Friday, January 21, 2011

Sepia Saturday: John Grabill, Wounded Knee, and Plenty Horses

It always amazes me to see photographs taken
more than a hundred years ago.

And it makes me feel like a little part
of a longstanding tradition,
capturing moments in time via camera.
Of course I don't have to haul around big cameras
with heavy plates or worry about the harmful chemicals, 
just tripods and spare batteries and extra memory cards.

But once upon a time, a man named 
John C. H. Grabill (1866 - 1934)
made his way around the American West - 
circa the late 1880s to the mid-1890s 
and took photographs
of a way of life that's disappeared.

He sent a portfolio of images to Washington, D.C.
to obtain copyright protection for his works.
And then he seemed to disappear into the landscape.

But because he copyrighted those works, way back then,
the Library of Congress has made them available
to photography aficionados everywhere.

I searched census records, 
but never discovered Mr. Grabill.
Online sources have scant info, 
though one art site said he died in 1934. (*) 

One of the things he was famous for
was having photographed people on both sides 
of the massacre of indigenous peoples 
at what has been called Wounded Knee.

People like General Nelson A. Miles, 

who led the Cavalry Troops on their raid
to quell the outpouring of mysticism and religious fervor
led by a Paiute shaman named Wovoka.

Many Sioux followed his teachings, 
which included instructions to dance the Ghost Dance, wearing shirts that were believed to provide
 supernatural protection from the white man's bullets. 
The whole thing spooked the troops,
some of whom were determined
 to put an end to these rituals
by any means they deemed necessary.

The Sioux leader of this religious threat
was called Little.

Understanding and acceptance had no place 
in the Cavalry's world view. They, like Grabill,
saw native peoples as "hostiles."

On December 29, 1890, U.S. troops attacked and left  
some 300 native peoples dead, 
including mothers nursing infants. 

To read more about the shameful event, 
click HERE.

About 10 days later,
 a young Sioux man known to the whites
 as Plenty Horses and to his people as Senika-Wakan-Ota,

 decided to avenge the deaths 
by killing a young Cavalry officer.

He was tried twice for the murder of Lt. Edward H. Casey.
The first trial ended with a hung jury.

He was acquitted after the second trial,
 in which the judge gave instructions to the jury
 that the U.S. Army and Sioux nation were at war,
 rendering it impossible to convict Plenty Horses
 of murder or manslaughter. 

To read more about this sad case 
and the impact of growing up estranged
from your cultural heritage 
because of the values of the dominant group, 
click HERE.

(*) Interestingly, I did find stories from Bozeman, Montana
about a John Grabill who was convicted in 1924 for moonshining. He apparently skipped town before his trial
and was convicted in absentia. 
He was sentenced to six months and a fine of $1000.
And apparently he wasn't dissuaded, 
because he was busted
on similar charges 
(possession of alcohol and nuisance) in 1932.  

Don't know if they're the same guy or not.
If they were, I wonder what caused the downfall?

All photos from the Grabill Collection 
in the Library of Congress Photography Collection. 


(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

This was an amazing post. So full of great, I mean really great photos and the story is outstanding. Great job.

Melissa, Unboxer of Photos said...

A beautiful series of photos. Thank you for sharing the stories that go with them.

Karen S. said...

Oh my goodness, what a great set of pictures, and detail in a time and place long gone now. Grabill what a name huh? ..and he lived a good long life really for back then. Nice informative collection...thank you! Thos are some great and amazing photos in excellent shape as well!

Cad said...

Fantastic set of photos, and great story to go with them. Thanks!

Nancy said...

These photographs are haunting. Beautiful but with such a sad story.

Tattered and Lost said...

Wonderful shots. I'm a big Edward Curtis fan so it's always interesting to see work by other photographers taken around the same time. Interesting stories too.

Pat transplanted to MN said...

excellent post with photos and the accompanying history of the time; it is strange that so little can be found about Grabill...hard to choose one favorite out of all these...

Kristin said...

Beautiful photographs. horrifying history.

Christine H. said...

Beautiful photographs and a sad legacy.

Alan Burnett said...

A wonderful post which says so many things. I so agree with you : there is nothing which draws time together (like the pleated tops of curtains) as old photographs. They make history real.


great pics of a sad era, the demise of the indigenous population in the USA...

Bohemian said...

I so enjoyed seeing these historic photos... as a person of Native American decent on my Dad's side of the Family it is always close to my Heart to see a nomadic way of life and freedom that my ancestors once enjoyed.

Dawn... The Bohemian