Oregon Trail marker in Wyoming. Petroglyph in the Jack Morrow Hills area, Wyoming. Rock shelter in Wyoming. Rock art in Wyoming. Cultural resource from Wyoming.
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Section 106 Process presentations

Resources at Risk

Protecting Archaeological Resources

Program Summary

BLM manages 18.4 million surface acres of land in Wyoming. Of this, BLM has inventoried approximately 2,950,314 acres (16 percent) and has identified over 45,668 cultural heritage properties. Some 4,790 (11 percent) of these properties have been determined eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, there are 84 sites in Wyoming that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including three multiple properties and two National Historic Landmarks. BLM meets its education and public outreach responsibilities through numerous partnerships with public, academic, and private institutions, and as cosponsor of the annual Island in the Plains Conference on Black Hills prehistory and history.

Castle Gardens

The State displays a unique portrait of prehistoric cultural resources representing some of the earliest and most diverse hunting and gathering cultures in North America, ranging from 13,000 years ago up to the Indian horse cultures of the historic period. Associated with these hunting/gathering cultures is a complete timespan of Native American rock art ranging from dated Paleo-Indian petroglyphs and pictographs up through horse culture iconography of the historic period.

Wyoming, with its harsh high sage desert, rolling plains, and rugged mountains, has historically been known as a place to pass through or exploit for its natural resources rather than as a region desirable for settlement and population growth. The State has more emigrant trails and transportation corridors than any other part of the country.

Wyoming BLM manages over 1,500 miles of historic trails and expansion-era stage and freight roads. There are over 315 miles of Oregon, Mormon Pioneer and California Emigrant, and Pony Express Trails on public land in the State of Wyoming, all of which are demarcated with trail monuments and interpretive signs for the benefit of the public. Additionally, there are numerous trail-associated emigrant camp areas managed by the BLM.

Late 19th and 20th century resource extractive industries and ranching are reflected by a landscape dotted with early mines (gold and coal), oil field camps and townsites, timber and tie camps, and sheep and cattle ranches. Some of these sites are interpreted for public visitation.

State Cultural History

Wyoming has a diversity of ecological niches and topographic relief ranging from grassy plains, sage desert, buttes, seasonally dry arroyos and riverbeds to foothills, dissected mountain slopes, canyons, coniferous forests and high-elevation alpine tundra. Never a friendly place for agriculture, this harsh land always favored hunters and gatherers since it supported a variety of grazing and browsing animals as well as seeds, roots, tubers, berries, greens, and fruit.

Castle Gardens

Paleo-Indians hunted large herbivores such as mammoths, horses, camels and giant bison that roamed the lush grasslands at the end of the Pleistocene (ice ages). Archaeological evidence solidly documents this early period beginning about 10,000 B.C. and lasting until the early Archaic, which appeared with warmer and drier climatic conditions around 6500 B.C.

Extinction of the large Pleistocene mammals and the increasing diversity of plant communities led the early Archaic people to focus on smaller game and a variety of different plant resources. These diversified subsistence strategies are reflected in the archaeological record by a proliferation of different technological traditions such as projectile point styles and the increasing use of ground stone tools to process plant foods. In eastern Wyoming, bison kills still occurred, but they were infrequent. In western Wyoming, several sites document reliance on antelope. An important development was the construction of house pits, which indicated that people had more substantial house structures than archaeologists had earlier suspected.

About 2300 BC a wetter climate led to environmental conditions similar to those of today. Human groups of this middle Archaic period adapted to these changes by increasing their reliance on large mammals for food, especially bison, but also deer and antelope.

The late Archaic, beginning about 1000 BC, is a time of a marked increase in communal bison hunting, including the use of elaborate wood corrals as traps. Most late Archaic house structures identified to date are tipi rings rather than house pits.

The late prehistoric period, beginning about A.D. 500, is distinguished by technological innovation and a significant surge in population. The bow and arrow and pottery appear at archaeological sites from this time, and in southwestern Wyoming, there is a distinct change in house types. People continued to follow Archaic subsistence practices based on seasonal movements through the basins and foothills in response to availability of floral and faunal resources. Yet intensive use of seeds implies a notable change in subsistence strategy, which appears to be accompanied by increased social complexity. In eastern Wyoming, communal bison driving continued to be a dominant subsistence strategy throughout the late prehistoric and into the historic period.

Sometime around 1700, the first European trade goods reached the tribes in this region. The introduction of horses produced significant cultural changes on the Plains. The greater mobility changed hunting strategies, led to increased raiding and warfare, and enabled people to transport greater loads in moving camp. The need to provide grass and water for horses changed settlement strategies. The exact date for the arrival of horses is not clear, but the Shoshone and Crow both had significant numbers of horses by the first half of the 18th century.

Between 1800 and 1840, the fur trade sent explorers and trappers into the area, greatly increasing Indian contact and connection with Euro-Americans. In 1840, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman traversed the area, opening the Oregon Trail. The year 1846 saw the beginning of the Mormon (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) emigration to what they referred to as the land of "Zion" - the valley of the Great Salt Lake in Utah Territory. By 1860, the Bozeman and Bridger Trails diverged from the Oregon Trail, accommodating the many westward immigrants. Soon the transcontinental telegraph, Overland mail, and eventually, transcontinental railroad (in 1868) all followed the initial route across Wyoming, providing lifelines between the settlements of the west coast and the populous East. Military installations, placed at regular intervals, protected the route.

The railroad finally provided the impetus needed for the development of cattle and sheep industries in Wyoming. With the discovery of gold near South Pass in 1867, hundreds of miners traveled to the area. Historic sites document this era at Sweetwater Mining District, South Pass and Atlantic Cities, and Miners Delight.

Cultural Resources At Risk

Numerous factors are affecting cultural sites in Wyoming, including:

  • Artifact collecting and impacts from tourism at the Bozeman Trail/Crazy Woman Battle Site/Cantonment Reno, Keyhole Bison Jump, and numerous other sites. Casual collecting damages sites by completing altering surface data to the point where the manifestations of hundreds of hunter-gatherer sites have literally been stripped away.
  • Casual use from recreation, which affects sites such as the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer/Pony Express National Historic Trails.
  • Weathering and erosion, as at the Wardell Buffalo Trap, Holden Hill Emigrant Inscriptions, and other sites.
  • Cattle damage and natural erosion at Johnston Scout Rocks Emigrant Inscriptions.
  • Vandalism and theft, as at the Bridger Antelope Trap where remnants of a juniper fence trap are being removed for firewood, and at various petroglyph sites, including the Castle Garden petroglyph site.
  • Illegal excavations at various sites. The Amee Eaton buffalo kill site has been 80 percent destroyed from illegal excavations and artifact collecting.

Past Accomplishments

  • Completed Rocky Gap interpretive site along the Oregon-California Trail.
  • Completed Wyoming's Project Archaeology supplement Discovering Archaeology in Wyoming; provide annual Project Archaeology teachers' workshops.
  • Initiated a 4-year data recovery project at the multicomponent Bozovich site under a cost share partnership with Western Wyoming Community College, the Wyoming Archaeological Society and rancher Joseph Bozovich.
  • Coordinated trail activities and events for the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail Sesquicentennial Wagon Train.
  • Completed a rock art condition evaluation and stabilization project in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the condition of rock art sites, experiment with stabilization methods, and develop a rock art management manual for Federal agency managers.
  • Completed a large land exchange in the Newcastle Resource Area, which will add 1.5 sections of land to the Whoopup Canyon Petroglyph Site Area of Critical Environmental Concern and bring additional petroglyph panels and associated archaeological sites into Federal protection.
  • Developed interpretive sites for Pilot Butte, South Pass Overlook, Lombard Ferry, and Simpson's Hollow along the Oregon/California-Mormon Pioneer-Pony Express National Historic Trails. Also replaced trail markers along approximately 100 miles of trail segments.

Ethnic, Tribal & Other Groups to Whom BLM Cultural Resources Are Important

Because Wyoming was traditionally occupied by nomadic hunting and gathering bands, numerous tribes, both within the State and in surrounding States, have historical connections to the Wyoming landscape. These include the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho in Wyoming (Wind River Indian Reservation); the Nez Perce (Colville Confederated Tribes) and Shoshone Bannock in Idaho; the Crow, Blackfeet, and Northern Cheyenne in Montana; the Oglala Nation (Pine Ridge), Rosebud Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, and Lower Brulé Sioux in South Dakota; the Standing Rock Sioux and Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara) of North Dakota; the Northern Ute (Uintah and Ouray Tribes) of Utah; the Southern Cheyenne, Southern Arapaho, Pawnee, and Comanche Tribes located in Oklahoma. Because BLM also administers public land and is responsible for conducting surveys of Indian reservations in Nebraska, we also occasionally consult with the Winnebago, Santee Sioux, Omaha, Ponca, Iowa, Sac, and Fox Tribes.

Other ethnic groups occasionally consulted include the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Basque. While they are not specifically an ethnic group, the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), who have strong historical ties to and own land along the Mormon Pioneer Trail, are commonly consulted. Because significant events associated with the historical formation of their religion occurred along the trail (Martins Cove Disaster, Willie's Handcart Disaster, Rock Creek Disaster, and the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River Disaster and Rescue), and because of the numerous grave sites associated with Mormon families, many areas of the trail are treated as traditional cultural properties due to annual church pilgrimages.


  • Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, through cost-share assistance agreements, for automating current and backlogged cultural resource records and for promoting Wyoming Archaeological Awareness Month and Project Archaeology.
  • Two facilities, through cost-share assistance agreements, for BLM collections inventory and curation facilities improvement.
  • Academic institutions, through multiple cost-share assistance agreements, for data recovery work, ethnohistoric studies, artifact analysis, and research.
  • Over 20 separate organizations, including various Stakes of the Latter-day Saints Church, the Oregon-California Trails Association, the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service, to establish permanent trail markers along the Oregon/California-Mormon Pioneer-Pony Express National Historic Trails.
  • Various museums, through ongoing partnerships, to display, exhibit, and interpret BLM cultural resources.
  • US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct leading-edge research on the effects of lichen on rock art and methods to mitigate damage.

Economic Benefits

  • Wyoming BLM's largest tourism draws are derived from the historic trails system, Native American petroglyphs, historic mining sites, and ongoing archaeological excavation projects. By far, however, the trails receive the most attention. Wyoming BLM has established an extensive and significant interpretive program on the main routes of the National Historic Trails. Best estimates based on figures from the Wyoming Department of Tourism and various chambers of commerce studies are that Wyoming receives about 1,000,000 visitors per year using trails-related sites. These figures will likely increase dramatically when the BLM's National Trails Center opens in Casper.
  • Petroglyph sites receive less publicity, but still manage to draw considerable visitation, with various sites drawing an estimated 29,000 visitors per year.
  • Historic mining sites are also an attraction for cultural tourism in Wyoming. Approximately, 90,000 people visited historic mining sites last year, 61,000 of which visited the South Pass Historic Mining District.
  • Visitors are also attracted to public lands by both recreational caving and hunting. Almost all of the caves for which recreational visitation data are kept are also prehistoric archaeological sites. BLM's Recreation Management Information System data for fiscal year 2000 show that Horse Thief Cave alone received almost 700 visitors. Many other caves and rock shelters show recent use by hunters for campsites. On the west slope of the northern Big Horn Mountains, where most of the archaeological cave sites and rock shelters managed by BLM are situated, it is estimated from Recreation Management Information System data that this area receives close to 55,000 backcountry visitors.