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Monday, May 17, 2010

Image of the Day: Estapoosta or Running Face (Mandan)

Studio portrait of Estapoosta (Running Face or Howard Mandan Sr.), son of Chief Red Cow, 1874(P02233). Photographed by Charles Milton Bell in Washington, DC.

the NMAI published book Spirit Capture, this image is highlighted by Rick Hill (Tuscarora), former special assistant to the NMAI Director. Previously he also served as the Museum Director and principle designer of the new Institute of American Indian Arts, and Museum Director for the Native American Center for the Living Arts. He is a professor of American History, an artist, photographer, and a leading authority on contemporary Native American art and Indian images depicted in multi-media. Hill made the following comment about this image in the chapter entitled "Developed Identities: Seeing the Stereotypes and Beyond":

"Numerous photographs were taken of Indians of whom we know virtually nothing. One photo has stuck in my mind since I first saw it in 1972. It is a simple photo of a Mandan Indian named Estapoosta or Running Face, that was taken around 1874. He wears his white man’s costume, but two long braids hang down on each side of his head. Large braids cover his ears while narrow braids strung with brass beads hang from his temples. I am not exactly sure what has attracted me to this photo all these years, but it has something to do with the fact that despite his clothing, his hair became the expression of his identity. This portrait made me want to grow my hair long, too.

Much later I discovered this photo’s significance. Running Face was one of the few Mandan who lived through the disastrous smallpox epidemic of 1837. Only 150 survived the disease that swept through Indian Country several times. Now when I study his face, I cannot help but wonder what his eyes have seen. I find a trace of loss, but also a slight toughness that covers up his dreadful memories…Now think of what it must have been like for Running Face to watch his friends and relatives die of smallpox. What a burden it would be to bear knowing that smallpox was spread among the Indians through the distribution of blankets infected with the disease.”

See additional images from the NMAI Archive Center photograph collections here.

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