Century old wool jacket donated to museum
A century-old wool blanket has been donated to the Osage County Historical Society Museum by former Pawhuskan, Elizabeth Dennis. While the manufacturer of the jacket is yet to be determined, Dennis explained the jacket belonged to her late father, John L. Miller, Sr. (known as J.L. Miller) who was a practicing attorney in Pawhuska during the early 1920s.
“I don’t know exactly where or from whom the Osage coat was acquired,” said Dennis. “I was about five years old when my father received the coat. As I recall, none of us ever wore it. I also do not remember why it came into my possession but it is part of Osage County’s history and needs to be back where it belonged. (Chuckling) It’s older than I am.”
Now on display at the Osage County Historical Society Museum, Osage Minerals Chairman and cultural expert Everett Waller evaluated the jacket on May 11th. He was assisted by OCHS Treasurer Patty Gambill and then OCHS President Kathryn Swan. The Museum is seeking to identify the manufacture. Waller believes it could be a very early Pendleton although it does not have the traditional Pendleton label. He does not believe it is a Hudson Bay. Anyone who recognizes this pattern is asked to contact the OCHS Museum officials.
Waller believes the jacket was constructed from the salvage end of the blanket. He also suspects it was framed at one time with weights added for balance. Because of the continuity of the pattern, he believes it is machine made. “A handmade blanket would have more flaws,” explained Waller. “If it were handmade, somewhere down the line, it would have a slight deviation in the pattern. This pattern is too perfect which indicates it was made on a machine.
“The cord looks like it was machine made. The uniformity is good and they tucked it. I also believe this jacket was sized and measured to fit a certain person. Whoever made it went for the quality of contrast, inverting some of the pattern. Otherwise, it would have been too easy to match it up. Once we determine its origin, it could conceivably had been made from a trade blanket and would have been worn with a sash made from the same blanket. Also, because it does not have buttons, I’m thinking it could have been a woman’s jacket where she would have worn a wrapper with it.”
Elizabeth Dennis was born June 2, 1921, in Pawhuska. She was the 5th child in a family of nine children. Before she was born, her 6-year old brother John died in the 1918 flu epidemic. In 1926, her 10-year old brother Bill and his friend Frederick Williams were tragically killed in a bicycle/car crash in Pawhuska.
In 1922, the Miller family moved to Seattle, Washington where J.L. Miller practiced law for a period of time. About 18 months later the family returned to Pawhuska. Dennis never knew why the family moved to Washington and back. There is speculation that he feared for his family’s safety during the infamous reign of terror in Pawhuska, but he never told any of his children about this.
J.L. Miller moved his family to Tulsa after Bill’s death in 1926 and this is where Elizabeth began kindergarten. Four years later, following the stock market crash and start of the Great Depression, the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to her maternal grandparent’s summer home on the Meramec River. This was a sanctuary, with a much-needed garden space, where her father tried to reestablish his law practice. Dennis has fond memories of her childhood in Oklahoma and Missouri.
Reflecting on her historical connection to Osage County, Dennis recalls an autographed photo of Chief Bacon Rind which was one of her Dad’s possessions. “Dad used to do a lot of legal work for the Osage people,” noted Dennis. “Since Chief Bacon Rind did not speak English, he had an interpreter come with him to Dad’s law office. I remember that photo being in the family throughout all our moves.” It now hangs in her son Elliot’s law office.
After marrying, Dennis ended up in Alaska. In visiting with her, she confirmed that age is a number. She continues to enjoy writing and is currently working on publishing a book of her poetry. Her career has included co-owning a remote logging camp with her husband, bookkeeping for the logging camp business and cooking for the logging crew while homeschooling her children because there were no schools in the logging camp, running a newspaper, starting a school lunch program, freelance book keeping, running a fuel dock, working in the post office and managing a small grocery store. She even served 10 years as a local magistrate in her rural Alaskan community of Craig. She continues to be an active and contributing resident of Anchorage.
Dennis closed in saying, “When one reaches 94, you have to consider two things — joy and patience. When you get to my age, you have to be patient because you often have to rely on others to help you with transportation, etc. and must adapt to their schedule. Joy comes from such a blessed life and taking it one day at a time.” The world is much richer for women like Elizabeth Miller Dennis.