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July 17, 2022

Portraits of Pawnee Indians Taken by William Henry Jackson From the 1870s

William Henry Jackson (1843–1942) was an American photographer, Civil War veteran, painter, and an explorer famous for his images of the American West. He was a great-great nephew of Samuel Wilson, the progenitor of America’s national symbol Uncle Sam.

Jackson, who got his start as a commercial portrait photographer, became bored with the business, and in 1870 won a commission to help document the West. Using an albumen print process that allowed for extremely sharp images, Jackson produced superb landscape work, but it is his photographs of tribal life and material culture that concern us here. His background as a portraitist clearly shaped this part of his output, as figure three below demonstrates.

Here, carefully posed images of Pawnee men and women in traditional dress serve as a valuable record, even if they are studio shots that remove the subjects from their own dwellings and surrounds.

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