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"Moving the Fire: The Removal of the Indian Nations to Oklahoma," features modern photographs from vintage negatives and relates the story of the "Trail of Tears," the forced migration of eastern Native Americans to Oklahoma in the late 19th century.
David Wight, curator of exhibits at the museum, said he was fortunate to find the display in a catalogue of traveling exhibits offered by ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance.
"This exhibit is particularly appropriate since Sam Houston was an adopted member of the Cherokee nation," Wight said.
The exhibit, which will run through August 18, offers several pictures of Native Americans during a difficult part in their history. In the 19th century, after their removal and confinement in Oklahoma, the United States government expected all Indian people to pursue a path of rapid assimilation into American life.
Many photographs offer a look into changes Native Americans were forced to make to adapt to American life. One example is an image of a young Comanche boy dressed in American clothes. The discouraged look on his face tells the whole story of the way the Native Americans reacted to such changes.
Ironically, the efforts to change appearances strengthened the inward determination of Comanche and other tribes to maintain their cultural integrity.
Ceremonies became the accepted arena in which to display Indian attire, but this was not the case everywhere. Darlington, Indian Territory, the agency home for the Cheyenne/Arapaho in the late 19th century, is the location for one of the most poignant photos of the area.
The view provides a glimpse of the tribal versus assimilation pressures that the Indians faced daily on the reservation. Forced to wear citizen clothing, the Indians engage in a customary dance in direct defiance of assimilation policy.
Several prominent Indian leaders are pictured, notably Geronimo, the most famous Indian of the late 19th century who led the resistance for the survival of the Chimicahua Apache. Geronimo, who has been featured in several motion pictures, surrendered to American forces in 1886. Before his death, he asked to return to his southwest mountain home in Arizona to spend his last days but his plea was rejected. He died as a prisoner of war in 1904 on an Oklahoma reservation.
Photographs of Fred Lookout and Louis Angel are also on display. Lookout served the longest term (1924-1949) of any Osage chief in the 20th century. Angel, also known as "Tall Chief," was the last Quapaw chief chosen under the old-fashioned traditions. Some commentators refer to his as "the last real chief of the Quapaw."
Many other photographs are on display as well as a summary of the exhibit. The museum is open over the summer on Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information on the exhibit, contact the museum at (936) 294-1831.
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