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graphic of Buried City settlement pattern
Reconstructed Buried City settlement pattern showing the actual or inferred locations of stone-based "houses" and their associated agricultural fields. Basically, these Plains Villagers lived on somewhat higher ground overlooking their fields on the floodplain of Wolf Creek. Graphic by David Hughes.
aerial photo of Wolf Creek Valley
Aerial view looking southeast across the Wolf Creek Valley. The locality known as Courson D is near the center of the picture. Photo by David Hughes.

Click picture to enlarge

aerial photo of Kit Courson house area
View looking north of the Kit Courson house (center foreground). In the background is a small tributary of Wolf Creek. Photo by David Hughes.
drawing of the layout of Kit Courson house
Schematic drawing showing layout of the Kit Courson house as interpreted by David Hughes.

Buried City proper is part of a dense settlement zone along Wolf Creek that spans the space from the upstream exposure of the Ogallala formation to the place where the valley widens out, and springs from the Ogallala vanish into the deep sands of the valley floor. This is a distance of somewhat less than five miles along a valley that is less than one mile wide. The stone-based structures are distributed along the high terraces of this valley every 80 to 150 meters (87 to 163 yards) and are clustered in possible village arrangements. These village arrangements are called "groups" here, like the Buried City/Handley Ruins group, the Moorehead group, the Courson group, and the Kit Courson group. The nearest modern comparison would be to a rural subdivision with single family homes on 5 or 10 acre tracts.

Buried City houses are not multiple-apartment dwellings intended to house a score or more of individuals as did the pueblos of the Southwest. They are not the very large earth lodges the Pawnee used to house large extended families. But they are substantial houses — and large enough for small extended families of up to 20 people and spanning perhaps as many as three generations. The Kit Courson house measured about 8-x-10 meters (26-x-33 feet) with an interior floor space of about 63 square meters or 665 square feet (not counting the small alcove). This seems mighty small for 15 to 20 people by today's standards, but is consistent with what is known of village life in native America.

No houses have been found on the floodplain or first terrace of Wolf Creek. All are located on more elevated terraces, probably for several obvious reasons. First and foremost is the need to avoid or lessen the hazard of the periodic flash floods that Texas Panhandle creeks and rivers are notorious for. It doesn't rain very often, but when it does it often comes down quickly and heavily. By locating the houses above but near the floodplain, Buried City dwellers would have been able to keep a close eye on horticultural fields as well as on the overall valley. Being below the caprock, the house locations would have had some natural shelter from winds and weather. A final pragmatic consideration might have been a desire to get above the "bug zone." In wet times, the valley bottom along the creek would have been marshy and a good habitat for mosquitoes and gnats.

In all, this short 5-mile stretch of the Wolf Creek Valley may have had 100 or more of the large prehistoric houses characteristic of the Buried City. There are other kinds of houses that did not have the stone foundations, such as pithouses, that are not included in this assessment of the settlement pattern. Some of these may date before the main Buried City settlement or they may be contemporaneous and represent a part of the settlement pattern that is not yet understood. The ongoing work by the University of Oklahoma promises to shed light on this problem.

Arrow link to Buried City Architecture
photo of Wolf Creek Valley
View looking north across Wolf Creek Valley taken from Courson B. Courson A excavations are in progress in center of photo. Photo by David Hughes.
graphic of Buried City sites
Settlement areas and locations of major site groups in the Buried City locality. The pink squares mark the known or inferred location of the most substantial architectural ruins or houses. Dozens of less obvious and more deeply buried dwellings and other cultural features are known or suspected to exist within each of the settlement areas outlined in green. Base photo was taken in 1937 by the USDA Soil Conservation Service. The graphics were added by David Hughes.
3-D rendering of Wolf Creek Valley
Three-dimensional rendering of view up the Wolf Creek Valley. The red rectangles mark Buried City house locations and show the relationship of the houses to the valley topography. Graphic by David Hughes, using Maptech software.