By Michael R. Shannon
Syndicated by: Montana News
It’s not every day you can lean on the dining room table that once belonged to the Comanche’s last war chief, Quanah Parker, and wonder if your feet are going to crash through the floorboards.
The table that once hosted Teddy Roosevelt and Geronimo is now surrounded by a house that’s collapsing due to lack of funds and lack of will power.
Somehow a nation that puts a minor figure like Sacajawea on its coinage can’t coordinate the rescue of a house that personifies a man who successfully lead his people through the transition from savagery to civilization.
Quanah Parker was the foremost warrior of his time, the real “Lord of the Plains.” Parker was a cruel, ruthless raider who recognized the Comanche way was ending. Instead of living out his life as a despondent ward of the Great White Father, Parker became a businessman, hob–knobbed with the famous and represented his tribe in Washington.
The house symbolizes the transition. Cattlemen driving herds north needed grass and water, both of which Parker had in abundance. They asked what he would need from them in return for grazing rights.
Parker said build him a house just like the one the commandant of Ft. Sill lived in — only bigger. And thus Star House was born.
Parker lived in it until his death in 1911. His last direct descent to occupy the house was Linda Parker Birdsong. In 1957 the Army decided to take her land and use it for a firing range. Birdsong was promised the house would be moved, but in typical Pentagon fashion Star House was dumped in a field and the contractors abandoned it without reinstalling the stoves or providing a connection to running water.
Although it was uninhabitable, it wasn’t neglected. Birdsong sold the home to the uncle of the present owner, Wayne Gipson, and it served as an amusement park tourist attraction.
In 1985 the park was forced to close by skyrocketing insurance rates — another gift to America from trial lawyers — and the revenue dried up. Keeping a two–story, eight–bedroom house in good repair proved too expensive for Gipson, who lives on the proceeds of a small restaurant and trading post.
Now the house is on the verge of disintegration. The roof is gone from much of the rear and the second story is so unstable and dangerous, I didn’t risk trying to see it for myself.
In 2015 a reporter from the New York Times came to visit and he was optimistic that a May flood, which ruined most of the rugs and wallpaper, might have a sliver lining. “I think the best thing that could have happened is the flood,” said Chenoa Barhydt, a Comanche Nation official. “This will start a conversation about saving it.”
It was a short conversation. The house dried out and the promises dried up. Gipson said although the Comanche nation promised extensive help, nothing materialized.
And there the situation stood until a grant paid for an architectural assessment report. Just stabilizing Star House will cost $200,000. Restoring will run over a million. After the report Comanche Nation officials promised to spring for pocket change and register a “savethestarhouse.org” website to take donations. But digging the change out of the sofa must have been a bigger challenge than expected because the website is dead.
Let’s put this in perspective. The most recent figures (from 2006!) show the Comanche nation made a $35,000,000 profit from their four Oklahoma casinos and, with one exception, for the next ten years revenue has increased. Yet the nation is passing the hat among outsiders to raise money to save the last home of its greatest war chief.
Part of the problem is Gipson, a non–Comanche. The nation wants him to give up control of Star House, evidently out of the goodness of his heart. The other is foundations and government won’t donate to an individual for a restoration project of this type. Someone will have to establish a 501(c)3 tax–exempt charity to accept donations, a project beyond Gipson’s means, but well within that of the Comanches.
Gipson may not be the easiest person to deal with, but he’s obviously not viewing Star House as a profit center. If he had, Gipson would’ve been selling Parker’s furniture piecemeal over the years to collectors.
The feds spent $199 million building the Museum of the American Indian; the Comanches make millions in profits off their casinos each year and Gipson made $8.00 in sales the day I visited.
The Comanches, Oklahoma and/or the feds must to come up with a solution that includes Gipson and saves the house. Now. Otherwise Star House is going the way of Geronimo’s teepee.