A Day in the Archives

We arrived at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City at 9:30 this morning – a solid half hour before the doors even opened. After taking some photos of the many statues dispersed across the parking lot, we made our way down to the basement for our 10:00 appointment in the archives.

And then we spent approximately 6 hours sifting through folders and folders of documents pertaining to everything from the Fort Marion prisoners to each individual member of the Kiowa Five, and even native artists that came after them. I myself only got through 3 and a half folders, and I still took about 7 typed pages of notes. Some of my most interesting discoveries include:

– an angry letter from Mrs. Susie O. Peters, the Field Matron at the Kiowa Indian Agency who first helped and encouraged the Kiowa Five with their artwork.

– an article that described the bitter hatred between Richard Pratt, a military officer and the founder of Carlisle Indian School (ie, an assimilationist), and James Mooney, an ethnographer who worked with many plains tribes; Pratt thought ethnographers were trying to keep Indians savage for their own selfish study, while Mooney thought it was wrong to take Indians far away from their homes and eliminate their culture.

– many many letters regarding the “destructive,” “shameful,” “indecent” dance gatherings held by the Kiowa and other nearby tribes (Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Apache, etc.), and discussing how best to prevent them, when really there was no law to do so

– the saddest letter of the bunch, written by a Kiowa named Ed Keahbone, asking that the Department of Indian Affairs allow a “Sun Dance, to be last and for ever gone.” He says this will be the final Sun Dance (a hugely important annual summer ceremony that had been prevented for many years prior to this). “This I know have gone from our people and never to return,” he writes. “We older people do not wish to have our young generations to follow our customs, but this is one thing we want as a tribal history to be preserved and kept.” It was so, so sad to read, especially knowing that they denied the request.

The museum itself, which we explored a little after lunch, was fabulous. It’s huge and well organized and has some great pieces. Anybody who comes to Oklahoma should check it out – not only are there paintings and sculpture, there’s also a room full of guns, a room full of bowie knives, a room full of native material culture, and a rodeo room!

We had dinner with some of my professor’s old professors, from when she went grad school at OU; they were all very nice, and were interesting to listen to. One of them, Joe Whitecotton (an ethnobotanist and political anthropologist), was a student of Julian Steward himself! All you anthro junkies out there know why that’s cool – the rest of you can just ignore this.

After dinner, Jade and Zac and I decided to walk and look for the OU bookstore, but we ended up walking 3 miles in the opposite direction and exploring the OU campus, which was big, pretty, and mostly deserted (it’s summer, after all). We took some fun pictures there – they have a lot of statues, and some really cool telephone booths.

After that we got Braums ice cream (I had a butter pecan milkshake), and then went back to the hotel, where we met my professor’s advisor briefly. Then the three of us went over all the different material we’d learned today, compared our ideas for exhibit themes and concepts, and argued (amicably) about paint colors for the walls of the museum. Right now everything feels a little undecided, but by the end of the week we know we’ll have our research all organized for the docents to train with, and we’ll be agreed on what this crazy exhibit should look like.


No guns or knives allowed in the museum….

The (very large) statue in the lobby of the museum, entitled “The End of the Trail.” It’s very controversial, I imagine because it depicts an Indian hunched in…defeat? pain? death? It marks Native Americans as bowing, wounded, disappearing – and so of course the Native Americans themselves won’t like it. I don’t much like it either, although it is a graceful piece of art.

One of the paintings in the museum that I really liked. I don’t know who the artist is, but I think it was called something like “Council of Three.”

A letter written by Stephen Mopope, one of the Kiowa Five artists, to the Superintendent of the Kiowa Indian Agency (a Mr. McCown). The letter itself wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was fabulous to see the very handwriting of a famous artist. And don’t worry, I had permission to take a picture.

Me in one of the mysteriously British phone booths on the OU campus.


About Rachel Isadore Steinberg

I'm Rachel. I'm a writer, a reader, a tea drinker, a tree climber, a dog lover, a journaler, a wonderer, a wanderer, an advocate, a believer, and a baker.
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