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History of the Indian Tribes of North America Sample plate
The History of the Indian
Tribes of North America


Powell's Books is proud to offer a beautiful copy from the third octavo printing of The History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas Loraine McKenney and James Hall. Published in 1855 by D. Rice and A. N. Hart, this edition is described by some as the most desirable of the octavo editions for the vibrancy of its plates.

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The History of the Indian Tribes of North America with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principle Chiefs.

Embellished with One Hundred Twenty Portraits from the Indian Gallery, at Washington.

By Thomas McKenney, Late of the Indian Department, Washington and James Hall Esq. of Cincinnati.

In three volumes, Volume I

Philadelphia: Published by D. Rice & A. N. Hart, No. 27 Minor Street 1855

Three volumes "large 8vo" (10.5" x 7") full red morocco with gilt embellishment on spine and boards.
120 hand colored lithograph plates.

Volume I, 333pp. 40 plates.
Volume II, 290pp. 48 plates.
Volume III, 392pp. 32 plates.

Field 992. Hand m-61.
Howes m-129.
Sabin 43410 (1836-1844 edition).
Sabin 43411.
Horan, "McKenney Hall Portrait Gallery of American Indians."

Very good.
Slight foxing to title page, vol-1.
Small closed tear (one third inch) first plate volume I.
Closed 3" tear seventh plate volume three (between pp. 38-39).
Minor rubbing to corners.


For further information, or to inquire about purchasing this set, please contact:

Dan Haneckow or
Darren Misner

M-F, 9-5:00
at Powell's Books in Beaverton
800.466.7323 503.643.3131

In 1844 the final volume of Thomas McKenney's landmark History of the Indian Tribes of North America was published, completing a vast work whose genesis can be traced twenty-three years earlier to the winter of 1821. At that time, as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the War Department, Thomas McKenney commissioned artist Charles Bird King (1785-1862) to paint the portraits of a delegation of Native American leaders in Washington, DC. The paintings captured the likeness of the leaders and provided a visual record of their tribes, many of which did not survive into the photographic era. The portraits, eventually over a hundred in number, lead to the establishment of the War Department's Indian Gallery. They were later moved to the Smithsonian Institute.

Thomas McKenney (1785-1859) was an early advocate for Native Americans and the survival of their cultures. Between 1816 and 1830 he held numerous government posts pertaining to Native American relations, eventually to be appointed the first head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Throughout his career McKenney acted on his concern that the world of the Native Americans would vanish without being documented. In 1835 he began work on the History of the Indian Tribes of North America the most extensive chronicle of the continents original inhabitants written to date.

The ambitious work was to feature a series of hand colored lithographs in folio, based upon the paintings he had commissioned by Charles Bird King and to a lesser extent, works by P. Rhindesbacher, R. M. Sully and James Otto Lewis. Each portrait would be accompanied with a biography of the subject written by McKenney, many based on personal interviews granted to him by such notables as Sequoyah, Makataineshekiakiah (Black Hawk), Thayendanegea (or Brant), Osceola and Red Jacket. In addition to the biographies, a large essay on the history of Native Americans by James Hall (1793-1768) was included.

It would take nine years and a huge financial outlay for the folio to be printed in its entirety. Volume I was completed in 1836 and published by the firm of Edward C. Biddle. Volume II followed in 1842 as well as a reissue of vol. I, published by Frederick W. Greenough, the successor firm of Edward C. Biddle. The firm of D. Rice and A. N. Clark, printed the final volume in 1844, as well as new issues of the first two volumes.

The books' large size and expense lead Rice and Clark to reissue the work changing its format to "royal" octavo in 1848, to "…place it within reach of the thousands, who, with taste and learning equal to those of the patrons of the large edition, have no less capacity to appreciate its worth and beauties." Rice and Clark "….confidently refer it to the public to decide, whether the most perfect fidelity is not observed in every department of the work — as well in the lifelike expression of the portraits and their coloring, as in the typography and the paper."

The new edition also included material added by McKenney and one additional portrait, that of Red Bird (Zitkaduta) of the Winnebago tribe. The portrait illustrates an event that McKenney had direct involvement in, the surrender of Chief Red Bird after an attack on Praire du Chien in 1827. McKenney and Michigan Governor Lewis Cass negotiated the surrender, which prevented the outbreak of a larger war by promising not to place Red Bird and his party in irons. Red Bird is portrayed arriving at the surrender, having chanted his death song earlier. "I have given my life, it is gone..." (blowing some dust between his finger and thumb) " this. I would not have it back. It is gone." Red Bird and his men were sentenced to hang for the attack but intercession by McKenney and Cass lead to their pardon by President Adams. Red Bird however, had died in prison before the pardon was granted.

Volume one of the octavo edition was completed in 1848 followed by volume two in 1849 and volume three in 1850. A second octavo was printed in 1854 followed by the third in 1855 and the forth in 1858. Printing would continue to 1870 although some later issues were abridged to contain as few as fifty of the original one hundred twenty plates.

In 1865 a disastrous fire struck the Smithsonian Institute, destroying most of the paintings from which the lithographs were drawn. It is in The History of the Indian Tribes of North America that Thomas McKenney's extensive portfolio, perhaps the most important pre-photographic record of vanished Native America survived.

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