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Chief Gall


Chief Gall was among the most powerful Lakota Indian leaders. As a warrior, Gall battled against the U.S. Army at Killdeer Mountain in 1864. As tribal chief, Gall resisted treaties that would keep his people on reservations.

On this date in 1868, Gall’s people were mentioned in the news as a “hostile tribe” – in connection with historic Fort Laramie Treaty negotiations. Later, as war-chieftain, Gall helped defeat Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in 1876. Gall continued to fight against the U.S. until his surrender at Fort Buford in 1881.

At the time of Gall’s capture, his image was also captured – by a photographer from Bismarck named David Barry. Photographer Barry, after hearing of Gall’s surrender, immediately traveled to Fort Buford. After some adroit maneuvering, Barry secured official permission to photograph Gall.

David Barry said Gall had the “greatest and strongest . . . face that I had ever seen.” Barry opened the camera-shutter and got an image of Gall standing unconquerably with a buffalo-hide around his shoulders.

Gall left the session, but returned, angrily saying the photograph was “bad,” and must be destroyed. David Barry refused Gall’s demand, and, as Barry later said: “Gall started to get [the photo] . . . from the dark room . . . . I had to act quickly, so I gave him a push away from the door. As quick as a flash, Gall drew his knife . . . furious. I took one step back . . . and reached for my revolver . . . .[After a] terrible pause . . . Gall stepped back.”

Gall retreated, but informed Fort Buford’s commander that Barry had threatened him with a gun. The commander ordered Barry to destroy the photographic-plate. Barry said he would, but did not, keeping it secretly in a box marked “Gall When Hostile.”

Two years later, the two men met again at Standing Rock Reservation. Gall was aloof, but they became friends, and Gall became a regular subject of Barry’s camera. They never spoke about their near-deadly confrontation.

Mr. Barry didn’t reproduced the 1881 photograph until after Gall died in 1894, and, out of respect, never printed the image for profit.

David Barry, who became renowned for his splendid photographs of notable Native American leaders, said that he prized that dramatic first portrait of Chief Gall “more highly than any Indian picture” he had ever taken.

Dakota Datebook written by Maureen Hukill and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “The Indian Peace Commissioners: New Treaties With Hostile Tribes,” New York Times , May 1, 1868, p. 5; “The West: Indian Affairs,” Minneapolis Tribune , May 1, 1868, p. 1.

“Chief Gall as a Hostile in the Frontier Days,” Bismarck Daily Tribune , April 14, 1907, p. 6.

Robert W. Larson, A Victor in Defeat: Chief Gall’s Life on the Standing Rock Reservation,” Prologue Magazine [National Archives & Records Administration] 40, no. 3 (Fall 2008), p. 1.

“Barry’s Photographic Parlors,” Bismarck Tribune , May 16, 1884, p. 3.

Robert W. Larson, Gall: Lakota War Chief (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2007).