Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

March 11, 2011

Westerners Hike to History Class


by Curt Kommer

Surrounded as we are by extraordinary beauty, it is tempting to view Sedona like a great landscape painting; peaceful, pristine, and perfect. But it is also a wild and harsh landscape that, for thousands of years, has tested the survival skills of Native Americans and settlers alike. Life was hard amidst the Red Rocks, and yet many of these earlier residents found the time to etch messages in the stone celebrating their presence, their journeys, or their prayers.

Westerners scramble up for their history lesson.
Photo by Kevin O’Connor.

Recently, a fortunate group of Sedona Westerners participated in a Wednesday “Tracker Hike” to study some of this local rock art. George Witteman, Club President or “Trail Boss”, and Jerry Walters, Club Liaison for Archeology, served as guides, and brought their years of experience serving as Docents for local prehistorical sites such as V-Bar-V and Palatki.

The human historical record of the Sedona area dates to thousands of years before Christ, when bands of paleo-hunters stalked mastodon and other megafauna, including an ancient species of camel. Around AD 700 the Ancestral Puebloans began to settle the region, and remained here as the Sinaguans until the mid-fifteenth century. The Yavapai may have been here as early as the twelfth century, and the Tonto Apache arrived in this area in the mid 1500’s. The mid-1800’s brought the settlers and eventual founders of Sedona such as Howard, Thompson, Wilson, and Purtyman. Remarkably, Witteman and Walters were able to show the Westerners rock art evidence of all of these prehistorical and historical residents, all within a square kilometer of exploring.

Much of the oldest, Archaic, rock art represents deities and shamans incised into the rock (petroglyphs) and painted with a red pigment derived from Hematite. Sinaguan rock art is more likely to be painted on the surface of the rock (pictographs) in red, ochre, white, and even turquoise, and examples were seen of subjects ranging from clan symbols, to pottery patterns, to depictions of a hunt. Yavapai rock art was drawn with charcoal and depicted ceremonies with vivid head-dresses, snakes, and even horses (introduced by the Spanish in the 1600’s).

Witteman and Walters even led the group to a rare find, an Archeo-Astronomical “Sun Dagger”. As researched by fellow Westerner and Archeology Society President Ken Zoll, these sites represented the Sinaguan’s calendar. They would position rocks to direct shafts of sunlight to carefully located rock art drawings at important times of the year, using this “sundial” approach to signal the appropriate time for a ceremony, a planting, or a harvest.

Taking their own places on the rock, the signatures and etched names of Sedona’s early settlers also drew attention. Among them, Witteman pointed out the signature of “Bear” Howard, who squatted in West Fork; he was the maternal grandfather to the Purtyman family. He signed the rock wall using an alias, as he had escaped from a California prison after a killing and remained a fugitive for many years.

As the Tracker group broke for lunch, Jerry Walters reviewed with the Westerners how to care for and respect these historical treasures:

1. Do not touch the rock art. Skin oil degrades the images.
2. Do not trace or chalk the images. This makes them much harder to study.
3. Modern graffiti tarnishes and dishonors those who came before.
4. Do not eat at an Archeological Site. Debris attracts rodents that cause damage.
5. Do not sit or stand on ancient walls, as they will crumble.

It is a rare place we live in that allows us to view thousands of years of history via a short walk over a morning’s time. The Westerners would like to thank George Witteman and Jerry Walters for ably guiding Wednesday’s Tracker Hike, and sharing their knowledge of those who came before.

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website: You may also join by attending the next monthly meeting, which will be held on Thursday, April 14th; at 7 pm. Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.