Ethnographic Photographs – Greater Understanding

Contributed by Deirdre Hutchison

My name is Deirdre Hutchison, and I am currently studying for my B.A. in history at UMass Lowell. As part of a semester internship, I had the opportunity to research the provenance of several unidentified Native American photographs held by the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. My first blog outlined initial findings and potential areas of investigation. To summarize that blog, the photos, mounted on board, illustrate a 1905 event at the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma.

As I navigated various connections, photographer James B. Kent became a more prominent fixture of my research. Kent was a regular photographer at the 101 Ranch, and the Millers tapped him to design and compile the souvenir booklet for “Oklahoma’s Gala Day” at the ranch on June 11, 1905. –. Kent, it seems, was an integral part of photography at the 101 Ranch, ultimately becoming the head of the moving pictures department by 1927.

101 Magazine/The 101 Ranch Official Souvenir. BLISS, OKLA. 5127.1000. Tulsa: Gilcrease Museum, https://collections.gilcrease.org/object/51271000 (08/03/2017)

The 101 Ranch souvenir booklet is discussed by Michael Wallis in his book The Real Wild West. According to Wallis, it contains multiple images taken by Kent – including the picture of Geronimo skinning a buffalo held by the Peabody (discussed in my previous blog). The booklet also contains one of the most famous images of Geronimo, “Geronimo in an Automobile.” . Working with the archival staff at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, I hope to view the images to confirm Kent’s pictures and perhaps discern other possible photo matches.

Isolating Kent’s work is relevant because he was not the only photographer working at the famous extravaganza on June 11, 1905. The Millers masterfully orchestrated spectacle – 65,000 people attended – could not be supported by just one photographer. Multiple photographers were present capturing various promotional images at the behest of the brothers. This is immediately evident in the Library of Congress photo of “Geronimo Skinning a Buffalo” that identifies O. Drum as the photographer. The strikingly similar images of the Peabody and the Library of Congress differ in only small ways. It seems a bank of photographers captured the same scene, each image similar, but slightly different: a person with a head facing a different direction, an extra person, women bending, or a western-clad gentleman caught talking with those being prepped for the publicity shoot.

Another name that kept popping up in my research and commonly associated with a broad range of images, including Kent’s, was the publisher H. H. Clarke. Not only did Clarke produce black and white photographs, but he also manufactured color versions for global distribution, and several of his postcards bear the notation Made in Germany. Clarke’s color versions are considered unique as he employed a hand-coloring technique rather than standard lithography. Other examples of this work are at the Cherokee Strip Museum (Cheryl DeJager, Cherokee Strip Museum, personal communication).

Although Clarke published images by Kent and other photographers, establishing a direct link between them is difficult. However, sifting through metadata across several institutions, I discovered interesting connections that explore the publishing and manufacture of images onto postcards. For example, in the early twentieth century, professional and amateur photographers could sell their negatives directly to distributors such as Clarke or major publishing houses such as The Albertype Company. The Library of Congress cites Albertype and Clarke for one of two images listed of Geronimo in a car.

Clarke published three photos I initially matched with the Library of Congress. However, with only a thumbnail view available, I could not say with conviction they were identical to the Peabody images. After corresponding with the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress, enlarged views are now accessible online which allowed me to confirm that two photos were identical to those at the Peabody, but a discrepancy arose with the third. A close inspection reveals small but salient differences between the image at the Peabody and the one at the Library of Congress. For example, in the Peabody image, women are standing over the buffalo, but in the Library of Congress, they are bending over. Furthermore, in the Peabody image, a man stands to the buffalo’s left with his back to the camera, notable for his western-style suit, boots, and derby hat. Kent was known for always wearing his signature derby hat, leading me to speculate he was directing the people for the staged photograph and was caught on camera by another photographer.

When I started this project, I naively thought I would find solid evidence pertaining to Warren Moorehead’s acquisition of the images. As the museum’s first curator and renowned Native American expert, I thought, how could there not be a connection? Yet, every avenue of research proved fruitless with Moorehead. The narrative unfolded around the Miller Brothers, James “Bennie” Kent, and H. H. Clarke. The interconnectedness of these people provided many answers; the photographs were staged publicity images, taken at the 101 Ranch and predominantly early 1900s. Unraveling this fascinating story has been immensely rewarding, yet it seemed unlikely I would find any correlation between the images and their arrival at the museum.

Despite this disappointment, potential connections with the Peabody Institute and theories of acquisition emerged when reviewing my data, though initially not with Moorehead. Ernest Whitworth Marland was in business with the Millers and became Governor of Oklahoma. Frank Phillips of Phillips Oil was also involved with the Millers and the 101 Ranch. Both men were natives of Pennsylvania, as was Robert S. Peabody. Each man was wealthy, prominent, and quite conceivably moved in the same upper echelons of society. It is possible either of these could have passed photographs to Moorehead or the Peabody. Considering the student body of Phillips Academy, any alum could have given the images as a donation to their alma mater. Equally so, any faculty member may have been gifted the photos. All of these are plausible scenarios. However, another tenuous link emerged, excitedly leading me back to Moorehead. The collections description for the three Library of Congress images mentioned earlier notes that they are mounted photographs, as are the ones at the Peabody.

Another facet that piqued my interest was the descriptions accompanying records at the National Archives. “Geronimo in a Car” is cited as taken on June 11, 1905, at the Millers’ Oklahoma Gala Day, along with other images; all are 8×10 or larger, just like the Peabody images. Although far from compelling, there are commonalities.

What I found most compelling with the National Archives photo of “Geronimo in a Car” was that it states a copy was sent to the Office of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The Office of Indian Affairs later became the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Moorehead was appointed to the board of commissioners for the Bureau of Indian Affairs by President Roosevelt in 1908.

Geronimo Driving a Car. Oklahoma Gala Day, June 11, 1905. Wall Street Journal

As an emerging historian, I like to focus on facts. Unfortunately, facts can be notoriously distorted by time, memory, and absent material evidence. However, the absence of proof does not equate to the absence of the action. Although I had discounted Moorehead as the conduit, I have circled back and believe he is a strong acquisition candidate based on my latest discoveries. That particular mystery may never be solved, but it does not detract from the powerful narrative of Native American presence and treatment in mainstream society in the early twentieth century. 

Further Reading

Bordewich, Fergus M. “Fierce Echoes from the Frontier.” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2013, sec. Life and Style. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1000142412788732334630457842 6634203336120

Collings, Ellsworth, and Alma Miller England. The 101 Ranch. Norman: University Of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Wallis, Michael. The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

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