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Like most other fur trappers of the Western mountain-man tradition, Jim Bridger and Bill Jackson could neither read nor write. So how is it that their names, along with the date 1846, appear over the top of an ancient Indian rock art panel in the San Rafael Swell?

"In all of my research, I have found no evidence that Bridger or Jackson learned to read and write," said Blaine Miller, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Price. "In my mind, they (the signatures) are clearly forgeries."Which is why the signatures of both Bridger and Jackson, along with dozens of other signatures, have been carefully removed by an art conservator in an effort to restore the panel to some semblance of its original appearance.

The restoration project is being sponsored by the Emery County Centennial Commission as part of the state's centennial celebrations. In addition to removing more than 100 years worth of vandalism at the site, the project includes construction of a new fence to protect the site, interpretive panels and a ramada and benches for viewing the rock art. A parking area has been constructed away from the site to reduce traffic congestion and dust that settles over the colorful images.

Every year, thousands of people - many of them from other states and foreign countries - visit the Buckhorn Wash panel, which is among the best-known art panels in Utah.

Before the vandalism was removed, Miller said about 90 percent of the public comments at the visitor register were negative.

"They were along the lines that the people who defaced the panels should be taken out and shot. After the graffiti was taken off, the comments have been really positive, along the lines of how beautiful the panel is, how it is a wonderful heritage we need to preserve.

The Emery County Centennial Commission will formally unveil the Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel Restoration Project at Sept. 23 ceremonies. The public is invited.

The rock art panel exhibits evidence of several different prehistoric cultures. Much of it is executed in a mode that archaeologists call Barrier Canyon Style, which is believed to date sometime earlier than 2000 years ago. This style is characterized by long, red, ghostly figures without legs or arms.

Later Fremont peoples, who occupied the region from about A.D. 400 to 1300, apparently added feet, arms, hands and headdresses to the older figures, Miller said.

"We have a lot of rock-art sites in the county, but this is the most unique anywhere," said Reed Martin, project coordinator for the Emery County Centennial Commission. "It is also one of the most vandalized sites anywhere in Utah - names and carvings and bullet holes. At 2,000 years old, we couldn't have chosen a better legacy site to celebrate the area's history."

In addition to the $110,000 in actual expenses, thousands of dollars worth of labor, equipment and supplies have been donated, Martin said.

The project has been funded through state centennial and history grants, donations from local businesses and individuals, and fund-raisers that have included the sale of T-shirts and caps.

Support for the project has been overwhelming, the only negative comments coming from a handful of local residents who didn't want the names of their pioneer ancestors removed. The decision was made to remove all signatures because those involved with the project wanted to send an unmistakable message that "it is not right to write on rock art panels regardless of who you are or when it was done. The most important thing that can come out of this project is to educate people of the importance of protecting rock art sites, that we are protectors of our Utah and national heritage."

The restoration of the Buckhorn Wash pictograph panel is the second major attempt in Utah to remove traces of more than a century of vandalism of Native American rock art. Art conservator Constance Silvers also restored a famous Barrier Canyon style panel in Sego Canyon north of Thompson, Grand County.