Ambrotype of Mea-to-sa-bi-tchi-a, or Smutty Bear

This ambrotype portrait of Mea-to-sa-bi-tchi-a, or Smutty Bear, a Yankton Dakota, is among the first photographic images of Native Americans. Smutty Bear was part of a large Native American delegation that came to Washington, D.C., during the winter of 1857–;58. Under duress, members of the delegation signed a treaty that greatly reduced their lands in return for promises of money and provisions that were never fulfilled. This prompted the Sioux Revolt of 1862, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of settlers and the mass hangings of 38 Native Americans. This photograph is one of a series a of portrait daguerreotypes made of Native American chiefs while they crossed the country to meet with US Government officials in Washington, D.C. When passing through St. Louis, Missouri, these chiefs were photographed by Thomas Easterly and John Fitzgibbons.
The ambrotype process, most popular in the mid-1850s, is a wet-plate collodion emulsion on glass. These images were then placed in cases with a dark lining for best viewing.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Date made
ca 1858
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 11 cm x 8.5 cm x .8 cm; 4 5/16 in x 3 3/8 in x 5/16 in
Place Made
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
Associated Place
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Native Americans
Sioux Revolt of 1862
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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