“…never before were so many representatives of tribes and nations called together.”
—Omaha Daily Bee, August 5, 1898
Nearly 125 years ago, an intrepid Omaha, Nebraska, photographer named Frank A. Rinehart set up a temporary studio at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, aka the Omaha World’s Fair. Rinehart, the official photographer of the fair, could not have anticipated the long-term implications of the opportunity he was given: a contract to photograph the 500 American Indian people from 35 tribes attending the exposition’s Indian Congress. Like other artists before him, from George Catlin to Edward S. Curtis, Rinehart (who had apprenticed with photographer William Henry Jackson) worked zealously, but unlike most of his peers and predecessors, the 37-year-old did not have to travel all over the West to capture these poignant images. With his assistant, Adolph Muhr, Rinehart created a timeless collection of more than 500 photos: portraits, groups and shots of fair events, including the camp life of the American Indian people participating in the fair. As Rinehart biographer Royal Sutton reflected in The Face of Courage: The Rinehart Collection of Indian Photographs, “Rinehart worked to show the Indian photographically with dignity, honor and character. Rinehart’s skill removes the Indian from a subject of curiosity—an exhibit—a freak, to human being with feeling and personality.”
The following selection of these important portraits and group shots are but a fraction of Rinehart’s catalogue preserved in archives today. The primary Rinehart collection of 500 glass-plate negatives resides in the archives at Haskell Indian Nations University. Additional Rinehart and Muhr portraits and photographs are curated by several libraries across the United States, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, Yale University’s BeineckeLibrary, the Smithsonian Institution and the Digital Commonwealth Collection of Massachusetts. For this photo essay, all images are reproduced from public-domain images.
For readers interested in learning more about Frank A. Rinehart, I recommend the following books and internet sources: Beyond the Reach of Time and Change: Native American Reflections on the Frank A. Rinehart Photograph Collection, edited by Simon J. Ortiz (University of Arizona Press, 2004); The Face of Courage: The Rinehart Collection of Indian Photographs, introduction by Royal Sutton (Old Army Press, 1972; out-of-print); and “Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition,” Trans-Mississippi.UNL.edu. Photo captions are modeled on Rinehart’s original notes that accompanied each original photo. All photos by Frank A. Rinehart, unless otherwise noted.
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As senior editor of True West Magazine, Stuart Rosebrook oversees all editorial covering Old West travel, firearms and books. He has a Ph.D in U.S. History from Arizona State University, and he owns a multimedia communications business, Quo Vadis Communications, based in Iowa City, Iowa.