Blacks in the West, Panthers’ banner, soldier’s letter
The collection was awesome. Laid out in the glass case in front of me, the display of photos of African Americans who journeyed west in the late 1800s was both expansive and illustrative.
The collection included tintypes, carte-de-visites and photos of Buffalo Soldiers, Native Americans and common folks. It was offered late last week at the Swann Auction Galleries annual sale of African American manuscripts and ephemera.
I had seen this lot of photos on the auction house’s website and couldn’t wait to take a closer look. I was not disappointed. They were spread out in a large case, and I oohed and ahhed over each of them like a child at Christmas. They were so magnificent, so telling of the lives of a people who usually got lost in the pages of American history books. Black people made it west – and pocket communities in many of those states are a testament of their journey and decision to stay.
The African Americans in the photos were not unlike the countless other pioneers seeking a refuge that offered something better. Unfortunately, most of those westerners – and even their new country – were not willing to share with the native peoples.
According to the auction catalog, the photos were from around 1870 to 1905. The people were photographed in such places as Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. That’s a huge stretch of land with an African American presence – no matter how small.
African Americans, Mexicans and Asians were the “other pioneers,” the ones you don’t see in most Hollywood’s movies of the west, as one website noted. They performed the same type of work as whites, owned their own businesses and found their own place: Nat Love wrote a book about his life as a cowboy. Stagecoach Mary was a powerful woman in both stature and attitude, and didn’t take any stuff from anyone.
Even before Reconstruction, slaves, free blacks and abolitionists traveled to the territories of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri – which were being debated in Congress as slaveholding or slave-free areas. In the late 1870s, Exodusters – as they were called – flocked to the west, seeing it as the land of freedom. Many of these African Americans were Southerners leaving behind that region’s harsh and debilitating laws.
At the auction, Swann’s catalog offered a description of the contents of the collection:
A large William Henry Jackson photograph (circa 1871) taken for the Hayden Survey depicting two hunters, (captioned “Our Hunters”), one of whom is Joe Clark, thought to be the first African American to enter the Yellowstone Valley. (Joe and Jose Clark were hunters with a U.S. Geological Survey team mapping Yellowstone and surrounding territories. The photo showed them back from a hunt with elk meat and trees. Joe is described as being African American.)
Group of twenty-one images of Buffalo soldiers covering the period of 1870 to 1900. … infantrymen, cavalrymen, scouts and band members from Arizona, the Dakota Territory, Indian Territory, and Kansas – many of whom are identified.
Photograph of a Buffalo soldier with his wife, another posed with his Springfield “trap-door” musket with bayonet, and another of a scout with his ammunition belt, filled with what were probably 45.70 cartridges for his musket.
(Photograph of) a Wild West Troupe consisting of nearly 100 members including Indians in full dress, scouts, soldiers, and Mexicans with their large brimmed sombreros (circa 1905).
Portraits of the ordinary men, women and children who settled the American West following the Civil War.
When the collection came up for bids, the auctioneer started at $24,000 and the price just hung there. It did not sell. A buyer mentioned later that she thought the starting bid was too high.
The collection was not the only historically significant item offered. Here are some of the others. The prices do not include a 20 percent premium paid by the buyer:
Black Panther banner from Lowndes County, AL, 1967. The banner was made by an organization that was the predecessor to the Black Panther Party later founded in Oakland, CA, according to the catalog. One of the organizers of the Alabama group was Stokely Carmichael, who had been sent to the county in 1965 by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The Alabama group seemed to have been formed around 1965. The banner sold for $36,000.
Letter from Morgan W. Carter of the 28th U.S. Colored Troops to a friend in December 1864.
“There many a poor fell[ow] lost thear life for thear country and thear people. But poore fellows they died a noble death and in this cause if it is necessary I will give up my life most willingly to benefit the Colored Race,” he wrote in part. “If I should die before I receive the benefit of it I will have the consolation of nowing that the generations to come will receive the blessing of it.”
(The letter generated a lot of articles on the web, including one about local historians in Madison, IN – where Carter’s father had been an abolitionist – who wanted to buy the letter.) It sold for $32,000.
Manifest of the names of 92 people aboard a slave ship owned by Franklin and Armfield, one of the largest slave-dealing companies, $14,000.
John Brown’s provisional constitution and ordinances, $19,000.
Porcelain-covered metal sign for the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper, circa 1900s to 1920s. The Tribune is the country’s longest still-circulating African American newspaper, $800.
Group photo of the 1939 graduating class of Poro College, a beauty school founded by Annie M. Turnbo Malone. She developed and sold her own hair care products for African American women. The more-famous Madame C.J. Walker was one of her employees, $700.
Lena Richards Cook Book, 1939. Starting in the 1920s, Richards owned restaurants in New Orleans, had a catering business and a cooking school. She had a television cooking show in the late 1940s, $1,700.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog about a 1955 book about TV cooks way before chefs became stars. There was no mention of Richards and I didn’t come across her name in my research.
Click on the first photo to start the gallery.