|This daguerreotype by Thomas M. Easterly (1809-1882), of St. Louis, portrays Na-Che-ninga (1797-1862), a chief of the Ioway, or Iowa, tribe. |
Easterly took several photographs of Na-Che-ninga (more commonly known as Nacheninga) at the same sitting. Several clues show that this particular image is a copy daguerreotype of another, original image. For one thing, the edges of the original are dimly visible. Secondly, Easterly used a sharp tool to inscribe a caption into the silver surface of the daguerreotype plate. That inscription shows up here backwards, because unless a camera had reversing lens, it would show the subject in a mirror image, as it is in this case. That inscription reads as follows (see below for a close-up of the photograph, with the image reversed to show the writing more clearly):
“Na-Che-ninga, or No Heart of fear. Chief of the Iowa tribe.”
Nacheninga had a reputation as a fierce warrior and shrewd negotiator, one who kept his people whole. He rose to the position as chief in 1851, when his predecessor, Mahaska (White Cloud) died. Nacheninga dealt with the United States government and negotiated treaties in Washington, DC. In this daguerreotype, he poses wrapped in a heavy blanket and holding what must have been a prized possession, a splendidly crafted rifle. On another daguerreotype from the same session, Easterly inscribed the following about this weapon:
"The Rifle was presented to the Chief of the Chippeways by King William the fourth of England during his sojourn in America.” And: "The barrel is made of Gold, Silver, and Platina, and carries an ounce ball with accuracy a distance of one mile.”
If that is all true, the rifle would have been an exceptionally valuable weapon. William IV reigned 1830-1837, and as a much younger man, he served in the British navy, stationed in New York during the Revolution, and that is how the rifle may have come to the Chippewa. It is not know how the rifle traveled from the Chippewa, located around the Great Lakes, to the Iowa, although there were certainly trade and diplomatic ties between the peoples.
Harvard’s Peabody Museum, where this photograph is held, notes that the image was collected by David Bushnell, Jr. (1875-1941), an amateur anthropologist and ethnographer with roots in the St. Louis area who donated his collection to the museum after his death.