Watonga, Oklahoma, USA
Materials: Bone and horn
This bison skull was found in Watonga, Oklahoma at the Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening by Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History donor, William H. Munger. The city, Watonga, is located in Blaine County and is 70 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
The measurements of the skull are: 2’ long, 13” wide, and the horns are each 9” long. The skull measurements indicate that it is a North American species known as Bison bison, or the American bison. The primary traditional uses of a bison included consuming the meat and fat for food, and utilizing the bones and hides in making tools and clothing.
The Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening was an event where thousands of non-native people poured into Oklahoma to claim a portion of the 3.5 million acres of former Cheyenne-Arapaho land that had been confiscated by the federal government. These non-native people ventured into Oklahoma in carriages, wagons, and on horses in order to line up and run for land at noon. This Opening occurred on April 19, 1892, consisted of approximately 25,000 people, and it resulted in six new counties being formed in Oklahoma.
Food and water were scarce in the region, and people would find and sell bleached bison bones in order to survive. Not much is known about this skull, but it may have been bleaching in the sun when it was found by Mr. Munger.
Another bison skull found in Oklahoma is much older and is called the Cooper Skull, found in Harper County. It is currently on display at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in the Hall of the People of Oklahoma. It is the oldest painted object found in North America and is considered to be a part of the Folsom tradition. The skull is from a now-extinct bison and is around 10,000 years old. It has a red lightning bolt painted across the front. The paint symbolizes that the bison had a greater purpose in rituals, instead of being solely used for food, tools, or clothing purposes.
Although unsure of the original purpose for the bison skull found in Watonga, it is evident that bison have a long history of being used by people ranging from thousands of years ago through today. They serve multiple functions and have been a large part of Oklahoma history, whether through land runs such as the Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening or through Native American culture and rituals.