Koshare Indian Kiva and Museum

Koshare eagle dancer from La Junta Colorado
A Boy Scout performs as an eagle dancer as part of an “Eagle Day” event in La Junta. The scout is part of the Koshare Indian Dancers of Boy Scout Troop 232, based at the museum. | Photo by Wavy1 / flickr.com

Boy Scout Troop 232 of La Junta meets in a unique setting: a kiva and museum that the Scouts themselves built with the support of community groups. Visitors today can stop to enjoy the art reflecting Native American culture, the amazing roof of the 62-year-old kiva and the performances of the Koshare Indian Dancers that are an elite arm of the troop.

Troop 232 was formed in 1933 by J.F. “Buck” Burshears, an author, businessman, railway contractor, and social worker with a lifelong dedication to Scouting. He served as the troop’s Scoutmaster for 55 years. Inspired by his own childhood experiences with a Colorado Springs troop and encouraged by interest from the Scouts, Burshears determined that the La Junta troop should focus on preserving and celebrating the culture of the Plains Indians, specifically the Kiowa, Sioux and Navajo. In addition to typical activities like camping, earning badges and performing community service, members of Troop 232 are encouraged to push on to gain admission to the Koshare Indian Dancers.

To do so, they must be on the path to becoming an Eagle Scout, maintain good grades, earn an Indian Lore merit badge, study Native American culture, master at least five of the Koshare dances, and design and build their own authentic dance outfit.

The original troop practiced their first rough dances in Burshear’s backyard, using a repurposed chicken coop as a dressing room. Experts in Indian culture and members of native tribes helped them hone their skills. Their first performance was in the basement of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Word spread about the troop’s dedication and they began performing around the country, eventually landing on the stage at Carnegie Hall. As they traveled, the troop met with Western artists and pooled their money to buy pieces that were memorable to them. Soon a tradition was born as each year Koshare dancers graduating from high school left the troop with a piece of art reflecting Plains Indian culture.

In 1939 the troop visited the Aztec National Monument and learned about the kivas built by prehistoric Indians a thousand years ago. The dancers resolved to build a kiva of their own.

Burshears called on a college friend, architect and Eagle Scout Damon Runyon (distantly related to the journalist by the same name) to do architectural drawings for the kiva. Runyon in turn asked an engineer who had worked on the Golden Gate Bridge to help compute the stress factor on the 647 white pine logs that hold up the kiva’s 60-foot roof, the largest self-supporting log roof in the world.

By 1949, with architectural drawings and $8,000 from fundraising, the troop was eager to get started. Recognizing that the $8,000 was too little for the job, the La Junta Rotary and Lions Club joined forces and in one month raised another $10,000 to bring the kiva and museum to reality. Construction began at a site on the Otero Junior College campus in La Junta.

The finished kiva is lit by lights fashioned from Native American pottery. Rocks from ancient kivas are incorporated into its walls. Native American artist Velino Herrera painted 10 large murals for the walls. The attached museum houses a collection of Native American art and artifacts and hosts educational youth programs, serves as a youth center, and invites visiting Scouts and students for overnight stays.

The original kiva and museum are a registered state historic site of the Colorado Historical Society and hosted a visit by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Details
Koshare Indian Kiva and Museum
115 W. 18th St.
La Junta, CO 81050
(719) 384-4411
E-mail
Website
Koshare dance schedule

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