Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Case of Mistaken Identities: Ambrotypes of Potawatomi Chief Shabbona

Photographs of Chief Shabbona from the Iva Towsley Gardner collection of Chief Shabbona ambrotypes (NMAI.AC.100). National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.
One of the first lessons you learn as an Archivist is that you can’t always believe the information you are given, especially when it comes to photo captions. People are frequently misidentified in photographs and this information is often passed down through the generations. Such was the case with the Iva Towsley Gardner collection of Chief Shabbona ambrotypes (NMAI.AC.100) which we received as a gift earlier this year.

Iva Towsley Gardner (born circa 1899) served as a nurse in Illinois and often treated members of the Potawatomi community in her region. Someone within the community gave her a set of ambrotypes depicting Potawatomi Chief Shabbona and his wife from circa 1854-1859. A note, presumably written by Gardner, was attached to the set and reads, "Picture of Shabbona and his wife. Property of Iva Towsley Gardner."

Chief Shabbona (also spelled Shabonee and Shabni) was best known as a warrior and Chief of the Potawatomi tribe. Born circa 1775 to the Ottawa tribe, Shabbona is believed to be the grand-nephew of Ottawa Chief Pontiac (circa 1720-1769). As a young man Shabbona became an Ottawa chief and later married Coconako, the daughter of Potawatomi Chief Spotka. He eventually became a Potawatomi Chief himself.

Upon donation, we examined the ambrotypes in person and promptly determined that both photos depict Chief Shabbona, not Shabbona and his wife Coconako as the typed note indicated. Perhaps Gardner, or someone before her, mistook Chief Shabbona’s headdress for a woman’s feathered hat.

So the next time you’re looking through your family photos and see captions written by a relative long ago, just remember- you might want to take a second look

Emily Moazami, Assistant Head Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center

No comments:

Post a Comment