The pungent aroma of burning sage and the sound of a cannon blast signaled the opening of the Big Bear Native American Museum overlooking Lake Pat Cleburne.
The ribbon-cutting Friday was a celebration of more than two years of hard work and fundraising for the organizers of the museum, housed in a 2,000-square-foot building shaped like a hogan, a traditional Navajo home.
“This is a game changer for us,” said David Murdoch, chairman of the Johnson County Heritage Foundation and one of the founders of the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum.
Big Bear Museum, on the grounds of the outdoor museum, opened to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday.
The building houses a collection of arrowheads, pottery, agricultural tools and other artifacts showing how Native Americans lived throughout the United States. A mounted, rearing grizzly bear towers over visitors
“Being Indian is not a matter of blood, it is a way of life,” said Larry Liles, who is one-half Comanche, as he burned sage for a blessing during the ceremony.
“We say ‘thank you.’ We want to share this with all people and for all generations and future generations that come in with open minds and open hearts so that when they leave, they will have a better knowledge of indigenous people and that we are all human,” he said.
Liles, of Lawton, Okla., also helped bless the outdoor museum grounds two years go.
The museum came about in large part thanks to Leonard “Big Bear” Beal Sr., who died in 2012. Beal, who was one-quarter Cherokee, collected Native American artifacts that he kept in a building near his Grandview home. He talked to the Smithsonian Institution about donating his collection but instead gave it to the Chisholm Trail museum in Cleburne, Murdoch said.
Beal, who spent his younger days as an actor, wrestler and police officer, moved to Grandview to be near his son. He taught children and adults about the history of Native American tribes.
He served in the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps, and was a veteran of World War II. He retired after more than 20 years with the Santa Fe Railroad.
Murdoch said that initially, $100,000 was raised to build the museum, but when new federal flood plain regulations were issued, an additional $100,000 had to be raised so the building would meet the requirements.
The museum has artifacts dating as far back as 17,000 years ago, among them arrowheads and agricultural tools, Murdoch said. There are also displays on Native American foods and pottery.
Big Bear joins a growing list of Cleburne museums, including Layland Museum and the Gone with the Wind Remembered museum, which opened last summer. A railroad museum has long been discussed.
Mayor Scott Cain said the Big Bear museum will attract visitors. “There is something for everyone here. There are exhibits for history buffs and games for children to teach them about the Native American exhibits,” he said.
Nellie “Quiet Dove” Anguiano, who lives in Palo Pinto County, donated a buckskin dress she wore during a naming ceremony years ago.
“The dress was really old, and I was going to throw it away, but my daughter said I should donate it to a museum,” Anguiano, a Mescalero Apache, said.
“This is a blessing for me because there are so few Native American museums in the United States
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696
Big Bear Native American Museum
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
101 Chisholm Trail off U.S. 67, Cleburne
$5 adults, $4 senior citizens and students, free for military in uniform and small children.
Information online: jcchisholmtrail.com