From 1846 to 1860, John Fitzgibbon operated one of America’s most prominent daguerreian establishments in the frontier city of Saint Louis, Missouri. Fitzgibbon learned photography in 1839 while apprenticed as a saddler in Philadelphia, but he is best known for his studio portraits and scenes of regional life in the territories west of the Mississippi River.
This daguerreotype of Kno-Shr, a Kansas, is one of the few dated pre-Civil War portraits of a Native American whose name and tribe are known. The chief is shown bare-chested, wearing a traditional grizzly bear claw necklace, the most coveted of all Plains Indian body ornaments.
Several details are hand-colored with red paint, the color of strength and success and a powerful agent to ward off evil spirits. Made during the height of the country’s territorial expansion beyond the Mississippi, the photograph is remarkable as a document of a Native American before assimilation.