Sunday, July 24, 2011



J. O'Hare, Co.II, 5th Cav., a historic inscription
in Baca County, CO. Photo: Peter Faris, 1982.

In Baca County, southeastern Colorado, on a private ranch, this historic petroglyph was recorded in 1995. It is deeply inscribed in a rock shelter in a tributary of Soldier Canyon and says “J. O’Hare, Co II, 5th Cav.” The name of Soldier Canyon commemorates an event from the Indian Wars still related by local residents who tell of an Army column that got caught in a blizzard in those canyons and that many animals and a number of soldiers froze to death. It provides an intriguingly personal touch in an environment that still feels isolated, because of its distance from modern civilization, and perhaps because the many ruined homesteads in the vicinity give one a feeling of the fragility of civilization. Attempts to establish the identity of J. O’Hare have so far proved unsuccessful but much of the background of this story can be determined.

5th Cavalry, Nat. Anthropological Archives.
In 1868, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was hired by the U. S. Army as the Chief Scout for the 5th Cavalry stationed at that time at Fort Lyon. The 5th Cavalry had been designated as the northern prong of the great 3-pronged winter campaign against the tribes of the southern Great Plains.

Old Fort Lyon, Colorado. Colorado State
Historical Society.
H. Allen Anderson described the events of December 1868 on the website of the Texas State Historical Society as follows: On December 2, 1868 (Major Eugene) Carr led seven troops of the Fifth Cavalry and one company of the Third Infantry out of Fort Lyon, Colorado. His orders were to join Bvt. Brig. Gen. William H. Penrose, who had left Fort Lyon on November 10 with five troops of cavalry, and set up a supply base on or near the North Canadian (Beaver) River from which they could scour the area to the southeast. The column, which included 100 pack mules and 130 wagons, fared well for three days but then ran into a severe blizzard. - it was not until December 23, after much agony, that Carr finally reached Penrose’s beleaguered camp, with its supplies greatly depleted, on Paloduro Creek in present Texas County, Oklahoma. Pushing on south into the Texas Panhandle, Carr sent out scouting parties and on December 28 established a base on the main Canadian, probably in what is now Roberts County, about twenty miles west of the supply camp set up by Maj. Andrew W. Evans’s Canadian River expedition. What was more, forty of Carr’s teamsters quit and forfeited their pay rather than endure the icy weather any longer.

Camping in the Snow, p.220, The Life of Hon.
William F. Cody Known as Buffalo Bill,
autobiography, 1978, Univ. of Neb. Press
Other sources list a higher number of casualties from the blizzard. “Carr was also having his troubles. He left Fort Lyon on December 2 in clear but cold weather. Three days later, however, a howling blizzard struck the column, froze four men to death, and caused the loss of more than two hundred head of cattle that were to supply fresh meat for both Carr and Penrose. Carr fought his way slowly through the mountainous drifts, worrying increasingly about the fate of Penrose and the possibility of not being able to locate him in such weather.”

The 5th finally found Penrose’ column and, after resupplying them, they scouted around the area for hostile Indians with no success. Considering the fact that Carr’s and Penrose’s columns never saw a hostile Indian was a plan that led to such loss of life justifiable? Carr and Penrose had accomplished their mission, although they had not seen a single Indian as the position of their forces had prevented the Cheyennes from moving north or west and kept them firmly in the path of the principal striking force. There was now nothing for them (Carr and Penrose) to do but retrace a cold and weary path back to Ft. Lyon, which they reached on February 19.

Carr and the 5th Cavalry went on to deliver the final blow to the free Cheyenne on the Northern Plains with their July 11, 1869, defeat of the Dog Soldier band at Summit Springs, Colorado, in which their chief Tall Bull was killed.

Apparently, while confined by the storm in Soldier Canyon, in what was to become Baca County, Colorado, J. O’Hare passed some of his time inscribing this record of his presence in the sandstone of the cliff. Then, in February 2010, I received a communication from Pamela Owens who located enlistment records on for a John O’Hare who enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1864 in Detroit, Michigan, and served in the 5th US Cavalry, Company I. Born in Detroit, O’Hare enlisted at the age of twenty. The records located by Owens further show that he survived the blizzard because he was discharged from the army at Camp Grant, Arizona Territory in August 1872 at the end of his service contract.  He could not be identified on the 1870 or 1880 federal censuses. Mr. O’Hare may well have living descendants who have no idea of this record and I hope that somehow one of them runs across this story.


Anderson, H. Allen

Saturday, July 16, 2011


It is a dictum that we tend to find pretty much what we are looking for, and what we are looking for is primarily affected by our mind set and the knowledge that we have to apply to the quest. In evaluating rock art we are looking for its meaning and we too often interpret the clues in that rock art to fit our preconceived notions. One excellent example of that can be found in interpretations of the symbol that consists of a circle or oval bisected by a line. This is usually dismissed by rock art researchers as a known quantity – it is an atlatl, the Aztec name for a spear thrower. Although that can be correct in the case of some hunting scenes, it is often misapplied even there in that the term is so often used to designate the fletched dart projecting from the prey animal instead of the actual spear thrower (atlatl) that launched it.

5BN7, Hicklin Springs, Bent County, CO.
Photo: Jeannie Hope Gibson, 1991.

On the other hand, among those interested in epigraphy the same symbol, at least when seen alone and not sticking out of the back of an animal, it is often called a “phi-sign” because of its resemblance to the Greek letter phi. Indeed, in some parts of the world, in inscriptions of certain ages this interpretation may make much more sense.

Dr. Douglas Reagan is an ecologist. This gives him a mental framework and a set of knowledge tools that is somewhat different than that of so many rock art researchers who usually tend to be from an archaeological background, or the arts.

While hiking in The Narrows of Utah’s Canyonlands Dr. Reagan observed a rock art panel like the examples from Kenneth Castleton’s book Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Utah. It included images of ducks or geese as well as images of our symbol in question. As an ecologist however, Douglas saw ducks among cattails, and he soon saw other examples. Douglas had observed and recognized a complex of water-related images in this dry and desert environment. Many images of various types of water fowl and shore birds have been long known from the 4-Corners region and Colorado Plateau. They are traditionally interpreted as a plea for rain through sympathetic magic. When found with the “atlatl” images of a circle or oval bisected by a straight line, they are interpreted as a hunting scene. Douglas Reagan has now given us an alternative interpretation, a wetlands scene.
p. 248, Fig. 7.99, Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Utah,
 Vol. II, Kenneth B. Castleton.1987, Utah Museum
 of Natural History, Salt Lake City.

Dr. Reagan applied his knowledge as an ecologist to an examination of the landforms of the area and found definite indications of much wetter periods in the past in the ground. In other words, instead of being a desert at the time the petroglyphs were created, the scenes of water birds and possible cat tail plants were created at a time that the area was much wetter. Reagan believes that he has since found evidence of this in the presence of soil deposits that were laid down in relatively still water, and in buried snail shells of a species that indicate the presence of lake water at the soil level that relates to the period of creation of the rock art.

So what do we make of this; it is certainly an intriguing possibility, as well as a reminder to us to look for the context before deciding that we know what we are talking about.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


The Dying Hunter, Lascaux, France.

On April 29, 2009, I published a posting about the famous panel of the wounded bison and the dying man in Lascaux Cave and how it was interpreted by the great Joseph Campbell. He believed that it represented a Shaman’s Duel based upon Australian aboriginal mythology. I took exception to his analysis, questioning the applicability of an Australian myth to a rock art panel separated from it by 12,000 miles in space and tens of thousands of years in time. Following the principal of Occam ’s razor I assume that it is most likely to represent just exactly what it seems to represent - a hunting accident.

In his 2002 book The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, David Lewis-Williams revisited the shamanism argument for the dying man panel. Lewis-Williams originally swept the rock art community with his early analysis of much of South African rock art in light of San (bushman) religious practices that he defined as Shamanism. He eventually served as director of the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand from which he retired in 2000. He has since published many important books and reached a position of respect world-wide. He has a great ability to organize and analyze data and search for clues and patterns.

As might be expected, considering his focus and early success on the interpretation of South African rock art in light of shamanic influences, he tends to find shamanism behind pretty much anything he looks at. At this point I must confess that I believe that the use of shamanism as an explanation of rock art is hugely overdone. I have gotten to the point where I think of shamanism as the “S”-word. It has reached the position where anyone who cannot come up with a better explanation for rock art just calls it shamanic. A few decades ago pretty much all rock art of animals was dismissed as “hunting magic” and much of the early respect afforded Lewis-Williams came from the fact that he very convincingly gave us an alternative to that overused term. We need to be very careful that we now do not just automatically substitute the “S- word” for “hunting magic” and continue to make the same mistake.

Self portrait by Samantha, 1998.

A number of years ago on a field trip an enthusiastic rock art fan explained to me that all human figures in rock art that have their arms stretched out straight represent shaman figures. Upon return from that trip to the museum where I worked as exhibits curator at the time I was confronted by the illustration above. It turned out that the picture had been done by a young girl named Samantha who had run out of space on the page when signing her name. The resulting picture had been posted on a lobby wall by the institution’s education curator.

I kept a copy of the picture because at that time its innocent childishness seemed to sum up so perfectly the statement that “all figures in rock art that have their arms outstretched straight represent shaman figures”; why she even spelled shaman almost correctly. At the very least it represents scientific proof as definitive as some of Lewis-Williams’.

It is a natural human impulse to assign answers to unexplained phenomena, but that does not make them correct.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Anasazi Ridge, UT. Photograph
by Richard Colman, 2011
On December 9, 2009, I published a posting on polydactylism (extra fingers or toes) in rock art, and explained Marie Wormington’s theory on what it indicates. At that time I wrote:

“Back in 1982 I had the privilege of meeting H. Marie Wormington on a few occasions. During the course of one conversation over dinner we discussed her theory of why so many 6-toed footprints (and 6-fingered hand prints) can be found in rock art.

Marie had joined the Denver Museum of Natural History staff in 1935 as an archaeologist, and was the curator of archeology there from 1937 to 1968. Her knowledge and opinions were extremely influential in early studies of prehistoric cultures of the 4-corners and Great Plains.

She explained to me that her theory had been based upon the circumstances of a Fremont culture burial that she had excavated many years before. This particular male skeleton was found with valuable grave goods suggesting a VIP, and she found that this person had displayed polydactylism - the man had six fingers. She had put those two facts together and theorized that perhaps the presence of the polydactylism had contributed to the person’s status. We frequently hear that among Native American cultures physical and mental differences were looked upon as marking a person as special instead of being a cause for discrimination against them. Following this thought it only made sense that a person born with six fingers might have gravitated to a position of influence in the society, perhaps a shaman or medicine man. And then, to expand on that thought we have to ask who was most likely to have been commemorated in rock art?

It is often assumed that a hand print in rock art represents a person’s signature or identity and, if this is indeed the case, the six-fingered hand print or footprint represents a particular important individual who possessed that trait.”

This particular example was photographed by Richard Coleman in 2011 at Anasazi Ridge, in the area of St. George, Utah. You can see that the two lower footprints each have six toes. Wormington’s hypothesis works for me here as well. Footprints with six toes on each foot would have been made that way on purpose, you just don’t miscount when making something like that. So, I see them as representing someone with polydactylism, someone specific. In other words they serve as a portrait of a certain individual; an individual perhaps memorialized by these images.

Also, at Anasazi Ridge, a pair of what appear to be bear paw prints with seven claws each can be found. Since the claws are the dangerous part, perhaps extra claws are meant to portray greater danger, or an encounter with a bear that involved great risk. Who knows?