Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Olga and Jesse Smith Collection, 1898-1924
Finding aid created by Cheney J. Schopieray, August 2008
Title: Olga and Jesse Smith collection Creator: Smith family and Byrkett family Inclusive dates: 1898-1924 Bulk dates: 1909-1914 Extent: 72 items Abstract:
The Olga and Jesse Smith collection is made up of photographs, correspondence, and other materials revolving around this couple's work at the Ironwood and Ponca Schools for Native Americans, in South Dakota and Oklahoma, respectively.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Olga and Jesse Smith Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
This collection is located in a single box in the Graphics Division.
Olga Lavange Byrkett was born in Indiana to Edward Benton and Mariam P. Overman Byrkett sometime around 1880. Olga attended the Brown Township Public high school, Indiana, where she graduated in 1898. At the time of her graduation, Jesse W. Smith worked at the school as a teacher. By 1901, Olga and Jesse were married, and in 1909 they moved to Cut Meat, Todd County, South Dakota, to work at the Ironwood School (for Native Americans) on the Rosebud Reservation. They remained in Cut Meat until 1912, when Jesse was appointed Superintendent of the Ponca boarding school at Whiteagle, Oklahoma. In 1914 they moved again when Jesse was transferred to "Kiowa Schools," Oklahoma, as a supervising principal.
The Smiths had two children: Gerald P. Smith (c. 1905-c. 1980) and Mildred Geraldine Smith (1901-1956), both of whom accompanied them to South Dakota and Oklahoma.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Olga and Jesse Smith collection is made up of photographs, correspondence, and other materials revolving around this couple's work at the Ironwood and Ponca Schools for Native Americans, in South Dakota and Oklahoma, respectively. The largest portion of the collection dates during their time at Ironwood School, 1909-1912, and the Ponca School, 1912-1914.
The centerpiece of the Smith collection is a photograph album, apparently kept by Olga Smith. Consisting of 304 mounted snapshots, this album is divided roughly into two parts: photos from South Dakota and photos from Oklahoma. The first images were taken in and around the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Their subjects include the Ironwood and Upper Cut Meat Day Schools, portraits of school children and other male and female members of the Lakota tribe, Native Americans in tribal costumes and on horseback, an excursion to the Badlands, and other subjects. Photographs taken in Oklahoma include views of the Ponca School and its school children, and other portraits.
This photograph album is valuable in its entirety, and for many of its outstanding individual images. Some of the most impressive photographs are casual portraits of Native Americans, snapshots of a Catholic "Indian Funeral," views of school buildings and grounds, and Native American rituals and encampments. The album also provides insight into what the Smiths deemed important enough to photograph and retain.
The collection also contains 39 loose photographs and images, including tintypes, real photo postcards, picture postcards, a cyanotype, studio portraits, and other miscellaneous photographs. These include family photographs, portraits of Native Americans (some in full regalia), Ponca and Ironwood schools and schoolchildren, images of Native American women cooking out-of-doors, a Rosebud Reservation hotel, a cemetery at the St. Francis Mission, and a several commercial picture postcards of locations on reservations in Oklahoma and North Dakota. See the Additional Descriptive Data for a more thorough list of subjects and names represented in the photograph album and loose photographs.
A small group of 10 letters accompanies the Smith collection. These include six letters and postcards from Olga to her parents and sister at Anderson and Graysville, Indiana, 1909-1910. Two of Olga's letters provide extensive details on life in Cut Meat on the Rosebud Reservation in February 1909. These letters describe the surrounding area, the school, the responsibilities of the Smiths' students, interactions with Native Americans, language barriers, the daily routine, and carriage and train travel. One of these two letters was printed in an Indiana newspaper. In the remaining four letters, Olga provides further insight into life on the reservation, pleads with her parents to visit, and offers advice on how to smuggle a child onboard a train without paying their fare. Smiths' daughter Mildred wrote a letter to her grandparents, in which she discusses her pets and expresses hope that they will come to visit (dated June 1909). Finally, two 1912 letters from Ironwood students to Jesse Smith in January 1912 discuss their chores and school attendance, and a single telegram to Jesse Smith in October 1914 regards his transfer to "Kiowa Schools," Oklahoma, to serve as supervising principal.
A selection of miscellaneous materials completes the Olga and Jesse Smith collection. Six of these nine items relate to the Smiths' school administration and their own efforts to learn and retain Sioux names and vocabulary. These include pages of typed names, titled "Indian Names That is Good for the Soul and Body," and "Sioux Indian Words from Memory"; two pages hung in the Ironwood school by Olga Smith, which list the female students cleaning and sewing responsibilities for two weeks; and a 55-page typed list of Native American names (possibly students). This last item contains approximately 1,450 names. Other miscellaneous materials include a commencement program for Olga Byrkett's graduation, 1898; a card with a hand-drawn teepee and tent which advertises a Progressive Dinner Party given by the Mission Ladies at Colony, Oklahoma, December 1916; and a Grand Secretary's Certificate for Jesse W. Smith, Master Mason, Ponca, Lodge No. 83, December 1924.
Indians of North America--Oklahoma.
Indians of North America--South Dakota.
Ironwood School (Rosebud, S.D.)
Names, Indian--North America.
Ponca School (Whiteagle, Okla.)
School management and organization.
Subjects - Visual Materials:
Ironwood School (Rosebud, S.D.)
Native Americans--South Dakota.
Ponca School (Whiteagle, Okla.)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Container / Location
Photographs, ca. 1909-1914 [series]
(containing 304 photographs)
Loose photographs and postcards
(39 photographs, 11 real photo postcards, and 5 picture postcards)
Correspondence, 1909 February 23-1914 October 12 (10 items) [series]
Scope note: This correspondence includes handwritten letters, three postcards (also included in the "Photographs" series), a telegram, and a letter written by Olga Smith, which had been published in an unidentified Indiana newspaper.