Sunday, December 04, 2005
The Indian statue
On a hill three miles south of Junction City stands The Indian, a statue unveiled around July 4th, 1920. At the present time, unless its whereabouts is known, it would not be visible.
As a kid, our family would travel the Skiddy Road to visit my cousins. We would go by the statue each time and I would always beg Dad to stop and let me climb the hill to look. Even as a kid, I sensed this was a special place.
Yesterday we had an occasion to be in Junction City. Dan had business so I had time to spend at the Geary County Historical Society. The first person I met knew exactly where to find information on the Indian Statue.
Before writing about the statue, or the colorful person who commissioned it, I will tell a brief history of its location. “The Point,” as it was called, has a magnificent view the two valleys, the Smoky Hill from the south and the Republican from the north merging to form the Kansas River. Directly below this hill was the buffalo Indian trail which ran westward to the Smoky Hills & then southward to the Santa Fe trail. The trail was used by the Kaw, Pottawatomie, Pawnee, Wichita and other Kansas tribes as the direct trail to the buffalo plains.
The hill itself was thought to be a ceremonial mound. When the hole was dug to set the statue, the skeleton and ornaments of a chieftain thought to be the aboriginal Black Pawnees or Harahey as Coronado called them. The charred remains of an ancient stake were found on this rock with great deposits of charred human bones. It was not known if the Harahey burned their captives as sacrifices or torture. The information at the Historical Society indicated Coronado might have actually came to this spot and it was here that he learned the bitter truth of the myth of the cities of gold from the great chief Tattarex of the Harahey tribe.
Why was this historical spot chosen for a statue?
There is a statement in the information I acquired from the Geary County Historical Society that the story surrounding the family, land, and statue is one that novalist Faulkner might have told covering centuries with only the land remaining constant.
How the statue came to be begins when a young solder named Robert Henderson, an Irish immigrant, was transferred from an army post in Texas to Fort Riley in 1853. Prior to the transfer, Henderson had joined the army as a private and was assigned to duty in the Indian wars on the Texas frontier. He acquired the land near where the statue was erected as a land warrant for valor when he and another soldier rode three hundred miles through Indian country for reinforcements for his isolated army camp. After discharge from the army, he successfully farmed the land and acquired additional adjoining land, including the hill where the statue is located.
When the Civil war broke out, he enlisted and was quickly promoted to captain. His detachment participated in the disastrous Red River campaign where he was wounded, captured, made a prisoner and eventually escaped. He eventually was discharged and returned to his farm.
Captain Henderson then became a successful farmer and business owner. He was interested in the history of the Quivera Indians that inhabited land where he farmed as well as the history of Coronado’s expedition in Kansas. It was because of his desire to honor that history that he decided to commission the statue. The following is an account of the original statue that was written in the June 20, 1920. Junction City Union:
The figure is not the work of any famous artist, but was cast in cement over an enduring reinforcement of steel, in accord with a description of the Indian as he appeared at that time in the historical account of Coronado’s personal historian.
The Indian is complete with the period in every detail. His bow is slack and his arrows gone, proof of long time spent in the chase. Even the pad on the left wrist, worn to receive the impact of the bowstring, is reproduced exactly as it was worn by the Indian hunters and warriors. That he is a leader and fitted to be entrusted with the important commission of scout for the hunting party is shown by his large headdress, worn only by tried braves.
The Indian statue today.
The Indian statue would seem to be a prominent and historical landmark of the area. Actually, according to reports, when it was first erected it had up to 1,000 visitors a year. However, it soon began to deteriorate. It is possible the concrete was unable to withstand the Kansas weather or more likely, vandals or well intentioned tourists.
The Indian’s right arm has disappeared and its left is a rusted metal reinforcing bar that, using imagination, shows the hand brought up to the eyes.
The face is decayed. It hasn’t helped that there is evidence of it being hit by rocks or bullets. The ceremonial headdress is in surprising good shape. One leg is missing, but the foot is still there. Someone poured red paint over it that the weather has not fully removed giving it a distressing appearance. There was once a fence around it, perhaps to keep the vandals out, but it is in total disrepair.
The statue sits on private land. The site was totally overgrown with weeds and shrubs, but there was no fence or posted sign so I slipped up the hill to take a picture. Even though I was saddened by the condition of the statue, the wild prairie setting and beautiful view still brought to mind a feeling of admiration and respect of those who walked the land before.