The Centennial Land Run Monument in Bricktown is meant to commemorate a defining event in Oklahoma's history, but that event means wildly different things to different people.
Festivals and public school re-enactments celebrate the moment on April 22, 1889, when 50,000 people rushed to claim homesteads and town sites on more than 2 million acres of unassigned land in Indian Territory.
For mixed-media artist Geoffrey Krawczyk, the run was a sad chapter for American Indians, who had previously used the land.
That's why on June 16, he scattered 39 cast-iron human skulls, some with replicated blood, among the monument's larger-than-life bronze horses, settlers and covered wagons.
“As a white Oklahoman, it has always bothered me how ready the state is to claim its native culture while blatantly whitewashing the actual history of the place,” Krawczyk said. “The land run is a particularly odious example, considering re-enactments are still done in elementary schools across the state. Imagine how horrible Indian kids feel watching that?”
Police quickly removed the skulls, which Krawczyk had made in his backyard this past year.
No charges were filed, and Paul Moore, the monument's sculptor, said he had no problem with Krawczyk's display.
“Everyone has their right to feel however they want to and protest however they want to. It's the freedom of our country,” said Moore, whose biography lists him as an American Indian tribal member.
Moore has been working on the Land Run Monument since 2000. It will have more than three dozen sculptures. Federal, state and city funds are paying for the monument.
When finished, it will be one of the largest freestanding bronze sculptures in the world — 365 feet in length by 36 feet in width and more than 16 feet in height.
The story of the 1889 Land Run is complex, said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“Transfer of land occupation and ownership is not unique to Europeans coming to America. Indian tribes fought each other, and as one tribe would grow and become more prosperous, they would expand,” Blackburn said. “Where did they get the land from? They got it from some other tribe.
“Taking land is nothing new in history. What's new is you get this clash of two cultures. Losing land and winning land, that's history. Is it right or wrong? That's one person's judgment.
“One person will see (the land run) as another step in becoming a state and making possible what we have today, and other people will say ‘Oh no, that was a catastrophe.'”
Priya Desai, an American Indian woman who helped place the skulls at the monument, said it was a peaceful, nonviolent way to convey information.
“It is a silent but powerful message which packs more of a figurative punch for intellectual thought,” Desai said.