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 Fremont Indian History and Culture
O. Ned Eddins

Paleo-Indian Website Articles:

Paleo- Indians     Meso-American Indians       Barrier Canyon  Anasazi      Mesa Verde    Betatakin     Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch      Indian Rock Art      Hovenweep      Monument Valley     

Fremont is the name given to diverse groups of Native American Indians that inhabited the western Colorado Plateau and the eastern Great Basin area from 400 A.D. to 1350 A.D.. These Indians were hunter-gatherers, and may have spoken different languages, or widely divergent dialects (Madsen).  Fremont Indians occupied this desolate land several hundred years before the first Europeans arrived in America.

                                                             The Totem and Ya Bie Chi

The semi-arid land inhabited by the Fremont and Anasazi Indians contains areas of spectacular beauty. There are more National Parks (Zions, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands), National Monuments (Hovenweep, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges, Escalante-Grand Staircase) and numerous State Parks in the homeland of the Fremont and Anasazi Indians than any other area of North America.

There were probably no more than ten thousand Native American Indians scattered across the canyonlands  of Utah and high deserts of the Great Basin at any one time (Barnes).

                                                                 Monument Valley Mittens

Harvard University’s Peabody Museum funded the Claflin-Emerson Expedition to study the Prehistoric Indian sites of Utah. A member of the Claflin-Emerson research project, Noel Morss excavated in 1928 and 1929 several prehistoric Indian sites along the Fremont River of central Utah. Morss coined the term Fremont Indians to describe the Native Americans that inhabited these early prehistoric Native American Indian sites. Morss maintained the Fremont Indian Culture was clearly influenced by the Southwest Anasazi Culture, but was not an integral part of it.

                                                                      Fremont Stone Knife

Archaeologists use four distinctive artifact categories to distinguish the Fremont Indian Culture from the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans (Madsen):

a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. Some archaeologists believe this single artifact differentiates the Fremont Indian culture from the Anasazi, or the historic Native American groups.

moccasin style constructed from the hock of a deer or mountain sheep leg. This and other moccasin types found in Fremont sites are very different from the woven yucca sandals of the Anasazi.

thin gray pottery with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay.

a distinctive rock art style used in pictographs, petroglyphs, and clay figures depicting trapezoidal human figures bedecked in necklaces and blunt hairstyles. 

A question still unanswered is where did the Fremont Indians come from?

One theory is the Fremont Indians split off  from the Anasazi and headed north.

Another theory is the Fremont Indians, like the Anasazi emerged from an older desert archaic culture.

Dr. Jesse D. Jennings summarized his views on the Desert Culture (or Desert Archaic) model at the Leigh Lecture at the University of Utah in 1975 (Janetski):

From 10,000 or more years ago, until A.D. 400, the only culture represented in Utah, as well as the rest of the Great Basin, was the Desert Archaic. That culture is characterized as a hunting-gathering one, a flexible, highly adaptive life way that has characterized most of man's worldwide history.

A new archeological study area along Range Creek in the Book Cliff Mountains of Utah will contribute a great deal of information on the Fremont Indian Culture. Protected for over fifty years by Waldo Wilcox, a Utah rancher, the Uinta Fremont villages along Range Creek have been virtually untouched.

                                                Fremont Artifacts - Wilcox Range Creek Ranch

The Wilcox ranch was recently acquired by the State of Utah. The Range Creek sites will be studied and protected by Utah's Wildlife Resources' Division of History and the Utah Museum of Natural History.   

                                                                         Fremont Indian Map

Although the vast majority of the Fremont Indian sites have been found in Utah, there have been sites, or Fremont Indian artifacts, found in western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming, eastern Nevada, and southern Idaho. Based on thin gray-coil pottery, the Fremont Indian sites in Utah are divided into five different groups. Classifications are based on a few common traits, but this does not mean they were the same people.

Fremont Indian origins are contemporaneous with early Mogollon villages of New Mexico and Arizona. The Fremont and Mogollon Indian cultures share many characteristics of architecture and ceramic design. Fremont Indian corn appears to have been developed by the Fremont Indians from an early species found in the Mogollon highlands. This is not the same species of corn found in the Four Corners region (Stone). The corn used by the Fremont Indians, known as Fremont Dent, is resistant to drought, environmental extremes, and has a short growing season.

The Mogollon corn had originated in Mesoamerica about 5600 B.C. A wild plant known as Teosinte is the probable ancestor of corn, but this is a subject of debate between botanists (Diamond). The ears of Teosinte were only a few inches long and had no covering husks.

                                                            Teosinte - National Science Foundation

By 750 A.D., agriculture was beginning to be a major source of food for some groups of Fremont Indians. In some cases, the Fremont Indian agriculture used flood irrigation to grow corn, squash, and beans along the river bottoms. Some of the ditches were several miles long, and are still visible in some places today (Barnes).

Corn, beans, and squash added to the Fremont diet of native plants such as pickleweed, amaranth, pinyon nuts, globe mallow, rice grass, beeweed, berries, bulbs, and tubers along with meat from hunting. The floral and faunal material found at various Fremont Indian sites indicate a mixed horticultural and hunting-and-gathering subsistence (Stone).

Nine Mile Canyon between Price and Myton, Utah is one of the richest areas of Fremont Indian artwork. The picture below is at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon as it joins Nine Mile Canyon. The pictures of the Fremont granary, the pithouse outline, and rock shelters are located in this area.

                                                              Mouth of Cottonwood Canyon

This Fremont granary is across from the Fremont pithouse outline shown below. The granary is at the end of the dark ledge just above the arrow.

                                                                            Fremont Granary

Pithouses were low semi-subterranean structures covered with brush with a fire ring in the center. Sometimes, the pithouse was covered with a mud coating. The pithouses varied in shape from circular to rectilinear and were generally about two feet deep.

Fremont Pithouse Outline - Nine Mile Canyon

                                                 Reconstructed Pithouse - State Park, Boulder, Utah

Entrance to the pithouse was through the opening at the top using a ladder. The hole also served as a smoke hole.

The Parowan Fremont built their pithouses close together, usually ten to twenty pithouses on a valley floor near streams (Stone). On the other hand, the San Rafael Fremont's pithouses were usually slab-lined. They also built above ground masonry structures, often multi-roomed, that were constructed with and without mortar. In both cases, four central roof supports were used. ..this is a far cry from today's world where  home advisor reviews  can be checked to build, renovate or review plans for construction. The structures were plastered on the interior walls, and slab-lined fire pits were common. The San Rafael Fremont village sites were on hills and ridges overlooking permanent water sources and their farmland.

Rock overhangs were used by the Fremont Indians for storage and for shelter.

                                                                  Red-streaked Rock Shelter

The Fremont Culture was not a rigid society like the Anasazi. The Fremont Indians seemed to take delight in being different. Jackal houses, small unit houses, and pithouses are often found in the same village (Barnes). Despite some villages being close together, the Fremont Indians were an aggressive people and uneasy truces existed between the villages.

Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, and the bow and arrow. The scene below at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon is of a deer hunt, notice the large number of fawns in the petroglyph.

The Hunter Panel

Animal hides were used for breechclouts, moccasins, robes, leather mittens, and other warm garments. Fremont women sewed and mended the leather, which the Anasazi never mastered.

As hunter-gatherers and settled-village lifestyle, the Fremont Indian culture lasted for about nine-hundred years. Note what appears to be a turkey on the right.

                                                   Fremont Indian Family - Nine Mile Canyon

By A.D. 1350, the Fremont culture was gone from the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau. The abandonment started as early as 950 A.D. in the northeastern edge of Utah with the Uinta Fremont. After the Fremont Indians left, the canyonlands were unoccupied for hundreds of years. The historical Native Americans of the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau are relatively recent arrivals (Stone).

There is still a question of what happened to the Fremont Indians. Some archaeologists believe the Fremont Indians were starved out, or forced out to the north and east. The evidence is not conclusive, but Barnes states that the nomadic Fremont Indians were partially responsible for the Anasazi abandoning the four corners area. Barnes further postulates the Fremont Indians merged with a band of Shoshone and become the historic Ute Indians. Ute Indians raided the Paiute and Goshute tribes for slaves into the mid-eighteen hundreds. This seems reasonable, what is not reasonable is an aggressive, nomadic culture is going into the Rocky Mountains or Great Basin deserts when there is a readily obtainable food source to the South.

Gunnerson postulates the Uintah Fremont become the Ute Indians. In the cliff dwelling, the Anasazi were safe, but from there they could not protect the crops on the plateaus or the valley floors. The pacifist farmer's fields of corn, squash, and beans were easy targets for Fremont raiding parties.

The Fremont Indian article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

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