SUNRISE – Beyond the gates that are usually closed east of Hartville on Highway 318, many members of the community adventured to the historic town of Sunrise Thursday evening, May 25 to meet at Sunrise’s YMCA building. At the YMCA, they listened to the Sunrise Historic and Prehistoric Preservation Society (SHAPPS) annual meeting and Archeologist George Zeimens’ discussion on the “Historic and Prehistoric Sites in the Hartville Uplift.”
“Way back in the 1970s, they were lobbying advantages over gas lines and lots of energy companies were coming into Wyoming,” Zeimens began. “At the same time, the federal government came out with rules and regulations on archeology.”
Zeimens had a full-time associate archeologist position. It was left to him to deal with the enforcers of the regulations, oil companies and lawyers. After about 10 years doing that job, Zeimens left the position and moved to this area and got into the livestock business.
“I had been all over the state of Wyoming, every nook and cranny, and I couldn’t believe the concentration of archaeological sites and historic sites in this area,” Zeimens told the audience.
The Hartville Uplift is an area about 45 miles long and 30 miles wide. In this area, there are numerous historic and prehistoric sites.
“The eastern edge of the Hartville Uplift is Cottonwood Draw,” Zeimens said. “You can go out on Highway 26 west of Fort Laramie for five miles, just west of the Hageman Ranch is a marker for the Cheyenne/Deadwood Trail. If you followed that trail through the hills into the background and you would drop down into Cottonwood Draw.”
Cottonwood Draw offered many resources, including shelter, good water, wood for fires and an easy road to travelers following the trail. At one point, there was a stage stop there. Later the trail was also used by the military.
This area has been used for the same reasons for generations throughout history. Zeimens said a campsite at Big Spring was dated back as far as 2,500 years before they hit the water table and was unable to dig any deeper. At this site, they recovered many different artifacts including, pottery from the Eastern Shoshone people.
“[We found] a champagne bottle that they had taken and chipped away the edges to make a scrapper out of it,” Zeimens said. “It was one of the most interesting things we found.”
On the Hageman Ranch, there are a few graves across the creek that date back to the early 1900s.
“This place, one time, became the cultural center of the area,” Zeimens continued. “They would have school board meetings and dances there.”
Next to the homestead, they found a good stratified prehistoric site. When excavating next to a fire hearth, they found many stratified firepits next to it dating back 2,500 years until they reached the water table.
“Homesteaders, travelers and prehistoric people all camped in similar areas for similar reasons, which you might expect,” Zeimens said.
Downstream from the Meyers’ property, they uncovered a site that dates back 10,000 years before they hit the water table. The artifacts on this site include flakes and stone tools.
Throughout the entire area, there are 1,000s and 1,000s of teepee rings that date back at least 8,000 years.
The Hell Gap Site was discovered right at the end of Cottonwood Draw in the late 1950s. On this site, there have been numerous artifacts that date back more than 12,000 years ago.
“This was the first site where radiocarbon dating was used for dating artifacts,” Zeimens said.
At this site, they have found rare rock art, called pictographs, red ochre deposits, quarry sites, and teepee rings, along with a wide array of other artifacts.
“The only difference between an archaeologist and a bulldozer is they both destroy the site, but an archeologist keeps careful records and documents,” Zeimens told the audience.
Zeimens expressed his thanks to John Volght, owner of the town of Sunrise, for donating the YMCA building in Sunrise to SHAPPS for use and preservation. Currently, Zeimens is working on a book on the Powars II site, which will record all of the details of the site in one place.
During this event, SHAPPS held its annual meeting. At this time, Geri Zeimens, SHAPPS executive director, provided updates on the organization.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to be in the YMCA all year round for meetings because of our wonderful partnership with Eastern Wyoming College (EWC); we’re pretty excited,” Geri said. “Last year was a great year, we got a lot of things accomplished.”
Last summer, the Skills Trade Camp refurbished and repaired the windows in the YMCA building. This year they will hold the camp again, providing an opportunity for kids from all over the state to learn about the history and culture at Sunrise, while they work on the building.
They also had archeologists from South America doing research and digging at the site last summer. Geri said they received dates from over 14,000 years ago from the dig.
With the donation of the site, Volght also asked that all artifacts discovered in the area stay on site. This will ensure all artifacts stay local and are preserved for future generations.
EWC’s Director of Institutional Development John Hansen and Vice President of the Douglas Campus Dr. Margaret Farley spoke about the EWC and SHAPPS partnership at the meeting.
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Geri and George and learn how special this place was,” Hansen told the audience. “As a community college, one of the things that we believe in is giving people the opportunity to find that one thing in life that connects them to their past and future.”
This partnership began through the application for grants with the Wyoming Innovative Partnership with a focus on tourism. EWC was awarded one million dollars for this program. These funds will be used to install a new heating system in the YMCA building, bring in an archeologist and host a summer camp and day camp at Sunrise.
Moving forward, the college will be working on developing a new curriculum and working out all of the details.
This will be SHAPPS’ last program until September. Coming up on June 24, they will hold their annual Sunrise Tour fundraiser. On July 12, Wyoming Gives will be hosting a 24-hour dollar-to-dollar donation match. To participate, go to www.SHAPPS.org to make a donation and the organization will receive matching funds in that amount.