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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lincoln canes live on

(NAA 76-55:6) Crown of Lincoln Cane belonging to Zuni Pueblo, 1975.
Photo Lot 76-55, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
With the success of Steven Spielberg’s film, Lincoln, and its recent nomination for 12 Academy Awards, Abraham Lincoln-themed blog posts are all the rage, and who are we to go against grain?  At the National Anthropological Archives (NAA), our records show that Abe’s cane seems to have made the rounds in the 150 years following his administration.  A “Lincoln Cane” appears in several photos in our collection with the earliest from 1877 and the most recent from 1975.  A closer look reveals that the cane in these pictures is actually multiple canes, and though they never actually belonged to the president, their history is still very interesting.

That history begins in the 16th century when Spanish explorers came in contact with the pueblo civilizations in what is now the Southwest United States.  As detailed by Martha LaCroix Dailey in the New Mexico Historical Review, the Spanish, though assuming overall control of the territory, recognized the pueblos as “semi-autonomous municipalities with certain inherent rights of self-government.”  In addition to their own leaders, the pueblos began electing or appointing officers to act as liaisons between them and the Spanish government.  These officers then “received a black cane trimmed with silver and silk tassels as a symbol of authority.”
(NAA 06342700) Portrait of Antonio Al
Churleta (Tse-wa-àn-ye), Governor of San
Juan Pueblo, holding a Lincoln Cane, circa
1877. BAE GN 2031, National Anthropological
Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the new government acknowledged the land grants and authority given to the pueblos by the Spanish, “and in some cases, the Mexicans issued new canes to some of the pueblos.”  As was the case with Spain, the Mexican government did not always or was not always able to ensure the pueblos remained free from injustice or the encroachment of settlers.  But the pueblos at least received formal recognition from these governments.

When the United States took control of Southwest territories following the Mexican War, it agreed to honor the Spanish land grants.  However, the Office of the State Historian of New Mexico notes that the presidents of that era did not recognize the pueblos’ sovereignty, and the years between the Mexican and Civil wars saw the suspension of the cane tradition. 

(NAA 06366500) Portrait of Mariano
Carpintero, Governor of Sandia Pueblo,
holding a Lincoln Cane, 1899.
Photograph by De Lancey Gill. BAE
GN 2079A, National Anthropological
Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
( NAA 06348800 ) Portrait of Jesus
Antonio Moya, Governor of Santa
Ana Pueblo, holding a Lincoln Cane,
1899. Photograph by De Lancey Gill.
BAE GN 2208A, National Anthropological
Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
This lasted until 1863 when Dr. Michael Steck was appointed Superintendent of Indians for the Territory of New Mexico.  The pueblo tribes of that territory filed petitions for U.S. Land Patents with Steck to get the U.S. to honor its treaty agreements.  Steck saw to it that the patents were granted, and, having learned of the cane tradition through research, ordered 19 ebony canes with “A. Lincoln” and the tribe’s name engraved on their silver crowns.  He presented the patents and the canes to the pueblo governors, and the tradition was reborn in the “Lincoln canes” as they came to be called.

More canes were ordered and presented as other pueblo tribes received their patents, and Dailey notes the canes became a “significant material possession of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico.”  A Lincoln cane is now a “symbol of the office of governor” who will “perform a service to his people for his term of office,” head “the secular affairs of the pueblo,” and also act “as liaison to outsiders.”

The significance of the Lincoln canes is evident in the photos on this page, which depict pueblo governors holding their canes.  The cane in the top picture, which belongs to the Zuni pueblo, had an anecdote in Dailey’s article.  At one point the tribe lost its cane and requested a new one from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Dailey notes that “uneasiness characterized the pueblo and a serious search took place.”  The original was eventually found and the replacement was returned.

This Zuni Lincoln cane photo is part of Photo Lot 76-55 at NAA and is one of several photos involving the cane from 1975 which testifies to the enduring importance of the Lincoln cane.  You can learn more about Lincoln canes at New Mexico Office of the State Historian’s Web site.

— Adam Minakowski, Reference Archivist, National Anthropological Archives

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