Chief Joseph's war shirt brings $877,500 in Nevada auction
The war shirt Chief Joseph wore in 1877 in the earliest known photo of him, and again while posing for a portrait by Cyrenius Hall in 1878, sold at auction Sunday. for $877,500.
The Associated Press
RENO, Nev. — A war shirt worn by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe that can be seen in a painting hanging in the Smithsonian Institution sold Saturday for $877,500 at auction, organizers said.
Mike Overby, an organizer of the annual Coeur d'Alene Art Auction, said the shirt that sold in Reno is considered one of the most important Native American artifacts ever to come to auction. It had been expected to bring $800,000 to $1.2 million at auction, he said.
Chief Joseph wore the shirt in 1877 in the earliest known photo of him, and again while posing for a portrait by Cyrenius Hall in 1878. That painting, which was used for a U.S. postage stamp, hangs in the Smithsonian.
The poncho-style war shirt was made of two soft skins, likely deerskin. It features beadwork with bold geometric designs and bright colors. Warriors kept such prestigious garments clean in a saddle bag on their horse or carefully stored while in camp, to be worn only on special occasions, American Indian scholar Theodore Brasser noted.
The shirt surfaced at an Indian relic show in the 1990s and was sold without any knowledge of its link to the photo and portrait. It changed hands again before the connection was discovered.
The photo and portrait showing the war shirt were made shortly after Chief Joseph led 750 Nez Perce tribal members on an epic 1,700-mile journey from Oregon to Montana in an unsuccessful effort to reach Canada and avoid being confined to a reservation. They surrendered in 1877 after U.S. troops stopped them about 40 miles south of the Canadian border.
In a famous speech made after the surrender, Chief Joseph said: "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
The shirt's sale involved private collectors.
Some 400 bidders took part in what's billed as the world's largest Western art sale. About 300 works were sold for a total of $17.2 million, up from $16.9 million last year and $9.2 million the year before.