Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio
Photos courtesy Cowan’s Auctions
Material from the Indian Wars brought strong interest during the November 19, 2020, sale of American historical ephemera and photography held by Cowan’s Auctions of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a change from Cowan’s typical American history auctions, which are often highlighted by Civil War archives and artifacts.
“There’s always been interest in the Indian Wars, but the period of the Indian Wars, basically 1867 to 1892, may have lasted far longer than the Civil War but involved fewer people,” said Wes Cowan, vice chair of Hindman and Cowan’s founder. “It was a big period in American expansion, American history, but a relatively small amount of material was left behind to tell the story. That’s one reason there is almost always tremendous institutional interest in this material when we bring it up, and also collector interest.”
The top lot of the auction was an archive (partially shown) of Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925), half a century of material beginning about 1863, featuring detailed letters discussing Indian Wars campaigns and interactions with Native American leaders, approximately 300 items. It sold for $87,500 (est. $30,000/50,000).
The top lot was an archive of Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925). Having detailed accounts of Indian Wars campaigns, the grouping was estimated at $30,000/50,000 but sold for $87,500 (including buyer’s premium).
From volunteer infantryman, Miles advanced through the ranks and participated in nearly every major battle of the Army of the Potomac, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Petersburg, and he received the Medal of Honor for holding an advanced position during repeated attacks at Chancellorsville, Virginia. That was just the start of his military career. He went on to lead major U.S. operations during the Indian Wars.
The archive dated from about 1863 to 1913, but most of the material covered the period from 1867 to 1894. There were approximately 300 items, including more than 250 letters written by Miles, many to his wife, Mary Hoyt Sherman, the niece of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Cowan’s described the letters as providing “detailed discussions of his military campaigns and unvarnished opinions of the personnel involved in them.”
Miles’s accounts during the Indian Wars were exhaustive and combined to create a scarce historical perspective of the period. Beginning with letters written from Fort Harker, Kansas, in August 1869, he chronicled military actions in the West, including the 1874 Red River War against the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho; 1875 hostilities at Cimarron, New Mexico, involving the Ute and Apache; the 1876-77 Great Sioux War against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne; the 1877 Nez Perce War; the 1886 Apache Wars; the 1887 uprising at San Carlos, Arizona; and the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. He detailed his decades-long pursuit of iconic American Indian figures such as Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo, offering what Cowan’s described as “a historically significant and unabashedly candid firsthand account of the US military’s prosecution of the late Indian Wars.”
The catalog noted, “In well over 1,000 pages of correspondence, Miles details his expeditions throughout the West. He describes Sitting Bull as ‘a man evidently of great influence and a thinking, reasoning being’ (Oct. 25, 1876) and Chief Joseph as ‘a very superior Indian, far above any others I have met in intelligence and ability, and a fine-looking mild-mannered man’ (Oct. 14, 1879). He describes the aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and the tragedy at Wounded Knee, calling it ‘the most abominable criminal military blunder and horrible massacre of women and children’ (Jan. 15, 1891). He describes his distaste for incompetent officers and his anger that the U.S. military has not properly recognized his successes. In his later writings, Miles conveys a recognition that officials in Washington had grievously mishandled Indian affairs: ‘There has been no branch of our government so corrupt and disgraceful to the Republic as the management of our Indians affairs’ (Dec. 22, 1890).”
Some of the letters had previously been detailed in The Unregimented General: A Biography of Nelson A. Miles, written by Virginia Weisel Johnson (1910-1988), wife of Brigadier General William M. Johnson, and published in 1962. The book’s preface included a letter written by Miles’s son, Major General Sherman Miles (1882-1966), who noted that the archive was discovered in an old army chest in the 1950s. Before handing them over to Johnson, Sherman Miles edited the letters by transcribing text and adding notes on nearly every page. However, large parts of some letters were omitted from Johnson’s book, and at least 32 letters were left out entirely. The archive sold by Cowan’s included that missing material.
Sherman Miles, it’s worth adding, had his own place in American military history. He was chief of the Military Intelligence Division in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, pushing the United States into World War II.
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) handwritten letter describing the Battle of Warbonnet Creek and the killing of Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hair, illustrated with a sketch of a rider on a rearing horse, written to artist Irving R. Bacon in 1903, $13,125 (est. $12,000/16,000).
Other Indian-related material included two handwritten letters by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) to artist Irving R. Bacon in 1903. One describing the Battle of Warbonnet Creek and the killing of Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hair, illustrated with a sketch of a rider on a rearing horse, sold for $13,125 (est. $12,000/16,000), while a second example, also dealing with Yellow Hair’s death, sold for $12,500 (est. $10,000/15,000). “Buffalo Bill material comes up fairly often, but this was the most interesting I’ve seen,” said Katie Horstman, senior specialist in Cowan’s American history department.
Cabinet card of Louis Fatio (a.k.a. Luis Fatio Pacheco, circa 1800-1895), mid-1880s, the only known photograph of the formerly enslaved black who was involved in the Dade Massacre during the Seminole Wars, ink spot, toning, and wear, $11,875 (est. $2500/3500).
From an earlier time frame in the eastern United States, a mid-1880s cabinet card of Louis Fatio (a.k.a. Luis Fatio Pacheco, circa 1800-1895) brought $11,875 (est. $2500/3500). It is the only known photograph of Fatio, a formerly enslaved black who was involved in the Dade massacre during the Seminole Wars. In that 1835 event, 110 U.S. troops were ambushed by Seminole Indians resisting a forced relocation to the West. Fatio, who was serving as an interpreter and guide for the Army, was one of only three survivors.
“This sale was really a combination of rare and desirable photography, manuscript material, and particularly a section that descended in the family of Eagle Woman Who All Look At,” said Horstman. “This was material that I don’t know if we’ll ever see again.”
Also of note in the auction were nearly 60 lots of inscribed American parade flags from the collection of J. Richard Pierce. Leading the bidding was a 13-star example used in Salem, Massachusetts, during a celebration of William McKinley’s victory in the 1896 U.S. presidential race. Having a six-pointed Great Star pattern, the 3" x 5" flag had an inked inscription, “Worn Nov. 6, 1896. / At The Parade in Salem To / Celebrate The Republican / Victory. Josh Rode Baby in This Parade / McKinley and Gold / Wolcott Governor.” McKinley was a strong supporter of the gold standard. As lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Roger Wolcott became governor when Frederic Greenhalge died in office in March 1896. Wolcott remained governor until 1900. The flag sold for $3250 (est. $800/1200).
Other flags had printed messages, such as a 13-star Benjamin Harrison 1888 campaign flag with a large scroll lettered “Protection to Home Industries,” 17" x 25", that sold for $2625 (est. $1200/1600).
“Some of them really help to tell an interesting story,” said Horstman.
As has become commonplace in the age of COVID-19, the auction was held without gallery bidding. It didn’t matter. Horstman said the 93% sell-through rate for the auction was the second highest since she has been at Cowan’s. “Right now I think sell-through rates are strong. Historically, we’re selling eighty percent, eighty-five if it’s a good day.”
For more information, phone Cowan’s at (513) 871-1670 or visit (www.cowans.com).
Half-plate daguerreotype showing miners at Angel’s Camp gold mine in Calaveras County, California, 1852, the case with a dated inscription identifying two of the men, sold with two ambrotype portraits (not shown) of the identified miners, circa 1855, minor imperfections, $36,250 (est. $15,000/25,000).
An archive (partially shown) of Philip J. Dieter (1837-1927), a veteran of the Civil War and the U.S. 7th Cavalry during the Indian Wars, featuring a circa 1920 handwritten letter signed by Elizabeth Custer, an engraving of George Armstrong Custer signed by Elizabeth, 31 scarce stereoviews (all but two by S.J. Morrow), discharge papers, and more, sold for $26,250 (est. $10,000/15,000).
Revolutionary War soldier’s letter from Horn’s Hook Fort, Manhattan Island, in 1776, describing the British occupation of New York City, toning, creases, tears, $11,250 (est. $500/700).
Mid-1850s sixth-plate daguerreotype of bare-knuckle boxer John Morrissey (1831-1878), who won the American heavyweight championship in 1853 in a bout that went 37 rounds, with some tarnishing, $15,000 (est. $10,000/15,000).
Fire-damaged envelope from the Hindenburg airship disaster at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937, $5760 (est. $5000/7000). In addition to passengers, the Hindenburg carried 17,609 pieces of mail, of which around 360 survived, including this cover. Postmarked at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, it traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was placed on the Hindenburg. Addressed to Mr. G. Thoolen of Wooster, Ohio, the cover is believed to be unpublished.
This 42-star reunion guidon, printed on cotton, with the stamped inscription “7th Illinois Cavalry / G.A.R. / Encampment / Camp Butler Illinois / July 4th 1889,” in a double medallion pattern with a central star and with a star in each corner, 6½" x 12", in vibrant colors, with a few small holes and minor soiling, professionally mounted, sold for $2688 (est. $2500/3500). The souvenir guidon commemorated the regiment’s 25th encampment held at Fort Butler.
This 42-star halo American flag, printed cotton, 8" x 13", in a double medallion pattern with a haloed central star and with three stars in each corner, 1889-90, with light soiling and wear to the hoist end, professionally mounted, sold for $3200 (est. $1800/2200). The haloed central star represents the state of Washington, which joined the Union in November 1889 and was one of four states to gain statehood that year.
Carte-de-visite half-length portrait of Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), with printed text “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance. / Sojourner Truth,” 1864, described by Cowan’s as a scarce view of the abolitionist, good tonality, a few light spots, $4375 (est. $1000/1500).
Ninth-plate ambrotype of George B. Woodward (1837-1927) of Derry, New Hampshire, a Wide Awake campaigner during Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential campaign, the circa 1860 image housed in a thermoplastic case by Scovill, great clarity and condition, $7500 (est. $2000/3000). Woodward, identified on the back of the image and in an accompanying note, both mentioning Lincoln’s campaign, is pictured wearing his Wide Awake uniform with a military-style hat tinted red and an oilcloth cape, with one hand holding a whale oil torch used in parades.
Mammoth plate portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), 221/8" x 17½" on 23" x 19" card stock, from a negative created in November 1863, the photo enlargement likely made sometime between the 1860s and Gardner’s death in 1882, with spots and toning, $4375 (est. $3000/4000). The image is sometimes referred to as the “Gettysburg Portrait” because it was taken two weeks before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
Clipped signature of George Washington (1732-1799) on laid paper, 1" x 4¾", affixed with tape to an engraving of the president, some toning to the signature, $6875 (est. $4000/6000). The portrait, originally drawn in 1796 and likely re-created circa 1876 for the U.S. centennial, is pencil signed by the engraver, J. A. J. Wilcox.
Carte-de-visite exterior view of Gardner’s Gallery by Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), Washington, D.C., 1862, light soiling, bumped corner, $6875 (est. $500/700). “Views of the War” lettered on one side of the building indicates that the image was taken during the Civil War, likely in late 1862, after Gardner left a partnership with Mathew Brady and before opening his own studio in May 1863.
Thirteen-star Benjamin Harrison 1888 campaign flag, printed cotton, 17" x 25", with a printed scroll, “Protection to Home Industries,” very good condition, a few spots, $2625 (est. $1200/1600).
Cabinet card picturing George A. Custer (1839-1876) with officers and their families at Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory, taken on the steps at Custer’s quarters, photo by O. S. Goff (uncredited) in November 1873, with toning, minor spots/stains, and a minor crease and wear to the mount, $2875 (est. $1500/2500).
This 13-star parade flag was used in Salem, Massachusetts, to celebrate William McKinley’s victory in the 1896 U. S. presidential race. Printed on glazed cotton muslin, with a six-pointed Great Star pattern, 3" x 5", with light soiling, professionally mounted, it sold for $3250 (est. $800/1200). The handwritten inscription reads “Worn Nov. 6, 1896. / At The Parade in Salem To / Celebrate The Republican / Victory. Josh Rode Baby in This Parade / McKinley and Gold / Wolcott Governor.”
A photograph album depicting scenes of Texas oil exploration, containing 29 silver gelatin images dating to about 1903 to 1910 and showing oil fields in Sour Lake and Batson, Hardin County, Texas, most photos 6" x 8¼", sold for $6080 (est. $4000/6000).
Maine Antique Digest. © 2021 Maine Antique Digest