Echohawk’s Warrior Paintings
Native Americans once documented their stories on rocks, hides, and teepee linings. For the Pawnee nation, such “warrior paintings” preserved a man’s legacy and communicated his deeds. These preserved stories live on today.
A Pawnee’s Perspective
During World War II, soldier Brummett Echohawk of the 45th Infantry Division continued this ancestral Pawnee tradition by sketching the battle scenes occurring in front of his own eyes while stationed in Italy. Echohawk and his comrades landed in the Italian Province of Salerno in 1943, liberating numerous towns from their German occupiers.
Wounded in Italy, Echohawk was awarded the Bronze Star. While in the hospital, he began to draw the faces around him. The drawings include soldiers from many states, tribes, and countries, both allies and enemies—a combination of cultures previously unseen until the
20th century, when the world went to war. Echohawk’s 39 drawings are now on view at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in the exhibit, Nations at War! Field Sketches of a Pawnee Warrior through January 21, 2024.
A Curator’s Perspective
Echohawk’s drawings captured the attention of ethnologist, Dr. Eric Singleton, over a decade ago when he was working at Gilcrease Museum. Eight years ago, Singleton moved to Edmond to become Curator of Ethnology and Native American Art at “The Cowboy.”
“I was talking about World War II art with a colleague, Dr. David D’Andrea. He’s an Italian Renaissance scholar from Oklahoma State University,” said Singleton. “He was researching the Monuments Men, who protected European art during the war. I told him about Echohawk, who created art on the battleground.” The two scholars decided to collaborate for the 45th’s liberation of Italy.
A Soldier’s Perspective
While researching the exhibit, Singleton was alerted to a photograph from the Edmond History Museum collection showing soldiers from the 45th at the Italian ruins of Paestum—at the very time Echohawk was fighting there. Echohawk’s drawing echoed the photograph. “It was a fateful moment when it posted to Facebook, because I knew exactly what that photo was and how it ties in with my exhibit,” Singleton said.
“Just think what Italy looked like to these young men; indigenous people from the plains or Oklahomans growing up on a farm, who were suddenly shipped to a country with ancient ruins. Echohawk grew up hearing his grandfather’s stories about the Plains Indians War, and one generation later, he’s fighting in and documenting a very different kind of war overseas; one that included mechanized tanks and airplanes. It’s mind-blowing!”
An Italian Perspective
Even before the Echohawk exhibit opened in Oklahoma, the Italian government requested a touring replica of the drawings.
“In light of the current war in Ukraine, there’s a worldwide push to remember what can happen and why alliances are important,” Singleton said. “Dr. D’Andrea was visiting government officials in Italy while they discussed current immigration issues. The Italian mayors decided that every schoolchild should see these images of the 45th Division to understand that non-Italian people came, not to conquer, but to liberate their country. Foreign people died on their soil to make them free.”
An Oklahoma Perspective
Although Singleton is pleased by the response to the Pawnee exhibit, it’s not his first exhibit to have a large-scale impact. His pandemic-era exhibit on Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma’s prehistoric archeological site, has resulted in Oklahoma’s rewriting of the state’s history textbooks.
“Pre-Columbian America has a rich, but largely unshared history that is just starting to show up on the worldwide stage,” Singleton said. “Documents such as Echohawk’s drawings, are notes from the past. We sit on the shoulders of our ancestors. Everything we have is because of what they did.”