When Helen Jones bought an old trunk for her antique shop in Lawton, Oklahoma, it was the exterior that caught her eye. Not until later did she discover precious ceremonial treasures wrapped in newspaper waiting inside. Knowing she couldn’t offer them for sale at Antiques by Helen, she asked her son, Selden Jones, Supreme Court staff attorney, to investigate possibilities for donating the objects. Under federal law it is illegal to own or sell eagle feathers, with exceptions for public museums and religious purposes of Native Americans. Jones donated the fans to the Oklahoma Historical Society for permanent display in the Oklahoma Judicial Center.
Feathered fans are important objects in Native American Church ceremonies. All three of these fans are of Comanche origin. Jeff Briley, deputy director of the Oklahoma Historical Society described the first example
( 1 ) as a “spectacular piece” with “astoundingly superb beadwork.” The feathers are from the anhinga bird, a water bird with dark plumage and a very long neck and long wings. In Native American Church descriptions, anhingas are often described as lifting prayers to God. The exquisitely delicate beadwork indicates this piece dates to the 1920s.
( 2 ) The larger beads of this fan indicate it was probably reworked in the 1970s. Mature golden eagle feathers from an older fan were likely retasked to create a new fan. The beadwork design is pan-tribal rather than using specific motifs from a particular tribe.
( 3 ) In this fan, feathers of an immature golden eagle have been trimmed into a classical shape. Less adorned, this drop-style fan features a leather handle and likely dates to the 1920s-1940s. It is very similar to the fan depicted in the Robert Redbird painting on page 202.
Historic examples of religious ceremonies involving feather fans include Carl Sweezy’s painting, Peyote Ceremonial Tepee, page 80, and Monroe Tsatoke’s painting, page 149. A contemporary example of eagle feathers can be seen in Thompson William’s painting of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on page 98. Williams (Caddo) and Chief Gordon Yellowman (Cheyenne) both use eagle feathers in blessing ceremonies.