Art of Conflict: Portraying American Indians, 1850–1900

Hana Layson with Patricia Marroquin Norby

How did U.S. and American Indian artists portray Indian peoples of the West in the late nineteenth century? What relationships exist between representations of American Indians in art and the histories of U.S. settlement?

Introduction

Images of American Indians became widely popular with American and European audiences in the mid-nineteenth century. From watercolor and pencil sketches, to oil paintings, prints, and photographs, visual representations of Indian peoples were increasingly in demand for public enjoyment. The demand for these images stemmed, in part, from the idea that American Indians were “a vanishing race.” Mid-nineteenth-century readers were regularly treated to passages like this one from the Maryland Historical Society’s 1850 annual report, cited by historian Jean Jepson Page: “The aboriginal inhabitants of this great continent are fast yielding to the more powerful race now peopling their ancient domain. The time indeed is not distant when few will remain to instruct us in their customs, arts, and polity.” White American artists, such as Frank Blackwell Mayer and E. A. Burbank, took up the challenge to “rescue from oblivion” Indian cultures and customs through visual representations.

While U.S. artists answered the call to document a “vanishing race,” American Indian artists created drawings that portrayed their experiences of this period of intense conflict and change.

The idea of the “vanishing Indian” represents a complicated mix of fantasy and denial. Dating back at least to Thomas Jefferson’s 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia, it expresses a wish on the part of European Americans that the “Indian problem” was already resolved: if the continent’s indigenous inhabitants were inevitably disappearing, they would cease to be a barrier to U.S. expansion. The use of the term “vanishing” is also a form of disavowal. It presents the decimation of the Indian population and their forced displacement onto reservations as part of the natural course of history, not the result of actions taken by U.S. policymakers and citizens. The use of this rhetoric seems particularly ironic in 1850, given that the United States was about to embark on three decades of brutal wars and complex negotiations with indigenous peoples in the West.

From the early 1850s through the late 1870s, the United States and American Indians engaged in a series of wars for control of the Great Plains. This vast territory stretched west of the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico. It was inhabited by diverse, indigenous people, from the Dakota and Lakota nations in the north (also known as the Sioux) to the Comanche and Apache in the south. Each Indian nation included multiple bands (such as the Sisseton Dakota and the Chiricahua Apache), each with its own leaders and governing structure. As a result, the Plains Wars were not one war between two distinct enemies—the United States and American Indians—rather they involved multiple military engagements and treaty negotiations between the United States and numerous, distinct groups. Many Indian bands had histories of conflict with each other and some became allies of the United States against other bands.

There was also another population that played a central role in the Plains Wars: American settlers. The steady flow of immigrants from the East created the conditions for each eruption of violence. As white traders, hunters, and farmers encroached on Indian lands, they rendered game scarce. They demanded the protection of the U.S. military, sometimes engaging in vigilante violence themselves, and pressured the government to secure more territory for their use. Historians argue that nonmilitary tactics, such as the U.S. policy of deliberately slaughtering the buffalo and thus destroying the Indians’ means of subsistence, contributed as much to the United States’ ultimate victory in these wars as its military power. By 1880 almost all of the American Indian nations had agreed or been forced to move to reservations.

While U.S. artists answered the call to document a “vanishing race,” American Indian artists created drawings that portrayed their experiences of this period of intense conflict and change. The following collection of documents presents visual art by and about western Indians from the second half of the nineteenth century. For additional sources, please see the following collections: Imagining the American West in the Late Nineteenth Century, Art and Exploration in the American West and Mexico, and Mapping the Displacement of American Indians in Mapping Chicago and the Midwest.

Essential Questions

  • How did U.S. and American Indian artists portray indigenous peoples in the second half of the nineteenth century?

  • What relationships exist between representations of American Indians in art and the histories of U.S. settlement? What do historical images of American Indian peoples tell us about the evolving relationships between Indians and non-Indians?

  • What are the differences and similarities among artists in their choices of materials and media, subject matter and style?

Frank Blackwell Mayer at Camp Traverse des Sioux

In 1851 the young artist Frank Blackwell Mayer left his home state of Maryland to travel to the Western frontier, the trading post Traverse des Sioux in the Minnesota Territory. Mayer intended to witness the intense treaty negotiations between U.S. officials and the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota (also known as Sioux). White immigrants had been moving to the Minnesota Territory since the early 1800s. By the middle of the century, game was scarce and U.S. pressure to cede the land was strong. Dakota leaders saw few alternatives to sustaining their people other than to sell their land. The treaty resulted in the opening of 24 million acres of Dakota homelands to American settlement. The Sisseton and Wahpeton retained only a narrow swathe of land along the Minnesota River. The promised payments from the U.S. government were largely siphoned off by white traders and corrupt officials.

Mayer sketched hundreds of drawings of the Dakota people gathered at the camp, intending to publish his journal with oil paintings based on the sketches after he returned East. But he made a mistake in delaying that phase of his project: in 1862—one year into the Civil War—the Dakota rose up against the United States in a short, bloody war that resulted in roughly 1,000 deaths and culminated in the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. During the three decades of brutal wars between the United States and western Indian tribes that followed, the public had little taste for Mayer’s whimsical sketches of the Dakota Indians whom he described as kind and contented. But his sketchbook is now considered the most important visual record of the 1851 treaty negotiations. (For popular coverage of the Dakota War, see the Newberry online exhibition Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

The first drawing below portrays Camp Traverse des Sioux itself, including what Mayer describes as the “Old French graveyard.” The second portrays a Sisseton chief on horseback. The final drawing shows a young woman known by several names: Winona, Nancy Eastman, and Wakantakawin. She was the daughter of a Dakota (Santee Sioux) woman, Wakanin ajin win, and a U.S. Army soldier and artist, Seth Eastman, who ended the marriage after her birth. (Seth Eastman went on to illustrate the most comprehensive, nineteenth-century study of American Indians, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s six-volume, government-funded work, Information Regarding the History, Conditions, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States.) Winona married a Santee Sioux man and had five children, dying during the birth of the youngest. That youngest son, Charles Eastman, grew up to become the first American Indian certified as a medical doctor and a prominent writer and advocate of Indian rights.

Questions to Consider

  1. Describe the scene at Camp Traverse des Sioux, as Mayer portrays it. What do you notice about the dwellings and other structures? What evidence do you see of the presence of both U.S. and Dakota people as well as the longer history of the trading post?

  2. How do Winona and Kanfh-madokah, the Sisseton chief, appear in these drawings? What is the mood or tone of these illustrations?

  3. Do these drawings give you a sense of the momentous treaty negotiations that were underway when Mayer created them? Why or why not? Could you draw any conclusions about the artist’s ideas about the treaty negotiations based on these images? Find evidence to support your response in the illustrations themselves.

Camp and Graveyard, Traverse des Sioux

Frank Blackwell Mayer. 1851.

Image of Camp and Graveyard, Traverse des Sioux

A drawing of the Minnesota trading post where tribal leaders signed a treaty opening 24 million acres of Dakota lands to American settlement.

Middle of page: “Camp Traverse des Sioux. FM, July 16, 1851.”

Bottom of page: “Old French graveyard, Traverse des Sioux.”

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Camp and Graveyard, Traverse des Sioux
Short Title Camp Traverse des Sioux, 1851
Creator Frank Blackwell Mayer
Publication Date 1851
Artwork Medium pencil on paper
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Mayer, Drawing No. 3
Location Special Collections 4th floor
Notes In Frank B. Mayer collection of sketchbooks, drawings, and oil paintings of Sioux Indians during the 1851 treaty negotiations at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota, Minn.

“Kanfh-madokah, Sisseton Chief”

Frank Blackwell Mayer. From Sketchbook of Sioux Indians During the 1851 Treaty Negotiations at Traverse Des Sioux, July 6, 1851.

Image of Kanfh-madokah, Sisseton Chief

Portrait of Kanghe-madokah, a Sisseton chief, on horseback, at Traverse des Sioux.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Kanfh-madokah, Sisseton Chief
Short Title Sisseton Chief, 1851
Book Title Sketchbook of Sioux Indians During the 1851 Treaty Negotiations at Traverse Des Sioux
Creator Frank Blackwell Mayer
Publication Date July 6, 1851
Pages p. 99
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Mayer sketchbook 41
Location Special Collections 4th floor

“Winona (Nancy Eastman)”

Frank Blackwell Mayer. From Sketchbook of Sioux Indians During the 1851 Treaty Negotiations at Traverse Des Sioux, July 4, 1851.

Image of Winona (Nancy Eastman)

Portrait of a young woman, also known as Nancy Eastman, the daughter of a U.S. soldier and a Dakota woman, at Traverse des Sioux.

Top of page: Sketched in the lodge of “Rda-ma-nee” [“the walking rattler”] at Ragh ma a to wa [“the village in the corner”]

Bottom of page: Nancy MLure. Winona. July 4th 1851. Traverse des Sioux

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Winona (Nancy Eastman)
Short Title Winona, 1851
Book Title Sketchbook of Sioux Indians During the 1851 Treaty Negotiations at Traverse Des Sioux
Creator Frank Blackwell Mayer
Publication Date July 4, 1851
Pages p. 102
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Mayer sketchbook 41
Location Special Collections 4th floor

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Cheyenne and Kiowa Ledger Drawings

Indians of the Great Plains had a long tradition of chronicling their lives in pictures painted on buffalo and deer hides. Between 1865 and 1935, warrior artists adapted this tradition to the new materials at hand: the blank pages of ledger books obtained from U.S. soldiers, traders, missionaries, and reservation employees. Using colored pencils, crayons, and watercolor paints, Plains Indian men illustrated the battles they fought against the U.S. Army and other Indian tribes. They also portrayed courtships, ceremonies, and buffalo hunts. Many recorded their new lives on reservations and in prison camps and boarding schools.

The first image below comes from a Cheyenne ledger book, probably illustrated between 1877 and 1879. It contains unsigned drawings, which scholars attribute to Black Horse and other Cheyenne warrior artists. The drawings depict Cheyenne attacks on Pawnee, Shoshone, Crow, and Snake Indians—both men and women—and encounters with white Army soldiers and white settlers. Captions on the drawings below refer to the Battle of Powder River in the Montana Territory. U.S. Cavalry troops attacked a Cheyenne encampment, initiating the Great Sioux War of 1876. However, it’s unclear whether the artist provided the captions or they were added later.

The second and third images below are Kiowa Indian ledger drawings, probably created during the early reservation period between 1880 and 1890. These drawings are on leaves removed from an ordinary blue-ruled writing tablet.

Questions to Consider

  1. Write a story about each of the ledger drawings. What do you think is happening in each scene?

  2. How would you describe the styles used by these Cheyenne and Kiowa artists? How are the figures arranged in space? Which elements of the drawings appear realistic or natural and which elements appear symbolic? How do the artists make use of color? Where do you see attention to detail?

  3. What can you learn about Cheyenne and Kiowa customs or clothing from these images? What seems most important to each artist to convey?

  4. Compare these drawings to the artwork by Frank Blackwell Mayer, Frederick Gokliz, and E. A. Burbank elsewhere in this collection. What differences do you notice in both subject matter and style?

“Soldiers Charging at Powder River”

Black Horse (Cheyenne). From Black Horse Ledger, Circa 1877.

Image of Soldiers Charging at Powder River

A Cheyenne ledger drawing portrays U.S. soldiers in grey or blue uniforms, a few with red face paint and long hair, as though altered to appear Indian. Bullets fly from rifles at the front of the group.

  1. 6 caption: “Soldiers charging at Powder River”

  2. 7 caption: “Soldier pursued”

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Soldiers Charging at Powder River
Short Title Soldiers Charging, 1877
Book Title Black Horse Ledger
Creator Black Horse (Cheyenne)
Publication Date Circa 1877
Pages p. 6
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer MS 3227
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Kiowa Indian Ledger Drawing: Battle with U.S. Soldiers

Circa 1880.

Image of Kiowa Indian Ledger Drawing: Battle with U.S. Soldiers

A Kiowa Indian warrior stands over a fallen U.S. Army soldier with two arrows in his side, a brigade of infantrymen in gray and blue army uniforms in the background.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Kiowa Indian Ledger Drawing: Battle with U.S. Soldiers
Short Title Kiowa Battle U.S. Soldiers, 1880
Publication Date Circa 1880
Artwork Medium pencil on paper
Call Number VAULT Ayer MS 3228
Location Special Collections 4th floor
Notes Identification of drawings by Plains Indians authority and Newberry scholar, Father Peter J. Powell.

Kiowa Indian Ledger Drawing: Man, Woman, Tipi, River

Circa 1880.

Image of Kiowa Indian Ledger Drawing: Man, Woman, Tipi, River

A Kiowa ledger drawing of a scene of courtship or family life, with a man and a woman, both wearing colorful striped blankets, standing by a tipi, by the edge of a river.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Kiowa Indian Ledger Drawing: Man, Woman, Tipi, River
Short Title Kiowa Man and Woman, 1880
Publication Date Circa 1880
Artwork Medium pencil on paper
Call Number VAULT Ayer MS 3228
Location Special Collections 4th floor
Notes Identification of drawings by Plains Indians authority and Newberry scholar, Father Peter J. Powell.

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Frederick Gokliz, Chiricahua Apache Artist

Frederick Gokliz was a Chiricahua Apache artist from the San Carlos Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona. He created the ink and watercolor drawings below between 1894 and 1899. By that time, the United States had won the wars in the West and almost all of the Plains Indians had been forced to accept the reservation system.

Questions to Consider

  1. What are the scenes that Gokliz portrays in these three drawings? How do people seem to relate to each other in these scenes? What expressions does Gokliz convey through their faces and postures?

  2. How does Gokliz make use of colors and patterns in these works?

  3. What do the drawings tell you about Chiricahua Apache customs?

Two Apache Men on Horseback

Frederick Gokliz. Circa 1894.

Image of Two Apache Men on Horseback

Chiricahua Apache artist Frederick Gokliz portrays two men on horseback approaching each other. Each carries a long blanket and spear.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Two Apache Men on Horseback
Short Title Apache Men on Horseback, 1894
Creator Frederick Gokliz
Publication Date Circa 1894
Artwork Medium Ink and watercolor on paper
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz, Drawing 10
Location Special Collections 4th floor
Notes Title supplied by cataloger.

Meeting, Apache Indians

Frederick Gokliz. Circa 1894.

Image of Meeting, Apache Indians

Chiricahua Apache artist Frederick Gokliz portrays a group of people sitting at a circular table, regarding two figures in the center.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Meeting, Apache Indians
Short Title Apache Meeting, 1894
Creator Frederick Gokliz
Publication Date Circa 1894
Artwork Medium Ink and watercolor on paper
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz, Drawing 17
Location Special Collections 4th floor
Notes Title supplied by cataloger.

Apache Woman on Horseback, Greeted by a Man

Frederick Gokliz. Circa 1894.

Image of Apache Woman on Horseback, Greeted by a Man

In this drawing by Chiricahua Apache artist Frederick Gokliz, a man greets a woman on horseback.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Apache Woman on Horseback, Greeted by a Man
Short Title Apache Woman, Horse, and Man, 1894
Creator Frederick Gokliz
Publication Date Circa 1894
Artwork Medium Ink and watercolor on paper
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Gokliz
Location Special Collections 4th floor
Notes Title supplied by cataloger.

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E. A. Burbank’s American Indian Portraits

In the 1890s, the painter Elbridge Ayer Burbank was commissioned by his uncle Edward E. Ayer to produce a series of portraits of prominent Indian chiefs. Ayer was a business magnate and dedicated collector of books, art, and manuscripts related to American Indian cultures. (Ayer eventually donated this collection to the Newberry Library and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.) Burbank spent two decades traveling throughout the American West, creating portraits of celebrated leaders and others from 125 bands. He wrote the letters to his uncle and created the portraits below during his time at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the Crow Agency in the Little Bighorn valley in Montana.

Fort Sill had been established in 1869 and become one of the most important U.S. military forts during the Plains Wars. In 1894 Geronimo and over 300 other Chiricahua Apache prisoners of war were transferred to Fort Sill, where Burbank later met and painted them. Geronimo and his band of warriors were notorious for holding out against U.S. forces longer than any other group of Indians. In the early 1880s, they repeatedly escaped the Chiricahua reservation in eastern Arizona to raid settlements in the United States and Mexico. Geronimo surrendered for the last time in 1886. He spent the rest of his life as a prisoner of war, though he was permitted some travel and honors: in the late 1890s and early 1900s, he—along with other respected Indian leaders—participated in a curious chapter of post–Plains Wars history by performing in Wild West shows and World’s Fairs. He died at Fort Sill in 1909.

White Swan was one of six Crow scouts who fought alongside George Armstrong Custer’s cavalry during the 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. He was severely wounded during the Battle of Little Bighorn. He later received a small pension from the U.S. Army and lived at the Crow Agency, the headquarters for U.S. agents who negotiated with the Crow at their nearby reservation.

Questions to Consider

  1. Examine Burbank’s oil paintings of the young Kiowa woman, the celebrated Chiricahua Apache chief, Geronimo, and the Crow scout, White Swan. Describe the expressions on their faces. How does or doesn’t Burbank convey their feelings or personalities? What information does Burbank provide about Kiowa, Apache, or Crow clothing and customs? In what ways do these images match or defy audience expectations for these subjects—now or at the turn of the twentieth century?

  2. How would you compare these portraits to the Cheyenne and Kiowa ledger art or to Gokliz’s drawings? What differences do you notice in the artists’ choices of media? How are these works informed by American Indian and European artistic traditions? Do these works seem to reflect the same or different motivations on the part of the artists?

  3. What do Burbank’s letters reveal about his relationships with the subjects of his paintings? What seems to motivate his interest in painting American Indians?

  4. What do Burbank’s letters suggest about the market for art portraying American Indians? How does Burbank regard art created by Indians themselves, such as White Swan and Hawgone?

Portrait of Gi-aum-e Hon-o-me-tah (Young Woman)

E. A. Burbank. 1897.

Image of Portrait of Gi-aum-e Hon-o-me-tah (Young Woman)

Portrait of a young Kiowa woman at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. E. A. Burbank traveled through the American West for two decades, painting individuals from more than 125 tribes.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Portrait of Gi-aum-e Hon-o-me-tah (Young Woman)
Short Title Young Woman, 1897
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1897
Artwork Medium Framed oil painting on canvas
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank, No. 77
Location Special Collections, 4th Floor

Geronimo

E. A. Burbank. 1897.

Image of Geronimo

Portrait of Geronimo, the celebrated Chiricahua Apache warrior and leader. E. A. Burbank traveled through the American West for two decades, painting individuals from more than 125 tribes.

Fort Sill, 1897.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Geronimo
Short Title Geronimo, 1897
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1897
Artwork Medium Framed oil painting on canvas
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank, No. 80
Location Special Collections, 4th Floor

Geronimo, Apache

E. A. Burbank. 1897.

Image of Geronimo, Apache

Profile portrait of Geronimo, the celebrated Chiricahua Apache warrior and leader. E. A. Burbank traveled through the American West for two decades, painting individuals from more than 125 tribes.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Geronimo, Apache
Short Title Geronimo, Apache, 1897
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1897
Artwork Medium Framed oil painting on canvas
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank, No. 51
Location Special Collections, 4th Floor

Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

E. A. Burbank. March 25, 1897.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

The painter Elbridge Ayer Burbank was commissioned by his uncle Edward E. Ayer to produce portraits of American Indians of the West. Here, Burbank discusses painting two Kiowa women as well as Geronimo and other Apache and Comanche chiefs.

Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory

Mch 25/97

My dear Uncle & Aunt

Have made up my mind not to go to Sommerville, Texas, don’t want to waste any time going there and painting donkeys, I never was so well satisfied with painting anything as am with these Indians. I wish you both could see now a picture I have finished of a Kiowa Indian girl dressed up in her native costume. I never painted a more beautiful picture in my life her costume is

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 2]

is marvelous in color. I have two Indians sitting for me every day one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon, in the afternoon am painting another Kiowa girl full length with a beautiful costume that the doctor here loaned me a genuine Kiowa costume. I had some trouble with the two Indian girls after I had started the picture. They didn’t want to sit any more. One morning they didn’t come so I went after them and they came at noon and said we sit no more, tired of sitting, well I wasn’t in a good

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 3]

humor and just gave them thunder and they commenced to sit. I told Capt. Scott and he told their Father and now they sit fine, but how they do hate it. They sing Indian songs most all the time. When the Indians saw my finished pictures they didn’t know what to make of it one of them said I made strong medicine that enchanted me to do it, so now I am a big man in their estimation.

I just got Chief Natche the rightful Chief of the Appache by inheritance to sit for me this forenoon have heard abt him ever since I have been here.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 4]

Artists have tried to have him sit for them and he wouldn’t he was offered $100.00 if he would sit and turned his back on them and walked off. I gave him a dollar a sitting for four hours, he will sit for me every other morning and the Indian girl in the other mornings. Am making arrangements now for Looking Glass Chief of the Comanches to sit for me in full war costume Capt. Scott who has been with the Indians 20 years and who is a fine judge of the costumes says that I have the right costumes. Will try and

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 5]

remain here until the hot weather sets in which won’t be for two months yet, then I want to go North where Chief Joseph is. He is some where in Montana. I never dreamed what the Indians were until I came here it is impossible to find any thing more picturesque than these Indians are in their costumes. Natche is a fine looking man such fine features and such a nice expression to his face and such nice manners but they tell me he was a perfect devil when he was with Geronimo. Before I leave here expect to have at least 25 pictures.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 6]

I work every day Sunday and all for when I return to Chicago will have a private exhibition of nothing but Indian pictures and everyone of them correct as far as costume your I wont have a Kiowa moccasin on an Apache Indian. I want to ask you a question, do you known the difference between a Kiowa moccasin and an Appache one? I do. After I get through work take long rides on my wheel. The roads are good here and perfectly dry, the weather is beautiful peach tree in blossom, grass green, etc.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 7]

If I want to go to Montana from here do you suppose you could get me a horse? Won’t go for two months yet. After I get through here there is no use of me returning to Chicago not until Fall anyway. I just feel as though I had lost a pile of time in not painting these Indians before and don’t want to lose time by getting away from them. Since have finished with Geronimo am working in a room with a North light that one of the Lieutenants let me have and have the Indians come to me to pose for me.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

[p. 8]

Capt. Scott is awfully enthusiastic over my pictures, and he wished he could have them if he had money he would buy every one of them. The first free time I have am going over to see Geronimo and have him tell me his life, several people have been at him to tell them his life but he wouldn’t say a word. He seems to like me, he has a cat and he likes the cats whiskers clipped close all the time. Well, I must close. Expect you are having a nice time, hope you both are enjoying your health. Your affectionate nephew,

E A Burbank

Metadata Details
Item Type Letter
Title Letter to E. E. Ayer, Fort Sill, Oklahoma
Short Title Letter from Fort Sill, 1897
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date March 25, 1897
Call Number Ayer MS 120, Box 1, Folder 2
Location Special Collections 4th floor

White Swan, Crow

E. A. Burbank. 1897.

Image of White Swan, Crow

Portrait of a Crow warrior. The three feathers in his hair represent three wounds he received at the battle of Little Bighorn. The red rings painted on his arms represent the number of Sioux he has killed, and the yellow rings represent the number of Chey

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title White Swan, Crow
Short Title White Swan, 1897
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1897
Artwork Medium Framed oil painting on canvas
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank, No. 69
Location Special Collections, 4th Floor

Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

E. A. Burbank. August 21, 1897.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

The painter Elbridge Ayer Burbank was commissioned by his uncle Edward E. Ayer to produce a series of portraits of American Indians of the West. In this letter, Burbank discusses painting the warrior White Swan and selling paintings by them both.

Crow Agency

Aug 21/97

My dear Uncle,

I will leave here Sept 1st for the Cheyenne’s. Have got 23 pictures finished 20 of them are Crows and all of them very saleable. Have painted two pictures of White Swan front view and profile he has made me several large drawings colored of the hat he took in the Custer fight with Reno all of the other Indians & Scouts deserted Reno except White Swan and he stuck by him he was got some terrible wounds.

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

[p. 2]

White Swan made me a present of the drawings I have a good portrait of Chief Deaf Bull. The Agent here has sent for Chief Plenty Cous who lives some 80 miles from here to come here and sit for me, expect him next week. Plenty Cous and Pretty Eagle are the two principal Chiefs of the Crows. Mr. P. B. Neare told me to be sure and get portraits of them both. After I leave the Cheyenne’s will go to the Blackfeet then to the Flatheads and then to the Nez Perces I don’t think I will go any further West than Nez Perces as am told the Indians are

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

[p. 3]

too much civilized so I will come back and stop off with the Pine Ridge Sioux’s don’t think I will be in Chicago until middle of Nov. I haven’t heard yet whether my picture arrived at your office all right or not. I sent 5 Aug 8 and sent 8 Aug 10 prepaid the charges and addressed them to Elbridge Burbank in your care and Office address also wrote a letter with each package to Mr. Raher describing about the picture to put them in the safe and not to open them. I received a letter dated Aug 17 from Mr. Raher stating he had just returned from 10 days vacation

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

[p. 4]

and as soon as pictures arrived he would let me know and would take care of them. The pictures must have been there in the office when he wrote as 9 & 7 days had passed when he wrote, so I have written another letter and addressed it to the office so it will be opened if Mr. Raher is absent asking about the pictures. I am awfully anxious about them as the 13 pictures represent over $2000,00 and lots of hard work and the very best sittings among them. I intended to paint every single Indian tribe in America, this winter will spend among the

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

[p. 5]

Southern Indians have thought of going to San Carlos in Arizona where the Apaches are and paint the other Indians North of them. They tell me there is a tribe of Indians near Palm Beach Florida called the Seminoles that the government could not get to go to Indian Territory with the rest of the tribe – do you know about them? The reason have been staying here so long is because I can get such saleable subjects among the Indians here. I could of sold two of the Indians here to a Chicago men both wanted Pretty Eagle’s picture but I don’t intend to sell a single

Image of Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana

[p. 6]

picture until get to Chicago and have an exhibition. Would you like to have White Swan make you a set of pictures of his life? He would make it for $2.00 at least, they are very interesting much more so than what Hawgone made.

Your affectionate

nephew,

Eldridge

Metadata Details
Item Type Letter
Title Letter to E. E. Ayer, Crow Agency, Montana
Short Title Letter from Crow Agency, 1897
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date August 21, 1897
Call Number Ayer MS 120, Box 1, Folder 10
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

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Chief Blue Horse Writes to E. A. Burbank

Blue Horse was chief of the Wagluhe band of Oglala Lakota in South Dakota. Like many of the Wagluhe, Blue Horse believed that negotiation and cooperation, rather than armed conflict, were the best way to protect the interests of his people. He was one of the first U.S. Army Indian Scouts, Indians who received salaries from the U.S. Army to provide intelligence, assist in combat, and serve as mediators in negotiations with other tribes. Blue Horse worked closely with his adopted brother Chief Red Cloud to secure Oglala Lakota lands in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie following the defeat of the U.S. Army Red Cloud’s War. In 1889 they worked unsuccessfully to block the partition of the Great Sioux Reservation. He was also one of the first Indian leaders to travel with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, joining in performances from 1887 into the twentieth century.

Chief Blue Horse befriended E. A. Burbank in 1898, when Burbank traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and created this portrait. This letter, which Blue Horse later wrote to Burbank, reveals some of Blue Horse’s personal history as well as his talent for shrewd negotiations with U.S. representatives.

Questions to Consider

  1. How does Chief Blue Horse appear in Burbank’s portrait? Compare this portrait to Burbank’s paintings of Geronimo and the Kiowa woman. What is the effect of shifting the focus from the subject’s face to his costume, in this case, a war bonnet?

  2. Blue Horse was known as a negotiator, rather than a warrior, and describes himself as having “a peaceful disposition.” Why do you think that Blue Horse chose to pose in a war bonnet for this portrait—or that Burbank chose to paint him in this dress?

  3. How does Blue Horse portray his history with white Americans? What sentiment does he try to convey when he refers to the U.S. president as the “Great Father”?

  4. Why does Blue Horse tell Burbank about his involvement in the last presidential election? What does he suggest about relations between the Wagluhe and U.S. politicians?

  5. What do you think are Blue Horse’s motives for writing to Burbank?

Portrait of Chief Blue Horse, Sioux

E. A. Burbank. 1899.

Image of Portrait of Chief Blue Horse, Sioux

Portrait of a Lakota Indian chief by E. A. Burbank. Blue Horse wears a war bonnet with feathers and fur as well as face paint.

Metadata Details
Item Type Artwork
Title Portrait of Chief Blue Horse, Sioux
Short Title Chief Blue Horse, 1899
Creator E. A. Burbank
Publication Date 1899
Artwork Medium Framed oil painting on canvas
Call Number VAULT oversize Ayer Art Burbank, No. 61
Location Special Collections, 4th Floor

Letter: to my friend Mr. Burbank, through his interpreter Ista Tanka

Blue Horse. 1900.

Image of Letter: to my friend Mr. Burbank, through his interpreter Ista Tanka

Chief Blue Horse, a Lakota Indian, wrote this letter to the artist E. A. Burbank.

[p. 1] To my friend Mr. Burbank

through my interpreter Ista Tanka

Son of the “Shadow Maker”

This morning I am glad to shake hands with you though the White Man’s way, his way not his burden and to tell you through this paper a little of my past history. I am the second son of the Great Sioux Chief Smoke, to whom over recently eight years ago there was born two sons, viz., Big Mouth and Blue Horse. As Big Mouth was the eldest, he became head chief before the death of our father. But thirty winters past, another Sioux Chief by the name of Spotted Tail through jealousy laid in ambush, and killed my brother. Being of a peaceful disposition I did not retaliate and murder Spotted Tail, as I was advised to do—but instead separated and moved with the “melt” band of Sioux to other locality, where Spotted Tail hereafter gave us ample room and treated my land with the greatest respect.

The Blue Horse village afterward became noted for a place of refuge for all White Men in distress and this morning kind friend, I raise the Pipe of truth, and I do here most solemnly swear by and in the presence of the Great Spirit, that this brown [continued on p. 2]

Image of Letter: to my friend Mr. Burbank, through his interpreter Ista Tanka

[p. 2] hand of Old Chief Blue Horse, has never risen to smite a White Man. I have lived in peace here and have assisted the Great Father in his work of advancing my people from warriors to citizenship and to accept the road and burdens of your race. And with down cast heart I have nottised my Great Father (The President [William McKinley]) giving nice carriages and fine horses and building good frame houses to some, so called chiefs here. Yes, some of these very men have murdered many of your race, have fought against education and all advancement yet they are the best rewarded of all members of our tribe. If you ever in your travels should meet my Great Father, please ask him to remember Blue Horse. Tell him I am called Blue Horse the “Gold Bug,” on account of the active part I took during the last presidential election, as previous to the fall election I had been a regular attendant at one of our Missionary chapels, and had listen to our good minister description of the “Golden City,” and its golden paved streets. I pictured to myself the predicament, I and Mrs. Blue Horse would be placed into, if this man Bryan, should be elected, and extended the golden streets 16 to 1—which would compel us to travel sixteen silver miles to one of the Golden Miles to reach the silver commissary to draw our monthly rations. I am glad Bryan was not elected, for I am getting [continued on p. 3]

Image of Letter: to my friend Mr. Burbank, through his interpreter Ista Tanka

[p. 3] old, and the shadows of mature years have furrowed my once fair face. I am looking for peace in the Spirit land. White Men have their Bibles and their Christ to guide them to life to come. Us Indians have our “White Cow,” traditions, and superstitions and have deeds. You may ask me for explanations, and the absurdity of our faith, and in reply my friend I would say “How” let’s wait, my friend, and see who gets there first.

I am now going to leave you as it were. I hope to meet you again and I shall rise my pipe above my head and say Great Spirit I pray be good to my friend the son of the Shadow maker, toward the Pines (the North) cold winds treat him kindly, toward the rising sun (East) great sun shine on his lodge early every morning. Toward the place where the shadow maker lives (South) “bless your son,” toward the land of the setting sun (West) staying Waft on the breezes our friend this way, and lowering my Pipe of peace, I say kind Mother Earth, when you receive my friend into thy motherly bosom hold him kindly, let the howl of the Coyote, the roaring of the bears and the mountain lions, the cold blasts of winds swaying the tops of the Pine Trees be a sweet lullaby to him that shaketh the hand of your friend.

[under drawing of horse] X his mark

Metadata Details
Item Type Letter
Title Letter: to my friend Mr. Burbank, through his interpreter Ista Tanka
Short Title Letter from Chief Blue Horse, 1900
Creator Blue Horse
Publication Date 1900
Call Number VAULT box Ayer MS 82
Location Special Collections, 4th Floor

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Selected Sources

Arms, Nicolas and Patricia Marroquin-Norby. “Picturing Indians: The Visual Culture of American Settlement. A proposal for a four-week NEH summer institute for college and university teachers at the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies, The Newberry Library July 13 to August 7, 2015.” 2014.

Gercken, Becca. “Manifest Meanings: The Selling (Not Telling) of American Indian History and the Case of ‘The Black Horse Ledger.’” American Indian Quarterly 34, 4 (Fall 2010): 521–539.

Green, Rayna. “The Pocahontas Perplex: The Image of Indian Women in American Culture.” Massachusetts Review 16, 4 (Autumn 1975): 698–714.

Gwynne, S. C. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Page, Jean Jepson. “Frank Blackwell Mayer: Painter of the American Indian.” Minnesota History (Summer 1978): 66–74.

“Plains Wars.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1032848/Plains-Wars.

Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. Keeping History: Plains Indians Ledger Drawings. 2009.

Weber, Eric W. Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. Minnesota Historical Society.

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Classroom Activities

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Digital collection created in conjunction with Patricia Marroquin-Norby’s Teachers as Scholars seminar, “Reading Representations of American Indians,” on June 23–26, 2014. This collection is based, in part, on a document packet created by Scott Stevens, Diane Dillon, and Linda Burns in 2009.

Support for this collection was generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

This collection was last updated