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January 24, 2022

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Where I Stand — Mike O’Callaghan: Who is Kennewick man?

TWO YEARS AGO, the skull and bones found along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash., caused only a slight local stir. Since then, after scientists determined it is the remains of a man who lived 9,200 years ago, they have become known as Kennewick Man and are surrounded with controversy.

Recently the CBS "60 Minutes" program featured Kennewick Man. Lesley Stahl did about a 10-minute segment on the argument between local Indians and scientists over Kennewick Man. The Umatilla Indians want to, according to their religious practices, bury him and the scientists want to know more about him and where he came from. There's a possibility this may not be the remains of a Native American. The Indians have the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act on their side of the argument. Nevertheless, the bones are in Seattle for more study to determine Kennewick Man's past and future.

The arguments fomented by the Kennewick Man encouraged me to review the book "Keepers of the Misty Time" written by Patricia Rowe four years ago. I had the author, then Patty Doherty, as a history student in Basic High School more than 35 years ago. When "Keepers of the Misty Time," her first book, was published I was thrilled because of her grasp and feeling of ancient history. Two years later, she followed with "Children of the Dawn" another epic of America at the dawning of history.

After reading her first book, I told the readers of this column about Rowe's lead character, Ashan, and warrior Tor leading the Shahala people into meeting the challenges of a changing world 9,000 years ago. That's right, although written before Kennewick Man was uncovered, it was during the time he lived along the Columbia River.

Then came "Children of the Dawn" which is introduced as follows:

"Beneath the backwaters of the Dalles Dam on the mighty Columbia River lies a mound. It is all that remains of the ancient gathering place where people came to trade for the abundant salmon and began the first union of ancient clans that would someday be a nation. Here a migratory tribe led by women had settled; here they had merged with other early peoples; and here, if you look carefully, you can still see a woman's face carved into the cliffs above the gorge. Later Indians called her She Who Watches. But her real name was Ashan ... the Moonkeeper."

Following the most recent episode about Kennewick Man, I called on Patty to hear how she felt about the similarity between him and the Shahala people. She wrote:

"Electrified, then torn ... my initial reactions when I learned of the Ancient One's discovery and his questionable heritage; and then, almost immediately, of the battle to control what would happen to him.

"Electrified! Regardless of his ethnicity, a man had been found who lived in precisely the same place at exactly the same time as I had written about. I had lived with 'my people' for five years, eaten with them, dreamed with them, hunted and played and made love with them; died with them and committed their remains to the land. When the skeleton was found, I could not help but wonder which of my characters he might have been. My hero, Tor? One of the man-eaters who had decimated his tribe? Or someone else, some other people who had been there before, alluded to briefly in my second book, known only by rock pictures they had left showing tall, stately figures quite unlike my characters.

"Now, now, Patty ... I told myself. Fiction ... what you wrote is pure fiction. Another part of me replied, What you wrote is a story that came crystal clear and complete in a dream. Who knows where things like that come from. It is possible, in some way no one understands, that you might actually have 'known' this man.

"Torn. As the battle over Kennewick Man (as scientists named him), or the Ancient One (as Indians call him), took shape, I was torn between the merits of their respective positions. And I still am."

How does Patty feel about the conflict between Indians and scientists? She says, "Both positions are dear to me. If it weren't for scientific pursuit, I would never have been able to learn and write about life in that long-ago time. If it weren't for artifacts kept in museums, I couldn't have seen and touched the things they used, and imagined myself using them. As a student and lover of the past, I want to know more!

"On the other hand, I also spent a great deal of time studying the culture of the modern Indians of this region as a basis for putting together my little picture of the past. And I know and understand (as much as a non-Indian can) the value they place on ancestral remains, and their very specific religious beliefs as to how those must be treated."

When Kennewick Man was found, Patty wrote a proposal and three chapters of a contemporary novel called "Bones of Contention." The publishers couldn't believe that such a skeleton had been found and if it were true, there wouldn't be that much interest in it. I wonder what the dummies in New York thought as they watched "60 Minutes."

Patty and I are both waiting to hear what the scientists at the University of Washington learn about Kennewick Man. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about her books and other work she is on the Internet at: