Iconic Native American statue finds new home on Route 66 in Oklahoma 

  • The Native American statue that stood along Route 2 for decades in Charlemont at its new home outside the Western Motel in Oklahoma. CONTRIBUTED/BETH HILBURN

Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2023 12:21:45 PM
Modified: 11/13/2023 12:21:30 PM

The 60-foot fiberglass Native American statue that stood for decades in front of Charlemont’s Native and Himalayan Views souvenir shop has a new home.

After months of restoration, Hi-Way Cafe and Western Motel owner Beth Hilburn installed the statue, known locally at the “Big Indian,” outside of their motel, located on historic U.S. Route 66 in Vinita, Oklahoma.

“I really want the people in your area to know he is coming to a good home. We are thrilled to have him here,” Hilburn said in a phone interview.

During the statue’s last year in Charlemont, its removal became a topic of discussion among representatives of local Indigenous groups, the owners of the souvenir shop and the Charlemont Historical Commission. Shop owner Sonam Lama and his wife, with the help of family friend and representative Bob Pollak, decided to sell the statue, which local tribal representatives say perpetuates racial stereotypes, to the Hilburn family. More than 1,000 people signed a petition to remove the statue from Charlemont, which kickstarted the process of removing it from its Route 2 home.

Asked if she is concerned that there might be pushback about the stereotypical imagery of the statue, which many claim is racist, Hilburn said, “I try to be respectful of people who have that viewpoint.”

Of the feedback she received so far, Hilburn said she has about three to five emails saying the statue is racist and nearly 1,000 messages thanking her for preserving it. She said while the statue does not depict imagery from her tribal heritage, she has lineage with the Delaware Tribe of Indians and Cherokee Nation.

“I felt it was an honor to all Native Americans,” she said.

The cafe and the motel sit at the intersection of two historic highways, Route 66 and Jefferson Road and many on road trips stop there along their journeys. They already have one larger-than-life statue, Muffler Man, and think this second statute is a good companion. The Muffler Man was purchased after the statue traveled the length of Route 66 during Mobil 1’s “Keep Route 66 Kickin’” campaign. In the Muffler Man’s original stop at the restaurant, a group of people broke the world record of pasting more than 66,000 stickers on a car.

“For me, it is the nostalgia,” Hilburn said. “The big Indian fits right into what I envisioned in developing the Western Motel.”

The Indigenous statue was removed from Charlemont in August and brought to the American Giants Museum, a museum dedicated to Muffler Men in Atlanta, Illinois, where it was restored. Hilburn explained some of the fiberglass in the crown was replaced and the statue was repainted. The restoration process took many months, longer than expected, but it is now in its permanent home.

“He was there [in Charlemont] for 49 years. I hope he is here more than that,” Hilburn said.

Hilburn explained that when she was a child she would take road trips with her family to visit her grandparents out of state. On the trips, the family would stop at roadside attractions, like the two at her businesses, and take photos to commemorate the journey.

“It is indicative that he is still looking east toward Massachusetts,” Hilburn said. “We will share him for years to come.”

Reach Bella Carmela Levavi at blevavi@recorder.com.


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