Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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Mystery of an Old Time Sailboat

Today I discovered an old photo of a carving (top left) from a rock writing site near Tule Lake. I was struck at how similar it was to the "Sailboat Petroglyph" at the same site (top right in the late 1930s or early 1940s, bottom right in 2012, and a drawing from 2011). The site is an impressive rock! Known as Koomookumpts' Bed in native stories, it is called Petroglyph Point in less mythic National Park Service literature. The white paint over the carving was added by an overzealous National Geographic photographer back in the early 1900s. It was his attempt to make the image more photogenic. Perhaps he also gave it the nickname that survives to this day: "The Martini Glass."


Yes, the Modocs not only had canoes, they had sailboats! They're in the oral tradition. You can clearly see the mast, rudder, sail, and the boat sitting on top of the universal rock writing symbol for river or lake or any flowing water, a wavy line. The daytime or sun figure is a nice touch. Most of the rock writings were made here when Koomookumpts' Bed was an island in Tule Lake. Native folks stood in boats to carve the stories.

Now, about the mystery carving. I've been looking through my photos of the site and haven't yet found this symbol. But keep in mind that rock writings cover a cliff a quarter-mile long, with over 5,000 symbols, making Koomookumpts Bed the largest and most concentrated grouping of symbols in California. The southern end of the site is a confusing puzzle of images carved over the top of other images, in some places, several layers deep. It might take me and my magnifying glass a while to spot it.

And is the mystery carving a boat? There's a rudder and the beginnings of a mast, and if I squint I can almost see a flowing water symbol along the bottom. But apparently no mast or sail above the boat. However, the photo was cropped pretty tight and there might be more of the image outside the top edge of the photo. Thus the need for me to locate it!

I like a good mystery. Most likely, this one will turn into a grand adventure! You can bet I'll be sauntering east sometime soon to poke around.