Native American Photographs | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Native American Photographs

Oct 5, 2020

 

In the late 1800s, hordes of journalists and photographers traveled west to get stories and pictures of Native Americans in the news. But it was a little-known Bismarck photographer who got the first pictures of two of the most famous.

On this date in 1887, Chief Joseph surrendered with the words, “I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

Joseph was chief of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce tribe. He had tried to live peacefully with the whites in his Oregon homeland, but he refused to confine his people to a reservation as ordered by the government. Settlers coveted the tribe’s fertile Valley, and trouble soon followed. In the spring of 1877, the government broke their treaty and forced the Nez Perce out of Oregon toward a reservation in Idaho.

Joseph’s warriors were enraged, and on June 12, several of them stole away to seek revenge, killing 18 whites. Chief Joseph knew a bloody retaliation would follow. Thus began one of the great retreats in American military history – nearly 1300 miles – as 750 Nez Perce sought refuge.

Newspapers from all over the country followed the retreat. Joseph eventually led his people toward Canada in hopes of joining Sitting Bull, who was in hiding since Custer’s death the year before. They battled and evaded an army of more than 2,000 soldiers the entire distance, but just 40 miles short of the Canadian border, the tribe was cornered. Left with only 86 men to protect his remaining 230 women and children, Chief Joseph surrendered.

Bismarck photographer Orlando Scott Goff had set up a studio at Fort Abraham Lincoln and had been taking pictures for the railroad. He had taken the last pictures of General Custer and his men, and was the first to get a picture of Chief Joseph shortly after the surrender.

Four years later, Sitting Bull surrendered. When being transported, Sitting Bull was put up in a hotel during a stop in Bismarck. Goff saw his chance and asked Sitting Bull if he could photograph him, but the chief didn’t trust cameras and refused. After some haggling, Goff offered Sitting Bull fifty dollars, which persuaded the chief to cooperate.

Sitting Bull posed stiffly with his long pipe held in his arms. He allowed Goff to take only one picture before stalking out.

Thus it was that these famous images of two great men came to be.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm