Best Secret Keeper

Waldo Wilcox guarded the ruins of a lost civilization for more than 50 years. Now the secret is out.

By Robert F. Howe from Reader's Digest Magazine | May 2005

The Discovery

Waldo Wilcox knew there was trouble the moment he saw the mauled deer carcass, not far from one of the meadows where his cattle grazed. His dogs, Dink and Shortie, sensed it too — mountain lion. He grabbed his pistol and a rope from his truck, and said, “Let’s git him.” Then he headed up the mountainside, his hounds racing far ahead.

Wilcox moved in long strides up the rocky grade. Still, it took some time before he topped the summit. The
big cat was not 50 yards in front of him, its fangs bared, cornered by the dogs on a massive sandstone ledge.

Wilcox gripped his gun. He hoped to take the mountain lion alive and sell it to a zoo; he’d done that before and made a tidy profit. But when he moved to within 10 feet, the cat lunged. Wilcox took quick aim, his pistol cracked, and there was a sudden silence as the animal fell limp to the ground.

It wasn’t until the red dust had settled and Wilcox’s pulse had slowed that he gazed around. What he saw stunned him. High on the bluff lay an archeological treasure trove — large shards of pottery, stone shelters that once housed whole families, and domed structures that had held wild grains harvested centuries before Europeans set foot in North America.

Wilcox made his discovery on the bluff almost 26 years ago — but it was not the first time he had found relics on his land. Since 1951, when his father bought the high-valley Range Creek ranch, a year had seldom passed in which Wilcox did not come upon some spot of archeological interest: caches of arrowheads, rock-wall drawings, other ancient dwellings and granaries. Occasionally he stumbled across burial plots.

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