Keokuk c. 17901848

Thomas Easterly (18091882)
Sixth-plate daguerreotype, 1847

National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Regarded as one of the earliest known photographic portraits of a Native American, this daguerreotype pictures the Sauk chief Keokuk. The pioneering photographer Thomas Easterly created it during Keokuk’s visit to St. Louis in the spring of 1847. On this occasion the chief wears a bear claw necklace and a peace medal, and holds a silver-tipped cane.

Known as the Watchful Fox (the name is inscribed on the image in the lower left corner), Keokuk rose to prominence during a series of diplomatic exchanges with U.S. authorities in the 1830s.

Whereas his Sauk colleague Black Hawk favored armed resistance, Keokuk sought a negotiated settlement with government officials. His willingness to sell tribal lands in Iowa and to relocate west of the Mississippi River to a reservation in Kansas caused great political divisions among his tribe. Many refused to leave, and some who made the journey to Kansas in 1845 returned to Iowa shortly thereafter.