Frank Rinehart’s Intimate Portraits Of Native Americans In The 1890’s

On April 2, 2015 by Tim Newman

Frank Rinehart - Native American - Young and Old

Frank Albert Rinehart (1861-1928) was an American photographer of German decent who was most famous for his intimate portraits of Native Americans. His most iconic images were of tribal leaders and members of the delegations who attended the 1898 Indian Congress in Omaha. The congress saw the largest meeting of American Indian tribes to date, consisting of 500 members from 35 different tribes, including the infamous Apache chief Geronimo.

Rinehart wasn’t the first to photograph Native Americans in a sensitive fashion, but his images were most widely circulated. The photos of tribal leaders helped change subsequent portrayals of Native Americans in Western media and minds. After the Indian Congress Rinehart traveled America for 2 years snapping leaders who hadn’t attended the delegation.

When asked to bring an image of a Native American to mind you might be forgiven for thinking of a feather headdress and face paint. This popular image is a true depiction of some of the Plains Indians, a group which contains the Blackfoot, Arapaho, Assiniboine, Cheyenne and others. However, these tribes represent just a small section of a huge and diverse Native American family. The number of Native Indians living in America in pre-Columbian times is unknown but estimates range from 1 million up to 18 million.

Frank Rinehart - Children


It goes without saying but America is a huge country, and as such there were thousands of distinct Native American tribes with as many as a thousand different languages. Some of these languages were as different from each other as English is to Russian.

Cultures that developed over millenia in Hawaii were always going to be vastly different from those that arose in places like Alaska. Many of these native tribesmen would never have met thanks to the vast distances involved, but trading networks between the distinct tribes were ancient and advanced.

Frank Rinehart - Girl

Unfortunately for the Native American population, the white man entered their turf bearing arms, and even more devastatingly, small pox. Many thousands of tribesmen and women were all but wiped out before even laying eyes on the white man, thanks to small pox’s virulent effects. Those that did survive the waves of European disease fell foul of his desire to “civilize” and remove them from their ancient hunting grounds. Ethnic cleansing saw the murder of thousands upon thousands of people who had called the Americas their home for thousands of years.

Life for Native Americans certainly wasn’t the Utopia that some have dreamt up, it was tough and there was plenty of infighting and warring. But the tragedy of the loss of so much culture, art and history is almost too much to bear. Rinehart’s photos serve as a lament and swan song of the incredible diversity and strength of Native Americans:

Frank Rinehart - Native American - Geronimo (Goyaalé) Apache

Germino – Apache

Frank Rinehart - Headress Frank Rinehart - Man 2 Frank Rinehart - Man


Pages: 1 2 3

@media all and (max-width: 228px) { div#darkbackground, div.visiblebox { display: none; } }