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Joe Holley

Writing an obituary, it's not uncommon to find yourself heading down fascinating tangents that have less to do with the life of the person than with the times in which they lived. So it was this week with Alexandria resident Hazel Frances Barnes Brown.

Mrs. Brown was 103 at the time of her death. She was believed to be the oldest member of the Otoe-Missouria Indian Tribe, based in Red Rock, Okla. I had never heard of the Otoe-Missouria, but historians say they were the first Native Americans Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered on their epic journey into the Lousiana Purchase. At the time, the Otoe-Missouria were living in Nebraska, but in the early 1880s, the federal government forced them to pack up their belongings and trek across Kansas to their new home in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. They've been there ever since.

Mrs. Brown's great-grandfather was a famous fur trader named Andrew Drips. He also was the Indian agent on the upper Missouri River and married a woman named Maycompemay -- people called her Mary -- of the Otoe-Missouria tribe. The couple's daughter (Mrs. Brown's grandmother), Mary Jane Drips Barnes, was a classmate and friend of Ulysses S. Grant's wife Julia. Her father, William Drips Barnes, was, at one time, a federal marshal in Indian Territory.

In 1957, Mrs. Brown took a trip with family members to southern California, where she visited Disneyland, then only a couple of years old. In the park's "Indian Village," she was surprised to discover that the man playing the chief was a lawyer and an Otoe-Missouria acquaintance.

By Joe Holley  |  August 13, 2008; 4:11 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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