The Bighorn Basin holds plenty of old secrets. Prospectors, miners, strike-it-rich schemes. But what stirs my imagination most are Indian signs.
The history of the white man here is short and meager, a mere 150 years or so. Wyoming only became a state in 1890. The Bannock war of 1878 was the last Indian war around here. Truly that wasn’t so long ago.
And although Lewis and Clark came through here 200 years ago, Native peoples have been living here for over 10,000 years, with the population rising and falling with the climate. I went to an interesting talk last summer given by an archaeologist who had a unique way of assessing population correlated with temperature. The time period known as the Altithermal, around 5,000 to 8,500 years ago, saw the fewest people living around the basin. The Altithermal was a dry hot period and many of the native peoples moved higher, into the mountains, to survive. Interestingly, the Altithermal termperatures in the Big Horn Basin are approximately the temperatures we have today, as our own temperatures are rising.
So when I was hiking around the desert last week and ran into some tipi rings, I couldn’t help imagining what these peoples might have been doing and how they were living.
The rocks were used to hold down the tipi skirt. Used over and over again, this location contained four visible rings, high on a hill. Water was far below, although we did find a dry spring along the other side of the hill and closer to the rings. My friend thought this was a hunting camp, since it was small and near in a prominent landmark. And he might be right because the location was perfect for watching game, especially antelope and deer that might pass through.
Just outside of Cody there are a large amount of tipi rings above the Shoshone River. You can tell they are more recent, say 150 years, as the rocks are not very embedded in the dirt. The Crow used to winter down along the river and use the hot springs. The hot springs is now on private land.
It’s such a nice gift to run into these ancient signs. They should be left untouched as they are part of our story and the story of the Land.