Sunday, March 31, 2013

Eagle Traps

(I don't know why the text below that accompanies this drawing doesn't read: "It was common for Indians to seek high country locations, conceal themselves in a brush covered stone-lined pit structure, or as the drawing shows, a free standing brush covered stone structure...)  

"...(U)sing Rocky Mountain National Park's passes and trails to catch enemies by surprise or to find better hunting grounds gave both the Utes and the Arapahos cause to enter this region. Other activities occurring in these mountains were probably less dramatic. One lesser known attraction, that of trapping eagles, may have drawn solitary Indians toward these peaks. It was common for Indians to seek high country locations, conceal themselves in a brush covered pit, and lure eagles toward a hunk of meat placed as bait upon the brush. Ethnologist Alfred Kroeber explained: "Only certain men could hunt the eagle. For four days they abstained from food and water. They put medicine on their hands. In four days they might get fifty or a hundred eagles. A stuffed coyote-skin was sometimes set near the bait." [14] Whether the summit of Longs Peak was actually used as an eagle trap, as later Arapaho informants claimed, cannot be verified. The first recorded climbers found no evidence of any pit or other traces of human activity when they arrived at the top of Longs Peak in 1868. Yet other mountains or high country ridges might well have been used for snaring eagles, creatures considered so valuable because of their decorative feathers..."
Here's a free standing possible eagle-trap...
Stone structure thought to be an
eagle-trap, viewed from above.
(photo by Becky Donlan)

I found the photos at, a website about Musick Lodge, a wicki-up - as W.C. Fields would say, where the "... rare and unique wooden structure was reported to the Rio Grande National Forest archaeologists in 2008 by local resident, Mike Musick. The Musick Lodge (5SH3788) was offically recorded this past summer (2009) by teams of archaeologist and volunteers from the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF). Pike/San Isabel National Forest (P/SINF), and the Dominguez Anthropological Research Group (DARG)." 
Another view of possible eagle-trap, note the incorporation of the large boulder in the foreground into the wall.(photo by Becky Donlan)

Here's another, in Wyoming, possibly for "Not-Very-Tall People:"
I am unsure how it differs from this Vision Quest Site:
Only the people at know for sure at this point.

There are multiple views of a pit style eagle-trap in a series of fine photos by Mr. Stephen T. Shankland starting here:
This is the thumbnail of two traps side by side from the image search below, and the other photos by Mr. Shankland are really great, some friends of his giving perspective to the photos from New Mexico:

"Eagle Trap Nos. 2 and 3; A hike along Burnt Mesa to the three eagle traps on the edge of Frijoles Canyon."

Copyright 2010 Stephen T. Shankland


  1. Hmm, good job! This is really something!

  2. Anonymous2:23 PM

    Nice to see someone else is interested in Golden Eagle traps. I was first given directions to some in the Little Flattops in Colorado. I couldn't figure out their placement initially as these were placed up on one side of a small pass in the mountains. I'm a hang glider pilot and have flown with Golden Eagles many times. Because of my understanding of various raptors and their flying styles I finally came to understand the logic behind the placement of these traps. Basically they are located right where you would choose to launch a hang glider from a mountain ridge into a prevailing wind direction with an obvious steady ridge lift situation. Eagles are slow to flap their way out of trouble and much prefer to soar away ( that is, fly without flapping, like a hang glider). So these soarable cliff edges are safe zones for them.

    I've found numerous undiscovered Eagle catchers on my own in northwest Colorado using this understanding.

    I think the Indian laid on his back not in the strange posture in the illustration. You had to grab the Eagle from behind, trapping both legs with one forearm and using the other hand to kill the Eagle, sometimes a special cord was used to strangle.

    I guess I'm old now. I first ran the Yampa/Green rivers in 1960. On that first trip we saw 30 or 40 Golden Eagles a day. I think that before we started hunting them from airplanes they were one of the most common of birds.

    I befriended a young Lakota Sioux once who was in the middle of a traditional program of participating in the Sun Dance. That dance is laden with Golden Eagle symbology. He helped me to understand much more about Golden Eagles. As I'm very aware, having flown with them up to 16,000 ft., the Lakota consider the Golden Eagle the one who flys the highest and is therefore the carrier of prayers to Wakantanka, the great spirit.

    Back to the strangely placed traps I first mentioned, you may not understand this but they were placed in the venturi of the small pass, just high enough up the side of the pass where the venturi winds were less but not completely gone. Those Indians really understood micrometeorology.

    In the Black Hills and other places the Indians dug pits. In the Rockies, however, it's too hard to dig so they made circular structures out of rocks, kind of like a too large fireplace. I think that many piles of rocks on various mountains in Colorado and elsewhere have been misidentified as cairns when actually they were eagle traps.

    In hang gliding there is a limited number of mountains with a nice take off into soarable winds. This is also true with Eagle traps. These locations were all known and treasured and sometimes shared and sometimes fought over.

    1. I live by the flat tops in Colorado and was told of a trap by me. Can you email me?

  3. There are a number of eagle traps around Magdalena, New Mexico.