The Native Americans of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show: Biography by Portrait

Iron White Man, a Sioux Indian from Buffalo Bill's Wild West ShowI’m not an expert on photography by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like. When I look at the 1898 portraits of Native Americans from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, I want to scream, “That! I like that!” Trusting that you’ll like “that,” too, I’m going to share some remarkable photographic portraits with you, while telling you a bit about the subjects of those portraits, as well as the woman who captured them.

The Show on the Road

BB2GertrudeKasebierGertrude Käsebier was an aspiring artist, studying at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in Brooklyn when she found her true calling—photography. The institute didn’t actually offer photography courses, but she studied books on the subject at the campus library and they prompted her to try her hand behind the lens.

In 1897, she opened her own photography studio on Fifth Avenue in New York City. What she lacked in experience, she made up for in moxie! The following year, the mother of three sat at her studio window and watched as a cavalcade of members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show paraded down the street. Most photographers would have grabbed a camera and snapped some photos right then and there. But the photographer with moxie decided to write a letter to Buffalo Bill Cody himself, requesting an opportunity to photograph the show’s Native American performers as she thought they deserved to be seen.

Buffalo Bill and Chief Sitting Bull

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was quite a big deal at the time, and Buffalo Bill himself was as famous as any celebrity of the day. And he hadn’t achieved that fame by accident . . . he was as skilled at self-promotion as he was at hunting buffalo. His first autobiography (Yes, there was more than one!) had been released eighteen years earlier. His Wild West show had already toured Europe four times—performing for royalty and commoners alike. In one tour of London, alone, the show had sold more than 2,500,000 tickets. They had already had an appearance before the pope in Rome. So, you can see how Käsebier’s letter was a pretty gutsy move!

Why Just the Native Americans?

What was it about the Native Americans that caught Käsebier’s attention that day? Goodness knows there was a lot to photograph . . . cossacks, cowboys and soldiers, and wild animals galore. As long as a relatively unknown photographer was contacting one of the world’s biggest celebrities and asking for a favor, why didn’t she ask to photograph any and all of the performers? The answer is simple: Nostalgia.BB8

Born in Iowa, Käsebier’s family had moved to Colorado when she was eight-years-old. While her father was getting rich with his sawmill during a building boom, young Gertrude was soaking up the local culture. She had fond memories of playing with Lakota children and a deep respect for all of the Sioux people. She wanted to capture their strength and dignity and she wanted others to see what she saw.

That letter she wrote must have been a humdinger because it struck a chord with Buffalo Bill. Like Käsebier, he held the Native Americans in high esteem, and her personal approach must have appealed to his belief in promoting Native Americans as they really were in order to educate the world, and to also educate the Native Americans. He was quoted as saying, “I thought I was benefiting the Indians as well as the government, by taking them all over the United States, and giving them a correct idea of the customs, and life of the pale faces, so that when they returned to their people they could make known all they had seen.” A photo shoot was quickly arranged and Käsebier readied her studio to record history.

Biographies Through a Lens

BB7This was not the first time Native Americans had been captured on film by a photographer who wished to tell their stories. Early photographers relied on costumes, elaborate props and staged backgrounds suitable for a Broadway show, and the story their photographs told was the White Man’s fantasy, not the reality, as you can see in the portrait on the left. Native Americans were presented more as curiosities than living beings from another culture. Most photos were taken from a distance to better focus on the props, making the faces almost indistinguishable. Käsebier wanted to tell the stories of these Native Americans through their faces, or better said, the expressions on their faces, as well as their body language. She said her goal was to “make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality.”

With backgrounds less elaborate than a photographer taking generic school pictures, Käsebier went about the business of recording the compelling biographies of the Native Americans in the best-known Wild West show of all time. She told of their inner strength and their outward struggles. And she told those stories without ever saying a word, giving meaning to the idiom about a picture being worth a thousand words. Here are just a few of those stories. When you look at the portraits, notice how the subjects fill the entire frame, so that we as viewers can better focus on the person. I love how you can see the sparkle in their eyes, the sheen of hair, and the lines in the weather-beaten faces. Each picture expresses a quiet dignity, and tells a special story. As you read their stories, you can see more clearly how their portraits express their true selves and their uniquely human qualities and characteristics, making them all so very much like you and I.

Iron Tail

BBIronTailIron Tail was an Oglala Lakota Chief, and was still very much a part of the wilder side of Lakota life. He had never been to school, and lived his life according to the old Lakota values. He was quiet, tall and straight like a pine tree. He was star performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West from 1897 until 1913 and became an international celebrity, appearing as the lead with Buffalo Bill at the Champs-Elysees in Paris and the Colosseum in Rome. He was deeply respected by all of the Native American performers in the show, and was elected by them as the “Chief of the Indians.” Iron Tail was one of Buffalo Bill’s best friends and they hunted elk and bighorn sheep together on annual trips. He said of Iron Tail “He is the finest man I know, bar none.”  BB5Iron Tail was a popular subject for professional photographers who circulated his image across the continents. He is notable in American history for his distinctive profile on the Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel of 1913 to 1938, for which he sat as a model.

Iron Tail’s close friend, Major Israel McCreight, with whom he spent a great deal of time reported: “Iron Tail was not a war chief and had no remarkable record as a fighter. He was not a medicine man or conjuror, but a wise counselor and diplomat, always dignified, quiet and never given to boasting. He seldom made a speech and cared nothing for gaudy regalia, very much like the famed warrior Crazy Horse. In this respect he always had a smile and was fond of children, horses and friends.”  In his portrait, Käsebier has artfully captured his grace, dignity and such an impenetrable reserve. He appears to be a man quite satisfied with his life.

Flying Hawk

BBFlyingHawkFlying Hawk was an Oglala Lakota warrior, historian, educator and philosopher. He fought in Red Cloud’s War and in nearly all of the conflicts with the U.S. Army during the Great Sioux War of 1876. He fought alongside his first cousin Crazy Horse in the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, and at the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Flying Hawk was one of the five warrior cousins who sacrificed blood and flesh for Crazy Horse at the Last Sun Dance of 1877. Chief Flying Hawk is also notable in American history for his commentaries and historic accounts of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse and the Wounded Knee Massacre, and much of our recorded history of those persons and events is due to his reportage.

Flying Hawk was probably the longest standing Wild West performer, traveling all of the United States and Europe for over 30 years in Buffalo Bill’s show. Flying Hawk was accustomed to royal receptions in Europe and in America had been entertained by most of the dignitaries of the time. After Iron Tail’s death on May 28, 1916, Flying Hawk was chosen as successor by all of the braves of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and was named Chief of the Indians. In their spectacular street parades, Buffalo Bill mounted a beautiful white horse to lead the procession. Alongside of him, mounted on a pinto pony, rode Flying Hawk in full regalia. His eagle-quill bonnet made a fitting crown as it dangled grandly, well below the stirrups of his saddle . . . the number of plumes representing the enemies slain, they were like a Medal of Honor.BB6

In the Käsebier portrait, Flying Hawk’s expression is one of resignation, not defiance or pride, as we might expect from such a great warrior . . . a resignation to performing the White Man’s fantasy, again and again, for an all White audience. In Cody’s Wild West show, the Indians performed battle re-enactments and were always represented as the aggressors, attacking wagon trains, settlers’ cabins, and Custer’s forces. The reality was quite different. Attacks on settlers’ wagons had been quite rare, and it was the Whites who kept breaking treaties with the Indians, not the other way around. In Flying Hawk’s portrait, we see a man demoralized and degraded, forced to misrepresent many of his greatest accomplishments on the battlefield personally, and some of the greatest moments in Native American history.

But many other Native American performers loved the re-enactments and felt that despite the inaccuracies, it provided an opportunity to  continue participating in cultural practices that had been deemed illegal on their reservations. They spent their time “playing” Indian as a form of refusal to abandon their culture. Vine Deloria, the Native American author, theologian, historian, and activist observed that “Perhaps they realized in the deepest sense, that even a caricature of their youth was preferable to a complete surrender to the homogenization that was overtaking American society.”

Charging Thunder

Charging Thunder was a Blackfoot Sioux from Idaho, who had a rather short career as Wild Wester. Little is known about his early years, but we do know that he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1900, at age 23, and brought along his Soiux wife, who also performed in the show. They are pictured in the Käsebier portrait at the left, posed together, but they seem emotionally disconnected, the wife looking away and down . . . something that did not go unnoticed by the photographer. The emotion in the photo foretold something of a grand Edwardian soap-opera that would play out just a few months later.

In 1901, Charging Thunder met a young American horse trainer named Josephine who also worked in the show, and a torrid love affair began. She bore him a daughter named Bessie, and in 1903, after a performance in London, he and Josephine decided to remain in England, as the show – – and Charging Thunder’s Sioux wife – –  rolled out of town.

Charging Thunder, center, and Josephine, lower left
Charging Thunder, center, and Josephine, lower left

He married Josephine, and together they settled in West Gorton, Lancashire, England. His name was changed to George Edward Williams, after registering with the British immigration authorities to enable him to find work. Williams worked at the Belle Vue Zoo as an elephant keeper for many years. He died from pneumonia at age fifty-two on July 28, 1929. He and Josephine lived happily in England for over 25 years, and had many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Joseph Black Fox

Joe Black Fox, a Sioux Indian from Buffalo Bill's Wild West ShowJoseph Black Fox was an Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Oglala Wild Westers referred to themselves as Oskate Wicasa or “Show Man”, a title of great honor and respect in the tribe. Since 1887, Wild Westing has been a family tradition with several hundred Pine Ridge families. Between 1906 and 1915, 570 individuals from Pine Ridge went Wild Westing with Buffalo Bill. Often entire families worked together, and the tradition of the Wild Wester community is not unlike that of many circus communities. Frank C. Goings, the recruiting agent for Buffalo Bill at Pine Ridge, was himself a Wild Wester with experience as a performer, interpreter and chaperone. Goings carefully chose the famous chiefs, the best dancers, the best singers, and the best riders. Joseph Black Fox and many members of his family were chosen by Goings, and as a family they toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West for many years, across Europe and the United States.  BB11

In his portrait, Joseph Black Fox seems quite at ease with Käsebier and being in front of a camera. He almost smiles for the portraits, which is generally uncharacteristic for Native Americans, as many still believed in the power of the lens to steal their soul. Black Fox poses playfully, with cigarette in hand, relaxed and wrapped in a blanket. He is a young educated man, able to write a little, and to speak broken English. . .and he was a bit of a dandy considering his attire, the earrings, jeweled lizard hair comb and bright scarf.  As he waited for his session with the photographer on that day, he drew pictures and practiced signing his name, and then, overwhelmed by the fear that his penmanship was not good enough, he spit on his finger and tried to rub out the failure.

Mary Lone Bear


From the standpoint of rarity, the Sioux children’s portraits are by far the most riveting, because there is a Sioux superstition that to paint or photograph a child will bring about its death. Only by reason of a very special friendship and deep trust was it possible to photograph the children, and still it took three years before the family of Mary Lone Bear could be persuaded to bring her to Käsebier. Mary Lone Bear’s entire family performed in the Wild West show. Her father was Chief Lone Bear, an Oglala Sioux and enlisted scout for the U.S. Army, and he and her brother, Samuel “Sammy” Lone Bear, were also photographed by Käsebier.

A note that accompanies their portraits, written by Käsebier, reads, “I told the Indians I wanted to photograph a papoose. They said the women had a superstition that it would kill the child. I told them they ought to know better having been to school and around the world with the show. They brought me Mary Lone Bear, nine years old.” Many photographs were taken, but none quite as captivating as the one featured here. Little Mary is tense and apprehensive, her fingers tightly gripping her hand, as she casts her questioning eyes at the camera. She is not looking at the photographer . . . she is looking at the lens.

In her note, Käsebier continued, “But weeks later I visited the show and went out to the tepees to visit. The squaws grabbed their kids and ran looking at me viciously. I asked what was the matter. They told me Mary Lone Bear had died.”

More About the Biographer

“Portrait of the Photographer,” manipulated self-portrait by Gertrude Käsebier

Gertrude Käsebier went on to achieve great respect in the world of photography, but it was her Native American portraits that first brought her critical acclaim. While she may not be a household name, her portraits are extremely well respected, to this day. Käsebier continued to work in photography until 1925, when she began to lose her eyesight, and in 1934 she died. In 1979, she was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.

Gertrude Käsebier’s photographs of the Sioux are preserved at the Smithsonian Institution, at the National Museum of American History’s Photographic History Collection. You can view them all online, here at the Smithsonian website. It’s good to know the Smithsonian likes “that,” too!

Here’s a ca. 1900 video of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show parade, very much as Gertrude Käsebier would have seen it from her studio window. Also in the video are Sioux tribal dances performed by members of the cast, and the a brief performance by star of the show, Miss Annie Oakley, assisted by her husband, sharpshooter Frank Butler. I know you’ll enjoy this video. . .it was filmed by Thomas Edison. Yes, the inventor of the light bulb!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

The Sikh: The War Horse That Walked From Russia to Britain

The SikhHere at The Campfire Chronicle we’ve talked about war horses on more than one occasion. There was the story of how Sir Winston Churchill saved the war horses. . .and there was the story about Warrior, the horse the Germans could not kill. But, just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two stories about war horses could ever be exactly the same, and today’s story will attest to that. . .it is one of the most unique horse stories to come out of World War I. Today I’d like to tell you about a British war horse named, The Sihk, who served for four years during The Great War, dodged shellfire and grenades as she delivered supplies to bloodied and battered troops in the trenches, and after the war ended, she walked all the way back home from southern Russia to Devon, England.

A Globe Trotter

The SikhThe Sikh was born to be a world traveler. The mare was bred in Australia and grew up in India before being transferred to North China, with the 36th Sikh Regiment. In China, The Sikh met her new owner, British Lieutenant Alexander Craven Vicary. The year was 1913 and although Vicary and his horse may not have realized it, the world was already gearing up for The Great War.

Alexander Craven Vicary

In 1914, when Vicary received his orders to return to Europe for the war, he was granted permission for The Sikh to accompany him. She was the only horse on the ship during the grueling eight-week voyage from China to Europe. And I can assure you that she did not spend her time enjoying traditional cruise activities like sunbathing and shuffleboard or sipping cocktails from coconut shells! Instead, The Sikh spent the eight weeks in an open, wooden box, on the deck. She experienced scorching sun, typhoons, and near misses with German battle ships. Her only breaks occurred when officers went ashore at Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Said, and Gibraltar. During those times, she was allowed to stretch her legs on-deck.

Lucky Charm

The SikhAlmost as soon as Vicary’s regiment and The Sikh reached the U.K., they were dispatched to Serbia and Bulgaria, delivering supplies to the front line troops. As she dodged grenades and shellfire, the horse may have been longing for the good old days aboard the ship! The men she served viewed her as a good omen or a lucky charm. And, who can blame them? When you’re on the field of battle, a horse carrying supplies must seem more miraculous than Amazon’s next day delivery service!

For the duration of the war, The Sikh hoofed it across Europe, and she was never far from her owner’s side. When Vicary was in the trenches of Flanders Fields and France, The Sikh was there, too. Toward the end of the war, when Vicary was sent to Southern Russia, she, of course, went along with him.

Vicary was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion. He also received a Military Cross and two Distinguished Service Order medals for gallantry. If you ask me, it’s high time for the Lt. Col.’s noble horse to receive public recognition for gallantry, as well.

Those Hooves Were Made for Walking

The SikhYou might think that The Sikh’s story ended with the war, but it didn’t. The fighting ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, but The Sikh still had a major battle ahead of her. She had to get home! The Australian bred, Indian raised horse that had lived in China (and seen more countries than Carmen Sandiego) was not going to live out her life in Russia. It would have been a colossal tragedy for the war hero that had delivered supplies to countless soldiers, to end up on the dinner plates of the starving Russians. So she started walking . . . following the Regiment through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. Like the star of the book, play and movie, War Horse, she walked all the way home. And when she finally reached her destination, The Sikh headed directly to her well-deserved retirement at Vicary’s home in Devon, England . . . and there she remained until her death.

One in a Million

Blog6More than one million British war horses served during WWI. A mere 67,000 are believed to have survived to the war’s end. Of course, enemy fire killed many of the equine soldiers, but many more died from exhaustion, starvation and disease . . . and the overall harsh conditions of war. It only took one year for Britain to requisition every suitable horse within its borders. When more horses were needed, the U.S. shipped an average of 1,000 horses per day to support the Allies, between the years of 1914-1917. That is an additional 1,460,000 horses. Other Allied countries sent horses as well, and some estimates on the number of horses that served the Allied Forces during World War I are as high as 6 million. So to say that The Sikh was a “one in a million” kind of horse is a bit of an understatement . . . . . .she was actually one in six million.

Unlike war stories that get more dramatic with the retelling, The Sikh’s story remained untold for almost a century. It wasn’t until earlier this year that her story was discovered by a man named Chris Chatterton, curator of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in Gloucester, England. When he uncovered the story about the mare that walked from Russia to England, he knew it needed to be told. The museum is currently working on a program to honor The Sikh, but no matter how they choose to commemorate her, we all need to be sure that her  bravery is never again forgotten.

Here is an interesting video with documentary footage of World War I horses. It will give you a much better idea of how remarkable The Siks’ survival actually was.

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Building the Golden Gate Bridge: Men of Steel

Blog5The year was 1933. FDR was sworn into office for his first term. The 21st Amendment ended Prohibition and the New Deal began. It was also the year construction commenced on one of the nation’s most recognizable man-made landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. The historical events that occurred during the building of the bridge include some of the most significant moments in American history: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the establishment of the F.B.I., the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, and the Hindenburg disaster, to name a few.

The interesting thing about living through such a prolific time in history, is that you don’t always appreciate the events as they unfold. During the 1930’s, most people were so busy trying to make a living that they could not pause to consider that they were experiencing some of the darkest chapters in American history, and some of the most exhilarating. Today, I’d like to tell you about the men who built the Golden Gate Bridge, the workers who made history, whether they knew it or not.

Men of Steel

Blog1For the men fortunate enough to land steady work on the bridge’s construction, it was a golden opportunity! 1933 union salaries ranged from $4 to $11 per day. To put that into perspective, those wages would have had the same buying power as $73 to $201, today. And to put it in even greater perspective, it was the GREAT DEPRESSION! One quarter of American men were unemployed. People were desperate and those salaries meant family safety and security during a time filled with poverty. This was quite an incentive, and the opportunity of a lifetime.

Blog2When word got out that ironworkers were being hired in San Francisco, men came from far and wide searching for their pot of gold. Workers were required to belong to local unions, and that meant they had to be residents of San Francisco. But that didn’t stop the out-of-towners from coming in droves. They purchased addresses and Social Security numbers from locals. The fact that many of the men didn’t have any actual experience in ironwork didn’t stop them either. Applying for a job in the days before Google existed was quite different. Lumberjacks, farmers, cab drivers, cowboys, and paper pushers all magically became men with “previous experience” as ironworkers.

Heart of Gold

The Chief Designer of the bridge, Joseph B. Strauss, had a heart of gold when it came to the safety of the bridge builders. It may sound like a no-brainer, but Strauss demanded that all workers wear safety helmets, glare resistant safety goggles, and safety lines. Mining equipment was specially modified for the task. The hardheaded workers who refused to wear the safety equipment found themselves standing in soup lines! Safety wasn’t optional if you wanted to work for Strauss. You might say safety was the Golden Rule and men who didn’t adhere to that burned their bridges!

Strauss went beyond some of the more obvious safety measures. Creams for the hands and faces were provided to help protect skin from the biting San Francisco winds. He even insisted on special diets for the men, to combat dizziness. And any man who dared show up to work with a hangover was given a sauerkraut juice cure. (That should have put a halt to drinking before a workday!) Riveters were provided with respirator masks to prevent the inhalation of the fumes created when the hot rivets stuck to the lead paint of the towers. There was also a well-staffed, on-site hospital.

Blog3The greatest safety measure was a $130,000.00 safety net – –  $2,378,050.00 in today’s dollars – – under the entire expanse of the bridge and extending ten feet beyond on each side. The idea was reminiscent of a net for circus acrobats. Hey, there was no need to be one of the Flying Wallendas . . . nets are a good thing! As someone who gets sweaty palms while standing on a balcony, I can say with complete confidence that nets are a very good thing, no matter what the cost! Regardless of how high the workers were, or how strong the wind that blew them from their perches, the net was supposed to catch them.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Blog4It was expected that lives would be lost. They calculated that the life of one bridge worker would be lost for every million dollars spent. That didn’t bode very well for the workers on the $35 million Golden Gate Bridge.  Fortunately, that innovative safety net and other safety precautions did help. (And never underestimate the power of sauerkraut juice!) But for all of the precautions, accidents did happen. The first fatality occurred in October 1936. And then, in February 1937, the unthinkable happened when a section of scaffold fell through the safety net, plunging twelve men into the water 746 feet below. Miraculously, two of the twelve men survived. A plaque honoring the men whose lives were lost is located at the south side entrance to the bridge’s west sidewalk.

Blog6An elite group of bridge builders formed a club no one wanted to join, the Halfway-to-Hell Club. Oh, I’m sure the club members were lovely men, but the initiation was insane! In order to become a member of the group, workers had to fall from the bridge, putting the safety net to the test. All told, the Halfway-to-Hell Club boasted 19 members, proving that the net was worth its weight in gold!

Don’t Keep Me In Suspense: Fun Facts about the Golden Gate Bridge

  • The Golden Gate Bridge was designed to withstand 8-point earthquakes. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake is estimated to have measured 7.8. It can also withstand winds of 90 mph. Strong winds have only caused a bridge closure three times since its construction. In fact, the bridge has closed more times for visits of political figures than for weather.Blog7
  • Prior to the bridge, the only way across the bay was by ferry. Wanting to remain the “only show in town,” ferry companies spent six years in court trying to prevent the bridge from being constructed.
  • The bridge weighs in at 887,000 tons and is 1.7 miles in length.
  • The toll to cross the bridge was originally $0.50. Commuters paying with FasTrak now pay $6.25 to cross.
  • Each of the two towers is held together with 600,000 rivets. Riveting!
  • The bridge’s two main cables contain 80,000 miles of wire! If laid end to end, the wire could circle the globe three times.Blog8
  • Joseph B. Strauss’s original plans for the bridge called for “suicide-proof” pedestrian fencing in excess of 5-ft. That height was later lowered by the designer of the bridge, Irving Morrow. Today, the bridge is the site of an average of three suicides each month. In July 2014, the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors approved a $76 million funding package to erect and fund a suicide deterrent net on the bridge.
  • At least three babies have been born on the Golden Gate Bridge.Blog9
  • The Golden Gate Bridge has been featured in so many movies and television shows that there isn’t an accurate count. My personal favorite use of the bridge by Hollywood is in the Hitchcock film Vertigo, even though the lack of traffic on the bridge makes me chuckle every time I watch it.
  • One of the most obvious facts is that the Golden Gate Bridge is not gold. It is orange. The U.S. Navy had wanted the bridge to be painted with black and yellow stripes, like a giant bumblebee! The Army Air Corp had wanted it to be red and white striped like a candy cane. Ultimately, safety orange won out. What a fitting tribute to a bridge that revolutionized safety measures.


I think that you will enjoy this fascinating video, which has original film footage from 1930s of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beginning to completion.

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Arresting Faces: Mug Shots of the Old West  

Blog1I’ve got a thing for old portraits. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even have the foggiest idea who the person was, I am just drawn to them. I recently scored an antique, oval, bubble glass, picture frame with a photograph of a WWI doughboy for the bargain price of $10. The woman running the sale was hot and tired and temporarily took leave of her senses, I think. So I threw the money on the table, snatched up my soldier, and drove away like the law was pursuing me. The strange man with the snazzy haircut is now hanging on a wall in my house, next to a portrait of an unknown relative. Why do I have a portrait of an unknown relative on my wall? Because I like her hat! It’s fancy! One of these days, I may get around to concocting a bogus story to explain the two strangers that grace my home, but for now I’m just happy to have them.

Today, we’re going to talk about some old portraits that already come with stories. Well, they’re not portraits so much as they are sort of like . . .  mug shots. Okay, they are mug shots. Today, I’m going to share some of my favorite criminal mug shots from years long past.

You Ought To Be in Pictures

Blog1bOn June 10th of this year, the Nebraska Historical Society released a series of mug shots taken from 1867 to the turn of the century in the Nebraska Territory, revealing the wide array of crimes and even wider array of characters that wound up behind bars. As I flipped through the images I had a sense that I was looking at a catalog of the human face and all the things that can happen to it.  I was drawn to the photographs by their undeniable authenticity. There was no photo-manipulation . . . no Photoshop to muddy the reality. These mug shots captured people at their lowest, at their most vulnerable. I looked hard at their faces, calculating guilt or innocence, wondering what the story was behind the arrest. I wondered how, and why. The photos are riveting, and some are amusing . . . and every one of them tells a unique story.

Worth a Thousand Words—Herbert Cochran

Mug shotOne of my favorite mug shots is of Herbert Cochran, who was arrested for burglary on November 24,1899. According to the Omaha Police Department’s written description of Cochran, the poor fellow already had a stooped build at the tender age of 23. Also of note is the fact that his eyebrows met at the root of his nose. At least he didn’t have a unibrow! Cochran’s occupation was listed as, “tailor.” He may have been a tailor, but he for sure was no man of the cloth! One thing stands out in Cochran’s mug shot: He’s not alone. He is being held in a headlock by an unknown police officer.

Camera Ready—James Collins

Mug shotWhat was it with 23-yr-old Nebraska tailors turning to a life of crime? James Collins – –  who, like Mr. Cochran, was a tailor, and also 23 years old – –  was arrested on May 12, 1897 for burglary. From the look of his mug shot, I would guess that he didn’t go without a fight. He looks like he came straight out of an episode of “The Walking Dead.” His head is bandaged. His lip is bloody. That man should have gone back to tailoring and left the burglary to butchers or horse traders or some other heartier trade.

Ready for My Closeup—Laura Bullion

Mug shotLaura Bullion was a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang.  To Butch and Sundance, this natural beauty was known as “Della Rose.” This 1901 mug shot of the Rose of the Wild Bunch is from her arrest for forgery of signatures to $8,500.00 in banknotes at the Laclede Hotel in St. Louis. The stolen banknotes had been acquired from the notorious Great Northern train robbery. There was some suspicion that she had disguised herself as a boy and taken part in the Great Northern train robbery herself. Bullion was convicted of forgery and imprisoned until 1905. At the time of her arrest, her occupation was listed as prostitute. After her release from prison in 1918, she moved to Memphis, where she assumed the identity of a war widow and worked as a seamstress, drapery maker, and interior decorator.

Say Cheese—George Ray

Mug shotSmile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking. Smile, even though you’re going up on manslaughter charges! George Ray was all smiles in 1888, which is surprising for a man who was about to go to prison for ten years.

Pretty as a Picture—Bertha Liebbeke

Mug shotBertha’s mug shots make her look like she should be working in the kitchen, baking her own bread, but, in reality, she was a notorious pickpocket. Liebbeke would pretend to faint, smack into the arms of a well-dressed man. She was not a wisp of a woman, so I have no doubt she startled many a man. While the man was holding her sizable figure,  “Fainting Bertha” would go for the grab.

Click!—Jim Ling

Mug shotJim Ling was arrested in 1898 for operating an opium joint. Don’t worry. That wasn’t his real profession. If the note on the back of his mug shot is to be believed, Ling was a professional thief. He should have gone into a more respectable profession like tailoring, instead!

Watch the Birdie—Mental Case

Mug shotThis is one of the more modern mug shots, but I couldn’t resist including it in the mix. The only identifier on the 1940’s mug shot from Louisiana is, “MENTAL CASE.” There are days I can relate to that!

Picture Perfect—Goldie Williams

Mug shotGoldie Williams (aka, Meg Murphy) was a woman who didn’t take any guff from anyone. At least that’s what I’m guessing by the look of her mug shot! Williams was arrested for vagrancy in 1898. Her physical description was listed as 5’ tall and 110 pounds. Her arrest took place in Nebraska, but her home was listed as Chicago, where she made her living as a prostitute. She may have been small, but I wouldn’t have wanted to cross her! I would, however, like to hang her portrait on my wall. It’s probably the fancy hat that does it for me!

I could go on and on, but I will stop here and let you take over! You can view all of the mugshots recently released by the Nebraska Historical Society here on their website.  And I think that you will enjoy this brief video of historical mugshots of women, taken during the turn of the century until approximately 1940. Oh . . . the stories they tell. . .

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Western Lingo, Revisited  

WL1Whenever I hear a phrase or an idiom that sounds particularly Western, I scribble it down on a notepad. Some of those phrases and idioms make it into blog posts about Western Lingo, and some just give me the giggles. But, it’s always fun to research their origin, and that’s just what I’m fixin’ to do today! So pull up a chair and settle in for another round of Western Lingo.

Wet Your Whistle

“Why don’t you belly up to the bar and wet your whistle?”

WL2Where did the phrase, “wet your whistle,” originate? Well, first, we need to clarify that the phrase should not be confused with, “whet your appetite.” Whet has two meanings: 1) To sharpen the blade of a tool or weapon, 2) A thing that stimulates appetite or desire. As far as these expressions go, people have been wetting their whistles for longer than they have been whetting their appetites. But, I digress.

WL3Some say that the origin of the expression “wet your whistle” is in Colonial America. There’s a really cool story about the drinking mugs used in pubs at that time . . . some folks say that they were equipped with a whistle. The whistles were built right into the handle and I’m thinking that they must have been more fun than a Krazy Straw, ‘cause when saloon patrons needed a refill, they would simply toot their mugs! Oh, yes, it’s a cool story. Too bad it’s not true!

WL4In reality, we can solve the mystery of the origin of the expression “wet your whistle” with a little help from a line Lauren Bacall said to Humphrey Bogart in the film To Have and Have Not: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” Wetting your whistle just means wetting your lips, mouth or throat, with your tongue or any other sort of liquid. There is no special, noise-making mug required.

WL5The phrase is believed to have been around since the 1700s, likely originating in Britain. Oh, well. If you say it with a drawl, it sort of sounds Western. But, seriously, folks, all this history aside . . . I want a whistle mug!

Poor As Job’s Turkey

“Don’t expect that feller to buy you a meal. Shoot! He’s as poor as Job’s turkey.”

WL6George Foreman is credited with saying, “When I was a kid in Houston, we were so poor we couldn’t afford the last two letters, so we called ourselves po’.” Friends, that is some kind of poor! That’s as poor as Job’s turkey.  So, where did that catchy idiom originate?

XIR84999Likely, the saying is a Biblical reference to Job, a man who had what you might call a real run of bad luck. When God decided to test Job’s faithfulness, He wanted to do it in a very big way, so He turned the task over to Satan.  You’ve got to really hate it when that happens! Job lost his income, his kids and his health. But, by golly, that man kept his faith. Job is also responsible for inspiring the term, “the patience of Job.” I’m happy to report that the story had a happy ending and God rewarded his faithfulness.  But, where does the turkey come in?

WL8Let’s clear one thing up: Job never had a turkey. Since turkeys are native to North America, Job wouldn’t have known a turkey from an armadillo! The phrase, “as poor as Job’s turkey,” seems to have originated in the Midwest, which is a whole heckuva lot closer to the West than much of the “Western” lingo we explore. The colorful phraseology has been around since at least the mid 19th century. The definite origin of the idiom about the poverty-stricken poultry is unknown. But you can’t deny that if Job had owned a turkey, it would have been a pretty poor one!

Apple Pie Order

“She’s the tidiest person I know. Her house is always in apple pie order.”

WL9Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet… Surely, anything having to do with apple pie, orderly or otherwise, can be traced back to the American West. It’s as American as apple pie. Right? Wrong-o!

Oil on Canvas. 1795. National Maritime Museum, London.

In English, the expression dates back to 1780, when Sir Thomas Pasley, an admiral in the British Navy, used it in his Private Sea Journals. Well, ain’t that a kick in the pants! He wrote, “Their Persons Clean and in apple-Pie order on Sundays.” Despite his whimsical use of capital letters, the phrase is pretty straightforward. It’s another way of saying that there’s place for everything and everything is in its place.

It’s possible that the original phrase evolved from the French, ‘nappes pliees,’ which means neatly folded. Wait a minute! That doesn’t have anything to do with apples or pie. That doesn’t sound right at all!

WL11A more plausible explanation seems to be that the phrase really refers to the orderly fashion in which apple pies were made—crust, apples, sugar, lemon zest, spices… Yeah . . . I’m going with that. It’s bad enough it’s not Western. Don’t tell me it’s not a reference to pies!


Put That In Your Pipe and Smoke It

“I don’t care what you think! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

WL12Whenever I hear, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it,” I think more of a corncob pipe than the sorts of pipes smoked by men with patches on their elbows. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sayings. I may not say it very often, but I think it a lot! Technically, it’s merely a way of telling someone to “deal with it!” It has the sort of good-natured, biting edge that screams “Western” to me. But, is it?

WL13No one knows when this expression came to be, but it first appeared in print in 1824, in the British playwright R.B. Peake’s two-act play, American’s Abroad.  The expression even appeared in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers and an episode of “Downton Abbey.” So, now I have to start thinking about saying it with a British accent instead of a cowboy drawl! I surrender my image of a hillbilly with a hound dog and a jug of moonshine and replace it with an image of a British dandy with an English Foxhound and a wine cellar. I may not like it, but I’ll put that in my pipe and smoke it!

WL14As always, I love to hear from you. If you have any examples of Western Lingo you would me to investigate, let me know. I’ll write it on my very high-tech and official notepad.

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia