Century Chest reveals Oklahoma’s ‘hidden treasures’
From the Desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle
What an honor it was to participate in the opening of the Oklahoma Century Chest, which was sealed April 22, 1913, filled with books, artwork, letters, recordings and diverse memorabilia from across the state. This 3’x3’x6’ time capsule was buried in the basement of the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City in 1913 and unearthed a century later to reveal the treasures that had been carefully placed inside. This effort of putting tokens of state history into a 100-year chest showed tremendous foresight. I appreciate the long-term vision and teamwork it entailed to accomplish.
A lot of the items and letters in the pure copper chest were of Native American origin. I found it amazing that community leaders in 1913 felt it important to include Indian history and messages even though federal government had effectively disbanded Oklahoma tribal governments in 1906, one year prior to statehood.
One of the first Choctaw items to see the light of day after a 100-year rest in the airtight chest buried was a bois d’arc bow, donated by Dan Julius Folsom. As the white-gloved preservationists began lifting it out of the rectangular copper chest where it rested at the front of the church for the big “reveal,” a couple hundred of us leaned forward in our seats to get a better look. The dark brown wood was smooth, it appeared to be supple and in great condition. Just as the bow in our Great Seal, I think this one could have been strung and ready to use at a moment’s notice!
Other tremendous Choctaw items included a Choctaw definer, a Choctaw Testament, beautiful beadwork, Folsom family photographs and a Choctaw hymn book. The hymnbook was not at all similar in appearance to the red books we sing from today. The 1913 version was a thin, horizontal hymn book with a white cover, titled in black letters “Choctaw Baptist Hymn Book.” Inscribed inside was “Presented to the Century Chest by Rev. J.S. Murrow, Atoka Oklahoma, April 22nd, 1913. Mrs. Caarina Robb a life long friend of the above assisted in translating the hymns in this book. Her father, Rev. Isreal Folsom, was the man who translated the Lord’s Prayer into the Choctaw language.”
Personal letters, including a message from 1913 Choctaw Chief Victor Locke, had individual wax seals that prevented the letters from being opened and read on the day of the opening. Staff from the Oklahoma History Center and preservations will carefully open each letter so that the seals will remain intact and ensure the paper on the letters is conserved. The Chief Locke message to the Choctaw Nation from a century ago is one that I look forward to reading. Hopefully, we can share that message with you in the near future!
The contents of the Century Chest will be on exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City in November of 2013 so the public can view the fascinating contents and learn each item’s story, which helps us all learn about the rich heritage of our state and tribe.