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Photographers at Fort Robinson

The following photographers are known to have visited Camp Robinson [in 1877]:

1.) Unidentified Photographer, January 1877
Newspaper reporter Robert Strahorn visited Camp Robinson and the nearby Red Cloud Agency in late January 1877, traveling with General Crook. He noted that a small log cabin studio was in operation at Camp Robinson near the post trader's store and doing a good business in producing portraits for the natives. The name of this photographer is not known nor how long he stayed. Could he still have been there four months later when Crazy Horse surrendered?

There is one small carte-de-vista print known in the collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society bearing the imprint "Hamilton & Smith's Gallery of Art, Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska." We do not know if this is that unknown photographer. The background in this image incidentally does not match the Crazy Horse tintype.

2.) James H. Hamilton (c1833-1897), photographer from Sioux City, Iowa, at Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies, August to September 1877.

Hamilton was at the agencies during the period that Crazy Horse was there and did produce a number of Indian portraits, though mostly of Brule at the Spotted Tail Agency. Hamilton did include on his list of images a portrait labeled "104. Crazy Horse." An example of this image with the negative number marked on it has not been found yet. However, at least one image in the Hamilton series is known with the name Crazy Horse handwritten on the reverse; it has been shown to actually be of a Pawnee named "Chak-ur-t-kee", an image actually made by Byron Gurnsey and later reprinted by Hamilton. There still may be a Hamilton image out there waiting to be discovered. However, of the number of Hamilton Indian portraits from the agencies from 1877 that are known, none of them have the backdrop visible in the Crazy Horse tintype; Hamilton instead used a blanket, tree branches and other props in his temporary studio.

3.) Private Charles Howard, 4th Infantry, at Camp Robinson Sept. 30 to October 4 and from Oct. 25 to Oct. 28, 1877. Crazy Horse had already died by this time, so he could not be the photographer. Only one image showing a backdrop is known by Private Howard. It dates to the 1878-80 period and is different than the Crazy Horse tintype.

4.) David Rodocker (1840-1919), from Winfield, Kansas, passed through the Red Cloud Agency in October 1877, after Crazy Horse died. All of his stereocards are outdoor views; no Indian portraits are known. The backdrops in his known portraits from Winfield, Kansas, do not match the Crazy Horse tintype.

5.) D. S. Mitchell (1838-1929) was a traveling photographer with his partner Joseph McGowan in the fall of 1877, having just shut down his studio in Cheyenne. We do not have any independent evidence to document that he visited the Red Cloud Agency, however, he produced a set of 38 portraits of Oglala and Arapahoe men and women from the Red Cloud Agency in the fall of 1877. He had a painted backdrop, however, it is different than the one appearing in the Crazy Horse tintype. And he does not list a portrait of Crazy Horse in his catalog of views; seems he would have had he taken one. The fact that the Oglala headmen are wearing their Grant peace medals suggest that the portaits were made after the delegation had returned from Washington D. C. in October 1877, after Crazy Horse died.

CONCLUSION:

The historical record documents that at least five different photographers passed through Camp Robinson and the Red Cloud Agency in 1877. Of these, only one -- James Hamilton -- can be shown to have been there during the period that Crazy Horse was also there. None of the backdrops used by four of the photographers (the fifth one is not known) match the Crazy Horse tintype.

So, just based on the information we have about the photographers, the timing of their visits and their known backdrops, I find it highly unlikely that the tintype discussed was taken at Camp Robinson in 1877.

— Ephriam Dickson


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