Alexander Gardner, photograph, Indian Peace Commissioners in Council with Arapahoes and Cheyennes

The Brinton Museum (Big Horn, WY) will present the 150th Anniversary – Treaty of Fort Laramie exhibition, featuring rare, historically important photographs by the celebrated nineteenth century American photographer Alexander Gardner, a Scottish-born immigrant who is known 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 Fort Laramie in Wyoming. Gardner’s photographs of the many Indian tribal leaders who gathered at Fort Laramie to meet with U.S. government peace commissioners are considered to be among some of his most poignant works. 150th Anniversary – Treaty of Fort Laramie opens in the museum’s S. K. Johnston, Jr. Family Gallery on March 15 and is available to visitors through May 28. This exhibition will again be presented in the fall, September 2 through November 9th. For group or school docent-guided tours, contact Barbara McNab, Curator of Exhibitions and Museum Education, at Admission for teachers and students is offered free.
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: William Tecumseh Sherman, Alfred H. Terry, and William 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 Fort Laramie to warrant making a treaty. Original photographs in The Brinton’s exhibit will feature twenty-seven of Gardner’s 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 Fort Laramie to meet with U.S. government peace commissioners. Additional images relate to scenes in the Indian Territory surrounding the region. From the haunting image of an Indian burial place near Fort 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.
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 gifted to The Brinton Museum’s Endowment Fund through the will of Forrest E. Mars, Jr., past president of the museum.
An educational symposium to accompany this show will be presented in The Brinton’s S. K. Johnston, Jr. Family Gallery on Saturday, April 14 and will feature four guest scholars knowledgeable in the fields of U.S. History, photography and American Indian Studies. Symposium topics include an overview of the work of Alexander Gardner, the biographies and stories about the people in Gardner’s photographs and the historical events leading up to the 1868 Peace Treaty. Registration for the April 14 seminar can be made online at, or by calling 307-672-3173.

About the Scholars:

KEITH F. DAVIS (Sheridan, WY), Senior Curator of Photography, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (MO,) and advisor to the Hall Family Foundation (Kansas City, MO), will present an overview of the career and character of Alexander Gardner and the importance of his work in nineteenth century America and the American West. Davis describes Gardner as “one of the most versatile and influential photographers of the mid-nineteenth century … who had clear ideas on both the documentary and artistic potential of photography.” Davis was a contributing author of the book Alexander Gardner: The Western Photographs, 1867-1868, published by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to accompany an exhibition presented in 2014/2015 and is the recipient of various awards including a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1986-87) for his work on the Civil-War era photographer George N. Barnard.

ANDREW SMITH (Santa Fe, NM), of the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe, has more than four decades of in-depth knowledge and expertise in the field of photography and will present a lecture on the many biographical and anecdotal references found in government reports, historical recollections and biographies of the Native leaders and their families represented in Alexander Gardner’s extremely rare Fort Laramie and Indian Territory photographs.

TOM REA (Casper, WY), is editor and co-founder, with the Wyoming State Historical Society, of He worked for many years in the newspaper business, and his books include Bone Wars: The Excavation and Celebrity of Andrew Carnegie’s Dinosaur (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, 2004); Devil’s Gate: Owning the Land, Owning the Story (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, 2012); The Hole in the Wall Ranch: A History (Pronghorn Press, 2010). Rea will speak on the historical and political context of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, touching on some of the treaties and wars that came before it, conflicting ideals in the Indian Bureau, the power and limits of the U.S. Army on the Plains and the approach of the Union Pacific Railroad.

DONOVIN SPRAGUE (Rapid City, SD), is a Minnicoujou, Lakota, and was born and raised on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. He teaches American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University and is the author of ten books, as well as numerous other publications worldwide. Sprague was named the 2015 Ziebach County (SD) Historian of the Year by the Ziebach County Historical Society and is the recipient of the 2015 South Dakota Humanities Council Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award. He has appeared on episodes of the History Channel and History Detectives, documentaries and the movies “Lakota Woman” and “The Life and Times of Calamity Jane.” Donovin will present a talk on the Indian perspective as related to the 1868 Fort Laramie Peace Treaty.