Tag Archives: US Army

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

Greetings From… Fort Bridger!

Fort Bridger is one of the oldest permanent white settlements in what is now Wyoming. This bit of land has seen it all. From Native Americans to Trappers and mountain men, religious militias to the US Army, trading post and commissaries to modern convenience stores, game trails to emigrant trails to interstates.

This monument was placed as Fort Bridger when it became a State Historic site in 1933. Nearly 7,000 people attended the festivities and several dignitaries spoke, including Wyoming Governor B.B. Brooks and LDS President Herbert Grant.  (WSA P72-70/4-9)

This monument was placed as Fort Bridger when it became a State Historic site in 1933. Nearly 7,000 people attended the festivities and several dignitaries spoke, including Wyoming Governor B.B. Brooks and LDS President Herbert Grant.
(WSA P72-70/4-9)

In the 1840s, mountain men camped, hunted–and a few even died- in the Valley in their quest for beaver and other furs. In 1842/3, Jim Bridger saw the end of one way of life and decided to settle down and build a trading post with his partner Louis Vasquez. The location he chose was strategically placed in an oasis like valley on the edge of the Wyoming badlands, on the Oregon and California Trails and at the head of the canyon leading into the fertile Salt Lake Valley. In  this remote spot, Bridger built his trading empire.

In 1847, Brigham Young and a group of Mormon settlers established Great Salt Lake City in the neighboring valley. The two parties disagreed on many issues. In 1853, an armed militia out of Salt Lake attempted to arrest Bridger for selling alcohol to the local tribes. Bridger abandoned the fort and the Mormons established their own Fort Supply nearby. The LDS church claimed that they had purchased the fort, through a power of attorney, from Vasquez and Bridger for $8000. By 1858, hostilities between the LDS church in Salt Lake and the US Government in Washington DC had become so heated that the US Army was sent to depose Brigham Young from his position as governor of Utah Territory. The walls of the fort were reinforced but ultimately, both Fort Supply and Fort Bridger were burnt by the retreating Mormons. (You can still see a portion of the “Mormon Wall” today) The US Army took possession of the ruins and occupied the site almost continually until 1890 when all of the frontier posts were abandoned.

Commissary and ruins of the old trading post, surrounded by the fortified "Mormon Wall". (WSA P81-45/240)

Commissary and ruins of the old trading post, surrounded by the “Mormon Wall”.
(WSA P81-45/240)

In addition to a trading post, the site has served as a pony express stop, terminal on the first transcontinental telegraph line, and a stop on the first transcontinental highway (Lincoln Highway). Fort Bridger was also the second post office established by the Federal Government in what is now Wyoming. It was established in August 1850, only 5 months after the post office at Fort Laramie. In 1933, the site was transferred to the State of Wyoming and is still administered as a State Historic Site by the Department of Parks & Cultural Resources. It has been a popular tourist attraction since then. Visitors can explore the remains of the fort, several restored buildings, and the museum housed in the old barracks building.

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Filed under Cabin Fever, Postcards