Various Dates: Various Places. Sizes vary, from a large 9 ½ x 7 ½ image to 2 x 3 1/2 cartes-de-visite. Generally excellent condition. Item #List1001
The white American tradition of “playing Indian” - a concept explored in full in Philip Deloria’s eponymous book (1998) - has been a part of American national identity from the colonial times onward, shifting in meaning from a signifier of American identity to an exploration of an inner or essential self in the modern era. Examples abound, from the Boston Tea Party to the more recent hippie and New Age movements.
Collected here are twenty examples, some early, of Anglo-Americans “playing Indian,” in varied forms. The collection includes: A large photograph of a group of teenage girls in costume, possibly as part of a dramatic performance or possibly a club, with one wearing a headdress that reads “Mariposa;” a cabinet card from Indiana, Pennsylvania of a circus performer with the caption “Pawnee Indian;” two fine carte-de-visite images from the 1860s, the first of a girl formally posed in costume with a bow and the backstamp of George Putnam of Barre, Massachusetts, the second of three named performers in costume, likely as part of a pageant performance; a mounted silver print,c. 1900-1920, of a group of rather grim looking children, all in costume, perhaps being forced to pose for the camera; a mounted photograph of a weary looking adult and chipper child credited to McLeod, The Wild West Photographer; a tall cabinet card portrait of a man and woman, with the verso reading “comp. J.B. Merry and Miss S[illegible]; a mounted cabinet card of a group in front of a teepee performing a mock execution; three realphoto postcards of young children in headdresses; a photographic advertisement for Cowboy Tom’s Roundup; and four smaller portraits.
The collection evokes variations of what Deloria calls the search for “a deep, authentic, aboriginal Americanness.” In perhaps that idea’s most poignant iteration, several formal portraits show stoic children in headdresses looking solemnly into the horizon. An interesting and varied collection overall.