Exquisite Native American CDV

Black Star, an Osage Brave ca 1882
Black Star, an Osage Brave ca 1882

Here is a circa 1882 image of Black Star, a member of the Osage tribe, taken in Fort Smith, Arkansas. This was an incredible find, for me, and the back marks on the CDV are fortunate in that they facilitate a discussion about provenance, something that unlike say artistic style or means of production comparatively little has been written academically. Provenance, the history of ownership of an art object, is of considerable importance when the object is rare, quite possibly unique, and of considerable value. A documented provenance can help prove authenticity, and adds to the cachet of ownership – to have a Michelangelo drawing on ones’ wall, for example, is to share ownership of that drawing with kings and clergy, princes and museums.

In this case, the provenance is incomplete, but there is more to it than is usually found with such objects. Only with the rise of art photography in the late 19th/early 20th century do you have much in the way of documentation of provenance for photographs. It is comparatively easy to trace the ownership history of an Ansel Adams print, where oftentimes the gallery that originally sold the print is still in business, and the past owners or their immediate heirs are still alive. But tracing that provenance for something like one of my Mathew Brady daguerreotypes, where even the sitter’s identity is unknown, is a near impossibility.

However, this image, with the subject’s identity hand-written on the back, and the photographers’ studio back stamp, presents the beginnings of possibility. There is a known moment in time and space where this was created – I found the studio of Cook & Bergeron to be operating in Fort Smith for only a few brief years, 1881-1884. At some point, this image was consciously collected, by a Dr. Albert Leffingwell of Dansville, New York, who felt it was important enough to stamp the back of the CDV with his library stamp. Dr. Leffingwell was a famous physician and author, champion of vivisection reform. When it made it into his hands, and for how long, is undocumented, as is what happened to it after his passing.

I acquired it from a dealer in Paris, France. So the CDV has travelled a long and circuitous route from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Dansville, New York, to Paris to Washington, DC with unknown stops in-between. I hope this blog post will some day serve as documentation of the provenance of this image for a future owner.

2 thoughts on “Exquisite Native American CDV”

  1. My Mother died a few years back. Her mother my grandmother died when my mom was a young girl. So I never got to meet her. My grandmothers name was Jaqueline Hotelling Her maiden last name was Leffingwell.. Little information I had gotten about my grandmother form my Mom before my mom passed. What i was told was Jacqueline Leffingwell lived in Arkansas and lived on or near Fort Smith. at some time as well as my Mother Denise Fern Hotelling. Story was that Grandma Jackie’s Father or Grandfather was a Chief at one time of the Osage Tribe. He sold some of his land to the government for a large sum and drank himself to death.The Osage had at one time, by what i was told, took in several settler familes in exchange for there help with bargaining with the government and protecting them from rival tribal problems They gave the settlers land and interbreeding eventually took place..George Washington had sat in on a negotiation.with the Osage after a rival tribe members posed as Osage tribal negotiators and traded for land that wasn’t there’s to trade.I’ve been trying research my grandmothers records. Leffingwell is the name and I pulled this article up.Not sure if there is ties. But i would like to know.

    R. Allen Trower

    1. I don’t know if there is a connection either, but what I was able to find about Dr. Albert Leffingwell was that he was a prominent physician in New York State. There are some really good genealogical research tools out there – you can start at Ancestry.com, but I’d also try contacting the Mormon church. They’re obsessive about compiling family histories and may have more records than you’d think. I’d also try contacting the historical society in Fort Smith – often these historical societies have volunteers who live for doing just this kind of research and will do it for you for free. Many years ago when I lived in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, I went in to the historical society office and asked one of the docents a casual question about my house- I wanted to know if it pre-dated the burning of Chambersburg by McCausland’s raiders in 1864. The docent I spoke to went down to the courthouse and pulled the deed of sale records and sent me a copy, showing the first recorded sale of the property was in 1868.

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