Monday, May 30, 2011

Bighorn Medicine Wheel - Near Lovell, Wyoming

The oldest ghost story probably ever told in the United States is probably that of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel near Lovell, Wyoming.  High in the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming there is a place which contains a circle of stones that form what Native Americans refer to as a medicine wheel. 

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel located near Lovell, Wyoming is the largest medicine wheel of its kind in North America

Medicine wheels are sacred to Native Americans and are used by many different tribes, serving as a connection with the spirit worlds of earth, air, fire, and water through animal spirits.  The animals form different points or cairns on a circle of stones connected by lines of stones with one central point, there are also connections with the sun and the moon represented as well.  The animal spirits differ by Native American tribe, however, most commonly the animals are The Buffalo representing the Earth, The Eagle representing air, The Mouse representing fire, and The Bear representing water.  The directions on the wheels which represent the animal spirits are interpreted differently among tribes as well.

The origin of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is somewhat of a mystery.  With more than 60 different Native American tribes still using the wheel today to conduct hundreds of ceremonies throughout the year, the stories of who built the wheel differ.  The Shoshone tribe believe that the wheel was built by a race of little people referred to as the "Sheepeaters" due to their prowess of hunting the mountain sheep in the area.  The existence of these little people may have actually been confirmed by the discovery of mummified remains of a tiny person nearby which became known as the Pedro Mountain Mummy.  The mummy has been scientifically verified as being that of a seventeen inch tall 65 year old man. The Crow and Arapaho legends tell tales of these little people as well.  The Crow however, believe that the wheel existed long before the Native peoples and was dropped out of the sky by the Sun God. The Cheyenne refer to Bighorn Medicine Wheel as "The Sacred Mountain" and conduct yearly rituals there.  It seems that no matter what tribe you are from, the mountain is a very spiritual place.

Small tokens and tributes are left by Native American visitors who conduct ceremonies at Bighorn Medicine Wheel, believing that it has powerful spiritual energy

It is easy to believe in the spiritual power of The Bighorn Medicine Wheel as it is located on top of a mountain ridge that gives it a 360 degree view of the horizon.  The wheel gives the impression that it literally sits on top of the world. One popular legend is that a Crow Chief from around 1800 visited the wheel and spent four days with no food or water.  He then saw the spirits that live in the mountain who gave him a red eagle feather telling him that the bird from which it came was his protector. He became known by the name Red Plume for the red feather which he wore upon his headdress.  Just before he died, he told the Crow people that they could go to the mountain top where the big wheel was located and his spirit would visit them.  To this day some claim that if you go to the Big Horn Wheel to worship the spirits, fasting for four days, you can walk around the circle and hear the voices of the spirits in the winds.

Chief Red Plume was around way before the time of photographs, but he may have looked something like this rendition of a Crow Chief by artist James Bama

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