Smoke Signals

May/Jun 2012




A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. I was born and now resides in Afton, Wyoming, which is near Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons—a landmark for Indians and Mountain Men. The majority of Mountains of Stone was written deep in the Greys River mountains near the Strawberry Indian trail from Jackson Hole and the Tetons to the Snake River plains. By horse and pack string, I have ridden many of the trails described in Mountains of Stone . My campfires have been built in the same places as those of Mountain Men and explorers one hundred and ninety years ago. This has been my passion.

My friend Mr. Conner asked if I would share some of my ventures talked about in several of my books and I agreed.

O. N. Eddins


Staff Writer


Shining Mountains

Fremont Indians 400 A.D. –1350 A.D

Fremont is the name given to diverse groups of Native American Indians inhabiting the western Colorado Plateau and the eastern Great Basin area from 400 A.D. to 1350 A.D.. The Fremont Indians were hunter-gathers, and may have spoken different languages, or widely divergent dialects (Madsen). The Fremont Indians occupied this desolate land several hundred years before the first Europeans arrived in America.


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Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole

The semi-arid land inhabited by the Fremont Indians contains areas of spectacular beauty. There are more National Parks (Zions, Bryce, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands), National Monuments, and State Parks in the homeland of the Fremont Indians than in any other area of North America.

["Click" on the picture - use your "Back" button to return to article]

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Monument Valley

There were probably no more than ten thousand Native American Indians scattered across the canyonlands of Utah and high deserts of the Great Basin at any one time (Barnes).


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The Mittens

Harvard University’s Peabody Museum funded the Claflin-Emerson Expedition to study Prehistoric Indian sites of Utah. A member of the Claflin-Emerson research project, Noel Morss excavated in 1928 and 1929 several prehistoric Indian sites along the Fremont River of central Utah. Morss coined the term Fremont Indians to describe the Native Americans inhabiting these early prehistoric  Native American Indian sites. Morss maintained the Fremont Indian Culture was clearly influenced by the Southwest Anasazi Culture, but was not an integral part of it.

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Fremont Stone Knife

Archeologists use four distinctive artifact categories to distinguish the Fremont Indian Culture from the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans (Madsen):

a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. Some archeologists believe this single artifact differentiates the Fremont Indian culture from the Anasazi, or the historic Native American groups.

moccasin style constructed from the hock of a deer or mountain sheep leg. This and other moccasin types found in Fremont sites are very different from the woven yucca sandals of the Anasazi.

thin gray pottery with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay.

a distinctive rock art style used in pictographs, petroglyphs, and clay figures depicting trapezoidal human figures bedecked in necklaces and blunt hairstyles.

A question still unanswered is where did the Fremont Indians come from?

One theory is the Fremont Indians were a group of Anasazi that split off from the Hopi and moved into southern Utah.

Another theory is that the Fremont Indians, like the Anasazi emerged from an older desert archaic culture.

Dr. Jesse D. Jennings summarized his views on the Desert Culture (Desert Archaic) model at the Leigh Lecture at the University of Utah in 1975 (Janetski):

From 10,000 or more years ago, until A.D. 400, the only culture represented in Utah, as well as the rest of the Great Basin, was the Desert Archaic. That culture is characterized as a hunting-gathering one, a flexible, highly adaptive life way that has characterized most of man's worldwide history.

A new archeological study area along Range Creek in the Book Cliff Mountains of Utah will contribute a great deal of information on the Fremont Indian Culture. Protected for over fifty years by Waldo Wilcox, a Utah rancher, the Uinta Fremont villages along Range Creek are virtually untouched.

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Fremont Artifacts Wilcox Ranch

The Wilcox ranch was recently acquired by the State of Utah. The Range Creek Fremont sites will be studied and protected by Utah's Wildlife Resources' Division of History and the Utah Museum of Natural History.

Fremont Indian Map

Based on thin gray-coil pottery, the Fremont Indian sites in Utah are divided into five different groups. These classifications are based on a few common traits, but does not mean they were the same people. Although the vast majority of the Fremont Indian sites are in Utah, there have been sites, or Fremont artifacts, found in western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming, eastern Nevada, and southern Idaho.

Fremont Indian origins are contemporaneous with early Mogollon villages of New Mexico and Arizona. The Fremont and Mogollon Indian cultures share many characteristics of architecture and ceramic design. Around 400 A.D., the Fremont Indians obtained corn through trade with the Mogollon. The corn used by the Fremont Indians is known as Fremont Dent. This variety of corn is resistant to drought, environmental extremes, and has a short growing season. The Fremont Indian corn appears to have been developed in the Fremont area from an early species found in the Mogollon highlands. This is not the same species of corn found in the Four Corners region (Stone).

The Mogollon corn had originated in Mesoamerica about 4000 B.C.. A wild plant known as Teosinte is the probable ancestor of corn, but this is a subject of debate between botanists (Diamond). The ears of Teosinte were only a few inches long and had no covering husks.

Teosinte - National Science Foundation

By 750 A.D., agriculture was beginning to be a major source of food for some groups of Fremont Indians. In many cases, the Fremont Indians were using limited irrigation to grow The Three Sisters (corn, squash, and beans) in the semi-aired land. Some of the irrigation ditches were several miles long, and are still visible in a few places today (Barnes).

The floral and faunal material found at various Fremont Indian sites indicates a mixed horticultural and hunting-and-gathering subsistence (Stone). Corn, beans, and squash grown along the river bottoms added to the Fremont diet of native plants such as pickleweed, amaranth, pinyon nuts, globe mallow, rice grass, beeweed, berries, bulbs, and tubers along with meat from hunting.

Nine Mile Canyon between Price and Myton, Utah is one of the richest areas for Fremont Indian artwork. The picture below is at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon. The pictures of the Fremont granary, the pithouse outline, and rock shelters are located in this area.

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Mouth of Cottonwood Canyon

This Fremont granary is across from the Fremont pithouse outline shown below. The granary is on the dark ledge just above the arrow.

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Fremont Granary

The pithouses of the Fremont were low semi-subterranean structures covered with brush with a fire ring in the center. Sometimes, the pithouse were covered with a mud coating. The pithouses varied in shape from circular to rectilinear and were generally about two feet deep.


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Fremont Pithouse Outline - Nine Mile Canyon

Dave Summers of Las Vegas sent a picture of the panel after it was restored by a joint project of the citizens of Emery County, Utah and the BLM.

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Reconstructed Pithouse - State Park, Boulder, Utah

Entrance to the pithouse was through the opening at the top using a ladder. The hole also served as a smoke hole.

The Parowan Fremont built their pithouses close together, usually ten to twenty pithouses on a valley floor near streams (Stone). On the other hand, the San Rafael Fremont's pithouses were usually slab-lined. They also built above ground masonry structures, often multi-roomed constructed with and without mortar. In both cases, four central roof supports were used. The structures were plastered on the interior walls, and slab-lined fire pits were common. The San Rafael Fremont village sites were on hills and ridges overlooking permanent water sources and their farmland.

Rock overhangs were used by the Fremont Indians for storage and for shelter.

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Rock Shelter

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Red-lined Roof

The Fremont Culture was not a rigid society like the Anasazi. The Fremont Indians appeared to take delight in being different. Jackal houses, small unit houses, and pithouses are often found in the same village (Barnes). Despite some villages being close together, the Fremont Indians were an aggressive people and uneasy truces existed between the villages.

Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, and the bow and arrow. The scene below at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon is of a deer hunt, notice the large number of fawns in the petroglyph.

Hunter Panel - Nine Mile Canyon

Unlike the Anasazi, Fremont Indian women used animal skins to make clothing. Animal hides were used for breechclouts, moccasins, robes, leather mittens, and other warm garments. The Fremont women sewed and mended the leather, which the Anasazi never mastered.

As hunter-gathers and settled-village lifestyle, the Fremont Indian culture lasted for about nine-hundred years. Note what appears to be a turkey on the right.

Fremont Indian Family - Nine Mile Canyon

The Fremont Indian article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Thank you for your time, 

Ned Eddins.

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