Saturday, May 16, 2009

In The Conservatory With Mrs. Lincoln

There are surprisingly few photographs of Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of our greatest president. This is one of the most interesting, taken by the famous Civil War photographer, Matthew Brady. While the Civil War raged, with the outcome far from certain, an Indian Delegation was welcomed to the White House and photographed in the Conservatory with Mrs. Lincoln.

The summary by the Library of Congress reads thus: Photograph of the Southern Plains delegation, taken in the White House Conservatory on March 27, 1863. The interpreter William Simpson Smith and the agent Samuel G. Colley are standing at the left of the group; the white woman standing at the far right is often identified as Mary Todd Lincoln. The Indians in the front row are, left to right: War Bonnet, Standing in the Water, and Lean Bear of the Cheyennes, and Yellow Wolf of the Kiowas. Yellow Wolf is wearing the Thomas Jefferson peace medal that aroused such interest. The identities of the Indians of the second row are unknown. Within eighteen months from the date of this sitting, all four men in the front row were dead. Yellow Wolf died of pneumonia a few days after the picture was taken; War Bonnet and Standing in the Water died in the Sand Creek Massacre; and Lean Bear was killed by troops from Colorado Territory who mistook him for a hostile. (Source: Diplomats in buckskin, by Herman J. Viola, p. 101)