The Crimson Cowboys

The Remarkable Odyssey of the 1931 Claflin-Emerson Expedition

Winner of the Don D. and Catherine S. Fowler Prize.

In 1931 a group from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum accomplished something that had never been attempted in the history of American archaeology: a six-week, four-hundred-mile horseback survey of Fremont prehistoric sites through some of the West’s most rugged terrain. The expedition was successful, but a report on the findings was never completed. What should have been one of the great archaeological stories in American history was relegated to boxes and files in the basement of the Peabody Museum at Harvard.
     Now, based on over a thousand pages of documents (field journals, correspondence, and receipts) and over four hundred photographs, this book recounts the remarkable day-to-day adventures of this crew of one professor, five students, and three Utah guides who braved heat, fatigue, and the dangerous canyon wilderness to reveal vestiges of the Fremont culture in the Tavaputs Plateau and Uinta Basin areas. To better tell this story, authors Spangler and Aton undertook extensive fieldwork to confirm the sites; their recent photographs and those of the original expedition are shared on these pages. This engaging narrative situates the 1931 survey and its discoveries within the history of American archaeology.

Click here for a podcast with the APEX hour and Jim Aton about The Crimson Cowboys.

Jerry D. Spangler is a professional archaeologist and executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to protecting cultural sites on public lands.
James M. Aton is professor of English at Southern Utah University and serves as board president of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance.

Table of Contents:
1. An Elephantine Endeavor: Preparations for the 1931 Field Season
2. The Adventure Begins: Probing the East Tavaputs Plateau
3. Divide and Conquer: The Exploration of Willow Creek
4. Castles in the Sky: The Hill Creek Excavations
5. Into the Thick of It: Nine Mile Canyon
6. Unnoticed Treasures: The Expedition to Range Creek Canyon
7. Wildest Desolation: Exploring the Green River’s West Bank
8. Dirty Shovels: Devil’s Playground and Rasmussen Cave
9. Out with a Whimper: The Uinta Basin Investigations
10. Scholars and Cowboys: Afterwards

Praise and Reviews:
“An excellent and informative chronicle of the expedition, based on the journals, photographs, and related documentation, couched in the social history of the region (ranchers and others) and results of later archaeological work. The writing style is informal, conversational, and works beautifully.”
—Don D. Fowler, Mamie Kleberg Distinguished Professor of Historic Preservation and Anthropology Emeritus, University of Nevada, Reno; and author of The Glen Canyon Country: A Personal Memoir
“The two scholars have achieved one of the finest books ever written on the history of southwestern archaeology. Their archival research is exhaustive, their text is eloquent with an occasional splash of humor, and their extensive field work opens for readers a geographical region very poorly known and provides new insights into the Fremont Complex.”
—Gary Topping, professor of history at Salt Lake Community College