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August 28, 2021

Portrait of Kno-Shr, Kansas Chief, 1853

From 1846 to 1860, John Fitzgibbon operated one of America’s most prominent daguerreian establishments in the frontier city of Saint Louis, Missouri. Fitzgibbon learned photography in 1839 while apprenticed as a saddler in Philadelphia, but he is best known for his studio portraits and scenes of regional life in the territories west of the Mississippi River.

This daguerreotype of Kno-Shr, a Kansa, is one of the few dated pre-Civil War portraits of a Native American whose name and tribe are known. The chief is shown bare-chested, wearing a traditional grizzly bear claw necklace, the most coveted of all Plains Indian body ornaments.


Several details are hand-colored with red paint, the color of strength and success and a powerful agent to ward off evil spirits. Made during the height of the country's territorial expansion beyond the Mississippi, the photograph is remarkable as a document of a Native American before assimilation.




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