Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Indian Chief Joseph’s Costly Poncho Shirt

Chief Joseph was the American Indian leader of the famous Nez Perce tribe. His real name was Hinmatuyalatkekt (pronounced as Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt), but he was known to the local citizenry as Chief Joseph. Items owned by this popular Native American chief are very popular with art collectors all around the world, and in July 2012, a poncho shirt owned by him was sold for a whopping $877,500.

This poncho shirt belonging to Chief Joseph is made of two soft skins, and has beautiful beadwork in bright colours, with bold geometric designs along the shoulders. It is also considered to be an important Indian artefact. Chief Joseph’s colourful poncho shirt was estimated at $800,000, and had been put up for auction at the Coeur d’Alene Art Sale, held annually in Reno.

Who was Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe?

Indian Chief Joseph was a peacemaker and humanitarian of the late nineteenth century. He became famous for his principled struggle against the removal of his Wallowa band, and his resistance towards moving the Nez Perce tribe to an Idaho reservation. The poncho shirt that was auctioned off in Reno is the very same poncho shirt, which Chief Joseph wore in an 1877 photograph, and while posing for a portrait in 1878.

In fact, the finished portrait painted by artist Cyrenius Hall, can still be viewed at the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum and research complex in the world. This painting shows Indian Chief Joseph, striking a majestic pose in his traditional poncho shirt. It was painted a short time after the Native American Chief led around 750 members of his Nez Pearce tribe, over an unsuccessful 1,700 mile journey from Oregon to Montana, in the hope of reaching Canada.

He believed that this life-journey would help prevent the forceful removal of his band, and the ‘non-treaty’ movement of the Nez Perce tribe to a reservation in the state of Idaho. He took with him about 500 women and children. However, he was stopped by United States troops in 1877, when he was just 40 miles south of the Canadian border, and made to surrender. After the historic surrender of Chief Joseph, he made the famous statement, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever”.

The painting of Indian Chief Joseph in his famous poncho shirt was also used for a United States postage stamp. Before the auction of the shirt for $877,500 at Reno, it had garnered $482,500 at the Sotheby’s American Indian Art sale in May 2012.

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