PORTLAND - David and Lana Abarr of John Day recently donated an item to the Oregon Historical Society that historians believe to be of great importance: A basalt rock with the date "1811" and a cross carved into the surface.
Historians believe the rock was carved by members of the overland Astor expedition when they passed through the area in 1811. The rock could place members of the expedition about 50 miles farther west than previously thought.
The rock was first discovered around 1944 by 10-year-old Douglas Owen, Lana Abarr's brother. He came across the carved rock near Bates while exploring the edge of a small pond adjacent to the headwaters of the Middle Fork John Day River. The family kept the rock for nearly 60 years, and donated it to the historical society so others could see and appreciate it.
Professor Michael McKenzie of Keuka College in upstate New York has been studying the rock for several years and determined that it is most likely a marker from the overland Astor party, an 1811 expedition to reach the mouth of the Columbia River. American industrialist John Jacob Astor financed the expedition in an effort to take over the Northwest fur trade, but the journey was disastrous with the deaths of many expedition members before they reached their destination.
According to McKenzie, "The rock may also provide additional evidence that links John Day, a hunter with the expedition, with the river and region that bears his name." McKenzie's research on the 1811 rock will appear in the Fall 2003 issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly, published by Oregon Historical Society Press.