Old deerskin artifact now back at Prescott museum

2013-03-18T00:00:00Z Old deerskin artifact now back at Prescott museumKaren Despain The Daily Courier Arizona Daily Star
March 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A long-lost treasure that people believed would never return to its roots is now home at the Smoki Museum in Prescott.

The relic is a deerskin, dating back more than 80 years, which original members of the Smoki People fashioned as an invitation to lure President Calvin Coolidge to Arizona and Yavapai counties. They wanted him to see first-hand the desperate needs of the young state: roads, dams, bridges and more people. Arizona was only 13 years old at the time.

So the Smoki People decided to invite the president to their next ceremonials.

But the invitation was not the formal, engraved kind. Rather it was a deerskin tanned to a very soft hide. Sharlot Hall, Kate Cory and Grace Sparkes, all of historical note in Yavapai County, designed and created the deerskin invitation, and Sparkes herself carried it to the president.

She also took along a "Smoki Stetson," a high-crowned dark red hat with a yellow band, which was designed specifically for the Smoki, and some silver and turquoise jewelry for Mrs. Coolidge.

In return, the Smoki People did receive a photo of the president, the hat in hand, but he never did take them up on their invitation to their ceremonials.

The Smoki People carried on and with $16,600 in Works Progress Administration money and volunteer members' labor, they built the museum that stands today at Arizona Avenue in Prescott.

Dating to 1921, the Smoki People were a group of Prescott citizens devoted to saving American Indian ceremonies and dances.

The deerskin was forgotten and fell into oblivion until just recently, said Cindy Gresser, executive director of Smoki Museum.

Last year a man in South Carolina contacted the museum to say he had taken the deerskin to "Antiques Roadshow" and someone there knew of the Smoki Museum.

"His grandfather had acquired the deerskin - he did not know how or when.

The deerskin hung on the wall of his grandfather's basement in his Arlington, Va., home while he was growing up," Gresser said.

Holding out for more money, the man ended up selling the deerskin to an auction house in Scottsdale.

The new owners agreed to sell it back to the museum.

Gresser said that with the help of Smoki People who still live in the area, the museum was able to come up with the money.

She said the museum is planning fundraising to cover costs of preserving it. Then it will go on display.

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