Appraisal: Ruth Muskrat Bronson Archive, ca. 1923
In Women's Work, Bruce M. Shackelford appraises a Ruth Muskrat Bronson Archive, ca. 1923.
GUEST: This belonged to my great-great-aunt, Ruth Muskrat Bronson.
She was a civil rights activist.
She was an author, a poet, a songwriter, an educator.
To me, she is so special.
She was a woman before her time, and she did a lot of things for Native American people
that we can all still be proud of today.
APPRAISER: What was her era, so to speak?
GUEST: She was born in 1897.
This picture was taken in 1923, when she was a junior in college at Mount Holyoke.
And this is at the White House...
GUEST: ...in Washington, D.C.
APPRAISER: Can you tell me some of the people in the picture?
This is my aunt, Ruth, and this is President Calvin Coolidge.
And this is a book that she presented to him that day.
And she also gave a speech that day.
APPRAISER: Is the dress that you're standing by the one she's wearing in that photograph?
GUEST: This is the dress that's in the photograph, yes.
APPRAISER: And... and that's the same dress that's in this photograph.
Were the moccasins and the dress created for the presidential event?
GUEST: That's my understanding, yes.
They were intentionally not Cherokee items so that she could be representative of more
than just her tribe and be representative of all American Indians.
APPRAISER: This is a speech that she delivered at the White House?
Is that right?
GUEST: Yes, and to read through that speech, it gives me goosebumps.
She said a lot of really amazing things in that speech.
And she said such amazing things that President Coolidge invited her to come to the White
House for lunch at a later date, which she did.
APPRAISER: When I read through her speech, in the speech, she tells who made the beadwork,
who did these things.
And both the moccasins and the dress were made here in Oklahoma by Cheyenne bead workers.
The hides are brain-tan deerskin, which were never inexpensive.
They were always incredibly high-priced to get them.
They were difficult to make.
And I thought the moccasins might be Lakota because of the designs, but then I got to
looking, and there's a welt right here that goes between them, between the sole and the
You notice that trait in lots of Cheyenne moccasins from Oklahoma.
You know, the southern Cheyennes.
Do you know what she was talking to the president for?
GUEST: Well, this was the Committee of 100 in 1923.
And I believe she was asking for civil rights for Native American people
GUEST: and also fighting for Native Americans in the laws that were be... being created
at that time and talking about the "Indian Problem."
And she wanted the president to hear from an Indian what the real Indian problem was,
and it wasn't what the other people were calling the "Indian Problem."
She wanted everyone to accept Native Americans as Americans and to allow them to be educated
just like everyone else.
APPRAISER: Yeah, I saw in the letter, she's asking for education for all.
APPRAISER: Where did she live?
GUEST: She was from Grove, Oklahoma.
APPRAISER: Oh, yeah.
GUEST: She was my great-grandmother's sister, and that's where our whole family was from.
That's where our allotment land... we still have that allotment land.
But she... she lived in Washington, D.C.
She worked there for the government, for the B.I.A.
And then she retired in Phoenix, Arizona.
She was helping different tribes her entire life.
When she passed away, I believe she was in Arizona, working for water rights for tribes
APPRAISER: Oh, yeah.
That's a big deal.
APPRAISER: She's asking for what we consider basic human rights
APPRAISER: in this country today in the '20s.
And... and after that, you get the Depression, and things really got bleak.
Now, people have awakened to these situations, but they didn't do it without a pushback.
And that's why a lot of rules have been passed, laws have been enacted.
Everything from the Native American Sovereignty Acts to NAGPRA, the Native American Graves
Protection and Repatriation Acts and they protect this cultural patrimony that's been
handed down, in your case through your family, but also in national input.
And this was the early days of all that.
These were the people that pushed that to try to make it happen.
When you brought this dress in and the moccasins, I looked down, and I said, "Yeah, nice moccasins,
In this condition, and mainly because they're late, if you're going to see these things
at auction, you'd expect them to bring $800 to $1,200.
But that's not what's here.
That's not what this is about.
This is about... this woman wore these things to represent a panculture almost that spread
across the United States, that she was fighting for, for rights for.
When you start looking at it from that point of view-- her meeting with the president,
the original speech-- I think you're talking, for all that you have here-- and you have
You have more archival material, more photographs.
If you were to bring these up for insurance, I think it's more like $8,000 to $12,000.
And these things are priceless to our family.
APPRAISER: Oh, I'm sure.