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

A Living Monument

Mindful of the potential of the find — and its vulnerability to looters — the state of Utah has funded an on-site caretaker and regular surveillance on the ground and from the air. “In terms of history and archeological study, Range Creek is essential to the state,” explains former governor Olene S. Walker. “It gives us a view into a period for which we have no written history.”

She is speaking primarily about the Fremont culture, but also about Wilcox, who is a kind of living monument to America’s pioneer era. He spent decades in a valley practically cut off from the rest of civilization. He’s not a worldly man, nor a man of many words. Living as he did, surrounded by soaring mountains, he rarely had visitors and never owned a television or subscribed to a newspaper. Because his wife moved with their children to the nearest town during school months, he spent much of each winter alone, leaving the valley only a few times each year for provisions — a two-day trek by horse before a dirt road was built to accommodate a truck.

Still, it was hard for Wilcox to give up the land he loved so much. He maintains a rigid, personally molded morality and is openly contemptuous of the vandals who have desecrated other historical finds. He is even slightly suspicious of the archeologists now scouring his property, referring to them as “those college fellows with their degrees.” He possesses the kind of down-home wisdom and earthy humor that can be nurtured only by years of dueling with the elements — annually herding cattle over an 8,500-foot pass, sinking a well to draw water from — to carve a living out of a wilderness.

Wilcox has been on a first-name basis with nature all his life. Both his grandfathers had migrated west in the 1800s, one working on the railroad, the other raising cattle. His father, Ray “Budge” Wilcox, owned a ranch southeast of Range Creek and taught his two sons how to ride, shoot and drive cattle almost as soon as they could walk.

Waldo was about 20 when Budge told him that Range Creek was for sale and he was thinking of buying it. He’d put up the money but invited his boys to sign on as partners. Waldo was ecstatic.

“It’s some of the prettiest land you’ve ever seen,” he claims.

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