Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At Home

When I got home I checked my reference books again about the red pictographs that have been documented on a rock in the Island River, the ones I couldn’t locate.

In the book, Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes by Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth Kidd, 2nd Edition, it has the following information. In either 1958 or 1959, Bill Trygg, of Ely, took Selwyn Dewdney and his wife to the Island River to the pictographs that were on the “imposing block of Gabbro”. Selwyn writes, “we found a small cross, and a barely discernible handprint.” Apparently Selwyn Dewdney never saw the dark colored pictographs that are about a third of a mile away from the ones on the “block of Gabbro” because they aren’t referenced in his book. The dark colored pictographs were reported to the Forest Service in 1974.

Michael Furtman’s book, Magic on the Rock: canoe country pictographs, repeats the information that was given to him from the US Forest Service. It doesn’t appear Micheal Furtman went to see these pictograph.

I also made some phones calls to Walt Okstad, the Historian/Heritage Program Manager with the US Forest Service about the pictograph site on the river and about what I saw on the rock face of the dark colored pictographs. I also sent Walt some photos for their records. I met Walt back in 1980 when he was part of the US Forest Service archaeological dig at the McDougal campground off Highway One within the Isabella Ranger District. This is also known as the Misiano site. Tom Misiano was the Assistant District Ranger when I worked in Isabella.

Here is what Walt wrote to me about we discussed.

“I can see what your looking at (ladder like structure looks raised, 3 like thing looks more like a reduction) , but even after applying some various Photoshop enhancements I can't tell for sure if they are natural or not. As we discussed briefly earlier, a large part of the charm with pictographs is your guess is as good as anyone else’s. The photos we have of the site show the pictograph well but the adjacent area doesn't show up well enough to compare (pre-digital). Thanks for sharing the photos.”
Walter Okstad
Historian/Heritage Program Manager
Superior National Forest

I also had contact with the Minnesota Office of the State Archaeologist about these pictographs. Here is my correspondence with them.

Subject: Island River Pictograph 21LA0037

My name is Chuck Ryan. I was just at the pictographs on the Island River outside of the BWCA on 09-16-07. I took several photos. I am attaching one of the photos that show what appears to be the number 3 etched in the rock to the left of the human like figure. Is that in fact the number 3 or what?

I’m sure that it wasn’t originally there and I didn’t know if anyone in your office new about it or not or possibility the time frame when it was done. If someone would get back to me I would appreciate it.

Thank you in advance.

Chuck Ryan

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 Subject: RE: Island River Pictograph 21LA0037

Mr. Ryan

Thank you for your concern.

I checked our files for that site and the images from a few years ago show the same pattern you saw there recently. I've shown your photo to a number of people here and the consensus is that while it certainly appears to be a 3 that it is likely shading of the rock surface or lichens. I have to add that none of us have actually been out there to see it. The similar color and patterning to the horizontal components of the "3" seem to also be present on the rock surface directly below the figure of concern, there is also some staining coming down from above. They could also be part of some other figure, of file indicates that there are also a cross, two handprints and a canoe depicted here. What is visible can be affected by the angle and intensity of the light and the amount of humidity at any given time. This is a unique set of glyphs in that they are done in a dark pigment.


Bruce Koenen
Research Archaeologist
Office of the State Archaeologist
Fort Snelling History Center
St. Paul, MN 55111

Wed 9/19/2007 Subject: RE: Island River Pictograph 21LA0037

Thanks for getting back to me about the Island River Pictographs. I have a few more questions if you have the time.

Since I had sent you guys the one picture (I took several) I had notice something else that I couldn’t find any documentation on.

I’ll have to review the photo I sent you, but I will sent one or two more that may show what I’m about to describe better.

To the left of the area that appears to be a 3 there appears to be raised vertical and horizontal lines that are fairly uniform. I thought if there were only vertical lines it could be contributed to something that was dripping down, but there are two or three horizontal lines that couldn’t be from dripping. What do you think this is from?

In your e-mail you wrote,”They could also be part of some other figure, (our) files indicate that there are also a cross, two handprints and a canoe depicted here.”

I have Michael Furtman’s, Magic on the Rocks, and he describes two separate sites. He describes the pictographs of the area that I took the photos and sent to you as this “display is on a dark cliff, beneath a deep overhang. It has a human figure in the “arms down”, with fingers spread. To its right is a caribou or other deer-like animal with prominent antlers that sprout from the center of the head like fountain. Perhaps a large dark figure is to the right of the animal. To the left of the human figure, pecked or scratched into the rock, are some letters or numerals.”

There is another display Furtman writes, “The Forest Service reports to me that the drawings on the rock in the river are bright red. Dewdney reports a small cross, and a barely discernible hand print ‘on an imposing block of gabbro.”

I’m wondering if your records of these two sites are grouped as one since there is only one site number, 21LA0037. In Mark J. Dudzik’s, Visions In Stone: The Rock Art Of Minnesota, he states, “In other instances, multiple sites have been reported as a single entry and have been given a single site number.”

I’m just trying to clarify if there are more paintings on the photo I sent you or are those other ones you describe on the rock that is somewhere in the river close to this site with the human like figure and the animal with antlers?

Do you have a photo of the rock in the river with these other drawing? If so, when was it taken? Do you know anyone who may have recently seen this rock with the other glyphs and if they are still even present?

I spent some time looking for the rock but I couldn’t find it or I didn’t see the glyps on the rock.

I talked with Walt Okstad, Forest Service Archaeologist, and he had the same information that was in Furtman’s book about the rock in the river and that Dewdney observe those glyphs but not the ones on the rock face.

I’m just trying to find out about those lines to the left of the 3 like image and if the glyphs you describe (cross, hand prints and canoe) are on the rock and if they are still present.

If had a better description where this rock is or a photo of the rock then I’m pretty sure I would be able to find it. I would like to go back and spend some more time looking for the rock if the glyphs are still there once I get some more information.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my e-mail and I thank you in advance for any more information you may have on these two sites.

Chuck Ryan


Subject: RE: Island River Pictograph 21LA0037


I'm not going to be able to give you really good answers to most of your questions, since it sounds like you have access to the same information I have and you have the advantage of actually having been up there and I haven't.

As to the raised grid pattern you noticed. I saw it on the photo you sent. It caught my attention, but I thought it might have been scratched into the rock, but now you say they are raised lines. Raised lines would suggest differential weathering of the rock surface, meaning they might be old cracks in the rock that were filled with another harder material that is more resistant to weathering. The rocks in that area have a complicated geologic history.

Actually you helped me clear up the issue of whether or not the additional glyphs I mentioned were in this panel or not. I noticed that the information I had suggested they were red in color as you say and the figures you photographed were not. I agree with your suggestion that they are two separate groups combined in a single number as Mark had noted. I do not even have a drawing showing how those red glyphs might be arranged or what their relationship might be to those you have already located. Often times the information we have in our files is based on informant reports that have come from outside sources to the Forest Service and have never been officially documented or confirmed and the locations may be inaccurate, but they are the best we have for now. The additional information and picture you have provided will be added to our files to help others in the future who are asking the same questions and also allow us to document the condition of the site at the present time.

Also this site is on National Forest Land and is not under our jurisdiction since it is federal property. The forest service usually has the most up to date and accurate information on their sites.

Hope this helps let me know if you have other questions


Office of the State Archaeologist
Fort Snelling History Center
St. Paul, MN 55111

I decided I needed to go back up north to see if I could find the red pictographs on the rock in the river. I also wanted to look at the dark colored pictographs again after reviewing the information I had learned about the site.

The other reason for going back up to the area was because I still haven’t paddle the Perent River, so I have some unfinished business to take care of.

1 comment:

  1. Great report. I was just at the Island River in a sea kayak and tried viewing the pictographs from both access points to the river, BWCA #34 as well as the Comfort Lake access. Unfortunately, after running the first set of rapids, I couldn't fined a useable portage in either direction. What might have been a portage from the BWCA access did seem quite bouldery and otherwise unmaintained. From Comfort Lake, was the portage point right along the water? If that is the case, it may have been a new chute on the rapids under higher water. Or - might have I been looking in the wrong places?