Wa-Na-Ta, The Charger, Grand Chief of the Sioux

Wa-Na-Ta, The Charger, Grand Chief of the Sioux
Wa-Na-Ta, The Charger, Grand Chief of the Sioux

Wa-Na-Ta, The Charger, Grand Chief of the Sioux


Thomas L. McKenney (1785 – 1859) and James Hall (1793 – 1868)

Hand-coloured lithograph.

Philadelphia: E. C. Biddle, 1836.

14 x 19.75 inches (35.6 x 50.2 cm)

General Information:
As a whole, the portraits in McKenney and Hall’s ‘Indian Tribes of North America’ (Philadelphia: 1836–1842–1844) are arguably the most important visual record of Native American culture ever published. McKenney aimed to educate the American public about these great warriors and chiefs and to preserve their images for posterity in a series of beautiful exotic portraits. The majority of the images were worked up from pictures in the War Department’s Indian Gallery, and almost all of these paintings were by the artist Charles Bird King. King was employed by the Department to record the Indian delegates who visited Washington D.C., but, unfortunately, most of these priceless paintings were destroyed in the 1865 Smithsonian fire. This left the published work as the only record of what many of the most important Native American leaders looked like.

Image Details:
The present image, one of a few to show their subjects ‘full-length’, is of the Sioux paramount chief Wa-Na-Ta. Along with his father, Red Thunder, he fought with great bravery on the British side during the War of 1812. In recognition of his efforts he was subsequently given the rank of Captain in the British Army. A pragmatist, he subsequently allied himself with the United States and remained an important and influential friend and advocate for the U.S. until his death in 1848. He was a signatory to the Treaty of Fort Pierre in 1825, and was instrumental in establishing the territorial boundaries between the Sioux, Chippewas, Sac and Foxes, and Ioways: an agreement that was formalized by the Prairie du Chien treaty. 

‘Mr. Keating, in his narrative of the Expedition to the Source of the St. Peter’s [River in 1835]… gives an account of [Wa-Na-Ta’s]… person and apparel … “He was dressed in the full habit of an Indian chief; we have never seen a more dignified person, or a more becoming dress. The most prominent part of his apparel was a splendid cloak or mantle of buffalo skin, dressed so as to be of a fine white color; it was decorated with small tufts of owl’s feathers, and others of various hues…A splendid necklace, formed of about sixty claws of the grizzly bear, imparted a manly character to his whole appearance. His leggings [sic.], jacket, and moccasins, were in the real Dacota [sic.] fashion, being made of white skins, profusely decorated…his moccasins were variegated with the plumage of several birds. In his hair he wore nine sticks, neatly cut and smoothed, and painted with vermilion; these designated the number of gunshot wounds which he had received…We had never seen a nobler face, or a more impressive character, than that of the Dacota chief, as he stood that afternoon…” (McKenney and Hall). 

A great image from McKenney and Hall’s masterpiece “Indian Tribes of North America”: ‘one of the most distinctive and important books in Americana’ (Reese) and ‘one of the most important [works] ever published on the American Indians’ (Field)’.

References: Cf. Bennett p.79; cf. Field 992; cf. Howes M129; cf. Lipperheide Mc 4; cf. Reese American Color Plate Books 24; cf. Sabin 43410a

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