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Organizers 'Devastated' After Statue Of Native American Woman Stolen From Park In Kansas City North

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Francois Chouteau & Native American Heritage Fountain organization
Courtesy Photo
The 7-foot-tall bronze of an Osage woman, one of four depicting the scene, had been up for about a year. Investigators don't know how or why she was stolen.

The 400-pound, 7-foot-tall figure of an Osage Indian woman was stolen from the top of a limestone bluff sometime Tuesday night. When finished, the site will commemorate trade between the French and Native Americans.

It was less than a month ago that the fourth, and last, larger-than-life bronze statue at the Francois Chouteau & Native American Heritage Fountain was unveiled at the site on the west side of Chouteau Parkway and Parvin Road.

Wednesday morning, workers with the Kansas City, Missouri, Parks Department reported one of the other statues was gone from the stone bluff, where two Osage Indians are depicted trading with French Fur trader Francois Chouteau.

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Franois Choutea & Native American Heritage Fountain Committee
It's unclear how the thieves removed the statue, seen here behind a Native American man making a trade with Francois Chouteau. Chouteau was the son of the entrepreneurial fur trader whose family founded St. Louis, Missouri, and who established a post that became known as Chouteau's Landing not far from the mouth of the Kansas River in present-day Clay County. Many consider Chouteau to be the founder of Kansas City.

Mark McHenry co-founded the Chouteau Fountain & Native American Heritage committee and is former director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation Department.

"I'm mad and frustrated," McHenry said. He wondered how someone could have carried off the heist.

"The thing weighs 400 pounds, is bolted down into the stone of a 9-foot-tall bluff," he said. "Someone needed a ladder, some heavy equipment and a truck to haul it off. Hard to imagine."

File Photo
KCUR 89.3
From left, Mark McHenry, Keith Nelson, and Dick Davis founded the committee to establish the park and fountain. McHenry, the former parks director, helped secure the city land. Nelson, a life-long Clay County resident and amateur historian who died in April, researched the story, and Dick Davis, the former councilman from the 1st district, helped convince the city council this was a worthy project.

Dick Davis, another founding member of the committee, said he was heartbroken when McHenry called him Wednesday morning to inform him of the theft.

“How someone could do this is devastating," he said. "You've got to wonder, can you even afford to have outdoor art in this country?”

KCUR was unable to get comment Wednesday from investigators.

McHenry said nearly a dozen officers and detectives were on site collecting evidence. He said they could not determine a motive for the crime.

"One possibility, purely speculation, was that the statue was stolen for the large amount of copper it contains," he said. Copper is the largest metal component of bronze, making up almost 90%. Copper prices are at an all-time high, leading to a booming black market.

But McHenry worries there may be a more insidious reason.

"It was a Native American woman, not just any statue," he says. "There just may be a cultural component, a crime motivated by prejudice or hate. We just don't know."

Carole Kadue-Blackwood, a case manager with the Kansas City Indian Center and member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, said the theft does not surprise her. She said her community has grown accustomed to incidents of vandalism and theft.

She remembered in November 2019, when they learned headstones from the Shawnee Mission Native American Cemetery were reported missing and vandalized. The impact of such incidents, she said, is to dehumanize members the Native American community.

"The impact of (such incidents) hurts representation in our communities," she said. "That statue symbolizes the Osage presence on these lands."

The Chouteau Fountain & Native American Heritage committee has raised more than $1.5 million in public and private funds. McHenry said they need roughly $1.2 million more to complete the landscaping, historic markers and waterfall.

Internationally known Chinese sculptor Kwan Wu, best known in Kansas City for the life-sized statue of George Brett at Kauffman Stadium, created the four statues.

McHenry says it's impossible to know how this incident will affect the future of the park.

"I don't know when we will be able to replace the statue," he said. "Or if we can replace it at all."

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions. Email me at lauraz@kcur.org and follow me on Twitter @laurazig.
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