Who built it? What was it used for? Years after its discovery, people are still asking these questions about Bighorn Medicine Wheel. Medicine Wheel is located atop the nearly 10,000-foot-high Medicine Mountain in North Central Wyoming.
Using carbon dating, archaeologists have determined that the Wheel was built between 1200 and 1700 AD.
The Wheel is an almost perfect circle of rough stones laid side by side and measures more than 70 feet in diameter. In the center is a donut-shaped cairn (pile of stones) ten feet wide. This hub is connected to the rim by 28 spoke-like lines of stones. There are six smaller cairns, five outside the rim and one just inside.
The Crow Indians, who have lived in the area for generations, claim they don’t know who built Medicine Wheel or why. Native Americans say the Wheel was there “before the light came” or “before the people had iron.”
Scientists have learned that the Wheel was built in such a way that during the summer solstice, the sun at sunset and sunrise lines up with two of the cairns. Apparently the builders had a knowledge of astronomy. The high altitude and distance from human distractions make this an ideal place for skywatching.
Medicine Wheel’s inaccessibility makes it likely that it was used by religious leaders rather than large groups of Native Americans. Beads and bits of wampum were found under some of the stones.
Although local Native Americans are unsure of its original function, they recognize Medicine Wheel as an ancient holy place and continue to use it for rites and ceremonies of their own. At such times, they attach personal items, such as bits of cloth and small leather pouches, to the barbed wire fence which now surrounds the structure.
A narrow gravel road connects Medicine Wheel with Route 14A. The three-mile road winds its way through Alpine meadows filled with lupine, gentians, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers. This spectacular view of the Bighorn Basin which can be seen from the summit makes the winding drive well worthwhile.