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“Old Indian Ways” of Predicting the Weather: Senator Robert S. Kerr and the Winter Predictions of 1950–51 and 1951–52

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  • 1 Department of Geography, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

In September 1950, U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr (D-Oklahoma) wrote to Indian leaders across the United States in order to “make some determination with regard to whether or not we are going to have an early winter and whether or not we may expect a hard winter.” Even though he had access to U.S. Weather Bureau predictions and other scientific data, Kerr and his administrative assistant, Ben Dwight, a member of the Choctaw Nation and its onetime Principal Chief, wrote that they “would like to know what some of the Indians in the various sections of the nation think about our coming winter probabilities.” Kerr and Dwight indicated they had a “high regard for the old Indian ways of determining such things—because they are practical and have always been able to make some very accurate predictions.” From 33 letters sent to tribes in 1950 (including 9 to tribes in Oklahoma) 3 responses were known to have been received; a follow-up letter-writing campaign in October 1951 was more fruitful, producing 8 known responses. This paper examines the tribal responses and explores the life and possible motivations of Senator Kerr, an influential man on the U.S. political stage during 1949–63, in seeking this information. This research is part of a broader field investigation that seeks to understand how Native Americans in Oklahoma conceptualize weather and climate, including traditional ways, and how their knowledge is helping to inform new efforts to farm sustainably and create food sovereignty.

Corresponding author address: Randy A. Peppler, University of Oklahoma, 100 E. Boyd St., Suite 684, Norman, OK 73069. Email: rpeppler@ou.edu

This article is included in the Ways of Knowing special collection.

Abstract

In September 1950, U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr (D-Oklahoma) wrote to Indian leaders across the United States in order to “make some determination with regard to whether or not we are going to have an early winter and whether or not we may expect a hard winter.” Even though he had access to U.S. Weather Bureau predictions and other scientific data, Kerr and his administrative assistant, Ben Dwight, a member of the Choctaw Nation and its onetime Principal Chief, wrote that they “would like to know what some of the Indians in the various sections of the nation think about our coming winter probabilities.” Kerr and Dwight indicated they had a “high regard for the old Indian ways of determining such things—because they are practical and have always been able to make some very accurate predictions.” From 33 letters sent to tribes in 1950 (including 9 to tribes in Oklahoma) 3 responses were known to have been received; a follow-up letter-writing campaign in October 1951 was more fruitful, producing 8 known responses. This paper examines the tribal responses and explores the life and possible motivations of Senator Kerr, an influential man on the U.S. political stage during 1949–63, in seeking this information. This research is part of a broader field investigation that seeks to understand how Native Americans in Oklahoma conceptualize weather and climate, including traditional ways, and how their knowledge is helping to inform new efforts to farm sustainably and create food sovereignty.

Corresponding author address: Randy A. Peppler, University of Oklahoma, 100 E. Boyd St., Suite 684, Norman, OK 73069. Email: rpeppler@ou.edu

This article is included in the Ways of Knowing special collection.

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