Fred Bartram, born
November 3, 1876, in Sumner, Illinois, was the eldest of five children.
His mother died very young, leaving him to help raise the other four.
During those years he taught school in Illinois and Missouri. In
the early 1900s he joined the Department of the Interior, United Indian
Service, to teach students on Indian reservations in the northwest United
States. In the years that followed, he was assigned to reservations
in Washington, Montana, and Arizona.
A confirmed bachelor, Fred
met a young teacher, Blanche Adamson, a fiery Irish redhead from Kenosha,
Wisconsin, and married her. Their first child, Mary, arrived in 1910 on
the Quileute Reservation in La Push, Washington. She was the first child
of Caucasian descent born on that reservation. When the Bartram’s were
transferred to another post, the tribe wanted little Mary to remain with them
since she was born on the reservation. If the Bartram’s had agreed, one of the
Indian families would have the privilege of adopting her. However, the
Bartram’s did not agree, and the Quileute reluctantly allowed her leave with
her parents. During his teaching years, Mr. Bartram interacted with the
Quileute and Siletz tribes in Washington and Oregon, then the Cheyenne and
Sioux tribes in Montana, and the Hopi and Navajo tribes in New Mexico and
Arizona. These tribes gifted the Bartram’s with over 1,000 artifacts. The
Bartram’s favorite and largest item was a five foot tall seal god, which was
“dispirited” before its journey off the reservation.
The Bartram’s final
assignment was to be on the Ponca Reservation at White Eagle. While at
that location in 1916 their second child, Babe, was born. She was very frail
and died in the flu epidemic of 1918. This event changed the family’s lives
forever; Mrs. Bartram then told her husband that she no longer wished to travel
around the country. Mr. Bartram left the Indian Service and became an
accountant for Marland Oil Company. The Bartram’s made a permanent
home at 713 E. Grand Avenue in Ponca City, not far from the E.W. Marland estate
to the east. In their home the family displayed most all of the Indian
items and hosted school groups to tour. Mr. Bartram would regale the students
with tales of the past referencing Indian crafts and customs. Layoffs, however,
eliminated his job after the Marland Company merged with Continental Oil
(CONOCO) in 1929.
The Bartram’s donated
their items to the Ponca City Indian Museum in the 1950s. The donation included
hundreds of Hudson Bay trading beads, baskets, wood carvings, and tribal tools
from the Quileute and Siletz tribes. Also donated were leather clothing, tribal
tools, and ceremonial items from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, and Blackfoot
and beautiful pottery, rugs, baskets, and kachinas from the Hopi and Navajo.
Bartram also bequeathed his old carpentry tools and camera equipment, all used
on the reservations where he was stationed. Fred Bartram died following
his generous donation in the 1960s. Today, Marland’s Grand Home displays
most of the Bartram Collection in the Basket and Pottery and the Matriarchal
and Patriarchal exhibit rooms. Some of the more delicate items remain in
storage. Photos of Bartram’s entire collection can be viewed in a large
notebook in the exhibit area.
Barbara Brotherton of the
Seattle Art Museum recently visited Marland’s Grand Home to assess the Bartram
Collection of northwest tribal artifacts. Brotherton is the Native
American exhibit curator for the Seattle museum. An expert in her field,
she plans to soon write a book on the Quileute tribe. During her visit,
Brotherton meet with Jayne Detten, Marland Mansion and Marland’s Grand Home
Assistant Director, and two of the Bartram’s family members, Mary Lou Bates,
Bartram’s granddaughter and Jill Perry, the great-granddaughter. Family
members passed on stories of Mr. Bartram’s early years as a teacher at the
Quileute Reservation. Brotherton was able to share Quileute customs and
ways with the family to help them more fully understand the relationship their
grandfather had with the people he taught and mentored. Brotherton plans
another trip back to Ponca City in the near future to further study the
collection doing research for her book and the Seattle Art Museum.