Museum of the Great Plains, Lawton, OklahomaIT ALL BEGAN on the Southern Plains landscape at Salt Fork where 72 Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Caddo, and Kiowa were transported by train to Fort Marion (earlier known as Castillo de San Marcos), in St. Augustine, Florida. The imprisonment of warriors also began a history of government-led boarding schools to assimilate children, remove their tribal identities, and convert them to Christianity. Generations were impacted by historical trauma that continues to the present day. Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay, exhibits 72 echoed responses of contemporary artists sharing personal histories of these appalling events in American Indian history.
The exhibit opened in 2015 at the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, Flagler College, in St. Augustine, Florida, and traveled to several venues. On November 12, 2016, it opened at the Museum of the Great Plains, representing a full circle return to a place where the story began in 1875.
Included in the exhibit’s 72 artists are Shan Goshorn, America Meredith, Chris Pappan, and Hoka Skenandore, who are all well known in today’s contemporary Indigenous art world. Artist Monte Yellowbird Sr. (Arikara-Hidatsa) utilizes ledger-style drawing in colored pencil to illustrate The Journey to Remove Color, which features Southern Plains iconography as a seated warrior observes a changing landscape of disappearing buffalo, fading warriors, and the immense presence of an “Iron Horse” hastening settlement of the lands.  Yellowbird’s artist statement describes a hope to “educate in a kind and gentle manner” thorough visual depiction of a people in utter cultural transition.
Homage to the 74 Warriors by Ina Kaur, a native of New Delhi, India, is a limited edition, color print dedicated to St. David Pendleton Oakerhater.  The Cheyenne warrior was imprisoned in Florida but later in history became known as a spiritual leader and one of the “Fathers of Modern Native American Art.” Kaur’s work explores how identities are defined and influenced by history. She examines identity through organic, curvilinear shapes and how a single circle might represent and individual or a community when repeated in a pattern.
The Re-Riding History exhibit communicates a dual perspective of history. One perspective recognized the value of assimilation and change, as the other fought to continue cultural ways of life as it always had been.
Some exhibiting artists are direct descendants of the Fort Marion prisoners and others represent a diversity of tribal and non-tribal participants. Each showcases an historic re-telling of an American Indian perspective of this event with through art. For example, the Southern Plains prisoners-of-war found themselves in a new and foreign environment where language, climate, food, animals, and life were strange and frightening. The artists respond to this dramatic unfolding of history through contemporary responses in works inspired by 19th-century ledger art, prints, drawings, paintings, mixed media, photographs and other extraordinary visual narratives. Viewers are treated to a virtual kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and stories.
The exhibit represents a diversity of representative voices and perspectives of a time when American Indians of the Southern Plains were in epic transition. For Comanche and others, life as nomadic hunters ended when the tribe was confined to designated US government lands—the reservation—which now required a dependence on others and an extreme loss of language and cultural lifeways.
The Museum of the Great Plains, 601 N. W. Ferris Avenue in Lawton, Oklahoma, is centrally located between Lawton and Fort Sill. There Re-Riding History opened to a crowd of 230 attendees. In February 2016, the MGP re-opened as an interactive, living history museum and a new Bell Gallery. It provided excellent exhibit space to showcase the Re-Riding History exhibit within six walls to explore, contemplate, and interpret meanings of the displayed art.
Opening night excitement was heightened with a collaborative art tour with neighboring Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center and downtown Lawton’s Leslie Powell Gallery. A bus provided transportation to visitors to all three venues.
Three curators collaborated on this show: Emily Arthur, associate professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; John Hitchcock, dean, University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Marwin Begaye, assistant professor, University of Oklahoma.
The Museum of the Great Plains will host the exhibit through January 8, 2017. Future dates of this traveling exhibit are:
- January 25–February 26, 2017, Edgewood College Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin
- March through April 2017, Kenosha Public Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin
- June 1–October 27, 2018, Trout Gallery, Art Museum in Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Plan a visit the Museum of the Great Plains or other scheduled Re-Riding History exhibit venues. Through cultural sharing of personal stories of families impacted by the Fort Marion imprisonment experience, the brilliant images challenge established historical narratives. Re-Riding History brought together diverse communities to share their perspectives about the imprisonment of warriors and gave voices to their personal stories. Hopefully, this powerful exhibit will continue the discussion of how art impacts our community lives at this juncture in history when cultural differences are at the center of political discussions. And perhaps, it will give each of us an opportunity to be more introspective of historical events that link all of us together. —Juanita Pahdopony
- Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay
- Museum of the Great Plains, 601 NW Ferris Ave., Lawton, Oklahoma
JUANITA PAHDOPONY, MEd (Comanche Nation) is an artist, educator, and author, who has been published in academic, poetic, local, state, and national storytelling journals. She edits the Star Day Foundation’s Texas Bison Student Study Group Journal and has contributed Comanche short stories, including “Numukutsua Tubini: Where Is the Buffalo?”