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Sioux Pageant

On this date in 1913 a story on a ceremony at the Standing Rock reservation hailed the event as “The Most Magnificent History Pageant in the History of the Sioux.”  The pageant involved several thousand participants and spectators. The Standing Rock Band performed, as did many of the tribe’s warriors and dancers.

This pageant was no regular ceremony. It was one of many stops made by an ambassador of millionaire Rodman Wanamaker of New York.  The son of successful merchant John Wanamaker, Rodman dreamed of creating a national memorial to the American Indian in New York City. He pictured the memorial as a great museum on the banks of Staten Island near the entrance to New York harbor. In 1911, President Taft approved a bill submitted by Wanamaker to erect such a monument. Wanamaker created plans for the structure, which included a 65-foot statue of an American Indian on its top.

In anticipation of building the museum, the multi-millionaire sent three expeditions into the American west between 1908 and 1913 to photograph and visit Native tribes. The largest of these expeditions was the last, conducted in 1913. It involved 75 tribes. Wanamaker enlisted the aid of Dr. Joseph Dixon to represent him to the Native Americans. Dr. Dixon traveled the country in a specially made railcar named the ‘Signet.’ The goal of the expeditions was to visit every tribe in the country, tell them of Mr. Wanamaker’s ambitions, send a message of peace, and to leave with each tribe an American flag. After several months of traveling the Southwest, Dr. Dixon finally arrived at the Standing Rock Reservation south of Bismarck. There he was greeted and made welcome at the pageant, held in honor of his visit.

Alas, the memorial proposed by Wanamaker was never completed. However, the photographs and objects collected during the three expeditions remain priceless records of Native American history. The complete collection of photographs can be found at Indiana University’s Mather Museum in Bloomington. In 1991, author Charles Fergus wrote a fictionalized account of the expedition in his novel “Shadow Catcher.”

Dakota Datebook by Jayme Job

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). October 4, 1913: p. 10, 13.

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