New Exhibit Opens at Woolaroc’s Bunkhouse Gallery


The Chiefs Go To Washington, a new exhibit in the Bunkhouse Gallery at Woolaroc, presents a collection of prints depicting the early Native American tribal leaders from the McKenney-Hall Portrait Gallery of American Indians.

Before photography, the only record of the appearance of these distinguished visitors was the portraits painted by early nineteenth century artists. The tribal representatives they painted came from a West that knew only the occasional trapper and explorer, a land as remote to the nation's leaders and the people of the Eastern cities as the distant stars.
The rarest collection of these portraits hung in the office of Thomas Loraine McKenney, Superintendent of the Indian Trade Bureau and later head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs under four presidents. During the 1820's and 1830's many delegations of chiefs, warriors and tribal members went to Washington to visit the Great Father (the President). McKenney wanted future generations to know how these great men of the American West looked. He arranged for artist Charles Bird King and others to paint portraits of many of the prominent Indian chiefs of the day, as well as warriors and other members of the visiting delegations. The portraits were acutely accurate and captured the dignity, diversity and historical relevance of the Native American people.
It is evident from McKenney's correspondence covering his sixteen years in office that he opposed many of the policies he was to implement. His travels in the West to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes gave him an unparalleled insight into the lives of Native Americans. He saw that land hungry settlers, government contractors, and officials at the state and local levels were defrauding and betraying the Indian nations to an appalling extent.  McKenney's efforts to protect the Indians' interests brought him many political enemies, and he was dismissed by President Jackson in 1830.

McKenney had always thought it important to share the portraits and combine them with a history of the tribes and leaders they depicted. Even before his dismissal from the Bureau of Indian Affairs he had formulated a plan to publish copies of the portraits. Working with his remaining friends at the War Department, he arranged to secretly borrow the paintings and had copies painted by Philadelphia artist Henry Inman. The Inman copies were then used to make lithographs for publication. McKenney spent a great deal of time and money researching the life and culture of the American Indian for the first volume of "The History of the Indian Tribes of North America", published in 1836. Two volumes were added to the portfolio in 1838 and 1844. The three volumes contain splendid lithographic reproductions of the paintings, accompanied by a text written by James Hall, a literary pioneer of the Midwest. It is fortunate that McKenney so doggedly pursued his dream of recording the rapidly vanishing world of Native Americans. Although some of the Henry Inman copies survive, all but 4 of the original portraits that he commissioned were destroyed in a disastrous fire at the Smithsonian Institution in 1865. The prints are the only record that remains.

The Chiefs Go To Washington will be shown from February 15th through Memorial Day, May 28th in the Bunkhouse Gallery, adjacent to the historic Woolaroc Lodge. Woolaroc, the ranch home of Phillips Petroleum Company founder Frank Phillips, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features a world class museum of Western art and artifacts, located within a 3700 acre wildlife preserve. The ranch and museum are located 12 miles southwest of Bartlesville on State Highway 123. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for ages 65 and up, children 11 and under are admitted free.

For further information about Woolaroc, contact the Woolaroc office at 918 336-0307 ext. 10 or 11 or call toll free 888-966-5276, ext. 10 or 11, or visit