The Wardell Buffalo Trap
The Wardell Buffalo Trap is located five miles northeast of
Big Piney near the Green River. Since the actual dig site had eroded
significantly due to runoff cutting through the area following the exposure
of the site, a need existed to present the trap in a museum setting so
the historical and cultural background would be available to the public.
The BLM and the University of Wyoming with help from archaeologist Dave
Vlcek provided expertise for this exhibit. Barbara McKinley was the
project director. Dig results have been published in The Wardell
Buffalo Trap, 1973, by Dr. George Frison.
Athabascans apparently used the site for communal bison hunting
during their migration southward. Excavation revealed three cultural
layers, each showing repeated autumnal use. Radiocarbon dating of
AD 370, 720 and 960 establishes usage time periods.
The communal hunt involved driving, killing, butchering and
processing the bison. The whole process was probably done by about
125 people, with 20 to 25 adult males. The corral served for killing
and butchering. The 436 side-notched projectile points found in the
three layers indicate a trap, not a jump.
The corral, situated at the head of a box canyon, was supported
by juniper posts. Corral dimensions were about 30 feet by 50 feet,
with high sides of logs, brush, and hides to discourage buffalo from escaping.
Sagebrush and greasewood "wings" extending 1/4 to 1/2 mile toward the river
helped funnel buffalo into the trap.
The processing area could have covered 2 1/2 acres and was probably
hidden from the drive line to the corral by the brush walls of the wings.
The people camped there for extended periods while drying enough meat for
For cooking, bones with meat attached were placed in pits, probably
in paunches or skins to be cooked for immediate consumption. Hot
rocks dropped in with the meat provided heat and flat sandstone slabs placed
on top sealed the oven. One cooking pit had never been opened, providing
an opportunity for archaeological investigation.
Wardell Buffalo Trap A.D. 370 - A.D. 960
This 4' by 8' mural of the site was painted by artists Lynn Thomas,
Charmian McLellan and Ruth Rawhouser, assisted by Ann Anspach, Tib
Sutherland, Mary Krause, and Betty Pfaff who collaborated to create an
artist's conception of history.
Petroglyphs south of Big Piney