Early Spanish artifacts in the Big Horn MountainsJanuary 11, 2011

This is my first blog and I asked my niece-in-law, Terri Fenn, to set it up on my web site for me. She’s a computer genius and I am on the opposite end of that spectrum. At age eighty I sometimes feel like I want to just sit down and say something, maybe as if I’m talking to myself, and I certainly wonder if anyone else would be interested in what I have to say. No matter really, I’ll just do it for my own entertainment if it comes to that.

My periodic blogs will wander into most fields of human endeavor. If you agree with me please let me know and if you disagree just try not to hurt my feelings too much. I’ve been known to be wrong but usually that fact is admitted only to this blogger.

A few weeks ago a man whom I did not know sent me a digital photo of a sword that a relative of his had found many years ago in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. It was rusted pretty good but some of the markings on the blade were still discernible. I forwarded the photo and his comments on an archaeological list that is maintained by Dr. Dave Phillips at the U of New Mexico. The list has a membership of a few hundred people, many of whom are pretty bright souls. I wanted to know if anyone had seen anything similar or could identify what the fellow had found. The general consensus was the the Sword is of Spanish origin, probably 17th or early 18th century.

One response came back was from Dr. Bob Kelly at the U of Wyoming. and he forwarded information about another sword, probably early Spanish, that had also been found in the Bighorns. His story reminded me of an incident that took place about 1972. I was driving from Santa Fe to Cody, Wyo. and stopped for gas in the little town of Meeteetse, not far from Cody. While the gas guy was pumping fuel into my car a pickup truck pulled up in front of a house about thirty feet from where I was standing. A couple of guys jumped out of the truck and were looking and pointing to something in the back. Soon six or eight other folks had gathered around and everyone seemed pretty excited about something. So of course I had to stroll over and see for myself.

Well, I could not believe what was in the bed of that truck. A horse skull and lots of other bones, large and small. Maybe some of them were human but I don’t remember seeing a human skull. The interesting thing was the horse gear and associated accouterments, including an ornate Spanish bridle bit that had rusted iron jangles hanging on it, a wonderful Spanish saddle and some weaponry that left no doubt in the minds of those present that this horse had been ridden by a Spaniard soldier. The headstall, reins and other trappings were made of tanned leather that had become dark and brittle from having been buried for a few hundred years. The rancher who brought the things in said he had found them eroding from a dry arroyo on his place, which I later learned was the Pitchfork Ranch.

After a few minutes the owner decided to unload the artifacts and bones and store them in a house that was adjacent to the gas station. In the excitement there was talk of building a museum to display this important cache. After the truck had been unloaded I looked in the bed and noticed a lot of small brass tacks that had become dislodged from the brittle horse trappings. So of course, after obtaining permission to collect the tacks, I jumped in and picked up 123 of those beautiful things. They are typical of what we saw later on early Plains Indian leather knife sheaths, especially Blackfeet. They have square shanks and the heads measure about 9mm in diameter. I still have those very historic pieces of American history.

And thinking about it now, forty or so years later, it is natural to wonder about the person who rode that horse. History does not say that the Spanish in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries ventured that far north. And the thought naturally follows; how many other such interesting stories have occurred across the vast reaches of this country that are unknown or forgotten by history.

I recently published my memoir. It’s called The Thrill of the Chase and in it I told of some misadventures from my youthful years gr owning up in Central Texas and around Yellowstone. If I had my way everyone would jot down their memories, if not for their children and grandchildren, then just to document how life was lived during our times. And if those memories are not published then surely they should be sent to the Library of Congress where they will be stored in some long forgotten alcove for a few hundred years. But just think how some elderly historian, five hundred years from now, wearing bespeckled glasses will be touched by your words. Those things are important. What if no one had ever written about what happened at the Alamo?

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