Surveys of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel

Surveys of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel

For Purposes of Long Range Alignments

Survey on 20 August, 2005

Under Direction of James P. Scherz. Prof. Emeritus Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering (Surveying and Mapping Division), Univ. of  Wisc., Madison

Report Written: Dec., 2005 By James P. Scherz

Chapter 1 – OVERVIEW –

1-A) Personnel, Motivation, and Getting Started

The prime field data for this report comes from a one-day survey of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel near Sheridan, Wyoming.  Our field survey was conducted  with a total station (controlled by sunshots) on Saturday, 20 August, 2005. This total station is a survey instrument on a tripod which measures and displays angles to  the nearest  6 seconds of arc, and also measures  distances to a reflector. The sunshots determine the direction to true or celestial north to within a few thousands of a deg. Helping with the field surveys were Ritchie Brown, Division Manager for the Department of Natural Resources for the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Nation at Black River Falls, Wisc., and Bill Kingswan  who operates the ground  penetrating radar for the same Native American tribe. We drove from Black River Falls on Friday afternoon and night and arrived in Wyoming early on Saturday,  the day we did the survey.  We drove back to  Wisconsin  on Saturday evening and during Sunday so Ritchie and Bill could be back to work on Monday.

A separate team had previously driven from southern Wisconsin and were camping near by. This team consisted of three women: Debra Schware and Marie Smith from Richland Center, Wisc. , and Bekki Davis from Lacrosse, Wisc. This team made it their goal to access the site for possible ancient ceremonial purposes. And while I was busy with the survey instrument, they, along with Ritchie and Bill, indeed did find amazing data relating to probable ancient ceremonies, which are not included in this report.

The survey effort had been organized by Ritchie following a request from Ralph Redfox, from Boise, Idaho,  who is an elder of the Northern  Cheyenne.  Ralph requested  help in deciphering guarded verbal histories from his people regarding this Medicine Wheel.  These legends tell of special encoded information in the wheel relating to their ancient sites in Wisconsin. According to Ralph, the Northern Cheyenne once lived in the Wisconsin area and once mined copper from ancient  mines near Lake Superior.   He said that this was long, long ago, and  that when they first came to the Wisconsin  area (from elsewhere),  they began to  hunt  and eat the Bison which then lived in Wisconsin. Prior to coming to Wisconsin, Ralph maintains, his people primarily lived by eating Musk Oxen.  Ralph said that his ancient  stories relate to  sites in Wisconsin before their migration out onto the plains. And if we could find their ancient sites in Wisconsin, he hoped to follow the legendary trail back to the land they lived in before coming to the Wisconsin area.

Ritchie and Bill found a site along the Black River in Wisconsin, which should be considered. And old Hochunk traditions tell of battles between the Hochunk and the Cheyenne at this site. Ralph maintains that after the Northern Cheyenne reached the Bighorn Mountains, they encoded their migration route from the Wisconsin area into the Bighorn Medicine Wheel.

As I recall from one of our meetings, Ralph said that coded information for their sites in Wisconsin are found between the Northwestern Cairn, the Center Cairn and the Eastern Cairn of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel(1). (See Figures 2 and 5.) And he emphasized to me that “Red rocks are extremely important’. I had already learned this from another elder, Pamita, who in the 1980s said that special rocks had been placed in ancient ceremonial sites, and that they were meant to be overlooked by the common people. But to the initiated members of the secret lodges who could recognize them, these special rocks were key to unlocking the geometry of the sites. He referred to these special-shaped rocks or special-colored rocks as “toths”. And I learned from Pamita that red rocks in a field of scattered white rocks are especially important.

After carrying the heavy surveying gear uphill for I ½ miles through the thin air on this crystal clear Saturday morning, we carefully studied the wheel and the prominent surrounding landmarks. Our goal was to get very accurate relative coordinates on a few key parts of the wheel in the limited time we had for the survey. Other researchers, years ago, had carefully sketched hundreds of individual rocks comprising the wheel. And I felt we could use their data to fill in the details between the key points which we would precisely survey. We set up the total station on the northwestern edge of the wheel along what appeared to us to be the prime alignment at the site. Then we took observations on the sun (sunshots) to determine celestial north. Ritchie and Bill also took readings with a handheld GPS (satellite positioning system). These were later used in the computer reductions of the sunshots after we returned to Wisconsin.

(1) The cairn notations are ours, and not necessarily found in other reports about this Medicine Wheel.

Figure 1. The Total Station surveying instrument, the sun, and points surveyed on the wheel

Next we carefully chose about a dozen spots on the wheel were we would  place the reflector to be sighted with the total station.  (See Figure  I.)  In addition to showing  horizontal and vertical angles to the reflector, the laser in the total station (functioning sort of like a radar) measures and displays the distance to the nearest 0.01 ft.(2)   On our final map, the relative positions of these points will automatically be oriented to true or celestial north (center of rotation of the northern stars). A map so oriented, allows us to more easily examine astronomical alignments at the site, as well as possible long range alignments.

(2) More accurate than some other errors in our survey, such as the exact location where the reflector was placed.