Support ANTIQUES ROADSHOW by supporting public television! Give Today
  • SHOP
  • Appraisals

    Follow the Stories | Denver, Colorado (2010)

    H.S. Kilbourne Memoir & W.S. Soule Plains Indian Photographs


    Posted: 4.12.2010

    Launch slideshow

    Lonny received the archive of Soule's photographs and Kilbourne's sketches and writings from his father-in-law in 1969.

    A Plains Indian hunting a bison with bow and arrow on horseback, sketched by H.S. Kilbourne.

    Undated portrait of Satank, a Kiowa chief, by W.S. Soule.

    The Civil War was a schism that the United States was not necessarily destined to survive intact; and yet, as traumatic as it was, from the perspective of the Native Americans it was merely an intermission in a much longer war that had been waged intermittently for over two centuries. After the Union's victory at Appomattox, the Indian Wars entered their final decades. Whites streamed westward, and the conflict between settlers and natives became more deadly, to both sides.

    Lonny's archive includes chapters from Kilbourne's memoir of experiences in the Indian territory; his pencil sketches of life on the Plains; and a number of photographs taken by Will Soule

    To protect its citizens and their property, and to suppress the native raiding parties, Washington established military installations throughout the Western frontier, garrisoning them with troops and medical personnel. One of them, Fort Sill, in present-day Oklahoma, is still active. Lonny M., a retired engineer from Denver, brought a superb record of this period to the Denver Roadshow event in July 2009. Originally the property of Henry Sayles Kilbourne, a military doctor who'd been posted at Fort Sill upon its founding, Lonny's collection includes typewritten chapters from Kilbourne's memoir of his experiences in the Indian territory; his pencil sketches of life on the Plains; and a number of albumen-paper prints of photographs taken by Will Soule, the preeminent post-war photographer of the Plains Indians. Photographs expert Wes Cowan, of Cowan's Auction, Inc., valued Lonny's collection at between $13,000 and $15,000.

    "Soule went to the Indian territory not long after the Civil War," says Cowan, and was at Fort Sill from 1869 to 1874. "He was very well known for photographing the Plains Indians. Lonny's photos are a great group of images. Even the ones that are in poor condition have great subjects."

    By the time Soule was taking his iconic photograph of the great Kiowa warrior Set-t'ainte, commonly spelled Satanta, modern photography was in its sixth decade; but it was still tedious and time-consuming. Instead of film, Soule, like his contemporaries, used small panes of glass onto which he poured a mixture of light-sensitive chemicals. He then inserted the glass into the back of the camera, quickly exited the dark room, and snapped the photo while the plate was still wet. When the plate had dried, the negative remained recorded on the glass. The photos in Lonny's collection are prints Soule made from these glass plates. And though most prints would have been mounted on cabinet cards, for purchase by tourists, Lonny's appear to have been spared that fate, and were never mounted until Kilbourne pasted them into his memoirs years later.

    Even though exposure times had been reduced by the wet-plate process, and were counted in seconds rather than minutes, action photography was far in the future. For images of stampeding buffalo, a common sight on the Plains, we turn to Kilbourne and his handiness with a pencil. A herd of bison, depicted from a distance, illustrates what we know of that species before Europeans nearly wiped it out: there once were so many that, as they amassed on the horizon and stampeded into view, they resembled ants pouring out of an anthill.

    The American Plains bison (Bison bison bison) — also commonly referred to as the buffalo — was a victim of unrestricted and callous sport-hunting by whites, but it is sometimes forgotten that this slaughter was also a tool of war, wielded by settlers and even the government against the natives. Bison were a powerful symbol to Plains Indians, but only because they were so materially important. Tribes like the Kiowa derived food, clothing, tools, eating utensils, and shelter from all parts of the animal. If this resource were depleted, reasoned the government's war-makers, the populations that depended upon it could be more easily cajoled into moving onto reservations.

    The Kiowa were especially vulnerable to the consequences of declining bison populations, as they were a fully nomadic tribe that followed the bison migration. And although the Kiowa had long been raiding nearby populations of whites and natives alike for sustenance, horses, rifles, and wealth, by the time Soule photographed Satanta, his tribe was in nearly constant conflict with whites, and, therefore, with the growing power of Washington. In his manuscript "The Arrest of the Kiowa Chiefs," Kilbourne describes a famous incident, known as the Warren Wagon Train Raid, in which Satanta and other Kiowa attacked and looted a wagon train, killing and mutilating the teamsters who were trying to drive it across the Plains. In the aftermath, the Kiowa were arrested, and became the first Native Americans to be tried for murder in civilian courts. This move reflected a new strategy to deny the Native American resistance the status of fighters in a legitimate struggle.

    The Arrest of the Kiowa Chiefs
    Kilbourne was apparently a witness to the arrest of the Kiowa. In reading over his manuscript, however, Lonny noticed a discrepancy with other historical accounts. "It seems a little different," says Lonny, "because I think books usually say that [the Kiowa warrior] Satank took a knife and stabbed a teamster when they were taking him off to jail. But in Kilbourne's manuscript it says he took a rifle and was trying to load it. So that's a major difference I found. Whether one's more correct than the other I don't know."

    Some accounts contain both variants, and describe Satank stabbing his captor, then seizing his rifle. Regardless, the outcome for Satank was what he intended — before he could do any damage with the rifle, Satank himself was shot and killed, and thus escaped incarceration.

    After several years in the Indian Territory, Soule returned east, eventually selling off his photography business, including his glass plates. Some were lost, but many have been conserved. Kilbourne, who'd been merely a contract surgeon during the Civil War, was commissioned as a U.S. Army officer in 1875, and would go on to become a prominent military physician, retiring in 1904 as assistant surgeon general of the Army. It's around that time, it is believed, that he gathered his sketches, his photos, and his thoughts.

    "Based upon my experience with this kind of material," says Cowan, "guys who'd been involved in the Indian Wars in the 1860s and 1870s — these guys were in their 50s, which was old back then — started writing these memoirs. The same thing happened with Civil War vets at about the same time. It was a momentous period in our history, and their thinking was, 'I need to write this down. It's important for someone to know this.'"

    Lonny plans to carry on conserving his collection, perhaps one day passing it on to his son, who's begun to show interest. In his spare time, he continues to do research into Kilbourne's life. Readers can do the same by viewing the accompanying slideshow of photos and sketches, with captions pulled directly from Kilbourne's memoir.

    Lonny has also permitted ANTIQUES ROADSHOW to publish three chapters of Kilbourne's memoirs, we believe for the first time.

    Read the Kilbourne manuscripts in full here:
    "In a Buffalo Stampede" »
    "The Buffalo Killing of the Palefaces" »
    "The Arrest of the Kiowa Chiefs" »

    More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Books & Manuscripts category:
    U.S. Secret Service Archive (Palm Springs, 2009)
    Autographs of Aviation Celebrities (Spokane, 2008)
    Tate Gallery Archive (Honolulu, 2007)
    Rare Portraits Survive Museum Blaze (In a Way) (Mobile, 2007)
    Eleanor Roosevelt Archive (Philadelphia, 2007)
    Early Mormon History Explained (Salt Lake City, 2007)

    See the Denver, Colorado (2010) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.

    Ben Phelan is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been a contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 2007.

    blog comments powered by Disqus