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The Subject's Influence

Edward Edmo, Sr., believes that his uncle Jack Edmo's fondness for having his photograph taken and for presenting his family at public gatherings was unique and not shared by Jack's other brothers. Edward's father, Tom Edmo, in particular was too occupied as chief of the Fort Hall Reservation police force and "too serious" to be concerned with being photographed.

To his nephew, the photo of Jack Edmo and his family represents a fun-loving "sporting" person, a man with an extroverted personality, an atypically social member of a large and active family. Yet the same image has been perceived by Anglo viewers as a generic portrait of a "typical" Indian family.

In the Jack Edmo family photos we also see the subject's control of the imagery. This included the frequency with which photographs were taken and the selection of clothing worn.

Edmo family, taken circa 1897

Photograph taken 1897-1898. Seated, left: Helen Edmo; standing, left: Bessie Edmo; seated, center: Lizzie Randall Edmo (b. 1869 d. 1968) holding Eugene Edmo; standing, right: Jack Edmo.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-93.


This photo is one of the most popular images of the Edmo family. It was used by the National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA) in Washington D.C. in its 1979 exhibit and exhibit catalog entitled, "The American Image: Photographs from the Archives of the United States, 1860-1960." In the 1990s the photo was displayed on the wall at the NARA in an area where all researchers must be processed to have access to the building. (Below right)

Jack is wearing moccasins with American Flag beaded design; breechcloth and vest with cut-glass beads and metal rivets, which he may have designed himself; quilled armbands; and traditional hairpipe and breastplate choker. Lizzie's and Bessie's dresses are cloth in a traditional cut. Helen's velveteen dress is decorated with cowrie shells, and she wears a women's style hairpipe necklace.

NARA directory
In 1991 it also appeared as the cover of NARA's staff telephone directory.

Credit: Scherer Personal Collection.

NARA wall
Wall at NARA, early 1990s.

Credit: Photo by Carl Alexander, Scherer Personal Collection.

We cannot know the extent to which the glass plates and photographs that remain are representative of Wrensted's work or have been selected and filtered by Anglos. That the majority of images emphasize Indian elements of clothing - blankets, beadwork, feathers - leads us to suspect the influence of the Plains Indian stereotype, which had become established by the turn of the 20th century.

Wrensted's work also portrays some Shoshone-Bannock wearing non-stereotypical clothes. Her photographs include men in cowboy outfits and the three-piece suits of prominent ranchers, and women in cotton dresses.

Charley Diggie
(Left to Right) Charley Diggie (b. 1867 d. late 1940s), a Boise Valley Sho-Ban, June Johnson (b. about 1873, d. 1945) and Sequint (b. 1876 d. 1937), Northern Shoshone. All are dressed in three piece business suits with watch chains and fobs, and have on new hats.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-35.

Possibly Jim Marshall
Possibly Jim Marshall (b. 1865) in cowboy hat and boots, woolly chaps, neck scarf, and suit jacket. He is holding spurs, and is remembered as an accomplished bronc rider.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-108.

The Viewer's Influence

Misinterpretation of the photo by the viewer occurs because of a lack of information and context. Without knowledge of its subject, a photograph can perpetuate stereotypes.

Logan Appenay

Logan Appenay, a Bannock (b. 1858 d. 1922) in Grass Dance clothing, including: anklets with bells, a loom-beaded bandolier, and a Great Lakes floral design breechcloth. He is also wearing beaded moccasins with flaps and designs influenced by Cree or Metis styles, loom-beaded garters, a sash of bugle beads over the right shoulder and a cloth shirt with floral designs on the cuffs and yoke. A Grass Dance bustle is visible behind him. The dirt smudges on is right leg suggest that he wore this costume before this picture was taken.

This photo with its floral backdrop, classical pose, heavily beaded costume, hair roach and feather, and use of blanket, creates an image full of contrasts and tensions that have given it much popularity. Reproduced by the NARA in Washington, DC as a part of a 1979 exhibition, it appeared on the cover of the exhibit catalog.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-59.

In each case, the image was not presented as the portrait of a specific Indian dressed for a known occasion, but as an icon of the "noble savage," a frequent representation in popular advertising. (see photos above and below) It was reproduced in these examples without indication of the photographer, tribe or individual - all of which are identified for the first time in this project.

American Image, exhibit catalog cover
Cover of NARA exhibit catalog, 1979.

Credit: Scherer Personal Collection.

It was also made into a large mural for an archival conservation exhibit outside the Archive's main reading room, where it was on display thorughout much of the 1990s. (Below Right)

American Image, noble savage

Cover of The American Image: Photographs from the National Archives 1860-1960. With an introduction by Alan Trachtenberg. History Book Club, February 1980.

Credit: Scherer Personal Collection.


Large mural of Logan Appenay

Credit: Photo by Victor Krantz, 1993, Scherer Personal Collection.

Grass Dancers

Grass Dancers about 1900, by an unknown photographer. Left to right: Charlie Pizoka, Logan Appenay, an unidentified man holding a feathered staff, Jack Edmo and one of his sons, and an unidentified young man.

Credit: Idaho State Historical Society, Boise: 77-69.7

A Plains Indian dance, the Grass Dance was a celebration of early spring. It was performed to insure plentiful food, such as salmon, berries and grasses, throughout the coming year. A variation of the dance is still performed today, usually as a part a powwow.
Logan Appenay and son
Appenay with his son, Asa (b. 1890 d. 1968). He is wearing many of the same items of clothing as in the SEI-59 seated portrait and photo of grass dancers. The Idaho State Historical Society photograph provided the key to interpreting the studio portrait as an image of a Grass Dancer.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-81.

The Photographer's Influence

When photographing Native Americans, the photographer sometimes added items to signal the subject's Indianness, such as pipe bags or blankets. Wrensted was not the only photographer to use the blanket as an Indian studio prop. In nineteenth-century terminology, "blanket Indian" meant an Indian with traditional values who refused to assimilate.

Johnny and Julia Ballard
Johnny and Julia Baker Ballard on their wedding day, November 5, 1905. Julia Ballard attended the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, from about 1902 to 1905. She is posed here in a dress of heavy wool cloth decorated with cowrie shells. Her woven bag is possibly of Nez Perce origin. The blanket she is seated on was also used in photo on the right.

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, Eugene O. Leonard Collection, Photo Lot 92-3.

The blanket gained its association with Native Americans through the craft of weaving practiced by some tribes, notably the Navajo, and was one of the practical items of trade and ration goods from the earliest period of Indian-White contact. There is irony in an Anglo photographer using commercially purchased blankets to make subjects appear more "Indian."
Jemaima Deepwater Shoshotse
Jemaima Deepwater Shoshotse (left), and Shoshotse (b. 1875 d. 1936). Jemaima attended the Fort Hall mission school.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-122.

Unidentified man and woman

Unidentified man and woman.

The man's breechcloth and the pipe bag next to him appear on the other individuals in the Wrensted photos. These may be shared items rather than studio props. A blanket identical to the one on which the woman is seated was donated to the Idaho Museum of Natural History (IMNH), by Helen Wrensted Sherwood, Benedicte's niece, in 1990.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-139.

Front and back of the reversible blanket shown in photo on left. Probably Wrensted had more than one blanket of the same or similar design as these are known to have been commercially made.

Credit: (Merkley, 1994).

E.O. Leonard
E. O. Leonard (b. 1884 d. 1964), taken in 1896. Eugene worked in his aunt's drugstore/Indian curio shop, attended private schools, and earned a Ph.D. in 1908. In 1918 he started the pharmacy program at what was to become Idaho State University. The Leonard family collection was an essential component of this project, as it allowed comparative analysis of Indian and non-Indian representation.

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, Eugene O. Leonard Collection, Photo Lot 92-3.

Eugene O. Leonard and Willis Reeves

Eugene O. Leonard and Willis Reeves, taken in 1902.

Willis' too-long trousers and too-short coat sleeves are indicators of his less affluent status. Willis went to Weiser Academy, Weiser, Idaho, with Eugene O. Leonard in 1899 and 1900. Eugene and Willis were close friends. A September 19, 1902 letter from Mrs. Leonard Derr to E. O. Leonard says: "I have the pictures of Willis and yourself. Will send you one of each. You can send yours taken alone to Ralph if you wish." The photo used here is likely this image. When Wrensted photographed these Euro-American friends, she left out the blankets, the Indian "signifier."

Credit: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, Eugene O. Leonard Collection, Photo Lot 92-3.

Jim Ballard with one of six brothers Profile of Jim and Johnny Ballard
(Left) Jim (b. 1843 d. 1918) and Johnny Ballard, father and son, circa 1896.  This photo, taken on the same day as photo on right, was found in the NARA collection.  It established beyond any doubt the identical origin – Wrensted’s studio – of the NARA and part of the IMNH collections of photographs.  Each man holds a pipe bag and pipe.  The backdrop is the same painted scene of a Near Eastern-style window and drapery used in the photo of E.O. Leonard taken in 1896; the Ballards, however, are standing on a blanket supplied by the photographer.

(left) Credit – National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-105.  (right) Idaho Museum of Natural History: 253226. 

Unidentified Sho-Ban
Unidentified Sho-Ban, posing in front of the same backdrop as in the portrait of E.O. Leonard and Willis Reeves. He has an otter fur sash, a hair roach, strips of cloth decorated with ermine tied to his arms, and notched feathers hanging on his left side. He holds a studded pipe tomahawk and a fringed pipe bag, and stands on a commercial blanket. Such blankets could be purchased at Mrs. Cook's store.

Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-134.

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