The Cook Collection of Plains Indian artifacts made of leather, colorful beads, and porcupine quills hangs in James Cook's den at the Agate Springs Ranch.
This 1922 photograph shows James Cook's den, or Indian Room, in the main house at the Agate Springs Ranch. Moccasins, shields, small bags and pouches, a heart bag, and pistols hang on the wall above his desk. These and many other gifts that James received are displayed in the monument's museum.

National Park Service/Cook Collection.

Don't let the name fool you. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument features more than world-class fossil exhibits. One of our most surprising discoveries is the Cook Collection, and it has nothing at all to do with fossils.

The James H. Cook Collection of Lakota Artifacts

The Cook Collection consists of Native American artifacts the Cook family received in the late 1800s and early 1900s from close family friends like Red Cloud, Chief of the Oglala Lakota.

Cook and Chief Red Cloud: An Unlikely Friendship

James H. Cook first arrived in western Nebraska in the early 1870s. He worked as a cattle driver, or cowboy, for a Texas outfit. The 17-year-old's chance meeting with a 53-year-old Red Cloud didn't happen until 1874. It was arranged by Baptiste "Little Bat" Garnier, a mutual friend. As the story goes, fossils played a vital role in that meeting.

O.C. Marsh, a Yale University paleontologist, was hoping to collect fossils from north of the Red Cloud Agency, near present-day Fort Robinson State Park. According to James, who'd previously learned Indian sign as well as some of the Sioux's spoken language, he met and spoke with Red Cloud and other Lakota leaders on behalf of Marsh. In addition to exposing him to fossils, this chance encounter between James and Red Cloud developed into a friendship that lasted until the Red Cloud's death in 1909.

The friendship between the well-known Chief and his people after 1887 led them to visit James Cook at Agate Springs Ranch in Niobrara County. It was a 150-mile journey by horse and wagon from the Pine Ridge Reservation. To come and go from reservation, they needed a pass from the reservation agent. They stayed at the ranch, erecting tipis on the flats east of the Cook's home. The Lakota also helped around the ranch by hunting game, tanning hides under trees near their house while sharing stories of life's adventures which they had shared together before.

A mannequin of a woman in a blue dress works next to a tipi. Native American artifacts made of leather, wood, and colorful beads surround her in the foreground.

NPS Photo

The Gifts: From the Lakota to the Cooks, and from the Cooks to the American People

It was during these visits, too, that the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and others gave gifts to James and his family, often in return for receiving beef and hides they later tanned and painted. Some of these gifts were made especially for the Cooks, including buckskin suits for James' sons Harold and John, gloves, and the painted hide showing the Battle of Greasy Grass, also known as Custer's Last Stand. Other items—Red Cloud's shirt, three generations of the Red Clouds' pipe bags (one each belonging to Red Cloud, his father, and his son), and one of Crazy Horse's whetstones—were very special to those who gave them to James.

James and his descendants believed these gifts should remain in the vicinity of the family home. They were presented to the National Park Service after James' son Harold passed away in the 1960s. When the current visitor center was built in the early 1990s, two rooms were dedicated to the James H. Cook Collection. One room introduces visitors to the ranch and the culture of the Oglala Lakota, while the second, a light- and climate-controlled room, displays many of the most important gifts. Historic photos exhibited along with these items illustrate the story of the friendship that developed between the Cooks, Red Cloud, and their families.

Last updated: June 1, 2024

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