From 1987 to 2017, a one-of-a-kind monument and piece of public artwork welcomed visitors to Hillsboro’s Shute Park and paid respect to the region’s first people. Sadly, the landmark is now gone but its memory lives on.
In 1972, sculptor Peter Wolf Toth began an ambitious project he named The Trail of the Whispering Giants. The project’s initial goal was to place at least one sculpture in each of the 50 U.S. states to honor the respective areas’ native peoples. In each instance, a log between eight and ten feet in diameter is painstakingly carved using a hammer and chisels. On occasion, Toth has also been known to utilize a mallet and an axe. Power tools are avoided if possible. Peter Wolf Toth confers with the local Native American tribes before starting work and the resulting sculpture is intended to represent a composite of the physical and facial features of the region’s first people as well as their history and stories. Toth’s goal of a sculpture in every state was achieved in 1988 but the project is ongoing with many more pieces added since, including internationally, and several presently in-the-works.
Hillsboro’s sculpture on The Trail of the Whispering Giants came about in 1987. Peter Wolf Toth selected Shute Park as the Portland Metro Area location for his 56th monument in the series. In July, the sculptor began work on a 250,000-pound Douglas fir log and, the following month, the partially carved piece was lifted onto its base in the park, at a site near Tualatin Valley Highway. In typical form, Toth carved the sculpture by hand, making an exception only for the use of an electric sander. The monument, which turned out to be 25 feet tall, was finished in-place and dedicated amid pomp and ceremony on Sept. 25, 1987. It was named Chief Kno-Tah after one of the leaders of the Atfalati (Tualatin) band of the Kalapuya tribe.
The Chief Kno-Tah monument was such a visible and longstanding landmark, for some Hillsboro residents, it became integral with the identity of Shute Park. Among many of our neighbors for whom Spanish is their first language, the city park was known as “el Parque del Indio” (the park of the Native American).
Unfortunately, the sculpture’s existence would be cut short. A February 2017 windstorm sent a tree crashing into the monument, severely damaging the top of the landmark. Part of the face was sheared off and the entirety was knocked into a leaning position. City officials subsequently declared the damage to be irreparable and a safety hazard. Chief Kno-Tah was removed by the City on June 15, 2017.
Editors Note – Chief Kno-Tahs removal generated a lot of press and a lot of controversies. Despite several attempts to save him locals failed. Offers were made to move him with contributors paying the costs but the City of Hillsboro chose to remove him all the same. Promises to honor the Atfalati people as a top priority have gone as of yet unfulfilled.
You can visit the Cheif Kno-Tah Facebook page where thousands have left their memories and well wishes- that page is here.
There is another Facebook memorial page here as well Chief Kno Tah Statue.
City officials have said a plaque describing the statue’s history will be installed in the park and Miletich said the city will decide on a new piece of public art to bring more “culturally relevant art” to Hillsboro, but no details have been worked out about what that might look like, when it will be installed or whether it will stand on the same space at Shute Park.
“We’ll be starting that process very soon,” Miletich said.