passed a Projecting Rock called the Manitou a Painting from this Deavel to the Pt. on the Lbd Side N 23° W 7½ Ms. — William Clark, June 5, 1804
With this casual notation very early in the Lewis & Clark Expedition, somewhere in present-day Moniteau County, Missouri, William Clark made note of a rock painting which he termed a “deavel” (devil) or manitou, a French version of an Algonquian Indian word meaning “spirit.” Undoubtedly, it was only the first of many encounters the Corps of Discovery would have with Indian rock art; in fact, it seems likely that rock art was so common in the regions traversed by Meriwether Lewis and and William Clark that it was seldom thought worthy of special note.
There are actually two types of rock art: petroglyphs, or carvings made in rock; and pictographs, or paintings made on rock. Over the years, erosion has weathered away many of the rock art images that Lewis and Clark would have seen, but remarkably sites survive in Kansas, Montana, and the Columbia River Basin.
Kansas is rich in petroglyphs, especially on the sandstone bluffs and cliffs in the central part of the state. Examples can still be found depicting men on horseback and people wearing headdresses and carrying spears and shields. Animal tracks are another common theme. More rare is a monster, spirit, or “deavel” such as the one Clark described. Very little is known about the cultures that made these images, and many of them have never been documented or studied, making them a mysterious and intriguing subject for hikers and modern-day explorers.
On the other end of the trail, the Columbia River Gorge is the site of hundreds and hundreds of ancient petroglyphs, made by tribes like the Warm Springs, Yakima, Umatilla, and Nez Perce and their ancestors. One area with thousands of drawings was named Petroglyph Canyon. Unfortunately, Lewis and Clark did very little ethnographic work while in this region (they were racing the calendar to make it to the Pacific Coast before winter set in.) And unlike in Kansas, these ancient expressions are obscured today by more than erosion. Though some can still be seen high on the cliff faces, most of them were buried under millions of gallons of water when the area was flooded by the construction of massive dams in the 1950s.
A few drawings were hacked out of the rock before the floodings and stored near the fish ladder of the John Day Dam until 2004, when an amazing outdoor trail display was built for them at Columbia Hills State Park in Oregon. In addition to the 43 petroglyphs on the trail, the park is home to Tsagaglalal, “She Who Watches,” one of the most famous rock images in North America.
Further down river at The Dalles, both petroglyphs and pictographs were made by the Chinook, Clackamas, Watlala, Multnomah, Wasco, and Wishram peoples and their ancestors. A number of these rock art pieces were rescued and can be seen at The Dalles Visitor Center, the Maryhill Museum, and Roosevelt Petroglyph State Park in Washington. In addition, rubbings of many petroglyphs can be seen at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington.
Finally, a site rich in rock art is also one of the few sites remaining that has incontrovertible evidence that the Corps of Discovery passed that way. And all because William Clark decided to make some rock art of his own. At Pompey’s Pillar near present-day Billings, Montana, and nearby Pictograph Cave State Park, hundreds of red, white, and black pictographs exist from cultures dating back some 10,000 years. In his own matter-of-fact way, Clark gives a clue as to the inspiration for a petroglyph of his own:
the wind Contined high untill 2 P M. I proceeded on after the [rain] lay a little and at 4 P M arived at a remarkable rock Situated in an extensive bottom on the Stard. Side of the river & 250 paces from it. this rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction. This rock which I shall Call Pompy’s Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance and only axcessable on one Side which is from the N. E the other parts of it being a perpendicular Clift of lightish Coloured gritty rock on the top there is a tolerable Soil of about 5 or 6 feet thick Covered with Short grass. The Indians have made 2 piles of Stone on the top of this Tower. The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year. — William Clark, July 25, 1806
I have not visited any of these sites except Pompey’s Pillar, and that was back in 1996 before I was into Lewis & Clark. I look forward to another trip to Lewis & Clark country to see these interesting and mysterious messages from the past.