Figure 9. Dummy hunters. These stacked rock features are located atop the north-facing ridge on the volcanic tablelands above Renegade Canyon. Photo by Bill Wight.
“Great numbers of Indians were …required. … (and) they were compelled…to build rows of dummy hunters out of stones, along the ridge-tops which they wished to prevent the sheep from crossing. And without discrediting the sagacity of the game, these dummies were found effective; for with a few live Indians moving about excitedly among them, they could hardly be distinguished at a little distance from men, by anyone not in on the secret. The whole ridgetop then seemed alive with archers.” – Muir (1898:321-322)
"Bighorn hunts were conducted in a variety of ways 76. The analog for the Coso pattern are communal hunts, surrounding sheep, driving them into enclosures or nets, guiding the sheep with fire and dogs, and running the sheep past hidden hunters 77. Stewart notes that hunters would also occasionally make loud noises – pounding objects together to imitate the clash of rams in battle… (Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the “Coso Sheep Cult” of Eastern California
By Alan P. Garfinkel, Ph.D. September 2007)
In the more accessible ranges that stretch across the desert regions of western Utah and Nevada, considerable numbers of Indians used to hunt in company like packs of wolves, and being perfectly acquainted with the topography of their hunting grounds, and with the habits and instincts of the game, they were pretty successful. On the tops of nearly every one of the Nevada mountains that I have visited, I found small, nest-like enclosures built of stones, in which, as I afterward learned, one or more Indians would lie in wait while their companions scoured the ridges below, knowing that the alarmed sheep would surely run to the summit, and when they could be made to approach with the wind they were shot at short range.
Still larger bands of Indians used to make extensive hunts upon some dominant mountain much frequented by the sheep, such as Mount Grant on the Wassuck Range to the west of Walker Lake. On some particular spot, favorably situated with reference to the well-known trails of the sheep, they built a high-walled corral, with long guiding wings diverging from the gateway; and into this inclosure they sometimes succeeded in driving the noble game. Great numbers of Indians were of course required, more, indeed, than they could usually muster, counting in squaws, children, and all; they were compelled, therefore, to build rows of dummy hunters out of stones, along the ridge-tops which they wished to prevent the sheep from crossing. And, without discrediting the sagacity of the game, these dummies were found effective; for, with a few live Indians moving about excitedly among them, they could hardly be distinguished at a little distance from men, by any one not in the secret. The whole ridge-top then seemed to be alive with hunters."
Pendleton and Thomas: The Fort Sage Drift Fence, Washoe County, Nevada
Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 5(2)
Raymond, Anan, Dept. of Anthropology, Washington State Univ.
Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, UC Merced Library, UC Merced
The Fort Sage Drift Fence, Washoe County,
Nevada. Lorann S. A. Pendleton and
David Hurst Thomas. New York: American
Museum of Natural History Anthropological
Papers. Vol. 58: Part 2, 1983.
Reviewed by ANAN RAYMOND
Dept. of Anthropology
Washington State Univ.
Pullman, WA 99164
It is difficult to accurately interpret the age and function of surface rock alignments and their association with nearby lithic scatters. Pendleton and Thomas wrestle with this problem at the Fort Sage Drift Fence, concluding that this alignment helped prehistoric hunters intercept and dispatch pronghorn antelope and/or bighorn sheep.
The Fort Sage Drift Fence is an 1800 m.-long rock alignment 20 to 80 cm. high.
[1800 meters = 5905.5 feet. 20cm converts into 7.87 inches, which is more than 1/2 foot but less than one foot. 80 cm = 2.6 feet (2ft and 4in.)] Traversing three low hills, the alignment includes ten apparently intentional gaps, three of which occur where drainages bisect the fence. The walls are constructed of basalt boulders that appear (from the photographs) to be derived from nearby bedrock outcroppings and the adjacent hillside...
In the second part of the paper Pendleton and Thomas provide a valuable discussion on the interpretation of such a large hunting feature. Rather than emphasize specific behaviors indicated in the flaked stone artifacts, they concentrate on the strategy reflected by the rock alignment. Pendleton and Thomas discuss two basic hunting strategies, "encounter" and "intercept," that may have been used prehistorically. An encounter strategy is suited to dispersed populations of game animals that move unpredictably. An intercept hunting strategy provides an efficient means to ambush game that may congregate seasonally and "migrate" in a predictable pattern.
An intercept strategy employs natural (e.g., ridges, drainages) and artificial (e.g., rock alignments, brush barriers) features to direct the animals' movement to the hunters' advantage. As a technique of intensifying resources, intercept strategies will often incorporate features with high archaeological visibility such as rock alignments, fish weirs, and bison jumps, while the archaeological remains of encounter hunts usually consist of little more than isolated losses (e.g., projectile points).
Pendleton and Thomas then discuss how the distribution of local deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope populations might have conditioned the hunting strategy in the Fort Sage area. They also review ethnographic accounts of encounter and intercept hunting of these three game species. They conclude that the Fort Sage Drift Fence functioned in an intercept strategy to dispatch groups of pronghorn antelope and/or bighorn sheep moving in response to seasonal availability of browse and forage.
Pendleton and Thomas also speculate on how the Fort Sage site reflects a general model of hunter-gatherer subsistence and settlement (Binford 1980; Thomas 1983). They argue that the Fort Sage Drift Fence was labor intensive. However, for a highly mobile foraging strategy, the cost of constructing the alignment outweighs the advantage of simply moving to the animals. On the other hand, a less mobile "logistical" subsistence strategy will obtain resources through a network of specialized and relatively permanent task sites in areas of high resource density and predictability.
They suggest that as a permanent and labor intensive facility, the Fort Sage Drift Fence implies a predictable and successful hunting strategy that was "logistically" organized.
After reviewing the antiquity of rock alignment hunting facilities in the Great Basin, Pendleton and Thomas suggest that high-cost permanent hunting features, and the logistic subsistence strategy implied by them, became less important in the protohistoric period. They cite a lack of "permanent" hunting features during the protohistoric period, to support their argument. However, they may be confusing construction materials with permanence. The ethnographic Steward 1938) and archaeological (Raymond 1982; Frison 1978) literature attest to the recency of large tree-and-brush game procurement facilities. The alignments at Fort Sage may not have been constructed with trees and brush because basalt boulders were more accessible.
This study deserves attention by all interested in approaches to the analysis of surface sites, especially hunting features. Furthermore, the report, like much of Thomas's work, shows how the archaeological record can provide interesting glimpses of prehistoric behavior.
Binford, Lewis R.
1980 Willow Smoke and Dogs' Tails; Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 8:281-290.
Frison, George C. 1978 Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. New York; Academic Press.
Raymond, Anan 1982 Two Historic Aboriginal Game Drive Enclosures in the Eastern Great Basin. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 4(l);23-33.
Steward, Julian H. 1938 Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 120.
Thomas, D. H.
1983 The Archaeology of Monitor Valley I; Epistemology.
New York: American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers 58(1).