Capitol Reef National Park

Native American Culture

Who were the Fremont people? Their origin is still the subject of debate. The most widely accepted theory suggests that the Fremont Culture evolved from an earlier, more primitive "Desert Archaic" culture of hunters and gatherers whose artifacts are widely distributed through the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau area. Gradually, a "new" culture evolved as these people learned to use agriculture to supplement their hunting and gathering economy. Perhaps the impetus for these changes came from contact with the pueblo-building Anasazi, living to the south.

Early in the century, the prehistoric inhabitants of this area were thought to be an outlying, "fringe-group" of the Anasazi civilization. In 1928-29, archaeologist Noel Morss formulated the theory that the people here belonged to a distinct and different culture. He named these people the "Fremont Culture" since his major research had been done along the Fremont River. Today, most archaeologists accept Morss' conceptualization.

Among the distinctly Fremont traits noted by Morss were: use of leather moccasins rather than the woven fiber sandals used by the Anasazi; construction of pit-house dwellings instead of large masonry buildings; the manufacture of small unfired clay "figurines," the purpose of which still puzzles archaeologists; and the absence of domesticated animals (the Anasazi kept dogs and turkeys).

One compelling question is: What happened to the Fremont people? They seem to have left the Fremont River area by 1300 A.D., though there are indications that Fremont Culture inhabitants of the Sevier Valley west of here lingered a bit longer. Many theories have been developed to explain this "disappearance"; prolonged drought may have keyed a general upheaval of 13th century populations. Evidence does not suggest that the Fremont were the ancestors of the Ute or Paiute Indians who later roamed this area and does not link them with any tribe or group of contemporary American Indians.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 6 Jan 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »