One of the most famous photographers of Native Americans at the turn of the twentieth century was Frank Rinehart. He was renowned for capturing the personality and culture of the Native Americans of the USA, from their dress to their Native American jewelry to their lifestyle, and particularly for his photographs of delegates and leaders at the 1898 Indian Congress in Omaha.
Born in Illinois in 1862, Frank Albert Rinehart relocated with his brother to Denver, Colorado in the 1870s. He was employed in the photography studio on Charles Bohm, and he is believed to have worked as a photographer for the railroad. With his brother, Frank soon started working with William Henry Jackson, who was a renowned western landscape photographer. It was here that Rinehart became captivated by Native American culture.
Following his marriage in 1885, Rinehart moved to Omaha, Nebraska, becoming a father to two daughters and opening his own studio.
Native American Photography – International Exposition of 1898
In 1895, local Omaha businessmen raised almost $1 million to host a World Fair-styled event. The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was held from June to November in 1898 and it was here that the historical Indian Congress was held.
The Indian Congress brought together more than five hundred delegates from thirty-five different Native American tribes. Seen as noble people whose way of life was quickly disappearing, the Indian Congress exhibited the way of life of the American Indians, from ethnic traits to native industries. Tribes represented included Apache, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Pueblo, Sioux, and many others. The largest delegation was the Sioux, who travelled from the South Dakota reservations and included the very elderly Chief Red Cloud. Apache warrior Geronimo also attended.
Frank Rinehart was the exclusive, official Exposition photographer. He was the only photographer permitted onto Indian Congress grounds. Alongside his assistant Adolph Muhr, images and descriptions were generated for more than five hundred American Indians.
Rinehart’s many photographs of the Indian Congress delegates not only captured their image but also their spirit, capturing their dignity and majesty. He published a book called Rinehart’s Indians, featuring forty-six images.
In 1899-1900, Rinehart photographed Native Americans at their reservations, capturing the images of those who were not at the Congress, as well as everyday life. More than 1,200 portraits were produced over this time. Some went on to be made into lithographs or paintings for sale.
Rinehart died in 1928 in New Haven, Connecticut.
Today, the largest collection of Rinehart’s Native American portraits is preserved in Lawrence, Kansas at the Haskell Indian Nations University.
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