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Castle Gardens Tracing Project

Project review for Sacred Sites Research by Lawrence Loendorf and Laurie White, 2012

In October 2011, Sacred Sites Research (SSR) completed a project, under contract to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to make traced replicas of 22 petroglyph panels inside the fenced areas, and an additional 30 petroglyph panels outside fenced areas at the Castle Gardens Rock Art site, Wyoming. The principal investigator for SSR was Lawrence Loendorf but the main field work and laboratory work was completed by Laurie White and Greg White. Karina Bryan was the authorized representative for the BLM. The tracing effort was recommended by Johannes Loubser, (2009) in a condition assessment project he completed for the Lander BLM.

The Castle Gardens site was first reported in the late 1920’s by David Love, who lived on a nearby ranch. Love’s study of the site, nestled in a sandstone outcrop with chimerical shapes reminiscent of turrets and towers, led him to name it Castle Gardens (Figure one). David Love would continue his life to become one of North America’s foremost geologists. Fortunately he recognized the significance of Castle Gardens and wrote letters to regional archaeologists asking that they visit the site. One of these letters was successful in attracting University of Denver archaeologist Etienne Renaud to the site in July of 1931.

Castle Gardens: Figure 1

Figure 1. The Castle Gardens site. The white color of the Mesa Verde sandstone stands out in direct contrast to the surrounding countryside.
Gregory White photograph.

Renaud, educated in France where rock art was an integral part of his studies, was so impressed with Castle Gardens that he returned to make notes and drawings of the intricate incised figures that were painted in as many as four distinct colors (Figure 2). Researchers continued to photograph and complete drawings at the Castle Gardens site (see Francis and Loendorf 2002 for an overview). Sower's (1941) photographs of the site are available at the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming and a report by David Gebhard and his colleagues (1987) is available from the Lander BLM.

Castle Gardens: Figure 2

Figure 2.. Denver Post article on Renaud’s visit to Castle Gardens. Courtesy of the Denver Post archives.

In the Sacred Sites Research at the site, we tried to include many of these early drawings and illustrations in the final report. The comparative records of the site are useful to learn the changes to various panels through time. In some cases, Sacred Sites Research personnel found images that were not discovered in the earlier projects, but in many more cases we learned that portions of panels had eroded from view or we found that entire panels were missing or stolen from the site.

In this short review of the project, we present examples of some of the shields that were traced by Sacred Sites Research. In future articles, we may offer examples of other figures at the site. Qualified researchers can obtain a more complete report from the Bureau of Land Management in Lander, Wyoming (Loendorf, White and White 2012).

Castle Gardens is best known for the shield figures that dominate many of the panels at the site. Using D-Stretch and other photographic enhancement techniques, it was possible to find remnants of paint in many of the shields. These colors were added to the traced replicas (Figure three and four).

Castle Gardens: Figure 3

Figure 3. Traced replica of Panel 3 at the Castle Gardens site. The shields were made by abrading the sandstone surface until a circular area was totally smooth and in some cases this area was ground into the sandstone as much as a centimeter. The outline and interior parts of the design were then incised into the smoothed area. Paints in three or four colors, including green, were added to the shield.

Castle Gardens: Figure 4

Figure 4. Traced replica of Panel 8.1 at the Castle Gardens site. The figures are dominated by shields and shield warriors. Importantly, there is a good example of a shield-bearing warrior with a green head protruding above the shield. The majority of the shields at Castle Gardens are free-standing, independent of the warrior part of the motif. The shield to the upper right of the tracing has a quadruped on it with a long flowing tail. We believe it may represent a horse.

Some of the panels are large so reproducing them on a web page makes it difficult to see individual figures. However, an advantage to the tracing, however, is that the one to one scale offers good clarity when extracting an image from the panel. For example, the shield with the possible horse is difficult to see in the overall drawing but when it is enlarged, it is much easier to study the image.

Castle Gardens: Figure 5

Figure 5. Shield that is decorated with a possible horse from Panel 8.1.

Another important shield at Castle Gardens is the figure that is sometimes referred to as “zigzag man” because the human figure has zigzag or “power” lines connecting it to the shield. (Figure six) The figure is also known for the two spears it holds, one in each hand. Using D-Stretch technology, Laurie White was able to find three to four distinct shades of hues of colors in the figure. The green paint was studied with a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument through which we learned it is probably from a mineral known as fuchsite or green mica (Newman and Loendorf 2005).

Castle Gardens: Figure 6

Figure 6. Zigzag man at the Castle Gardens site. The multi-colored figure is a good example of a Caste Gardens style shield.

Another interesting detail of the “bear coming out” motif was found on a shield in Panel 15 (Figure seven). Jim Keyser (2004) previously noted the “bear coming out” figure at the Castle Gardens site, but in the tracing we were able to study the color remaining in the figure. The Castle Gardens figure represents two bears emerging from a central den. A similar example of two bears emerging from a den is found at the Valley of the shields site in Montana.

We noted that at both Castle Gardens and Valley of the Shields, the bear was emerging from a green-colored den and the bears have green eyes at both sites (Figure eight). This discovery serves to demonstrate the contemporary nature of the two sites. With Valley of the Shields dated at about A.D. 1550, we can assume that Panel 15 at Castle Gardens is likely about the same age.

“Bear coming out” is also known as a Crow and Kiowa shield design which suggests it may represent one of these groups at Castle Gardens and Valley of the Shields (Figure nine). Unfortunately there is simply not enough evidence to make that assumption. We need to find more examples of the motif.

Castle Gardens: Figure 7

Figure 7. “Bear coming out” motif on a shield at Castle Gardens. The photograph on the left has been enhanced to bring out the color that is then displayed in the tracing on the right. Note the green hole or den from which the two bears are emerging. The left bear has one green and one red eye and green ears.

Castle Gardens: Figure 8

Figure 8. Enhanced photograph of a shield-bearing warrior at the Valley of the shields site, Montana. Note the two bears emerging from a central hole or \den. The den is green-colored and the eyes of the bears are also green.

Castle Gardens: Figure 9

Figure 9. The “bear coming out” motif on a Crow shield on the left and a Kiowa shield on the right. The motif is found on four known Crow shields. The Kiowa example was made for James Mooney.

Sacred Sites Research personnel consider the Castle Gardens tracing project to have been a success. We believe that the traced images will serve as an excellent record of the site’s ancient rock art and they will also be useful to the Bureau of Land Management as they move forward with interpretive efforts at the site.

References Cited
  • Francis, Julie and Lawrence Loendorf. 2002 Ancient Visions: Petroglyphs and Pictographs of the Wind River and Bighorn Country, Wyoming and Montana. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
  • Keyser, James. 2004 “Bear Coming Out”: A Distinctive Plains Shield Motif. Wyoming Archaeologist 48(2):35-42.
  • Gebhard, David S., Fred Heaton, and Jonathan Laitone. 1987 The Rock Drawings of Castle Gardens, Wyoming. Stanley and Associates, Lafayette, California. Report submitted to the Bureau of Land Management, Cheyenne, Contract No. YA-512-CT9-283. On file at the SHPO Cultural Records Office, Laramie.
  • Loendorf, Lawrence, Laurie White and Greg White. 2012 Rock Art Panel Tracing at Castle Gardens: Site 48FR108, Fremont County, Wyoming. Report on filed with the Lander office of the Bureau of Land Management.
  • Loubser, Johannes. 2009 Condition Assessment and Management Planning at Castle Gardens, Site 48FR108, Fremont County, Wyoming. Report prepared by Statum Unlimited, LLC and submitted to the Bureau of Land Management, Lander, Wyoming.
  • Newman, Bonita and Loendorf, Larry. 2005 Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Analysis of Rock Art Pigments. Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 50(195):277-283, Plains Anthropological Society , Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Sowers, Ted C. 1941 Petroglyphs of Castle Gardens, Wyoming. Federal Works Progress Administration, Archaeological Project Report, Casper, Wyoming. Original on file at the Coe Library, University of Wyoming, Laramie.

Themes of Buffalo Emergence

Sacred Sites Research is currently working across the High Plains to locate and record sites of buffalo emergence. Several Plains Indian nations maintained traditions about "buffalo homes" that were beneath the ground. For example, Alfred Bowers (1965:433-438) describes western North Dakota buttes, named by the Hidatsa as "Buffalo Comes Out" butte, and "Buffalo Home" butte. Other Plains Indian groups had similar traditions of animal homes beneath the earth. We suspect that visionaries may have used the path of the sun to enter the underground world of the buffalo. We also believe that this concept is expressed in rock paintings as a black buffalo painted on a cave wall in central Montana (Figure 1).

Buffalo Emergence: Figure 1

Figure 1. Black buffalo painted on a Montana cave wall. The figure has not been dated but based on the amount of carbonate covering the painting, we suspect it is about 500 years old.

On the winter solstice the sun / shadow line moves across the floor of the cave until if fully illuminates the black buffalo (Figures two). The sun then disappears from the cave leaving the wall dark (Figure three). We suspect that a visionary used the painted buffalo as a marker. When the sun illuminated the figure, it was time to slip through the door the sun opened to the underworld and then follow the path of the sun into the underground world of the buffalo.

Figure 2. Upper left photograph shows the winter solstice sun setting in the west. The upper right and lower left photographs show the progression of the sun – shadow line as it illuminates the buffalo. The lower right photograph shows the fully illuminated buffalo. At this point the sun disappears and the wall is black.

Sacred Sites Research has found more painted buffalo sites that express the same theme. Several sites have painted figures that appear to represent a combination figure that is have human and half buffalo (Figure four).

Buffalo Emergence: Figure 3

Figure 3. The sun has dropped behind the canyon wall leaving the painted buffalo in the dark.

Buffalo Emergence: Figure 4

Figure 4. Faded black figure on the left has human legs and a buffalo head.

The buffalo–human combination figure is found at Look Out Cave in the Little Rocky Mountains of Montana. There is a second similar figure at the site. In September 2012, Sacred Sites Research will be recording these figures and others at the site. We are seeking additional sites with this kind of figure.

Bowers, Alfred. 1965 Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organizations. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 194. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Dona Ana Project

Starting on March 10, 2014, Sacred Sites Research will undertake a project to record Site LA6667 — The Dona Ana Site in southern New Mexico. The Dona Ana site includes Chihuahuan Polychrome Style figures with other possible Mogollon Red Style figures. Recording the site may offer an understanding of the relationship between these two rock art styles.

Dona Ana: Figure 1

Figure 1. Left is Chihuahuan Polychrome style which is intermixed with Mogollon Red style at the site.

Applications for Internships and Volunteers will be accepted through January and February 2014. Sacred Sites Research anticipates a robust application from individuals interested in protecting and preserving these significant rock painting sites. Sacred Sites Research personnel will work with five to six interns or volunteers for the project.

Fieldwork is anticipated to include 10 field days in two sessions. Applicants can volunteer for one or two of the sessions. Logistics for the field support are still in the planning stages but we are likely to stage the project from a local motel. Interested applicants can contact Lawrence Loendorf at for more information.

Lookout Cave (24PH402)

In the 1970’s, Lookout Cave, located in the Little Rocky Mountains of north-central Montana, was subject to severe looting so the Bureau of Land Management worked with Burton Williams to excavate the cave for a graduate thesis project at the University of Montana. Burt worked with volunteers Linda Ward, Lynn O’Brien, Dale Fredlund and Lynn Berry in the two-chamber cave. The work was dirty and hot. The crew had to wear dust masks through the entire excavation, yet they succeeded in recovering hundreds of animal bones, and artifacts including many perishable items like arrows with the feathers and points still attached to them. The cave also paintings on its walls which were photographed.

As is often the case with an enormous collection of excavated materials, the analysis and write-up was greater than anticipated. Burt Williams moved on to other things and the cultural remains from the cave sat in storage until John Brumley, an archaeologist in Havre, Montana, got a small grant from the Bureau of Land Management to complete the analysis. John did a professional job of measuring, weighing and describing and hundreds of artifacts from the cave. When he finished he realized that the rock art needed to be included to make the report complete so he asked Sacred Sites Research to record the cave’s paintings.

We obtained the necessary permits from the Bureau of Land Management, and in 2012, Laurie White, Greg White and Larry Loendorf spent several days making measured drawings of the panels of rock art. The cave has an outer chamber and a passage way system into an interior chamber which is partially in the dark zone. We recorded 15 panels in the outer cave and 5 on the walls of the inner chamber. DStretch was an extremely useful tool in the project. The paintings are dominated by human figures, many with v-shoulders that ae common in the region. An outline of a red bison on the walls of the inner chamber is fully illuminated by the rising sun on certain days of the year.

Research in the cave has been complete for several years but only available in manuscript form but Athabasca University Press is in the process of publishing the Lookout Cave report with an appendix on the rock art. This is good news for those that want to learn more about the cave and its past use. Equally important is that Athabasca Press is “open access” so while they make print copies of their books, they also make them available to anyone for free download. We will post the link when the book is available.

Lookout Cave: Figure 1 Lookout Cave: Figure 2
Lookout Cave: Figure 3

Figure 1. Top left is a normal camera exposure.
Figure 2. Top right is a DStretch photograph of the same panel.
Figure 3. Lower is the panel drawing.
Greg White photographs.

Musselshell Site

The Musselshell site was recorded by Sacred Sites Research in the late summer of 2011. A talented crew of Laurie White, Greg White, Ann Phillips, Bonita Newman, Warren Nolan, Linda Olson, Tom Doerk and Sara Scott worked with Larry Loendorf at the site and two other sites in the same area. The crew camped near the Musselshell River and we were fortunate to have Carolyn McClellan as camp cook. We recorded 34 rock art panels of at the main Musselshell site, which is located on a private ranch

Impressive figures included shield-bearing warriors made in the same style as those at the Castle Gardens site in central Wyoming. Some of these had horses and riders superimposed upon them by a later group of warriors. One independent panel had an incised figure of a rider carrying a shield. He was on a spirited horse with a long neck and small head. Its tail was braided in preparation for a fast ride. Horses with these characteristics were made by the Crow Indians of Montana. There are several of these horses in the Musselshell panels.

Musselshell Site: Figure 1 Musselshell Site: Figure 2

Figure 1. Left: Field sketch of a Crow horse and rider. The long neck and small head are attributes found on Crow depictions of horses.
Figure 2. Right: An incised figure of a crow horse with the long neck and small head. The bent nature of the head is also common on pictures of Crow horses.

Valley of the Shields

Valley of the Shields is in southern Carbon County, Montana. The site has been investigated on several occasions since its discovery in 1987 and reported in several published outlets (Loendorf 1988, 1990, 2010; Loendorf and Scott-Cummings 2017). In 2016, a group of dedicated volunteers working with Sacred Sites Research undertook a DStretch analysis of the site. The crew consisted of Mark Willis, Jon Harman, Laurie White, Greg White, Cobe Chatwood, David Kaiser, Terry Moody, Sylvia Diaz, Wendy Johnson, Marvin Keller, Mark Baumler and Larry Loendorf.

There were two main goals for the project: 1) Relocate the 30+ localities with rock art to place them on a good aerial map; and 2) Use DStretch, a software program that brings out faded paint, on the partially obscure paintings to make good panel drawings. After locating the rock paintings and obtaining UTM coordinates, Mark Willis flew a drone to make a site map. The map will serve as a guide for any future work at the site.

The DStretch work was highly successful. We are able to make excellent drawings of significant panels at the site, with added details found in DStretch. Equally important was the discovery of totally new panels in areas of the canyon walls where there was little or no hint of paint that could be seen with an unaided eye.

Valley of the Shields: Figure 1 Valley of the Shields: Figure 2
Valley of the Shields: Figure 3

Figure 1. Upper: Locality 03 with normal digital format.
Figure 2. Lower: DStretch image of the same panel.
Figure 3. Drawing of Panel 03 that was completed with the DStretch image as a guide.

References Cited
  • Loendorf, Lawrence
    1988 Rock Art Chronology in Carbon County, Montana and the Valley of the Shields Site, 24CB1094. Archaeology in Montana 29(2):11-24.
    1990 A Dated Rock Art Panel of Shield-Bearing Warriors in South Central Montana. Plains Anthropologist 35(127):45-54.
    1991 Archaeological Sites in Weatherman Draw, Carbon County, Montana. Manuscript on file with the Bureau of Land Management, Montana State Office, Billings, Montana.
    2010 Valley of the Shields-Revisited. Manuscript on 2007 fieldwork, submitted to the Bureau of Land Management, Billings, MT.
  • Loendorf, Lawrence, and Linda Scott-Cummings
    2016 Radiocarbon Dates at Valley of the Shields: A Lesson for Northwestern Plains Archaeologists. Archaeology in Montana 57(2):35-44). (Digital copy for qualified researchers)

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