The 88-year-old Cleveland native said she wanted to honor her late husband, Conrad, and late daughter Connie by donating a lifetime collection of authentic Indian items in their names.
Not that Josephine and Conrad had spent a lifetime collecting Indian artifacts. They didn’t. But the person from whom they bought much of their earliest pieces had reportedly spent most of his life collecting what he later sold to them.
“My husband bought some of our collection from a man here in town who went around picking them up,” Day explained. “The man said he found many of them on the Bradley (Central) High School football field when they dug it up years ago, and around First Baptist Church parking lot. We also had some that we picked up ourselves.”
Sylvia Idom, the seasonal interpretive ranger at Red Clay State Historic Area, said, “This is certainly an impressive and valuable collection of artifacts. Adding them to the current collection at Red Clay will certainly make Red Clay’s artifact collection one of significance for the area. It is our hope that at least part of this collection can be on display for Cherokee Days of Recognition, the first weekend in August. There are several projects that are currently under way which must be completed before we can begin with this one. Appropriate space must also be found to display the collection. We will aim for August, but can make no promises at this time.”
It was in the 1980s when Josephine and Conrad first began their own treasure hunt by collecting Indian artifacts found in unique places, such as golf courses and other open areas, according to Day. Over several decades they collected bags and boxes of amazing Indian relics from the past.
“My husband wanted to get what we had stored away, clean them up and take them to Red Clay State Park, but he died before he could do that,” Day said. In honor of his wishes Day has cleaned up her secured antiques and contacted Red Clay officials for a milestone donation that may eclipse what Red Clay State Park already has on display.
When asked if she was fully resolved to give away her rare collection that has an undetermined dollar amount, Day said, “Yes. Sure. I’m the last one. There’s nobody else but me. I had one daughter and she passed away 10 years ago. If they turn out to be priceless — that’s OK, too. Money don’t mean everything. People will enjoy seeing these on display. Just say ‘She gave them in memory of Conrad and Connie.’ That’s all I want.”
While Red Clay’s historic state park has the last of the council grounds of the Cherokee Nation before their removal as well as the sacred council spring and replicas of the council house, a small Cherokee farm, and small cabins that were built there during Red Clay’s short term as the Cherokee capital, Day’s donation of authentic indian artifacts — from arrowheads, pipes and ornaments to game pieces, tools and a well preserved tomahawk — will add to the historical significance of the area and remind visitors in the center that a people with culture, courage and ingenuity once made this their home.
“This increases the value of our artifact collection,” Idom said. “It provides additional resources to use to educate the public about Native American life. By placing such collections in park or museum collections, it will allow far more people the opportunity to enjoy and learn from the collection than if it stayed in private hands.”
“We need to remember our history,” Day said. “There are some people who don’t even know that there were Indians here and they were made to leave. They were promised they would not have to leave, then they made them leave.”
Day described going through her boxes of Indian artifacts as being “Like Christmas morning” in its excitement. An official identification of each item and its authenticity will come later.
Idom said, “Donations to public institutions is a wonderful way to share the appreciation an individual had with a wider public. By giving these artifacts to Red Clay, family members will know that the collection is being used by others who share a common interest in Native American studies. It may also be the spark that inspires someone else to learn more about this field. Becoming part of a public collection also assures the family that they can visit and see the collection whenever they wish. Giving in memory of others allows loved ones to be remembered long after they are gone from our daily lives.”
Red Clay State Historic Park is located in the extreme southwest corner of Bradley County in Tennessee, just above the Tennessee-Georgia state line. Red Clay served as the seat of Cherokee government from 1832 until the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838. It was the site of 11 general councils, national affairs attended by up to 5,000 people. Since it was at the Red Clay Council Grounds that the Cherokee learned they had lost their land forever, many say it was at Red Clay that the Trail of Tears actually began.