Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

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Frisco Native American Museum

Wednesday Afternoon May 2, 2018                          Most Recent Posts:
Cape Hatteras National Seashore                             Outer Banks Light House Number Two: Hatteras Light House
Oregon Inlet Campground                                          Love My National Wildlife Refuges
Nags Head, North Carolina



I’m not sure how I feel about the Frisco Native American Museum but since I was right here in Frisco North Carolina I thought I’d see.  After my morning visit at the Lighthouse I drove 5 miles further south to Frisco and the museum.


IMG_2462This is not a museum primarily about the local Indians though a small room has been recently  added to spotlight them.

Archaeology does indicate that Hatteras Island has been the home of Native Americans for thousands of years.  According to the information in the museum, Hatteras Island was originally known as Croatan and was the site of the first recorded contact between Native people and the English in 1584.  They claim that contact took place near the current site of the museum.  This is the group of English who disappeared and were never able to be traced, “the lost colony”.

This museum is about all Native Americans.  It is a huge collection of artifacts primarily of one collector, Carl Bornfriend.  He’s been collecting since he was 7 years old and 30 years ago bought the 100 year old building that is now the museum.  He has expanded it over the years to house his enormous collection from all over the country.

It’s interesting that the building is located about as far east in the country as you can get and yet its design is southwestern and after spending a few hours inside, I’d say most of its artifacts are too.


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When you walk inside, it appears to be a small building but then there is room after room with walls and display cases covered with collectables. 


The first rooms are overwhelming in that there are so many diverse pieces.  In subsequent rooms the collection is somewhat organized.

It’s a mixture of old, sort of old, ancient, authenitic, and  not so much. 

The pottery case is across from the basketry case and behind it are some paintings and drawings - just things Bornfriend liked with more baskets on the top of the wall.  You really have to look everywhere in every room, on the floor, above you in order not to miss pieces of the collection.

I had a great deal of trouble photographing the things in the cases and behind the glass because of the glaring lights that I fear may be damaging the materials.




This amazingly intact bowl is described as an Anasazi Bowl 1500 to 2000 years old.  One card says it was found, I assume, on the Kaibab (Paiute) Indian Reservation which is located in the Northern part of Arizona.   Another more recent card says it was found in the Grand Canyon.  The Canyon’s native people are the Havasupai who lived there for at least 800 years.  Not sure why the varying explanations.  I’m very surprised anything found in the Grand Canyon was allowed to be removed.  It has been protected since 1893.  But I suppose it could have passed into the hands of the Paiute who sold it or traded it.  This was the explanation I was given for the acquisition of the pieces displayed here.


It’s a beautiful ancient work of art that is a long way from its origins.


Throughout the museum there are informative signs telling about items in the cases.  This one describes the types of Basketry you can see in the case.

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The baskets are not individually labeled with the particular tribes who created them.  Maybe I’m the only one who cares about knowing the specifics.




I guess this is the musical instrument case with rattles, drums and flutes.  This is not the only place these are found but perhaps the case is to protect the more valuable.  I was wishing that the tribes who created them and approximate year had been shown.

Although the sign just inside the entrance explains that there are 566 federally recognized and 62 state recognized Native American Tribes, Bands, Nations, Peublos, Communities and Villages in the United States and that they are all unique, I did feel like they were being thrown together and mixed up in a way that non Natives often seem to do.  An Indeian is an Indian??  Or perhaps the intent was to show what they have in common.


These beautifully woven blankets were identified as Navajo.



Many Native tribes created fetish figures.  Ususally these were animal figures but this one was striking in its difference.  Again, I wish I’d known where it came from.


Not everything in the museum had to do with to do with Native Artifacts but everything is what  Mr. Bornfriend found interesting and worth collecting such as a display of Scrimshaw.  Done historically by whalers, Scrimshaw is carving on Ivory using india ink.  Notice the example of Walrus Ivory.  The Elephant Ivory is labeled as unavailable.  It appears to have been there at one time. 



I love the display of FAKE plastic.  The cribbage board is lovely.  Notice the figure toward the tip.  I meant for it to be in my close up picture.  Good intentions.



In keeping with the whaling theme, a harpoon stands against the wall.

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The information board on the Katchina Doll cases says that “there is a Katchina spirit for every purpose and over 900 documented in history.  Some are easily recognizable as animals, while others represent ideas, celestial bodies or unseen forces.  Originally created by the Hopi, they were later integrated into most Pueblo tribes as well as the Navajo.”

Used as teaching tools and reminders of proper behavior, original Hopi figures were carved from cottonwood root and painted with natural dyes.  They act as messengers between humans and the spirit world.  The detail of the art is amazing.



In the last room is a collection of other types of dolls along with clothing displays.

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Judging from the number of cases of dolls, they must have been among the collector’s favorite items.   These are Seminole dolls made of palm frond fibers.  Each shelf in each case was a different grouping of dolls.



Navajo Dolls have faces while dolls of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) do not.  Iroquois cornhusk dolls remind children not to be vain.


These were not labeled but I assume they are Inuit.





Most of the bead work on display was clothing or bags.  A few of the pieces had non glass beads.  Pre contact beads were all constructed of natural materials.  Clay beads were formed on a stick and once they dried they could be shaped, polished or carved.  When they were fired, the stick burned away and the bead was left. 

Beads were also made of wood, stone, teeth, bone, and shell.   These had to be shaped and drilled  with hand made tools.  Beads were strung on animal sinew, plant fiber, hair and thin strips of leather or rawhide.

Making these beautiful belts, bags, bands and especially the clothing was extremely time consuming.  They are beautiful works of art.



The display of women’s ceremonial dress was unique.  The models were inside a rotating glass case so you could see all the detals, front and back but not touch anything.  The glass was not so accomodating for photography but the clothing was marvelous.





The last thing inside was the new addition of a small space beyond the little museum store.  I wondered if they had just cut the store in half to put in this exhibit honoring the local natives of this area.


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  Most of what is known about them comes from 16th Century writings and drawings of the original English settlers thanks to John White, an illustrator and map maker who was part of the second expedition of Sir Walter Releigh and spent 13 months with the Algonquians who welcomed them when they arrived. 

Information also comes from more recent archeological findings particuarly large middens> These mounds of shells from oysters, clams and scallops in the area show that the early settlements of Native Americans on Hatteras  may have been as large as the current year round population, approximately 4000.  This shellfish diet sounds like the perfect menu to me.


A partial long house has been reconstructed inside with woven mats as walls and ceilings.  One of White’s drawings of the natives has been enlarged and recreated on the entry wall.

With contact being so long ago and nearly all the coastal tribes of the east being descimated by disease or warfare, there are few if any real artifacts, beyond arrowheads, of the local Native Peoples.  These were the people of first contact and the part of the legend of “The Lost Colony”.  I’ve been told the local outdoor drama of the same name is very looonnnnggg.  Though not part of the “official story”, many locals and scholars believe the lost colonists simply blended in with the Croatan People for survival and thus their descendents may well be here today among the families of this community.

Doing a little research after my visit, I found that in nearby Manteo there is a Roanoke-Hatteras Indian Tribe which claims to be the descendents of the various Algonquin speaking tribes of the Outer Banks.  They have an enrollment of about 150 people. 



IMG_2507To expand on their indoor local exhibit the museum has created a “trail” outside.

It begins behind the museum with this large sign overlooking a couple of picnic tables near the trailhead.   Among the information it provides is a notice of the “Annual Ancestral Village Day Celebration” which, like the full moon climb I didn’t know about, was this past week-end.  I definitely need to do more research before coming to an area rather than after I arrive.


Some of the expansion of the museum literally sits over the water.  I worry for its safety as seas continue to rise.  An ancient dug out canoe was found here and is on display.

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The outdoor signs are obviously fairly new and extremely well done.  This first one located before crossing the bridge at the beginning of the trail describes the trail as an outdoor exhibit of what one would see in a typical village here on Hatteras Island.   It enumerates what is to come.


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This partial fishing weir would of course have been in the water but it is very interesting to see how it is built of sticks that formed a long wall in the water.  When the fish tried to swim around the wall they were led into a funnel that emptied into a large box from which they could not escape.



Men also caught fish by lighting a fire in their dugout canoes and when the fish were attracted to the light they were speared or netted.  Nets were made by the women from deer sinew, tree bark, and plant fiber cordage.  I’d like to see a tree bark net.

The canoes were made of cypress trees using fire and sea shells for hollowing them out.  A clam shell is provided for you to try yous hand, which I do.  My selfie is a bit off center but oh well . . .     I can see how this and many other community activities  might have been a fun with several people working together and chatting away.  We have few of these opportunities in our modern life and much larger communities.   I was all by myself today.




The trail brings me around to the dance circle.  The art of early explorers shows Native Americans dancing around carved ceremonial poles.  Historians theorize that the carved faces were representatives of the ancestors looking on.  Early explorers observed numerous occasions  marked by singing and dancing in a circle, social occasions, entreaty occasions, celebratory occasions for good luck. in a hunt, avoiding a storm, successful crops  or just social occasions such as welcoming visitors.

Im’ thinking that the real dance circles would probably have been much larger than this display one but it was wonderful walking into the center and imagining the singing, the drums, the dancing, the joy of the people.



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The trail concludes at the authentic recreation of a long house.   This one would housed 4 families.  They were constructed of saplings bent to form a barrel vaulted structure which could be easily expanded on either end.  Most long houses were longer than this display. 

The saplings were then covered with bark or mats made of reed, willow or grass depending on location and season. Mats could be rolled up in the summer heat.  There were no windows, only holes in the roof for the smoke to escape.  These skylights allowed daylight in and could be closed in the event of rain or the rare snow in this area.  A couple of summers ago we were in the Finger Lakes Region and visited another Native American museum of the Algonquin speaking people and saw a much larger long house in an area that would certainly have had snow.  It’s interesting to see that the Algonquin people range both north and south with the same customs and housing choices. 

Each family occupied a space of about 10’ oppostie a shared fire.  Families slept on the low platforms with shelves above used for storage.  Villages would have from 2 to 20 long houses.


I often don’t know the completeness of what I think about something until I put it down in writing.  Thus my decades long journal writing.  After having spent the entire afternoon here at the museum and written this post, I am able to answer my opening question. 

Although I wish some of the more ancient pieces from the museum were repatriated to the tribes from which they were taken/bartered/bought in previous times, the effort of the museum to highlight the importance of the culture and beliefs held in common by the Native Peoples of this land is very admirable.

They have worked hard with few funds to display this collection and educate the public.   I enjoyed my visit and especially the outdoor section devoted to the Croatans.  I recommend you visit if you are in the area and support this effort to focus attention on the First Peoples of this country.  Both the collection and the museum appear to have been done with respect, admiration and love.  Would that we could have done that from the beginning.  I continue to believe the Native Peoples have and had a lot to teach our ancestors and us.

My 45 mile return trip brought me home just in time for sunset over Pamlico Sound at the Coast Guard Station.   It’s been a busy but mighty fine day from Sunrise to Lighthouse to Native American Museum to Sunset.   What a wonderful life!!




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9 comments:

  1. Fascinating, though occasionally organized in a haphazard fashion.

    I know the Grand Canyon was protected at that time, though there were some unscrupulous sorts who looked at it as their own private fiefdom, including one vindictive fellow who ran for office to protect what he saw as his investments.

    You would probably like our Canadian Museum of History, particularly in terms of how First Nations peoples are treated throughout.

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  2. What? All that hard work you did on that canoe and you didn't take it out for a trial? ;c)

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  3. Can you imagine how long it would take to carve out the inside of a dugout canoe with a clamshell? Even with a lot of people working on it! That's an extraordinary collection for one person to have amassed. We've seen a lot of Native American collections in museums in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest, but I've never seen an extensive collection of traditional and ceremonial clothing like that. Thanks for the interesting tour!

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  4. Interesting collection. Makes you wonder how Mr. Bornfriend came to possess so many priceless pieces!?

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  5. What an amazing collection. I too would have wanted more labels and information.

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  6. I'm once again behind on your wonderful posts! I can't imagine where all of these pieces were kept prior to the opening of the museum. Seems nearly impossible for one person to have collected so much, even over all those years. Nice to see them all displayed and shared with others. I too would be frustrated at the 'mix' and am glad you shared your answer to your question as it is a better perspective from what you experienced. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful pics and pieces and history. I love the dance circle poles!!

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  7. I have never heard of this place. Sounds like a hidden jewel. I am intrigued by the idea of lighting a fire in one's canoe. I suspect my efforts would result in a "how could this disaster have been prevented" training video. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  8. What an expansive museum with so many unique pieces and neat outdoor 'exhibits' too. Very informative post!

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