Monday, February 1, 2010


The petroglyph illustrated at the center of the picture is to be found in the Picketwire Canyon, the canyon of the Purgatoire River in southeastern Colorado near La Junta. It is appears to be an image of a decorated shield in what has been designated as the Rio Grande Style. I think of these decorated shield images as sort of a portrait of someone. Native American shield decoration was not like the heraldry displayed on medieval shields in Europe. A group of warriors who followed a military leader in medieval Europe might carry identical shields to show their allegiance and common identity. The imagery on a Native American shield tended to be unique to that individual and was likely to illustrate the vision in which he received his spiritual and military power. Given this, I think of a rock art image of an illustrated shield as a sort of portrait of the owner, a portrayal of an object that is unique to one individual. This portrayal would also be recognizable to other people who knew the owner, and would represent him as a form of portrait.

Purgatoire canyon, southeast Colorado.
Photo: Peter Faris.

Among Native American cultures the owl was a spiritually powerful being, and was often believed to have martial attributes. The owl was often believed to bring messages concerning enemy activities to someone with a sacred connection to them, someone who had perhaps received “owl power” during a vision quest. I feel safe then in assuming that the Picketwire Owl Shield represented a particular individual, someone whose vision had gifted him with military ability and spiritual power. I think of this individual as a warrior named Owl Shield.

It is also very interesting that above the owl shield petroglyph, another round image seems to contain a cruder imitation, or at least a variation of the image. Does this represent the same warrior, or someone else, perhaps Owl Shield Jr.? Finally, the Picketwire owl shield was adopted by the Colorado Rock Art Association about four years ago as its logo. This represents quite a legacy and memorial to our unknown warrior Owl Shield, and also his legacy to us.

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