Every year, many thousands of visitors to Washington DC make their way to the crossing of 8th and F Streets, to an enormous building with many columns. Once it was the US Patent Office Building. Now it’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And there, up on the third floor, those visitors might well admire a BIG statue of Egypt’s Cleopatra VII, at the moment when she was dying in the summer of 30 B.C. She was carved in Italy, out of snow-white marble.
When people first saw it in Philadelphia, in 1876, at America’s big 100th birthday party, they were so surprised to discover that the sculptor was a woman! Still more unusual, she was an African American. Her name was Mary Edmonia Lewis.
Her ancestors came from Africa, Haiti, and the Native American Ojibwa (or Chippewa) tribe. She grew up in western New York. With money her big brother made mining for gold out west, talented Edmonia went to Ohio’s Oberlin College, but not for long. Two white girls there lied, saying she tried to poison them, then a bunch of people beat her up. So her brother helped her settle in Boston, where she learned to sculpt. By age 20, Ms. Lewis had her own sculpture studio. She was so successful that she was able to leave racist, Civil War-torn America in 1865, to sculpt and study in Rome. When she heard the glorious news that the war was over and America’s slaves were emancipated, she celebrated by sculpting an African American man and woman, unchained.
In the years after she created her dying Cleopatra, both the artist and her masterpiece were lost to history. But now we know that Ms. Lewis ended her days in England, in 1907. Her Cleopatra wound up in Washington DC.
But there’s a little more to tell.
About the time Ms. Lewis left for Italy, President Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Ball was held, March 6, 1865, at the old Patent Office Building when it was new. Little did he know that, in about five weeks, he’d be mortally wounded over at Ford’s Theatre. Or that the building where he and his wife were dancing would be a treasure house of art, including a dying queen sculpted by a great African American artist.
The multi-talented hands of Cheryl Harness create another winning combination of history, biography, and illustration in George Washington Carver and Science & Invention in America, the inspiring story of a man who rose from slavery to worldwide fame as America’s plant doctor. Cheryl Harness’ lively narrative follows Carver as he pioneers hundreds of new uses for plants and revolutionizes American agriculture. Her vivid illustrations are an invitation to step back in time and become an active participant in this compelling story.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Edmonia's Statues." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 May
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Do you know that the Plains Indians lived in North America for centuries before they got horses? These people were nomads, moving from place to place through the seasons as they sought protection from winter weather and hunted for buffalo, their main source of food. Can you imagine how difficult it was, walking many miles in soft moccasins across the rough prairie ground with only dogs to help carry their possessions? The dogs dragged goods on a travois, a set of wooden poles strapped together. A big, strong dog could manage a load of just seventy-five pounds or less. It took an Indian band a long time to get from one place to another, and the people couldn’t bring very many things along.
Then, in the 1500s, Spanish explorers and settlers brought horses with them to North America. Indian slaves in the Southwest took care of the horses on Spanish ranches but were forbidden to ride them. Of course they figured out how useful horses were, and soon the Apache tribe had horses. In 1680, the Indians rebelled against the Spanish, driving them out of New Mexico and forcing them to leave many horses behind. From then on, horses spread northward and by 1750, tribes all the way into Canada had horses.
These powerful animals revolutionized Indian culture. With horses, the Indians could ride instead of walk. They could bring along more goods, as a horse could drag a travois load of three hundred pounds. Just five horses could transport everything needed by a family, including enough buffalo hides to make a big, comfortable tepee. Old or sick family members could be carried along on a travois as well.
Just as the Indians were embracing the horse, European Americans were moving into Indian lands, forcing some tribes to move westward onto the prairie and adopt the horse culture. Within a generation, Indians became supreme horsemen and used horses to hunt buffalo and to wage warfare. They fought against one another as well as against the U.S. Army, which was trying to clear the way for white settlers to make their homes on the prairie. By the late 1800s, the Plains tribes had been beaten and forced to live on reservations.
The Indians still value their horses, competing with them in rodeos and races as well as for recreation and transportation.
Every winter, a group of young Indians show their pride in their cultural traditions by challenging themselves to repeat the frigid 287-mile ride of Lakota Chief Big Foot and his band to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where they were massacred by the U.S. Army in December, 1890. Indian Teens, Wm. Munoz
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent says about her book, The Horse and the Plains Indians: "This book was truly a labor of love and respect. Within a few years of acquiring horses after the Spanish brought them to America, Indians became among the greatest horsemen in the world and created vibrant new horse-related aspects to their cultures. I wanted to communicate these achievements to young people and to show them that despite all they have suffered at the hands of European American culture, the Indians heart and soul attachment to horses endures." For more information, click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "How Horses Revolutionized the Lives of the Plains
Indians." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Mar. 2018,
Among the fiercest foes the United States ever fought were its Native Americans. Our Indian Wars blazed over the West after the Civil War and lasted 45 years. It was a bitter struggle on both sides. The U.S. enforced a harsh peace on the warring tribes and didn’t grant Native Americans citizenship until 1924. They weren’t allowed to vote until after WW II. Native American children were often boarded in harsh schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language. But those nearly-lost languages were to save American lives.
Even after shoddy treatment from the government in Washington for more than a century, American Natives quickly volunteered to defend “their country” against enemies in World War I France. A group of Choctaw Natives were hurried to the trenches to send critical messages in a language wire-tapping Germans couldn’t possibly understand.
In World War II, Comanche Code Talkers waded ashore with our troops on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in Normandy. Our technically advanced enemies in Europe and the Pacific were listening to our radio messages. Mechanically coding and decoding orders could take hours when seconds meant lives. The Code Talkers’ messages in their undecipherable language were quickly delivered, and replies came back immediately. Their tongue was taught orally, never written down, and the Talkers made it even harder by using a shorthand code within a code: a tank was a “turtle,” chay da galli; a fighter plane was a “hummingbird,” da he toh hi.
United States Marines in the bloody battles of the Pacific hopped from one Japanese-held island to another with Navajo Code Talkers. The Navajo tongue was even more difficult than the Comanche’s because one word could mean many things when paired with other words, and subtle pronunciation changed meaning. Neither the Comanche nor the Navajo codes were ever broken.
The Code Talkers were so successful that their service was kept secret until 1968, when heroic Code Talkers could finally tell their families about their part in winning the war and saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
In 2014 Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo Code Talkers, died at 93. Three years earlier he and all 29 of the original Navajo Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for distinguished service to a country that finally recognized a debt to its Native Americans, and to their language.
You know all about cowboys, right? They're the good guys in the white hats, carrying six-shooters and wearing fancy boots. Well, no. Cowboys weren't like that at all. Come inside with Jan Adkins and meet Jake Peavy. He's the real deal. Jake's a crackerjack cattle herder but he wears a grubby hat and he limps from when that horse fell on him. He's small, wiry, has bad teeth, and it's been a while since he washed. Come spend some time with Jake, his saddle-mates, and his fleas. You'll learn all about riding the range, roping dogies, and surviving in the down-and-dirty world that was the REAL wild West. For more information, click here.
Adkins, great story-teller, is a member of Authors on Call. You can invite him to your classroom using the iNK Zoom Room. For more information look here.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "Code Talkers: Native Americans Come to the Rescue, But Why?"
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/