Vagneur: What is left for us to ponder

Tony Vagenur
Saddle Sore

A tiny, bright yellow Christmas ornament attached to one branch shone out from the hundreds of discarded trees piled up in our collection yard. Of the many trees we ground to infinitesimal pieces that day, it was the only one with any color, any semblance of what those trees had once been used for and it pulled my curiosity right in. Who was this child, most likely in school, who had brought home this crudely-built trinket with pride to hang on the family tree, something to see all through the holidays?

When the holidays ended, were all the family decorations put carefully away to be used next year, save for this one tiny specialty, maybe not measuring up to family standards and left stuck on this limb, gone out with the trash to be recycled? Or was a bereft child silently crying, wondering why this special creation was not kept?

My instinct was to save it, but for what? Don’t interfere with the natural order of things. Ten thousand years from now, some other person may wonder why such a trinket existed. It’s all in the archeology. Viewing it in the future may bring on true sadness, coupled with wonderment.  

High in the mountains, on the verge of timberline, a place exists where arrowheads can be found. A friend found one there many years ago — an almost perfectly-shaped one. There are partially formed heads, chippings and other clues, but don’t tell anyone. With the crowds we have slogging through the mountains lately, the place would look like a gravel pit once word got out. 

Nine-Mile Canyon, on a trip I took with my friend Margaret, lingers in my mind frequently. It is more like 40-miles long, a remote canyon that cuts through the West Tavaputs Plateau of central Utah, containing thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs alongside a sweet stream. The Fremont people, from about 300 to 1200 AD, the Utes from around the 16th century, and white settlers from the 1800s: It is a composite canyon view plane of developing civilizations, a melting pot of sorts, if you choose to look at it that way.

Always, when viewing such things, my first thought is about the people and what they may have been thinking, what sort of travails and glories filled their minds. Whatever they were doing, it was important to them, it was their lives, their souls on the line, and the generations came to them one at a time, just as ours do. The intricate and intriguing clues they left us trigger pause, just as the ancient diggings in Egypt or Italy or elsewhere do. In our lives, there are thousands of conversations about the Fremont people, about the Utes. Surely, those people had thoughts and wonders about those who had preceded them.

None of them could have guessed that folks in today’s world would be marveling at their work, would be wondering what the hell they were talking about. We get much of what the homesteaders were up to simply because that’s closer to our reality of today, but we don’t, we can’t, know everything. But, we can conjecture.

From the point of view of this layman who knows very little about archeology, maybe that’s the motivation for digging up the past. Sure, it’s good to know the history as well as we can reconstruct it, but, really, it’s about the people and how they lived and moved across the land, in days or in eons. Traditions, religions, social mores — all those things that live within people — those are the things we wonder about.

Along the Snowmass Creek trail, there is a grave, the wooden marker long since gone. A photo exists of Hildur Anderson, my father and several other persons on horseback, surrounding the marker on three sides. Whoever lies there is gone to the ages. These mountains and valleys have numerous unmarked graves, people buried out of necessity and convenience, out of compliance with our rules of order. Most are impossible to trace. I wonder what wilderness designation rules are concerning archeological digs?  

You could walk with me past the grave of a young girl tucked alongside the creek in one of my horse pastures. It’s likely been there more than a hundred years, but, without disinterring her remains, without intruding upon her peace, there is little else we can know. Was her demise accident or disease? Local historians can’t say, other than her sex and age. I wrote a column about her years ago, and she still intrigues me.

Two lonely graves exist on the original Vagneur ranch homestead. Babies gone without time to develop personalities, maybe before they developed self-awareness, lie side-by-side, their location unmarked. It’s doubtful archeologists will ever discover them, but, on some level, it troubles me to think I may be the last person who knows where they lie.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at  


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