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The Philadelphia Print Shop

Western Scenes

Images of Native Americans from illustrated newspapers


By 1848, the United States had expanded to encompass the entire central part of the North American continent between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the attention of Americans began to turn to the vast trans-Mississippi West. Beginning in the late 1840s and accelerating after the Civil War, thousands looked to the West as a land of new opportunity. Reports of various explorations, from the 1804-06 Lewis & Clark expedition to the U.S. government railroad surveys of around mid-century, began to provide some first-hand information on the region to those in the east, and Americans soon developed a fascination with this "wild" and far-away U.S. territory.

This led to a demand for images of the West, a demand well met by a wonderful series of prints published in popular illustrated newspapers which appeared around the middle of the nineteenth century. These prints were wide-ranging in their coverage of events, places, things and, of course, Native Americans. The fact that these prints were "merely" illustrations in a newspaper and were issued in huge numbers has led some to dismiss them as unworthy of study or ownership. Some were actual observed events, some were composites from memory or sketches, some were totally made up, and some were even based on photographs. They were, however, all drawn by skilled artists and they are based on first-hand observation.

It is also interesting to think that these were by far the largest source of images of Native Americans available to readers in the second part of the nineteenth century, when the nation was coming into contact and conflict with the many tribes in the American West. They are important historically in that they were a major component in the image of the Indians that most Americans had at the time.

Unless noted otherwise, the following prints are uncolored wood engravings issued in Harper's Weekly. They are in very good condition, except as noted. Sizes are for image only, excluding text. Photographs can be provided upon request.

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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated May 21, 2014