Ponca City Indian Museum celebrating 80th year

Ponca City Now - November 14, 2019 11:43 am

Kaw Chief Moses Bellmard provides ceremonial dancing at the first Grand Opening of the Ponca City Indian Museum in 1939. The museum was housed in the basement of the Ponca City Library at 5th Street and Grand Avenue. The Ponca City Indian Museum has been moved to Marland’s Grand Home and is celebrating its 80th anniversary in Ponca City this year. Behind the dignitaries on stage is the portrait of Chief E.E. Thompson by artist H.C. Balink.

“A museum is to educate first, then to preserve articles of historic value, and lastly, to display them”, so stated the Ponca City News in 1961 in reference to the Ponca City Indian Museum.  This three-fold mission has guided the museum, now located at Marland’s Grand Home, for eight decades.

Early Vision

E.W. Marland, Marland Oil founder, had a visionary dream for Ponca City to have an Indian Museum. In 1926, Marland gave direction to acquire collections, through his sponsorship of an excavation of a 1700s Wichita encampment and French trading post along the Arkansas River in Northern Oklahoma. The excavation was led by archeologist Dr. Joseph Thoburn, and assisted by his students from the University of Oklahoma.

The dig was supported by the Oklahoma Archeological Survey; a state organization charged with locating archeological artifacts and remnant information of ancient civilizations. E.W. Marland and the Chilocco Indian School each received one-third of the discovery with the remainder going to the Oklahoma Historic Society.

Marland also commissioned artist H.C. Balink to paint the “Indian Chiefs of Oklahoma” for the museum he planned to establish. And, Marland funded the preparation of an Osage dictionary to add to the collection and provide the Osage Tribe a language resource tool. The compilation was created by the Smithsonian Institution for the study of the Osage native language.

Location Established

The Ponca City Indian Museum had its official beginning in 1939, at the newer Ponca City Library located at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue, in the basement club room. The first official exhibits included the excavated Wichita encampment and French trading post items, Kaw Chief Ernest Emmett Thompson’s memorial collection, and three Balink “Indian Chiefs of Oklahoma” portraits (one being Chief E. E. Thompson.)

The grand opening was held June 16, 1939, with Kaw Chief Moses Bellmard (E. E. Thompson family member) first on the registration list. Other tribal chiefs in attendance were Ponca Chief Horse Chief Eagle, Osage Chief Fred Lookout, and Otoe Chief Jack Kushaway.

Other notable attendees were E.W. and Lydie Marland, famous Osage author John Joseph Matthews, local mercantile owner George Brett, Dr. C.W. Arrendall, Postmaster Blanche Lucas, and Patricia Paris, who grew up in the former E.W. Marland 22-room residence at 1000 E. Grand Avenue.

The Thompson collection program brochure stated the purpose of the museum: “This is the beginning of a Historical Museum in Ponca City. It is our hope as the years go by, that valuable additions will be given so the memory of the Indian may be perpetuated.”

Museum Growth

In addition to the Marland-Thoburn and Thompson artifacts, other generous gift donations helped the Indian Museum through the years. Mrs. Hugo Milde and John E. Hoefer Sr. donated early 1900s Great Plains Indian artifacts, the latter including a fine collection of Indian moccasins gathered by Hoefer’s brother stationed at Fort Sill.

Lillie Morrill Burkhart, ambassador of the Osage Tribe, added many Osage Indian articles. Fred Bartram, one-time Indian agent and teacher turned Marland Oil accountant, gave southwestern and northwestern baskets and pottery items along with many Plains Indian items from his various government stationed locations.

Nellie Atkins gave mementoes of her early days among the Ponca people at White Eagle. Fine native artifacts also came from the Baker, Baughman, Crawford, Zimmerman, Long, and Barnes families.

A New Home

Soon the current library was running out of space for the expanding Indian collections. A local committee was created, with support from the Oklahoma Arts and Humanities Council, to promote the purchase of the Paris House by the City of Ponca City to be a unified place for civic meetings and to display City-owned works of art and culture. The museum committee, with help from Commissioners Robert Clark, H.A. Mertz, Harry Hayman, and Mayor C.D. Hull, pushed for the purchase of the property at a bargain price of $86,000. In 1916, the home was estimated at cost of $350,000.00 to construct.

Sixteen garden clubs led the movement, stressing one of the greatest needs as additional space for the Indian Museum. The new property was acquired in 1967 and was titled the “Ponca City Cultural Center”. The Indian Museum was moved from the Library location to the Ponca City Cultural Center and a second grand opening of the Indian Museum was held on May 26, 1968.

Present Day Museum

The Indian Museum now celebrates its 80th year in Ponca City. The Ponca City Indian Museum is still located at 1000 East Grand Avenue in what is now called Marland’s Grand Home (formerly the Ponca City Cultural Center).

Today, most all of the special gifts have remained with the museum, with other items donated since. The Indian Museum displays numerous late 1800s and early 1900s Great Plains Indian artifacts, many local tribal items, and additional northwest and southwest Indian items.

During the month of November, special displays, items of interest, and collections of Baker, Bartram, Milde, and Hoefer will be on display to the public.

The historic Marland’s Grand Home and Indian Museum site is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. See the website at www.marlandgrandhome.com for more information and call (580) 767-0427.


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