Tag Archives: Native American

Bachelor War Bread and Pony Love: Words from White Eagle

“Few towns can boast an Indian writer. This Gillette can do with impunity.” So began the editor of the Gillette News’ introduction of White Eagle to Gillette and ultimately the nation.

White Eagle, photo from his 1916 The Gillette Cook Book, reprinted by the Campbell County Historical Society ca 1965

White Eagle, photo from his 1916 The Gillette Cook Book, reprinted by the Campbell County Historical Society ca 1965

Shields Wright, known as White Eagle, was born in 1878 or 1879 to a Sioux couple “on [the] south fork of [the] Red River 4 miles from Eufaula, Oklahoma,” deep in the heart of Indian Country. Born deaf, the cards were stacked against him from the start, but his infirmity seems to have only made him more observant. He was taught to read and write and eventually could speak with some difficulty. At age 15, he left the reservation and struck out on his own.

During the summer of 1909, White Eagle found himself working on the range as a cowboy near Gillette, Wyoming. This was a life he loved, out on the plains with only cattle and his horse for company and plenty of time to think. And write. Like many cowboys, White Eagle had the heart of a poet.

This pamphlet of poems included "Indian Maiden Up-to-Date", "I Love You My Pony", "The Dog Supper", "Indians Lament" and "Indian Cow-Boy Song" (WSA P2007-11)

This pamphlet of poems included “Indian Maiden Up-to-Date”, “I Love You My Pony”, “The Dog Supper”, “Indians Lament” and “Indian Cow-Boy Song”
(WSA P2007-11)

Starting in August 1912, White Eagle became an infrequent contributor to the Gillette News. He was compensated for his work, which was often published on the front page. Sometimes he would offer his opinion on a topic, but more often it would be a poem. He later published a pamphlet of poems entitled “The Dog Supper and Other Poems” and sold them for a bit of pocket change. Though much of his work spoke about his life as a cowboy, he also wrote about his experience as a Native American walking between both the old and new West and the Native and White cultures.

The Wyoming Wind

O, Wyoming wind why this way
Of coming round so rough today?
You close my door with such a slam
You almost caught me in the jam.
You make me feel a bit afraid
You shake the roof so e’er-head
You startle me with your wild roar
As you go racing past my door.
Coming screeching across the land
You fill my eyes with dust and sand
You catch up mud in your mad race
And sling it roughly in my face
You snatch my hat with gusts wild
And have me chase it most a mile.
You whip in rags my one old coat
And blow my breath back down my throat.
You took my wash tub most to town
And left it sitting upside down
You take the moisture from my crop
And leave me wondering where you’ll stop.

— published in the Gillette News

Some time around 1916 White Eagle acquired a printing press of his own. His first endeavor was to publish a local cookbook. He asked local women to share their best recipes and often included a short biographical note about the contributor. He also added a few of his poems for color.

White Eagle on his horse, Red Bird, made quite a splash when he appeared on the streets of Chicago promoting the Custer Battlefield Highway in 1922. (WSA Sub Neg 285)

White Eagle on his horse, Red Bird, made quite a splash when he appeared on the streets of Chicago promoting the Custer Battlefield Highway in 1922.
(WSA Sub Neg 285)

In 1922, White Eagle rode the entire length of the Custer Battlefield Highway, from Sheridan to Omaha to promote the highway and encourage tourism. His horse, Red Bird, was provided by Sen. John B. Kendrick. From Omaha, he toured the East by train, stopping in Chicago, Detroit and Washington, DC. He met with General Custer’s widow and was interviewed by Cornelius Vanderbilt. When he returned to Wyoming, White Eagle published a piece in The Highway Magazine entitled “Good Roads Force the Passing of the “Old West” about his travels and his memories of the west as it was. His story was also written up in Popular Mechanics.

Flowing his trip East, White Eagle’s writing disappear from the newspaper. There is a mention of his greeting Queen Marie of Romania in Washington State in 1926, but beyond that, his trail fades away. Perhaps he just rode off into the sunset.

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Filed under This Day in Wyoming History..., WSA Collection Highlights

Red Cloud in Blue

Every so often, you come across an item in the collection that is so unusual it makes you stop and stare. This is one of those items, both for its subject and technique.

Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, in 1888. Cyanotype on silk.  (WSA B-82)

Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, in 1888. Cyanotype on silk.
(WSA B-82)

In 1888, Ogalala Lakota Chief Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, sat for an unnamed photographer. He would have been about 66 and she about 53. The two were married  around 1850 and it was said that she was very jealous of other women vying for his attention and was the undisputed head of the household.

During the 1860s, Red Cloud’s band of Ogalala Lakota Sioux warriors joined with several other groups in attacks against the US Army stationed in the Powder River Basin. They attacked Fort Phil Kearny repeatedly, lured and killed Captain Fetterman at what became known as the Fetterman Massacre, and were the cause of John “Portugee” Phillips’ famous 236 mile ride to Fort Laramie for reinforcements. In fact, the entire series of battles became known as “Red Cloud’s War.” (read more about it on WyoHistory.org)

The Treaty of Fort Laramie at 1868 brought an end to "Red Cloud's War." The US Army agreed to abandon forts in Northern Wyoming and build agencies for the tribes in the region. (WSA Sub Neg 5439, 1090, National Archives photo, by Alexander Gardner)

The Treaty of Fort Laramie at 1868 brought an end to “Red Cloud’s War.” The US Army agreed to abandon forts in Northern Wyoming and build agencies for the tribes in the region.
(WSA Sub Neg 5439, 1090, National Archives photo, by Alexander Gardner)

In 1868, Red Cloud participated in the treaty talks at Fort Laramie which lead to the US Army abandoning the forts, including Fort Phil Kearny, in northern Wyoming.  Red Cloud went on to lead the Ogallala Lakota as chief from 1868 until his death in 1909.

The treaty also stipulated that the Lakota be confined to an Indian agency, the forerunner of the reservations. It was named in Red Cloud’s honor and moved three times before it was renamed the Pine Ridge Agency and permanently located in South Dakota.

This particular type photograph is called a cyanotype and was printed on what appears to be silk. Cyanotypes are made by treating paper with potassium ferricyanide and a ferris salt. The negative is placed directly on the prepared paper and exposed to UV light (usually sunlight), which causes the exposed portions to turn a muddy yellow. The prints are then “developed” using plain water and the yellow-green become the characteristic blue and the original color of the paper shows through in the highlights.

Detail of the cyanotype. The image is crisp and clear, despite the texture of the fabric.  (WSA B-82)

Detail of the cyanotype. The image is crisp and clear, despite the texture of the fabric.
(WSA B-82)

The process became a favorite technique for architects reproducing plans which became known as blueprints. Amateur photographers also liked the processes because it was cheap, simple, and produced a wonderfully detailed image, but the blue color made them less than ideal. Pre-treated cyanotype paper is available today in sun print or sun sensitive paper kits. (As a side note, faded blueprints and cyanotypes have a fascinating habit of regenerating to some extent when they are stored in the dark for long periods of time.)

The same process was  used on fabric for this photograph, a technique which is still fairly popular with textile artists who use natural materials and found objects as well as negatives or transparencies to create their designs. Silk is a favored fabric because of its tight, even weave and smooth texture, but modern cottons are also used.

Examples of cyanotypes. These two were amateur snapshots taken in Cheyenne's Holliday Park and then printed on postcards. The large dark spot in the lower photo is a dog's head as it swims toward the camera.  (WSA P71-78_14b & e, ca 1906-1907)

Examples of cyanotypes. These two were amateur snapshots on postcards taken in Cheyenne’s Holliday Park and then printed on postcards. The large dark spot in the lower photo is a dog’s head as it swims toward the camera.
(WSA P71-78/14b & e, ca 1906-1907)

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Filed under Photographic Processes, WSA Collection Highlights