Saturday, May 18, 2013

You betchum, Red Ryder

Since I started volunteering at the county historical museum, I've stumbled across a lot of oddities. The museum has always been a 100% volunteer effort. A few of the historical society members have actually been historians (or at least had a B.A. that qualified them to teach high school history classes), but most have been and still are enthusiastic amateurs, folks who got interested in one aspect of local history -- the Lac Vieux Desert trail, Frederic Baraga's missionary work -- or in genealogy, and one thing led to another. They're enthusiastic, they enjoy learning more about local history, they love interacting with museum visitors, but they're still amateurs. Thus, it's no longer much of a surprise to me when I stumble across something a tad odd in one of the display cases or realize something has been wildly mislabeled.

We're in the process of getting ready to open for the 2013 summer season. I've been working on a new exhibit. When I feel like a break, I amble around the building and do minor puttering and dusting. I'm always noticing new (to me) stuff because our museum is like a lot of local museums: it's got a lot of stuff crammed into not a whole lot of space, most of which isn't labeled particularly well and often doesn't even share a common theme or time period. One corner of the museum, for example, is sort of the Native American corner, except it's pretty much a jumbled mess. Anyone hoping to learn much about the local Anishinaabeg is probably doomed to disappointment. The display case has an odd mix of artifacts donated by various people, there are some nice baskets but no indication as to where they came from or when they were made, and some of the items are just plain odd.

Well, I noticed that things had slid over time in the case, probably the effect of years of vibration from traffic on US-41. I decided to straighten the artifacts out, maybe do some dusting, and more or less neaten things up a bit. That's when I spotted the item pictured to the right. Well, not the whole set. Just the bow, and the string was missing. I am, however, a child of the '50s. I know a child's toy bow when I see one. I looked at it carefully tucked in there with the pine needle baskets and other (probably) genuine Native American artifacts. Holy fuck, no wonder the local Indians hate us. The stupid, it burns. Can one have a head*desk moment if you're not at a desk?

The Little Beaver bow is now in the same case as a Red Ryder bb gun. It's the right size and color to match the one pictured, so I'm assuming that's what it is even if there were no rubber-tipped arrows with it. Fairly soon there will also be a label providing some context. I do, however, find myself wondering just how many years that kid's toy was on exhibit as though it was a genuine Native American bow? From the day the museum opened? There was enough dust in that case that it could have been in there for 20 years.

Amateurs. . .


  1. You mean my parents lied to me when they told me they bought me a real Indian bow and arrow set? Waaah! ;).


  2. Even without historic references a collection of memorabilia is always neat to browse through.

    Being a kid in the 50's I had a Red Rider BB gun. And I love the movie A Christmas Story: about receiving a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. Glad you found the bow and put it where it belonged. An interesting piece of history just not Native North American.
    I had a Red Ryder BB gun, too but never knew there was a Little Beaver Bow and Arrows set. I made my own from willows and it was more Robin Hood than Sioux warrior that interested me.


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