Native American Crossroads

Native American Crossroads


      Local writers have long argued over the significance of the Garden of the Gods to the Indians of the
Pikes Peak region. Some have claimed that the sandstone formations were considered sacred ground, and that here the rival tribes laid down their weapons and communicated in peace. Although there is no historical proof for this assertion, it is thought that the location of the Garden so close to the sacred springs of Manitou must have inspired a certain reverence. At the very least, it is tempting to believe that visiting tribes were as awestruck as we are ourselves each time they camped in the shadow of the gigantic red rocks.

     The Garden of the Gods seems to have attracted not only the Mountain Utes, but also the nomadic tribes of the plains - first the Apache, then the Comanche, and finally the Kiowa, Pawnee, Arapaho and Cheyenne. Early white settlers claimed that the Garden was a favorite campsite for the various bands of Utes, especially in late fall and winter. It was said that the Utes came to the Garden during those seasons not only because of the absence of their enemies, the Plains Indians, but also in order to hunt the great herds of elk which fed upon the nearby mesa. With the start of the Indian wars in the mid-1860's, the Arapahoe and Cheyenne discontinued their visits to the Pikes Peak region. Not so the Utes, who continued to camp in the Garden of the Gods throughout the 1860's and 70's.

     Physical evidence for these Native American campsites still exists in the form of hidden petroglyphs, ancient fire rings, broken pottery, and innumerable stone tools and projectile points. These bits of archaeological findings, coupled with the accounts of the early pioneers, only serve to confirm the suspicions of modern historians that the Garden of the Gods was an American Indian crossroads up into historic times.



Hidden Petroglyphs

      Two sets of Indian carvings, or petroglyphs, have been found in the Garden of the Gods:

     The first set is well hidden and protected in a narrow crevice on the east side of South Gateway Rock. It includes a circular, shield-like figure, divided into four parts; a rain-cloud terrace; an image of the familiar thunderbird; zigzag lines; some wheat or perhaps a stalk of corn; and a faint, flower-like symbol, with a dozen dots in a semi-circle over the top.

     One Colorado rock art expert believes that nearly all of these images are of relatively recent Euro
American design. Nearly all were engraved within the last 100 years by someone copying Indian designs from experience or books. The one authentic-looking image is the shield. It appears to have a somewhat different technique of manufacture and to show greater evidence of weathering. It looks a great deal like the petroglyph shields found in Cart le Gardens, Wyoming. The latter are of early historic Shoshonean origin, although the Utes also depicted similar shields after A.D. 1600.

     The second set of petroglyphs are not incised or grooved but rather pecked into the rock. They were discovered in the late 1980's by a young firefighter from Fort Carson. In 1993 they were analyzed by an archaeologist hired by the Colorado Springs Park and Recreation Department. He estimated their age as about 1500 A.D. and their origin as of Ute Indian design. One petroglyph seems to represent the sun, another a deer, the third a buffalo head, and the fourth perhaps a stone tool or even - as some have suggested - a religious symbol such as the thunderbird. The entire panel of petroglyphs seems to tell a story, the meaning of which is now forever hidden in the long ago and far away.



The Ute Trail

     The trail which the Indians followed to the Garden of the Gods was traced by a Pikes Peak pioneer of 1860 named Irving Howbert.  Howbert spent many years studying the Indians, their habits, and their trails. In later life he wrote a book: The Indians of the Pikes Peak Region.

     Howbert said that this Indian trail through the Garden was a branch of the old Ute Trail. It came in from the northeast through Templeton Gap, crossed Monument Creek near present Fillmore Street, then went over the Mesa, most likely descending to Camp Creek by way of an easy incline. It passed through the Niobrara Ridge over the natural saddle that is now filled by the Chambers dam. The trail then climbed to the site of the old Visitors' Center, crossed Ridge Road just below, and descended to a meeting with the main trail at Becker's Lane. From Becker's Lane the combined trails continued to the springs of Manitou, then into the mountains around the north side of Pikes Peak.


     This old Indian trail through the Garden was probably more in the nature of a corridor than a narrow track. Certainly it followed the easiest route possible. There remains no physical evidence of the trail today. There is, however, a stone marker placed on the trail corridor in 1935 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The marker reads in part: "THIS STONE MARKS THE INDIAN TRAIL USED BY THE PLAINS INDIANS TO UTE PASS."




Indian Legends

     Two alleged Indian legends have come to light cocerning the origin of the rocks in the Garden of the Gods,  The first was printed by Marion E. Gridley in Indian Legends of American Scenes.  It tells the story of a great flood which covered all but the top of Manitou's Mountain, known today as Pikes Peak.  When the waters subsided, the Great Spirit turned the floating carcasses of the drowned animals into sandstone, and rolled them down into a garden valley below, where they "remained as mute evidences of the Great Flood."      

     The second legend was compiled a half century ago by Ford C. Frick, and placed on file at the Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, Colorado:

     "In the nestling vales and on the grassy plains which lie at the foot of the Great White Mountain that points the way to heaven lived the Chosen People. Here they dwelt in happiness together. And above them on the summit of the Mighty Peak where stand the Western Gates of Heaven, dwelt the Manitou.

     "And that the Chosen People might know of his love the Manitou did stamp upon the Peak the image of his face that all might see and worship him....

     "But one day as the storm clouds played about the Peak, the image of the Manitou was hid...And down from the North swept a barbaric tribe of giants, taller than the spruce which grew upon the mountain side and so great that in their stamping strides they shook the earth.

     "And with the invading host came gruesome beasts - unknown and awful in their mightiness- monstrous beasts that would devour the earth and tread it down....

       "And as the invading hosts came on the Chosen Ones fell to the earth at the first gentle slope of

the mountain and prayed to Manitou for aid. Then came to pass a wondrous miracle. The clouds broke away and sunshine smote the Peak. and from the very summit, looking down, appeared the face of Manitou himself. And stern he looked upon the advancing host, and as he looked the Giants and the beasts turned into stone within their very steps....
And when the white men came they called the spot the Garden of the Gods...but we who know the history of the race still call it 'Valley of the Miracle,' for here it was that Manitou gave aid to save his chosen


              "Skypainter," courtesy of James H. Egbert


Ute Indian Encampments

     Early Pikes Peak settlers observed bands of Mountain Utes encamped in the Garden of the Gods on several different occasions, especially during the winter months. Chief Buckskin Charley was said to have been born there. No other tribe was observed using the Garden during historic times.

     Ute use of the Garden area as a winter campground can be attributed not only to the customary absence of rival Plains Indians, but also to the presence of large herds of elk on the nearby mesa. In the early spring of 1858 Captain Marcy of the U.S. Army observed two herds of several hundred elk each there; three years later Melancthon Beach estimated a winter herd of over 300 elk.

     An 1860 pioneer named Irving Howbert later recounted the story of 300 Utes under Chiefs Ouray and Colorow, who spent the winter of 1866-67 camped near Balanced Rock in the Garden of the Gods. The story was told to a meeting of the Half Century Club in the 1920's; a synopsis has been preserved in the Kerr Scrapbooks at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum:

     "They did not bother us in Colorado City, and we felt no great alarm. They were more inclined to be friendly than otherwise. But one day a party of them came into town and made a demand upon us for 20 sacks of flour.

     "They told us that they were nearly out of provisions and were in danger of starving. They said that they had come to ask that we give them the flour, but that so pressing was the need that if we were to refuse they would take it anyhow.                                                                                                                                                                                 
     "The matter was talked over by the people of the town and not a person was found who did not think it the right thing to give them that for which they asked. It was the general belief that they were facing starvation and much sympathy was felt for them. So the 20 sacks of flour was presented and the Indians went away with it, grateful for the food."

     Following the Indian Wars of the late-1860's, the Arapahoe and Cheyenne discontinued their visits to the Pikes Peak region. In the absence of their hereditary enemies, the Utes came to the Garden of the Gods in summer as well as in winter. One 1870's warm-weather visit was described by Chase Mellon in Sketches of Pioneer Life and Settlement of the Great West. Chase was the half-brother of Queen Palmer, who was in turn married to William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. The Palmers owned an estate at Glen Eyrie, just up Camp Creek from the Garden of the Gods:

     "Five hundred Utes with their squaws and papooses paid Glen Eyrie a visit that same year (mid-1870's). We understood that they were on their way to fight the Cheyennes, hereditary enemies. Perhaps they were choosing a place in safety in which to leave their old men, women and children and had often passed along the trail just outside our gates which led to Denver and the land of their enemies. They pitched camp and pastured their ponies in a cottonwood grove along Camp Creek within the limits of Glen Eyrie and less than a mile from the house. One never locked door or windows in the early days and it was no uncommon thing for my mother and others to be waked in the morning by Utes wandering through our rooms in perfect innocence, impelled merely by childish curiosity to see what sort of a wigwam the white man lived in.

     "Chief Washington, an old chief of the tribe, was with the party and we feared no harm because he was then a friend of the Great White Father, whom he had visited in Washington and from whom he had received a silver medal, as large as a small plate, which he proudly wore suspended around his neck. We children were constantly at the encampment, and one day persuaded him in his wigwam, a little removed from the rest of the Indians on a slight eminence, as befitted his rank and dignity, to put on his headdress. As he did so his figure straightened up and he looked in spite of his great age, every bit the Indian in his feathered headpiece, its long feathered train reaching the ground, that one sees in picture books. Young Bill, a buck who in one of the last outbreaks of the Utes a few years later became a bad Indian, made us bows and arrows and taught us how to shoot.

     "Once we and some of the grown-ups were invited to a feast. My eyes still smart at the recollection of the smoke-filled tepee. The meal was cooked over an open wood fire in the center and the smoke was supposed to find outlet in the aperture at the top. I well remember the look of the meat, dipped out of the pot and handed to each of us with great ceremony. We were bound to eat or be guilty of unendurable insult to our hosts. It looked the color of an elephant's hide and just about as tough.

     "After the Indians had been with us for several weeks our elders thought it time for them to move on. So they called in former governors of the Territory. The pow-wow was most peaceful, ceremonious and flowery, and the Indians consented to go at Governor Hunt's suggestion that they should not impose further upon the hospitality of the white squaw. So one day we watched them take the trail for the north...Visiting the site of the camp after the Utes had gone, we heard a faint crooning and saw a feeble old squaw digging in the ashes of extinguished fires, searching for food. What became of her I do not remember, but she was not allowed to starve and die where the tribe had abandoned her."




Shan Kive Celebrations

Following the Meeker Massacre of 1879 the Ute people were forcibly placed on reservations in Utah and southern Colorado. They did not return to the Garden of the Gods until the early years of the twentieth century, when they were invited back as part of the celebrations called Shan Kive. The Shan Kive was said to have originally been a celebration held by victorious Indians in the Garden. Loosely translated, the Ute words were supposed to signify "Heap Big Fun!" The revived Shan Kive of 1911-12-13 were staged by the citizens of Colorado Springs to lure tourists to the area in an attempt to relieve a depressed economy.

     The Shan Kive of 1912 was citywide - with parades, a balloon race, fireworks, and a masked ball. Seventy-five Utes, led by Buckskin Charlie who had himself been born in the Garden, were invited up from the Ignacio Reservation. They helped to mark the old Ute Trail, posed for many photographs, and held special tribal dances in the Garden of the Gods. The dances of August 27 were attended by more than 7,000 spectators. A special article describing the dances appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette of 28 August 1912:

     "In a riot of color, with their gay blankets and many hued feathers, and to the tune of the weird music handed down from generation to generation, the band

of 75 Ute Indians attending the carnival gave their dances yesterday afternoon before several thousand people in the Garden of the Gods, the historic stamping ground of their forefathers. The eager spectators came in autos and they came on motorcycles; they drove in smart carriages and they drove in old camp wagons of frontier times; they rode burros and horseback and they walked - they came singly and in pairs and in droves, and they stayed to the end, about 7,000 of them....

     "The Indians danced upon a platform high up on the side of the southern Gateway rock of the Garden, so that everybody had a clear view of their interesting gyrations.



"The famous sun dance, a sacred dance with the Utes, was the feature of the program. And the Indians proved to the palefaces that the worship of their gods was not all in vain. The sun dance started under unfavorable conditions, so far as the red men were concerned. The sun was behind a heavy bank of clouds, and every indication pointed to rain. The Utes began their dance, using the short, jerky, bumpy, step peculiar to all Indian dances. Accompanied by tomtoms and singing, the braves and squaws danced for perhaps five minutes, and just as the dance ended the sun broke through the clouds and shone brightly for quite a while...."


An Indian Grave

     There are those who claim that the area between North Gateway and White Rocks was once used as a Native American Cemetery, and as such should be considered sacred ground. To date, however, only two Indian skeletons have been found in the vicinity of the Garden of the Gods, the first on a ridge north of present Garden of the Gods Road, the second about 200 yards west of Ridge Road in the Garden itself. Neither skeleton was found in the claimed cemetery area.

     The skeleton found on Ridge Road was the subject of two local newspaper reports. The first, entitled "Skeleton Found in Garden of the Gods," was printed in the 2 November 1925 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette:

     "An Indian tragedy of 100 years ago or more was revealed shortly after 8 o'clock last night when the skeleton of an Arapahoe Indian was dug up in a fissure in the Garden of the Gods, about 200 yards west of the Ridge road, near the Gateway rocks. An Indian arrow found between the third and fourth left ribs, provided the key to the story of the redskin's death. Near the left hand of the Indian was a bone bow, and in the grave many worn and decomposed arrows.

    "The Indian was found by Chief of Police Harper, Inspector I.B. Bruce, Detectives Robert Wraith and Robert Martin, Howard Swan, Coroner, and a Gazette reporter. The officers left Colorado Springs about 6 o'clock last night to inspect the skeleton, which was first discovered at 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon by H.J.N. Hemy of San Francisco, Calif., who was making his first visit to the Garden of the Gods. Hemy left the main road to take a photograph of an odd boulder. He noticed a skull in a fissure after he had walked about 200 yards. Three-fourths of the surface of the skull were exposed and the joints were visible.

     "Hemy started to dig with his hands, and the head dropped to the ground. The vertebrae of the neck was visible, but, as a shovel was needed to dig up the skeleton, he left the burial place of the Indian.

     "About 6 o'clock Hemy arrived at the Gazette and Telegraph office and told his story. The police were then informed of the discovery....

     "Coroner Swan, after examining the skull and other parts of the skeleton, declared the Indian had been killed at least 100 years ago. The Indian, whose eternal slumber was disturbed by the police last night, probably was killed in a war between the Ute and Arapahoe tribes. Authorities on Indian lore offered the solution that the redskin probably was high in the ranks of the Arapahoe tribe, as he was an exceptionally large Indian and had been buried, apparently with honors. Only the chiefs and their officers were buried, the authorities pointed out. The type of the arrows found also indicate that the Arapahoe was of considerable importance during his day....

     "Only a part of the skeleton was removed from the grave last night. The upper jaw bone, three vertebrae, the left collar bone, the left shoulder and the lower jaw, which was in two pieces, and the teeth, which were all intact, were taken by Coroner Howard Swan...The two front teeth were exceptionally long and resembled tusks. Each was about an inch in length.... "The remainder of the skeleton will be dug up today and given to a museum. Indian skeletons are very rare. Hundreds of years ago the Garden of the Gods was not only a battleground of Indians, but an assembly field when the peace pipe was smoked by chiefs of warring tribes. It was in the Garden of the Gods, after an armistice had been declared that the dead heroes of the battle were buried...."

     The discovery of this skeleton in 1925 immediately led to a rash of imaginative speculations - The skeleton might be pre-Adamite since it possessed an extra rib. The gravesite might indicate the presence of an old, lost city under the Garden of the Gods. The author of these speculations seems to have been a certain Professor Keyte of Colorado College, who was interviewed for an article published in the Colorado Springs Gazette on 3 November 1925:

     "Does the Garden of the Gods antedate the Garden of Eden?

    "This question may become one of country-wide interest as a result of the discovery Sunday in the Garden of the Gods of what is believed to be the skeleton of either an Indian or a cliff dweller....

     "I. Allen Keyte, Professor of geology at Colorado college, following an examination of the grave yesterday, suggested that the place be guarded so that none but the hands of scientists may uncover the remainder of the skeleton...J. Allard Jeancon, who had done much work in the Mesa Verde country, and who is one of the best informed experts in the west, will be asked to look at it.

     "The park commission has guaranteed the expenses of Professor Jeancon's trip here for the investigation, which is expected to reveal what age in the world's history the man may have belonged.

     "Professor Keyte spent considerable time in the vicinity of the grave yesterday in an effort to find pottery, relics and other discoveries which indicate whether or not there is near the grave and under the Garden of the Gods an old and lost city, which, if found, would be a find as momentous as the discovery of the lost island of Atlantis. Nothing was found, however, which would indicate that a buried city exists in the Garden of the Gods.

     "The skeleton is believed to be that of either an Indian or cliff dweller. At first it was supposed to be the remains of an Indian. Professor Keyte, after examination of the skulls of cliff dwellers in the Colorado college museum, said the skeleton might be that of a cliff dweller, altho they usually were not so large and so long....

     "The man apparently was pre-Adamite as he had one rib more than the man of today. This fact, however, has not been definitely established as some ribs were broken yesterday morning by two persons, who were excavating the skeleton before police arrived at the grave and saved the valuable bones.

     "Interested persons declare that the discovery may lead to a widespread interest such as that engendered by the discovery of the Piltdown man, which for a time claimed the attention of anthropologists and evolutionists the world over. All solutions advanced thus far, however, are merely suppositions, and the actual facts cannot be ascertained until the arrival of Professor Jeancon, who has done much work of this nature in the Mesa Verde country."



Sources:  Unless otherwise noted, all modern photographs were taken by Richard Gehling; historical photographs come from three sources:

1. Penrose Library District.

2. Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

3. Colorado College Library


©1999-2009 Richard Gehling

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