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Dr. Garrick Bailey, Beloved Anthropologist of the Osage, Dies at 83

At a potlatch near the end of his life serving as his funeral, Bailey gave away works from his collection of Native American art and last spring, donated his body of scholarly work to the Osage Nation Museum

Beloved anthropologist of the Osage, Dr. Garrick Alan Bailey, died on Friday morning, March 15, 2024. He was a fifth-generation Oklahoman of Scottish descent with Choctaw heritage born in Hartshorne, Okla. in 1940. Raised by women, he became an esteemed anthropologist and friend of the Osage who wrote seminal anthropological works on the tribe. He died at 83.

Bailey is preceded in death by his wife Roberta, a historian who inspired him to become a teacher at the University of Tulsa, where he taught for fifty years. The couple met while working at the National Park Service in New Mexico, at Bandolier National Monument, and together published A history of the Navajos: The reservation years, one of the more significant ethnologies of the Navajo, according to Bailey’s colleague and contemporary Dr. Daniel Swan. 

Bailey operated as an anthropologist ahead of his time, said Swan, who was mentored by the Osage anthropologist during Swan’s graduate study. The two anthropologists would later publish “Art of the Osage” in 2004 along with Sean Standing Bear and John Nunley, and host a corresponding exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum. 

Before Bailey ever wrote about Osages, his friendships with tribal people influenced his work. This influence began at the time of his undergraduate education at the University of Oklahoma, where he met the Red Corn brothers Jim and Charles. They became fast friends, and as Kathryn RedCorn observed, “[Garrick] was an only child and after he came home one summer with [my brothers], he kind of just became part of the family.” He would go on to attend the Inlonschka every year for fifty years. 

After graduating with a degree in anthropology from the University of Oklahoma, Bailey obtained his master’s from the same school, then got his doctorate from the University of Oregon in 1970. After graduating, he went to work teaching at TU, where he started the school’s first courses in anthropology, and received the Henry Kendall College’s excellence in teaching award in 2000. During his tenure, he mentored many Osage students and authored two textbooks on cultural anthropology, which were released in numerous editions, “touching thousands of lives,” said his office hall neighbor at TU, Dr. Bob Pickering.   

Among the Osage, Garrick Bailey was well-known for being kind, generous, and quick-witted, with a wry sense of humor. He was motivated to become an anthropologist because of his genuine interest in people—with only a few exceptions, as he liked to joke. 

“People, they enjoyed him,” said RedCorn, who remained a lifelong friend of Bailey, and describes him as a strong and helpful force for the Osage. “Dr. Garrick Bailey, I thought that he did a good job of making our story known,” she said. 

In the 1970s, he testified before Congress for the Osage Nation Organization (ONO), an activist group who were “the ancestors to the constitutional reform,” according to Swan. The 2006 reform of the Osage government shared the initiative with ONO that all Osages be recognized as members of the tribe, rather than solely those holding oil headrights. Bailey’s testimony was based on his dissertation at the University of Oregon, a social history of the tribe. For his work as an advocate with Osage activists, Bailey’s phone was tapped by the FBI, and in later years he joked that although he has no Osage heritage, in the 1970s he was an Osage by Act of Congress. He was also a friend of several Osages involved in the American Indian Movement (AIM). 

Bailey began writing about the Osage at a time when it was considered normal for scholars to come into tribal communities and write about the people without ever sending them a copy of the book, Swan explained. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Bailey undertook projects that the tribal communities he worked with found meaningful and wanted. “In many ways, he exemplified the right way to do anthropology,” said Swan. 

During a lengthy fellowship at the Smithsonian, Bailey combed through dense 19th century archival ethnographic work by Francis LaFlesche, which had been left languishing in archives. He brought the dense archival projects to the Osage via accessible publications including “The Osage and the Invisible World” and “Traditions of the Osage.”  In so doing, he really sacrificed, said Swan. “[Traditions of the Osage] … was also the manner in which a large number of [Osage] community members engaged with LaFlesche’s work.” 

His publications on the Osage came at the end of his career—at a time when he could have worked on anything—and Swan said that Bailey’s works still shape how Osages view the present. His books have a life “beyond the community of scholars,” said Swan. “There’s a lot to be [said] there.” Of his own motivation to go through LaFlesche’s work and analyze it to create books on the Osage, Bailey has said, “I just like a good fight.”

In addition to his publications, Bailey served as a fellow in anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He worked at the Gilcrease Museum and was a Weatherhead Scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe as well as a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow. He consulted on the Indian Claims Division of the U.S. Justice Department, and the Indian Health Advisory Committee, Indian Health Service, among others. He was a member of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) National Review Committee from 2000-2006, and was previously on the Boards of the Oklahoma Council for the Humanities as well as the Osage National Museum. 

Bailey loved to travel, and took seven trips to Europe with his wife Roberta, and also conducted preliminary research in the Guatemala highlands and on Samoa. When the writer David Grann was researching his best-selling book about the 1920s Osage reign of terror, Killers of the Flower Moon, Bailey’s work guided him and he sought a consultation with the anthropologist. Bailey described Grann’s book as “following the money,” and has noted that the passage of Osage land and headrights into the hands of non-Natives presents a more complex, still largely untold story. 

Near the end of his life, Bailey said that he considered the psychological changes that Osages underwent in the late 1800s—and pathways to resolving intergenerational trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for present-day Osages—to be topics for continued engagement and research by Osages, as well as for scholars working in the community in the manner that he did. 

His death “is a big loss for us,” said Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, whose uncle Morris Lookout was a friend of Bailey’s. “Morris and him got to spend a lot of time together and I was with them for some of that,” said Chief Standing Bear. “He always works to be accurate and to be aware of where we are in history. … I always liked his statement that the saying of the ancient ones … he could still hear [today], but they were in English and they were far more modern, but they were the same sayings. That’s paying attention to the past and today, and connecting everything.” 

Bailey’s across-the-hall office neighbor at TU, Dr. Pickering, described Bailey as “clearly someone who was very dedicated … and in many ways, he was the story of Oklahoma. He’s got relatives who were elected officials, and appointed officials, and he’s got family who are tribal [people]. … He was a cantankerous and curmudgeonly guy—and he loved being that way—but at the same time, he was very generous as well.” 

At a potlatch near the end of his life serving as his funeral, Bailey gave away works from his collection of Native American art. He has also given away two houses, and last spring, donated his body of scholarly work to the Osage Nation Museum. Giving away his belongings near the end of his life gave him much satisfaction, and the pre-death memorial that also honored others was just the sort of act that defined Dr. Garrick Bailey—a man who had a streak of unconventionality with a deep love of those in his life blended together in his character. 

He will be remembered by the Osage people, and all who loved and knew him, as a positive force for humanity. 

The collected works of Dr. Garrick Bailey  

Traditions of the Osage: Stories Collected and Translated by Francis LaFlesche 

Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 2: Indian in Contemporary Society edited by Garrick Alan Bailey and William C. Sturtevant 

The Osage and the Invisible World: From the Works of Francis LaFlesche by Francis LaFlesche and Dr. Garrick A. Bailey 

Art of the Osage by Garrick Bailey and Daniel C. Swan

Essentials of Cultural Anthropology by Garrick Bailey and James Peoples 

Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology by James Peoples and Garrick Bailey

A history of the Navajos: The reservation years published in 1986

Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South edited by Richard F. Townsend, by Joyce Bear, Garrick Alan Bailey and Robert V. Sharp. Cultural Anthropology by Garrick Alan Bailey

Bisti by Spencer G. Lucas, Garrick Alan Bailey, Andrew Davis, Beaumont Newhall 

Bailey’s thesis at the University of Oregon was called “Changes in Osage social organization, 1673-1906”


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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hicks
Title: Staff Reporter
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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