Portraits of Native Americans in the Civil War Era


Special Exhibition

Indigenous Identities: Portraits of Native Americans in the Civil War Era

Reading Public Museum, Reading, PA/USA

October 1, 2022 – January 8, 2023



The nineteenth century was a period of immense growth and change for the United States. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, westward expansion accelerated as settlers went in search of new land and financial prosperity. Tasked with exploring these new lands was geologist Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, who led expeditions to survey the new territories of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado from the 1860s to the 1880s. Hayden’s expeditions were brought under the Department of the Interior and officially called the Geological and Geographic Survey of the Territories in 1870. Accompanying Hayden on his tours of the West was photographer William Henry Jackson, who documented their travels through photographs. The information gathered from this and other surveys would eventually aid government efforts to claim lands in the West. 


After generations of relatively peaceful interactions and extensive trade, relations between Indigenous populations and white settlers began to deteriorate. As the nation turned its attention westward, conflict with Indigenous societies reached a new level. 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, and 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 story of Indigenous people in the American West through forty-nine photographic portraits of Native Americans taken in the Civil War Era. These photographs are part of a larger collection of 616 photographs collected from various sources, assembled by William Henry Jackson. 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.



Indian Slavery

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