By Diane Euston
Kansas City has landmarks we love, but what is recognizable to those who don’t live here? In more recent years, while presidents and politicians display the American flag on their lapel, Kansas City’s mayor has opted for the Charlie Hustle “heart KC” pin- a personal favorite logo of mine that has morphed into a full public arts campaign with 100 unique KC hearts on display throughout our city.
But to outsiders, what is recognizably “Kansas City?” During nationally televised sporting events, it’s images of the downtown skyline, Union Station or the Plaza lights that people far away see on their televisions and translate as symbols of our city.
“The Scout,” standing atop a bluff at Penn Valley Park, his hand shading his eyes as he gazes to the north toward a modern city, is a symbol of our city’s love of art and our acknowledgement of history.
The story of “The Scout” started with the raw talent of its artist, a man born on the edge of civilization in the shadows of Native American tribes.
Cyrus E. Dallin (1861-1944)
Born in a log cabin about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City in the town of Springville, Utah in 1861, Cyrus Edward Dallin’s childhood was spent in relative isolation. Surrounded by Morman pioneers, his parents had left the church shortly before their marriage.
The town of Springville had an adobe wall which separated the white settlers from Ute and Paiute Indians. He was allowed by his father to visit them, and he learned archery from the tribe and how to ride a horse.
Threats of attack by Native American tribes were forever present in his childhood. Even though he felt drawn to them, there was always the worry of danger.
Although much of the country had worked to pacify Native Americans by removing them to reservations, the Native Americans Cyrus encountered were still able to roam free; they had yet to be assimilated.
Dallin’s talent as an artist wasn’t recognized until he was a teenager, and at the age of 19, he moved to Boston to study sculpture.
Native American Models
Even before moving pictures from Hollywood glorified Native Americans across the world, the world was fascinated by their culture. Men such as Buffalo Bill Cody launched worldwide touring shows with “real” Native Americans.
While living in Paris in 1889, Cyrus Dallin went to a Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and met with the Lakota (Sioux) Indians that were a part of the cast. His boyhood love of Native American culture had never left him, and as he explored various avenues of artistic expression, Cyrus was drawn to his personal connection to Native Americans.
He spent hours sketching the Sioux that he met near Paris, and many of these drawings would be used to complete what would become his most famous works of art.
Cyrus Dallin completed his first Native American statue called “A Signal of Peace” in that same year. The sculpture depicts an Indian chief on horseback grasping a staff with a feather on it, an action recognized as a Native American coming in peace. The statue was the first of his works to get widespread attention, and it was on display at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The following year, it was purchased by Chicago and placed at Lincoln Park.
This was the first of four statues that put him on the map as a respected American artist. Dallin commented, “Artistically, I feel that to the Indian I owe my first glimpse into the great world of art.”
While living in Boston, Dallin completed “The Medicine Man” in 1899, his second Native American statue depicting a man on horseback. It was purchased by Philadelphia and is on display in Fairmount Park. His third statue of his four-piece series was called “Protest of the Sioux.” It was completed in 1904 and features a warrior on horseback with his right fist held high in the air. It was displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
St. Louis was the host of both the World’s Fair and the summer Olympics in 1904. While Cyrus Dillon had his statue on display, he also showcased his skills in archery, learned from the Ute Tribe, at the Olympics. He earned a bronze medal with his team.
Cyrus Dallin’s childhood coupled with the drawings he made of the Sioux that were a part of the Wild West Show had solidified his place as a respected artist.
The First Attempt at Dallin’s Work: “Appeal to the Great Spirit”
In 1909, the final statue of the four Native Americans on horseback called “Appeal to the Great Spirit” was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Salon. Featuring a Native American in a full headdress with his head thrown back and arms outstretched, the statue was said to be the “climax” of his statues. By 1912, more than one city was interested in purchasing it, and Kansas City was in the fight.
The statue stood on exhibition in front of the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and for $12,000 (about $350,000 today), the “Appeal to the Great Spirit” could be added to Kansas City’s collection.
Margaret Coburn, a 19-year-old college student at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass. spotted “Appeal to the Great Spirit” as it stood on display in Boston. Born in Kansas City to Massachusetts natives, Margaret couldn’t get the statue out of her mind.
She wrote in 1912 to the Kansas City Star, “Could a more suitable place be found for this very Western work of art than one of the terraces which are, we hope, soon to face Kansas City’s new Union Station?”
Plans to move the main train station of Kansas City from the West Bottoms to its current location were underway, and young Margaret Coburn, the daughter of a well-known banker, James Coburn, had a vision.
This statue by Cyrus Dallin, she argued, didn’t belong surrounded by skyscrapers in Boston. It belonged in Kansas City.
“In a place on one of the terraces south of the new station, ‘The Appeal to the Great Spirit’ would be not only be beautiful to look upon, but strikingly appropriate in its symbolism,” Margaret argued.
A group of different organizations in Kansas City banded together and tried to raise the $12,000 to purchase the statue, but they didn’t act quickly enough. In turn, “Appeal to the Great Spirit” stayed in Boston where it still stands today.
Even Cyrus Dallin thought that this statue would have been fitting to have it in front of Kansas City’s railroad station leading people to the west.
Dallin’s fame as a respected American artist came at the same time that the country was grappling with her relationship with indigenous tribes. When asked by the Boston Globe in 1912 as to the reason he chose to focus on Native American subjects for his work, he stated, “Because I know him; because I regard him as a human being, fundamentally like myself, subject to the same passions – as a man, in fact – only a man untutored in certain laws that have for generations governed the civilized man. That is the difference between the two types after all, but I can’t get people to realize this.”
A Statue for Kansas City
As early as 1911, Cyrus Dallin had begun sketching a fifth and final Native American on a horse. He had named it “The Scout” and used his sketches of the Sioux from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
In fact, Cyrus Dallin was the personal guest of banker James Coburn when he came through Kansas City in 1913 and was working on The Scout. Coburn’s daughter, Margaret was instrumental in introducing Dallin’s work to Kansas City.
It may have been no coincidence that Dallin chose to visit just one year after Kansas City lost out on “Appeal to the Great Spirit.” The Kansas City Star reported, “One of the sculptor’s statues, ‘The Scout,’ has been suggested to take the place of ‘The Appeal to the Great Spirit’ now at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, as a part of the Union Station Plaza.”
A plaster model of the The Scout was left with James Coburn, and the buzz was that The Scout would be appropriate if placed in Kansas City because of the Santa Fe Trail running through the area.
Cyrus Dallin planted the seed, and the Coburns watered it.
Dallin had been asked to display The Scout at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco the following year where it stood until May 1916 at the entrance of the Fine Arts Building.
In November 1915, Cyrus Dallin was again the guest of James Coburn and his daughter, Margaret in Kansas City. He told the newspaper that he would bring The Scout to Kansas City on its way across the country to Boston at his own expense. Kansas City would be loaned The Scout to be on public exhibition.
The price of The Scout to purchase was $15,000. The hope was that Kansas City would fall in love with The Scout and funds could be raised to keep it. Seventeen civic societies banded together to help raise the money.
The Scout arrived in Kansas City on June 17, 1916. Its first stop wasn’t Penn Valley Park. It was placed first just north of 15th Street on The Paseo. A month later, the statue was moved to Penn Valley Park just west of the lake about 25 feet below its current location. Facing north, the statue could be reached by “motor car” or the Roanoke streetcar. It was placed on a temporary wood pedestal that was later covered in stucco.
The location of the Scout seemed appropriate to those who visited it. Even though the initial thought was to put it in front of the new Union Station, its placement within Penn Valley Park seemed fitting. “The spot where ‘The Scout’ peers out under his shading hand at a strangely civilized horizon is well chosen,” the Kansas City Star wrote in July 1916.
There was some criticism of The Scout. It was suggested by several visitors that the horse was too muscular to be a true likeness of the horses ridden by Native Americans. Others commented that the body of the Scout wasn’t muscular enough.
The critics were silenced in August 1916 when Chief Little Bull, son of Sitting Bull of the Sioux, visited the statue to examine it. Along with three others, Little Bull agreed that “The Scout” was a Sioux. They could tell by the headdress. “Only a Sioux wears his hair parted and braided on each side of the head,” Little Bull commented.
The bridle, he pointed out, was not a modern one but one where the Sioux would use a piece of rawhide tied around the horse’s nose.
Curiously, this was exactly right. At all those Wild West Shows, Dallin had sketched the Sioux – Sioux who came from the same reservation where Sitting Bull was chief. In fact, Sitting Bull had been part of Buffalo Bill’s cast in 1885. And here in Kansas City, years later, his son Little Bull gazed up at The Scout and saw a resemblance of so many of the warriors he knew, including his own father.
It wasn’t guaranteed that Kansas City would keep The Scout. The Chamber of Commerce was busy collecting the money to keep it here. By February 1917, the city had raised just over $3600 of the $15,000 needed. One month later, the fund grew to $6700.
The increase in donations was due to the fact that Kansas City received news that the Smithsonian had their eye on The Scout. Those who donated were listed in the newspaper.
In April 1917, the fund reached $10,000. William Rockhill Nelson’s wife, Ida donated $1,000 “contingent on raising the remainder [of the money] by May 3.”
It took two days to reach the $15,000 they needed. The Scout would stay.
Blending into the Skyline
The final decision on where to place The Scout fell on the park board. Plans to move it to Union Station just didn’t seem appropriate; The Scout needed to be a part of nature. In November 1921, the park board approved building a permanent base for the statue and moved it about 300 feet south of its original location. The location was picked by George Kessler, the mastermind of the parks and boulevard system in Kansas City- the man at the helm of the City Beautiful movement.
The location overlooked downtown and newly-built Union Station and stood over the construction of the Liberty Memorial yet to be finished. The Scout was placed at its current location Dec. 30, 1921 and the statue was dedicated in 1922.
On a visit to Kansas City in May 1922, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle noticed on a drive on the boulevards a figure in the distance. It was The Scout. He was taken by the statue. He wrote the Kansas City Star, “You have a very wonderful work of art in your ‘Indian Scout,’ erected in Penn Valley Park. Any city in the world would be proud of it.”
When it was suggested that The Scout be lit up at night like other statues in the park system, George Kessler was vehemently against it, stating it was more than just a piece of art. “The location of the Scout on a promontory, with the shaded eyes of the Indian looking toward the city, was selected for a specific purpose – to carry out history’s tradition of a tribal scout,” Kessler wrote. “He is looking over the land his fathers trod and contemplating the marvelous development civilization has wrought.”
Kessler suggested lighting it at night would take away from its historic tradition and wouldn’t be the proper thing to do.
By the 1930s, it was suggested that The Scout should be moved to City Hall to curb some of the vandalism which had occurred over the years. The earliest vandalism occurred in 1917 when someone stole the arrows and bowstring from the Scout’s left hand. Cyrus Dallin didn’t think this would be a proper place, as the Scout would be engulfed by the buildings surrounding it. He also disagreed with the city when they considered only fashioning a granite pedestal only three feet tall.
In 1960, the Scout was put on a nine-foot-tall pedestal of rock which remains today. And, the Scout is lit at night despite the protests decades earlier.
The Scout: A Symbol of Kansas City
In a time when so many monuments are questioned, the Scout remains safely out of danger due to Cyrus Dallin’s careful planning and intense respect of Native Americans. The statue speaks to the observer and pays homage to the past while contemplating the future.
When Cyrus Dallin offered in 1915 for The Scout to be on exposition in Kansas City, he could sense the city’s passion. “He is of the opinion that a long enough observation of the work will waken the city’s ambition to own the statue, representative in character of the history of the West,” the Kansas City Star wrote.
It is safe to say that The Scout is one of those recognizable images which connects us to Kansas City. Its simplistic beauty is a testament to the past and has held its symbolism on the Kansas City skyline for 106 years.
Cyrus Dallin later wrote about The Scout and his reason behind it. He said he wished to connect that past to the present and “he designed the Scout, his hand shading his eyes, peering into the future.”
His message has stood the test of time.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com