Wyoming's Fabulous Big Horn Mountains Medicine wheelThe circle of warriors listened intently as Buffalo-Calf Running started to once again tell the story of how the ancient ones built "Wyoming’s great Medicine wheel. Now nearly eighty summers old, and with the wisdom that comes with age Buffalo-Calf Running was about to tell one of his tribes favorite stories. He had told the story dozens of times, but it was a story that needed to be passed on, and a story he loved to tell. Buffalo-Calf Running took a small drink from the water gourd beside him, cleared his throat and started the story.
“Walks-Himself and Snow Bear had been traveling for more than one full moon to the south. Looking, they were looking for a holy place for their tribe, the Absaroka, a tribe here long ago, and long before the white men came and started to call our people the Crow. They were not sure what they were looking for, but when they found it they would, by instinct, know. Walks-himself and Snow Bear were together because they had nearly the same vision during a quest several months ago. Both had studied the ways of the medicine man since they were only ten summers and both, although only sixteen and seventeen were thought to have great and mysterious powers. What they found in the Big Horns was a veryhigh area on a windswept mountainside, strewn with rocks. They knew this would be the spot, the spot they had traveledmany days to the south to find.
In their visions they were building a giant Medicine Wheel, much like the one near their own village, but the ancients had built that one, and no one knew any stories from that time. Theirs would be on a grand scale but with only the two of them, their dogs and travois it would be many moons in the making. They started building by heaping a great many rocks into a pile that would be the center of their great sacred wheel. From the center they built four lines of stone away from the center to represent: North, South, East and West. They couldn’t determine, even through much prayer and meditation, just how long each of these great spokes should be. Finally they decided to simply drag and lay stones until the sun was straight overhead and stop, then make each line that length. After circling the four directional rock lines with rocks that took both of them to carry, a process that took nearly four full days, the two were ready to start on the final spokes of the giant wheel. Over the next several weeks’ rocks were gathered and laid in six lines between each of the original four lines. This would give them a perfect lunar calendar with twenty-eight spokes to match the phases of the moon. The moon they used to calculate important times of the year, such as, the return of the Buffalo and the coming of winter.
After their nearly three month long labor they walked back a great distance to admire their work but decided the wheel was not complete it needed something else, it did not look as the one in their visions and not much like the one near their home village far to the North. They now spent endless, sweating, hurting days building six stone Medicine lodges around the circle. The lodges were to represent the things most sacred to them: water, food, Buffalo, fire, the changing seasons, family, and tribe. A year later when they came back they added one more lodge, but at a distance from the circle reminding their clan to stay within the circle of the Crow because great dangerous lay far from the circle. (Some believe this to be a warning of the migration of white people that would be coming in another one hundred years).
This Medicine wheel was used for many years but after the children of Snow Bear and Walks-Himself had passed on it was used very little and finally, not at all, for many generations of our people. It was when I was a little boy of eight summers that this great wheel was found again by the Crow. Buffalo-Calf-Running stopped to light his pipe and take another drink from the water gourd before ending his story. When we found the wheel some of the elder’s stories that had been passed down, the ones we never understood started to make since. Many of the missing parts of the stories could be filled in once we found the Medicine wheel. Snow Bear and Walks-Himself seemed to live among us again. They had always been in our stories but it was not until we found this place that we truly understood their power and what they meant to our tribe.
The Bighorn Mountain Medicine Wheel is located on the West side of the crest of Medicine Mountain in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. The setting is nearly ten thousand feet high just north of highway 14 east of the town of Lovell. It is now set aside as a National Historic Landmark
The shape is not a perfect circle but it is circular in shape. There are twenty-eight spokes radiating out from the central cairn (pile of rocks) around the edges are six smaller rock Cairns. Another cairn can be found a short distance away. The wheel is about seventy-five feet across and two of the Cairns roughly line up with sunrise and sunset on summer solstice. Other parts are said to line up with bright morning stars. All of this could be by sheer chance and over zealous imaginations of present day scholars or these ancient Americans may have had some real astronomical knowledge.
Archeological evidence points to the use of the area by Aboriginal people thousands of years ago, but just when the wheel was built has not been determined by any solid evidence. If it is some kind of lunar calendar, as many scholars believe, it best matches up with the skies of eight hundred years ago. When it was really built and what its original purpose was we could only speculate. Guesses for its purpose range from the really weird, built by ancient astronauts, to the very possible, a shrine for healing and worship.
American Indians say it best------
“The answer lies in the rocks and only the can last forever”.