Elbridge Ayer Burbank
The subject of this crayon drawing is Red Wolf, an intermediary chief of the Cheyenne tribe. Intermediary chiefs often settled disputes, both within the tribe and beyond the tribe, much like judges today. As an intermediary chief, Red Wolf was responsible for governing a district of his tribe. His tenure took place during a particularly difficult time in Cheyenne history. In 1901, at the time of the drawing, the Cheyenne and Arapaho shared ten districts near the Canadian River in western Oklahoma. The drawing was done at Darlington, headquarters of the Cheyenne-Arapaho agency, located near the present town of Concho, Oklahoma.
Ten years earlier, the Cheyennes were given allotments of 160 acres each, with the promise that the land would be held in trust by the federal government for the next 25 years, thus protecting it from settlement and local taxation. The government agent at Darlington urged tribal members to lease their allotments to cattle ranchers, by this time nearly three-quarters of the allotments had been leased. Even so, settlers still demanded more land. In 1902, less than halfway through the term, the United States Congress passed the Dead Indian Land Act, allowing for sale of allotment lands after the death of the original allottee. Over the next two decades, more than sixty percent of the land was sold. This action made survival of the Cheyenne and Arapahos very difficult, as they were forced to survive on only the rations provided by the government.
Seeing this predicament, former Indian school superintendent John Seger convinced a group of Arapahos and later Cheyennes to begin farming an area west of Darlington. The settlement was originally called “Seger Colony” and later shortened to Colony. Seger established the first vocational agricultural school for Native Americans, the Seger Industrial Training School. Students were taught to cultivate corn and other field crops, grow vegetables and raise livestock. Seger’s actions had a positive long-term impact on the prosperity of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe.
Elbridge Ayer Burbank began his art training at the Academy of Design in Chicago at the age of 16. He later continued his formal training in Munich, Germany from 1886 to 1892. Returning from Europe, his uncle Edward Ayer, president of the Field Columbian Museum, a trustee of the Newberry Library and a serious art collector, commissioned Burbank to paint Native Americans.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Burbank traveled the western United States, visiting a total of 125 tribes. By many accounts, he sketched nearly every prominent Native American Chief alive during the period between 1895 and 1910 – more than 1,250 drawings in all. He has been praised for the “historic truth” presented in his pieces that reveal the human character of their subject as well as accurately recording the details of their clothing and accessories.
Dating from 1901, this piece is the oldest sketch in the Judicial Center Collection. It is on permanent loan from the Oklahoma History Center collection.
Source: Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 10, no. 3, no. 4, vol. 11, no. 1, vol. 32, p. 263; Fowler, Loretta: Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics, p. 23-24; Seger, John H.: Early Days Among the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, Okla., pp. 106-107; Library of Congress: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers website, accessed July 27, 2011: El Reno News, November 29, 1900; Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, The Newberry Library: Edward E. Ayer Collection; Ayer Art Library Digital Collection website: Lummis, Charles F., Burbank Among the Indians: collections.carli.illinois.edu, accessed August 31, 2011.