Historical Details

Ancient Race Traces Found in Wyoming

Courtesy of The Douglas Budget, 04/24/1919

New York- Who can solve the mystery of the “Spanish Diggings?” So called, the strange settlement of aborigines which existed ages ago and which are located three miles west and eight miles south of Manville. Some unknown race which antedated the American Indian, possibly coming from Mexico or South American and which occupied the “Diggings” long before the discovery of America by Columbus in all probability, was apparently blotted out of existence almost in the twinkling of an eye by some strange cataclysm of nature, and disappeared, leaving behind evidences of their occupation, which are of intense interest to archaeologists.

A few years ago, researches were inaugurated by the war and nothing of importance has been done in this direction since. This year, however, Mr. Robinson plans a more complete and thorough investigation and some interesting and valuable information from a scientific and archaeological standpoint may develop. Credit for discovering the “Spanish Diggings” belong to A. A. Spaugh, now a banker, of Manville, Wyoming. In 1879 he was working his way across the country from the Laramie Plains to the head of Old Woman creek, driving a herd of cattle to what is now known as the “O. W.” ranch.

Finds Weapons and Tools

After crossing the mountains east of Laramie Peak and fording the Platte river, the party missed several horses, which strayed away during the night. In searching for the missing equines, Spaugh ran across the quarries and rows of tepee circles and collected a number of specimens of the jasper and agate weapons and tools which were strewn in profusion over the entire tract of perhaps a thousand acres. The announcement of the discovery did not attract much attention at the time, and as the years passed and the country was hampered by the lack of railway facilities and passable roads, the “Diggings” remained comparatively unknown. The location, requiring a detour of 35 miles off the main highway and Yellowstone Park, was also a factor in keeping those antediluvian riches obscure and little known.

Nature Has Been Lavish

Nature has been lavish in its dispersion of scenery throughout Niobrara County in southwestern Wyoming and tourists will be awed by the striking views. The old town of Hartville lies at the head of Whalen canyon and a historical mining camp, having changed but little in appearance in a half century. The original Oregon trail passed near there and pioneers who ventured west in prairie schooners in the early days, made what is known as Cold Springs their camping ground. To the southeast appears the wonderful panoramic view of the North Platte valley. For miles may be seen wide stretches of upland both valley and crags and peaks. The west is the center of the white-capped Laramie range, which stretches over a distance of 100 miles, rim, gaunt old Laramie Peak lording it over them all, lifting its giant head 11,000 feet toward the sky. It makes a never-failing landmark for the visitor in this strange and beautiful “wonderland.”

The “Spanish Diggins” remains unchanged from that moment centuries ago when some fell visitation apparently annihilated every living being. The scene indicates that an outburst of possibly carbon dioxide gas, expelled presumably from Laramie Peak, similar to that of Mount Pelee in 1902, which snuffed out the lives of 30,000 almost in an instant, was responsible for the extermination of the settlement. The ground is covered with agate and jasper spalls and cores, also quartz of various colors. The quarry pits range in diameter for 20 to 40 feet, and wherever found are closely spaced, the refuse form one being thrown into another.

Graphite Wedges Exposed

Excavations have been made to a depth of 22 feet, but it is probable that the ancient miners went much further. At the present time depressions are about eight feet in depth. Graphite wedges are to be seen, still fast in the rock crevices, just as they were left by the workmen when their operations were so unexpectedly interrupted. Battered hammer stones were numerous, some grooved and others ungrooved, mostly of granite and greenstone and ranging from three to twenty pounds in weight.

The work shops, located close to the quarries, are also of deep interest. There were carried the selected blocks of nodules as the case might be, of jasper, agate, flint, chalcedony or quartzite to the aboriginal mechanic, seated, no doubt , so as to handle the material from the mines, from which he spalled off and roughed out his primitive utensils, tools, weapons and other articles essential in the stone age. As a workman is known by his chips, so today may be seen the results of the labors of the ancient worker in all stages of manufacturer, and many varieties of crude, flinty articles. They include colored scrapers for removing the flesh from skins, arrow and spear tips, hatchets and knives and mortars in which maize may have been crushed. Many of the formations are extremely puzzling and it is difficult to conceive to what uses various peculiar shaped formations were put.

Polished Pebbles Found

Numerous highly polished pebbles are to be picked up, carrying the high gloss of gem stones fresh from a lap wheel and in many shades and colors. These could not be produced by glacial abrasion, but were doubtless the product of the stone age workers polished by an art long since lost to man.

The tepee circles which exist by the thousand, and which consist of stones utilized in holding down the edge of the skin tents or wigwams still lay in orderly rows as they did when the ancient city teemed with life and activity. Bones and everything else perishable, apparently long since crumbled into dust and there is naught left but the weather-proof stone, mute reminders of the race long since merged with the shadowy past.

Cave Yet To Be Explored

Crystal cave yet to be explored, and which is situated three miles north of the “Diggings” is entered from the summit of a lofty hill. Its first discoverer was the buffalo. Tradition holds that in years gone by when buffalo roamed the western plains by the myriads, that the weight of a passing herd crushed in the thin roof of the cave and that many of the animals fell through into the cave below. Bison bones are still to be found there, adding plausibility to the story.

Jack Slade, the famous outlaw and raider, who posed as a government station agent during the days of the Deadwood stage coach line, yet who was privately the chief of desperate bandits, used the cave as a hiding place for himself and followers. A lofty tree was cut down and after the branches were trimmed, was hauled into the hole and used as a ladder by which entrance could be effected. Plunder was cached in this retreat. The walls of the cave are covered with quartz crystals. It is planned to explore the cave during the coming years and some interesting discoveries may reward the searching parties, perhaps to determine that Wyoming has a rival for Mammoth cave in Kentucky. Near the cave is a queer mosaic figure in stones that has never been explained but doubtless has some significance for the ancients. This consists of a path of stones about 65 feet in length and five in width, the border being of ten inches, which between were smaller shapes. Another row at the top gave the appearance of crude cross indicating that the stone age people had some concept of religion.

Fossil Beds of Interest

Of even greater interest than the stone formations of the diggings are the fossil beds to the north and which are also to be the scenes of extensive explorations by archaeologists this year. The Deadwood stage barns, long since abandoned, are located near the fossil stratas. All sorts of grotesque figures are to be found there, weathered out of the tertiary formations. The fossil beds lie in a treeless, criss-crossed canyon cut basin about 25 miles in width and which could easily entered by venturesome spirits willing to risk their lives for the sake of science. The fossil beds indicate that in the ages gone by the country was the bed of some vast ocean which later was hoisted by some gigantic uplift of nature until it became one mile above sea level. Prehistoric fossils are to be found in bewildering abundance and can be carted away in wagon loads if desired.

It is only a question of what one wants and how to get it away. From the chalk rock of the tertiary formation may be secured the rhinoceros, three-toed horse, the huge brontosaurus and other creatures, many species of which have been extinct for ages.

There are innumerable forms of reptiles, both of land and ocean, and many forms of fish and quadrupeds. Great sea turtles that doubtless weighed a ton are numerous and a thorough search of the great chalk beds may reveal the animal that corresponds with the traditional serpents. The explorations of this vast area have barely started. When commenced upon an extensive scale and when the searching parties are properly equipped to tear part of the great masses of rock which have been kept in preservation, the animals and occupants which existed ages ago, the archaeological world may be startled by the richness of the discoveries.

Images & Attachments

There are no attachments for this record.

Related/Linked Records

There are no linked records.