TOPEKA, Kan. - A new five-story, $52 million state government building will be named after Charles Curtis, the only Indian Vice-President, announced the State of Kansas. Curtis, who served as Vice-President to Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933 was a member of the Kaw Nation and was born in Kansas.
TheTopeka Public Building Commission unanimously voted to name the building in honor of Curtis, although another group was campaigning to give the honor to the late Kansas governor Robert Bennett.
Curtis was born in 1860, in what was then the Kansas Territory. After his mother died in 1865 he went to live with his maternal relatives on the Kaw Reservation. Three years later he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Topeka, Kansas.
Young Curtis worked at a livery stable while attending school and eventually became a jockey in Kansas. But horse racing didn't seem to be exciting enough for him. Despite the claim by many that he was the 'best jockey of all time, Curtis went on to become a reporter for the North Topeka Times.
Horses didn't leave the young man's life completely. When he was admitted to the law bar he also doubled as a hack driver. By the age of twenty-four he was elected as the Prosecuting Attorney of Shawnee County. After election in 1892 to the House of Representatives, Curtis went on to win a U.S. Senate seat in 1907. By 1924 he had become the first Republican floor leader of the Senate.
While in office, Curtis backed the Women's Suffrage Amendment; Soldier's Adjusted Compensation Bill; Anti-Child Labor Amendment; anti-narcotic legislation and a bill to protect Indian women who married foreigners such as Frenchmen or white Americans. He also backed the bill that made all tribal members full citizens of the United States.
Herbert Hoover noticed Curtis while he was a member of the Senate and tapped him as his running mate in 1928. After serving one term, Curtis retired to live to Washington, D. C., where he remained until his death three years later.
Curtis was the only person to be honored by having his casket lie in state in the Topeka Capital Building rotunda. He was also posthumously inducted into the National Hall of Fame for American Indians in Anadarko, Oklahoma in 1959.
Kaw Chairwoman Wanda Stone had been unaware of the honor bestowed upon Curtis until Indian Country Today contacted her. In a written statement Stone said, "I, as an American Indian and Chairperson of the Kaw (Kanza) Nation, am very pleased that Charles Curtis' name has been chosen for the new Sate Office Building in Topeka.
I applaud the Topeka Public Building Commission; the 2001 State Legislature; the Capital Area Plaza Authority; and the Topeka City Council for their recognition of Charles Curtis, American Indian and Vice-President of the United States as an important part of our history."