Vanished Voices

Exhibition pays homage to American Indians displaced when the city was founded in 1854

In case you've been living under a rock, Lawrence turns 150 this year.

A months-long birthday party has drawn crowds to re-enactments, historical tours, concerts and exhibitions.


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These moccasins, made from leather, glass beads and ribbon applique, were created by a member of the Delaware Indian tribe. They're part of "Vanished Voices: The Legacy of Northeast Kansas Indians," which opens Saturday in the Spencer Museum of Art's White Gallery.

It's been festive, educational.

But a dark truth has been lost amid all the talk of Bleeding Kansas and Lawrence abolitionists who waged and won a decisive battle in the war over slavery.

While the New England Emigrant Aid Company was unpacking its wagons on the banks of the Kansas River in 1854 (the year Kansas Territory opened to white settlers), dozens of American Indian tribes that already had been moved from the East Coast to northeast Kansas were beginning yet another forced relocation.

So Lawrence's sesquicentennial is "kind of like the quincentennial of Columbus," says Andrea Norris, former director of the Spencer Museum of Art and co-organizer of an upcoming exhibition that documents the legacy of northeast Kansas Indians.

"On the one hand, you celebrate it because it's the opening up of the new frontier to the Anglo settlers of the United States. But on the other hand, it marks the continuing removal of the Native peoples from their homes."

The Spencer exhibition, called "Vanished Voices," opens Saturday in conjunction with "Windmills to Workshops: Lawrence and the Visual Arts." The public receptions for both exhibits are supported, in part, by the Lawrence Sesquicentennial Commission.

Even Joni Murphy, a Creek from the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma and guest curator of the exhibition, wasn't aware of the extensive presence of American Indians in northeast Kansas until she began researching for the show.

"There is a Native history in this area -- rich, varied and layered," she says. "These people were here and were here before the settlers came, and this is a very important part of Lawrence history and northeast Kansas history."

Trail of Tears redux

The title of the exhibition does not refer to vanished civilizations. The Indian Nations represented in the show survive on reservations and in communities in Kansas and Oklahoma. However, most of the groups have vanished from Lawrence and eastern Kansas through force and treaty.

Most of the Indians who were forced to leave here in 1854 were not indigenous to this region, having spent barely a generation here. During the first half of the 19th century, especially during the 1830s, almost all Indians east of the Mississippi were moved west and confined to reservations in so-called "Indian Territory," generally in Oklahoma and parts of Kansas and Nebraska.

When Kansas Territory opened in 1854, it soon became obvious that the battleground for the first chapter in the war over slavery would be fought on American Indian lands.

"This is Trail of Tears, Volume Two," says Dan Wildcat, professor of American Indian studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.

"Vanished Voices: The Legacy of Northeast Kansas Indians" and "Windmills to Workshops: Lawrence and the Visual Arts" both open Saturday and remain on view through Sept. 26 at the Spencer Museum of Art in honor of Lawrence's 150th anniversary. A Family Day and public opening gets under way at 1 p.m. July 18, with free food and beverages, bluegrass music and activities for children.

"Everyone knows the story of the Trail of Tears that formed the tribes of eastern Oklahoma. How many people in eastern Kansas realize that there was a Trail of Tears that occurred here also? And this wasn't five tribes; this was 35 tribes."

Acknowledging contribution

For "Vanished Voices," Murphy and Norris researched tribes that lived in Kansas just before the territorial period. They discovered so many that they decided to focus only on tribes who lived in this part of the state, including the Ottawa, Sac and Fox, Potawatomi, Delaware and Kiowa.

They pulled objects from Kansas University's Museum of Anthropology, the Kansas Museum of History and the Kansas City Museum. Among the items on display will be clothing, moccasins, rattles, dance regalia, cradle boards and children's toys.

"A lot of the objects are utilitarian, but I think they also have a very artistic style about them," Murphy says. "The beadwork is definitely art, some of the silk work as well."


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The Gloves were made of buckskin, fiber and glass beads by a member of the Potawatomi tribe.

A few historical photos from Haskell also are in the exhibition. The university opened in 1884 as the United States Indian Industrial Training School. Twenty-two students enrolled: 17 boys and five girls.

What began as a so-called "forced assimilation" school eventually became an elementary and high school, then a junior college and finally a four-year university that educates American Indians from across the country.

Haskell celebrates its 120th anniversary on Sept. 17.

"We're very respectful of the role Native Americans have played in the Lawrence area," says Clenece Hills, president of the sesquicentennial commission.

She notes the location of the site for Sesquicentennial Point, near Clinton Lake dam on more than 1,500 acres the city leases from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Plans call for a terraced circular area and a gathering space with a platform that could be used as a stage. The commission also wants to bury a time capsule at the site.

Says Hills: "We know that the history of that area certainly precedes our 150 years of Lawrence history."

Perhaps the "Vanished Voices" exhibition catalog in the time capsule will ensure that future Lawrence residents know that, too.


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