The Early History of FSRA:

A personal Reflection
by Bill Drake

Since I was 18 I have had a deep interest in Native American history, culture, politics, and spirituality. In the 1970s I taught high school courses related to these subjects. I moved to Placer County, California from back east in 1974. In the fall of 1987 I moved to Nevada City in Nevada County, California.

A year or two later I was able to attend an outing to a remarkable petroglyph site in the Sierra. The site is a single panel or grouping of images that date between 500 AD to 2,000 BC. It is located about 6,500 feet near the edge of the American River canyon, with the wild and scenic North Fork of the American River 3,000 feet below. It was, and is, one of the most spectacular rock art sites I have visited. I was amazed to learn that there were Native American rock carvings in my region of California and found the site itself to be very special. I took great pains to learn how to get there and visited the site whenever I could.

In 1990 I came across an article in the Sacramento Bee which, to my surprise, included a photograph of this site. The article noted that the panel had fractured over time and one or more pieces had apparently been taken away. The writer described efforts undertaken by several individuals to protect the site. Dan Foster, Archaeologist for the California Department of Forestry, had workers create a barrier to prevent cars from driving close to the images. Others had a stone mason apply cement around the fractured pieces of rock to keep them together. The article also mentioned Will Gortner, who had spent some 30 summers studying this site and other sites in the area, and Cassandra Wahlstrom, who became an early member of FSRA, along with other individuals.

I was concerned that average people like myself who cared about the site were not able to have a voice in deciding its protection. I began to correspond with some of the people mentioned in the article. It was suggested that I approach Dick Markley, the Forest Archaeologist for the Tahoe National Forest (TNF). My friend Eric Peach (who had worked with me in reviving the environmental group Protect American River Canyons) and I then met with Dick. Dick was a firm believer in using volunteer help to protect resources on his forest, and he encouraged us to start an organization for protecting rock art sites.

Dick organized a small meeting In June of 1991 at the site I was concerned about. I believe Dick was there as well as Will Gortner, artist John Betts, and one or two other people. I proposed that we start a rock art protection group that would be named after the site. John wisely suggested a broader focus with the name Friends of Sierra Rock Art. At that moment, FSRA was born. We met a short time later at the Donner Summit site and things evolved from there.