‘Party for the People’ to mark Keeper’s 50th anniversary

By The Active Age | May 1, 2024

The Keeper of the Plains’ first half-century will be marked with a “Party for the People” celebration Saturday, May 18. Photo by Nolan Roth

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained the wrong date for the re-dedication of the Keeper of the Plains. The correct date is Saturday, May 18.

Wichita’s Keeper of the Plains will be re-dedicated with a big party May 18 to mark its 50th anniversary. Here are some things to know about the Keeper and its creator, Blackbear Bosin.

According to legend, the site of the Keeper at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers was a popular hunting area for Native American tribes and a place where they camped together in peace. Another legend or myth holds that a tornado won’t strike at the confluence of two rivers.

Francies Blackbear Bosin, who designed the Keeper, was born to a Kiowa father and Comanche mother in Oklahoma in 1921, reportedly in a tipi near Cement, Okla. Sent to a mission boarding school at age 6, Bosin spent much of his adult life trying to reconnect with his Native American heritage.

Bosin was one of many Native Americana who came to Wichita from Oklahoma for work in the early 1940s. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and took up painting in earnest while recovering from an illness in Hawaii.

By the 1950s, Bosin was established as an artist, winning various prestigious competitions and having his work displayed in museums, the White House and National Geographic magazine 

In 1968, while hospitalized with a stress-related illness, Bosin was asked by Elmer Hall of Kansas Gas and Electric Co. to design a statute as a beautification project, partly to draw attention away from unsightly KGE transmission lines in the area.

Bosin desigend the Keeper to face the rising sun in the east, with his hands raised in prayer to thank the Creator for a new day. 

Sufficient funding for the Keeper was not secured until 1974 and might have taken longer had Tom Washburn of Architectural Metal Products not honored the construction bid made six years earlier.

Twelve employees of Architectural Metal Products — nicknamed the “Dirty Dozen” — worked three months to cut and weld the Keeper in time for its dedication. It is made of Car-Ten Weathering steel, stands 44 feet tall and weighs five tons.

In 2006, the city built a platform that raised the Keeper by 30 feet, plus adjoining pedestrian bridges and a plaza. The bridges evokes bows and arrows, and the plaza contains a giant Medicine Wheel, a symbol sacred to Plains Indians. 

Bosin also helped found the Mid-America All-Indian Museum, which opened in 1976, and designed its logo.  

Bosin was primarily a painter. The Keeper is the only sculpture he is known to have created. He donated the design to the city.

Bosin’s death of a heart seizure on Aug. 9, 1980 was front-page news in the Wichita Eagle.

Party for the People schedule

All events take place in and around the Mid-America All-Indian Museum, 650 N. Seneca, on May Saturday, 18. Admission is free.

7 a.m. — Volunteer river clean-up
8 a.m. — Park Run
1 p.m. — Re-dedication ceremony
1-5 p.m. — Outdoor festival and live entertainment
2-8 p.m. — Indoor powwow
8 p.m. — Floatin’ on the river glow tour
9 p.m. — Fireworks show