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Mea-to-sa-bi-tchi-a, or Smutty Bear
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Accession number: 121824, Catalog number: 3974.07, Id number: PG.003974.07
Curatorial description (Accessed: 29 October 2019)
This ambrotype portrait of Mea-to-sa-bi-tchi-a, or Smutty Bear, a Yankton Dakota, is among the first photographic images of Native Americans. Smutty Bear was part of a large Native American delegation that came to Washington, D.C., during the winter of 1857–;58. Under duress, members of the delegation signed a treaty that greatly reduced their lands in return for promises of money and provisions that were never fulfilled. This prompted the Sioux Revolt of 1862, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of settlers and the mass hangings of 38 Native Americans. This photograph is one of a series a of portrait daguerreotypes made of Native American chiefs while they crossed the country to meet with US Government officials in Washington, D.C. When passing through St. Louis, Missouri, these chiefs were photographed by Thomas Easterly and John Fitzgibbons.
The ambrotype process, most popular in the mid-1850s, is a wet-plate collodion emulsion on glass. These images were then placed in cases with a dark lining for best viewing.