Opening those giant doors is kind of fun.
The Museum of Native American History was a big factor in my decision to spend the first night of my long weekend in Bentonville, AR instead of Eureka Springs. I'm a bit of a history nerd in general, but since I'm about 1/3 Cherokee and some unknown fraction Blackfoot, I find Native American history especially interesting.
The museum is located just a few minutes outside of downtown Bentonville and only about ten minutes from my hotel. It's pretty easy to spot from the street...
"So, uh, you think that might be the place?"
Just inside the entrance doors, you're greeted by the skeleton of a wooly mammoth, as well as one of my favorite items from the whole museum.
Apologies for the image quality on a lot of these. Photographing through the display glass under uneven lighting is tough!
This is what's called a "winter count". The Dakota people counted their years by winters, with one symbol was chosen to represent each year. It begins around 1800-1801 in the center, and spirals out to tell what happened up until 1870-1871. The cool thing is that you don't have to guess what the symbols mean - there's a laminated book nearby where you can look them up. Handy!
"Big Leggings" sounds like a cool guy.
One of my favorite symbols
There's a registration desk just past this display where you can pick up a free audio guide. It looks like an old school cordless phone, and you just dial in the number above the item you're interested in and hold it up to your ear to listen. I'm definitely a fan of this kind of guide - it gives you the freedom to customize your experience quite a bit by deciding just how much info you want. You could spend hours listening to the guide explain every single exhibit, or just find out more about the ones that spark your interest.
The museum is organized chronologically, starting in the Paleo period (12,000-8,000 BC) and moving through history to modern day. This actually works out especially well because the items on display get more intricate and interesting as you proceed.
I spent a while trying to decide which of these bear jars looked the most like my Bear cat. Loved the little maps (like in the top right corner of this pic) that show where each piece was found!
I want shoes with this much detail!
I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but the museum ended up being much larger with way more to look at than I anticipated. Every time I turned a corner, I was met with more and more cases full of interesting things.
This was one of my favorite items, mostly because of a personal connection to it. It's a mask abandoned by a Cherokee along the Trail of Tears (1838-1839) in Tennessee. My grandfather was Cherokee, born in Tennessee in approx. the late 1800's. (My dad was sent to an orphanage when he was a few years old, so I don't know a lot about that side of the family.) Still, the time and place and tribe mean that it could have conceivably belonged to my great grandfather or other fairly close family member. Interesting to think about.
A few other favorites...
Real headdresses are powerful to stand in front of in person, as if they carry on some of the strength or energy of the men who wore them.
This is one of those places that you can breeze through in twenty minutes or spend half a day at checking everything out in detail; it all depends on how much time you have and your level of interest. I would definitely go back if I'm in Bentonville again (something I'm considering when the weather cools off so I can do outdoorsy things!) so that I can try to get some photos without all of the glare from the cases, as well as take a little more time to read and listen to info.
Um, did I mention that admission is free? There's a donation box near the entrance/exit, or you can support them by picking up something cool in the gift shop on your way out, but it's totally up to you.
The Museum of Native American History
202 SW 'O' Street
Bentonville, AR 72712
202 SW 'O' Street
Bentonville, AR 72712
Open Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm