The Paleo-Indians

Paleolithic Man in Northeastern Colorado
Flat Top Butte
"Indian Painted Cave"


Doris Monahan Home

Drawing of paleolithic man

Eons of time passed in this area after the dinosaurs had disappeared. Scientists say that the Ice Age did not extend as far south as Northeastern Colorado but it gave its name to the whole period. After the glaciers melted in Canada, the hills and valleys of northeast Colorado became warmer and more hospitable.

About 11,000 to 10,000 years ago when the last of the woolly mammoths and mastodons were succumbing to the warming climate and moving northward, men called Paleo-Indians hunted in northeast Colorado. These men who produced a weapon called the Clovis point, switched their hunting quarry after a long period of time to the then numerous ancient, huge, and ponderous bison. “Clovis” man was succeeded by the Paleo-Indian culture which produced the Folsom point.

Photo of Clovis Point
Photo of Folsom Point
Clovis Point-Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Folsom Point-Courtesy Wikimedia

In the following article I mentioned the bison kill-site near Wray, Colorado. The Wray Museum has diagrams and illustrations that are very interesting. It also has a monstrous white plaster copy of an ancient bison. It is shown in a kneeling position, partly because the ceiling is not high enough to accommodate the full size animal, but also because the front legs could not have been made strong enough to support the weight of the plaster.

Wray Museum statue of prehistoric buffalo

Paleolithic Man in Northeastern Colorado
By Doris Monahan

This article was originally published in the Centennial Edition of the Sterling Journal Advocate on June 21, 1984.

When was the last time you found an arrowhead? Was it chipped in a particularly even pattern of concave grooves along the sides of the blade? If so, this might not be an ordinary arrowhead left behind by the Plains Indians who roamed northeast Colorado in the 19th century. If you found a projectile point like this, you may have in your possession a relic of Paleolithic man, a stone weapon which could be 11,000 or more years old. Congratulations on your good fortune!

What is more important is that you marked the place where you found the point—perhaps with a cairn of stones—so that you could lead an archaeologist to the site of your find. This could be of inestimable importance.

The first man in northeast Colorado, the Paleo-Indian, came originally from Asia, having crossed a land bridge in the Alaska area along the frozen borders of the several phases of he Wisconsin Ice Age, 15,000 years ago, as a conservative estimate, and 50,000 years ago as a radical possibility.

Before coming to the western hemisphere early Paleo-men armed themselves with sharp-pointed sticks and heavy rocks to prod and hammer to death a defenseless woolly mammoth cow or calf which had probably become mired in deep mud. This was a an occasion of great feasting. Such meals were not regular for these people, and they usually subsisted on much smaller game.

Necessity required the development of a better weapon. A chipped flint blade, which was secured between the slotted ends of the prodding stick, was invented, and with this javelin these people migrated gradually across Bering Strait to an entirely new world. The Paleo-Indians scattered to various parts of the continent, but those who came to the south and western part most interest to us in Logan County.

In a cave in the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico the lowest layer of occupation yielded crude but distinctive spear points which were well-flaked but not nearly as refined as those which came later. At Clovis, N. M., the beautifully crafted Clovis projectile point was first discovered. This was an effective weapon, and the Paleo-Indian of the Great Plains now became a tough and aggressive hunter.

With the aid of a spear thrower these hunters chose as their quarry the great furred animals, such as the giant sloth. This creature was as large as an elephant and so curiously built anatomically that it was easy for him to stand on his hind feet in order to swing his huge, strong arms with lethal claws at his enemy. Man with Clovis points also hunted the woolly mammoth, even larger than modern elephants with tusks 6 to 8 feet long. The points were just as effective against were lesser animals such as huge camels and small horses.

Unfortunately almost no established sites of Clovis points with mammoth bones have been found in Colorado. In 1932 at Dent, on the South Platte River (in the Greeley area), it was believed that a mammoth kill site had been discovered with Clovis points intermixed with the bones of the animals. For many years this was considered a major find, but the dogged logic of a scientist named Frank Frazier discredited the theory that 13 mammoths had met their deaths at the hands of Clovis-point hunters 11,200 (plus or minus 500) years ago.

It is now believed that the mammoth bones were washed into this area and were not killed by man. It is claimed that the projectile points found with the bones were also washed in—all except for one. One large point with typical Clovis grooves was found imbedded in the matrix surrounding a bone and was left in place and removed to a museum intact. The head-shaking scientists have since concluded that the mammoth must have been wounded at some other place and the spear point remained lodged in his body until his accidental death at or near Dent.

Within the bounds of Logan County a Clovis point associated with mammoth bones was found by Tom Pomeroy of Atwood, a noted northeast Colorado archaeologist. Unfortunately, circumstances made scientific investigation of the site impractical.

The Clovis point, of about 12,000 years before present (BP), is so beautifully proportioned that it fits perfectly into a geometric projection of curves based on the metric system of measurement.

The Folsom point is of a later period than the Clovis and is more commonly found. It is also more complicated to describe. The first stage of its manufacture involved the use of both pressure flaking and percussion. A general shape was formed and then thinned considerably. Pressure flaking caused the uniform flutes across the edge of the blades.

A deep groove was then hammered through the center of the point from base to tip, probably using an antler tine as a tool. The purpose of this groove was to hold the point in place between the split ends of the javelin tip. (On very thin blades this groove was omitted). At the base of the point the flaked edges were then ground smooth in order to prevent their cutting the sinews which bound them in place.

The famous Lindenmeier site, 20 miles north of Fort Collins in northeast Colorado, was examined in 1934-38 by the Colorado Museum of Natural History for the Smithsonian Institution. Here many Folsom points were found as well as the tools to make them. Bones were also found here, those of the camel and an intermediate type of bison—a species which evolved sometime between the most ancient bison and modern bison. Some of the Folsom points found at Lindenmeier farm were very similar to that belonging to Tom Pomeroy in the accompanying illustration.

The Folsom point died out about 10,000 BP and was succeeded by types like the Eden point of perhaps a millennium later than Folsom. The Eden point was named for a site in Wyoming. It and the Scottsbluff point, which is several millennia younger, are characterized by parallel flaking. These points are also identified by the clearly defined base, changing abruptly from the curve of the blade to the straight lines of the shaft. Paleolithic man was a nomad by necessity, and it seems that many cultures of Paleo-Indians wandered over northeast Colorado in search of game. Both Eden and Scottsbluff point-makers left behind their characteristic weapons.

The first Hell-Gap point in Colorado was discovered in 1873 by a Wray area rancher named Robert Jones Jr. who came across points and bones while excavating. He contacted Jack Miller (once a resident of Sterling) who notified the Smithsonian. The archaeological excavation was conducted from 1973 to ’78. The bones of about 300 bison were found in a pit. It was concluded that the Paleo-Indians had dug a pit entered only by a ramp which was made slick with manure and snow. When the bison were driven into the pit their descent was hastened to their final resting place. The Hell-Gap points are named for a place in Wyoming where they are dated 9,000 BP while the Wray site dated them at about 10,000 BP, give or take 300 years.

The unidentified point next in sequence after the Hell-Gap in the photograph might be called the ‘Pomeroy point’ because, although it has been examined by other experts, it has not been assigned to any category. It is believed that it should be dated around 7,000 BP.

The Allen point marks the approaching end of the early Paleo-Indian projectile points, dating from 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. It is characterized by flake scars that are usually oriented from upper left to lower right across the face of the point. The center line of the juncture of the flakes is often difficult to see.

The Cody Complex (originally from Cody, Wyoming) is dated from 9,000 to 7,000 years ago. There are 8 of these sites in Colorado which incorporate Eden and Scottsbluff points and the Cody knife ( a distinctive hafted knife with an angled stem). One of these sites is the Frasca, in which Tom Pomeroy participated. The Frasca ranch is located approximately 20 miles northwest of Sterling. It was a kill site in which one area consisted of 7,780 bison bones. Three complete Cody projectile points were found. They were similar to Eden and Scottsbluff points with parallel flaking but wit a less noticeable shaft.

Pomeroy says a young woman excavator came to him and announced “I think I’ve found a projectile.,” and continued in a triumphant whisper, “And I touched it!” It was the first time a human had touched it in about 8,900 years.

Another archaeological dig in which Pomeroy was active was the Merino site—which he discovered—where bison had been killed, but no projectiles were found, only tools for butchering. This site had a perplexing radio-carbon date of 3,000 BP, plus or minus 1475 years.

Pomeroy and students from Northeastern Junior College took part in the Lutes excavation which yielded a skeleton of a Paleo-Indian with “four spear points in and around the rib cage.” Analysis of the skeleton indicated that it was a 55-year-old male with some bones belonging to another person—sex not determined—and a few bones of small animals. The male Indian had been wounded, probably fatally, by a projective point which entered between the ribs on one side and spent itself in tissue on the opposite side of the chest. The burial was dated to the Early Dipper (from a Logan County site) period circa 4,000 BP. See photos from Sterling Journal Advocate below.

When one reads the report of the Dipper Gap site (Named for Charles Dippert, who homesteaded a quarter in Section 20, Township 11 North, Rage 55 West, in 1889) one wonders how durable old Flattop, the butte in northern Logan county, has managed to survive for so many years after all the chipping away of its stone which was done by Paleo as well as modern Indians. Sixty-six percent of the stone implements found by a Colorado State University excavating team and Pomeroy were made of Flattop chert or chalcedony. Many of the points found here (dating to around 4,000 BP) are almost like a Christmas tree in shape with shoulders near the stem which sweep back in hook-like projectiles.

Tom Pomeroy, who takes his archaeology very seriously, feels strongly about educating artifact hunters. Pomeroy is willing to teach those are interested in this pursuit. “I want to inform people who find anything to realize its importance,” he said. He says that it is all right to pick up surface objects as long as the place is marked sufficiently to be able to find it again. If the find seems to be a valuable one it should be brought to the attention of Colorado State University or the Smithsonian. Both of these institutions have participated in discoveries in the area. The prehistory of the Plains may provide answers to innumerable questions, but in order to do so, it will require the cooperation of us all.

-Doris Monahan

Sources for Paleo-Indians—

Since this article was written for newspaper publication I did not use numbered notes. Most of my information came from the late Tom Pomeroy, a friend, but I also used these sources:

Jess D. Jennings and Edward Norbeck, eds. Prehistoric Man in the New World. The University of Chicago Press, 1964.

Louis A. Brennan. No Stone Unturned. New York: Random House, 1959.

Bjorn Kurten. “Life in the Ice Age: Prelude to Today,” Our Continent, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1976.

Harold L. Levin. The Earth Through Time. Philadelphia, London, Toronto: Saunders Company, 1978.

Points

Top Row From Left: Clovis, c. 12,00 years Before Present, (BP), Folsom, c. 11,000 BP, Eden, c. 10,000 BP, Hell-Gap, c. 9,000 BP and "Pomeroy Point" c. 8,000 BP.

Lower Row from Left: Allen, c. 7,000 BP, Midland (Cody Complex), c. 6,000 BP, Scottsbluff, c. 5,000 BP, and Dipper Gap c. 4,000 BP.

All projectille points were found by Tom Pomeroy of Atwood, CO. All estimates of age are conservative.

Photo by Rick Shulte
tom pomeroy excavating skeleton
rib cage of paleolithic skeleton
Tom Pomeroy (in hat kneeling at center) assists Northeastern Junior College students in excavation of 4,000 year old Indian skeleton.
Rib cage of Indian skeleton. Note two spear points--one at center and one upper right.

 

Flat Top Butte

Photo of Flat top Butte
photo of don ogle
Flat Top Butte (near Sterling, Colorado)
Don Ogle
Flattop has provided many marvelous arrowheads for the collectors of Sterling since I moved here in 1951 (and probably long before that!). For what follows I have added an article by Don Ogle, which appeared in the (Sterling) Journal Advocate June 9, 1987.
Nearly any modern storekeeper can tell you it is tough to keep the things that everybody needs on hand, and to have plenty of it at the same time.

But there is one trade center which has stood the test of time in Logan County. It has provided for the needs of everyone seeking its commodities for more than 10,000 years. And if people’s needs were the same as in previous centuries, it would more than likely meet the needs for 10,000 more.

That trade center is called Flattop, a 600 acre plateau rising above the prairie about 20 miles northwest of Sterling. It provided what one might term the first shopping center in the area, serving patrons for a thousand generations,.
Flattop was—and still could be--a provider for nearly every need. From meat and vegetables to the medicines which cured indigestion after too large a banquet.

One of the most important facets of Flattop was its rock quarries which still attract everyone, from the casual rockhound to the most serious archeologist, to the area. That is because Flattop’s chalcedony rock—or flint—was widely used throughout the area for everything from spear and arrow projectiles to the tools which ancient man used for his various needs.

Flattop, however, was not the only rock quarry used in Logan County, for there are literally hundreds of spots throughout the area which provided rock for varying uses, each with rock unique to that particular location.

Today there are virtually millions of artifacts surrounding the various quarries in the area, enough to keep archaeologists busy for generations to come.

’If you were able to gather all the artifacts within ten miles of Flattop, it would take a thousand archaeologists a million years to catalog them all,” says Al Parrish of Fort Morgan, recognized by professionals as a top-notch amateur archaeologist. “In fact, if you took all of them within a mile around here and loaded them on a pickup, it probably would blow out your tires.”

Parrish has studied Flattop for many years, accumulating thousands of artifacts from that and other locations throughout the nation.

Parrish describes himself as a devil’s advocate of sorts on many locations, often pushing other historians and archaeologists to the limit on protecting and studying digs. He admits to ruffling some feathers at times, especially when it comes to studying this part of the state.

“I’m kind of opinionated,’ says Parish, “I have my own theories to the way things happened, and the way locations should be studied.” One of his pet interests is Flattop. which he hopes someday will be placed on he National Register, which will help protect its artifacts from random rockhounds, which sometimes are not careful about saving the sites and lands for others.

Despite his sometimes stubborn way of looking at things, Parrish and National Forest Service archaeologist Robert Nycamp agree that Flattop was a major trade center, dating back at least 10,000 years.

“We believe that the Flattop area has been used since Paleo Indian times,” says Nycamp. “It is one of several very rich in the area, known for its unique deposits.”

According to Parrish, Flattop flint was popular for several reasons, among them a deep purplish colored tint. “The Indians like pretty things, and this rock is definitely that,” says Parrish. “Early men also used certain kind of rock because of its texture and hardness, as well as ease of working it.”

More than one kind of chalcedony lines the quarries of Flattop, ranging from the purplish hue to white, and including a translucent brownish strain. Indians and other early men dug into the plateau, either from the top or sides, in search of a rock which ran in veis. They then used any tool available to break off chunks which would later be broken into working size, then chipped into tools and projectiles.

Although Flattop was a popular quarry, Parrish said that its patrons did not limit themselves to only that rock. He explains that, like today, a sort of traveling salesman might dig rock from another area quarry, haul it to Flattop, and trade with someone with an extra bag of Flattop product.

That trading, as well as travel by the tribes, is evident because on many sites there is rock not associated with that particular quarry. Parrish says he has seen rock particular to Flattop as far away as Missouri, while flint from sites in the northeast has shown up in this area.

Part of that is because projectiles, tools and other things may not have been used until the tribe reached another area, but also because some was carried along for use and trade. Trade often occurred if for no other reason to add other colors, adding to the beauty of work.

Parrish believes that Flattop was originally discovered by the hunters of some roving band. It is possible the party may have climbed to the top of the Plateau to take advantage of its height to scan for far-off herds of game, and later discovered the rich deposits.

“’This area has always flourished with game of all sorts,’ says Parrish. “It was important because of that, but later probably became more economically important to the entire community as a quarry.”

Throughout the ages, tribes brought their camps to Flattop to receive of its bounty, then ranged back to other areas, sharing with other groups the richness of the hill.

In some instances, Parrish believes that groups may have sent gathering parties or even entire tribes to the area as often as once a month to gather materials. Some groups may have even lived within several miles of the plateau because of the availability of all needs.

It is hard to determine the actual patterns of the area, for few large archaeological digs have taken place here.

Parrish explains that few tools other than those used for digging are on top of the mesa, because its users only gathered the raw material there, moving to other areas for developing projectiles, drills, and other implements. That is because the tribes shared the area, allowing use by all, much like a department store.

Tepee rings atop the plateau signify that people did set up camps, but it is unknown just how much these camps were used.

The main tribes believed to use the area in the last century included the Cheyenne, Sioux and Pawnees. Also frequenting the plateau were Arapahoes, the only tribe native to the area. Others making rare visits were Kiowas, Comanche, and Apache, plus an occasional long-ranging Delaware hunting party.

In addition to the quarries, Indians made practical use of plants still adorning the plateau. Scarlet Falsemallow not only made a good tea, but could be made into a poultice for drawing out infections. White Bearded Penstemon could be mixed with bear grease, making one of the most effective burn salves ever known to man.

One of the most popular and widely used of the plants then is a menace curse by farmers today. The Red Root Pigweed saps the moisture out of the land and makes farming difficult, but in early days it was one of the best sources of food. Just one plant provided a couple of good handfuls of seeds, which can be eaten as is, or used to make a nourishing gruel.

When that part of the feast was over, the right seasons provided ripe berries from the Prickly Pear cactus, considered even today as a delicacy by some.

For those that lived off the land, Flattop was like a living shopping mall—providing for every need of early man.

--Don Ogle

"Indian Painted Cave"

Tantalizing Newspaper Item

This item was written by either John or Victor Wilson, neither of whom was noted for accuracy. The story is complicated by the fact that George Buchanan was blind. But what if the cave actually had pictographs or wall paintings done by ancient Indians? What a find that would be.
I was told that a local sheepman feared that his flocks would crowd into the cave in a winter storm and smother to death so he dynamited the cave.
Logan County Advocate, July 28, 1894
The Painted Indian Cave—“Away up the Cedar some fifty miles, remarked Geo. Buchanan to an Advocate reporter Wednesday, is a large cave, called Indian Cave Spring. Now to continue the cave story. High up the rocks, some two hundred feet, was a large stone wall. Climbing over this wall one could see a large opening in the bank. passing in at the entrance you would find yourself in a large cave. The walls and ceiling are painted and frescoed in an artistic manner. The pictures have all been drawn by Indians. Horses and cows, heads of Indians and antelope drawings ornament the interior. In some places the work is very finely executed. In one corner a large spring bubbles up and runs away to join the creek. About fifty yards north is located a large burying ground. Some people aver that the cave is haunted by spirits while other claim a large white fawn is the cause of all the uneasiness. A hunt will be instituted shortly to which the writer has a free pass. Look out for something startling, good people.”
 

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