c. 1909 Plenty Coups (Aleek-chia Ahoosh), last Head Chief of the Crow, at Crow Agency, Montana, 1909. Silver-gelatin print, framed. Title appears as an ink inscription on the paper seal, rear.
Chief Plenty Coups was perhaps the best-known Indian leader of the early-20th century. Due to his many appearances before committees of the U.S. Congress, in the long struggle to preserve the lands of the Crow Reservation, Plenty Coups was invited to represent all Indian people at the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 11, 1921. It was the first public event in the history of the United States at which microphones were used. President Warren Harding delivered a two-hour address to a crowd estimated as 100,000 people, after which dignitaries of all the European allies of the United States during the recently-concluded "Great War" one-by-one pinned their nations' highest decorations to the flag covering the casket of the unidentified American soldier. By the official schedule, Plenty Coups was the last leader to approach the casket. He had been instructed specifically NOT to say anything, but only to lay a "coup stick" with a few eagle feathers atop the bier. The chief, however, dressed much as seen in this photograph and possessor of the most-distinguished war record of his generation, thought a simple prayer might not be inappropriate. Having seen scores of his young men perish in defense of their beautiful Montana homeland, he understood that the unidentified body within the decorated casket might have been one of his own, young Crow soldiers who had been lost during the European conflict. Raising his arms to the heavens, as 100,000 spectators stood rapt by the sight, he prayed for the spirit of the departed warrior, laid the feather-decked coup-stick across the casket, then as a personal gesture typical of his generosity he swept the magnificent headdress of eagle feathers from his own head and draped it, too, across the national flag. As he concluded, and artillery cannons began the honorary salute of "twenty-one guns," every eye in the crowd was on the blaze of white feathers covering the casket.
Following the dedication, the world press was supposed to interview President Harding. As the final cannon thundered, however, the press corps stampeded the dais, reporters shouting: "What did he say? What did he say?" In reporting the national event the next day, the New York Times called Plenty Coups' appearance "one of the outstanding features of the whole, remarkable ceremony." Today, at Arlington Cemetery, the gifts of Chief Plenty Coups and the Crow People remain on permanent display.
Collected by the current owner's grandfather, Angus Samuel Nicholson, Gov't. Agent on the Menominee Indian Reservation from 1910 - 1916.
Dimensions: image 17 ½ x 23 ½ inches*
For more information on this photograph, please read The Dixon-Wanamaker Series of Indian Photographs.
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