Introduction to the Fenn Collection

The Forrest and Peggy Fenn collection of Native American artifacts is a mixed bag for sure. Most of the objects are those that are indigenous to the areas where they grew up. Forrest remembers his grandmother telling him about pressing her nose against the window as she watched Kiowa and Comanche Indians run through their barnyard near Ft. Worth, Texas, trying to catch chickens, and her father telling her to “leave them alone. If they can catch the chickens, they can have them.” Those stories thrilled Forrest, so the collection may be a little top-heavy with Southern Plains material.

 As the collection grew, it expanded geographically to include objects from all tribes that lived west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains. It became an annual ritual for Forrest to take a room in Sheridan, Wyoming, from where it was a short drive to many of the old forts and battle sites where he fantasized about his knife sheaths hanging from the belts of brave warriors who fought to defend their vanishing way of life.

Such exciting sites in close proximity to Sheridan include, to the north and west, the Custer Battleground, where the boy general met the magic of Sitting Bull’s medicine, and the location of the Battle of the Rosebud where General Crook met Crazy Horse and fought to a stand-off. It’s only another thirty minute drive to the Hayfield Battle site, just three miles from Ft. C. F. Smith on the Bighorn River, where thirty-one soldiers and civilians fought 700 Cheyenne and Sioux warriors.

 A few miles to the south of Sheridan is the site of the Wagon-Box Fight where Red Cloud lost about sixty warriors to a small group of civilians who were cutting wood for the nearby fort; the Fetterman Fight, where that unfortunate captain lost his life, along with eighty troopers, to Crazy Horse after he violated orders and was ambushed; and the site where Ranald S. Mackenzie and his fourth cavalry fought with Dull Knife and his Cheyenne warriors.

And, of course, there are the ruins of Fort Phil Kearny on the Bozeman Trail, which stood for only two years, was abandoned by treaty, and then was burned to the ground by Red Cloud.

Wandering all alone in those remote and now peaceful places had a lasting sway on Forrest whose collection leans heavily toward edged weapons.

The urge to collect started for Forrest at age nine, when he found his first arrowhead. It was just lying in a plowed field on Little Elm Creek in Central Texas, waiting for him to come along. He still claims it is the most treasured object in his collection. “It was a thrill that started me on a long journey of adventure and discovery,” he says.

His father, Marvin Fenn, was a real lover of the outdoors. In the winter, he was a school teacher in the rural town of Temple, Texas, where Forrest grew up. With summers off, it was time for the family to load the car and trailer and head for Yellowstone, where they camped in a tent for three months.

Forrest was thirteen when he and his father became professional fishing guides and he learned that bartering was a way to make ends meet. They traded fish for bread and other staples. But it was being outside that mattered most. As they walked the river banks and across the grassy meadows where ancient hunters had sought their prey, an appreciation for that earlier life deepened, so it became important to learn more about who those people had been.

 When Marvin passed on, the son inherited the modest collection that included lots of arrowheads and a few Plains Indian beaded and feather pieces. From that core of miscellaneous objects, Forrest’s appreciation of all things old and beautiful began to grow.

 In 1972, he and his wife built a gallery in Santa Fe, where the primary product was paintings by the old masters of the Western scene such as Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell, Thomas Moran and the great Taos painters. But his real love was for the history of the old West, so he sought those objects that would conjure back images of earlier, more romantic times. It was natural for the Fenns to collect Southwestern artifacts, especially pueblo and Apache beaded and painted objects

Traders and collectors alike came to his gallery where he was a ready listener. He said he was an “absorber” when scholars like John Ewers, Paul Dyck, and Father Peter Powell came in for coffee and conversation. There seemed to be a constant stream of traders who unpacked many of the artifacts you will see on this site. Forrest’s accountants said he always spent beyond his means. For instance, when he paid a high price for painted buffalo robe, he was told, “There are a few people in Santa Fe that can afford to buy that robe, but you are not one of them.” But for Forrest living on the edge was all right if it meant acquiring some ancient thing that told a story.

Now, thirty-two years after he moved to Santa Fe, Forrest is still there, retired from the business of art, but not from the desire to acquire and love of the collection. He is grateful to John Warnock for allowing him to place his collection on the Splendid Heritage web site and be associated with that truly significant group of artifacts. John’s motivation is education, and as you check out each item in his collection, you will see what a great job he has done.

It is also important to remember that none of us are more than temporary custodians of life’s treasures, and that they must ultimately be passed to other hands with the same respect and dignity with which they were originally made and later obtained by us. For a wise man once said:

"Time goes you say, nay, nay, alas,
Time stays, we go.”

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