Oregon Indian tribe protests auction of ancient meteorite

NEW YORK — An American Indian group, upset by the planned auction of a 30-pound chunk from the historic Willamette Meteorite, complained Thursday that the 10,000-year-old space rock’s immense religious significance was ignored in making the piece available to the highest bidder.

But the owner of the fragment, noting the vast majority of the 15.5-ton meteorite remained untouched, said his sympathy for their complaints would not halt next month’s sale. The piece from the world-renowned Willamette is expected to bring in more than $1 million.

The Willamette, discovered shortly after the turn of the 20th century, is considered a religious icon by the Oregon-based Clackamas tribe. The group’s members, which named the meteorite Tomanowas, reached a deal seven years ago granting them annual access for a religious ceremony with the meteorite in its home at the Museum of Natural History.

Now a piece sliced from the rock’s crown nearly a decade ago is one of 45 lots up for sale at an October auction dedicated to meteorites and related memorabilia.

“We are deeply saddened that any individual or organization would be so insensitive to Native American spirituality and culture as to traffic in the sale of a sacred and historic artifact,” said Siobahn Taylor, of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which includes the Clackamas.

“As a tribe, we do not participate in such sales and auctions,” said Taylor, whose group is based in Grand Ronde, Ore. “We view them with dismay.”

The piece of the Willamette is the biggest draw at the upcoming sale by the Bonhams auction house. The meteorite is the largest ever discovered in North America and boasts a contentious history since its discovery in 1902.

Darryl Pitt, owner of the slice of the rock, said he understood the Grand Ronde’s concerns.

“I’m saddened by their being saddened,” Pitt said. “While I regret the Grand Ronde has taken offense, the bottom line is that a portion of the meteorite is simply changing hands.”

The meteorite belongs to the Museum of Natural History, which swapped Pitt the small piece now up for sale in return for his half-ounce piece of a meteorite from Mars. The deal occurred in 1998, before the Grand Ronde group staked its claim to the Willamette.

According to Pitt, there are roughly 20 pieces of the Willamette in the hands of private collectors.

The meteorite was discovered in the Willamette Valley by a part-time Oregon miner, who removed it from land belonging to a local iron company. The miner charged a quarter to view the meteorite until a court order compelled him to return it to the iron company in 1905.

A New York philanthropist then paid $20,600 for the rock and donated it to the Manhattan museum.

In September 1999, the Clackamas tribe made a claim for ownership of the meteorite, which they believe was sent to earth by the Sky People. An agreement between the Grande Ronde Tribal Council and the museum was reached, keeping the Willamette in Manhattan.

The upcoming auction includes several other interesting items, such as the Brenham meteorite, recovered two years ago from a Kansas wheat field (estimated sale price $700,000); a complete meteorite slice, in the shape of a home plate, with translucent crystals ($100,000); and a chunk of a meteorite that killed a Venezuelan cow ($4,000).

Talk to us

More in Local News

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

A fatal accident the afternoon of Dec. 18 near Clinton ended with one of the cars involved bursting into flames. The driver of the fully engulfed car was outside of the vehicle by the time first responders arrived at the scene. (Whidbey News-Times/Submitted photo)
Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that killed Everett couple

Danielle Cruz, formerly of Lynnwood, gets 17½ years in prison. She was impaired by drugs when she caused the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle.

A person walks out of the Everett Clinic on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Everett Clinic changing name to parent company Optum in 2024

The parent company says the name change will not affect quality of care for patients in Snohomish County.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
Lynnwood settles for $1.7 million after 2021 suicide at city jail

Jail staff reportedly committed 16 safety check violations before they found Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, unresponsive in her cell.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Separate road rage incident ends with fatal shooting in Lake Stevens

A man, 41, died at the scene in the 15300 block of 84th Street NE. No arrests have been made.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Lynnwood man arrested, released on $25K bond after road rage shooting

Deputies arrested the suspect, 20, for investigation of first-degree assault on Tuesday.

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

Most Read