Capitol Reef Country’s Native American history is as interesting and varied as its colorful landscape. The rich history of Capitol Reef’s indigenous people dates back more than 10,000 years, and archaeologists continue to unearth new information about these native cultures, relying on both science and oral history.
Paleo-Indians are the oldest culture on record in Utah—and the first North Americans—dating back 12,000 years to the last Ice Age. They are believed to have crossed the Waterpocket Fold but artifacts from the Paleo-Indian era are, in fact, extremely rare. Paleo-Indians are believed to have lived in caves and used pointed projectiles to hunt animals, including mammoths.
As the mammoths died out, Paleo-Indians adapted to a hunting and gathering lifestyle. These Desert Archaic Indians occupied the Capitol Reef area about 8,000 to 2,000 years ago, moving around to go where the resources were. These nomads set up temporary cave shelters, and their hunting weapon of choice was lightweight spears, along with woven nets and stone tools. The Archaic Indians also supplemented their diet with local plants, which they also used to create medicines, baskets and clothing.
The Fremont Culture and Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) emerged as the Desert Archaic lifestyle died out. They were still hunter-gatherers, but incorporated farming, community living, and pit houses as they settled into less nomadic lives. An Anasazi village once occupied by about 200 native people from 1050 to 1200 A.D. has been partially excavated, recorded, and preserved at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder.
The Fremonts had a close relationship with nature and with each other, often living together in small, multi-family communities. The tribes supplemented their hunter-gatherer diet by farming corn, squash, and edible plants. Big game such as deer and bighorn sheep were hunted with bows and arrows, and snares were used to catch smaller animals. Discoveries of baskets, pottery, and deer skin moccasins, along with thousand year-old pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (carved) found in and around Capitol Reef National Park depict their ancient stories. The artwork usually depicts anthropomorphic figures with simple geometric bodies and elaborate headdresses and other decorations. Large game animals, along with dogs, snakes and birds are also commonly depicted. Handprints may be signatures.
There was little human activity in the area for the next few centuries, likely due to drought, until the Ute and Paiute tribes occupied the region during the 1600s. Other tribes that have briefly occupied or at least passed through Capitol Reef include Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni.
Learn more about the modern era history of Capitol Reef Country – here.