Professor Publishes Lost 1931 Expedition Records in New Book

Published: December 26, 2018 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 3 minutes

English Professsor Jim Aton headshotSouthern Utah University English professor James M. Aton and Utah archaeologist Jerry D. Spangler recently published “The Crimson Cowboys,” the first book about the Claflin-Emerson expedition, a historic six-week horseback survey of Fremont sites .

“The expedition should’ve been one of the most famous trips in the history of American archaeology, but because the report was never written, that didn’t happen.” said Aton.

Between 1928 and 1931, this crew from Harvard University of one professor, five students, and three Utah guides completed a Western archaeological survey. In 1931 the crew took a six week 400 mile horseback trip through extremely rugged terrain to survey prehistoric Fremont sites. This type of expedition had never been attempted in the history of American archaeology, nor recorded until Aton and Spangler’s book.

“The Crimson Cowboys” will be the first in-depth publication and record about this archaeological expedition. The book also won the $3,000 Don D. and Catherine S. Fowler Prize, as well as a publication contract with the University of Utah press.

Spangler first began working on this project in 2002, and the pair officially teamed up about four years ago. Prior to this project, Aton wrote a book detailing the Desolation Canyon, which happens to be an area explored during the Claflin-Emerson expedition. His knowledge on the area combined with Spangler’s profession in archaeology made them the perfect team for this project. Aton took a crucial one year sabbatical to complete his portion of the project.

In addition to contributing his expertise on the region, Aton also devoted a lot of time to the research portion of this project. He spent several days at the Peabody Museum and the PUSEY Library of Harvard University copying and scanning over 1,000 documents to piece the details of the trip together. They decided to have their book focus on the fourth year of their expedition.

“We wrote about the 1931 expedition because it was the most adventurous and the longest.” Aton continued, “It was a great project because not only did we do all this great archival work, but we had to spend a great amount of time out in the field which is what we both love to do.”

Cover of the newly published book 'The Crimson Cowboys'Aton and Spangler traded sections of the book back and forth to collaborate on the writing process. They edited one another's sections to achieve a singular voice throughout the piece. Luckily their writing styles aren’t radically different, so this wasn’t difficult to achieve. Aton uses the note card method to organize his writing, and still writes out each draft by hand. Spangler reads and studies voraciously, then writes everything purely from memory.

James M. Aton has been involved in SUU’s Department of English since 1980 teaching classes in writing, mythology, American Studies, and Continental European Literature. SUU’s English department is home to small class sizes, award-winning faculty members, and a plethora of opportunity beyond the classroom. For more information about the English department, visit their website.

SUU A.P.E.X. Events will present Dr. James Aton as their annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture. Dr. Aton will be giving behind the scenes insight of his book “The Crimson Cowboys.”  during the event in the Great Hall on January 17 at 11:30 a.m. This is free and open to the public.

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