Katchina Daisy

The Cedar Mesa Project

Save the Signatures

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Visitors to Grand Gulch are often puzzled by "modern" signatures and initials that appear on boulders and alcove walls at archaeological sites. Though these may seem to be the work of present-day vandals, this is usually not the case. Many are close to a hundred years old. They are an important part of the archaeological understanding of Grand Gulch. Do not try to erase them.

Who left these signatures and what is their importance to researchers and archaeologists today?

Many of these are the names of members of artifact collecting expeditions that came to explore the canyon in the early 1890's. They may have been the first white men to enter Grand Gulch

Though the men were local miners and ranchers with limited formal education, they were, in a very real sense, the Southwest's first archaeologists. They had stumbled upon the ruins of a lost civilization and had an instinctive awareness of the importance of their discoveries. They cataloged their findings, documenting them with field notes, journals, drawings, and photographs. Many of their perceptions about the lifeworks of the ancients have been confirmed by subsequent studies.

Between 1890 and 1897 at least nine collecting expeditions took place in Grand Gulch. Two of great importance were led by Richard Wetherill, the eldest son of a ranching family that had settled in the Mancos valley of southwest Colorado. At least two were undertaken by a pair of local miners named Charles McLoyd and Charles Cary Graham. The signatures illustrated here belong to members of both groups and may be seen in the alcoves where the digging was done. When you are in the Grand Gulch, be on the lookout for these and other signatures.

Why did they sign their names? One can only speculate. Perhaps in response to a fundamentally human urge to record their passing. They were not archaeologists or writers and did not publish their findings in the scientific or popular journals of the day, so autographing the caves (and dating their signatures) may have been a way of claiming their discoveries.

Moreover, they were the first to explore some of the wildest and most inaccessible country in the United States. This in itself deserves to be a matter of record. For whatever reason they signed, we are fortunate that they did. Their signatures provide informational links to secrets of past lives - secrets that might otherwise be lost forever. Why is this knowledge important? Scholars of today are trying to match museum artifacts to archaeological sites in Grand Gulch. This is where the signatures come in. Because they are often dated, they are clues to the whereabouts of the expeditions on particular dates.

Sites referenced in expedition field notes and catalogs - also dated - may then be matched to canyon places. These carefully plotted bits of detective work help modern researchers learn about the lives of a vanished people.

The Wetherill/Grand Gulch project has been doing this detective work for several years. They are a small group of dedicated avocational archaeologists whose interest began by finding historic signatures in the Grand Gulch and then asking questions about them. Their goal was to bring together as much information as possible about the Gulch.. To that end, they have assembled photographs, journals, and other information from visits to eastern museums and exhaustive recording of signatures in the Grand Gulch.

A keen observer will notice many types of signatures and initials at archaeological sites. Some were written with sticks of charcoal or bullet lead. Others were pecked into stone in the manner of ancient petroglyphs. Many, but not all of these, have been discovered and documented, but researchers are working against time. Many signatures that were clearly visible a few decades ago are now almost impossible to see.

All visitors to the Grand Gulch can do several things for these important historic clues. First, don't touch or deface them in any way. Second, report the signatures you find to the Bureau of Land Management so they can be passed on to researchers who are working against time because the signatures are disappearing at a rapid rate.

Finally. please remember these signatures are as much a part of the archaeological record as the Anasazi designs on the canyon walls. Please, leave them as you find them. And spread the word.

Prepared by:
Wetherill-Grand Gulch Project
1935 Vassar Circle
Boulder, Colorado 80303
Tel: 303/499-8424

Published by:
Canyonlands Natural History Association 125 West 200 South
Moab, Utah 84532
Tel: 435/259-6003

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URL of this page: http://bcn.boulder.co.us/environment/cacv/cacvsigs.htm
Revised '9-Jun-2001,11:10:14'
Copyright ©1996, 1999 SCCS.