Past, present, future 

Oklahoma’s Century Chest exhibit bares unique Indian artifacts from a 100-year-old time capsule.

When the Oklahoma Century Chest was opened in April, 100 years after the time capsule was buried, Chad Williams, director of research at the Oklahoma History Center, was surprised.

“When we opened it, we couldn’t see anything because each item was wrapped in paper like it was Christmas,” he said. “They carefully packed the items and wrote on the paper what was inside. It is a wonderful historical treasure.”

The known find beneath the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City was found in “perfect condition,” Williams said. It was sealed in a coffin shaped copper chest and surrounded by 18 inches of concrete on all sides.

“Thankfully, the church and the Ladies’ Aid Society and its president, Virginia Sohlberg, took really good precautions and the chest was described at the time as ‘water-, varmint- and ghoul- (grave robber) proof.’” The Oklahoma History Center is now displaying the second of three temporary exhibits with selected items from the Century Chest. It includes new photos of Chief Quanah Parker and War Chief Geronimo, a Choctaw bow and a 1913 letter from the governor of the Chickasaw Nation addressing future tribal members and citizens. Many of the items and documents are priceless, Williams said.

“The most incredible thing to me about the American Indian portion of the Oklahoma Century Chest collection is that the tribes weren’t even sure there would be Indian tribes in 2013,” he said. “They wanted to say, ‘We are here now and this is our land, our story, our culture and people.’” Williams credits deceased Oklahoma historian Madeline Czarina Colbert Conlan, who was part Choctaw and Chickasaw, with placing the Native American treasures in the chest. Conlan sent written requests to prominent

Items represent the sovereign tribal nations of Oklahoma.

Indian leaders in Oklahoma, including Sen. Robert L. Owen, a Cherokee, and asked him for a word of greeting to the state’s future generations for the Century Chest. She made similar requests of Oklahoma Congressman Charles D. Carter, also a Cherokee; Victor Locke, the Choctaw Nation chief; and Douglas H. Johnston, governor of the Chickasaw Nation. Other Native American items include manuscripts, letters, books, photos, tribal newspapers and family genealogies, as well as a pair of Southeastern finger-woven garters and a buffalo-horn spoon. Those items represent the sovereign tribal nations of Oklahoma, including the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Cherokee Nation, the Delaware Tribe, the Muscogee Creek Nation, the Apache Nation, the Comanche Nation and the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations.

Williams said the chest is drawing attention worldwide. The Oklahoma History Center also will unveil the chest’s full contents with a new exhibit on April 22.

“It is an incredible treasure trove of Oklahoma history,” he said.

The free exhibit is located in the main atrium of the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Dr.

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