Published on September 29, 2012 by Amy
Mildred Cleghorn (December 11, 1910 – April 15, 1997) was first chairperson of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.
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Traditional doll maker, school teacher, and Fort Sill Apache tribal leader, Mildred Imoch (En-Ohn or Lay-a-Bet) was born a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on December 11, 1910. Her grandfather had followed Geronimo into battle, and her grandparents and parents were imprisoned with the Chiricahua Apache in Florida, Alabama, and at Fort Sill. Her family was one of only seventy-five that chose to remain at Fort Sill instead of relocating to the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico in 1913.
Mildred Cleghorn attended school in Apache, Oklahoma, at Haskell Institute in Kansas, and at Oklahoma State University, where she received a degree in home economics in 1941. After finishing her formal education, she spent several years as a home extension agent in Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico and then sixteen years as a home economics teacher, first at Fort Sill Indian School at Lawton and later at Riverside Indian School at Anadarko. Later she taught kindergarten at Apache Public School in Apache. She was married to William G. Cleghorn, whom she had met in Kansas, and their union produced a daughter, Peggy. In 1976 Mildren Cleghorn became chairperson of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, newly organized as a self-governing entity. Her leadership in that government revolved around preserving traditional history and culture. She retired from the post at age eighty-five in 1995.
Cleghorn demonstrating sewing machine
Cleghorn’s many awards and recognitions included a human relations fellowship at Fisk University in 1955, the Ellis Island Award in 1987, and the Indian of the Year Award in 1989. She also served as an officer in the North American Indian Women’s Association, as secretary of the Southwest Oklahoma Intertribal Association, and as treasurer of the American Indian Council of the Reformed Church of America.
Above all, Mildred Cleghorn was a cultural leader. She spent a lifetime creating dolls authentically clothed to represent forty of the tribes she had encountered in her teaching career. Her work was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Her life ended in an automobile accident near Apache on April 15, 1997.
Source: Oklahoma Historical Society