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Picture of "She Who Watches" American Indian art


She Who Watches -- Photo  Chris Carvalho/Lensjoy.com Previous Next

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The famous Native American rock art known as "She Who Watches" is located in the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side of the river east of The Dalles.  It is a combination of two styles, a petroglyph (carved into the rock) and pictograph (art drawn or painted onto rock).  For many years I wanted to visit the site.  Finally I went on a very informative tour led by a park ranger and took this picture.  She Who Watches is much larger in size than most believe, approximately 16 inches wide.  It is a stunning sight and created for me a deep sense of spirituality that I'll never forget.  The Native American name of She Who Watches is Tsagaglalal.  There is a legend about the art's origin that is hauntingly prophetic of the impact humans have made on the earth:  


THERE are several versions of the legend, but the one that was told to us by the Wishram people is as follows:

A woman had a house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of all who lived in the region. That was a long time before Coyote came up the river and changed things and people were not yet real people.  After a time Coyote in his travels came to this place and asked the inhabitants if they were living well or ill. They sent him to their chief who lived up on the rocks, where she could look down on the village and know what was going on.

Coyote climbed up to the house on the rocks and asked "What kind of living do you give these people? Do you treat them well or are you one of those evil women?" "I am teaching them to live well and build good houses," she said.

"Soon the world will change," said Coyote, "and women will no longer be chiefs." Then he changed her into a rock with the command, "You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here."

All the people know that Tsagaglalae sees all things, for whenever they are looking at her those large eyes are watching them.

-"Stone Age on the Columbia River" by Emory Strong, 1959

If you are visiting the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, you can see a greatly enlarged photo of She Who Watches I provided for the exhibit "Our Lives," which explores the contemporary life and identities of native Americans.  For another view, see the image Tsagiglalal which shows more of the surrounding landscape and sky.  

How old is She Who Watches?  Rock art dating is difficult but artifacts with similar appearance were found at cremation and burial sites that date from A.D. 1700 to A.D. 1840.1  So Tsagaglalal's age is roughly 300 years, assuming it is contemporaneous with these artifacts.  

Besides the Coyote legend above, James D. Keyser writes about an alternative theory that Tsagaglalal and similar images are associated with death and burial rituals.  The concentric circles around the eyes are thought to represent the sunken eyes of sick people, and around the time these images were left at gravesites diseases such as smallpox, transmitted by white settlers and explorers, were decimating the Native American population.  No one knows for sure what the image represents, however.  The "ears" above the eyes make it look more like a raccoon spirit to me.  


Info:  Chromira digital print of Ektachrome 100 35mm slide

     1Keyser, James D.  Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau.  Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 1992.  pp. 101-102.

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