Wichita Inspirations: Virgil R. Swift

Article excerpt

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1947, Virgil Swift grew up in his grandparents' home along Sugar Creek, north of Anadarko, Oklahoma. He traces descent to the Tawakoni and Waco of the Wichita peoples and direct ancestry to the re- nowned Wichita leader Tawakoni Jim. Virgil at- tended Anadarko public schools, and after gradu- ating from high school he enrolled for two semes- ters at Cameron College in Lawton, Oklahoma. There he joined the ROTC program. As the United States became increasingly involved in conflict in Southeast Asia, Virgil enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966; he took basic training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and received additional instruction as a medic at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. In 1 967 he was sent to Vietnam as part of the 25th Infantry Division. He served at Tay Ninh during the 1968 Tet offensive, a critical and particularly dangerous juncture in the war effort. Upon returning to the States, Virgil was stationed at Fort Stewart, Geor- gia. There he discovered that African Americans treated American Indian soldiers with more respect than southern whites did as he and a fellow Arapaho soldier were denied service at one mainstream es- tablishment after another even as they wore the uniform of the United States Army.

In 1969, Virgil received an honorable discharge from the military and returned to Oklahoma where he enrolled at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) in Chickasha. Working toward a degree in biology, he completed all but eight hours for his Bachelor's degree. While in school, he also worked at the hospital in Chickasha, where he met and worked with the Medical Examiner for about a year. These events - serving as an infantry medic, majoring in biology, and working with the hospital's ME - gave Virgil a unique perspective concerning human biology and its potential implications for understanding the history of Wichita peoples.

During the 1970s, Virgil was elected to the Executive Committee for the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. His grandmother, Margaret Bell, served as President, and together they worked with individuals from the University of Oklahoma to develop a traveling museum exhibit on the Wichita. Today, this exhibit remains open to the public at the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes Cultural Center in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Because of his strong understanding and appreciation of his people's traditional ways, Virgil also began serving as the Director of Historic Preservation in 1982. While serving in these capacities, the tribe successfully wrote and received a major grant to preserve their language, and Virgil worked closely with Dr. David Rood at the University of Colorado to undertake this project.

Prior to serving as the Director of Historic Preservation, Virgil was highly skeptical about the activities of archaeologists and cultural anthropologists. How could non-Indians know that certain artifacts came from the Wichita? …