Thomas Doty – Storyteller

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Hat Rock

Some notes from Hat Rock ¶ Thursday, 3 April 1986. ¶ Sun coming up over the shoulder of Hat Rock. Walking along the upper rimrock, I just spooked a rabbit. He bounded down the hillside to the road, then bolted. ¶ I have been to this place several times since I last wrote about it, but this is my first time this far up. The Columbia stretches below, smooth in the morning stillness, peopled with Canada geese and mallards. Meadowlarks fill the early shadows on the rock. ¶ Friday, 4 April 1986, along the Columbia River near Hat Rock. ¶ Ripples of clouds in the early morning reflect on the ripples of the river, then dive into the ripples on the river bottom sand. I am sitting on a washed-up log on the bank under a tree just budding into leaves, a wood duck nest drooping the branches nearly to the water, its owners watching me from 50 yards out. ¶ Pure joy! I have just found rock writings in a shallow shelter/cave near Hat Rock. The symbols are in red and painted on small panels, the rock here so jagged that the largest smooth face is no more than a few inches across. Most of the symbols are quite faded but the half dozen I can make out are all sun symbols, all of them circular with the exception of one which is rectangular. Several of the symbols are tucked away, nearly out of sight, some of them low in the cave, some of them high. ¶ The cave faces east and sitting in the cave entrance looking across the lagoon to Hat Rock, the sun rose this morning just to the north of the rock. Perhaps an equinox or solstice site. ¶ I've had a feeling about this area since I first came out here nearly 3 weeks ago. I'm glad I persistently followed my feelings. ¶ There is a total lack of vandalism at this site. Pretty rare. ¶ Some notes on translation (numbers correspond to sketch on page 161): (1)(2)(3) sun symbols (4) this place (cave), locater (5) sun at this place (6) 5 = sacred place (perhaps made with five fingers of hand) (7) lack of arms/hands = people travel here [and stay, no movement]. Sun for head = to see the sun. ¶ So far: People travel to this cave, a sacred place, to watch the sun. ¶ Umatilla Indian new year begins at winter solstice when the sun turns around and starts back to the people, according to Louie Dick, Umatilla from Pendleton I heard speak at a church a week ago. Perhaps the sun rises over Hat Rock at this time when viewed from this cave. Inlet below used to be a canyon several hundred feet deep according to local sources. Cave at that time must have been quite high and prominent, pre-1950s when McNary Dam was built. ¶ There are other symbols too faded to record.

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10 May 2016. Over 30 years ago, I found this image, along with several others, tucked under a rock overhang along the Columbia River, within the boundaries of a state park. I asked around, and not only did no one know anything about it, the cultural resources folks at the park didn't even know it was there. And one of them was Indian!

In the years I have visited this site, the pictograph has faded considerably. Weather has blurred the edges, and the image now seems somewhat out of focus. Back in the Old Time, medicine people occasionally touched it up, keeping it brilliant and sharp. But since the fracturing of native cultures in the 1800s, that tradition, along with so many others, has been mostly lost.

For thousands of years, thousands of images along this river were as bright as the rising sun this image once represented. But sadly, many have faded into nothing in the past 150 years, or have been drowned behind dams. Of the images here, at what I now suspect is a summer solstice site, the one is the brightest red is the best "preserved." And thanks to modern digital photo editing, it looks better in this photo than it does on the rock.

Today, if a medicine person were to visit this image and touch it up -- even one who knew the sacred way of mixing the paint and the ceremony that goes with it -- he would be arrested for vandalizing an antiquity on public land. The current laws that were originally intended to protect these irreplaceable sites, are their death sentences. Me and the Rock People are offended!


3/16/2019: All of the photos below are from treks I made in 2016 and 2018. I'm fairly certain I have photos from my 1986 visit. As soon as they surface in the archives, I'll post them here. ]


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Related Pages

  • Sites – Rock writing sites in the West, with photos, drawings and descriptions.
  • Symbols – Drawings and translations of traditional symbols. Includes a print-friendly PDF.