WALLA WALLA -- Chief Smoke, the cigar store Indian statue that greeted customers for nine decades at Lutcher's Cigar Store and became a symbol of local history, will cross the auction block this weekend.
The 6-foot statue of the Native American that stood like a sentinel inside the long ago store at Fourth Avenue and Main Street will be offered this weekend in one of the most unusual collections ever offered by Macon Brothers Auctioneers.
In the process of researching the origins of the statue, an appraisal company working with Macon Brothers discovered the significance of the piece spreads far beyond the Walla Walla community. It is believed to be the work of Thomas V. Brooks, a New York artist considered by many to be the "dean" of 19th century American carvers.
The statue will be offered to the public for the first time this weekend.
Auctioneer Doug Macon said interested collectors/buyers have come forward locally and nationally.
"It is unusual to have this type of provenance on a piece that old," Macon said this morning. "To know when it came here and for it to have been owned by just two families is pretty unusual."
Macon himself had never seen the statue when it was set up on Main Street. The auctioneer, 60, came to the community in 1969, about a year or so before Lutcher's Cigar Store was sold. He has been amazed, however, at the number of people, older and younger, who know of the wooden statue.
"It's just so funny that so many people remembered it," Macon said. "I think it's so striking and different."
The statue of the Native American shading his eyes with his right hand and adorned in a colorful headdress is part of the collection of Ted and Jerry Small. They purchased the statue from the Lutcher family in 2004.
The weekend auction, which runs live and online Saturday and Sunday, also features what Macon describes as the best collection of Pacific Northwest and Western history books, including a signed 1899 copy of "Memoirs of the West" by Whitman Massacre survivor Eliza Spalding.
Though pre-sale estimates are not listed in the auction house's catalogs, similar carvings by Brooks have sold in the $35,000 to $45,000 range. There is no reserve.
Greg Lutcher, who's great-grandfather Jacob Lutcher started the cigar store in 1880 and bought Chief Smoke when Washington was still a territory, said he'd love to see the piece purchased and donated to Fort Walla Walla Museum to remain as a permanent piece of the community's history.
Most of his memories of the statue were of its presence in his parents' Palouse Street home after the store closed.
The business had been passed from Jacob Lutcher, an immigrant from Holland, to his son, Byron Lutcher, who passed it down to Greg's father, Lewis Lutcher.
According to the stories Greg Lutcher has heard, business was affected in the early 1960s after political efforts to rid the community of its unseemly operations, including houses of ill-repute and gambling. Around 1970 Lutcher's was sold to owners of a tavern that's been listed in numerous ways, including Pee-Gee's, Pe-Ge's, and P.G.'s. That business eventually burned in a fire.
Chief Smoke was one of numerous relics from the cigar store that remained in the Lutcher family until it was sold to the Smalls.
Lutcher said he continues to hear stories from people who have remembered the statue over the years.
"It's amazing to me the number of people who have a story about it," he said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.
A preview of the auction coordinated by Macon Brothers Auctioneers will take place Friday from 3-6:30 p.m. at the auction site at 301 E. Aeronca Ave. at the Walla Walla Regional Airport property. The sale will run Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m. Previews will also take place before the start time. The sale will be live and online, internationally, via Proxibid. To see the complete catalog, go to www.maconbrosauction.com.