Indian statue headed to Walla Walla museum

WALLA WALLA -- The Scout that stood for decades by the front door of Lutcher's Store in Walla Walla won't be leaving the city.

The 6-foot-tall wooden Indian statue, affectionately nicknamed Chief Smoke by Walla Walla residents, was put up for auction by the Small family after the death of Theodore B. Small, a longtime Walla Walla resident. Small and his wife, Gerry, bought the statue from the Lutchers around 2004.

The statue -- actually an antique advertising sign -- is very collectable for two reasons.

Terry Mauer of Mauer Appraisals in Pasco, who researched similar cigar store Indian statues before the sale, found they are extremely rare.

"They stood outside in the weather, out on sidewalks where people scuffed them up, knocked them over," Mauer said. Those that withstood rough handling often ended up burned for firewood or stored in damp sheds where they rotted.

His research also revealed The Scout was created by Thomas V. Brooks, a famous New York artist in the 1800s.

"Brooks was the premier carver of his day," he said. "His work is in museums."

When The Scout came up for auction, it caught the interest of collectors as far away as the East Coast.

Doug Macon, of Macon Brothers Auctioneers of Walla Walla who handled the June 5 auction, said before the live bidding began, he already had several offers.

Bidding that Sunday afternoon was spirited and quick, over in a matter of minutes. At the end, one of Macon's longtime customers, a collector of things rare and beautiful, was The Scout's new owner.

"He didn't try to hide who he was at the auction but said he prefers to remain anonymous," Macon said.

The Scout sold for $55,000, including the buyer's premium.

After the hammer came down, Macon asked the buyer what he intended to do with the wooden statue. The buyer's reply earned him a standing ovation.

"When I said it was going on loan to the Fort Walla Walla Museum, everyone was pleased," Macon said. "It's really nice the buyer did it this way. The museum is a great place for it to be."

And the first person to congratulate the buyer was the original owner's great-grandson, Greg Lutcher, a Walla Walla attorney.

The next day Macon's crew crated The Scout and delivered it to the museum.

"It's still in the crate," said Paul Franzmann on Thursday. He's communications manager for the Fort Walla Walla Museum. Being so old, the statue needs some stabilization before it can be displayed.

"It's in climate-controlled storage until its condition can be assessed, which for us means temperature and humidity controlled. When you're dealing with wood, that's very important. One of the arms needs some work, and once it's out of the crate, we may find other parts that need some attention before it can be put out on display," he said.

Once that's done, The Scout will stand in a glass case, likely in the Pioneer Gallery.

"It's really cool. It's one of those things that really belongs in Walla Walla and I'm glad it came here," Franzmann said. "(The buyer) is someone who's deeply interested in our local heritage."