7 places to visit around Johnson County to learn more during Native American Heritage Month

Native American boarding schools

November is National Native American Heritage Month, and the Post compiled a list of seven places around the Kansas City metro to visit to learn more about Native American history — relative both to Johnson County and the state — this month. Above, the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway, a former manual labor boarding school for Native American children. File photo.

November is National Native American Heritage Month, an event first commemorated in 1990 as a time of “recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.”

There are several points of interest in and around Johnson County for those who want to educate themselves about the region’s complicated history and ongoing legacy of the treatment of indigenous peoples.

Johnson County still carries many Native American namesakes, from streets and school districts to the Shawnee Mission Post itself.

Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe says while it’s important for Johnson County residents to educate themselves on Native American history, it can often create uncomfortable — but necessary — conversations.

This includes exploring more about the Shawnee Indian Mission, formerly the Shawnee Indian Manual Boarding School, which was founded before the Civil War by the Rev. Thomas Johnson.

Barnes and others have been calling for a deeper investigation into Native children who went missing at the mission school nearly two centuries ago.

People who want to support and learn more about Indigenous communities should prop up Indigenous voices and keep an open mind, he said.

“We have to have patience for these issues because I don’t have all the answers, me and my community are still talking this through,” Barnes said. “There were kids taken that never came home, and we are trying to unpack how to deal with that. We are still trying to have that conversation, and it’s going to require some patience.”

With that in mind, here are seven places Johnson Countians can go to learn more about Native American history in our area.

Johnson County Museum

Johnson County Museum’s “Becoming Johnson County” exhibit features information about Native American tribes, but there are also online resources. Photo courtesy of Bob Greenspan Photography.

Currently, the Johnson County Museum has some Native American history on display.

For instance, at the beginning of the “Becoming Johnson County” exhibit, there is information about the original inhabitants of the land including Osage, Shawnee and Kaw tribes.

Museum staff say there are also Native American history articles on jocohistory.org that detail events and people, such as the Blackbob Tribe of the Shawnee.

Shawnee Indian Mission

Shawnee Indian Mission
Shawnee Indian Mission is located in Fairway at 3403 W. 53rd Street. Above is the East Building, where the museum is located. File photo.

From 1839 to 1862, what is now the Shawnee Indian Mission operated as an Indian boarding school. Here, Native American children from Shawnee, Delaware and other tribes attended the manual labor school founded by Rev. Thomas Johnson on a plot of land in spanning 12 acres in present-day Fairway.

Now, the Shawnee Indian Mission is a Kansas State Historical Society National Historic Landmark — and a museum.

Located at 3403 W. 53rd Street, Johnson Countians can visit the museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.

Haskell Cultural Center and Museum

Haskell Cultural Center
Haskell Cultural Center and Museum is at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. Above, a photo of the first level of the cultural center. Photo via Haskell Cultural Center and Museum website.

The Haskell Cultural Center and Museum in Lawrence is on the Haskell Indian Nations University campus. The cultural center and museum’s mission is to “enhance the understanding and appreciation of the unique history” of the university, according to its website.

While the cultural center and museum alone features exhibits and archives for the public, there are also several historic landmarks to see during a visit.

Here is a walking tour the university put together for visitors.

Johnson Countians can visit the cultural center and museum weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Another option is to schedule a tour online.

White Feather Spring

White Feather Spring in Argentine is where Tensquatawa, Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh’s brother, is buried. Photo via KCUR.

Located in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan., White Feather Spring is where Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa is buried. KCUR reports.

The younger brother of the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa was seen as the guiding spiritual force behind Tecumseh’s attempt in the early 1800s to unite several native tribes in the old Northwest Territories — in and around the present day Ohio River Valley — to resist American westward expansion.

After Tecumseh was killed in battle, Tenskwatawa gave in to American pressure and, with a small band of Shawnee, moved to mission lands in northeast Kansas. That is where he died in 1837.

A 2015 report by KCUR gives a good overview of Tenskwatawa’s often-troubled life and his final years in Kansas.

White Feather Spring, 3818 Ruby Avenue, is located on private property owned by the Shawnee Tribe and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

A plaque commemorates Tenskwatawa at his burial site, and says he was “a broken and forgotten man, his dream of an Indian Confederacy smashed at the Tippecanoe in 1812.”

Wyandotte County Historical Museum

Two galleries inside the Wyandotte County Historical Museum feature Native American artifacts, including the Barker Gallery above. Photo via Wyandotte County Historical Museum website.

Although the current exhibits at the Wyandotte County Historical Museum aren’t centered around Native American history, there are two galleries dedicated to local Indigenous history — and it’s one of the three suggestions the Kansas City Indian Center suggest people visit.

The Trowbridge Gallery features Native American artifacts collected by Harry Trowbridge, the founding curator and director of the museum, according to the website.

Stories of the Shawnee, Delaware and Wyandot tribes are shared in the Barker Gallery, as well.

Wyandotte County Historical Museum is located at 631 N. 126th Street in Bonner Springs, and is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wyandot National Burying Ground

The Wyandot National Burying Ground located near 7th and Ann Streets is where an estimated 300 to 400 Wyandot tribe members are believed to be buried. Photo via Visit Kansas City, Kan., website.

Located at 7th and Ann Streets in Kansas City, Kan., the Wyandot National Burying Ground established in 1843 is where an estimated 400 to 600 Wyandot Nation people are buried, according to Visit Kansas City, Kan.

Like the Shawnee, the Wyandot were forced to migrate to the Kansas Territory from their homes in the Ohio River Valley before the Civil War.

Along the way, according the Wyandot National Burying Ground’s summary, many “succumbed to typhoid and cholera and were carried across the confluence of the Kaw and Missouri rivers to sacred ground.”

Also known as the Huron Indian Cemetery, the Wyandot National Burying Ground for free seven days a week during daylight hours.

Kansas City Museum

There is at least one gallery’s worth of Native American artifacts at the Kansas City Museum, located at 3218 Gladstone Boulevard. Photo via KC Museum Facebook page.

Another suggestion from the Kansas City Indian Center is the Daniel and Ida Dyer Collection of Native American Culture at the Kansas City Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

As an Indian agent in the 1870s, Dyer collected Native American artifacts until he died in 1912, according to the museum’s website.

The “collection is known for many outstanding examples of tribal life with strong emphasis on Southern Plains tribes.”

The Kansas City Museum is located at 3218 Gladstone Boulevard. Reservations are required and can be made online here.