History and Culture of the Fremont Indians
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Fremont Indians is the name given to the diverse groups of Native Americans that inhabited the western Colorado Plateau and the eastern Great Basin from 400 A.D. to 1350 A.D. Classified as Fremont Indians, these groups were hunter-gathers, and may have spoken different languages, or had widely divergent dialects. There were probably no more than ten thousand Native American Indians scattered across the canyon lands and high deserts of the Great Basin at any one time.
In 1921, Harvard University's Peabody Museum funded the Claflin-Emerson Expedition to study the pre-historic Indian sites of Utah. As part 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 Indian sites. Morss maintained that the Fremont Indian Culture was clearly influenced by the Southwest Anasazi culture, but was not an integral part of it.
Archeologists use four distinctive artifact categories to distinguish the Fremont Indian Culture from the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans: a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. Some archeologists believe this single artifact differentiates the Fremont Indian culture from the Anasazi, or the historic Native American groups. The Fremont used a 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. They fashioned
thin grey pottery with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay. They used 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 that the Fremont Indians were a group of Anasazi that split off and headed north. Another theory is that the Fremont Indians, like the Anasazi emerged from an older desert archaic culture. Dr. Jesse D. Jennings summarized his views on the Desert Culture 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 Uintah Fremont villages along Range Creek have been
virtually untouched. 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
Based on thin gray, coil pottery, the Fremont Indian sites in Utah are divided into five different groups. These classifications are based on a few common traits. It does not mean they were the same people. 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.
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. Around 400 A.D., the Fremont Indians obtained corn through trade with the Mogollon. The corn used by the Fremont Indians, known as Fremont Dent, is resistant to drought, environmental extremes, and has a short growing season. The Fremont Indian corn appears to have been developed in the Fremont area from an early species found in the Mogollon highlands. This is not the same species of corn that is found in the Four Corners Region.
The Mogollon corn had originated in Mesoamerica about 4000 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. By 750 A.D., agriculture was beginning to be a major source of food for some groups of Fremont Indians. In many cases, the Fremont Indians that embraced agriculture were using flood irrigation to grow corn, squash, and beans in the semi-aired land. Some of the ditches were several miles long, and are still visible in some places today (Barnes). Corn, beans, and squash grown along the river bottoms 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 indicates a mixed horticultural and hunting-and-gathering subsistence (Stone). Excess food was stored in pottery jars or baskets inside small masonry structures in the village or in small granaries tucked under overhangs on narrow ledges. These storage granaries can still be occasionally spotted in canyonlands.
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 pit houses are often found in the same village (Barnes). Despite some villages being close together, the Fremont Indians were an aggressive people and unease truces existed between the villages. The pit houses of the Parowan Fremont were low semi-subterranean structures covered with brush. Sometimes, the pit house were covered with a mud coating. The pit houses varied in shape from circular to rectilinear and were generally about two feet deep. A fire ring was in the center of the pit houses The Parowan Fremont built their pit houses close together, usually ten to twenty pit houses on a valley floor near streams (Stone).
On the other hand, the San Rafael Fremont's pit houses 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. 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.
Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, and the bow and arrow. The animal hides were used for breechclouts, moccasins, robes, leather mittens, and other warm garments. Unlike the Anasazi, the Fremont Indian women used the animal skins to make clothing. The Fremont women sewed and mended the leather, which the Anasazi never mastered. The Fremont Indian as a hunter-gather, and settled-village, lifestyle continued for about 600 years.