Literary Landmark: Osage Tribal Museum - John Joseph Mathews

Pawhuska, Okla.

Dedicated: Nov. 17, 2009
Partners: Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma, Osage Nation

ala past presidents loriene roy (left) and peggy sullivan attended the dedication of the osage tribal museum as a literary landmark in honor of joseph mathews. (photo courtesy m. gary wickham) The Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) honored John Joseph Mathews and the Osage Tribal Museum with an ALTAFF Literary Landmark dedication on Nov. 17, 2009.

Mathews authored four nonfiction books and one fiction book in his lifetime. Wah’Kon-Tah: The Osage and the White Man’s Road (1932) was the first university press book selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and sold 50,000 copies. His second book, Sundown (1934), while categorized as fiction, is semi-autobiographical and noted for its depiction of the struggles experienced by a young Indian as he leaves the reservation during the early 1900s. In Talking to the Moon: Wildlife Adventures on the Plains and Prairies of Osage County (1945), Mathews describes his own experience of living 10 years on the plains in a small rock cabin.

Mathews’ writing is poetic, philosophical, and sometimes humorous. Talking to the Moon is often compared to Thoreau’s Walden and the writings of John Muir. The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters (1961) is considered the definitive history of the Osage Nation. Mathews incorporated oral history recordings and extensive research for this epic story.

Award-winning author Michael Wallis chairs the Oklahoma Literary Landmark Committee and served as master of ceremonies for the dedication. The keynote speaker was Dr. Carter Revard, Osage poet and scholar. Mathews’ daughter, Virginia Mathews, staff director of the National Book Committee from 1957 to 1974, was guest of honor at the dedication for her father. Her own distinguished career focused on family literacy, reading and library promotion and she was awarded Honorary Life Membership in the American Library Association.

Attendees for the dedication included Peggy Sullivan and Loriene Roy, past presidents of the American Library Association; John Red Eagle, Osage assistant chief; Kathryn Red Corn, director of Osage Tribal Museum; Susan McVey, director, Oklahoma Department of Libraries; Kay Boies, executive director, Oklahoma Library Association; Gerry Hendon, president of FOLIO; Connie Armstrong, director, Oklahoma Center for the Book; Karen Neurohr, associate professor, librarian, Oklahoma State University Library and co-chair of the Oklahoma Literary Landmarks Committee; Lu King, director, Pawhuska Public Library; and Mayor of Pawhuska, Mark Buchanan.

The Literary Landmark plaque reads: “Osage Tribal Museum, John Joseph Mathews, 1894-1979. Devoted to preserving the culture and history of his Osage tribe and inspired by the natural world of the Osage Hills, the written works of John Joseph Mathews evoke the enduring spirit of the land and people. Here in Osage Agency Hill, Mathews’ birthplace, the Osage Tribal Museum, established in 1938 primarily through his efforts, is designated a Literary Landmark by the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations. Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma, FOLIO and Osage Nation. November 17, 2009.”

In conjunction with the dedication, Karen Neurohr edited and coordinated a 28-page booklet about John Joseph Mathews, including information about the Osage Tribal Museum, Osage Nation, FOLIO, and Literary Landmarks. The booklet will be distributed to high school English students and teachers at 23 schools in 5 Oklahoma counties. The purpose is to introduce John Joseph Mathews and his writing, encourage literacy, and help instill pride in the Osage Nation and Oklahoma’s literary heritage. Organizational partners for the booklet include the Oklahoma State University Library, Osage Nation, Osage Tribal Museum, University of Oklahoma Press, FOLIO, Oklahoma Humanities Council and We the People project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book, and the Oklahoma State University Native American Student Association.


Osage Tribal Museum

Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma