The Big Horn Medicine Wheel
The Birth and Death of Humanity
Jay Ellis Ransom
The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a prehistoric Native American cosmological rock structure laid down about 2,500 years ago by an Aztec-Tanoan culture that occupied the infamous Bighorn Canyon and adjacent areas between 1500 B.C. and 500 A.D. The Wheel lies at an elevation of 9,642 feet, 11 miles south of the Montana Boundary. It is the only true North American antiquity that can be reached by public or private transportation. Lovell, Wyoming, 30 miles to the west and 6,000 feet lower, is the nearest town to the site.
The Medicine Wheel was first discovered by Crow Indian hunters nearly 300 years ago. They became deathly afraid of its "bad medicine" and no Indians of any tribe dared go near it after the news had spread across the Plains. Because of the structure's resemblance to a giant wagon wheel with hub, spokes, and a rim, white trappers called it a wheel. Until 1992 its true interpretation was unknown, although many theories were advanced without real study.
As an archeolinguistic artifact, the Medicine Wheel tells how the first people on earth, i.e. only Uto-Aztecan speakers, emerged as spirits out of the Underworld via a conduit topped by the large central rock cairn, to be driven by a spirit vectored force into an inwardly opening rim-touching cairn where they became born as human beings. Where an offset cairn lies 12 feet outside the Wheel's rim, the greatly feared evil ghosts of dead Uto-Aztecans were uplifted into the Afterworld in the Milky Way directly above the structure's central exit cairn.
The rim of the structure symbolized the cosmological horizon of the Milky Way. Four external rim-touching cairns symbolize the four preceding eras in the world's history closed completely in time; they could not be entered by either the spirits rising from the Underworld nor by the ghosts en route to the Afterworld. On the inside a rim-touching, larger cairn opens toward the central cairn via a spoked channel to symbolize the Fifth Era of Current Existence in which all humanity plays its varied parts. In this era the Underworld spirits become human beings living a normal life span.
The Wheels' rim measures 245 feet. There are 20 aboriginal "spokes" that connect the rim only to the central cairn in five groups of four spokes each. These symbolize the number of days in the Uto-Aztecan month and their counting system to the base 20 (fingers and toes). Another seven spokes connect the central cairn to the other rim-touching elements. The total of 27 aboriginal spokes symbolized the number of nights between the New Moon crescent and the Old Moon crescent when the moon is actually visible each month. This lunar visibility symbolized the forces of darkness, evil. On the central cairn lay a very decayed bison skull that symbolized the sun (light), beneficence or goodness. The two symbolization’s represented the eternal warfare between light and dark, i.e., evil vs. good.
All across Wyoming, with radii up to 200 miles, giant stone arrows direct the way to the Medicine Wheel to show the greatly feared evil ghosts of Uto-Aztecan dead the way to the Afterworld of Darkness. Thus the Medicine Wheel was also a mythological cemetery for ghosts, a place of great fear to be avoided forever and a place totally lacking in religious sentiments.
The Aztec-Tanoan culture mentioned earlier originated around 4,500 years ago in Southern Alberta, Canada, where the Majorville Cairn is the oldest wheel-like cosmological rock structure belonging to the Medicine Wheel Complex. A second and follow-on structure based on five is the Moose Mountain Cairn in Southern Saskatchewan and dates to around 3,000 years ago. Third in the southward migrational order is the Big Horn Medicine Wheel at 2,500 years of age. The fourth and final rock symbolization appears to be the famed Aztec Calendar Stone (which is not a calendar at all!) carved in today's Mexico City in 1481 A.D. All of these four structured linguistic artifacts (none are archaeological midden-heap type remnants of prehistory) symbolize the same mythological story of the creation of Uto-Aztecan humanity -- the "Origin Myth" of which every tribe on earth had its own version -- and the disposition of the ghosts of Uto-Aztecan dead in an Afterworld of Darkness located in the cosmological horizon of the Milky Way.
The cosmology patterned into these four rock structures is common only to Native American tribal groups speaking branches of the Uto-Aztecan (Numic) stock language with its origins in far Eastern Asia. No other Western Hemisphere tribe or society entertained this particular view of man's place in the cosmos of the earth exactly half way between the Underworld of his mythological creation and the Afterworld high above.
The Big Horn Medicine Wheel (as also its Canadian predecessors and its Aztec successor) is a linguistic artifact that reflects the "thought world" of a very ancient primitive Siberian people immersed also in the eternal warfare between the forces of darkness (evil) and the forces of light (good), i.e., originating as between the bitter darkness of arctic winters vs. the perpetual daylight of warm summers. This never-ending warfare is clearly portrayed in the Medicine Wheel Complex rock patterns and exists today in the legends of many of the Numic-speaking tribes between Southern Canada and Central America.
All of these prehistoric rock structures are based in the mystical number five, which meant POWER, as any detailed analysis of the patternings reveals. All other Western Hemisphere Native Americans revered the number four of the cardinal directions North, South, East, and West. None of the Medicine Wheel Complex structures bear the slightest relationship to the number four, and for this reason their entire interpretation must necessarily be in terms of the Uto-Aztecan "thought world" stock language. No religion whatsoever connects to the Medicine Wheel.
Since the Bighorn Medicine Wheel was first discovered by white men, many fanciful myths and stories have grown up around the mysterious arrangements of its limestone rocks; none have any scientific validity. Contemporary Native American claims of "religious rights" to the site because of "traditional ceremonial usages" did not surface until 1985 with the American Indian Movement. All such "claims" are patently false and unrelated in any way to the Wheel's paleoethnological time span of 2,500 years. There is no recorded evidence of any twentieth century Native American of any tribe visiting the Big Horn Medicine Wheel prior to 1985.
As a true National Treasure, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel (with its giant stone arrows pointing to it across Western and Southern Wyoming) should be forever protected and preserved for all of posterity on an exactly equal basis that gives no preferences to any ethnic or religious group, irrespective of race, color, affiliation, creed, or belief system.
A greatly expanded version of this document is available for $9.95 from:
Yellowstone Printing and Publishing, 1992
A three-volume technical anthropological work may also be available from the author.
To contact the author, please write to:
Jay Ellis Ransom
719 E. 13-th St,, Apt. 4
The Dalles, OR 97058