The Texas Creek Overlook Archaeological Site is a picturesque Fremont masonry structure located on a sandstone pinnacle in the rugged canyons south of Rangely. In 1983 the overlook was excavated by Steven D. Creasman of Western Wyoming College in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The site dates to about 1520 CE, showing that the Fremont culture in northwest Colorado lasted at least 300 years longer than previously thought.
Energy development in northwest Colorado started to increase rapidly in the late 1970s. To facilitate continued development while also protecting the area’s cultural resources, in 1979 the BLM hired Gordon & Kranzush Archaeological Consultants to conduct a survey of 16,000 acres of deep arroyos and buttes in southwest Rio Blanco County. Conducted in 1980, the survey found 171 prehistoric sites even though its scope was reduced because of a funding shortage.
Gordon & Kranzush noted a strong continuity in subsistence and settlement patterns in the area from the Archaic period (5500 BCE–150 CE) to the Protohistoric period (1540–1860 CE), probably because local resources could not support much more than short-term hunting and gathering. The Fremont people, for example, occupied the area from about 400 to at least 1200 CE, and they seemed to have adapted to the local environment by focusing on hunting and gathering rather than farming, as they did farther north and west. Even in the historic period, homesteaders in the area generally raised stock instead of trying to grow crops.
Texas Creek Overlook Excavation
Three years after the Gordon & Kranzush survey, Steven D. Creasman of Western Wyoming College worked with the BLM to excavate Texas Creek Overlook, one of the area’s most spectacular prehistoric sites, before it could be damaged by natural gas development or vandalism. The overlook is one of the few Fremont architectural features in the area. It is a masonry structure on an isolated sandstone pinnacle that can be reached only by crossing a causeway and climbing through a natural tunnel to the structure’s floor. Natural steps in the bedrock floor define its three rooms. The walls follow the edge of the pinnacle on the north, east, and south sides. Made of sandstone slabs placed horizontally in an interlocking pattern and mortared with mud, the walls have an average height of about three feet and an average width of two to three feet. Postholes found in one of the rooms suggested that the structure had a roof made of poles covered with brush or hides.
Creasman recovered chipped stone tools, butchered animal bones, bone tools, beads, and pottery. In one room, the bones, sherds, and other artifacts were located close to the walls, suggesting that the structure’s inhabitants intentionally cleaned the floor. Most of the large mammal bones showed signs of being used for marrow extraction and grease production. The structure also contained smaller mammal bones and plant remains, pointing to daily consumption rather than winter storage.
The pottery sherds, projectile points, and architectural style of the structure all indicated a Fremont occupation, but Creasman noted important differences from Fremont habitations elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau. The overlook seemed to be primarily a hunting and processing camp, not a farmstead featuring intensive plant processing. In addition, charcoal from one of the rooms was radiocarbon dated to 1520 CE, long after the traditional end date for the Fremont period. Creasman suggested that around 1150, when the Fremont abandoned the Uinta Basin as that area became drier, they moved to higher elevations to the northeast and southeast, including the area around the Texas Creek Overlook, where they relied increasingly on hunting and gathering rather than corn cultivation.