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Chief Red Cloud and His Trips to Washington, D.C. in the 1870s

In the early 1870s Red Cloud, or Mahpíya Lúta, was a well-known Sioux warrior-statesman in Anglo-Indian politics and featured frequently in the news media. A review of The Evening Star for 1872 shows that Red Cloud was the most frequently mentioned individual Indian in this D.C. newspaper for that year. He was mentioned no less than 18 times and other Indians such as Spotted Tail were compared to him. He came to Washington, D.C. for the first time as part of a delegation in June 1870. Although he was persuaded to sit for Matthew B. Brady to be photographed, his reluctance resulted in a blurred image that was considered unusable and has never been located. When he returned to Washington for a second visit (May 25-June 3, 1872), three photographs were made of him by Alexander Gardner and at least one was also made by Matthew Brady's studio. One of the Gardner images was with William Blackmore, a wealthy Englishman passionately interested in North American Indian culture, who befriended Red Cloud and probably persuaded him to be photographed.

In comparing the Gardner photograph of Red Cloud (see figure below) with the 1873 and 1876 manikin photos, artists at Smithsonian's Exhibit Central, who make exhibit models today, saw a great deal of similarity, especially with the 1873 manikin. In addition, Jane Walsh, Smithsonian, and her computer comparisons (Figure 10, right) helped to convince us that the two manikins in the photographs (Figure 10, right and center) were the same. In a close-up of the Gardner photo and the two manikins it is clear that the features in both closely resemble Red Cloud.

Alexander Gardner photo of Red Cloud
See larger image of Alexander Gardner photo
Figure 10: Comparison of the Alexander Gardner photograph of Red Cloud, 1872 (left) with 1873 manikin photograph (right) and the 1876 manikin photograph (center). Credit: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, and Scherer private collection. See larger image of comparison image.

Unless a face mask was available, it is quite likely that Sidney Moulthrop, the sculptor commissioned to make the manikin head, would have sought out photographs of an actual Indian to copy for facial features. It would not have been surprising for Moulthrop to select or be directed to create a head of a well-known personality such as Red Cloud. That Moulthrop was paid for making a modeling cast of the head of Red Cloud within six weeks of the delegation's visit (Red Cloud came with 26 of his own people in 1872) to Washington suggests that it was conceived at the time Red Cloud was in the city.

According to some reporters who visited the Centennial exhibits, the manikin of Sioux Chief Red Cloud (Figure 7) was a "repulsive looking image with raised tomahawk and a belt of human scalps" (Miner 1972). The changes in Red Cloud's paraphernalia, especially the substitution of a tomahawk for a drum, was most likely an effort to make this manikin of 1876 look more warlike. The manikin presented a hostile Indian, despite the fact that Red Cloud had been at peace with the government since 1868. The media's representation was doubtless magnified after July 4, 1876 when word of General George A. Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn reached Philadelphia.

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