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Nineteenth-Century Portraits of Native Americans Featured at Reading Public Museum

by Reading Public Museum

Sep 28, 2022
The Reading Public Museum

The Foundation for the Reading Public Museum is pleased to announce the opening of Indigenous Identities: Portraits of Native Americans in the Civil War Era. The exhibition will be on view from October 1, 2022 through January 8, 2023 in The Museum’s Works on Paper Gallery on the ground floor. The exhibition will include 49 photographic portraits taken during the United States Civil War era (1846 – 1877). These images were collected as part of the Hayden Survey (later known as the US Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories) conducted by the Department of the Interior in 1871. The purpose of the survey was to gather intelligence about the West in order to open the land to white settlers.

As the United States turned its attention westward, tensions between Americans and Indigenous people began to rise. To deal with the “Indian Problem,” the federal government’s solution was to offer Indigenous communities money and promises of peace in exchange for their ancestral land. If Indigenous people refused to leave, the military would take the land by force. By the turn of the 20th century, the entirety of the West was open to white settlement. Indigenous people were forced onto reservations in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and throughout the West or forcibly assimilated into white culture.

Indigenous Identities aims to tell the stories of Indigenous people in the American West through these photographic portraits. Indigenous reactions to white expansion ranged from staunch resistance to strategic tolerance. Some societies desired peace, and consciously accepted certain elements of white society, while others used force to protect their autonomy. These differences are evident in the photographs, most notably in the way the sitter is dressed.

The photographs in this exhibition are part of a larger collection of 616 photographs collected from various sources, assembled by William Henry Jackson, the photographer who documented the Hayden Survey. The collection was published in 1876 in a catalogue entitled Photographs of Indians Selected from the Collection in the Possession of the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories, Prof. F.V. Hayden in charge, Representing 70 different Tribes. Societies represented in the exhibition include the Apache, Arapaho, Bannocks, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Comanche, Crow, Delaware, Iowa, Kaw, Kiowa, Luiseno, Mandan, Modoc, Navajo, Nez Perce, Omaha, Oto Missouria, Osage, Papago, Pima, Pawnee, Pueblo, Sac and Fox, Shoshone, Sioux (Dakota, Lakota, Oglala), Tawakoni, Tututni, Ute, Warm Springs, Wasco, and the Wichita (Kichai and Wacos).

The Reading Public Museum is supported in part by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and is located at 500 Museum Road, Reading, Pa. Admission per day is $10 adults (18-64), $6 children/seniors/college students (w/ID) and free to Members and children three years old and under. The Museum is open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit online:

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