You know how you go along day to day, never giving your childhood a minutes notice and then someone, in this case Maria Tallchief, dies and it all comes back. When I was growing up in Osage County in Oklahoma in the 60’s, life was pretty sweet. We walked everywhere, rode our bikes far and wide, and pretty much ran roughshod through the prairie. It was a pretty magical place for a kid. Osage County is home to the Osage Indian Nation. Now, I didn’t realize I wasn’t Indian until around age 7 or so, though with red hair, it should have been obvious!
But I digress! Osage county was and is home to many notable, famous and infamous people. You can read about some of them below at Wikipedia, Osage County History by Jenk Jones, Jr. and other links:
- Louis Burns (“Hu-lah Ki-he-kah”) (Historian and Writer)
- Ben Johnson (actor)
- Maybelle Kennedy (Assistant Treasurer of the United States under Truman)
- John Joseph Matthews (Author)
- Major General Clarence Leonard Tinker (Air Force general and namesake of Tinker Air Force Base)
- Maria Tallchief (International Prima Ballerina)
- Marjorie Tallchief (International Prima Ballerina)
Photos above from here, here, and here.
Well, I am still digressing, but it is so fun! Here is a short list of current “famous” people from Osage County:
- Larry Sellers (actor) Oh how I miss “Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman”
- Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman (blogger,cookbook author and photographer)
Ree was just a twinkle in her parents’ eyes when I was a kid. I did, however, serve wine (and maybe did a bit of tap dancing) at her first book signing in Pawhuska!
And of course, there are famous places and items of interest in Osage County as well:
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and a good blog post about it here with wonderful pictures.
Photo from here
Amazingly, as a young child, all I thought about the church was it was pretty, I had to wear a kleenex on my head and I had to pray for the (despised by me) nuns that taught us. I have a post here that gives a hint to how I felt about Catholic school. One of these days I will tell the often told story of getting kicked out of Catholic school in third grade! Yep, just call me a willful child.
The first Boy Scout troop in the United States
Which I heard about from one of the first members, a neighbor, Robert McGuire. Of course, I had to look up his first name as adults only went by Mr. or Mrs. to us children! Here is a picture of the commemorative statue.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
Here is what Wikipedia says about the Prairie Preserve:
Prior to its purchase by the Nature Conservancy in 1989, the preserve was called the Barnard Ranch which had been part of the Chapman-Barnard ranch of 100,000 acres. The foreman of the Chapman-Barnard ranch, Ben Johnson, Sr. was a rodeo champion. His son, also a rodeo champion, was Ben Johnson, Jr. who appeared in more than 300 movies and won an Oscar for his role in “The Last Picture Show.”
Bison are the most prominent attraction of the preserve. The herd numbers more than 2,500 and grazes 21,000 acres of mostly open range. Bison are rounded up each fall and the excess numbers sold. Cattle are grazed on 11,000 acres. The preserve supports 755 plant species, many unique to the tallgrass prairie, and more than 300 bird species. Forest trees include several species of oak, cottonwoods, ash, red cedar, elm, sycamore, and others.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is on the Osage Indian Reservation. The Osage Indians retained sub-surface mineral rights on all their former lands and the petroleum on their reservation made them the richest people per capita in the world in the 1930s. There are still more than 100 producing oil wells on the preserve. Bison graze unhindered among the oil wells.
Here is a picture of how I think of the prairie! Pretty much no trees in site. The photo is from here.
You can see more pictures and get more information on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve here. Let me tell you that July and August on the prairie can be brutal in the heat. If you plan to go, try spring or fall! Oh, and you should plan a visit. I haven’t even scratched the surface in cool Osage County stuff. Can you say “triangle building”, “swinging bridge” or “chinese gardens”?
Okay, after a circuitous wandering around Osage County, I will come to the reason I am doing this post. Maria Tallchief died. You can read her obituary with an Oklahoma perspective here and from the New York Times here. The New York Times article has wonderful pictures.
Back when I was a young child in Pawhuska, we could dream about growing up to be a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, a rancher, an oilman or an Indian chief! Of course, that last one wasn’t possible for me. Looking around Osage County, I decided to make the ballerina, Maria Tallchief, one of my heroes. Scrappy Decker was another one, but that is another story all together. When we were elementary age, many of us took dancing from Mrs. Whitsett. She taught ballet, tap and modern dance. Of course, I dreamed of being a prima ballerina when I grew up. However, if you had seen me dance, you would have called me delusional. I still do a bit of tap dancing, but haven’t been on toe shoes in many decades. Okay, there I go digressing again! Maria Tallchief was one of Oklahoma’s five Indian Ballerinas. And she and her sister were from Osage County! Just imagine what dreams I had. This ballerina, from my neck of the prairie, became famous the world over and danced some of my favorite ballets. I remember writing book reports on her, watching her dance on our local PBS station and dreaming of the life she was living. Sadly for the ballet world, we now must mourn her death. She died last week, one year to the day after another one of the Indian Ballerinas, Moscelyne Larkin, died here in Tulsa.
As it turned out, I ended up picking “Oilman” as my destiny! You can read a bit about that in this post! That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes dance in my dreams. And I want you to know, I am FABULOUS, but only in the dreams am I able to dance in SWAN LAKE.
Maria Tallchief’s Indian name, bestowed to her by the Osage Nation, was “Princess Wa-Xthe-Thomba” (“Woman of Two Standards”). I have also heard it translated as “Woman of Two Worlds”, which I think pretty much sums up her wonderful life.
Rest in peace Ms. Tallchief. You gave many a young girl the chance to dream big dreams, here in the Osage. You won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Well, thank you again for letting me stroll down memory lane! It was pretty fun and brought up so many memories. If you read this post and all the links, you can probably get college credit for “Partial Oklahoma History”. I will have to check with OU or OSU to see if you qualify.
As always, leave comments, questions or memories below.9 Comments
Wonderful stories and memories for me too!! Thanks so much for posting all this.
Yes, I read her obit this morning in the Tulsa World.
Your post today does bring back many childhood memories, great memories. And I am surprised no mention of being forced to learn how to Square Dance.
Oh, makes me want to be back in Osage County, running the streets, elephant walks, bike riding to the lake, hanging out every day at the country club, getting sunburned. Oh the great memories.
Keep up the good history writing. For the brief time I lived in Fairfax, Marie’s house was near the high school there, if I remember correctly. Also, when I went on my senior trip to New York City, I was fortunate enough to go see the Broadway play, “chorus line”. In one of the sounds in the play there is a line “I want to dance like Marie Tallchief”. For this small town boy, that was so exciting hearing on Broadway the name of a person from my home county and a town I use to live in. I am sure everyone thought I was crazy, saying that person was from Fairfax, Oklahoma.
Cathy, thanks for the memories today.
Glad you guys enjoyed it. It was a pretty big undertaking! James, more to come in the future. Might need some “guest” bloggers to help me as we all had different viewpoints.
I loved this post! I too remember the five Indian ballerinas from Oklahoma from my childhood. Definitely learned about them in an Oklahoma history class at some point.
Great bit of memoir writing! I love the way you tell your story!!!
Thank you Pat. That means a lot coming from you!
Oh, my!! What a wonderful post!! I feel like I’ve really gotten to know you even better and just love the way you describe your childhood!! What precious times you must have had. I’ve actually heard of Maria Tallchief, but never really knew who she was. I’m going to read the obituaries, but I’m wondering who Larry Sellers played in the TV show “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”? I used to watch that show and really enjoyed it.
Do you happpen to have any information about the Chinese Gardens in Pawhuska? Any possible references or photographs?
Please respond at your earliest convenience!
I do not have any references or photographs of the Chinese Gardens. I played there many times growing up but alas, that is it.