The Indian Jennie quilt
Local residents can see a quilt commemorating an iconic Native American woman from the Rogue Valley — and perhaps solve a mystery about a missing statue of “Indian Jennie.”
Medford historian Sue Waldron will present a free talk on “Indian Jennie’s Legacy” from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson County Genealogy Library, 3405 S. Pacific Highway, Medford.
A member of the Takelma tribe in the Rogue Valley, Jennie was known to white settlers by many names, including Jennie George, Lady Oscharwasha and — in her later years — Old Jennie.
Settler Peter Britt — an artist, photographer and founder of the Southern Oregon fruit industry — took an iconic photo of Jennie in the 1800s.
The photo depicts Jennie standing in a regal pose, wearing an elaborate dress she made herself.
On May 14, 1893, a Jacksonville newspaper reported that Jennie, estimated to be 65, had passed away that morning.
“Old Jennie, it will be remembered, anticipating her death, prepared with her own hands, in the most costly and elaborate manner, her burial robe, the material of which is of buckskin handsomely ornamented with many colored beads, sea shells, Indian money, beautiful transparent pebbles, etc., the whole weighing nearly 50 pounds,” the newspaper said.
The newspaper continued, “This death closes the last act in the sad drama of an historic tribe, than which no braver or more determined ever confronted and fell before the superior forces of civilization. Old Jennie was laid to rest in her burial robe this evening.”
Most members of tribes in the Rogue Valley had been forcibly removed to reservations in Northern Oregon in the mid-1850s, long before Jennie passed away.
“We had our own Trail of Tears,” Waldron said of Southern Oregon history.
Britt’s photo of Jennie captured the public’s imagination. The image has been reproduced on stationery, postcards and other mementos.
“She’s become the representative of the Rogue River Indians,” Waldron said.
As for the quilt bearing Jennie’s likeness, it was created by Dora Scheidecker, who moved to Jacksonville after retiring as a school counselor.
Scheidecker, who passed away in 2003, has her own place in Southern Oregon history.
A volunteer quilter for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, she became the founder and guiding force behind the Jacksonville Museum Quilters.
Waldron said Scheidecker formed the quilting group to restore and finish historic quilts. The group later began a project to make a new quilt each year that highlighted some aspect of local history.
Inspired by Britt’s historic photo of Jennie, Scheidecker spent two years making a quilt almost as elaborate as the dress created by Jennie herself.
“She started making the quilt when she saw the photograph,” Waldron said. “She had the photo blown up so she could see the details on the gown to replicate the beadwork and embroidery.”
The quilt is decorated with more than 1,000 shells, beads and buttons. The gown shown on the quilt is made of cotton suede fabric, Waldron said.
Waldron believes Jacksonville Museum Quilters members may have helped Scheidecker at the end of the project with stitching to quilt the layers together.
The quilt will be on display during Waldron’s talk.
One enduring mystery about the quilt is whether Scheidecker used real or synthetic hair to depict Jennie’s long tresses.
“We’re waffling,” Waldron said. “It seems like it’s real, but we haven’t figured out where she would get something so long.”
As for a mysterious statue of Jennie called “Princess Jennie,” Waldron said historic records show it existed, but whether it survived — and where it might be if it did — remain unanswered questions.
A grainy black-and-white photograph of the statue does exist.
The Seattle Daily Times wrote about the statue in 1909, saying it was made of marble by German sculptor August Hubert and Mrs. Rowena Nichols Leinss.
“The statue represents ‘Old Jennie’ clad in her buckskin burial robe, which weighs 50 pounds, which was made in accordance with the laws of her race, for she was of the royal lineage and it was proper for her to be buried in the garments of her rank,” the newspaper reported.
Although the newspaper said the statue was to be placed in the Oregon Historical Society’s collection, Waldron said the society has no knowledge of the sculpture.
A 1912 issue of Art & Architecture reported a “Princess Jennie” statue by the German sculptor was in New York being cast in bronze.
Waldron said someone out there may know the statue’s whereabouts.
“Is it out there? I don’t know,” she said. “If we’re going to find this, we need the public’s help.”
For more information about Waldron’s presentation, call the genealogy library at 541-512-2340, email email@example.com or stop by the library in person.
For a complete list of library events, including future Quilt and Genealogy talks, see www.rvgsociety.org.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.