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Native Americans Exhibit Opens At Estes Park Museum

The public is invited to the Estes Park Museum for a free reception on Friday, April 25, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. in the main gallery. The reception will mark the opening of the new temporary exhibit Before Estes: Evidence of the Native American and is sponsored by the Town of Estes Park and the Estes Park Museum Friends & Foundation. The exhibit will run through March 1, 2009.

Before Estes: Evidence of the Native American will look at the material culture alluding to the presence of Native Americans in the Estes Park area. At the time of Joel Estes and his family, the first white settlers to the Estes valley in the mid-nineteenth century, there were no apparent Native American inhabitants. Without a written record of habitation, we can only gather evidence in the form of the objects they left behind.

Historic Native American tribes followed the trails of their prehistoric ancestors to discover what we now know as the Estes valley. Imagine a time in prehistory when Native Americans summered in this fertile basin to hunt bison, deer, and elk and to collect the abundant vegetation. Upon the arrival of fall, they followed trails east or west back to their respective tribal wintering grounds. Current scholarship suggests that over-wintering would likely have taken place in the area, especially during a mild year, but evidence of a permanent settlement has never been found.

Although the Ute and Arapaho are the area’s best-known historic tribes, others visited: definitely the Shoshone and Apache, and possibly the Cheyenne, Pawnee, Kiowa, Sioux and Comanche. With the longest tradition of inhabiting the area, the Ute (specifically the Weeminuche or Ute Mountain Ute) Tribe came well before the Arapaho (Inuna-Ina), who arrived in the nineteenth century. The two tribes laid claim to the land and its bounty. While some sources suggest they were in constant warfare over hunting grounds, others speculate that they were mutually tolerant in spite of occasional intertribal battles. While the two tribes dominated the use of the land, most other Native Americans avoided the area or only occasionally wandered through.

Numerous artifacts have been found in the Estes Park area, including tools such as projectile points and stone knives and structures like temporary shelters and foundations. Evidence of Native American habitation also includes alterations to the landscape such as trails worn into the earth and trees peeled of their bark. The language of these signs tell a great, though mysterious, story of those who lived here long before the time of written history.

The story of our area’s Native American habitation is still incomplete. Although most local archeological digs have taken place within Rocky Mountain National Park, only one-third of the identified Park sites have been culturally and chronologically explored. Inside and outside Park boundaries, many artifacts have been lost due to looting and natural disturbances. Furthermore, objects found on private land may never be brought to the attention of researchers. Researchers are continually working to uncover more evidence and fill in the narrative gaps.

Before Estes: Evidence of the Native American describes the Native American tribes who have passed through this land up to the time of the first white settlers, giving a glimpse of their fascinating cultures. The exhibit illustrates some of their ancient trails, many of which are still used by hikers today, and contains examples of the evidence that has lead modern researchers to current conclusions of Native American presence.

Visitors can try interpreting evidence left behind hundreds of years ago and then read how the experts weigh in. They can also test their knowledge of local landmarks, comparing and contrasting the site-names of settlers to those given by Arapaho tribesmen during a 1914 expedition. They will learn which names were not adopted, which persist today and which are surprisingly similar.

The mission of the Estes Park Museum is to collect, interpret and preserve local history, as well as to present exhibits, programs and events, for the education and benefit of residents and visitors of all ages. For more information call the Estes Park Museum at 586-6256 or visit the Museum’s website at The Museum is located at 200 4th Street. Through April, it is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Beginning May 1, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is always free.

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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