Chief Iron Tail, Sioux Indian

Chief Iron Tail, Sioux Indian

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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.
Chief Iron Tail was the elder chief in the group of Sioux Indians selected by Buffalo Bill Cody to visit Gertrude Käsebier's photography studio in the spring of 1898. Iron Tail was a veteran of the Indian Wars, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Later, he became friendly with Buffalo Bill and traveled with the Wild West troupe for almost 20 years. Iron Tail was one of several Native Americans whose profile inspired the face appearing on the United States buffalo nickel early in the 20th century.
Chief Iron Tail surprisingly agreed to remove his feather war bonnet for the portrait sitting with Gertrude Käsebier, although the headdress and feathers were badges of his place and importance within the tribe. The photographer hoped to achieve "raw" photographs of each Sioux Indian, representing their individuality and personal character. Käsebier was pleased with her results and made a copy of the finished print for the Chief. However, when Iron Tail saw the print, he immediately tore it in half, upset with the image. He later sat for Käsebier in full regalia.
Currently not on view
Object Name
platinum print
Date made
ca 1898
Kasebier, Gertrude
Physical Description
platinum print (overall production method/technique)
paper (overall material)
overall: 18.5 cm x 12 cm; 7 5/16 in x 4 3/4 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Mina Turner
Native Americans
See more items in
Work and Industry: Photographic History
Gertrude Kasebier
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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