Secrets of the Range Creek Ranch- page 3 | History | Smithsonian
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Secrets of the Range Creek Ranch

Archaeologists cheered when Waldo Wilcox's vast spread was deeded to the state of Utah, believing that it holds keys to a tribe that flourished 1,000 years ago - and then mysteriously vanished.

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The Wilcoxes themselves have also done some collecting over the years. "Oh, if I seen an arrowhead, I picked it up. I won't lie to you or anyone else," Waldo Wilcox says. "I don’t have very many. But I do have half a dozen or so." Wilcox’s niece, Jeanie Jensen, says that members of the family often picked up artifacts. In 1999, Ellen Sue Turner, an archaeologist from Texas, visited the ranch, and Wilcox's wife, Julie, showed her a number of artifacts, including Fremont sandals, a wide-mouth jar, arrow points and a grinding stone. (Turner writes about her visit at Steve Gerber, the official historian for the Range Creek archaeological research project, whose father owned a ranch adjacent to the property, says the Wilcoxes "certainly did make an effort to preserve the place," adding: "That’s not to say they didn't take anything or that people before them didn't take anything. The value to scientists is that they didn’t go digging potholes."

"I have been on many sites that I am confident have not been walked in on in 1,000 years," says Renee Barlow. "A lot of the sites we have recorded, the artifacts are still right where they were dropped." There are so many artifacts that less than 10 percent of the ranch has been surveyed since work began in 2002. Jerry Spangler, a Utah archaeologist working at Range Creek, says: "Waldo has forgotten more sites than any of us will step on in a lifetime."

Meanwhile, the Wilcox legend continues to grow, and he continues to win awards and accolades for his Range Creek stewardship. It's less widely known that, although Wilcox sold the property, he retains the rights to exploit any subsurface mineral or energy deposits, including oil and natural gas. He says he hasn't ruled out leasing access to the deposits to natural gas developers. That prospect horrifies some of the archaeologists.

Wilcox and I were driving back through the old ranch when we passed two hikers. They were about a mile from the gate, where their car was parked, so Wilcox pulled over to give them a ride. When the middle-aged tourists saw Wilcox, they were as giddy as a couple of teenagers meeting their favorite rock star. "You're a hero," one gushed. Wilcox shrugged and allowed himself a little smile.

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