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May 6, 2024 43 mins

George Gustav Heye’s work in curating a collection of Native American artifacts has enabled many people to learn about indigenous cultures. But his colleting practices and relationship to those cultures are complicated.


  • “Blaming It on the Women.” The Cincinnati Post. June 7, 1913.
  • “Clinging to the Skeletons.” Hudson Observer. July 22, 1914.
  • Dunn, Ashley. “A Heritage Reclaimed.” New York Times. Oct. 9, 1994.
  • “G.G. Heye Weds Again.” The Sun. July 12, 1915.
  • Haworth, John. “!00 Years and Counting: Reflections About A Collection, A Collector And The Museum Of The American Indian (Before There Was An NMAI).” American Indian Magazine. Spring 2016. Vol. 17, No. 1.
  • Jacknis, Ira. “A New Thing? The NMAI in Historical and Institutional Perspective.” American Indian Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 3/4, 2006, pp. 511–42. JSTOR,
  • Krech, Shepard, III, ed. “Collecting Native America, 1870-1960.” Smithsonian. 2010.
  • Mason, John Alden. “George G. Heye, 1874-1957.” Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. New York. 1958.
  • “Millionaire Banker and His Bride Direct the Excavation of an Indian Tomb in Nacoochee Valley.” Atlanta Journal. Aug, 15, 1915.
  • “Mrs. Heye Asks $78,000 a Year for Alimony.” Times Union. May 13, 1913.
  • “Mrs. Heye Asks Mere $78,000 as Alimony.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. May 13, 1913.
  • “New York Broker Loses His Yacht in Making the Discovery, but Doesn’t Care Much.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. Feb. 17, 1913.
  • “New York – Mrs. Blanche A.W. Heye.” Times Herald. June 7, 1913.
  • New Yorkers Divorced.” Los Angeles Times. Aug. 1, 1940.
  • “Search for Indian Relics Led to Romance for Millionaire.” The Washington Post. July 12, 1915.
  • “Should Keep Her Well.” Vancouver Daily World. May 13, 1913.
  • “Sidelights on the Smart Set.” The Washington Post. Feb. 15, 1913.
  • Small, Lawrence M. “A Passionate Collector.” Smithsonian. November 2000.
  • “Tales of the Telegraph.” The Atchison Weekly Globe. June 5, 1913.
  • Thompson, Bob. “Return of the Native.” The Washington Post. March 17, 2004.
  • “When application was made … “ Lancaster New Era. May 30, 1913.
  • “Will Appeal Fine for Digging Indian Bones.” The Courier-News. July 30, 1914.
  • “Would Arrest Man for Digging up Indians’ Bones.” The Morning Call. July 4, 1914.
  • Zarillo, John. “The Great Trolley Strike of 1895 - Part 1.” Brooklyn Public Library. Aug. 25, 2014.
  • Zarillo, John. “The Great Trolley Strike of 1895 - Part 2.” Brooklyn Public Library. Sept. 3, 2014.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class, a production
of iHeartRadio. Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly
Frye and I'm Tracy E. Wilson. Before we get started,
we'll do a little reminder at the top of this

one that we have a live show coming up. Yeah,
very exciting. Yeah. This is at the Indiana History Center,
the Eugene and Marlyn Glick Indiana History Center. It's going
to be on Friday, July nineteenth. You can come to
the show and buy a ticket just for that, or
you can buy a ticket that includes a meet and
greet with us beforehand. We would love to see you there.
It's as I said, Friday July nineteenth. It's going to

be very fun. We have been there before, we really
loved it. They have some exhibits I'm real excited to
see this time. If you would like to come and
see us and see the many cool things they have
going on, you can check out Indianahistory dot org slash
events and get all of your info and register. And

now we'll hop into the episode, which is about George
Gustav High, who is a person that came across my
zone of interest a while back, and I kept tiptoeing
around him and thinking, do I really want to talk
about this guy? And I do. His work in curating
a collection of Native American artifacts has been really important

because it has enabled many people to learn about indigenous cultures.
But there's, of course the raft of problems involved. His
collecting practices and his relationship to those cultures are very complicated.
He sounds like a very interesting person to know, but
also not without his foibles and problems. So we're going

to talk about him today and how we're still living
in a world influenced by what he did. Yeah, it
was not a name I was familiar with until you
told me that you're working on this episode. Yeah. George
Gustav Hi was born September sixteenth, eighteen seventy four, in
New York City at two ninety eight Lexington Avenue. Specifically,

this was the family home. His parents were Carl Friedrich
Gustav High and Marie Antoinette Lawrence High. Carl had been
born in Germany and made his fortune in petroleum and
started a company called Economy Refining Company. That business was
eventually bought out for a very large sum by John D. Rockefeller,

who made it part of Standard Oil. We have a
whole podcast about that. He kept carl On in an
executive position after that. So George, Gustav and his sister
also named Marie Antoinette. Like their mother, they were both
born into wealth. George's youth sounds fairly idyllic and carefree.

He grew up with other wealthy boys as friends, and
the High family spent summers at Lake Hapetcong, New Jersey,
and the rest of the year Georgia attended Berkeley School.
He often traveled to Europe with his father on business
from the time he was a very young boy, so
he was really very well traveled in comparison to most
people living in the United States, certainly in comparison to

other children. He graduated from the Berkeley School in eighteen
ninety one. While he was still a student, George had
joined the National Guard and served in Company one, seventh
Regiment of the New York Guard from eighteen ninety to
eighteen ninety six. He enrolled at Columbia for his undergraduate
work and maintained active status in the Guard during his

studies there. In eighteen ninety two, High started studying electrical
engineering that was a new course at Columbia and that
was part of the School of Minds there. While there
he assisted Professor Michael Poopa in work that he was
doing in long distance telephony. High senior thesis was a
collaborative project with another student and friend, Paul McGann, on

the use of organic oils as lubricants. I have a
fun story about the thesis from behind the scenes. On
Friday Great during his senior year, George was called up
as a guardsman for the first and only time when
a street trolley strike led to concerns of riots. And
this strike, which involved five thousand workers walking off the
job under the umbrella of the group Knights of Labor,

tied up Brooklyn's transportation completely and it started out peacefully,
but within a day pockets of violence had started to
erupt as scab workers were brought in and the striking
laborers physically restrained trolleys from moving. After a week of
escalating tension, the National Guard had been brought in, and
although George and his colleagues got the trolleys moving again,

there were still many incidents of violence between strikers and
the scab workers that had been hired in from other cities.
As well as between strike workers and the militia. One
striker was shot by the guard. George, though appears to
have been pretty unscathed in the month long con and
he went back to school when it was all over.
In eighteen ninety six, High graduated with his electrical engineering degree.

He'd already been taking engineering jobs before graduation. Although there's
not a whole lot of information on the specifics, we
do know that he was contracted with the White Crosby
Company and often traveled for his jobs, and it's during
that travel that he found the focus of his life's work.
We have his own account of this experience. It includes

some outdated language. We're reading it because it's such a
formative moment in his story. Quote in eighteen ninety seven,
I was sent to Kingman, Arizona as assistant superintendent of
construction for a branch track to a mine about seventeen
miles distant. I obtained a number of Navajo Indians for

use as laborers for grading the right of way. I
lived in a tent on the work, and in the
evenings I used to wander about the Indians quarters. One
night I noticed the wife of one of my Indian
foremen biting on what seemed to be a piece of skin.
Upon inquiry, I found she was chewing the seams of

her husband's deer skin shirt in order to kill the lice.
I bought the shirt, became interested in Aboriginal customs, and
acquired other objects as opportunity offered, sending them back from
time to time to my home at eleven East forty
eighth Street. In fact, I spent more time collecting Navajo
costume pieces and trinkets than I did superintending road beds.

That shirt was the start of my collection. Naturally, when
I had a shirt, I wanted a rattle and moccasins,
and then the collecting bugs seized me and I was lost.
When I returned to New York after about ten months
in Arizona, I found quite an accumulation in articles. These
I placed about my room, and I began to read
rather intently on the subject of the Indians. So, okay,

I never find anyone commenting on this, but I wanted
to talk about it, because this idea of chewing leather
seems to combat lice seems like it must have been
some sort of misunderstanding. I could not find any mention
of this practice. There are tales of leather hides being
chewed to soften the seams, but even that is considered

kind of an old wives tale and it's not really substantiated. Also,
lice doesn't really tend to cling to leather. I went
down a whole rabbit hole about that. So there are
some mysteries in this account that I wrote, And likely
this sort of strange thing is informed by a bit
of otherism in trying to characterize the Navajo that he
came into contact with as having these difficult to understand

practices from a white person's perspective, and also just as
part of exoticizing them. But he really did have a
fascination with North American indigenous cultures from this moment on,
and as he continued to travel work, he made it
a point to indulge his hobby everywhere he went. As
he mentioned in that account, kinda was doing more of
that than his actual job at times. Professionally, George Gustav

High next moved to the business of banking. In nineteen
oh one, he formed an investment firm known as Battles
High and Harrison. During the years that followed, he was
able to make a lot of connections that would further
his work in collecting indigenous artifacts, although he also had
a hand briefly in entertainment. In nineteen oh four, he

financed the construction of the Hudson Theater on West forty
fourth Street. High sold the Hudson Theater after running it
for a few years, but it's still there and it's
still actively part of the Broadway scene. Yeah, I think
as we're recording this, it is currently in the middle
of a run of Merrily We Roll Along. Some of
the people that George meant in his early years of collecting,

both before and after he started the banking firm, included
Joseph Kepler Junior, Marshall H. Saville, and George H. Pepper.
Joseph Kepler Junior is pretty interesting. He was born Udo
Kepler on April fourth, eighteen seventy two, in Saint Louis, Missouri.
He studied at the Columbia Institute and abroad before stepping
into his career in the same line of work as

his father, that was political cartooning. Joseph Kepler Senior was
the founder of Puck Magazine, and Udo became a contributor
to it in eighteen ninety and then when Joseph Senior
died in eighteen ninety four, Udo inherited his position and
became part owner of the magazine, and at that point
he also changed his name to Joseph Kepler Junior. And

it was while he was helming Puck that Kepler met
George Gustav High, and the two men shared this passion
of Native American object collecting and study. Kepler's specific area
of interest was the Iroquois, and he and II traveled
together on trips to reservations during their friendship, and their
first was in eighteen ninety nine when they visited the

Cattaraugus and ti on Awanda reservations in western New York State.
Unlike Kepler, who was an ardent but amateur collector, George
Pepper was a professional ethnologist. He was born February second,
eighteen seventy three, in Tottenville, New York, on Staten Island.
He was interested in archaeology from an early age and

spent time studying at the Peabody Museum at Harvard before
getting a job at the American Museum of Natural History
in New York, working as an assistant curator of Southwestern collections.
Next he moved to Columbia University. Pepper's expertise further expanded
High's interest and understanding of the bigger picture of Native

American cultures of North America. Marshall Seville was also a professional.
He had attended Harvard University and became particularly fascinated with
Mexican history, and when Hi met him, he was a
professor at Columbia and a founding member of the Explorers Club.
He was also a few year older than High, Pepper,
and Kepler, and he took on something of a mentor

role with High in particular, and those two men would
work together for decades. Through Kepler and especially Seville and Pepper,
Hi realized that his haphazard approach to collecting was doing
a disservice to the items that he had acquired in
his early years of interest. High wasn't systematic in cataloging

things or making sure to have careful notes about their providence.
But he was mentored by his more experienced acquaintances to
start taking more care when it came to records and
to consider his collecting with more purpose instead of just
picking up interesting things when he came across them. He
started to consider how they fit into a larger collection

to tell a story or enhance the narrative that might
be told about the indigenous cultures they had come from.
This led to High acquiring larger and sometimes already curated
collections rather than collecting them piecemeal. And the first of
these was one that Kepler and Seville had suggested. It
was a bunch of pre Columbian pottery that had been

found in New Mexico. So his collecting suddenly became a
lot more serious, But this also often meant that he
was buying from some other collector, whereas his small, one
at a time purchases had generally been directly from Native
Americans or indigenous people he had interacted with. He started
purchasing these larger groups of objects in nineteen oh three,

which is noted as a time when his interest transitioned
from being a hobby to being his life's work. One
part of this shift in his focus was that he
started to put his considerable financial assets into financing trips
and expeditions for and with various researchers to study and
collect indigenous artifacts. This was not just a matter of

George High opening his checkbook to make these trips happen
according to a biography of High written by Jay Alden
Mason in nineteen fifty eight, which was shortly after Hig's death.
Hi's mother, Marie Antoinette, paid for a lot of these efforts.
She had family money in addition to her fortune that
her husband Carl had amassed, and she was happily willing

to support her son's interests with it. In the course
of just a few years, High funded trips were mounted
to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Ecuador. German American anthropologist Franz
Boas was the source of an important acquisition for High.
Boas was at the time teaching at Columbia University. He's
credited with working to make anthropology a field of academic

study while he was there, and BoA's, who had items
he wanted to sell because he needed money to pay
for his own research, hit a brick wall when he
was trying to sell those to museums, and then he
offered parts of his collection to George High. Hi also
started to finance the research work that BoA's was doing
that the university would not fund. Remember, this was still

a relatively new field for academia and certainly for Columbia.
So at this point Hi was paying through his mother
for Marshall Seville, George Pepper, and Franz Boas to all
Mount Field research expeditions. Coming up, We'll talk a bit
about what was going on in High's personal life at
this time, but first we will pause for a sponsor break.

Another development in George's life was unfolding at the same
time that he made his pivot to professional collector. On
January fifth, nineteen oh four, he married Blanche Agnes Williams,
who was from Massachusetts, and the pair moved to a
new apartment at six sixty seven Madison Avenue. But George's
collection quickly became too large to keep in their living space,

and so he rented another space on thirty ninth Street,
and when his acquisitions outgrew that space, he moved them
to another space on East thirty third that he renovated
to have an extra floor. And sometime during all of
this movement and growth, he and others started referring to
his growing collection as the High Museum, not of course,

to be confused with the High Museum in Atlanta, spelled differently.
George's name is Hye, but also not a museum in
the sense that it was a place people could go visit.
I also had this high museum confusion when you first
told me you were working on this. Yeah, because I
had only heard his name said out loud. I had
not read it on anything. It is spelled h eye,

not high. One of Georgia's most important acquisitions in the
first decade of the twentieth century was a Hidatza medicine bundle.
The Hidatsa people are part of the Three Affiliated Tribes
nation of North Dakota. George acquired this piece in nineteen
oh seven, and we are mentioning it here in the

timeline of when he took possession of it. This becomes
important decades later, so keep in mind, Yeah, he acquired
it from a missionary who had gotten it in some way.
In nineteen oh eight, George hired Mark Raymond Harrington, who
had just graduated from Columbia with a master's degree in anthropology,

as a full time collector for him, so basically someone
he could just send out into the field to collect
whenever he needed it. Harrington was instrumental in rapidly expanding
the collection as he traveled along the North American East coast,
and then across the South and acquired items from tribes
everywhere he went. Although High had moved into progressively bigger

spaces with his collection, it was never enough either, as
Hi kept on buying up artifacts and now had people
working under him to find even more. He made a
deal with the University of Pennsylvania to house a large
chunk of the collection from North America as a long
term loan. This deal also included George becoming a vice

president and his friends George Pepper and Mark Harrington being
given positions so they could oversee the collection and continue
to curate it for the university museum. He also paid
for the university to do its own research projects in
the field, as well as higher additional staff. In the
book Collecting Native America, Clara Sue Kidwell notes in her

biography of High that because of his ability to finance
scholarship and anthropology privately, he was this very unique figure
who was able to set up deals like this just
as a private collector. This isn't like a case of
institutions making some sort of trade agreement. He was just
a guy who could throw money at things. This gave
him so much power. According to Kidwell, he was able

to dictate the University Museum's research and project planning because
of it. Additionally, Georgia gustav Hi was a huge figure,
both literally and figuratively. He was six foot three and
waiter reported three hundred pounds. He was jovial with people,
and he had this big personality and was really good
at gaining people's trusts when he wanted so. His stature

and personality, combined with his financial power, made him really
formidable when he wanted something. In nineteen oh nine, High
had stepped back from the banking firm, although he stayed
connected to it for another five years, but in nineteen
fourteen he made the decision to leave banking completely to
focus on his collection. He had continued to hire staff

to help him collect and things. We're moving so quickly
that he really couldn't make time for anything but his collection.
He also shifted his focus back to being more personally
involved in excavations and research trips. We'll talk more about
an incident that happened on one such trip in just
a bit. And just to be clear, High's work was

not a case where people didn't appreciate what he was
doing until after his death. He made headlines all the time.
For example, on February seventeenth, nineteen thirteen, the Daily Arkansas
Gazette ran a story into the headline New York broker
loses his yacht in making the discovery, but doesn't care much.
That story shares how George was at the time financing

three different expeditions in the West Indies and how one
of the teams had located a pre Columbian paddle that
was very valuable in a cave on Moore Island. The
story goes into great detail about how paddles like it
were described in writing about Columbus's travels in the area,
and that it's believed that such paddles had not been
seen since the late fifteenth century, and that the collected

four foot long specimen was believed to be more than
five hundred years old. And in the course of that find,
a yacht called the Bessie J began taking on water
during a storm and was lost. That was a yacht
that was George's, and the write up mentions that four
of the crew members aboard got into a dinghy and
they were picked up later, but that one member of
the crew might have been lost while they talk a

lot about this boat. There's no further comment on that
man's fate. But at the same time High's work was
being written about with admiration, a very different sort of
article about him was also populating its way through the
North American press. Missus High had filed for divorce, and
it seemed like everybody wanted to talk about it, especially

about the couple's finances. The Washington Post wrote all about it,
including the information that High's work was part of what
drove the pair apart. Quote. The differences between mister and
Missus High were set in the published report to be
due to incompatibility of temperament, which had increased as mister
High had become more and more absorbed in his scientific

researches and as Missus High had become more devoted to
her social duties. Coverage of their split escalated, and by
the time the couple had their first hearing, it was
covered in the papers every single day. A detail had
emerged that kept readers of papers engrossed. A woman who
was not named publicly had been named in the suit

as well, suggesting that George had been having a fear.
But while that might have caused a scandal, more attention
was paid to the amount of alimony that Missus High
was seeking. A brief blurb that ran all over the
country and even internationally read simply quote, twenty one cents
a minute, or seventy eight thousand dollars a year is

the amount of alimony asked here today by Missus Blanche,
a High, wife of George Gustavhi. The correspondent is characterized
in Missus High's divorce complaint as a person of no prominence,
And it seemed that most of the press just started
going after Blanche, noting that that alimony that was requested
was believed to be the highest ever on record. In

a response, George's lawyers chose to accuse Blanche of bleeding
George's fortune dry. One newspaper report quoted counsel as saying, quote,
Missus High's sole idea was to come to New York
and shine in society. By reason of his wife's extravagance,
his estate has dwindled to three hundred and sixty thousand dollars,

and his income is now only twenty nine thousand dollars
a year. This was in contrast to a previous number
given for George's worth of one million dollars. The judge
in the case, named Aspinall, gave the following quote on
the matter, quote, you may be absolutely certain that I
shall not allow seventy eight thousand dollars alimony to any woman.

These New York society women make me tired. They live
too high. They go to fashionable hotels and drink highballs
and smoke cigarettes instead of staying home and trying to
make their husbands happy. They ride up Fifth Avenue in
their fine automobiles with poodle dogs in their laps. And
when they are married to a poor man unfortunate enough

to have a million dollars, they come for it in
court and say their social position requires an exorbitant amount
of alimony. It will take me very little time to
decide this motion. I feel like if a judge gave
a quote like that ahead of a decision today, there
might be some problems. Gossip columns started reporting that Blanche

spent five hundred and eighty one dollars a month on
alcohol and another forty nine dollars a month on cigars.
Some even started to falsely report that George had been
the one to file for divorce, showing a full turn
of the press against missus High. There were some paper
so that offered a counter argument. The Cincinnati Post noted,

in a write up detailing Blanche's expenses, quote, nothing is
said about what the husband spent, but it is a
safe guess that if he had been trying like a
man to live simply and wholesomely, the wife would never
have been encouraged or allowed to form these ridiculous, wasteful,
and extravagant habits. The Post also says that the judge
probably should find for a lower alimony, but also that quote,

we wish that he would say something fitting about the
rich men of New York who make it a practice
to spoil the women with whom they associate. They are
the real profligates. This whole thing is very hard to
read because it's all real, sexist and weird. But in
the end, Judge Aspinall awarded Blanche just fifteen thousand dollars
a year, as well as custody of the couple's two children.

As for George, despite the seeming likelihood that he had
possibly cheated on his wife, he seemed to emerge from
the divorce with an unscathed reputation. In the years. Following
the divorce settlement, High threw himself even more into his work.
Before we talked about Blanche and George's divorce, we mentioned
an incident that we said we'd return to. That was

a trip he had made with his team to New
Jersey where they excavated a Native American cemetery. During their excavation,
George and his assistants found themselves in hot water. According
to the Hudson Observer on July twenty second, nineteen fourteen, quote,
Sussex County invoked the majesty of the law this week
to stop George G. High of New York, a well

known scientist, and his laborers from digging up the skeletons
of Indians in the old Menacing burying ground in Sandytown Township.
Berson Bell, who owns the land, had sold the right
to excavate and remove the bones, and he was satisfied,
but it appears that a lot of other folks were
not so. Criminal proceedings were brought under a sanitary code,

and a Justice of the piece imposed fines ranging from
ten dollars each on the laborers to one hundred dollars
on their employer. In the Hope of stopping the sacrilege,
so even then people knew that this was wrong. George
appeeled those fines. He felt that if he let the
judgment stand, it was going to create a precedent for

archaeology efforts to be hampered by legal issues going forward.
He did get that ruling overturned, and he also felt
that the skeletons that he had unearthed were important, and
he sent them to the Smithsonian along with a paper
that he wrote about the excavation, undoubtedly to kind of
bolster it as something that was academically important. Nineteen fifteen

was a significant year for High died in February, which
meant he had direct access to his family money and
no longer had to go through her to get it
for his furious projects. He also went on an excavation
trip to North Carolina, where he had to do some
maneuvering to convince a landowner to let him dig up

a burial mound on his property. And George also remarried
in nineteen fifteen to Dorothean cown Page, who went by
THEA and how the two met is reported a little
differently from source to source, but a lot of them
suggest that they met on that North Carolina dig. What's clear, though,
is that they very much shared an interest in archaeology.

The couple honeymooned by going on a dig at the
Nakuchie Mound in White County, Georgia. Hi's visions for his
collection evolved in the nineteeneens, and he made the decision
that he wanted to open a public museum in New York.
There were arguments made to him by existing institutions that
such a collection would be more effective elsewhere, perhaps tied

to those existing institutions, but High was adamant that he
wanted to give New York the resources that he had
found lacking when he first became interested in anthropology. He
wanted people to be able to go somewhere and learn
about indigenous cultures outside of academia. But to be clear,
he was envisioning this as a place for people like him,

wealthy businessmen with time and money. And a letter to
Franz Boas about it, he specifically mentions quote men in
New York that are placed as I was when discussing
the people whose interests he was hoping to serve. So
in nineteen sixteen he established the High Foundation and the
Museum of the American Indian As part of this new venture,

in nineteen seventeen, the collection that was on loan to
the University of Pennsylvania was moved from the school's museum
to its new home in New York. And while there
have been rumors over the years of some sort of
big fallout between High and the organization and they were disappointed,
to be sure, there is also plenty of correspondence between
George and the leadership of the university and its museum

that seems quite cordial and appreciative. In both directions that
was written after the fact, it truly seems that more
than anything from George's position, it was just a matter
of space finally being available for him to once again
manage it himself, though it is one hundred percent truth
the university would have rather than it stayed there. Hi
gave the university museum other artifacts in return for the

withdrawal of his collection, although they were by all estimations,
much less valuable, and at least some of them seem
to have been replicas and not original pieces. Coming up,
we'll talk about the delayed opening of High's museum and
a really reprehensible deception that he was part of. First
we will hear from the sponsors that keep stuffiness in

history class going. Once High's museum was founded, a number
of his wealthy longtime friends from New York started donating
their own collections to it, as well as supporting it
with financial donations. Marshall Seville became the museum's director, and

though this whole project had a great deal of support,
it took six years from the time that construction began
to when it finally opened, and that was because of
the outbreak of World War One. But in nineteen twenty two,
the Museum of the American Indian opened its doors to visitors.
While setting up the structure of his museum, George also
hired Frederick Webb Hodge, who had been at the Smithsonian,

to edit a periodical for the Museum of the American Indian,
knowing that it was important to publish scholarly works if
he wanted to have his museum taken seriously in academic circles.
One of the men that High hired was Amos E.
One Road, who was a Dakota man and a minister
who had studied at Columbia's Divinity School. Had started working

with anthropologist Allenson B. Skinner several years before High started
working on his museum, and one wrote in Skinner worked
on a series of stories about Amos's experience growing up
as a Native American. The published anthology of these stories
that Skinner was planning got shelved when Skinner died in
nineteen twenty five. That book, In Case You're Interested, was

published finally in two thousand and three under the title
Being Dakota, but the museum's publication, Indian Notes, started being
published in nineteen twenty four. As planned. The museum, of course,
took up a lot of High's time, but not so
much that he stopped mounting research trips. Hi had a
veritable army of archaeologists dispatched throughout the Americas hunting for

objects to expand the collection. But what's interesting is that
he also paid for other museums to mount expeditions, and
the trips he financed were a mix of archaeological efforts
to uncover cultural artifacts of the past and research into
contemporary cultures. In nineteen twenty six, his museum moved to
the Bronx because, just as when he had been a

private collector, George had continued to acquire more than his
space could fit. The new museum they built was larger,
and it also had a garden of indigenous herbs, and
his wife Thea oversaw that in nineteen twenty eight, George's
good fortune and running this museum took a sharp turn. First,
two of his most prominent supporters died the same week.

Hi believed there would be a provision for the museum
in their wills, and there were, but it was not
enough to keep High's work going, at least not to
the level that he had been. Following on this, the
nineteen twenty nine stock market crash further damaged High's financial
standing enough that he had to make serious cutbacks. He

laid off the majority of the museum's employees, choosing to
run things himself. Eventually he would sell off pieces of
the collection to keep the building going. He did continue
to acquire items when he could. The museum wasn't really
flat broke, it was just on a much tighter budget
than it had been in its operational heyday. A decade

into the museum running with its skeleton crew, George was
contacted by the Headatsa tribe. Remember that medicine bundle we
mentioned oile back. They wanted it back, and this wasn't
a case where they were simply asking for repatriation, although
that would have been entirely within their rights. But this
was a request because the Hedatsa tribe needed their bundle back.

It was what was called a waterbuster, meaning that it
was part of their cultural practices to bring rain when
it was needed, and at that point, the land that
the Hadatsa lived on was experiencing a serious drought. Hi
didn't want to give this back. He tried to barter
for it, saying that if he could get a different
item in return, he would consider returning it. He finally acquiesced,

and there was apparently some fan unfair over returning this bundle.
But when two members of the tribe traveled to New
York for it, what they got were a couple of
loose items that had allegedly been in the bundle. They
had not been part of it, though. This is one
of those events that described very differently depending on which

biographer wrote about it. One of the earliest biographies about
high which is the jay Alden Mason one that we
mentioned earlier, It one hundred percent paints a picture of
this being a very important and momentous occasion on which
High did the right thing and the drought was lifted.
That is not true, though the actual item was eventually

repatriated to the Hidasi, but this was years and years
after this deception. Yeah, he one hundred percent knew that
he was not giving them their item back. In nineteen
thirty five, Thea died on her birthday. George had spent
twenty years with her as his constant companion and supporter,
and after her death, he chose to give up the

apartment they had lived in together and he moved into
the University Club. That move was really not suitable. George
did not like living at the club and he was lonely.
In nineteen thirty six, he remarried to Jessica Peebles, who
went by Jesse. That marriage did not have the staying
power of his match with THEA. Four years later, Jesse
filed for divorce in Nevada. Of course, that tickled me

to no end when I saw the newspaper write up
and I was like, oh, this was in this within Nevada.
She went to a divorce ranch. In the fall of
nineteen fifty four, George had a cerebral hemorrhage. He made
enough of a recovery that he was soon back at work,
but he was not able to keep up the schedule
that he once had, and he could only work for

a few hours at a time, and reportedly he could
only go in a couple days a week at most.
In the spring of nineteen fifty five, he had a
series of strokes, and after that he was home bound.
He died at home on January twentieth, eeteen fifty seven.
Over the course of his life, High had acquired pieces
from cultures from the southern tip of South America all

the way to the northern reaches of North America, an
estimated one million artifacts, but without him to act as
a steward, the future of this collection became unclear. He
included a stipulation in his will that some items had
to remain in New York. He also left the museum
three million dollars. That sounds like a lot, but it

was really not enough to keep things going. The museum
struggled on for decades, constantly trying to regain its footing,
until the entire collection was acquired by the Smithsonian in
nineteen eighty nine, and the Smithsonian used that collection to
form the National Museum of the American Indian and as
part of the legislation that approved its formation, in funding,

human remains in other articles that were acquired with highst
collection had to be repatriated, and Native Americans had to
be involved in setting up and running this museum as
a partnership. The man chosen to head up the new
entity was Rick West, who was Cheyenne. He had actually
visited Hi'es Museum in nineteen fifty six when he was
just a kid visiting New York, and according to West's account,

he found the whole thing kind of disturbing because it
seemed really odd to him that items belonging to Cheyenne
people were sitting in a museum in New York. In
a two thousand and four Washington Post article written by
Bob Thompson, he makes an interesting point about Hige's collection
that Holly hadn't quite considered in this way. Quote. In
the early twentieth century, when George high began seriously chasing

Indian artifacts, it was widely assumed that Indians themselves would
soon fade from the scene. Beside's an additional layer to
all the considerations to be made about a white man
collecting these artifacts. We've talked about the cultural genocide that
had been part of the story of colonization and indigenous
cultures in North America many times. The thought that George

Gustav High saw it happening and perhaps thought he was
preserving something that was ephemeral is an interesting one. This
has also come up in other episodes about Indigenous history
and Indigenous people in the like nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yeah,
and he did recognize that some of these cultures and

tribes were waning, and there was kind of a clock
ticking in terms of how long they might be around.
But that doesn't really mean that he was doing this
work from an altruistic point of view. That's evidenced by
his treatment of the members of the Hidatsa tribe when
they asked for their property back. George was once described
by a colleague as someone who quote couldn't conscientiously leave

a reservation until its entire population was practically naked. He
wanted everything he could get his hands on, and that
same colleague, who was quoted anonymously, also said of High, quote,
he didn't give a hang about in individually, and he
never seemed to have heard about their problems in present
day society. George didn't buy Indian stuff in order to

study the life of a people, because it never crossed
his mind that that's what they were. He bought all
those objects solely in order to own them for what
purposes He never said so. While the idea of George
High collecting these items to preserve information about a vanishing
culture is certainly appealing, and on some level he might

have thought he was doing that, but it's a lot
more complicated than that. In twenty sixteen, John Hayworth wrote
an article for American Indian, which is the Smithsonian National
Museum of the American Indian magazine, and which he talked
about the legacy of the work George Gustav Hi did
in his life. This was part of an article for
the museum's hundredth birthday. And the mixed bag of High

is that he doesn't seem to have been exactly sensitive
to the cultures from which he was collecting. As we mentioned,
he wanted to possess their items, but he didn't it
really seem especially interested in truly knowing about them as
a people. It was kind of like facts on a page,
but his work and collections in the hands of Native
American curators have led to a much deeper understanding of

a lot of those cultures. Another way, his influence is
still impacting anthropology. Is difficult to quantify, but there were
a number of people who, because of their experience working
on digs and research trips that he sponsored, got high
ranking jobs in museums where they surely impacted the direction
of anthropological research for the United States. Yeah, when he

let go of all of his staff, where do you
think all those people went to other museums? And even
people that had never worked for him as staff but
were kind of like on contracts with him that went
on their resume because it was really impressive at the time.
And now those are the people that were making policy
in other places. So I feel like we can never
fully appreciate how much we're still sifting out his coach

to anthropology versus what would have happened if it were
strictly academic. It's a tricky and fascinating one. He's an
interesting figure. Again, like hard to unpick all of the things,
But yeah, we'll talk more about that. And behind the scenes,
I have a really funny to me listener mail, O
good from our listener Laura, who may pronounce it Lara,

hold on, let me check she doesn't say. I don't
know if she pronounces it Laura or Lara, but suret ty,
Holly and Tracy. I just listened to your episode about
Ruby Payne Scott. I got way behind during the early
days of the pandemic when I no longer had a commute,
which is my prime listening time, and I am slowly
getting caught up. Listen. No shame in that I have
the same problem with everything audiobooks and podcasts. The discussion

in that episode about Paine Scott keeping her marriage a
secret reminded me of one of my favorite stories about
my paternal grandmother, who was born in eighteen ninety one.
She was a school teacher who continued teaching after she
was married in nineteen ten, even though most school districts
in New York State prohibited married women from teaching. In
January nineteen fourteen, she enrolled in a teacher training institute

for additional training, which would allow her to have longer
lasting teaching credentials, but the institute's policy was that only
single women could be admitted, so she signed her name
without a miss or missus in front of it, and
just let people assume she was a miss even though
she went by her married name. Her plan was to
complete the training in the fall, but she discovered over

the summer that she was pregnant, so she informed the
institute that she had to take a break, although she
did not reveal the reason, but would return later to
complete the training. She wrote an autobiography for the family,
of which I have a copy, and one of the
things that stands out to me about it is how
some of her thoughts come across as if they were
being written now. For example, when writing about my father's

birth in January of nineteen fifteen, she notes that she
received a baby and not a teaching certificate that month,
and while she was very happy to have the baby,
she still wanted the teaching certificate and vowed to get it,
which she did. My subject line, which is where did
you get that baby? Reverse is something that occurred after
my father was born. My grandmother was writing on the

trolley in Binghamton, New York, sitting with my father in
her lap. She was spotted by an education higher up.
My memory was that it was a superintendent, but having
reviewed her autobiography before writing this email. I think it
may have been someone connected with the Teacher Training Institute.
The man, noticing the resemblance between my grandmother and dad,
asked a shock miss, where did you get that baby,

and my grandmother simply replied, Oh, I picked him up
on Chestnut Street, which is where they lived. I'm the
kid from my dad's second marriage, so I'm actually a
gen xer like you two. I wrote you once before
about my maternal great grandparents who had trained to be
nurses under John Harvey Kellogg, which, much to my surprise,
ended up on listener mail. So a second time. But

I love this story. Like nobody told a lie nice,
they just carefully withheld information. I love that when we
got it, I picked him a bunch of us. Nut
Street sounds great. Thank you so much for that email.
It tickled me to no end, and I love that
it's a little subversive without being in any way evil.

If you have fun stories or anything else you'd like
to write to us about, you can do that at
History Podcast at iHeartRadio dot com. You can also subscribe
to the podcast on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you
listen to your favorite shows. Stuff you Missed in History
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Holly Frey

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