In 1898 New York photographer Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934) embarked on a deeply personal project, creating a set of prints that rank among the most compelling of her celebrated body of work. Käsebier was on the threshold of a career that would establish her as both the leading portraitist of her time and an extraordinary art photographer. Her new undertaking was inspired by viewing the grand parade of Buffalo Bill's Wild West troupe en route to Madison Square Garden for several weeks of performances.
Käsebier had spent her childhood on the Great Plains, and retained many vivid, happy memories of playing with nearby Native American children. She quickly sent a letter to William "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917), requesting permission to photograph in her studio the Sioux Indians traveling with the show. Within weeks, Käsebier began a unique and special project photographing the Indian men, women, and children, formally and informally. Friendships developed, and her photography of these Native Americans continued for more than a decade.
Mary Lone Bear was one of the few Sioux children Käsebier was allowed to photograph. Her father, Chief Lone Bear, and brother, Samuel "Sammy" Lone Bear, were also photographed. Sammy remained friends with the photographer for many years, visiting her and inviting her to performances. A note which accompanies the photographs in the Smithsonian's collection, written by Käsebier, reads, "I told the Indians I wanted to photograph a papoose. They said the women had a superstition that it would kill the child. I told them they ought to know better having been to Carlisle School and around the world with the show. They brought me Mary Lone Bear, nine years old. But weeks later I visited the show and went out to the tepees to visit. The squaws grabbed their kids and ran looking at me viciously. I asked what was the matter. They told me Mary Lone Bear had died. What killed her?"
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