Ancient Places Review by Barbara Theroux – Fact & Fiction, Mountain West News

Posted by on Jun 21, 2015 in News | Comments Off on Ancient Places Review by Barbara Theroux – Fact & Fiction, Mountain West News

“Jack Nisbet has been writing about the landscape of the Inland Empire and Pacific Northwest for many years.


In his books about David Thompson and David Douglas, the author did extensive research into the written records left by these early settlers. Now he goes one step further to seek modern information about the Ice Age Floods, the Willamette Meteorite, the 1872 Earthquake, the aurora borealis, and rich deposits of terra cotta clay—the genesis stories of the region.


In the opening essay called “Chasing Electric Fluid,” Nisbet explores David Thompson’s 1792 reports of a possible meteor falling to earth where he saw mysterious glowing lights. John Phillips, a NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station, wrote Nisbet to tell him, “that your book has been doing some traveling.” Phillips was interested in Thompson’s aurora experiences and that lead to camera shots of waterways with luminous reflections sent from space in 2005.


When I placed one of David Thompson’s maps next to Phillip’s image, all the same elements marched across the page, from the mountain ridges on each side of the nascent Columbia’s valley to the low divide that allowed the Kootenay River to rush south while its mother river began a much longer journey in the opposite direction. Thompson, with only tribal information and his own survey data, had created a bird’s-eye view that jibed remarkably well the camera’s stark image.


“Longest Journey” recalls the odyssey of the Willamette Meteorite discovered in 1902 by Ellis Hughes. There was wide interest to purchase and display the meteorite from the Smithsonian, the St Louis World’s Fair and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.


Court cases over the legal ownership of the object—be it an abandoned Indian artifact or from Mars—gave custody of the meteorite to Oregon Iron and Steel.


In 1986, Richard Pugh, a Portland high school science teacher, theorized that the meteorite originally plunged to earth millions of years ago in British Columbia or Montana. During the ice floods the rock was carried downstream across the Columbia Basin where the ice floe came to rest near the mouth of the Tualatin River.


More bidding, studying and relocating occurred until, in 1990, the Willamette Meteorite became the centerpiece of the American Museum of Natural History’s new Cullman Hall of the Universe, with the permission of the Grand Ronde people.


…if the Willamette Meteorite is ever retired from public display, its ownership is to revert to the tribes. It is possible, therefore, that at some future date the turtle-shaped stone will once more journey across space and time, echoing one brief chapter of its long history. If it should travel by rail, it will retrace its climatic Ice Age voyage across Lake Pend Oreille, through Spokane, and down the Columbia as it makes one more partial orbit of our small planet.


Ann McCrae worked in the archives of the Spokane tribe. She was known for transcribing oral accounts of the Spokane Salish. One day Nisbet found her studying five cryptic lines:


Born 18511872 Earthquake—21 years oldWch wi’chem

Xs-ch- x

Died Walla Walla 1904—53 years old


Thus begins “Restless Earth.” The five lines had been copied from a wooden headstone at the Washington State Penitentiary.


We’d like to know his real Indian name, something more than wch wi’chem,” said Ann. “We’d like to identify him, and bring his remains back home. We have this one version of the story, but I think my mom’s friend Sadie Boyd might have talked about him too—I just have to find out where. And I’d like to know more this earthquake. Was it really such a powerful thing?”


Clues surface in the 1970s, when the Washington Public Power Supply System commissioned a study of the 1872 earthquake. The report published in 1976 gave no doubt that a major quake had occurred, with a 7.0 to 7.3 magnitude with an epicenter located on the west slope of the Cascades possibly 50 miles north of Lake Chelan. In 2002, Ralph Haugerud, a US Geological Survey researcher re-evaluated the previous report. He determined that a 6.8 magnitude quake occurred with the epicenter east of the Cascade Range and close to the south shore of Lake Chelan. With both reports, it was established that a powerful earthquake occurred in 1872.


As to the identity of the person buried in Walla Walla, many ghost tales of the Spirit of Whist-m-la’s mother have been passed along to Ann McCrae. Perhaps soon the legend and the truth will come together.


Throughout the essays in Ancient Places, Nisbet correlates modern science with the journals of early fur traders, terra-cotta brick makers, collectors, and native peoples. The reader gains knowledge of museums, plants, ants, huckleberries and lucky kicks that unravel mysteries and secrets held in the landscape.”


– Barbara Theroux – Fact & Fiction, Mountain West News