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Bandon's Tupper Rock is S. Oregon Coast History Long Gone, Almost Forgotten

Published 10/16/22 at 7:34 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Bandon's Tupper Rock is S. Oregon Coast History Long Gone, Almost Forgotten

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(Bandon, Oregon) – There is quite a bit of scenery on the Oregon coast that has changed since European settlers began hitting these shores, and some more dramatically than others. In some cases, entire shorelines have been shifted (parts of Warrenton / Gearhart didn't exist until the jetties were created at the Columbia River), and in others it was just a natural process (like the arch at Oceanside). (Photo courtesy Bandon Historical Society)

Bandon, however, is a special and striking case, along with being rather sad and cruel. What was known as Grandmother Rock to local Coos and Coquille tribes once stood tall and proud near the southern shore of the Coquille River mouth, a sacred place to the original inhabitants. However, settlers renamed the rock after one of their own, turned it into a tourist attraction, and then blew it up, all in the course of a decade or two.

Picture what it would be like if famed south Oregon coast rock structures such as Bandon's Howling Dog Rock or even Face Rock were suddenly co-opted and blown to smithereens. Not only would that be a slap in the face to local original people but a stark and ugly change, a case of wanton greed and destruction.

Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Over a century ago, that's what many felt about Grandmother Rock, often known as Tupper Rock. Tupper Rock was a scenic fixture in the early days of Bandon, but then city founders felt the material it was comprised of was the only viable rock to be used for construction of the south jetty. Around 1893, they began blowing up Tupper Rock, slowly reducing it from a soaring, stately feature to a rock quarry and hole.

Photo courtesy Bandon Historical Society: the quarry, turning Tupper Rock into a hole (detail from larger photo below)

The story of Grandmother Rock goes back ages among tribal members, and there are several words for it in different local languages, sometimes markedly different – such as uumash or uumatl’ach (according to Shichils' Blog). Grandmother, along with Grandfather and another relative were – according to local tribes – had been turned to stone along with the granddaughter, due to an act that shamed the whole family. Just before going through a puberty ceremony, she engaged in cooking, which was forbidden until after the ceremony. This caused all to be turned into rocks there in Bandon.

Grandmother Rock / Tupper Rock's origin goes back maybe more than 100 million years, like much of the southern Oregon coast's rock structures. It's partially made of blueschist, an exceptionally hard material that's often associated with the presence of tectonic plates – which Bandon and Coos Bay are definitely known for. Like many of the rocky areas around here, it is a complex mix of material incorporated into it, say regional geologists. A 1973 paper from the Oregon Department of Geologic and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) said it was created over different periods in the past, often during periods of intense deformation, meaning they were immersed in intense, high pressure and relatively cool conditions. This fused other elements into it.

Bandon, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

Many of the sea stacks here at Bandon are extremely different in composition from each other.

Blueschist – although not named when the locals blew up Tupper Rock - was a mainstay for local tribes in terms of building materials for tools and even parts of watercraft. It wasn't just sacred in the spiritual sense, it was a necessity.

By the 1880s, it had been renamed Tupper Rock (sometimes Tupper's Rock) by Bandon founders, after a hotel next to it owned by a former captain named Tupper.

How high it stood is different per each account, although many say about 60 feet or more, and that appears to be correct.

“There was a stairway leading to the top where a bandstand had been built and the city 'brass band' gave Sunday afternoon concerts,” said one local historic account. Photos provided by the Bandon History Museum indeed show that lengthy stairway and sometimes people covering it.

There is really nothing left of it now, except a few remnants of the quarry itself, now sitting on the land of a retirement home complex run by local tribal authorities.

The jetty itself is by far the most visible remnant of it. You can gaze out over that southside structure and see Tupper Rock in a million pieces there. MORE HISTORIC PHOTOS BELOW

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Photos below courtesy Bandon Historical Society

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