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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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charlesmiltonbell image of nez perce

Charles Milton Bell, American, 1848-1893

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
January 1879
Albumen print
Gift of Mrs. William M. Leeds; 13.13.25440


Although many American prints and paintings depicted Native Americans in the early nineteenth century, photography took precedence over these mediums beginning in the 1850s as dozens of Native American delegations visited the nation’s capital during a period of Indian treaties and land negotiations. Charles Milton Bell was one of several Washington studio photographers who documented Native American dignitaries. He took some of these portraits for his own commercial purposes but produced the majority for the Smithsonian Institution and Ferdinand V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories. This image depicts Hinmaton Yalakit of the Nez Perce, also known as “Chief Joseph” to European Americans. Forced to move from their native lands in Oregon to a reservation in Idaho in violation of existing treaties, the Nez Perce, under the leadership of Hinmaton Yalakit, waged an 1877 war against the federal government. The tribe was eventually coerced to surrender and was sent to prison, where many died, including Hinmaton Yalakit’s six children. Months later, the leader pleaded his case to President Rutherford B. Hayes and was hosted in Washington, D.C., by William M. Leeds, a clerk of the Indian Bureau who would resign during the dignitary’s visit. Mrs. Leeds gave this photograph to Dartmouth in 1913, after her husband’s death. It pictures Hinmaton Yalakit amidst the papiermâché rocks of Bell’s studio, wearing characteristic high-ranking Nez Perce clothing and looking defiantly into the distance. Mrs. Leeds noted in her inscription on the photograph that while in Washington, “Chief Joseph” delivered “a thrilling address upon the wrongs suffered by his people.” He is often quoted as saying on that occasion, “I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.”

Last Updated: 11/2/10