Helen Keller letter

The Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City has a treasure trove of interesting material. Ann and I were there researching Lone Star Dietz’s time at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. If the Oklahoma Historical Society doesn’t seem to be a logical location for such research, consider that it holds Chilocco Indian School archives and that Chilocco’s Superintendent McGowan was in charge of the model government Indian school exhibit at the World’s Fair. (However, it wasn’t a world’s fair, it was the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition held a year late. The scale and scope of the exhibits probably caused attendees to give it that name.) Superintendent McGowan also moved Chilocco’s printing operation to St. Louis where students printed daily editions of Indian School Journal during the fair.

Lone Star Dietz worked in the model government Indian school doing artwork, most notably a mosaic of an Indian hunter made from grains grown at Chilocco. Other information about Dietz’s activities at the fair was found in various issues of Indian School Journal and in files held by the archives.

It was in one of those files that Ann found a folded piece of paper that appeared as if it might be a letter. When she unfolded it, it was indeed a letter typed on a typewriter. At the bottom of the letter was a hand-printed signature in block letters. The signature was Helen Keller’s. The text of the letter Miss Keller was an apology that she had to turn down the invitation to visit the Indian school exhibit because of a prior commitment. An Indian School Journal article discussed a visit to the exhibit by a group of blind children, one of whom Lone Star allowed to feel his face so that the child could “see” what an Indian looked like.

Finding something in an archive file that the archives do not know they possess is not as rare an occurrence as one might think. Archives hold many thousands if not millions of documents and do not have the manpower available to read everything they have. The person who originally created the file probably knew the letter was in it but did not view it as significant enough to note elsewhere. I found a photo of Lone Star Dietz in a different archive in a folder labeled unknown student. Lone Star Dietz was in pencil on the back of the photo. An earlier patron had likely misfiled the photo.

Next time we’ll discuss surprises in question and answer sessions at booktalks.

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