Thomas Doty – Storyteller
News: Medicine Rock Exhibit
Entrance to Medicine Rock, high above the Rogue River in southern Oregon.
Indian pictograph replica on display
By Paris Achen
October 17, 2008
Local author Thomas Doty was stunned when a Mail Tribune reporter, new to the Rogue Valley, revealed during a writers club meeting at the Talent Truck Stop that he happened to notice an Indian pictograph at a rock quarry he had visited as a part of a newspaper report.
Until that moment, there were no known surviving pictographs in Jackson County, said Doty, who writes about native West history and lore, and works on a variety of native history preservation projects.
Nearly 30 years later, a replica of the rock painting will be unveiled at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Talent Historical Society Museum, 150 N. Market St., Talent.
"It's the only known pictograph in the entire valley," said Jan Wright, executive director of the Talent Historical Society. "There are other petroglyphs but no paintings."
The rock is called Medicine Rock for its supposed function as a remote spiritual sanctuary where Takelma medicine people could fast and seek visions.
Medicine Rock is located on enclosed private property on a ridge above the Rogue River between the cities of Gold Hill and Rogue River.
Because the rock is inaccessible to the public, the Talent Historical Society has brought the rock to the masses through a $4,800 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust.
Doty suggested the exhibit after the historical society opened its museum last year.
"Most people would never be able to know about it unless they came to the museum because you can't hike up to it; it's on private property and surrounded by a fence," Wright said.
The grant paid for artist Desi Brown, of Albuquerque, N.M., to craft an artificial rock. Doty, who illustrates his books with native symbols, replicated the Medicine Rock paintings on the artificial rock using photos. Matt Watson put the exhibit together. Doty and Roy Phillips, a rock-writing expert, worked on interpreting the symbols.
At the Saturday event, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, a Takelma spiritual leader, will dedicate the rock replica. Doty will provide information about Medicine Rock, and Phillips will give a slide presentation about Indian pictograph symbols and their meanings.
The high elevation of the rock indicates it was intended for the most-respected medicine people, called somolholxas.
"They normally went to higher elevations for vision quests," Doty said. "There is a huge gap in the rock, almost a cave. There are a number of pictures on the rock and inside the gap ranging in color from orange to deep red. Some of the pictures are faded and we can't see what they mean."
Using a method of cryptanalysis by LaVan Martineau, Doty and Phillips have determined the visible pictographs give instructions to the medicine people about the ritual they should follow to seek their visions.
It's unclear how old the paintings are or whether there were any other pictographs because the rock quarry might have destroyed them, Doty said. The Indians often touched up pictographs because they contained important information they wanted to pass on to subsequent generations, Doty said.