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William A. Jones - Native American Photographs

Sloyd Room At Indian Industrial School
Sloyd Room At Indian Industrial School

You might wonder why the Wisconsin Historical Society owns this collection of nearly four hundred photographs that document Native American agencies, schools, and reservations, none of which are in Wisconsin. It makes more sense when you know that the images were acquired by William Arthur Jones, a resident of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, from 1851 until his death in 1912. Jones was prominent in local and state business and politics, and served as U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1897 to 1905. These photographs were taken under his jurisdiction by photographers such as Thomas Croft, H.H. Bratley, G.W. Parsons and Frank A. Rinehart. They are part of our collection of his papers, which relate mostly to his federal office, with a few concerning his Wisconsin business ventures.

Of major interest within the photographs collected by Commissioner Jones are the large number showing school and agency buildings, various types of dwellings, pupils in posed groups and engaged in vocational training, and dancers, agricultural workers and cowboys. Many of the school and reservation images provide insight into the federal government’s attempt to "civilize" Native Americans, especially through the education of Indian children.

One event documented is the Ojibwa-Pillager Battle, which took place in 1898 at Sugar Point on Bear Island, Minnesota, the result of a dispute between the Ojibwa-Pillager tribe and the federal government over timber sales. Another cause was the objection of the Ojibwa to the practice of several United States marshals furnishing liquor to the Indians and then arresting them in order to collect fines.

The Trans-Mississippi Exposition and Indian Congress - held in Omaha, Nebraska from June through November 1898 - was intended to show the traditions and customs of Native Americans to the general public. Subjects photographed include Indian participants and their exhibits, the opening dance, tepees, canoe construction, meal preparation, and the use of bows and arrows, as well as photographs of individuals and groups in their traditional dress.

A few images document the participation of Native Americans in Troop L of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.

Both the papers and the photographs of William A. Jones were donated to the Society in 1978 by the late Robert Neal, Mineral Point resident and local historian, whose more noteworthy accomplishment was buying an old Cornish stone house to rescue it from demolition. After years of careful restoration by him, it became Pendarvis, one of the nine Historic Sites of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

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