The Indian Tribes of North America by McKenney, Three-Volume Set, Circa 1933-34

The Indian Tribes of North America. With Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of The Principal Chiefs by Thomas McKenney & James Hall. 3 Vols. 1933-1934. Illustrated with 123 full-page Plates in Color (chiefly from the Indian Gallery, formerly in the War Department at Washington). A New Edition, Edited By Frederick Webb Hodge. Publisher: Edinburgh: John Grant Presented in full embossed calf leather with raised and gilt spines and boards. Housed in a matching cloth slipcase.

This is the 1933-34 octavo three-volume edition of “the most colorful portraits of Indians ever executed”, MckEnny and Hall’s epic Indian Tribes of North America (Howes). Originally published in three folio-sized volumes in 1836, 1838, and 1844, the introduction to this stated "New Edition" by editor Hodge, presents an account of the creation of the original work, including extensive biographical information about the authors and a thorough bibliographical discussion of numerous editions that followed. Most notable to this later edition is the rich history of the work's most covetable feature: the color portraits of many Native Americans, primarily tribal chiefs.

Thomas McKenney spent six years as the Superintendent of Indian Trade; during his tenure he became increasingly concerned for the survival of the Western tribes. McKenney observed calculating individuals take advantage of the Native Americans for profit and his vocal warnings about their future prompted President Monroe to appoint McKenney to the Office of Indian Affairs. As the first director, McKenney was tasked to improve the administration of Indian programs across various government offices. 

In the summer of 1829, McKenney took his first trip to Lake Superior for a treaty with the Chippewa, opening mineral rights on their land. In 1827, he journeyed west again for a treaty with the Chippewa, Menominee, and Winebago in the present state of Michigan. His journeys provided an unparalleled opportunity to acquaint himself with Native American tribes and leaders. When President Jackson dismissed him from his government post in 1830, McKenney was able to turn more of his attention to his grand publishing project, the Indian Tribes of North America. Within a few years, James Hall, a lawyer who had written extensively about the West, joined him. McKenney and Hall saw their work as a way of preserving an accurate visual record of what they feared was a rapidly disappearing culture. The book was published in three volumes, from 1836 to 1844.

Indian Tribes of North America has long been celebrated for its faithful and conscientious portraits of Native Americans. The lithographs in the book are based on paintings by the renowned artist Charles Bird King. The War Department employed King to paint the Indian delegates visiting Washington, forming the basis of the War Department's Indian Gallery. Most of King's original paintings were subsequently destroyed in a fire at the Smithsonian. As such, their appearance in McKenney and Hall's magnificent work is our only record of the likenesses of many of the most prominent nineteenth century Indian leaders.




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