The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5, Section 2: "Tom Outland's Story"

It is August the summer of the excavation, and everything is going well for Blake and Outland until they lose Atkins to a rattlesnake bite.

When Father Duchene comes up to say the last rites over Atkins’s grave, he stays with the two adventurers for a week, working with them and taking their minds off the tragedy. He cuts down a cedar tree that began to grow after the cliff dwellers left the area and pronounces it to be 336 years old. He has lived among Native Americans for years and is well versed in their dialects; his knowledge gives him the ability to come to certain conclusions about the cliff dwellers’ civilization.

Duchene’s conclusions are as follows: the tribe was wiped out at their camp on the plain, two square towers on top of the Mesa were granaries not very full of corn, signaling that the tribe was wiped out during the summer, the ridge on the top of the Mesa was the wall of an amphitheater for religious ceremonies or games, and the tower in the Cliff City was constructed for astronomical observations. Also, the mummy dubbed Mother Eve was a young woman caught in adultery and killed by her husband.

Also, Duchene thinks the cliff dwellers were somewhat sophisticated people who had an eye for design and constructed things well; they had moved on from the primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle and had begun to subdue their environment to serve them. They had domesticated wild turkeys and built looms and used dyes for cloth.

Overall, Duchene feels admiration for the cliff dwellers because they raised themselves out of primitivism, cultivating advanced arts, studies and practices. He hypothesizes that a brutal, marauding, nomadic tribe wiped out the cliff dwellers as they dwelt in their settlement on the plain.

At this point, Blake and Outland begin to plan for Outland to travel to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in order to tell them about the pair’s discoveries and invite true archaeological and scientific inquiry in to the ruins. Indeed, the two begin counting on the government’s money and resources as they expend their own.

In the winter, Blake and Outland pack up and secure as much of their evidence as they can on the Mesa and outfit Outland for a trip to the capitol.


Duchene’s contributions to Outland and Blake’s study of the cliff ruins are valuable, but critics have pointed out that Duchene was no more learned in archaeology than his two hosts. In addition, some critics have criticized Duchene for overlaying his Catholic point of view on the artifacts of a people who no doubt had a very different belief system.

For example, Duchene concludes that Mother Eve, a mummy of a young woman with a wound in her side, was probably a woman caught in adultery and killed by her avenging husband. In reaching this conclusion, Duchene is imposing a Judeo-Christian value system on a situation that may have arisen from a very different set of circumstances.

Duchene’s other contributions, though speculative, are more based on his expertise on the geography of the region. He concludes that the tribe was wiped out in their secondary agrarian settlements during the summer by a marauding nomadic tribe that never even saw the cliff cities and did not value peace, permanence or sustained achievement in the least.

It is here that Cather’s theme of civilization comes into play again; the cliff dwellers created a civilization of beauty, of art, and of science that valued building and construction. Scientifically, they were advanced and used their knowledge not only to construct their cities, but to build irrigation channels, granaries, and various tools used to sustain their lifestyle. Cather also valued and idealized the cliff dwellers’ permanence and tie to the land.

At the end of this section, it appears that Outland and Blake do plan to let others in on their discoveries; their anxiety on behalf of the ruins’ academic worth motivate them to prepare for Outland to travel to Washington in order to interest true archaeologists in the study of the ruins.