Thomas Doty – Storyteller

Old Man of The Dalles


This fellow was originally located on a cliff overlooking Celilo Falls, one of the most famous fishing places on the Columbia River. In 1957, the falls were drowned in the backwaters of The Dalles Dam. Just prior to that, Old Man of The Dalles was removed and displayed along the base of the dam, then moved again to The Dalles Chamber of Commerce where he mysteriously disappeared, and hasn't been seen since. With his large eyes looking at the fishing site, Old Man is one of several images in the Northwest that portray Watchers, those who keep an eye on the culture. Nearby is She Who Watches, the most famous of these Watchers.

We know Old Man is old because he is bent over and carries a cane or a walking stick. One of his hands extends out from his heart making the native sign for good. The dot below emphasizes something happening here at the fishing place. Old Man's eyes are open and looking directly at anyone who might be fishing by the falls. His rear end has an arrowhead stuck on it with the point away from him, indicating not being hurt. He has strangely large ears. The falls are extremely loud and one has to make big ears to hear anything.

Here's where knowing something about the local culture is helpful. It was tradition among fishermen at Celilo to share their fish with those who didn't have enough to eat. However, if you only had enough for you and your family, you couldn't just say that. The falls were too loud. No one would hear you. Instead, you made the gesture of slapping your rear end. This meant you didn't have any fish to share. Back to Old Man's rear end.... Not being hurt by the arrowhead can now be interpreted as not being slapped.

Here's a translation: Here at the falls, it is good that you not slap your rear end and give an old man the fish he needs.

Old Man of the Dalles was a constant reminder to be generous ... and he was always watching....