Osage Nation Chief tours Mathews Historic Cabin
PAWHUSKA — Osage Nation Chief, Geoffrey Standing Bear and the Osage Nation Communications Team were provided a tour of the cabin and property previously owned by Osage author, John Joseph Mathews. The home is where Mathews was inspired to write monumental historical accounts of early Osage Nation Reservation life and times.
Harvey Payne, Oklahoma Nature Conservancy Communications Relations Coordinator, provided the tour for the Chief.
“It feels really powerful to be here… I’ve read all of his books,” said Standing Bear, who was noticeably in awe of the moment.
The cabin is tucked away just far enough from the main road leading to the scenic tour of the Tall Grass Prairie and the bison that make their home there. The small, abandoned and slightly dilapidated cabin is where Mathews wrote his deeply moving and visual accounts of Osage life and customs.
“We are just so pleased that the Mathews family trusts us with this property and the history attached,” said Payne. The Conservancy purchased the home and property from the family in December.
According to Payne, Mathews, wrote his first book, Wah’Kon-Tah, at the cabin in 1932, shortly after he first relocated back to his allotment acreage where the cabin is located. Mathews lived a life full of adventure even before moving home and beginning his literary career. He was a WWI fighter pilot, graduated from the University of Oklahoma, attended Oxford, he declined to be a Rhodes Scholar because he thought it was limiting, and he was a newspaper correspondent most of his adult life.
Standing in the relatively small stone room with a large fireplace, Payne points to the Latin inscription carved into the fireplace mantle, “Venari Lavari Ludere Ridere Occast Vivere,” which loosely translates to, “to hunt, to bathe, to play, to laugh—that is to live.”
Atop the mantle are copies of his book covers, and a portrait of Mathews. Payne holds a photograph of Mathews, taken more than eighty years prior to this cold day. In the photo, Mathews is sitting comfortably smoking a pipe next to a roaring fire with hounds at his feet. Payne stands in the same place in front of the fireplace. The group stops to take pictures and ponder the life and times of a classically educated Osage historian and artist during the thirties and forties on the Osage Reservation.
“Years ago, I was on the Nature Conservancy Board, so I know this place is in good hands,” said Standing Bear. “They are great caretakers of the land.”
At one time, Standing Bear said, during the previous administration, the Mathews family offered the Nation priority to purchase the land and property. “The Nation had the opportunity to purchase and just failed to follow through, it was another missed opportunity.”
However, the Conservancy has extended an invitation to include the Nation on developing the property. “It’s a natural partnership, of course, we looked to the Osage Nation first, it just makes sense,” said Payne.
Future plans include continuing road improvements to the property, rehabilitation on the home, and making visits to the cabin and land more available to the public. Long term, Payne hopes to include something for contemporary Osage writers.
“Can you imagine, writing in the same room where Wah’Kon-Tah, Sundown, and Children of the Middle Waters was written…by John Joseph Mathews,” said Payne looking at the cabin from the shade of a more than 200 year old post oak in the front yard.
Mathews served on the Osage Tribal Council in the 1930s, he wrote to preserve the history of his people from an Osage perspective. He was born in Pawhuska, November 16, 1894, and he died in 1979. His grave is located near the cabin.