Alexander Gardner (1821–1882) was a photographer best known for his portraits of President Abraham Lincoln, his American Civil War photographs, and his photographs of American Indian delegations.
Gardner emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1856 and worked at the New York City studio of Mathew Brady, coming into contact with numerous politicians and military figures. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Brady photographed the conflicts, sending his team of photographers, including Gardner, into the field. Alexander Gardner left Brady’s studio in 1862 to open his own in Washington, D.C.; at this same time, he also became employed by General McClellan as official photographer of the Union Army’s U.S. Topographical Engineer Corps.
After the war, Gardner photographed many notables including President Lincoln, the Lincoln conspirators, and Indian delegations visiting Washington. In 1867, Gardner joined the survey team for what became the Kansas Pacific Railroad. The railroad was promoting plans for an extension of its route from Kansas to the Pacific Ocean. This proposed route, from Kansas through the mountains of Colorado and deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, and California, would serve to placate the Indians and provide access to the markets of the California. Gardner photographed the path of the proposed extension, emphasizing the ease of future railroad construction and the potential for economic development while including studies of the Indians in the region and settlements along the way. Gardner’s photographs represent the earliest systematic series of the Great Plains.
The survey photographs taken during treaty negotiations between the Plains Indians and the Indian Peace Commission at Fort Laramie, Wyoming in 1868. Gardner photographed many of the Sioux chiefs from the northern plains tribes including Crow, Arapaho, Oglala, Minneconjous, Brule and Cheyenne.
Although treaties between the U.S. government and the various Indian tribes were not unusual in the mid-1800s, the 1868 treaty was notable because it was the first time the U.S. government denounced the existence of individual Indian tribes and maintained that Indians would be treated as U.S. citizens, subject to the laws of the nation.