Ancient Mysteries

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Beneath Your Feet.”

The two cowboys rode southward, slowly climbing away from where the rivers came together searching for cattle in the uplands to drive them to the pens where they would be separated for branding.  It was the first time driving cattle for young Jim, just fourteen that year.  When late summer came they would drive the cattle in a big drove, this time east to the railhead at Craig, where they’d be shipped east to slaughter.  But for now the uncle and nephew played hide and seek with the cattle in the arid rolling hills of northwestward Colorado.

As the younger cowboy crested over yet another hill he cried out in surprise at what he saw.

“What is it? What can you see from up there?” his uncle called up, certain of what his nephew had come across but wanting to see how he would react to the sight.

“It’s bald up here, no grass at all, bare bluish rocks, but they’re covered in injun marks, carved right down into the rock.  They don’t look nothin like the ones down in the canyon.”

“Yes, they’ve been here for as long as anyone knows.  Remember two years ago when I went to Meeker to see Teddy Roosevelt when he came to town?  Well the Ute chief was there as well, and I asked him about them.  He knew they were there, his father had shown them to him when he was young, so that must have been around 1880, just before the Ute war.  His father knew they were here, but knew nothing of who had made them or what they were meant for.”

“This one looks like a man, but not quite, and have a look at this pair here… two feet one like a man’s and one like an animal, an animal walking on its hind leg, like a man.”

“Yes, and then the more typical swirls like an eddy in the river, I’ve ridden up here for more than twenty years and this ridge is the only place I know of marks like this.  They seem to wear away slowly, so I don’t come here often.  I don’t know who made them but at least in my mind they should be let alone.  They were sacred to someone once.  I’m not much of one for church, you know that as well as anyone, but unlike some out on these plains I’m not going to spit on another man’s faith.  And that includes the Indians.”

“How many people know about this?  You and me, and the Ute chief you met in Meeker, who else is there?”

“Your father knows it’s here.  And your late brother found them once himself.  Beyond that, there must be others, it’s open range land, so others ride here, but I don’t know.”

They both became silent for a while, thinking of John, who’d been shot the year before across the state line in Utah.  No one had ever been accused, just one morning the sheriff from Vernal had ridden into the ranch to tell them that John, twenty at the time was dead, having been found in an alley by one of the deputies two days before shot clean through.

“I miss him Uncle Timothy, I wish…. I wish that I could kill whoever killed him!”

“I know, I miss him too.  But forget about revenge, that’s a path that only leads to your own destruction. And besides, now that John is gone your father’s share of the ranch will come to you, you need to learn the ranching business for the next generation.  And to keep these marks safe up here.”

The pair of them mounted their horses again and looked westward towards the border, spotting some more of the cattle they set off, to bring them in towards the branding pens.

Copyright Joshua House 2015

The petroglyphic footprints of a man, or an animal, or some mythic hybrid cross a ridge in North Western Colorado.

For other art that inspired this story visit

This entry was posted in American Historic Sites, American History, daily post photo challenge, fiction, photography-colorado and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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