Conservancy acquires cabin of Osage Nation author, historian John Joseph Mathews

The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma recently acquired an inholding at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve with something rather unique and special to Oklahoma history.

February 11, 2015

John Joseph Mathews Cabin
Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Harvey Payne inside John Joseph Mathews’ cabin at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma recently acquired an inholding at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. All inholdings are important, however this piece of property has something rather unique and special to Oklahoma history. On it stands the old cabin of John Joseph Mathews, Native American historian and novelist well-known for his influence with the Osage Nation.

The Conservancy hopes to restore the Mathews cabin and engage partners to assist in that process in efforts of making the cabin available for public visitation on a limited basis.

“We are honored his family trusts us to take care of their family heritage. It opens a whole new realm of possibilities for the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Thanks to all of you that helped in this landmark purchase.”
- Harvey Payne, Community Relations, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Take a tour of the cabin and learn more about this incredible story by watching this video featuring Harvey Payne, Director Emeritus/Community Relations Manager for Tallgrass Prairie Preserve!

History of the Property 

This piece of property was part of the original Osage allotment of John Joseph Mathews.  His family was one of the most prominent in Osage County.  The home of W. S. & Eugenia Mathews sits atop the hill just north of the Osage County Courthouse and across the street from the Indian Agent's home on the Osage Agency Campus.  John Joseph Mathews and his 7 siblings were raised there.  He received a degree in geology from the University of Oklahoma; was offered a Rhodes Scholarship but declined it; was a pilot in WWI; and received a degree from Oxford University in England.  Much of his post academic life was spent in Europe mostly working as a newspaper correspondent. 

He had a cabin built on his allotment northwest of Pawhuska and returned to his Osage roots in 1932 and lived in his cabin that had no electricity or running water.  He called his cabin "The Blackjacks".  His first book was titled "Wahkontah" which basically means "Great Spirit" in the Osage language.  The central figure in the book was Laban Miles who was the Indian Agent for the Osages in the 1870's & 1880's (and lived across the street from the Mathew's home).  Laban Miles was the uncle of Herbert Hoover who just happened to be president in 1932.  Herbert Hoover would spend summers as a child with Laban Miles.  Wahkontah became a best seller and was the Book of the Month. 

Mathews went on the write 4 more books from his cabin.  According to his children, his favorite book was "Talking to the Moon" which was based on his first 10 years of living in The Blackjacks.  His most famous book is titled "The Osages, Children of the Middle Waters".  He lived at a time when the full blooded Osages were clinging to their traditional ways and was able to interview them.  His book details the Osage customs, mores & beliefs.  Much of what Mathews wrote would have been lost forever without his work.  He served on the Osage Tribal Council and was instrumental in establishing the Osage Tribal Museum, the first tribally owned museum in the U.S. 

Mathews entertained numerous famous people in his cabin including Paul B. Sears, author of "Deserts on the March".  That TNC is now the owner of such a special property is truly amazing.  It opens a whole new realm of possibilities for the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.  Thanks to all of you that helped in this landmark purchase.

Media Coverage


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