"My interest is to capture and preserve the American Indian culture; its beauty and dignity. These images are of someone's child, brother, sister or grandmother. They dance as their forefathers did."
Lester Harragarra is an enrolled member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and a descendent of the Kiowa Tribe. Lester's father is the late Kenneth Harragarra, a World War II veteran and a former Otoe-Missouria Tribal Chairman. Lester's Otoe-Missouria grandparents are Moses and Mary Harragarra. His grandfather was one of the last hereditary Chiefs of the Otoe-Missouria and his grandmother, initiated the first all American Indian War Mothers Chapter in the United States in 1943. Lester's Kiowa roots are from his mother, Delores Toyebo Harragarra. In 1951, Delores was one of the first Kiowas to graduate from the University of Oklahoma.
Lester's interest in photography began when he received his first camera from his aunt on his eighth birthday. His early subjects were family and friends. Later, as an engineering student at the University of New Mexico, Lester purchased a 35mm camera and spent many hours in the darkroom developing and processing film.
The Kiowa Black Leggings Society granted Lester Harragarra permission to photograph the Black Leggings ceremonials and to use the photographs in his first solo exhibition at the Southern Plains Indian Museum. "I want to thank the Black Leggings Society for allowing me to be involved in their 50th anniversary. I also want to thank and honor the War Mothers Society for the sacrifices they have made. This exhibit is my way of honoring the many American Indian veterans who served in the armed forces; including my father, uncles, cousins and many friends."
The Ton-kon-ga or Black Leggings, whose membership is strictly limited to members of the Kiowa tribe, gathers annually in October to recall heroic deeds of the past and recent military service through song and dance. The society was revived in 1958 by Gus Palmer and the first celebration was held on November 11, 1959. The Black Leggings Society copyrighted its songs and ceremonial regalia, which has enabled the Society to ensure their songs and regalia remain with the Kiowa people.
The Battle Tipi, erected each year by the Black Leggings Society, dates back to the Kiowa principal Chief Dohäsan, whose tipi was painted on one half with black and yellow horizontal stripes and on the other half with battle scenes. With the 1958 revival of the Society, the Battle Tipi continues to be a part of the ceremonials. The earliest battle scene painted on the tipi is the 1864 battle with Kit Carson near Adobe Walls in the Texas panhandle. The society's insignia, other U. S. military unit insignia and scenes of battles from World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Viet Nam War are depicted. After World War II, the names of Kiowa killed in action were added to the tipi. For the 50th anniversary, the Black Leggings commissioned a new 21 foot Battle Tipi painted by Kiowa artists Sherman Chaddlesone and Jeff Yellowhair. Battle scenes from the Iraq War and two names of Kiowa service members killed in Iraq were added to the new tipi; Joshua Ware and Anthony Littlecalf Yost.
This exhibition features photographs of the Kiowa Black Leggings Society. Additional imagery captured by the lens of Lester Harragarra will also be part of this exhibition. Prices for photographs available for purchase may be obtained by contacting the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative gift shop, located in the Southern Plains Museum, 1.405.247.3485.