These Plains Indian chiefs were among many who traveled to Washington to meet with the president to negotiate their territorial rights with the government. At the White House, the Capitol, and in private homes, policymakers employed bribery, dazzle, and intimidation to win the cooperation of these men. In his Seventh Street studio, Charles Bird King painted their portraits, creating a gallery of allies in the government’s plan to settle the Indian question peacefully.
War Eagle wears a presidential peace medal, valued by Native Americans as a sign of status and worn on all formal occasions. The artist painted the chiefs with a war axe, blood-red face paint, and eagle feathers atop their heads, reinforcing the romantic image of Indians as savages. One Englishman, however, saw them differently. He described them as “men of large stature, very muscular, having fine open countenances, with the real noble Roman nose, dignified in their manners, and peaceful and quiet in their habits.”
(Text courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum).