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Thomas Wilhelm, Photographer

Note the presence of the artist, Jules Tavernier, who, along with Paul Frenzeny, produced several sketches of Indian life in the west, including the one below of the Sun Dance at Red Cloud. — Grahame Wood

This is a great photo, because it shows Red Leaf, the Wazhazha chief. I think it's the only known picture of him (if you can proof me wrong please, please post it!) although I know that Stanley Morrow must have photographed him (as it is shown in his catalogue listing): 1. Lt. Carter 2. Tavernier 3. Dear (indian trader) 4. Lt. Buchanan 5. Red Leaf

I don't know exactly, but I think I read that the indian in your photo on the far left is also Red Leaf.
— Dietmar Schulte-Möhring

The 1874 photographs above were taken by Lieutenant Thomas Wilhelm, 8th Infantry, in the spring of 1874, shortly after the establishment of Camp Robinson and Camp Sheridan near the White River agencies.

Wilhelm, who was adjutant for the 8th Infantry and an amateur photographer, requested permission to visit the agencies where several companies of his regiment were stationed. He travelled with artist Jules Tavernier from Cheyenne to Fort Laramie, then to Fort Fetterman, and finally to Camp Robinson, accompanying Captain Stanton, the department paymaster (since travel in this region was very dangerous during this time).

Two people were most instrumental in helping Wilhelm obtain photographs. James W. Dear, one of two Indian traders at Red Cloud (his store was located on the west side of the agency; Frank Yates, brother of Captain Yates 7th Cav, operated the store on the east side) made introductions. Also Lieutenant William H. Carter, also a member of the 8th Infantry, helped.

The two tintypes were taken inside the compound or corral of J. W. Dear's store at the Red Cloud Agency (not at Camp Robinson -- remember, did not become known as Fort Robinson until 1878). You will notice that one of the images is reversed -- as happens in some tintypes depending upon the type of camera. Wilhelm presented both of these images to Lieutenant Carter in appreciation for his assistance; Carter later donated them to the National Archives along with his life-time collection of military memorabilia. All of the copies you see, credited to the Nebraska State Historical Society and elsewhere, are just copies of the original two tintypes at the National Archives.

After several years of searching, I have accumulated considerable detail on Wilhelm, including his diary for the period, but so far have not found any additional examples of his images.

In regards to the drawing, yes, that is Tavernier's sketch of the sun dance that occurred in the early summer of 1874. This was reputedly one of the first among the Oglala to which whites were allowed to attend; during the course of the ceremony, lightning struck the central sundance pole and that was taken as a sign that the Wakan Tanka disapproved of the "outsider's" presence! The best account of this sundance is in William H. Carter's published piece about his experiences at Camp Robinson in 1874.

Tavernier did not leave an account of his experience in Nebraska as far as we know. He did write a letter from Cheyenne to his family in Europe just prior to departing for Red Cloud, but I am not aware of any describing his trip. Incidentally, Tavernier was traveling with another artist at the time, however, the letters reveal that Paul F. did not accompany Tavernier on his side-trip to the Red Cloud Agency. — Ephriam Dickson


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