150th Anniversary – Treaty of Fort Laramie features historically important photographs by the nineteenth century American photographer Alexander Gardner, a Scottish-born immigrant who is celebrated for his emotionally moving photographs of Indian Delegations and Civil War soldiers and his photographic portraits of Abraham Lincoln. In 1868, Gardner was commissioned by the federal government to photograph the peace talks between a federally-appointed commission and chiefs of the Plains Indians tribes at Ft. Laramie in Wyoming. Gardner’s photographs of the many Indian tribal leaders who gathered at Ft. Laramie to meet with U.S. government peace commissioners are considered to be among some of his most poignant works.
In 1841, the first westward-bound emigrants arrived at the fort located at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers. They were bound for Oregon, California and Salt Lake City in Utah. In the years 1858 to 1861, the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush brought even more white settlers to the western territories, accelerating conflicts between settlers and the Indians. In 1865, a congressional committee began a study of the Indian uprisings and wars in the West, resulting in a written report, Report on the Condition of the Indian Tribes, published in 1867, which ultimately led to the establishment of an Indian Peace Commission on July 20 of the same year. The intent and purpose of the commission was to end the Indian wars and prevent future Indian conflicts. In 1868, the Indian Peace Commission, comprised of three generals – W. T. Sherman, Alfred H. Terry, and W. S. Harney –, and four civilians – N. G. Taylor, Commissioner of Indian Affairs; Senator John B. Henderson, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Samuel F. Tappan; and John B. Sanborn – , found enough Indians at Ft. Laramie to warrant making a treaty. Photographs in The Brinton’s exhibit will feature more than twenty-five of Gardner’s poignant works, including photographic images of Iron Nation of the Brulé, Lakota peoples; Chiefs of the Crow Indians; members of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne, and other photographs of the many tribal leaders who gathered at Ft. Laramie to meet with U.S. government peace commissioners. From the haunting image of an Indian burial place near Ft. Laramie to the timeless, photographic portraits of Plains Indians such as Grey Eyes, White Horse, Mountain Tail, Little Face, Yellow Bull, and others, Gardner’s photographs tell the story of a peoples’ life in the West that was rapidly disappearing. The Fort Laramie Peace Treaty was signed on April 29. Additional signatures by the Oglala band of Sioux by the chiefs and headmen were subscribed and duly authorized on May 25. Unfortunately, conflicts over hunting rights and ownership of land were to continue well into the next two decades. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874 had much to do with the unravelling of the peace treaty.
“The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians. In the 1868 treaty, signed at Ft. Laramie and other military posts in Sioux country, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. In 1874, however, Gen. George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners who were seeking gold. Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds and demanding protection from the U.S. Army. Soon, the Army was ordered to move against wandering bands of Sioux hunting on the range in accordance with their treaty rights. In 1876, Custer, leading an army detachment, encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Big Horn River. Custer’s detachment was annihilated, but the United States would continue its battle against the Sioux in the Black Hills until the government confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of legal dispute between the U.S. Government and the Sioux.”
(Stacey Bredhoff, American Originals, Seattle, The University of Washington Press, 2001, pages, 56 -57.)
An American icon of photography, Alexander Gardner’s historic photographs bring to life a glimpse of the important events that took place 150 years ago at Fort Laramie.
Photographs in the 150th Anniversary – Treaty of Fort Laramie exhibit are part of a larger collection of more than 2,000 recently acquired photographs of the American West by important photographers of the period.
Schools are encouraged to schedule docent-guided tours of the exhibition.