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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 4
December, 1927
THE PEACE COUNCIL CELEBRATION AT MEDICINE LODGE

JOSEPH B. THOBURN

Page 397

The sixtieth anniversary of the great Indian peace council of 1867, was formally celebrated at Medicine Lodge, Kansas, on October 12, 13 and 14. A movement for the celebration of the semi-centennial anniversary of that notable incident in the history of the southern Plains region had been initiated, nearly a dozen years ago, but, when the United States became involved in the World War, the project was necessarily subject to an indefinite postponement. The proposition was revived nearly two years ago, committees being appointed and plans laid for a commemorative celebration.

There having been more or less neighborly dispute as to the location or locations of the sessions of the peace council, it was first necessary to settle that matter beyond question. The writer was called upon for suggestions as means for such a definite determination. In reply, he insisted that some of the older surviving Indians of the tribes concerned in the peace council should be able to give conclusive testimony as to that. Upon recommendation of General Hugh L. Scott, U. S. Army, retired, the veteran sergeant of Indian scouts, I-See-O, of the Kiowa tribes, was invited to visit Medicine Lodge for the purpose of personally inspecting the several sites upon which the council sessions were alleged to have been, held. He did so, in April, 1926. He positively identified a site in the valley of the Medicine Lodge River, below the mouth of Elm Creek and near the present town of Medicine Lodge, as the one upon which most of the council sessions were held, and another, three miles up the valley, where the final session convened.

Congress and the Kansas Legislature were each asked to make a modest appropriation in furtherance of the proposed celebrations but neither request received favorable consideration Then it was that the people of Medicine Lodge, barely 1,300 in number, unanimously decided to stage their historical celebration without the aid of any legislative support, state or national, and plans were made accordingly. The presentation of an historical pageant, under the direction of Professor J. M. Gilson, of Kansas Teachers’ College was

Page 398

projected as the outstanding feature of the occasion. The War Department was asked to authorize the attendance of two troops of cavalry and a regimental band. The cooperation of the Oklahoma Historical Society was solicited for the purpose of securing the attendance and participation of representative delegations of the interested Indian tribes, namely, Comanche, Kiowa, Plains, Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho. Acting under the instructions of the Board of Directors of the Society, the writer visited. Medicine Lodge three times during the course of the summer for the purpose of consultation as to plans. The attendance of an aggregate of 150 Indians of the tribes mentioned was asked.

Although the Federal Government had expended $50,000.00 on the Custer semi-centennial celebration, in June, 1926, the War Department asked the Medicine Lodge people to guarantee the payment of. $15,000.00 in order to secure the attendance and participation of two troops, of cavalry and a regimental band. After extended negotiations, the attendance of one troop and a band, from Fort Riley, was secured for a much smaller sum. However, the military experts at Washington, who have been reared and educated since the days of the picturesque and instructive practice marches and who are trained to think of military transportation only in terms of motor driven trucks, would only agree to send a troop dismounted! With a resourcefulness that many a city of fifty to one hundred times its population could not have equalled, Medicine Lodge asked that the troopers bring their saddles and bridles and then, without more ado, furnished mounts for every officer and man in the troop.

The Indians were invited to send proper representation to take part in the celebration of an event in the history of their own people. While they were assured that their traveling expense would be paid, they neither asked nor expected compensation for the part that they were to play. So keen was their interest in the proposed celebration that an attendance of 500 to 1000 doubtless could have been readily secured had the means been available to defray their expenses. As it was, the aggregate attendance of Indians was fifty per cent in excess of the number invited, yet the management paid the expenses of all. Moreover, the Indians entered into their part in the pageant with the fullest ap-

Page 399

preciation of the spirit of the occasion. Their deportment throughout the course of their entire trip, from their homes to Medicine Lodge, during the three days, of the encampment there and while on their return, was such as to inspire a feeling of pride on the part of all Oklahoma people who saw or met them during that time.

The pageant was staged before a natural amphitheatre which had been formed by the erosive elements, through ages past, in the face of a river bluff—a community asset such as even an Oklahoma City or a Tulsa might well envy. Of the pageant itself, it may be truthfully asserted that it probably surpassed in its effectiveness and impressiveness the expectations of its modest and hitherto inexperienced projectors. In a word, the people of a small county-seat town planned and "put over" a big thing in a big way. As an example of efficiently unified community effort, it would be difficult to equal and could scarcely have been surpassed.

Oklahoma has shared with Kansas in the ultimate beneficent outcome of the Medicine Lodge peace council and it was therefore fitting that not only its intersted Indian tribes but also its Historical Society should have had a part in this unique celebration—a celebration which was designed to commemorate a victory of peace rather than one of war. Moreover, no such institution as the Oklahoma Historical Society can lose by lending its active co-operation and moral support to such a worthy undertaking. While its part in staging of this pageant was inconspicuous, it has gained measureably in the elements of respect and influence in the minds of the citizenship of two commonwealths and also in the friendly regard of many Indians to whom it had hitherto been unknown.

—JOSEPH B. THOBURN.

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