A 15,000-year-old carved artifact taken from the Wallula area in the early 1900s and displayed east of Portland City Hall for 86 years was returned to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in July of 1996.
The 10-ton basalt stone covered in petroglyphs was noticed by Portland engineer J.P. Newell in the spring of 1897 when his engineering crew, working on the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company line, sat on the stone while eating lunch. Newell mentioned the stone to a museum curator, and in 1910 another curator had the railroad bring it to Portland. Because the stone originally sat on ceded tribal lands, the CTUIR claimed the stone under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The stone’s original location was five miles west of Wallula, 20 feet south of the railroad tracks at mile post 205.16. According to a consensus of tribal elders, the stone was used during manhood trials for the tribes’ young men. When a Native boy reached the age where he thought he should become a man, he submitted to a course of instruction to give him strength, courage and respect for his elders. One test of courage involved sending him to a spot in the direction of unfriendly neighboring tribes, where he was required to spend a day and a night. The Wallula stone marked a spot where the lands of different Northwest tribes came together.
“This stone is a part of our tribal history,” said Armand Minthorn, a member of the CTUIR Board of Trustees. “Our elders have told us stories about how it was used. It is important to us to bring the stone home and have it be part of our lives once again.”
A flatbed truck provided by the Army Corps of Engineers transported the artifact to Mission, and a 60-ton crane lifted the stone into its final resting place in the center of the Niix-Ya-Wii Warriors Memorial adjacent to the CTUIR tribal offices during a repatriation ceremony on July 27, 1996. Portland Mayor Vera Katz offered apologies on behalf of her city, and said she hoped their efforts would provide an example for others. “It wasn’t ours, we never paid for it, we never asked anyone’s permission to pick it up and take it away from where it belonged, to satisfy our own curiosities. ... Eighty-six years is a long time to wait, but we’re glad it’s back in the hands of those who will honor and care for it as it deserves.”