100 years ago, give or take a year, according to whom you are speaking, the Smithsonian sent an artist out to different reservations to make busts of Native Americans, the thinking being that these were a “vanishing people” and should be preserved for posterity.
Then, these busts were forgotten, becoming just more acquisitions for the Smithsonian Institution’s vast holdings.
Gone, but not totally forgotten due to a granddaughter’s memory. Evelyn Trumbly Taylor, a member of the Osage Nation and now a woman in her 70’s, remembered the story of her grandfather Albert Penn having his likeness made for the Smithsonian. Her mother and aunts had tried to go to Washington, D.C. to see it, but had a car accident on the way and didn’t make it. Then her mother and aunts decided to go and take Evelyn and her brothers.
“We had left in '58 during the summer to go to Washington D.C. We made it as far as seven miles into Kentucky when we had a head on collision and we didn't get to make it then. Mother and two aunts were hurt pretty bad in the wreck and the two boys,” Trumbly Taylor said.
After months in the hospital recuperating, the Trumblys were finally able to go home to Oklahoma.
“I decided I probably couldn't go up there since it wasn't meant for my mother and definitely wasn't meaning to let me go either (chuckles) so I decided well, I'll probably never see it. But I told Larry about it, I said, ‘they've got a bust of my grandfather up in the Smithsonian but we've never been able to get up there’, I told him all about it.”
Larry Taylor, Evelyn’s husband, wanted to surprise his wife.
“Evelyn had told me the story about the bust of her grandfather, I wanted to surprise her for her birthday one year in December and I thought I'll find it and you know, get a picture of it, or do the story of it or whatever. I was doing some genealogy and documenting family things both on her side and my side of the family,” Taylor said.
“You know, I just couldn't find it. I went in at that time and read newspapers and went to libraries and got online which was kind of limited and after two or three years of making phone calls, or writing letters, or trying to research it, I came to the conclusion it was probably a one time thing, that you know was just disposed of after the fact and it would be near impossible to trace,” Taylor said.
“In January of 2004, I'll never forget it, I was going to make a last ditch effort, I'll look one more time. And I got on the Smithsonian Institution website and was reading names of departments and out of just a leap of faith David Hunt's name, who was their collections manager for the Anthropology Department, kind of jumped off the page at me, so I sat and wrote him an email.”
Unbelievably, Dave Hunt was the exact right person to call. The bust was in his department.
“We have multiple different series of different facial casts, as well, you know, different collectors. We have some that came from when a French expedition was in Africa, we have some that were from Asia, we have others that come from the Oceania area,” Hunt said.
“There were two different studies that were done in looking at Native American groups and one was in connection with the Pan Colombian Exposition that was going to held in San Diego and San Francisco in 1915, so the face casts were collected in 1912, 1913,” Hunt said.
Finding the bust, the Trumbly-Taylors made their way to Washington, D.C .
“It was clearly evident that this was very emotional of course for Evelyn being that she was looking upon the face of her, you know, her ancestor,” Hunt said.
“And it was something that she knew from her oral tradition, family oral traditions, that this existed.”
Once there, Evelyn and her husband Larry noticed other busts with familiar Osage names, which they pointed out to Hunt…thus the Osage Ten were recognized, remembered and on their way home. Although that process would take years.
Kathryn Red Corn, Director of the Osage Nation Museum, didn’t even know they existed.
“I asked, ‘How many of those busts do you have of Osages? And he said, well we've got ten. And I said well, how much do they cost? And he said I don't know, it wouldn't be too much to have them reproduced. He said, well how many do you want? I said I want all of them!” said Red Corn laughing.
Red Corn said they agreed on price.
“I said I can't buy all of them right now but we'll start buying one at a time till we get them bought. My daughter and I bought the first one. So we didn't know who it was going to be, so we just put all the names in a little bowl and drew one out and it was Shunkamolah, so Shunkamolah was the first one that we did,” Red Corn said.
“So then we started drawing for the next one and then as we did that, family members would come in and say I want to help pay for my family. What was so beautiful about this whole thing, it was a tribal effort. The members of the tribe put the money in and we got it done. But it took us seven years to do it.”
The Osage Ten are on permanent display at the Osage Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.