The Frontier Photographs of John C.H. Grabill

These days we have become so accustomed to photography – cell phone cameras, iPads, high tech SLR digital pro-cameras… everyone is trying his/her hand at photography including me. By delving into the early days of photography one is reminded of what a miracle it was then to finally be able to record scenes and people that had previously only been captured through an artist’s pen, paint brush, or the written word.

In my wanderings through the Library of Congress digital archives I came across some exciting images taken by an early western chronicler… John C.H. Grabill sent one hundred and eighty-eight photographs to the Library of Congress for copyright protection between 1887 and 1892. Little is known about Grabill and this is probably the largest surviving collection of his work. From the Library of Congress page of Grabill’s work, “Grabill’s remarkably well-crafted, sepia-toned images capture the forces of western settlement in South Dakota and Wyoming and document its effects on the area’s indigenous communities.”

Some time before 1886 (the year he opened his first photo studio in Sturgis) John C.H. Grabill began documenting life in the western frontier. In December, 1890 he recorded the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee – the killing of 150 Lakota men, women and children, and the wounding of another 51 – some of whom later died from their wounds.

The following are some striking examples of his work from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Indian chiefs who counciled with Gen. Miles and setteled [sic] the Indian War -- 1. Standing Bull, 2. Bear Who Looks Back Running [Stands and Looks Back], 3. Has the Big White Horse, 4. White Tail, 5. Liver [Living] Bear, 6. Little Thunder, 7. Bull Dog, 8. High Hawk, 9. Lame, 10. Eagle Pipe Grabill, John C. H., photographer

Indian chiefs who counciled with Gen. Miles and setteled [sic] the Indian War — 1. Standing Bull, 2. Bear Who Looks Back Running [Stands and Looks Back], 3. Has the Big White Horse, 4. White Tail, 5. Liver [Living] Bear, 6. Little Thunder, 7. Bull Dog, 8. High Hawk, 9. Lame, 10. Eagle Pipe
Grabill, John C. H., photographer

Title: Indian chiefs who counciled with Gen. Miles and setteled [sic] the Indian War — 1. Standing Bull, 2. Bear Who Looks Back Running [Stands and Looks Back], 3. Has the Big White Horse, 4. White Tail, 5. Liver [Living] Bear, 6. Little Thunder, 7. Bull Dog, 8. High Hawk, 9. Lame, 10. Eagle Pipe

Creator(s): Grabill, John C. H., photographer. Date Created/Published: 1891.

Summary: Group portrait of Lakota chiefs, five standing and five sitting with tipi in background–probably on or near Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Forms part of the John C. H. Grabill Collection.

A young Oglala girl sitting in front of a tipi, with a puppy beside her, probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation Grabill, John C. H., photographer

A young Oglala girl sitting in front of a tipi, with a puppy beside her, probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation
Grabill, John C. H., photographer

Title: A young Oglala girl sitting in front of a tipi, with a puppy beside her, probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation. 

Creator(s): Grabill, John C. H., photographer. Date Created/Published: 1891.

"Little," the instigator of Indian Revolt at Pine Ridge, 1890 Grabill, John C. H., photographer

“Little,” the instigator of Indian Revolt at Pine Ridge, 1890
Grabill, John C. H., photographer

Title: “Little” the instigator of Indian Revolt at Pine Ridge, 1890

Creator(s): Grabill, John C. H., photographer. Date Created/Published: 1891.

Summary: Little, Oglala band leader, three-quarter length studio portrait, seated, wearing a turkey feather headdress and holding various weapons.

"Spearfish Falls." Our friends, there, June 22, 1890 Grabill, John C. H., photographer

“Spearfish Falls.” Our friends, there, June 22, 1890
Grabill, John C. H., photographer

Title: “Spearfish Falls” Our friends, there, June 22, 1890

Creator(s): Grabill, John C. H., photographer. Date Created/Published: 1890 June 22.

Summary: Five men and three women standing on rocks in front of waterfall.

"Red Cloud and American Horse." The two most noted chiefs now living Grabill, John C. H., photographer

“Red Cloud and American Horse.” The two most noted chiefs now living
Grabill, John C. H., photographer

Title: “Red Cloud and American Horse.” The two most noted chiefs now living

Creator(s): Grabill, John C. H., photographer. Date Created/Published: 1891.

Summary: Two Oglala chiefs, American Horse (wearing western clothing and gun-in-holster) and Red Cloud (wearing headdress), full-length portrait, facing front, shaking hands in front of tipi–probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation.

2 Responses to “The Frontier Photographs of John C.H. Grabill”

  1. It’s actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you simply shared this useful information with us.

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