Fremont Indians: Unique 2,500-Year-Old Forgotten Culture Of North America

A. Sutherland - - About 2,500 years ago, a unique culture of Fremont Indians began to develop in Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado.

The culture received its name from the Fremont River Valley, Utah, where these people lived and reached as far as Cedar City.

Fremont Indians: Unique 2,500-Year-Old Forgotten Culture Of North America

Their culture was first defined in 1931 by a young Harvard anthropology student, Noel Morss, who worked along the Fremont River in south-central Utah

Social Structure, Diet, And Challenging Life

The Fremont Indians often lived in rugged places but knew how to adapt to the environment. They were closely tied to nature and its changes, so they had to be flexible and adaptive to modify their way of life quickly.

Their social structure was probably composed of small, loosely organized bands or larger villages consisting of several families living in natural rock shelters and pit houses dug into the ground and covered with a brush roof.

They hunted with a bow and arrow and gathered and grew corn and beans. They also ate native plants such as pinyon nuts, rice grass, berries, bulbs, and tubers.

Artifacts That Distinguished The Fremont Indians From Others

Unlike the fiber sandals used by the Anasazi, the Fremont made moccasins from the lower-leg hide of large animals, such as deer, bighorn sheep, or bison.

Pilling Figurines, unfired clay Fremont figurines, on display in the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum.

Pilling Figurines, unfired clay Fremont figurines, on display in the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum. Image credit: Brian Lee (Markarian421) - CC BY-SA 3.0

Also, their basketry, the so-called "one-rod-and-bundle," was unique because the Fremont people used milkweed, willow, yucca, and other native fibers to make baskets.

Their tools, such as grinding stones, arrow points, and many others of this kind, were similar to those used by other tribes. Their pottery, however, was mostly gray wares with polished and very smooth surfaces or designs pinched into the clay.

Fremont pictographs and petroglyphs are famous. They depict trapezoidal figures with arms, legs, and fingers and are decorated with headdresses and necklaces; there are also animal-like figures such as deer, dogs, bighorn sheep, birds, snakes, and lizards.

About 1250 AD, artifacts of this unique culture began to disappear from the region. Among them are  "one-rod-and-bundle basketry,"  thin-walled gray pottery, and curious small clay people figurines decorated with necklaces, ear bobs, clothing, hair, facial decorations, and anatomical decorations characteristics.

Fremont Indian's pottery State Park and Museum, Utah Fremont Indian's pottery State Park and Museum, Utah

The purpose of the figurines is still unknown, but the researchers suggested the artifacts may be associated with fertility or the Fremont people's religious rituals.

Later, the Fremont Culture and its artifacts began to decline about 1150 AD and ceased to exist by AD 1300. New people moved into Fremont territory, but what happened to the Fremont Indians is not entirely explained.

Was climate change responsible? Or were they killed or forced to leave their homes and find another place to live?

Written by – A. Sutherland Staff Writer

Updated on July 20, 2022

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Simms S. R. Traces of Fremont

Utah History To Go

National Park Service