The Dismal River Aspect

The Dismal River Aspect is an archaeological culture representing sites dating between A.D. 1600 and A.D. 1750 on the Central Plains of western Kansas, western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and southeastern Wyoming. These groups likely moved around the Plains according to the seasons and lived in wickiups and rockshelters.

Apache Wickiup, Edward Curtis, 1903; Wiki Commons
Apache Wickiup, Edward Curtis, 1903; Wiki Commons

The wickiup-style houses were most often circular, with several large support posts, and an internal hearth. Roasting pits are commonly found at these sites outside of the houses.

They practiced small scale farming, raising corn, beans, squash and other crops. Dismal River people also focused on bison hunting and likely traded bison meat, bone, and/or hides to the pueblos of northern New Mexico. Through this exchange, Dismal River peoples were connected to other the northern Rio Grande pueblos in New Mexico and with Native American groups living throughout the Plains. More about this relationship can be found on the 14SC1 page.

American bison; Wiki Commons
American bison; Wiki Commons

The most common view of Dismal River origins is that these people are culturally affiliated with the Apache. The Apache are likely descendants of Athapaskan speaking groups who first migrated to the Plains and then moved to the Southwest A.D.1540 (see the Gunnerson 1968 and Wedel 1982 references below for more information). This connection was made because Dismal River peoples lived in wickiup-style homes, made thin, dark, micaceous pottery, and used large roasting pits—all similar to Apache groups. Not all researchers have agreed with this connection, however, and Morris Opler, a notable ethnographer, argued that these connections were not strong enough evidence and that Dismal River people kept dogs and ate fish, which is taboo for many Apache groups. While we think that Dismal River cultural identity is very complicated, we argue that there are enough elements in common to show a connection between Dismal River people and Apache groups.

 

Interested in reading more? Check out these references:

Gunnerson, James H. 1968. Plains Apache Archaeology: A Review. Plains Anthropologist 13(41): 167-189.

Wedel, Waldo R. 1959. An Introduction to Kansas Archaeology. Bureau of American Bulletin 174. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Dismal River projectile point from White Cat Village site
Dismal River projectile point from White Cat Village site
Dismal River vessel from the Lovitt Site (25CH1), Nebraska Historical Society
Dismal River vessel from the Lovitt Site (25CH1), Nebraska Historical Society
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