PILOT ROCK, Ore. – At age 10, Badger Harris is no stranger to bones. For years he has picked up animal skulls and other bones, keeping them as household decor.
But recently he and his grandmother, Lucy Harris, were on an outing, and he sensed he would find something special. He was right.
Lucy drove slowly along a road outside of Pilot Rock so Badger could scan the roadside.
Something whitish caught his eye.
“I was so shocked it took me about three seconds to shout, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ ” Badger recalled.
He picked up a human skull and saw what appeared to be other human remains.
Unsure of what to do, they took the skull to the Pilot Rock police as they returned home to Stanfield.
“It was a little startling at first,” said Officer Doug Lane, who soon realized the skull was very old.
He gave it to the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office as possible crime evidence.
A coroner soon determined the skull likely was of American Indian ancestry, falling under the jurisdiction of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Teara Farrow, the reservation cultural resources protection program manager, said she was called by the Sheriff’s Office and drove to the site, where she, too, saw the protruding remains.
“The erosion was going to continue,” Farrow said. After obtaining the legal authorization, she got in touch with tribal religious leader Armand Minthorn, who helped with the protocol and ceremony for handling ancestral remains.
“There are certain traditions, medicines that we use to protect ourselves,” Minthorn said. “Because our ancestral remains are sacred, the less that they’re handled the better.”
Farrow said the team found a near-complete skeleton of a man who appeared, from his teeth, to have been 55 or older.
Minthorn and Farrow said such discoveries aren’t unusual along the Columbia River area and around the Tri-Cities area of Washington.
After legal procedures and permission from property owners Adolph and Katie Weinke, the tribes reburied the remains near where they were found.