Thomas Doty – Storyteller

Ishumpi Rain Rock


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A 1948 Jervie Henry Eastman photo of the rock, followed by a recent photo and closeups of cupules and bear prints.

Cupules & Bear Prints

There are several rain rocks around southern Oregon and northern California. Also known as the Fort Jones Rain Rock and the Gottvile Boulder, the Ishumpi Rain Rock is one of the best known. It is currently located in front of the museum in Fort Jones, California, but its original location was several miles away at the Shasta village of Ishumpi, along the Klamath River near the mouth of Lumgrey Creek. After white folks settled in the area, a small community was established on the same site and was called Gottville. Alternate spellings of Ishumpi are found in various studies on the Shastas, including E-sahm'-pe, E-shom'-pe, Ish-shom', Isum'pi, and Icumpi.

Rain rocks are pitted boulders. They are covered with depressions, often referred to as cupules. In native rock writings, a carved depression, or a painted cupped hand, is the symbol for water. This has its origin in Indian Sign Language. A cupped hand brought to the mouth means water or drinking.

Generally, rain rocks are used to control rainfall. They are covered to prevent rain, and uncovered to encourage rain. There are also stories of native people using pitted boulders to control wind.

Many rain rocks also have bear prints carved on their surface, including the one from Ishumpi. Rain rocks are closely associated with the mythology of Great Bear in the Sky (the Big Dipper) whose circle dance around the North Star (the fire in Bear's lodge) ensures the continual circling of the seasons.

Some native stories tell how the depressions were created by young medicine people trying out the power of their thumbs by twisting them on the surface of the rock. Other stories tell of folks calling the rain by pounding on the rock with a pestle or stone hammer to imitate thunder. Centuries of pounding created the cupules. In a Shasta story, the Creator pounded on the sky to create a hole. Snow and ice fell through the hole and made Mount Shasta.

In the fall of 1889, the salmon run in the Klamath River was extremely late due to lack of rain and resulting low water. At the village of Ishumpi, the rain rock was uncovered and rainfall followed. Downriver, at the same time, a medicine man named Big Ike did a rainmaking ceremony for the benefit of placer miners who were working gold-producing terraces above the river. When the miners refused to pay Big Ike, he got angry and brought a much heavier rain that resulted in the flood of 1889-90. Back at Ishumpi, the Shastas were concerned about the downpour -- their village was flooding -- and a decision was made to "permanently" cover the rock. They buried it!

When Roland B. Dixon interviewed Shasta Indians in the first few years of the 1900s, he was told of the rain rock -- it was still in the oral tradition -- but it appears no one mentioned that it had been buried. Dixon went looking for the rock but eventually gave up, assuming "it had probably been either washed down by the river, or at least turned over and partially buried by debris, during a period of unusually high water which occurred a few years ago."

In 1948, the crew building the Klamath River Highway uncovered the rock with their bulldozer. The rock was moved to the Fort Jones Museum that had opened the year before, and there it remains.