Monday, April 16, 2012

The Eternal Indian

The Eternal Indian
Location: Lowden State Park, Oregon, Illinois
Dedication: July 1, 1911
Medium: Reinforced Concrete
GPS Coordinates: N 42° 02.049 W 089° 19.993

Lorado Taft and a group of his Chicago friends established the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony on a bluff overlooking the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois, in 1898. The colony was located on land owned by Chicago attorney Wallace Heckman who leased the property to the group. The charter members of the art colony included Lorado Taft, Wallace Heckman, Ralph Clarkson, Oliver Dennett Grover, Charles Francis Browne, Henry B. Fuller, Hamlin Garland, Horace Fiske, James Spencer Dickerson, Allan B. Pond, Irving K. Pond, and Clarence Dickinson.

During the following years, it became customary for the members to walk along the Rock River bluff, stand with their arms folded over their chests, and watch the sunset. One day in 1905, Lorado Taft reflected on the possibility that Native Americans in past years had stood in the same position on the same spot and also watched the sunset. In 1907, Taft proposed to John Prasuhn, a young German sculptor from Chicago, the idea of creating a giant Native American concrete statue on the river bluff. Prasuhn had experience in engineering and constructing concrete bridges. Taft chose concrete as the medium because he had seen a concrete smokestack being poured at the University of Chicago. He thought that he could construct a statue using the same techniques.

Taft started the project by drawing a sketch. Then he created a small clay mock-up and crafted a six-foot representation of his vision. Art colony member Hamlin Garland served as the model for the figure. In order to determine the proper location for the statue, Taft placed a wooden frame on a wagon and moved it back and forth on the bluff until the site looked good from the town of Oregon. He recommended that the statue be at least fifty feet tall so it could be easily seen. Prasuhn started to work at the site in the fall of 1909 and built the body of the figure using steel rods, wire, and wood. The coming winter halted the project, and a big storm destroyed all they had accomplished the previous year.

Taft and Prasuhn restarted the project in the summer of 1910. Twenty-eight men began pouring concrete on December 20, 1910, and worked day and night in sub-zero weather for ten days. Water was pumped up from the Rock River, two hundred feet below the site. The Portland Cement Company donated the cement for the project. The temporary shelter erected around the site was warmed by steam engines. The massive head of the statue, sculpted by Taft in another location, was hoisted in place. The statue was allowed to cure through the rest of the winter and into spring. When Taft and Prasuhn returned to the site in the spring of 1911, they discovered that all their hard work had not been in vain. A forty-eight foot tall Native-American of great majesty and grandeur emerged from the plaster mold. Over the years, the statue has been associated with the Sauk leader Black Hawk, even though Lorado Taft dedicated it to all Native Americans.

The Eternal Indian was dedicated on July 1, 1911, and dignitaries from throughout Illinois came to the event. Oregon resident and future Governor Frank Lowden served as Master of Ceremonies. Teacher and lecturer Edgar Bancroft gave the principle address. Noted Santee-Sioux Native American physician, Dr. Charles C. Eastman, responded to Bancroft’s address. Members of the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony Elia Peattie and Hamlin Garland also addressed the assembled audience. Lorado Taft spoke briefly after the other speakers finished. “If I even did anything spontaneously, it was this. It grew out of the ground. That is what I hope it may suggest. I think I was a little foolhardy, or I never should have begun it. I’m sure that I never could have carried it through alone. Good fortune sent to my aid Mr. Prasuhn, a sculptor from the Art Institute, who had previously done much as a civil engineer, and knew all about cement. He became interest in my project and undertook the enlargement and the cement work. The statue is a memorial to Mr. Prasuhn as well as to the Indian.” Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay wrote the poem The Black Hawk War Of The Artists to honor the occasion. On November 5, 2009, the National Park Service listed the statue on the National Register of Historic Places. An image of The Eternal Indian was included in a mural for the Lincoln Highway Coalition project in Oregon.

Mother Nature has not been kind to The Eternal Indian over the past 100 years. It was struck by lightning in 1939, and John Prasuhn supervised the repair of the damage. Other restoration efforts were made in 1945 and 1973. At the time of the 75th anniversary of the dedication in 1986, cracks and spalling were repaired with an epoxy mixture. An earthquake on February 10, 2010, caused further damage. The State of Illinois is collecting funds to again repair the statue, and the cost of the work was estimated to be $400,000. The Oregon Trail Days festival was started in 2010 as a fundraising effort to repair and restore the famous statue. The centennial of the dedication of The Eternal Indian was celebrated at the Lowden State Park during the annual Oregon Trail Days on July 16-17, 2011.

For further reading:

“The Birth of the Blackhawk Statue.” Taft Times. Northern Illinois University Lorado Taft Field Campus. Winter 2006.

“Building Lorado Taft’s Big Indian Statue.” The Monumental News. October, 1912.

Fliege, Stu. “Rock River Valley, Lorado Taft, and the Black Hawk Statue.”
Tales & Trails of Illinois. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Green, Chris. “Oregon Campaign To Restore Black Hawk Statue Extended.”
Rockford Register Star. January 5, 2011.

Hild, Theodore W. “The Rock River Colossus.” Historic Illinois.
Vol. 32, No. 5. February, 2010.

Kenyon, Theo Jean. “Taft’s ‘Black Hawk’ Sculpture Marks 100th Year On River Bluff.” Peoria Journal Star. July 18, 2010.

Lennon, Maurice F. “Lorado Taft’s Blackhawk.” The Greyhound Traveler.
September, 1929.

Stilson, Jan. Art And Beauty In the Heartland: The Story Of The Eagle’s Nest Art Camp At Oregon, Illinois, 1898-1942. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2006.

Taft, Ada Bartlett. “Black Hawk.” Lorado Taft: Sculptor And Citizen. Greensboro, North Carolina: Mary Taft Smith, 1946.

Wolfe, Rachel. “The Eternal Indian.” Outdoor Illinois. Volume XIX, Number 7.
July 2011.

Vachel Lindsay


To be given in the manner of the Indian Oration and the Indian War-Cry.

The Black Hawk War Of The Artists

Hawk of the Rocks,
Yours is our cause to-day.
Watching your foes
Here in our war array,
Young men we stand,
Wolves of the West at bay.
Power, power for war
Comes from these trees divine;
Power from the boughs,
Boughs where the dew-beads shine,
Power from the cones
Yea, from the breath of the pine!

Power to restore
All that the white hand mars.
See the dead east
Crushed with the iron cars—
Chimneys black
Blinding the sun and stars!

Hawk of the pines,
Hawk of the plain-winds fleet,
You shall be king
There in the iron street,
Factory and forge
Trodden beneath your feet.

There will proud trees
Grow as they grow by streams.
There will proud thoughts
Walk as in warrior dreams.
There will proud deeds
Bloom as when battle gleams!

Warriors of Art,
We will hold council there,
Hewing in stone
Things to the trapper fair,
Painting the gray
Veils that the spring moons wear,
This our revenge,
This one tremendous change:
Making new towns,
Lit with a star-fire strange,
Wild as the dawn
Gilding the bison-range.

All the young men
Chanting your cause that day,
Red-men, new-made
Out of the Saxon clay,
Strong and redeemed,
Bold in your war-array!


1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Just found your blog, but I'm going to add it to my reading list.

    :) Thanks!