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

Summary Information
Title: Olga and Jesse Smith collection
Creator: Smith family and Byrkett family
Inclusive dates: 1898-1924
Bulk dates: 1909-1914
Extent: 72 items
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:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

2003. F-669.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

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.

Subject Terms

    • Indians of North America--Oklahoma.
    • Indians of North America--South Dakota.
    • Ironwood School (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • Names, Indian--North America.
    • Ponca School (Whiteagle, Okla.)
    • Rosebud (S.D.)
    • School management and organization.
    • Schools--Oklahoma.
    • Schools--South Dakota.
    • Teton Indians.
    • Whiteagle (Okla.)
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Cemeteries.
    • Dwellings.
    • Ironwood School (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • Native Americans--Oklahoma.
    • Native Americans--South Dakota.
    • Ponca School (Whiteagle, Okla.)
    • Rosebud (S.D.)
    • School children.
    • Schools--Oklahoma.
    • Schools--South Dakota.
    • Teton Indians.
    • Whiteagle (Okla.)
    Genre Terms:
    • Certificates.
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Correspondence.
    • Cyanotypes.
    • Photograph albums.
    • Photographic postcards.
    • Photographs.
    • Picture postcards.
    • Programs.
    • Snapshots.
    • Telegrams.
    • Tintypes.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   A.O.26  
    Photographs, ca. 1909-1914 [series]
    Photograph album (containing 304 photographs)
    Loose photographs and postcards (39 photographs, 11 real photo postcards, and 5 picture postcards)
    Box   A.O.26  
    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.

    Box   A.O.26  
    Miscellaneous materials,  1898-1924 [series]
    Girls' weekly chore assignments,  undated (2 items)
    Typed, hand edited list of Indian names, apparently students (55 pages, approximately 1,450 names)
    Typed lists of Indian names,  undated (3 pages)
    Typed list "Sioux Indian Words from Memory" (1 page)
    Other miscellaneous items and ephemera (3 items)
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Subjects for labeled photographic materials (the numbers indicate album page numbers):
    Agency Road and surrounding area
    • 29
    Agent's home (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • 8, 26
    Arm, Edith
    • 54, 65, loose photographs
    Attack Him, Bea
    • 65
    Attack Him, Emily
    • 54, 65, loose photographs
    Attack Him, Mrs.
    • 53
    Attack Him's Home
    • 47
    Badlands (S.D. and Neb.)
    • 30-34
    [Bebout?], Dr.
    • 20
    Beef Houses
    • 45
    Big Corn, Jealous
    • 65, loose photographs
    Black Bear, Annie
    • Loose photographs
    Bull Nation's Home
    • 2
    Byrkett Family
    • 15
    Byrkett, Olga
    • 14
    Byrkett, Theta
    • 14
    Catholic cemetery (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • 35, loose photographs
    Cemeteries, Native American (S.D.)
    • 48
    Charley Stead's Home
    • 38
    Dance House (Upper Cut Meat Camp, Rosebud, S.D.)
    • 47
    De Lodge, Logan
    • Loose photographs
    Eud, Lee
    • 57, 58, 64
    Funeral rites and ceremonies (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • 36
    Gillet, Baby
    • 78
    Gold mines and mining--Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
    • 40
    Good Eagle, Rosa
    • 54
    Good Elk, Nettie
    • 54, 65, loose photographs
    Grey, Paul
    • 64
    Halfway houses (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • 52
    Hand, Olga May
    • 4, 60
    He Dog
    • 19
    He Dog's Camp
    • 18, 21
    Henke, Julius
    • 20
    Henke, Mrs.
    • 26
    High Horse
    • Loose photographs
    Hollow Horn, near Rosebud, South Dakota
    • 50
    Indian Chief's House, South Dakota
    • 34
    Indian homes, Rosebud, South Dakota
    • 47
    Indian Hospital and Nurses Home (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • Loose photographs
    Indians in dance costumes, Rosebud, South Dakota
    • 49, 51
    Ironwood Camp
    • 11, 38, 47
    Ironwood Creek
    • 10
    Ironwood Dam
    • 27
    Ironwood Day School and surrounding area
    • 10-12, 29, 62, loose photographs
    Ironwood Gardens
    • 44
    Issue Station (Rosebud, S.D.)
    • 45
    Jail at Rosebud Agency
    • 23, 26
    Johnson, Zelma
    • 77
    Justice, Jessie L.
    • Loose photographs
    Laundry at Ponca School (Whiteagle, Okla.)
    • 82, 84
    Old Mess Hall (Whiteagle, Okla.)
    • Loose photographs
    Picket Pin Family
    • 55
    Picket Pin, Charley
    • 55
    Picket Pin, Frank
    • 58
    Pine Ridge, South Dakota
    • 11
    Ponca schoolchildren--Whiteagle, Oklahoma
    • 77
    Post Office at Cut Meat, South Dakota
    • 13
    Rosebud, South Dakota
    • passim, loose photographs
    Ponca School and church buildings (Whiteagle, Okla.)
    • 83ff., loose photographs
    Red Blanket, Alice
    • Loose photographs
    Sharp Fish, Martin
    • 53
    Sharp Fish, Mrs.
    • 53
    Sharp Fish, [Olie?]
    • 57, 59
    Sharp Fish's Home
    • 46
    Sioux Indians
    • 51, 52
    Smith, Jessie W.
    • Loose photographs
    Snow scenes, Ponca School (Whiteagle Okla.)
    • 74
    Snow storm at Ironwood, South Dakota
    • 3
    Stead, Charley
    • 38
    Stead, Mrs.
    • 38
    Ta Ta
    • 78
    Topsy, Ervin
    • 77
    Two Eagle, Barney
    • 59
    Two Eagle, Jessie
    • 54, 65, loose photographs
    Two Eagle, Mable
    • 53
    Two Eagle, Zed
    • 53
    Upper Cut Meat Day School and surrounding area
    • 13, 29
    Vaughn, Eloise
    • 19
    Vaughn, Russel
    • 19
    Water Tower
    • 85
    Whiteagle, Oklahoma and surrounding area
    • 74ff.
    Whiteagle Station (Whiteagle, Okla.)
    • 89
    Winona, Minnesota
    • 37