part 2 of 2
In 1973 Congress passed the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, which prohibits disturbing sites of human habitation over fifty years old. Seventeen years later the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act was made law, requiring that human remains be returned to Native Americans for reburial.
Still, there was nothing that specifically protected sacred sites--which might be nothing more than a crumbled stone altar on top of a mountain or even a mere depression in the ground--from vandals, artifact hunters or developers. And there was a new threat: the new-agers. Few transgressions angered those who wanted to protect such sites as much as discovering a new-age bonfire in an ancient kiva--which could destroy any efforts to carbon-date the spot--or modern pictographs scratched into rocks along with those centuries old.
Word of Frost's work with Roth soon reached the archaeologists with the BLM's office in Craig. They asked Frost if he would look at certain sites and help determine if they needed to be protected. As Frost's reputation grew, Forest Service archaeologists with the Routt National Forest contacted him to do similar work for them.
In 1992 Kight, the heritage resource manager for the White River National Forest, was planning a ceremony to mark the opening of the Ute Trail trailhead near Dotsero on the east end of Glenwood Canyon. The trail is a 58-mile trek between the White and Colorado rivers, much of which was once traveled by the Utes as they pursued game. Kight thought it would be appropriate to have Utes present, and he invited elders from the reservations to bless the event. He also asked Kenny Frost to attend.
Although Kight had received his archaeological training at universities in New Mexico, he'd also attended a seminary and felt a spiritual kinship with Indians who pursued their ancient rites.
The white and Ute archaeologists immediately hit it off. Following the ceremony, Kight asked Frost to check out a nearby location where he had found some artifacts that he'd been unable to place in context.
On the top of a hill, Kight pointed out a ring of stones. "It's a vision-quest site," Frost confirmed, noting the toppled stone altar. Bending over, he picked up a bright yellow rock that crumbled easily. "This is paint," he said. "Someone left it here as an offering."
Frost asked Kight to show him other sites. About a mile away, on the edge of a cliff overlooking Interstate 70 and Glenwood Canyon, Kight pointed out a jumble of sticks and a nearby wickiup--a type of teepee built against a tree. Farther up the hill was an ancient cedar; a scaffold built of poles lay across its branches.
"This is where a medicine man lived, probably with his family, to watch over the vision-quest site," Frost said, pointing out how both the spot on the cliff and the scaffold offered such a vantage. "He used the scaffold to get off the ground to pray. That's why it faces east.
"Over there," he continued, indicating the cliffs across the canyon, "there are probably paint caves--yellow, red and black."
Kight was impressed--especially after the paint caves were found. He began calling on Frost whenever a new site was discovered or an area needed to be checked before approving development.
As they worked together across Colorado, Kight began noticing that eagles almost always appeared when Frost was around. Other people, including Forest Service higher-ups, soon remarked on the same thing. It became a running joke--particularly if Kight happened to be absent when the bird was spotted--that the archaeologist and his Indian friend were arranging for the release of the eagles.
Frost enjoyed the joke as much as anyone.
As his friendship with Kight grew, Frost decided to move to Glenwood Springs. Working in the area, he'd started to think about holding a powwow and inviting all the Utes to visit the land of their ancestors. With the help of Kight, the Forest Service and other new Glenwood Springs friends, Frost's concept quickly took off. An April 1993 date was set for the powwow.
Frost thought it would be a good idea to have access to a sweatlodge, but there wasn't time to build one. He'd heard that Wallace Black Elk, who billed himself as a Lakota medicine man, had built one nearby.
But when Frost asked if the sweatlodge would be available during the powwow, Kathleen Menten, the self-described "lodge-keeper," told him it had been left in her care by Black Elk and that the Utes could not use it. Frost was outraged. Sweatlodges weren't supposed to be something you owned. They were for the people--and in this area the people were the Utes.
Menten eventually agreed to let the Utes use the sweatlodge after Frost threatened to go public with her refusal. But she also wrote an angry letter to the Aspen Times, accusing the Utes of "claiming sole ownership of spiritual philosophy" that she had a right to practice.
Nevertheless, the Ute powwow was a huge success. There were dances and the telling of old stories. There were visits to some of the sites Frost had found, and the elders debated which mountain or valley might be part of their legends. They left promising to return the next year, bringing more of their people back to their ancestral lands.
In the meantime, Frost had something else to celebrate. Officials of the Ute tribe, with Frost as their designated liaison, signed an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to protect areas designated as sacred or religious in the White River, Routt and Uncompaghre national forests. Under this agreement, not only would users of public lands such as ski areas, developers and the government be required to survey sites for archaeological sites, but they would also have to involve a tribe-designated consultant. Even sites on private property would be protected and declared off-limits to the public, except those Native Americans who received tribal approval to visit.
Frost now had official sanction to protect age-old sacred sites. But after the incident with Black Elk's sweatlodge, he'd also begun paying more attention to all the advertisements for "shake and bake" medicine men who sold ceremonies to their new-age followers. They were everywhere in the valley between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. As his friend Ed Valandra, a Sicangu Lakota who lived in Boulder, noted, "There are more sweatlodges and so-called pipe carriers in Aspen than there are on the Rosebud reservation."
Frost first had noticed the white interest in Indian spirituality when he began Sun Dancing. Looking like hippies from the Sixties, they would show up on the reservation, where they were largely ignored. But every year they seemed to grow more bold, taking up space outside the dancing circle normally reserved for members of the tribe.
After a time, some of the whites even got up and tried to join the dancers, and were told to sit back down. Some did so quietly, while others acted rude and angry--as though they had a right to participate in Ute ceremonies. Frost had wondered about these people, questioning what their own lives so lacked that they felt it necessary to push themselves on other cultures.
Now, a decade later, their numbers had grown to the point where they could not be ignored. Indian spirituality was big business: Whites claimed they had a right to it and Indians like Wallace Black Elk contended they were doing everybody a favor by selling it. None of these people seemed to care that their "spirituality" was really a mix and match of various cultures and new-age theology.
Frost decided to confront Black Elk, who was running another sweatlodge near Aspen on property owned by singer John Denver and charging hundreds of dollars for each participant. Taking along Nan Johnson, a reporter with the Glenwood Post who had an interest in Indian issues, Frost arrived at the sweatlodge just before sundown.
In the parking lot they were met by Black Elk's assistants, who, after learning who Frost and Johnson were, invited them to participate. Frost refused and waited, but Black Elk and his followers wouldn't come out of a nearby building that housed Denver's Windstar Foundation.
So Frost and Johnson left the area to lure them out. When they returned, they could hear the singing coming from the large sweatlodge. This time they were invited to sit by the fire outside the lodge. Frost began warning participants that the spirits weren't going to take kindly to this bastardization of Indian practices.
At that point Black Elk came out of the sweatlodge and pleaded with Frost to join him. "I need you to help me," he said.
"What you are doing is wrong," Frost replied. "This must stop."
The confrontation convinced Frost that he must protect not only ancient sites, but also modern Indian spirituality. He started attending sweatlodges and meetings in Denver, angering some by denouncing medicine men who make a living by selling their heritage.
"If you put a sign out saying `$50 donation suggested,' people are going to pay it," he says. "It is traditional for medicine men to accept gifts of things like tobacco and to be supported by their people. But some of these guys are getting rich off of white people."
Frost finds himself increasingly in demand from white people. He's been asked to speak at the Smithsonian Institute next year, and stays busy consulting for agencies and developers.
A few weeks ago the developers of the proposed Adam's Rib ski area near Eagle hired him to inspect Mt. Adam. Studying it both by helicopter and on foot, Frost found no signs of Indians' having used the site for ceremonial purposes and gave the project his approval. However, he did discover a vision-quest site in the middle of a golf course being built nearby; Frost is now working with that developer on a plan to protect the area without drawing attention to it.
But not everyone is as cooperative as the golf-course developer. And often the antagonism comes from people who hoped to win Frost as an ally.
Frost recently refused to go along with a group that was trying to stop a development on Arkansas Peak near Boulder. They wanted him to give the area his official sanction, but Frost instead proclaimed it a new-age site with no historical religious significance to Native Americans.
One man, who introduced himself as Wayne Eagle Boy and claimed to be Omaha Indian, beseeched Frost to change his mind and "assist us in our efforts to secure Arkansas Peak for Native Americans."
"You are in a powerful position and a letter from you stating such would certainly help secure the peak for those purposes," the man wrote Frost, adding that Omaha Indians had used the site for centuries.
Curious about the man's assertion--Omaha Indians weren't known to have been in the Boulder area--Frost contacted the tribe in Nebraska. Officials there had no record of any family named Eagle Boy, and they asked Frost to tell the man to desist with his claims.
Frost knows that some of the fakes he comes across are well-meaning people looking for some sort of spiritual tie to the Earth. He can forgive those perpetrators, while at the same time working to educate them.
But other claims are outright fraud.
This past summer, Aspen councilman Terry Paulson admitted that he had built a medicine wheel on a mountain in order to prevent its development. A year earlier, while checking the area for the Aspen Ski Corporation, Frost had found the creation but determined it to be a fake.
When he confessed to being the culprit, Paulson said he was troubled by the deception and hadn't been able to sleep. Even so, his admission angered both Ute officials and Aspen residents, many of whom demanded that he resign. So far Paulson has refused. But he also could be in trouble outside the political arena: In creating his fake, Paulson accidentally destroyed a real site, Frost says.
Under federal law, Paulson could be fined and/or jailed for his vandalism. But Frost had a better idea. After contacting Ute officials and friends from other Indian tribes, he decided humiliation would be a better teacher.
"I plan to have Paulson remove his fake, rock by rock, with the press and photographers there to record the moment," he says.
Frost's plans for Paulson were delayed, however, when a fire broke out on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs, claiming the lives of fourteen firefighters. Two of those killed were Native Americans, and Frost was asked to preside over the Native American ceremonies their families had requested.
Leaving his home one morning to check out the fire scene, Frost went back inside for several items. A short time later, he was standing on top of the mountain with Kight when he noticed a group of people below. Two men broke away and climbed up to them.
One was a firefighter who narrowly had escaped the blaze. The other was the brother of Roger Roth, an Oneida Indian who died in the fire; the people below were the rest of the Roth family touring the site with Forest Service supervisors. It was then that Frost knew why he had returned to the house. Reaching into his pack, he pulled out sweetgrass and tobacco that he offered to the spirits while sanctifying the site with his eagle's wing. Two weeks later Frost conducted a ceremony for the family of Terri Hagen, an Onondaga Indian from Prineville, Oregon.
"Although your daughter has passed on," he told her mother, "she is not lost. Her spirit has been accepted by the spirits of my ancestors, and she is at peace."
It surprised no one who knew Frost that eagles appeared above Storm King as he lit the sweetgrass and held up tobacco to the wind.
In September, a dozen representatives of the Northern and Southern Ute tribes arrived in Glenwood Springs; the Ute Mountain branch had been invited but could not attend. Although a second Ute powwow had been held in the spring, Frost now had a different sort of homecoming in mind. He wanted his people to walk the same land as their ancestors.
So with Kight, other Forest Service representatives and reporter Johnson, Frost took the visiting Utes camping for four days in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. There they hiked the Ute Trail while the archaeologists pointed out vision-quest sites, hunting blinds and places where the tribe's nomadic ancestors had camped. This was the world as their people had known it before it was lost to them.
Together they prayed in the old language and told stories of the days before the Spanish and Americans came, stories that seemed much more real in the land of their forefathers.
Frost hoped this modest beginning would be the start of a new trail--one that would bring the Utes back to live in the area. But he was just one man and, as the Creator had told Coyote, there was much to do to protect the mountains from the new invaders...the unscrupulous developer who would destroy the land, the new-ager who sought to purchase an Indian heritage, the medicine men who wanted to sell it.
It was with a great deal of satisfaction that Frost overheard seven-year-old Jeremy Ignacio Pawwinnee of the Northern Ute tribe tell his father, "I want to bring my mother here. And when I am married, I am going to bring my wife and my children."
It is now mid-October. The Forest Service vehicle has barely come to a stop and its occupants piled out when Frost points to the large eagle gliding over the trees and down the mountain. Far below, it hangs in the air for a moment, then drops out of sight.
Frost jokes that Kight's timing is off. "He released it too soon," he laughs. "We're not even at the cave yet." But Kight is back in Glenwood Springs sick with the flu, unable to make this pilgrimmage.
Almost on cue, the wind suddenly picks up. At 10,000 feet, it is brisk and needle-sharp. Snow squalls sweep across distant mountain ranges and an ominous cloud bank rises behind them. The weather forecasters have predicted heavy snowfall, and it appears to be on its way.
Archaeologist-in-training Scott Hortberg, a young man from Alabama with a beard and flaming mane of red hair, watches the weather warily. He waited all summer to see the cave where the remains of the ancient man had been found, and knows that winter will soon make this place inaccessible.
But Frost will not be hurried as he places various items in his knapsack. "We have plenty of time," he says. "It's not going to snow on us."
As for the wind, he adds, "The spirits know he is coming home at last, and they are glad."
Scientists had sent most of the ancient man's remains to Frost and Kight last spring. Professor Watson had wrapped them in red cloth and placed them in a cedar box filled with cedar chips. That was the manner of some mid-West tribes, she explained.
The two archaeologist friends had then returned to that lonely place in the White River National Forest and placed the remains in a carefully concealed crevice some distance from the cave. Although only a couple dozen people knew the actual spot where they had been found, that was too many for comfort. Besides, the scientists were still studying the cave, and Frost didn't want the man's rest disturbed any longer. Singing spirit songs of his people and lifting an eagle's wing to the four directions, Frost had asked the man's spirit for his blessing and forgiveness.
The bones had traveled a great deal in the eighteen months that scientists had been allowed to keep them. And over that time, the scientific community had come to refer to the man in the cave as simply "our friend," as Frost first called him.
It was a sign of archaeology's changing relationship to indigenous people--science is now a friend rather than a grave robber. And when National Geographic asked for photographs of the remains to publish with a report, both Frost and Watson refused.
"Photographs for scientific studies are one thing so long as they are treated with respect," Frost told the magazine editor. "But the days of running photographs of the bones of human beings are over."
Much had been learned about the man in the cave. Scientists determined that he was about forty years old, approximately five feet, five inches tall, and in good health. It was also clear that the man was more than an infrequent visitor to the high mountains.
The outer laters of his shin bones are abnormally thick, according to Watson, which indicates that the man hiked in the mountains a great deal. There is also evidence that he was used to carrying heavy loads, which would have been necessary in order to pack in the equipment needed to survive high-country extremes.
Carbon testing of the bones indicated that the man lived about 7,710 years ago. Genetic testing showed that the man was a member of an ethnic group long established in the Americas. He was related to modern Utes and Hopis, who share common language roots, as opposed to later arrivals over the Bering land bridge, such as the Apaches and Navajo.
"It's like the creation stories," Frost says. "The Creator emptied the bag in the mountains and said, `These are the Utes.'"
While it will never be known what brought the man to Hourglass Cavern, Frost's contention that he was not lost and went there to die have gained support.
For one thing, no tools were found in the cave. There was no stone knife, no spear points, no arrowheads...nothing he would have needed to survive in such an environment if he was merely a lost hunter or cave explorer.
Ute legend holds that when men die, they must find their way through a dark cavern to reach the spirit world. Perhaps as he felt the end of his days draw near, the man decided to get a head start.
Whatever the man's reasons for going into the cave, he went through a great deal of effort. The entrance is taller than a man but only a few feet wide, and it leads to a small room only tall enough to crawl through on hands and knees. At the back of the room is a passage eighteen inches high and only shoulder-width. The man crawled through this hole with his torch and back into a maze of passages, many of them so low that he would have had to squirm through on his belly. From the marks left by his torch, it is apparent that he explored farther back in the cave than the point where his bones were found--three hundred yards from the entrance.
As the wind blows and snow threatens, Frost and his companions discover that the cave has a new guardian. The small entrance room is pungent with the aroma of mountain lion and littered with bones and skulls of its kills.
But the cave is not the real object of this journey. When the remains were returned, the man's teeth had been kept back for further study. They recently were sent back to the Forest Service, and Frost wants to repatriate them with the man's bones.
A half mile or so from the cave, he comes to the bottom of a rock wall and stops. Looking up at the top of the cliff, he sees a square of red cloth whipping in the wind that appears to be tied to a dead tree.
Scampering up the side of the precipice, he plucks the cloth from the tree. "It's what the remains were wrapped in," he says, pointing to chew marks that riddle the material. "The animals must have dragged it out."
It could be a sign that the man's spirit is welcoming him back, he adds. A few yards below is the place where Frost had hidden the bones.
Carefully picking his way to the spot, Frost removes the rocks that cover a small cave. From a paper bag he had carried in his knapsack, he removes a small Tupperware container that holds the teeth, each individually wrapped in tissue paper, and a braided rope of sweetgrass.
Frost has just placed the teeth in with the bones and red cloth when the paper bag is tugged from his hands and sucked back into the hole. It could have been the wind or...
"I guess he wanted the bag," Frost laughs. "I'm not going to argue with him."
For the next few minutes, Frost struggles to light the sweetgrass rope as he battles the wind. Finally there is a moment's respite and the aromatic smoke drifts from the cave.
Removing an eagle wing from his knapsack, Frost sweeps it over the opening. Then he replaces the rocks until the spot is lost to anyone who does not know its location.
Standing to face west into the wind, Frost begins to sing. Spreading out before him is the Colorado high country at its finest. Tall grasses color the hillside above timberline gold, blending into stands of fir, pine and aspen below. To the west, south and north, heavy clouds gather about the tallest peaks.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
But on the peak where Frost stands, his voice rising and falling in ancient rhythms, the afternoon sun comes out dragging blue sky with it. As he predicted, the snow squalls have missed the mountain, dusting nearby peaks with a white mantle but leaving summer on this slope.
Frost finishes his song and wipes at the tears that roll down his cheeks. "It's hard to sing with the wind coming right at you," he shrugs. He pauses for one last look at the sacred ground. "I feel better," he says, shouldering his pack. "now that he's home again."
end of part 2