#lookback: Castle Gardens Shield Petroglyphs

    A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    The Castle Gardens are a group of sandstone rocks about 50 miles from Riverton on the Gas Hills Road. These sandstone rocks contain petroglyphs and pictographs that have been carved and painted onto the rocks. In addition to petroglyphs and pictographs, bullet holes and modern inscriptions created by vandals can be seen by visitors. The site was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places by Bill Barnhard from the Wyoming Recreation Commission in 1969.

    The Castle Gardens petroglyphs were categorized in 1932 by David Love into several styles of rock art. These styles indicate that each group of carvings was made during a different time period. One group of carvings consists of simple figures some of which are believed to resemble corn and arrows. The second group of carvings is a circle with designs carved inside the circles. These circles are identified as shields and are the most frequently used type of petroglyph at Castle Gardens. The third category of carvings contains realistic figures including animals and humans.


    The technique employed to manufacture the shield designs at Castle Gardens began with the artist abrading the surface of the rock. Then, the shield would be chiseled into the rock. Next, the artist would prepare the shield design by dividing the circle into pie-shaped wedges for decoration. To paint a design, a stencil would be used. Archeologists believe that the paint may have been applied with brushes, however, no evidence of brushes was recovered during any excavations of the site. Other sites including a similar style of shield pictograph are Pictograph Cave, Bear Gulch, and Valley of the Shields which are all located in Montana.

    At the time of Euroamerican contact, the Native American who controlled the region near Castle Gardens was the Crow, the Wind River Shoshone, and the Arapahoe. The Great Turtle Shield petroglyph was taken from Castle Gardens around 1932 to 1940 and donated in 1941 to the Wyoming State Museum. Where the Great Turtle Shield was taken from can, still be seen at Castle Gardens today. The age of the Great Turtle Shield was established as circa AD 1150 to AD 1250. Based on the age of the Great Turtle Shield, the Crow and the Arapahoe can be eliminated as the artists of the petroglyphs.

    The Mountain Crow did not arrive in the area until AD 1500 and the Arapahoe were not in Wyoming until AD 1700. The Shoshone’s arrival in the area is a topic of debate among scholars. The Wind River Shoshone are believed to once be a part of several bands of tribes known as the Tukudika, the Kukundika, and the Agaidika. The Tukudika, also known as the Sheepeaters, hunted along the mountain chain between California and Wyoming prior to AD 1000.

    As a result, the rock art could be attributed to the Sheepeaters, however, the Shoshone are associated with the Dinwoody Style of petroglyph. Dinwoody is a complicated style made by pecking the outlines of figures and filling the interiors with patterns of lines. This method of making petroglyph is not similar to the technique used to create the petroglyphs at Castle Gardens. The two styles are too different from Dinwoody petroglyphs for the art at Castle Gardens to be definitively affiliated with the Shoshone.


    Oral history traditions from the Kiowa and other Apachean tribes tell scholars that they occupied the Wyoming region in the prehistoric period. Among these tribes, the Navajo and the western Apache apparently separated and moved south at a time before other Apachean groups. The Navajo are known to have made rock art shields in the Southwest in the Gobernador Representational Style, which is very similar to the Castle Garden Shields. The possibility that the Kiowa are the makers of the shields is also apparent. According to their traditions, their ancestors were living in Wyoming during the time the shields were created and they have a history of making and using large shields.

    Vandalism is a huge problem at Castle Gardens, modern visitors to the site will often carve their names in the sandstone. Some vandals even carved their names beside the petroglyphs obscuring each image. As a result of vandalism, chain link fences were erected around some of the petroglyphs to protect the rock face and a rock art conservator was contacted by the Bureau of Land Management to restore some of the areas where vandals have carved their names. When visiting Castle Gardens, please make sure to be respectful and refrain from vandalizing the site any further.



    Next up for the Fremont County Museums


    August 10th, 2 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Superhero Cuffs”

    Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series


    August 13th, 7 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Historic Downtown Dubois Walking Tour”

    Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

    August 15th, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Tribal Warrior Art”

    Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series


    The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.



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