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He Followed His Blisses

Byron Cummings, 1860-1954 


Byron Cummings in later years.

In brief:

Byron Cummings was a man of many passions– he began his career teaching Latin and Greek at the University of Utah.  But by the time he left the university 22 years later, he had started the U of U’s archaeology program, developed the school’s athletic program, become first Anglo American to see Rainbow Bridge, and ignited a national interest in the archaeology of the American Southwest.

More of the story:

He loved lots of things!
Byron Cummings must have loved to learn. He earned many degrees in Classical languages and literature.

He must have loved to teach, too. In 1893 he came to the University of Utah from the East Coast to teach English and Latin. The next year, he added Greek. 

football team scrimmage

University of Utah football team practicing on Cummings Field in 1907.

And he loved physical fitness and athletic competition. He supported and nurtured the U of U’s athletic teams—and had such a big influence that when the school built a football stadium, they named it after him.

How he learned to love archaeology.
In 1906 he became the first Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University, and his archeology career was about to take off.

That same year, some of his students recommended he go see Nine Mile Canyon.
So he did. Riding through on horseback, he was enchanted at panel after panel of ancient rock art. 

Soon after that, he happily joined an expedition with John Wetherill, a trader who discovered many Anasazi ruins and who has a mesa named after him at Mesa Verde National Park.

Cummings returned for four more summers of exploring and investigating ancient cultures.


A photo of Rainbow Bridge taken in 1938.

What he found.
During that time he discovered the significant Pueblo I ruins on Alkali Ridge, supervised the excavation of Kinishba on the Apache Reservation, and laid claim on the “discovery” of Rainbow Bridge in Utah in 1909.

Though American Indians (and probably miners) had visited the bridge before, Cummings and his expedition partners were the first to document it. 

Cummings the author.
Cummings later went on to write books, both about archeology in the southwest region, and about natural land bridges in Utah.  In 1915 Cummings left the University of Utah (which is another interesting story that you can research) and stayed there until retirement. 

His passion led to inspiration.
The passion of Byron Cummings for discovery and exploration didn’t just add programs to the University of Utah, or sell books, or even help make maps better.  It did all that, but it also inspired a generation of archaeologists and anthropologists to continue the work.  Many of them went on to make great discoveries that we still talk about and visit today.