24 November 2021

Prehistoric Domestication of Turkeys and Their Complex Relationship with Their Keepers

Aztec illustration from the Florentine Codex featuring a turkey.

Turkeys were domesticated in 2 regions of the Americas more than 2,000 years ago.

The Ancestral Puebloan people of the American Southwest domesticated the Eastern and the Rio Grande subspecies of turkey. This Puebloan breed is now extinct.

The Aztecs and their predecessors in Mexico domesticated the Ocellated subspecies, a colorful turkey that is now endangered. It was the Aztec variety of domesticated turkey that the Spanish encountered and recorded in the Florentine Codex.

The Aztec turkeys were shipped to Spain in the early 1500s where they were then distributed throughout Europe and selectively bred to produce the domesticated varieties we know today. The original Aztec breed is thought to still exist and genetic studies to sort out its lineages are ongoing.

I keep 2 female Spanish Black Turkeys, a heritage breed said to be closely related to what the Spanish found in the Americas.

Adult female Spanish Black turkey, 2021.
Adult female Spanish Black turkey who likes to strut her stuff., 2021.

Adult female Spanish Black turkey, 2021.
The two female turkeys are side by side. They are the
same age and size, when not strutting. 2021.

Turkeys were/are very important to Pueblo people and archaeological evidence indicates they were kept in pens but also allowed to free-range forage. They mostly ate maize as provided by their keepers, their eggs were collected for food, and their feathers were used in a multitude of ways. Many of the turkeys were eaten for food and their bones were used to make items such as awls and flutes but some turkeys were buried in a prepared grave indicating a special relationship.

Southern Utah’s Ancestral Puebloan people made blankets from turkey feathers wrapped around yucca cordage; a rarely preserved example is housed at Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding and likely dates to the 1200s.  

Body feathers from turkeys have lots of fluffy down and these were collected from several turkeys to make the blanket. It is likely that the feathers were collected from live birds undergoing their seasonal molt, a time when the feathers can be removed without causing the bird to bleed.

A turkey body feather shed during molting.

This Thanksgiving, think of that relationship between those prehistoric turkeys and their keepers. A relationship that was/is memorialized in turkey genetics, an ancient codex, art, music, religion, and fluffy blankets.


17 November 2021

Best of Utah 2021: Best Trip Down Memory Lane

So this just happened...

I am amazed by my presence on this amazing list. Thank you Salt Lake City Weekly! And congrats to everyone on the list

14 November 2021

The Fremont Settlement of Block 49

More evidence of a Fremont-age village (and the first informal Mormon Pioneer Cemetery) was found in the 1980s during construction of the Palladio Apts at 360 S 200 West SLC, on the eastern half of Block 49- the block just east of Pioneer Park.

Now known as the Block 49 Site, the site has 2 main components: the lowest is the Fremont occupation while the upper are the historic burials (1847-1850s) and the historic occupation through the 1950s.

The cultural remains of the Fremont found at Block 49 could be an extension of the Fremont Village at South Temple (see previous post). Block 49 is also along an old channel of City Creek and the radiocarbon dates of 830-1240 AD are consistent with South Temple.

Many of the artifacts recovered from Block 49 show a similar lifeway as the Fremont at South Temple: They built homes, made pottery, repaired hunting gear, and traded for Olivella shell beads. They ate maize, beans, and wild foods- especially fish.

The remarkable aspect of Block 49 is the large amount of fishing gear such as bone harpoons, fishhooks, and fishhook blanks. Fish bone remains include Utah chub, Utah sucker, Cutthroat trout indicating fishing in both the colder fast-moving City Creek (trout) and the slower and warmer Jordan River (chub).

In addition, partial skeletal remains of 3 Fremont individuals were found. The most complete was that of a female in her 20s. Her remains were significantly impacted by construction and were retrieved from back dirt.

Block 49 was a salvage excavation focused on removing the pioneer skeletal remains so very little of the Fremont occupation was explored. Much of what was found had been intruded upon by the pioneer burials. It seems likely Fremont human remains have been partly/wholly exhumed throughout the historic period by the digging of graves and the construction of buildings.

Historic records indicate that the Pioneers deliberately chose their first informal cemetery to be located on an “Indian Mound” (remains of the Fremont culture) because the soil was softer and easier to dig. Fremont artifacts were most certainly unearthed when the Pioneers dug more than 30 graves.

BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures Technical Series No 03-07. The Right Place- Fremont and Early Pioneer Archaeology in Salt Lake City. By Richard K. Talbot, Shane A Baker, and Lane D. Richens. 2004.  Images 2-6 are taken from this manuscript. 

The Palladio Apts (360 S 200 West) now located on top of Block 49 historic cemetery and a Fremont village. Nov 2021.

Looking west at the Block 49 site prior to archaeological excavation. Arrows point to exposed historic coffins. The prehistoric Fremont component is below the coffins.

Overview of the South Temple and Block 49 Fremont sites showing proximity to City Creek and the Jordan River.

Bone harpoons from Block 49.

Bone needles, fishhooks, awls, and pressure flaker from Block 49.

Selection of ceramic artifacts from Block 49.

Construction of Edison House (335 S 200 West) in the foreground and the Palladio Apts in the background, both on 200 West Street. If the Fremont site extended east from Block 49 then it has been significantly impacted by Edison House’s deep foundation. Nov 2021.

11 November 2021

Private Frank Bear-Heel

Gravesite of Private Frank Bear-Heel at Fort Douglas Cemetery, Veterans Day 2021.

This is the gravesite of Private Frank Bear-Heel (~1872-1893) at Fort Douglas Cemetery in SLC as it appears on Veterans Day of 2021.

Private Bear-Heel (Ma-to Sig-ti-e) was a Native American of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. He served in the U.S. Army, Company I (for Indian) of the 16th Infantry and was stationed at Fort Douglas, Utah, when he died.

The “Indian Companies” were an experiment in the 1890s by the U.S. Army. The Army’s stated purpose of the program was cultural integration, specifically to:
  1. Withdraw enlistees from the warlike tribes and give satisfactory employment to a considerable number of young men who were generally dissatisfied and liable at any time to become hostile;
  2. Educate the Indians in the rules and customs of civilized warfare, unlike the savage warfare they were accustomed;
  3. Transform the Indian character from that of savage enemy to that of friend and citizen of the U.S.
Only 780 Native American’s enlisted in the program, half of the nearly 1,500 slots that were authorized. Many of the enlisted were Sioux from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and were surviving family members to the Sioux killed on January 29, 1891 at the Battle of Wounded Knee.

Private Bear-Heel died at Fort Dougals by suicide on August 28, 1893, after he heard that his father had died; he was buried with military honors in the Fort Douglas Cemetery. Private Bear-Heel was the only death of the 16th Infantry, Company I while they were stationed at Fort Douglas between 1893-1895.

A Salt Lake Herald Republican newspaper article described Pvt Frank Bear-Heel as about 21 years old, the oldest son of Bear Heel, a respected member of the Two Kettle Brule Sioux Tribe. He enlisted at Rosebud Agency on December 27, 1892. He was described as intelligent and able to speak and write English (which was not a requirement to enlist). He was an able Soldier in good standing and a popular man.

SL Herald 1893-05-29; SL Herald 1893-08-30, Fort Douglas Museum exhibit; Warriors in Ranks: American Indian Units in the Regular Army 1891-1897 by Robert Lee.
Pvt Bear-Heel’s U.S. Army internment form showing his native name as Mato Sigete
Photos of Co I, 16th Inf at Fort Douglas. From Fort Douglas Museum exhibit
The exhibit of Co I, 16th Inf at Fort Douglas Museum

10 November 2021

City Creek Village under South Temple Street

The prehistoric village that existed under downtown SLC (see previous post) was occupied by many family groups of the Fremont Culture over multiple generations, at least between about 800-1,000 years ago.

The village was situated near City Creek, a good source of water for household and agricultural purposes ( the same reason the Mormon Pioneers also liked the area).

A total of 7 house structures and 2 ramada work areas were uncovered in just this small area under South Temple, indicating a much larger village was likely present. The people of City Creek Village relied heavily on farming- remnants of maize and beans were found but they also likely planted squash and melons.

Their reliance on agriculture is also shown in the type of grinding stones they used – deeply shaped metates and two-handed manos that could grind lots of maize. Stable carbon isotope analysis also shows a diet heavily reliant on maize and less reliant on wild foods, especially when compared to other Fremont groups who lived along the Great Salt Lake wetlands near Ogden and Brigham City.

However, the City Creek folks still incorporated wild foods in their diet including Bighorn sheep, deer, bison, pronghorn, elk, sage grouse, jackrabbit, trout, chub, ducks, geese, cattail, ricegrass, and goosefoot.

The village was also involved with trade networks. A shell bead made of Olivella, native to the Pacific coast, was found as well as a ceramic fragment of Tsegi Orange Ware from the Ancestral Puebloan area to the south.

Other artifacts indicate that they were normal people doing everyday things like cooking, cleaning the house, taking out the trash, mending and making clothing, fixing hunting gear, playing music, using medicines to help the sick, and taking care of the elderly.

The remains of the induvial found by the TRAX construction crew was that of a man in his 50s. At his death, he had extensive loss of bone density, advanced spinal arthritis, and cervical vertebrae degeneration (C4-C5 had completely fused; C5-C7 were compressed). He had also lost most of his teeth and had abscesses in his jaw. Very painful. After death, he was carefully buried in a prepared grave, probably lined with grasses.

BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures Technical Series No 03-07. The Right Place- Fremont and Early Pioneer Archaeology in Salt Lake City. By Richard K. Talbot, Shane A Baker, and Lane D. Richens. 2004.

Images 1-8 are from the cited BYU monograph. 

Partially reconstructed Snake Valley Black-on-gray ceramic bowl.

Partially reconstructed Great Salt Lake Gray ceramic jar.

A bone whistle.

Selected two-handed manos.
Archaeological excavation of Structure 1.
Archaeological excavation of Structure 5, note melted adobe in middle.
Plan view of Structure 2.

Archaeological plan view excavated area of Area A on South Temple.

Interpretive plaque located at the Arena TRAX station showing excavated area, 2021.

07 November 2021

Prehistoric Village under South Temple

Archaeological excavation along South Temple near 300 West, 1998

A Fremont aged archaeological site was discovered in 1998 during the construction of TRAX light rail along South Temple at 300 West.

A backhoe operator noticed a human skull during construction and notified UTA, who then called the Antiquities Section of State History and they consulted with the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.

Two weeks later another burial was found just to the north of the first. An expedited archaeological excavation was conducted in the area and then construction was allowed to continue.

The South Temple site offered a window into an extensive village built near City Creek and dating between AD 950-1150, a period known as the Fremont Cultural Complex.

These City Creek Fremont built a large village with fields of maize and beans. They also harvested native plants, hunted large and small wild game, and collected fish, frogs, and turtles from the nearby waterways.

The South Temple excavation area only gives a glimpse into the larger Fremont village that once existed where SLC is now. Other discoveries (more details later) suggest a larger settlement area.

Other Fremont aged settlements have been noted by early Euro-American settlers and government surveyors in Davis County, Tooele County, Utah County, Weber County, and elsewhere. Brigham Young seemed to be fascinated by the “Indian mounds” (interpreted today as collapsed house structures and/or burial sites) of Parowan Valley but made no mention of the mounds that must have existed in the Salt Lake Valley nor of the artifacts and human remains that were likely uncovered during plowing activities, canal building, railroad building, and structural construction.

However, as noted in my Hells Hollow post, along with several historic newspaper clippings I have come across, Native American burials (of varied antiquity) were very much known to exist within SLC by the newcomer Euro-Americans. Further, In the 1870s several miners were quoted in government reports acknowledging the existence of “several mounds of great antiquity” in the Salt Lake Valley along the Jordan River.

In the next post we will explore the specifics of the South Temple Fremont archaeological site.

The Arena TRAX station memorialization of the
South Temple Fremont archaeological site, 2021

The South Temple archaeological site today, under TRAX, 2021.

06 November 2021

Native American Heritage Month Preview

November is Native American Heritage Month and there are so many stories to tell about Utah’s indigenous people- how they have been treated in the past and present, how they have served in the military for hundreds of years (including a special unit at Fort Douglas), food heritage, notable leaders, technology, traditional sports and games (including modern tournaments), and so much more.

“Gathering” by DinĂ© (Navajo) artist Jack To'baahe Gene (Raymond Gene Jr.), 1980.
From the National Museum of the American Indian collections.

This year I would like to tell some stories about the people who lived in the Salt Lake Valley well before the Mormon pioneers arrived in 1847. Hopefully, these stories will help illustrate that when Brigham Young arrived it was not an empty valley, and indications of a long and rich indigenous culture were- and are -all around.

Native American Boarding Schools have been in the news lately and Utah certainly was a part of this history. Utah had 6 Native American boarding schools with the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City (formerly the Bushnell Army Hospital) being one of the largest in the U.S. and was one of the last to close, in 1984.

I will probably not get into any of these stories about the boarding schools but there is a good 2-part documentary produced by @pbsutah called “Unspoken: America's Native American Boarding Schools.”

I also highly recommend @pbsutah’s 5-part series about the 5 Native Tribes of Utah, “We Shall Remain.” This series is great because it mostly talks about the current conditions that our local Tribes face.

My next series of posts will be about the archaeological remains of SLC’s first population. My next post will be about why there is that terrible representation of an “arrowhead” at the Arena TRAX station on South Temple St in downtown SLC.

Direct links to the documentaries are here:

03 November 2021

Current status of some SLC demolition permits

 Fencing has gone up around the La France Apts.  This image is courtesy @caseyforslc. And @relentlesshistory notes that fencing is up around the Embassy Apts at 130 S 300 East.

Fencing has gone up around the La France Apartments
at 250 W 300 South. Image provided by Casey O'Brien McDonough.

So, I looked into the current building and demolition permits status from Salt Lake City government. (http://www.slcpermits.com). See below for my findings, current as of Nov 3 2021.

1. The La France Apts at 250 W 300 South:
A demolition permit has not been filed with SLC government. However, we know the residents have been evicted and the owner, the Greek Orthodox Church, has announced they plan to demolish all the La France buildings to make way for a new apartment and mixed-use complex. So, it is likely a demo permit will be filed soon.

2. The Embassy Apts at 130 S 300 East:
So far it looks like the owners are working on repairing the building from the recent fire. The most recent building permit (BLD2021-07337) is to install fire sprinklers. This investment in repair work indicates to me that there is not an intent to demolish the building.

However, the current owner owns all the buildings at 120 S 300 E, 130 S 300 E, 136 S 300 E, and 278 E 100. The owner is listed as “Pauline Redevelopment LLC” so there might be some redevelopment in the future and these properties are worth monitoring. All 4 of these buildings are historic apartments and are not within a local historic district or a local historic landmark site, so they have no historic preservation protections.

3. Current demolition applications:
I looked at the recent applications for both commercial and residential demolitions and noted some properties that may be of interest.  Refer to table below.  A few properties are of particular interest to me as they were built in the 1880s, 1890s, and 1901.  I have noted which ones I want to investigate the history of and if something interesting comes up I will post about it (time permitting).

FYI - An easy way to check active building permits issued by SLC government is to use this interactive portal at: https://opendata.utah.gov/Permit-and-Licensing/Salt-Lake-City-Building-Permits/3eji-gn2j