No “Orphaned” Artifacts

This blog represents the first entry in a blog new series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky  (Phillips Academy Class of ’59)

Robert Singleton Peabody (1837-1904) grew up in Muskingum County, Ohio—just outside of Zanesville—but attended an eastern boarding school—Phillips Academy—to graduate in 1857. After law school at Harvard he established a lucrative legal practice in Vermont before relocating to the Germantown area of Philadelphia. During much of his life, Robert nurtured an interest in archaeology and Native Americans and worked to amass a personal collection of artifacts. In 1866, Robert’s uncle, George Peabody (known as the father of modern philanthropy) gifted PA with funds to establish a “scientific department” to encourage scientific discourse be incorporated into the curriculum. At the turn of the 20th century, Robert sought to revitalize his uncle’s good intentions by re-establishing a program for the sciences, specifically archaeology.

The archives of the Peabody Museum contain the letters and documents that reveal the evolution of Robert’s intentions. The primary correspondence is between Robert Peabody and Warren K. Moorehead. Moorehead was the man responsible for building, cataloging, and maintaining Robert’s artifact collection and would ultimately become the first curator of the Department of Archaeology at Phillips Academy.

Peabody then wrote in a letter dated March 3, 1898, that he was impressed with Moorehead’s cataloguing of the substantial collection Peabody had amassed (nearly 50,000 artifacts), which were “of sufficient value, to be cared for.” Adding, “I have known too well the fate of those Orphaned collections placed at the Mercy of a cold world…” Although what Peabody then proposed was to establish a department of archaeology, he also wrote that the financial situation at the time was not good. He was likely referring to the Panic of 1893, during which 500 banks closed and 15,000 businesses failed. The ensuing financial depression lasted from 1893 to 1898. Peabody’s conclusion was: “…I will not deliberately, add another to the list of failures…I want to make assurance doubly sure, if I go into it at all.”

Nevertheless, Moorehead’s letter to Peabody on April 4, 1898, continued to press the issue. He had spoken to the wife of Dr. Wilson, a Curator of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institute, and conveyed her response to Peabody: “…It is fortunate for Andover and the public at large that you conceived the idea of preserving archaeological relics.”

The archives have a gap in the sequence of letters, but it is clear that Robert S. Peabody had been having discussions with Dr. Cecil F. P.  Bancroft (1839-1901), Andover’s fifth headmaster. Bancroft agreed to help push the project forward with the school’s Board of Trustees. By November 11, 1900, planning was well-advanced.

In a letter dated March 6, 1901 from Peabody to the Trustees of Phillips Academy, the amount and purpose of the donation were laid out. Specifically, Peabody wished his collection to have a home for preservation, the establishment of a Department of Archaeology which would be “self-supporting and independent.” Furthermore, this Department should be “disconnected from any other branch of Phillips Academy.” As for the museum itself, “…(it) should be, as far as consistent, tasteful and attractive on its exterior, with good proportions, not too high, and within, light and cheerful as possible, with some simple and tasteful decoration—as tinted walls, etc.” Peabody went on to propose that Moorehead be the first curator because “…Professor Moorehead knows every specimen in the collection, and its history.” Peabody also stipulated, “…that the building/museum be a pleasant place where students might find an agreeable relaxation during the broken events which occur in the lives of the most closely pressed.” In other words, the building would serve not only as a museum but as a social center.

It was no surprise that the amount of the gift to Andover, indicated in a letter dated March 8, 1901 from Peabody to Bancroft, was related to the amount given previously by his uncle in 1866. George Peabody had also dedicated the same amount—$150,000—to aid in founding the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. To differentiate himself from his uncle, Robert pointed out that his gift would also include a collection of artifacts. These artifacts amounted to one hundred thirty-two boxes containing nearly 50,000 items insured for $35,000 at the time of transportation by rail on July 10, 1901 from Philadelphia to Warren K. Moorehead in Andover. The actual endowment, anonymous by design, included $100,000 for the Peabody Foundation and $50,000 for the building. This amount would grow substantially at Peabody’s death, as he willed the residue and remainder of his estate to Phillips Academy in March, 1902. The total gift amounted to at least $500,000—approximately $12 to $13 million by today’s standards.

What did $50,000 buy in 1901? The future architect for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Guy Lowell, was hired and he submitted plans for the projected museum at Phillips Academy. By the end of October, 1901, ground-breaking began on the site where formerly the First Classroom Building, the Farrar House, and then the Churchill House had been located. The building was completed in less than two years and was dedicated on March 28, 1903, the event was  memorialized in the mid-April 1903 edition of The Phillipian.“The building was tastefully decorated with potted palms and flowers…Mr. Frederick W. Putnam, L.L.D, professor of Ethnology and Archaeology at Harvard, said that students would learn to reason more for themselves, and would depend more upon their own powers than upon text books.”

The art of collecting

“Briefly stated, the history of archaeology in the Northeast has been in no way different from the history of archaeology elsewhere: its birth was as relic collecting, for the pure and simple interest of the objects recovered. It was soon recognized that without supporting data such objects were little more than curios, and that even with supporting data as to provenience – all too frequently so vague as to be of little value—they still were closely akin to curiosities and the undertaking little more than antiquarianism.” (Douglas Byers, Peabody Annual Report, 1948)

Since beginning my project at the Peabody, I’ve been intrigued by how American Indian artifacts were collected in the first few decades of the 20th century. At the time, the practice ranged from small-scale hobby collecting to commercial-minded efforts to acquire and sell artifacts for profit, to museums collecting for “scientific study.” The Peabody archives offer a glimpse of how artifact collecting, mostly on a small scale, was conducted, documented and perceived. That distinctions were made between “collectors” and professional archaeologists seems clear, even in the early 1900s. And yet, as the quote from Byers above indicates, relic collecting is part of the story of archaeology in the United States. What role did it play in this story, and what common purposes and/or divides developed between the various actors interested in archaeology and artifacts?

I first noted documentation of avocational artifact collecting in Warren K. Moorehead’s records (1890s-1930s). Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator and subsequent director (1901-1938), was well known to amateur collectors; he wrote publications catered to them, such as Prehistoric Relics (1905), purchased artifacts from them, sold artifacts to them, and included images of collector artifacts in his two-volume The Stone Age of North America (1910) (which he then marketed back towards those same collectors). Collectors wrote him, seeking his expertise, as well as those seeking to sell larger collections. He was criticized by his professional peers for being overly focused on artifacts and not exercising rigorous archaeological science. Years later, in 1973, retired Peabody Curator Fred Johnson wrote in a letter to a graduate student: “Moorehead was very definitely not an archaeologist even in the frame of reference of his times. He has never published an important archaeological book or paper. He was a collector, a confirmed looter of archaeological sites and he had no other purpose in life than to secure by any means, regardless of any kind of ethics, specimens which were the ‘best,’ unique, unusual, etc.”

A small card bearing the following text: "Save your Indian relics. When you find tomahawks, pipes, spear heads, drilled stone or other things, write me. I buy all such relics. W.K. Moorehead, Andover, Mass."
Warren Moorehead’s “Save your Indian relics” card, circa 1900-1920

Despite those accusations, and the appearance he gave at times of being a salesman, Moorehead denounced those who destroyed sites to acquire artifacts, and had advocated for the preservation of archaeological sites in the past. In “Commercial vs. scientific collecting” (1905) he wrote: “.. [commercial collectors] have ransacked the graves, mounds and cliff houses, dragged forth the humble arts of simple aborigines long dead and sold them for a few paltry dollars. The destruction of archaeological testimony wrought by these vandals is something beyond compute” (114). In contrast, he describes the simple joys of avocational collecting: “For the local student who collects for his own pleasure, we should have nothing but commendation, for at some future date his cabinet may be preserved. His expenditures, his trips to favorite localities that he may personally roam over freshly ploughed fields, his hours spent in arranging his cabinet during winter evenings are all labors born of love” (114). He also notes that these small collections are “gradually drifting to the permanent museums,” rejoining collections obtained through professional excavations.

While looking through the photographs of artifacts sent to him, I was struck by the “arrangement of the cabinet,” how collectors artfully arranged their artifacts into patterns or staged them to be photographed. Current Peabody Director Ryan Wheeler told me the practice continues to this day. It’s almost as if the deliberate act of collecting is put on display through these creative arrangements: the hand of the collector in accumulating these collections is manifest.

Black and white photograph of of American Indian artifacts arranged into a pattern
Photograph sent to Warren Moorehead of American Indian artifacts from the collection of Inez A. Hall, Pennsylvania, circa 1900-1910
Black and white photograph of American Indian artifacts arranged to be photographed on a white cloth
Photograph of artifacts sent to Warren Moorehead by F.P. Graves, Missouri, circa 1900-1910

A fuller portrait of one such collector emerges in the Peabody archives. Massachusetts native Roy Athearn, born in 1895, began collecting artifacts as a boy in the early 1900s. He collected over 13,000 artifacts during the course of his lifetime, within a five mile radius of his home in Fall River. He took extensive notes on the circumstances of his finds, ensuring  his collection was well documented. He was a member of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. Below is a photograph of his home, taken in conjunction with an analysis and assessment of his collection carried out by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 1982.

This black and white photograph depicts several cabinets in the home of Massachusetts native Roy Athearn, whose 13,000 object collection was significant.
Artifact cabinets from Massachusetts collector Roy Athearn’s 13,000 object collection, circa 1982, photograph by T.C. Fitzgerald

To learn more about avocational and professional archaeology in the United States in the early 20th century, Ryan pointed me to a few books, one of which was Setting the Agenda for American Archaeology : The National Research Council Archaeological Conferences of 1929, 1932 and 1935 (2001). Within the NRC, the Committee on State Archaeological Surveys was founded in 1920 under the Division of Anthropology and Psychology. One problem the committee sought to address was “.. the fact that a nation’s fascination with the past was leading to a rapid destruction of archaeological sites and the commercialization of antiquities.” This had less to do with individual collectors than with state-level museums and historical societies, who carried out excavations with little training or expertise, and “had no guiding voices on how to explore the past without destroying the very record being examined” (x). The committee decided that one solution to this problem might be in reaching out to and educating non-professional archaeologists in standards-based archaeological method, through distribution of instructional literature and organization of seminars on the topic. To really appreciate these efforts, one must read the rest of the book, but a common purpose between disparate actors begins to take shape through the idea that avocational archaeologists could be enlisted in preserving contextual information of sites. How did this play out over the rest of the century? And what was the position of museums during this time, such as the Peabody? What divides continued to exist and what relationships evolved? These are all questions I’m curious to investigate further.

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at or 978 749 4493.






Reorganizing the archives storage alcove

For the past two weeks, the museum staff (and one volunteer — thank you Quinn Rosefsky!) all pitched in to make the archives storage area neater and more manageable. This physical reorganization had been anticipated and discussed since I began my work here in May. At that time, many materials were still in filing cabinets, with boxes piled on top.

Though most of these cabinets and boxes were labeled, the exact nature of the materials and the period of the museum’s history to which they belonged were not necessarily obvious. Related materials could be spread out among different boxes and cabinets without that intellectual integrity being apparent. If a museum staff member was looking for a specific piece of information in the archives, say when a particular exhibit was on display at the museum, it could be challenging to find it!

As I reached the end of my collections survey, I began to understand which materials belonged together as collections. I boxed up several collections that were in filing cabinets, carefully labeling them as discrete groups of material: the Warren K. Moorehead records (1890s-1930s), the Douglas S. Byers and Frederick Johnson records (1920s-1960s), the Richard S. MacNeish records (1950s-1980s), the Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project records (1959-1960s) and the Coxcatlan Project records (1960s-1970s). Other record groups such as the museum’s Education Department files were physically grouped together, and consolidated into fewer boxes. Empty filing cabinets were removed, new shelving was set up and boxes were arranged deliberately on the shelves.

Panorama of one side of the rearranged archives storages area.
West wall of the rearranged archives storage area.
Panorama of the east wall of the rearranged storage area.
East wall of the rearranged archives storage area.

Records that are still being consulted regularly by museum staff such as accession files and site files were left in filing cabinets. Other material, such as the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project records (1969-1980s), was left in filing cabinets because we don’t have enough shelf space to accommodate more boxes at this time. There are also a few stray boxes that don’t yet have a home. Further tinkering of the space and rehousing of material will likely occur throughout the year. For now, the focus of the archives project will turn to creating inventories for individual collections, so that the material within them is easily findable for museum staff and outside researchers.

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at or 978 749 4493.





The Ponca, Presidents, Politics, and Partial Answers

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler and Quinn Rosefsky (Phillips Academy Class of ’59)

There’s nothing like a good mystery and the Peabody Museum has plenty of them. A recent survey of the museum’s archives, including the extensive photographic collection, uncovered an intriguing photograph. The image itself was made with a panoramic camera and measures 22 inches in length by 10 inches in height; it’s tattered and torn and bears traces of the thumbtacks that once held it up. The subject is a large group of American Indians and Anglo-Americans in front of an official looking building. Faces can be seen peering out on the group from the building’s tall windows. In all, there are 16 American Indian men, 4 white men, 2 women, and 2 young boys.

Group photo of American Indians and Euro-Americans at the White House, January 1922
The Peabody Museum version of the Ponca photograph. No identifying information was included–the photo was found in the museum’s archives.

No caption or identifying information is included. Dress varies, with some of the American Indians in beaded regalia and feathered headdresses, while others are dressed in suits and ties with overcoats; on the right side of the photo some men wear feathered headdresses, while some on the left side wear their hair in long braids. The white members of the group are attired in suits with starched collars, ties and either bowler or fedora hats.  Only one of the member of the group was immediately recognizable to us—namely Warren Moorehead—the Peabody’s first curator and then director (he’s in the back, wearing a bowler hat and a dour expression). Moorehead’s activities extended beyond archaeology and included service on the Board of Indian Commissioners from 1908 through 1933. The commission was established as part of the federal government’s “peace policy” toward Native peoples and as a commissioner Moorehead had many opportunities to interact with tribal members and visit Indian Country. Peabody archivist Irene Gates used this information to run a series of Google searches and discovered a similar, though truncated, image preserved in the Library of Congress ( Metadata with the Library of Congress photo identifies at least two of the party—General Hugh L. Scott (to the right of Moorehead)—and Chief Chas. McDonald (on Moorehead’s left, wearing the bear claw necklace). The White House is given as the location and 1921 to 1923 is offered as a date range; the photo was made by Harris & Ewing, a Washington D.C. photographic firm.

Truncated version of the Ponca photo at the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress truncated version of the Ponca photograph. The title is given as Gen. Hugh L. Scott & Chief Chas. McDonald with group in front of White House. LC-H27- A-4011 [P&P] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Who were Scott and McDonald? Hugh Lenox Scott (1853-1934) was a West Point graduate, later superintendent of West Point, and veteran of US conflicts from the Indian wars of the late 19th century through the beginning of World War I. In the army he worked closely with tribal allies and developed military signal systems based on American Indian sign language. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Scott had relied on diplomacy and level-headedness to de-escalate conflicts with American Indians. After his retirement as a major general and army chief of staff he served on the Board of Indian Commissioners from 1919 to 1929, during which time he remained friendly towards American Indians and influential on their behalf. He published a 1928 memoir called Some Memories of a Soldier, as well as several anthropological articles dealing with the Sun Dance and American Indian sign language.

General Hugh L. Scott and Chief Charles McDonald
Gen. Hugh L. Scott & Chief Chas. McDonald of Inca City, Okla. LC-H27- A-4010 [P&P] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Chief Chas McDonald is more of an enigma. Another Library of Congress photo ( provides some clues. Here we find just two men–Hugh Scott and McDonald; the metadata indicates that the photo, also taken by Harris & Ewing, was made in Washington, DC on January 27, 1922. The photograph was published in The Washington Post on the same date—the caption reads “Gen. Hugh L. Scott, formerly chief of staff, U.S.A., and a famous old Indian fighter in his day, conversing by Indian sign language with Chief Charles McDonald, of the Ponca City tribe, Ponca City, Oklahoma. Photo made after the chief had called on the President.” At this point we can probably assume that the Peabody’s group photo and the similar, but truncated, Library of Congress image were made at the same time, specifically on or around January 27, 1922. Here things begin to come together. McDonald and his delegation could well be members of the Ponca tribe. The Ponca are a Siouan-speaking group, now with federally-recognized tribes in Nebraska and Oklahoma. The Ponca place their origins in the Ohio Valley, but were living in Nebraska when first contacted by Anglo-Americans. Federal efforts at relocation saw their removal, in part, to Oklahoma. And the Ponca were no strangers to sending delegations to Washington;  in 1877, 1909, and 1914 Ponca representatives visited the capital to lobby for their rights. One of the Ponca delegates in 1909 and 1914 was Louis McDonald, identified as the son of Buffalo Bull Chief (aka McDonald). A little genealogical research reveals that Charles McDonald (1873-1928) was also the son of Buffalo Chief McDonald (d. 1912). Charles appears occasionally in records; for example, in 1897 he and all adult Ponca in Oklahoma signed a grazing agreement that has been preserved in U.S. Congressional records. Louis McDonald (1880-1958), however, is better known; he helped found the Native American Church, a blend of traditional and Protestant beliefs known for its use of peyote in ceremonies. He also served as an informant for several ethnographic studies of the Ponca, including James Howard’s 1965 study for the Bureau of American Ethnography and Weston La Barre’s 1938 classic The Peyote Cult. Howard notes of Louis McDonald that he attended Carlisle Indian School and spent much of his adult life working on his tribe’s behalf in Washington. Comparison with a National Anthropological Archives portrait suggests that he’s also in the panoramic photo—standing behind the man with the cane.

Photo of Ponca delegation to Washington DC, April 1909
Ponca delegation to Washington DC, April 1909. Left to right, standing: Louis McDonald (son of Te-nu’-gaga-hi), Mon’-non’-ku-ge or Mike Roy; sitting: Mon-chu’-hin-xte, or Hairy Bear, Monshitin’-nu-ga (called Frank White Eagle). Negative 4239, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Again, Irene examined other photographs in the Library of Congress digital archive and noticed that the man with the cane was in other photos that included American Indians. This man appears to be Charles H. Burke, who served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1921 to 1929. Burke was often at odds with the members of the Board of Indian Commissioners and strongly advocated for the assimilation of American Indians and the end to traditional lifeways and religious practices, as well as dances—both sacred and secular. In fact, Burke’s presence may explain Moorehead’s sour expression in the photo. The other members of the group—Anglo and American Indian—remain unknown to us. We attempted to match them to other members of the Board of Indian Commissioners. From their annual report we learn that the Commissioners met in Washington for their annual meeting, January 25-26, 1922—just days before these photos were made. We even considered the possibility that one of the men was Warren Harding or Calvin Coolidge—not outlandish since the setting is the exterior of the West Wing. The photos, however, just don’t match. Comparisons with photos of other Poncas may help.

The purpose of the Ponca visit to Washington remains unknown to us, though from what we have pieced together it appears that Ponca Chief Charles McDonald met with President Warren Harding. A brief in The Washington Post from January 28, 1922—the same time period as our group photo—tells us that “a troupe of eleven Ponca Indians from Oklahoma” performed at the new auditorium of the City Club. Anthropologist Francis La Flesche of the Smithsonian Institution was on hand to explain the dances. Other newspaper stories from the same time confirm that these are the Ponca that had visited the White House; a note in the Friday, January 1927 edition of The Evening Star (page 10) tells us:

Eleven Indians from the plains of Oklahoma, garbed in their native costumes and equipped with all the weapons and tokens for their primitive war and sun dances, will furnish the feature number of the program to be presented at the City Club’s first stag night party in the new clubhouse tonight. The Indians, members of Ponca tribe, are in Washington to lay a petition before President Harding.

A similar note in the January 21, 1922 edition of The Washington Herald (page 5) confirms that dance was a big part of the Ponca’s delegation to Washington and that they and members of other Plains tribes participated in a “powwow” organized by the Archaeological Society of Washington:

The Archaeological Society of Washington has sent out cards for the 106th meeting of the society as guests of Victor J. Evans at the Victor Building. 724-726 Ninth Street Northwest, this evening, at 8:30 o’clock, when an Indian pow wow will be featured by native Indians from the Plains tribes, including champion dancers and singers from the Poncas, Otoes and other tribes interpreted by Francis La Flesche, a full-blooded Indian. Also the all-Indian film illustrating an historical event among the Kiowas and Comanches entitled “The Daughters of Dawn.” Guests are invited only by host or executive committee. In addition to a large collection of Indian curios which will be on display, there will be a number of Indians from the Poncas, Winnebagoes and other tribes, in their native dances and costumes. Indian men, women and children will take part in this entertainment. This affair, will he attended by a number of members of Congress.

The reference here to Victor J. Evans is interesting. Evans (1865-1931) was a successful patent attorney who also amassed a large collection of American Indian artifacts. His plan to construct a replica Maya temple near the National Zoo to house his collection never came to fruition, but he did represent several American Indian tribes in legal matters before the federal government. The other American Indians depicted in the photo may well be Otoe, Kiowa, and Comanche, since the newspaper accounts indicate that they were visiting at the same time. Also, it is interesting that the American Indian visitors participated in several dance performances—at least one newspaper account tells us that Commissioner Charles Burke was in attendance at one of these events—since Burke’s organization, the Indian Service, was working to stop Native dances. Specifically, Burke issued Circular No. 1655 in 1921, which made many dances “Indian offenses.” More genealogical research reveals that Charles McDonald had a son, Augustus or Gus. Gus McDonald’s (1898-1974) legacy is as one of the originators of the Fancy Dance style, which has its roots in the dances of the Hethuska Society. Attendees at modern powwows are familiar with the Fancy Dance, especially the brightly colored feather bustles.  The dance was developed in response to the government’s crackdown on traditional styles of dancing, and the Fancy Dance became popular in Wild West shows and at events open to the general public.  Gus McDonald certainly could be one of the young men in the photos of the Ponca delegation to Washington in 1922. An entry in Art and Archaeology magazine (January-June 1922 issue, pages 94-95) complete with a photograph, presents a more detailed account of the dances performed by the Ponca at the Archaeological Society powwow. Francis LaFlesche and Victor Evans are identified, but none of the Ponca are named. The same individuals seen in the Peabody photo, however, are pictured, including the two little boys—a total of 13 individuals altogether.

Image of Ponca dancers at the Archaeological Society of Washington's January 1922 powwow.
The Ponca dancers with Francis La Flesche and Victor Evans at the January 1922 powwow organized by the Archaeological Society of Washington. The image was published in the society’s magazine Art and Archaeology along with La Flesche’s interpretation of the dance.

A little more remains to be said though, specifically about the manner in which the photo preserved in the Library of Congress is both cropped—something presumably done by the photographers in the 1920s—and the way in which the picture is cataloged in the digital archive. Both effectively erase the American Indians depicted. The way the picture is cropped is most obvious. Here, the photographer “left out” 10 of the American Indians originally photographed—pretty much everyone to General Scott’s right. Why? Again, we can only speculate, however, the remaining image brackets the American Indians between two white men—General Scott and the unnamed man on the photo’s far right. Lucy Lippard, in the introduction to Partial Recall, tells us:

As we peruse old photographs from a century’s distance, we are all looking not only at but for something. That something varies among Euro-Americans and Native people. It is often necessary to pry up the surfaces of apparent pathos, as well as apparent pride, and to dig out from beneath something less accessible (page 19).

Lippard goes on to remind us that often what is most interesting is what is not in photographs of American Indians.  Similarly, Susan Sontag, in her 2003 book Regarding the Pain of Others, talks about how photographs have the power to objectify, to memorialize atrocities, but also to leave out the horrors—of genocide, of oppression, of loss—to create a narrative that might be more palatable.  With the group picture in mind, we can see some of this in play, especially in terms of the truncated version preserved in the Library of Congress.  Not only are people missing, left off the official version, but the decisions made in cataloging the photo in the digital archive effectively hide the entire image. The cataloger includes a title, presumably something that accompanied the original glass plate negative: “Gen. Hugh L. Scott & Chief Chas. McDonald with group in front of White House.” There is no mention that some of the group are American Indians or are wearing traditional American Indian regalia.  The lack of names associated with the image leaves us in an uncomfortable position of having to guess who is Native and who isn’t, or to simply sidestep this question, which is difficult in trying to give even the simplest description of the photo.

What we learn is that images like this have a lot to tell us and a lot to hide. They don’t give up their secrets willingly. Without more information it is hard to know what we are seeing—a photographic ritual where Natives pose with Euro-Americans, one that is repeated over and over again.  Are we witness to an act of resistance or submission?  We hope that sharing this more complete version of the photo helps add to the list of known individuals in the image, makes the existence of the photo better known to scholars and the Ponca themselves, and hopefully will lead to more information on the Ponca’s 1922 visit to Washington and their petition to the President. Is it possible that it was related to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke’s crackdown on Native dance? As Lucy Lippard reminds us, however, it is best if Euro-Americans “surrender the right to represent everybody.”  With that in mind we will share this image with the Ponca.

Further reading:

Brown, Donald, and Lee Irwin 2001. Ponca. In Handbook of North American Indians: Plains, Vol. 13, part 1, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, pp. 416-431. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Howard, James H. 1965. The Ponca Tribe. Bulletin No. 195, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Lippard, Lucy (editor). 1993 Partial Recall: With Essays on Photographs of Native North Americans. New Press, New York.

Paul, R. Eli (editor). 2016 Sign Talker: Hugh Lenox Scott Remembers Indian Country. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Scott, Hugh Lenox 1928. Some Memories of a Soldier. The Century Co., New York.

Sontag, Susan. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Young, Gloria A., and Erik D. Gooding 2001. Celebrations and Giveaways. In Handbook of North American Indians: Plains, Vol. 13, part 2, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, pp. 1011-1025. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Dipping a toe into the Peabody’s archives

Folders full of Scotty MacNeish's Tehuacan survey records from the 1960s

In my first few weeks at the Peabody, I’ve been surveying the museum’s archival material to gain a better sense of the collections before proceeding to more detailed cataloging and processing work. It’s been fascinating to begin to piece together the history of the Peabody through the materials I’m coming across, and to learn about 20th century American Archaeology in the process. For this first blog post, I thought I’d share a few items that illustrate the types of collections found here at the Peabody.

This 1916 budget and letter from Curator and subsequent Director Warren Moorehead to Director Charles Peabody discussing canoes are examples of routine records found in the museum’s organizational archives: they document the operation of the institution at a given time, and often provide as much information about the time period in question as they do about the institution. Organizational records can include correspondence, museum publications, annual reports, meeting minutes, grant files, and any other material produced in the course of the museum’s administration.

Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology budget, 1915-1916
Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology budget, 1915-1916
Letter from Warren K. Moorehead to Charles S. Peabody, February 16, 1916
Letter from Warren K. Moorehead to Charles Peabody, February 16, 1916

Another significant amount of archival material here is comprised of excavation and field records. The Peabody carried out and funded numerous projects under the curatorship and directorship of Warren Moorehead, Douglas Byers and Fred Johnson, and Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, from the museum’s founding up until the early 1980s. Some of these projects were carried out locally in New England (note the canoes mentioned above, and Fred Johnson with expedition gear below), while others were carried out in the Southwest, the Yukon, and under Scotty MacNeish, Mexico and South America.

Fred Johnson in front of the Peabody Museum, 1948
Fred Johnson in front of the Peabody Museum, 1948
Folders full of Scotty MacNeish's Tehuacan survey records from the 1960s
Folders full of Scotty MacNeish’s Tehuacan survey records from the 1960s

As some of the museum’s artifact collections were accumulated during these excavations, the records provide contextual information about the finds through their documentation of the sites in question, in addition to their significance for archaeological research more generally.

Another critical component of museum records are collection and registrar files, which document objects and their provenance. The museum’s accession files contain acquisition or gift information, correspondence about the object/collection, and other relevant documentation. Object ID images also fall under this category, and the Peabody has over 10,000 slides of object images alone. Occasionally, supplemental materials accompany gifts or acquisitions by the museum, providing additional context of an object or a collection. One such example are the 500 or so color slides taken by Copeland Marks in Guatemala during the 1970s, where he collected textiles that are now part of the Peabody’s collection. These beautiful, bright images may include shots of these textiles being made or worn by their original owners.

Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s
Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s
Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s
Coban, Guatemala, color slide by Copeland Marks, 1970s

Another colorful find are six small notebooks belonging to Stuart Travis, who painted the large “Culture Areas of North America” mural at the Peabody. These notebooks are full of illustrations and information Travis recorded about the indigenous communities represented in the mural. A collection like this offers a glimpse into how Travis presumably conducted research for the mural and conveys how meaningful this project was for him. Several other collections here were donated by individuals who carried out specific projects for the museum, or volunteered here, such as Eugene Winter, who donated his large collection of personal papers.

Stuart Travis notebook, 1942
Stuart Travis notebook, 1942
Stuart Travis notebook, 1942
Stuart Travis notebook, 1942

That’s all for now – I hope to delve more deeply into individual collections in the blog in the coming months. Thank you for following the project!

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at or 978 749 4493.

Welcome Irene!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Irene Gates recently joined the Robert S. Peabody Museum as Temporary Archivist.

Her position will focus on increasing access to the significant archival materials held by the museum, which include museum records dating from the early 20th century onwards, archaeological excavation records, photographs, and papers of individuals associated with the museum.

Irene received her MS degree in Library and Information Science with an Archives Management Concentration from Simmons College two years ago, and has since worked as a contract Processing Archivist for the City of Boston Archives and the Harvard Business School Baker Library Special Collections.

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to support work pertaining to the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at or 978 749 4493.

As she dives into the archives, Irene will share some of the gems she finds on the blog – keep your eyes peeled!

Irene with boxes of documents
Irene with a small portion of the Peabody’s archival information.