some essential groundwork beginning in 1970). Hatch and Marriott both introduce bills to restore recognition to the Paiutes. Because of the similarity of the bills, Hatch’s is dropped in favor of Marriott’s. When the legislation reaches President Jimmy Carter he signs it into legislation and Public Law 96-277 restores official, federal recognition to the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah including its five constituent bands: Cedar, Indian Peaks, Kanosh, Koosharem, and Shivwits.

At the present day (2018), the tribe continues to fight the ill effects of poverty and displacement, but it is growing and strengthening. Their focus on economic development, housing, education, and health and behavioral issues is intense. As they continue to struggle with some of the health and socio-economic concerns of the past, recent years have seen a new problem emerge – diabetes. It is estimated that Utah American Indians die from complications of diabetes at a twice the rate of the average Utah resident. Other health issues include tobacco abuse (about double the state average), and alcohol abuse (nearly three times the state average). Coronary heart disease and stroke, however, are only about half of the state average.

Tribal population in 2015 totaled 918 people, after accounting for nine deaths and one relinquishment of tribal ties. They control nearly 34,000 acres of tribal land is southwestern Utah.

On a personal note, I suggest that tribal pride, at least among leaders and elders, is fierce. On November 20, 2014, Paiute tribal leaders were asked to speak at the Cedar City Public Library. Two things happened that evening to show this intense tribal pride.

First, at one point the discussion turned to the Parowan Gap and the markings there. (It has already been noted that contemporary scholars have conferred with Paiute representatives about the markings). A question arose about the age of the markings and whether Paiutes were involved. One non-Native in attendance remarked, “No. Those are Fremont.” This elicited a not-too-under-the-breath, rather ejaculated response with an unmistakable sneer in the tone, “The Fremont. Who are they!” Later in the evening another query was raised: “Do you like to be called Indian or Native American.” A sincere and legitimate question. After all, the tribe is called the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. Again, with pride, but decidedly less vehemence than was expressed in the first response, the answer came, “I like to be called Paiute.” 


It is February 23, 2018 and Cedar City Public Library Director Steve Decker is not long into his work day when he receives an email from Timothy J. Scarlett, Ph.D. Scarlett is an associate professor of archaeology and anthropology at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. A native Pennsylvanian, Scarlett is committed to uncovering American history.

Scarlett’s email is in response to a feature he as seen in the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City-based newspaper, that featured Decker and his sister, Sandra Benson. Decker is surprised that, first, Scarlett reads the Deseret News, and, second, that he remembers Decker at all.

The reason for the article is the recent completion of the Cedar City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Benson and Decker are life-long members of the church, and serve the City of Parowan, Utah, as Historians, appointed in 2012. Decker, while a member of the city council, was instrumental in writing and passing the ordinance that created the position. The founding and history of Parowan was a recurring theme in the history told at the temple dedication, and editors and reporters for the Deseret News sought information about the small, southwestern Utah city.

Decker and Scarlett first met in June 2009. Scarlett has studied Parowan produced Davenport pottery for a decade. Since May 11, Scarlett and a crew from Michigan Tech have been uncovering a portion of the history of Parowan. In a few weeks, they will cover it back up and return to Michigan to review field notes and study what they have found. Decker spent a couple of days digging as a volunteer with Scarlett’s crew.

Scarlett, an urban archaeologist (though no one would call Parowan urban) blogged extensively during the project ( The reporting aspect of archaeology has come a long way. Still tedious and time consuming for the scientist, they no longer have to wait for writers, editors, and printers. In many cases, they no longer have to purchase copies of reports or chase them down in unused portions of libraries. Scarlett is using easily accessible technology to transmit his findings as often as he sees fit. 

Thomas and Sarah Davenport convert to Mormonism in England. Thomas is a pottery worker who molds pieces in a factory. Mormon pioneers arrive to settle Parowan in the winter of 1851. When Davenports fire up their first kiln in Parowan in 1852, pottery disaster ensues – almost every piece of pottery is either cracked or melted. Davenport continues to try, Scarlett tells the Salt Lake Tribune, indicating that it takes Davenport seven years to perfect his technique. Eventually, Davenport will become well known for his crockery. By the time of Davenport’s death (1888), “he was making beautiful bowls, table ware and jugs.”

At present (2018) the Davenport site is covered. A gazebo rests on the site. The kiln is still in the ground and grass is planted above it. Decker, who once floated the idea of Parowan City purchasing the property to preserve the kiln, shares his concerns about construction and water damage to the kiln and any other structure beneath the surface. Scarlett is not overly concerned. The structures, he believes, are at a sufficient depth to withstand damage from the surface watering of shallow-rooted lawn grass.

Hopefully the project has produced all the information it holds. Now that back-yard structures and landscaping have been extended over the site, it is unlikely that it will ever be uncovered again. To date, no structures requiring deep or extensive excavation have been erected.


At 9:53 a.m. on a Thursday morning, November 9, 2018, in Cedar City, Utah, City Economic Development Director, Danny Edwards, presses a button and sends an email. He has just messaged the mayor and manager, several staff members, and community movers and shakers about a meeting with Roger Roper, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer. Roper is coming to Cedar City on November 9th to talk about historic preservation. Cedar City once had local historic preservation commission, but it has lapsed due to inactivity.

Stewart met Roper at a rural summit the previous August and learned about Utah’s Certified Local Government program (CLG), a program that certifies local governments, cities and counties, to be eligible to apply for federal historic preservation grants. Smelling an opportunity for money, which is, after all, Stewart’s job, he invites Roper to Cedar City. A glance at the list of certified entities shows that Cedar City is still certified, and has been since April 1985. The city needs only to reactivate its local commission.

Preservation of early Mormon bungalow housing (a.k.a. “Pioneer Horrible) is the primary topic of the November 17th meeting. During the early 20th century, many bungalow style houses were constructed in the area. Cedar City still boasts several of the houses in the older part of town. Many, however, have fallen into disrepair. 

What is bungalow style? A former county assessor, the person responsible to assure that appraisals of property are up to date, once referred to it as a “shotgun home,” a home where a person entering the front door can shoot through the dining areas and hit the person standing at the kitchen sink. Bedrooms and bathrooms are to the side.

The CLG program, if fully implemented, could provide matching funds (50/50) for surveys of historic properties, context studies, National Register of Historic Places nominations of buildings or districts, education activities, preservation planning, architectural and engineering studies, training, even brick-and-mortar projects. 

The potential projects speak directly to the cultural anthropology of the area. It has been noted that “The built environment in which we live as humans, is an important matter. The architectural landscape deeply structures our lives.” Only time will tell whether or how Cedar City will address its “built environment.”

Examples of CLG fund awards to Utah communities (2017-2018) include rehabilitation work on various, currently undetermined, National Register-listed buildings in Springville; predevelopment studies for properties in Payson and Murray; National Register nominations for historic buildings in Midway; educational information (walking tour) in Grantsville; architectural and structural evaluation of an Opera House in Beaver.

At present, reestablishing the local historical commission and setting into motion the means necessary for property owners to take advantage of CLG funds seems to be stalled.


Several years ago, when I wrote the centennial history of the Cedar City Library, I suggested that the Parowan Gap was, arguably, the oldest library in Iron County. If that is so, much of it is an unreadable library. Dominguez and Escalante and their party may have been the first to offer written documentation of Iron County, Utah, at least documentation that we can read and interpret, but they were far from the first people here. 

Who has been here and from where they originated is still up for scholarly debate. Geraldine Greenwood’s summation that rock etchings may tell several stories including those of religion, war, the hunt, and possibly even doodling, may seem milk-toasty as a scholarly opinion, but it is certainly realistic. 

The origin of earlier human habitation is still being uncovered. Science, folklore, recorded history, attempts to decipher ancient writings, and Native American tradition all play into the intricate patchwork of the anthropological history of Iron County. It would be an interesting, and life-long, study to compare each finding of each anthropologist, archaeologist, or historian in a side-by-side comparison to see just where, or even if, the pieces fit.

A comprehensive anthropological history of Iron County cannot be completed in a few dozen pages. Indeed, it would take volumes. However, interactions, interpretations, studies, academic and scientific conjecture can be summarized, brushed against. Perhaps most importantly, questions can be raised: What have the scholars said? What do the current inhabitants of all cultures say? What has been written? Was there prejudice in the writing? What was left out?

Much of the Anglo anthropology has been overlooked herein. The westward movement, the industrialization of the county, the eco-anthropology of the area, the religious aspects of the Anglo settlers who certainly came here because they believed they were heeding the wishes of a prophet of God. The primary focus in this regard is the Davenport pottery and Certified Local Governments projects.

Some of the most frustrating elements of this research are truncated statements and unpublished reports. For example, the reports of Paiute disease increasing after the non-recognition legislation of the 1950s. What disease? Why did it increase? Was medical help not available or did the Paiute people simply prefer not to use western medicine? Could they simply not afford it? 

Further, the availability of information becomes frustrating. Information gathered and stashed away in field-note files adds nothing to a body of knowledge.

In the end, this compilation is a beginning, a starting point, a primer. In retail terms, it is a loss leader: a product that brings people to the establishment in hope they will peruse the rest of the goods and want even more.

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