History of the Indian Tribes of North America
|Author||Thomas L. McKenney, James Hall|
|Illustrator||Three frontispieces after Peter Rindisbacher and Karl Bodmer, and 117 portrait plates after Henry Inman's copies of the original oil paintings mostly by Charles Bird King, drawn on stone by Albert Newsam, Alfred Hoffy, Ralph Tremblay, Henry Dacre, and others, printed and colored by J. T. Bowen and others.|
|Subject||United States History, Native Americans|
|Publisher||First edition of v. 1 published by E.C. Biddle, Philadelphia, 1836.; Volumes 2-3 published by D. Rice and J.G. Clark, 1842-44.|
The History of the Indian Tribes of North America is a three volume collection of Native American biographies and accompanying lithograph portraits originally published from 1836 to 1844 by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. The majority of the portraits were first painted in oil by Charles Bird King.
From about 1821, Thomas McKenney, the U.S. Superintendent of Indian Trade and soon to lead the Office of Indian Affairs, started to commission portraits from Charles Bird King of American Indians who had traveled to Washington, D.C. as delegates to negotiate treaties with the federal government. King painted portraits of American Indians up to 1837.
McKenney would express as his reason a desire to preserve "in the archives of the Government whatever of the aboriginal man can be rescued from the destruction which awaits his race." He believed that American Indians should be "looked upon as human beings, having bodies and souls like ours".
At first, the growing collection of portraits was housed in the War Office. In 1858, the original oil paintings were moved to The Castle, the Smithsonian Institution's first building, then also used as a repository and gallery for artworks.
In an endeavor to reach a wider public, McKenney commissioned lithographs of the paintings to be published in three volumes, with every portrait complemented by a surprisingly extensive biography of the subject. To research and write those, McKenney successfully approached James Hall (born on August 19, 1793 in Philadelphia, died on July 5, 1868 in a town outside of Cincinnati), a judge and Treasurer of the State of Illinois as well as an author. Hall had a great deal of difficulty in finding the source material McKenney promised, and spent eight years tracking the subjects, about whom McKenney had provided little more than a name.
It became clear several times that the substantial price of $120 for the subscription to the whole set was still nowhere near enough to defray the costs incurred during the exacting production process of the original folio volumes. The Panic of 1837 nearly dealt the project a deathblow, depriving many of its subscribers of the means to pay for their subscriptions.
It was then that McKenney finally withdrew from the project completely. Hall and a new publisher brought the series to completion, with the final installment appearing in January 1844, long after McKenney was inspired to make the remarkable series of portraits available to the public. In the end, there were 1,250 subscribers.
Fire at the Smithsonian
In the winter of 1865, workers relocating the Indian portraits brought in a wood-burning stove to keep themselves warm while they worked, and vented the stovepipe into a ventilation shaft that they mistook for a flue. After some two weeks a fiull fire ignited in the ventilation shaft. The second floor was engulfed, and the roof of the Castle collapsed. In this, the most catastrophic fire in the Smithsonian's history, 295 of the original Indian portraits were consumed; five were rescued. Although one of the painters had made a few copies of his favorite portraits for himself, the great majority of the pictures would have been irretrievably lost had McKenney, Hall, and their colleagues not persevered in their lithography project.
Amiskquew, Menominee warrior
A-na-cam-e-gish-ca, Ojibwa chief
Jack-O-Pa, an Ojibwa chief
Kee-shes-wa, a Fox chief
Little Crow, a Sioux chief
Menawa, a Creek chief
The Choctaw chief Pushmataha, 1824
Major Ridge, 1834
Sequoyah or George Guess, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet
Tah-Chee (Dutch), A Cherokee Chief
- "Rare Portraits Survive Museum Blaze (In a Way)". PBS Antiques Roadshow. 2007-03-28. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/fts/mobile_200603A19.html. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to History of the Indian Tribes of North America.|
- Vol 1 and Vol 2 of the octavo edition of 1872 online at Internet Archive
- McKenney & Hall Collection at University of Cincinnati libraries
- McKenney & Hall Collection at University of Washington libraries
- McKenney & Hall Collection at University of Georgia libraries
- McKenney & Hall Collection at Bibliothèque nationale de France
- The McKenney & Hall Lithographs of Charles Bird King’s Portraits of American Indians at Smithsonian Institution
- Exhibition at Bancroft Library
- Video: What's So Special About "The History of the Indian Tribes of North America"?