Faces of the Elderly: Native Americans at the Turn of the Century

As a companion to last week’s post about young native Americans, this post is about elderly native Americans, taken at roughly the same time. It’s more interesting to look at the faces of the very old than younger people, because you can see the marks life has left on their faces. The lines on their faces tell us a lot about them: did they smile a lot or were they stern? Are they stooped or standing straight? How formal are they?

The first photograph was taken in 1906 by Frank Bennet Fiske. It depicts an elder in tribal dress with the fascinating name No Heart. It was taken in the North Dakota Badlands. If I were guessing by his eyes- or for that matter his name- I’d say he was a fierce character in his youth.

There was a man named No Heart, who was the chief of the Ioway tribe, but I don’t know if this is the same person. You can read more about him here.

The second photo is a centenarian Pueblo Indian woman named Juanita. The photo was taken by David Thomas Duckwall in 1902, and lists her age as 108. That would mean this woman was born in 1794! It’s difficult to tell what Juanita would have looked like earlier in her life, but she still had very beautiful hair– at age 108!



This is Washakie, Chief of Shoshones! This photograph was taken shortly before his death in 1900, by photographers Rose & Hopkins.

Per JacksonHoleHistory.org, Chief Washakie is one of the most famous Eastern Shoshone leaders. He played a prominent role in the territorial and statehood development of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. He was also well known for his kindness and graciousness to white settlers. His people would help travelers cross the dangerous terrain, and ensure no harm came to him. In an extraordinary testament to how beloved Washakie was, nine thousand grateful settlers once signed a document commending Washakie and his people for their kind treatment.

Washakie was very obviously someone who commands respect. Even his picture, staring down over 100 years into today, demands your attention. His face reflects the characteristics you would expect, based on what we know of him: humor, generosity, and benevolence.

Chief Washakie was born in Montana in 1804, which means he is about 96 years old in the first picture, which is incredible. The second picture is from Brittanica, and gives us a look at Washakie in 1880, when he would have been 76.



Washakie in 1880


The next two photographs were taken by O.J. Wingren, in La Conner, Washington in 1907.

The subject is Dr. Joseph, the chief medicine man of the Swinomish Reservation. The first photograph notes he is an elderly Swinomish traditional healer. Even though the photos are similar, it looks like they were taken on different days. He has a difficult face to read; I could only guess that he was an intelligent person and maybe someone who tended to be melancholy.



I hadn’t heard of La Conner before, but learned that it’s at the extreme Northwestern part of the country.


This photograph is titled Elk Woman. It was taken in 1900, and credited to photographers Heyn and Matzen, Chicago. The photograph notes that the woman is Sioux, but that’s all that we know factually about her. The deep lines in her forehead look like she’s had troubles in her life, but I would also guess she was unusually independent. Clues: the way she holds her mouth, the expression of her eyes, and her fastidiously neat clothing.


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