The Buried City
Source: The Handbook of Texas Online
The Buried City
is an important pre-Columbian site on Wolf Creek
eighteen miles southeast of Perryton in Ochiltree
County. It was well known to buffalo hunters and
early ranchers in the area by the late 1870s
because its impressive ruins were visible
aboveground. Large mounds concealed the remains of
stone dwellings, and numerous artifacts were found
on the ground around them.
The first scientific excavation of the ruins was
conducted in the spring of 1907 by T. L. Eyerly,
who taught science and history at the short-lived
Canadian Academy. With several interested
students, among them fifteen-year-old Floyd V.
Studer, Eyerly probed the rock-slab walls and
uncovered many evidences of pre-Columbian
habitation. In the academy bulletin Eyerly
published two brief papers concerning the
findings, reportedly the first discovery of pueblo
ruins subsequently linked with the Texas Panhandle
Pueblo Culture, or Antelope Creek Focus.
The largest of these ruins, later named for
geologist Charles N. Gould, was labeled the
Temple. Over the next several years Studer brought
the buried city to the attention of other
archeologists, most notably Warren K. Moorehead of
Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
Moorehead corresponded with Studer extensively and
in 1919 and 1920 made trips to the Panhandle to
examine the ruins.
In his book Archaeology of
the Arkansas River Valley
(1931) Moorehead explained that the ancient
village site, extending over 3,500 feet along Wolf
Creek, was the product of a fairly advanced
aboriginal culture of unknown origins. At that
time the land on which the "city" was located was
part of the Shady Nook Ranch, owned by James T.
Fryer, for whom Lake Fryer was named.
Although Studer conducted intermittent surveys of
the ruins through 1966, no further major
excavations were made. In the early 1980s,
however, former Perryton mayor Harold D. Courson,
president of Courson Oil and Gas and Natural Gas
Anadarko, bought the site and surrounding
Through his efforts the Texas Historical
Commission was given two easements covering about
fifty acres; the site was added to the National
Register of Historic Places and was also made a
state archeological landmark protected by the
Texas Antiquities Code.
In 1985 and 1986 Courson supplied the funds for
archeological excavations directed by David T.
Hughes, then a doctoral student at the University
of Oklahoma. Beginning in the summer of 1987
annual excavations were done in conjunction with a
Texas Archeological Society field school.
About seven areas of the Buried City, consisting
of some five ruins of dwellings, none of which is
on the conservation easement, were unearthed by
1988. Between thirty and forty ruins along the
creek are within a 900-acre block of land
surrounding the easement. The surveys seem to
reveal a different picture of the Indians who
inhabited the site between a.d. 800 and 1500 than
Moorehead and Studer had theorized. Hughes argued
that the Buried City inhabitants were of a culture
distinct from that of the contemporaneous Antelope
Creek Focus. Over several centuries these people
developed their own society in relative isolation,
even though they retained general Plains Indian
characteristics. According to Hughes's hypothesis,
the Buried City people were of Caddoan linguistic
stock and may have been related to the Wichitas or
The architecture, though comparable to that of the
Antelope Creek Focus and the modern Pueblo tribes,
appears to have been of local development. Many of
the dwellings apparently were built on a scale
that was massive by prehistoric standards; one
house was found to have had up to 650 square feet
of floor space. Large caliche boulders mined from
nearby valley walls outlined the rectangular
structure. After the stones were set in place the
dwelling interior was dug out to an average depth
of two feet, with the fill being used to erect the
thick exterior walls of the structure.
A center aisle ten to twelve feet wide included a
hearth, and wooden posts twelve to eighteen inches
in diameter stood in each corner to form roof
supports. The entrances, crawlways eight to ten
feet long, always faced east. In addition to
excavating dwelling space, the people also dug
circular storage pits about three to four feet
deep; apparently these were used until rodents
infested them, then were filled with trash.
Certainly, digging in the hard caliche must have
been a task for these people who had only stone
and bone tools.
Although Buried City artifacts such as projectile
points, stone knives, and bone tools are similar
to those of other contemporary Plains people, the
pottery of the Buried City folk is considerably
different from that of their Antelope Creek
neighbors in that it was finished more smoothly
and in some cases polished and decorated, in
contrast to the cord-marked, conical vessels of
the Antelope Creek villages.
Buried City pottery closely resembles that known
as Geneceo, from southwestern Kansas. Apparently
the inhabitants of Buried City engaged in trade
for flint, but although some from the Alibates
flint quarries has been unearthed, much of the
Buried City flint was from cobbles and pebbles
found along the Canadian River. Perhaps relations
between the Buried City folk and the Indians who
mined the quarries were not always cordial.
There is scant evidence of trade with Mexico or
the Southwestern tribes. Some of the flint appears
to have come from the Niobrara area on the
Kansas-Nebraska line and some from a site in Kay
County, Oklahoma. Although archeologists early in
the century reported stone cairns concealing
remains of the dead on the canyon rim near the
village, these apparently were disturbed by
passing visitors before the recent excavations,
since few burial sites have been located.
Corn and probably beans and squash were among the
crops cultivated by the Buried City people. They
apparently had a two-tiered system of plots. While
some crops were planted in the creek's floodplain
to take advantage of the moisture retained in the
sandy bottoms, others were sown on higher ground;
water was diverted along slopes containing brush
diversions to distribute the rainfall more widely.
These higher plots were effective safeguards
against flooding of the lower fields. At the time
of its occupation, the area around the village was
well watered by several springs fed by the
Ogallala Aquifer. These kept Wolf Creek, which cut
into the aquifer's upper level, flowing all year
long. Such a region of abundant water often
attracted bison, ducks, turkeys, and small animals
like rabbits and prairie dogs, all of which
provided meat and skins for the Indians. Fish and
mussels likewise were staple fare in their diet.
Hughes speculated that the ruins composing the
Buried City site represent a series of villages or
semipermanent farmsteads inhabited over the course
of centuries. At least five groups of structures,
each containing seven or eight dwellings, have
been identified. It is possible that each group,
which may have housed as many as 100 people, was
occupied for roughly twenty years, until some
local resource, such as firewood, was exhausted.
Then the Indians would move along the creek to
another site, which they inhabited for another
generation. This gradual trek up and down the
creek continued until the area was abandoned,
probably as a result of drought or intrusion from
later nomadic tribes around 1500. The influence
from southwestern Kansas on the Buried City
populace may have come through trade and
intermarriage. Hughes concludes that trade
contacts could indeed provide an avenue for
bringing husbands and wives into the community.
Much interpretive work remains to be done with the
information Hughes and others have gleaned.
Nevertheless, Buried City is one of the most
important and fascinating Texas archeological
finds and sheds light on the Panhandle area's
Indian past. A historical marker that briefly
tells the site's early history is located on Lake
Fryer Road four miles east of U.S. Highway 83.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Claude W. Dooley, comp., Why
Stop? (Odessa: Lone Star
Legends, 1978; 2d ed., with Betty Dooley and the
Texas Historical Commission, Houston: Lone Star,
1985). Floyd V. Studer, "Archeology of the Texas
Historical Review 28
(1955). Wheatheart of the
Plains: An Early History of Ochiltree County
(Perryton, Texas: Ochiltree County Historical
Survey Committee, 1969).
H. Allen Anderson
was last updated January 9, 2014.