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Santa Clara River Reserve

Additional Cultural History of Santa Clara/Land Hill ACEC

Evidence of very early human uses of the ACEC area, during either the Paleo-Indian (prior to15, 000 years ago) or Archaic Stages (approximately 7,000 B.C. to about 300 B.C.) has not yet been documented. Most previously recorded sites date to the Formative Stage, that timeframe between approximately 700 B.C. and A.D.1200, during which indigenous hunting and collecting groups gradually became small-scale corn (maize) farmers, settled in permanent villages, and began to produce fine quality ceramics. 
 
In the American Southwest, archaeologists divide the long Formative Stage into two major subdivisions, called the Basketmaker and Pueblo periods. A majority of the sites that have been recorded in the Land Hill ACEC can be dated, based on a correlation of the ceramics present on the sites, to the Pueblo I (A.D. 700-900) and Pueblo II (A.D.900 to 1150) periods. The long southern Utah growing season, a perennial water supply, and land easily manipulated for agricultural purposes made the Santa Clara River attractive to prehistoric horticulturalists. The indigenous groups who occupied the sites recorded here have been labeled by archaeologists as the Virgin [Branch] Anasazi (or Ancestral Puebloans), because their distinctive ceramics and architectural styles occur at sites along the entire Virgin River drainage of southern Utah, the Arizona Strip, and southern Nevada. By late Pueblo II times, Virgin Anasazi populations had begun to decline, probably because of long-term droughts in this region that were followed by episodes of intense precipitation and catastrophic flooding. These uncertain environmental conditions made small-scale farming, even along streams and rivers like the Santa Clara River, a risky subsistence practice. Virgin Anasazi groups appear to have abandoned sites along the entire Virgin River drainage by about A.D. 1220.
 
More than a 125 archeological sites have been recorded on the public lands of Land Hill and along a 2.5 mile reach of the Santa Clara River (Dalley 1984). The habitation or village sites include architectural remains, ceramics, grinding stones (manos and metates), and lithic debris (debitage) from the preparation of chipped stone tools.   Similar site types are found on private lands in Anasazi Valley, located on the west stream terrace of the Santa Clara River (Allison 1989) and elsewhere along the river. Another category of sites found on Land Hill and along the Santa Clara River are many examples of “rock art” (petroglyphs) incised or pecked into the dark desert varnish coated surface of Shinarump Conglomerate. Design motifs include human figures, geometric designs, and animal shapes that appear to depict big horn sheep, lizards, and birds. 
 
The Late Prehistoric Stage follows the Formative and is generally dated to begin around A.D. 1200 and end with the establishment of permanent Euro-American settlements in the mid-19th century. Within the Land Hill area, archaeological sites dating to the Late Prehistoric Stage include rock shelters and artifact scatters containing brown ware ceramics and other material culture that can be affiliated to the Southern Paiute people, who continue to live here today. 
 
The ancestral Southern Paiute are believed to have moved into this region sometime between A.D. 1000 and 1300, from a homeland located in the Mojave Desert of California. They were hunters and gatherers who practiced a seasonal round of resource collection and processing over a broad and diverse landscape. In southern Utah, however, some Southern Paiute groups became small-scale farmers, diverting water from the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers, and other smaller streams, to cultivate garden plots. Euro-American explorers to this region, including Dominquez and Escalante in 1776 and Jedidah Smith in the 1820s, reported seeing irrigation ditches and small check dams constructed by the Southern Paiute to divert water from the rivers ands streams onto their fields of corn, beans, and squash. A Southern Paiute site, located on private lands in Anasazi Valley was excavated by archaeologists from Brigham Young University in the 1980s. This site contained evidence of maize cultivation that dated to A.D. 1700 and A.D. 1830 (Allison 1988).  
 
A number of sites contain examples of both Virgin Anasazi and Southern Paiute ceramics, suggesting either continuity between the two occupations or re-use of earlier sites by Southern Paiute people. Other cultural manifestations of the Southern Paiute occupations along the Santa Clara River include rock art sites which depict painted (pictographs) images of horses and riders, clearly produced after contacts with Euro-Americans.
 
A third category of sites relate to the 18th and 19th century Euro-American explorations. In A.D. 1776, two Franciscan priests from New Mexico, Dominquez and Escalante, traveled through southern Utah, looking for an overland route to the Spanish colonies in California. Their journals led to the establishment of a well-used pack trail along which New Mexican traders drove large herds of horses and sheep during annual trips to California. This travel route came to be known as the Old Spanish Trail. The main trace of the Old Spanish Trail followed the Santa Clara River south from Mountain Meadows, diverting to the west over the low pass of Utah Hill (old Highway 91). Some drovers and horseback travelers did, however, not take that cut-off, grazing their pack animals along the Santa Clara River and traveling down the Virgin River gorge. In 2001, the Old Spanish Trail was designated as a National Historic Trail. 
 
By the early 1850s, the first colonies were being established by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in southern Utah. The high cliff faces of Land Hill contain historic inscriptions and dates left by these early settlers. A portion of an1860s-era historic irrigation system is also located, primarily on private lands, but some portions extend onto lands administered by the BLM. The construction and maintenance of irrigation systems were an important aspect of pioneer agricultural efforts along the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers.