2012 Bison Books paperback edition

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Angie Debo: Oklahoma Historian Extraordinaire

Angie Debo, Oklahoma Historian Extraordinaire 1890 - 1988.

Jim Thorpe was born in Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1887. More than a hundred years later I started researching his life in the old, dusty Oklahoma Historical Society in the Wiley Post building across from the (then-domeless) state capitol in Oklahoma City. The creaky central wooden staircase and the warren-like rooms looked, felt, and smelled as if they hadn't changed a bit since the structure was built in 1930. At desks guarding the stacks of books and files were devoted archivists with an Oklahoma humor so dry one of them called it "dusty." ("Why do we need a capitol dome, anyway? It's better being maybe the only state without one.")

My first day at the Society one of the archivists sat me down for an introductory chat. It was important to understand from the start of my work, he said, that the early history of Oklahoma was, as he put it, corrupt and venal. It was not Oklahoma! And the person we had to thank for having the courage to write the true history of her state, against concerted opposition from major political figures who wished to preserve the Boomer/Sooner myths, was Angie Debo

Read this brief summary of her life -- http://www.unl.edu/plains/publications/resource/debo.shtml. Imagine what it must have been like for this remarkable woman, working tirelessly for years in the same dusty archive, piecing together the heartbreaking story of the Indian nations and individuals of Oklahoma and beyond.

The scrupulous and disciplined passion of her self-imposed calling animates every word she wrote in such books as And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes, A History of the Indians of the United States, Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place, and more. Her work is accurately called the cornerstone of American Indian scholarship.

p.s. The Oklahoma State Capitol got its dome in 2002. A portrait of Debo hangs in the rotunda area. The Historical Society moved to brand-new quarters in the Oklahoma History Center in 2005.