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Front Page » March 15, 2005 » Local News » John Wesley Powell River History Museum unveils exhibit
Published 4,364 days ago

John Wesley Powell River History Museum unveils exhibit

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Waldo Wilcox attends the program for the Range Creek exhibit at the John Wesley Powell museum.

"It was the most amazing day of my life," said Duncan Metcalfe in describing his first encounter with Range Creek. Jerry Spangler invited Metcalfe who is an archaeologist for the University of Utah to meet with him and Waldo Wilcox, ranch owner. Metcalfe said on his initial visit he spent around six hours in the canyon and Waldo was busy pointing out sites to him all along the way. Waldo would say there is a granary over there or rock art over there. "It was just amazing, we are still recording the sites that Waldo pointed out to us. We haven't branched out on our own yet," said Metcalfe.

"The first year in 2002 we were on site for seven days, in 2003 for 30 days and in 2004 for 40 days. I stayed a month alone after the first school and I developed a new respect for Waldo. I was really careful about the things I did. I knew if I got hurt, my dog couldn't drive me out. We wanted to keep the site a secret for four or five years, but an article by associated press started what we call the 'media fiasco' in late June of last year. The world's eye has been focused on Range Creek. A PBS special will air on March 30 featuring Waldo and it shows an amazing view of Range Creek," said Metcalfe. He also mentioned he would be in the special with Waldo. Waldo said they flew over Range Creek in the helicopter and he pointed out sites for them to film and they saw sites that even he didn't know were there.

Metcalfe said a site is any place where prehistoric people did something, or left something; like rock art, pit houses, granaries, etc. "The archaeology of Range Creek is undisturbed, the rock art doesn't have bullet holes or names and graffiti, the pit houses haven't been dug out and are in good shape. The granaries are in good condition. Range Creek is Nine Mile Canyon 150 years ago. It was protected by the ruggedness of the terrain." Metcalfe commented that he was on the Horse Canyon road when it was wet and swore he'd never do it again. But, at least once each season he finds himself on a wet road in the canyon and he doesn't wear his seat belt just in case he goes over the edge.

"Don and Waldo were amazing stewards of the land and protected it," said Metcalfe. Waldo credits his dad, Budge for protecting Range Creek and teaching his sons to do the same. Also Range Creek is sandwiched by two wilderness study areas on both sides, the Turtle Canyon and the Desolation WSAs; which have added to its protection.

"This is 50,000 acres of pure lab," said Metcalfe. He said they have found 300 sites and believes there are probably 6,000 sites in the area. The Fremont territory extends from Mexico to Salt Lake. The Fremonts were hunters, gatherers and planters. The elevation at Range Creek peaks at 10,200 at Bruin's Point and where Range Creek flows into the Green River is 4,200 feet above sea level. There are many side canyons along Range Creek with towering 3,000 foot canyon walls.

"Range Creek has amazing vegetation, even with a four year drought," said Metcalfe. The granaries high in the cliff tops are especially amazing to Metcalfe. One trip he sent his graduate students to the top to photograph and document the site on the cliff top. They returned with an amazing story of a village of pit houses and granaries. Research on the granaries is being assisted by the Provo Search and Rescue and their long ropes and skilled climbers. The granaries have contained corn and also wild rye. Some of the granaries are so huge that it is estimated 60 baskets of corn would be needed to fill them.

No excavation has taken place yet in Range Creek. Metcalfe said he came to Utah in 1977 as a graduate field student and he never left. His first summer here they worked on recording sites in the Henry Mountains. Out of 42 sites they worked on only one had been undisturbed by looters.

Duncan Metcalfe, archaeologist for the Range Creek project, and Waldo Wilcox, former property owner, discuss Range Creek at the open house at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River.

"Range Creek is an amazing research facility. Some of the rock art is easy to interpret. One outstanding factor is the yellow pigment present in some of the rock art. We don't know what the yellow is yet. We have just begun seeing enough of Range Creek to get a pattern. There is a huge amount of work to be done. It will revolutionize what we know about the Fremonts," said Metcalfe.

Steve Gerber is the historian for Range Creek and he is preparing the history on the ranchers, outlaws and the Homestead Act and what affects it had on the development of Range Creek.

Metcalfe said one of his graduate students is working on a grant to enable him to go back to Harvard University and scan their photos and maps and get copies of written notes from a field study they did on Range Creek in 1931. This information will prove valuable and sites can be rephotographed to note any changes in the 64 years since they were here. Harvard recorded 21 sites on their exploration. Metcalfe said it will be interesting because some of the sites they documented were inside Waldo's ranch and others were outside the locked gates. They will compare the disturbance within the locked gates and sites outside the gates.

Metcalfe said Range Creek was number 16 in the top 100 science stories for 2004.

Metcalfe said they hope to be able to date the sites with tree ring dating from the trees used in construction of the pit houses.

Metcalfe said there is a delicate balance to be maintained in Range Creek. It was purchased with the agreement that the public would be able to have access, but it must be done in a controlled manner to protect the resources. John Valentine from the state senate is also a member of the Provo Search and Rescue helped to get funds to maintain Range Creek in the recent legislative session.

Metcalfe thinks a camp host at the north end by the "Berlin Wall," to give out information and keep track of who is coming and going would be useful. They would educate visitors to Range Creek, to look but not pick things up.

Waldo said, "I spent my life with a bunch of dead Indians. The first people into Range Creek came in 1883. We purchased the property from Preston Nutter in 1951 and we have protected it ever since. My Dad said the Indians wanted their people buried there and we did our best to make sure they weren't disturbed. We locked the gates because we didn't want people rummaging through the cows. I hope the state takes good care of it. They have done a good job so far."

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