‘Life on Fire’ honored by Oklahoma Historical Society | Literature
OKLAHOMA CITY – “A Life on Fire: Oklahoma’s Kate Barnard,” by Cherokee author Connie Cronley, recently won the EE Dale Award for “Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History.”
The book is a biography of Kate Barnard (1875-1930), little known today, but active and influential in Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century.
Barnard was a political reformer and Oklahoma’s first woman appointed to statewide office. She has championed indigenous peoples, compulsory education, workers, the poor, prison reform, mental health, and child labor regulation.
“So the question is if she was so important and so powerful, how come we don’t know more about her?” The answer, I believe, is that she never lost a political campaign, but she lost that great fight she fought for Native American rights because their property was being looted and stolen,” Cronley said. . “Her office only gave her authority over Indian orphans and minors, so she didn’t take on the larger role of adult Native Americans, but it was the cause that ruined her career and her life. The grafters got closer and it was like a tsunami that closed in.
Heads of state were fine with Barnard standing up for the needy, Cronley added, but when she tried to come between them and the money, the legislature cut funding for her charities and correctional service.
“I read about how helpless native people were back then, especially the thoroughbreds,” Cronley said. “The guardians that were named were so rapacious and greedy, and I thought about how lucky they were to have a champion in this tiny little woman who fought for them. Knowing the story of the kidnapping and the great efforts to rebuild communities in Indian Territory have made the story of the corrupt conspiracy to rob housing estates doubly sad.
Cronley said being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation motivated her to share Barnard’s story and stand up for Indigenous people. “I think Oklahomans should know more about Kate Barnard and what she did, and I especially think young women should know how brave she was.”
Cronley grew up in Nowata and now lives in Tulsa. She wrote for most of her life. “A Life on Fire” is his fifth book and his first biography.
“Since I was little, all I wanted to be was a writer. The most wonderful discovery of my life was learning to read,” she said.
She explained that telling Barnard’s story is something she’s been working on for almost 50 years. She was encouraged to write about Barnard by author and historian Angie Debo, who, like Barnard, exposed the five tribes’ corruption and criminal activity during the period when their lands were allotted by the federal government. Debo’s book, “And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes” is considered a major influence for those writing on Indigenous history.
Cronley will receive the EE Dale Award Feb. 24 at the Oklahoma Historical Society Awards Banquet at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.