Royal 8vo. [26.5 x 16.5 cm], 3 vol. I: (1) ff. frontispiece, (1) ff. title-page, (1) ff. dedication lithograph, (i)-iv, (3)-333 pp., and with (39) ff. of lithographed portraits. II: (1) ff. frontispiece, (i)-xvii, (9)-290 pp., and with (47) ff. of lithographed portraits. III: (1) ff. frontispiece, (i)-iv, (17)-392 pp., and with (31) ff. of lithographed portraits. Total (120) ff. of lithographs finished in fine contemporary color. Uniformly bound in contemporary gross-grained morocco, with decorative panels on covers, spine with raised bands and title gilt. Spines slightly scuffed at extremities. Some mild scattered foxing to text leaves; lithographs clean and finished in fine color. Excellent.
Royal octavo edition in a luxurious (and appropriately!) American morocco binding of this work of Native American history and ethnography, “one of the most important [works] ever published on the American Indians” (Field), containing “the most colorful portraits of Indians ever executed” (Howes). The work was wildly popular, printed in folio from 1836-1844 and then in royal octavo from 1848-1850; though the latter was reissued numerous times (see below), for printing quality and plate-color the present edition remains unsurpassed in its fidelity to the original folio. As the publisher’s preface states, McKenney and Hall also incorporated new material, including a portrait of the Winnebago chief Red Bird. The project was widely acknowledged as a successful attempt to preserve—on paper—what had already become a rapidly vanishing group of cultures. The work was issued in several standard bindings, but this one is the most luxurious.
Most of the volume’s 120 hand-colored lithographs were based on oil paintings by Charles Bird King, employed by the War Department to paint Indian delegates visiting Washington (the paintings were later destroyed in the Smithsonian fire of 1865). The authors open with a portrait and 20-page biography of Red Jacket, a New York Seneca chief. A full 23 of the portraits depict Indians from tribes such as the Sauk, Ojibway and Chippeway that originally dwelled along the St. Lawrence River, including longer narratives of chiefs Black Hawk and Keokuk. The volume otherwise focuses primarily on the Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee of the southeast, no doubt because it was with these the Federal Army had been fighting the so-called ‘Removal Wars’ of the 1830s and 1840s, especially in Florida. Interestingly, McKenney and Hall also include a few portraits and stories of the Sioux—for the Yankee reader, a word that still conjured all the glamour and danger of the western frontier.
Thomas L. McKenney (1785-1859) was Superintendent of Indian Trade and later of the Federal Office of Indian Affairs (1824-1830). He was an avid supporter of the policy of relocation, and to this end he traveled widely among the tribes described in his book. His partner, the lawyer James Hall (1793-1868), had written extensively about the west.
The work first appeared in folio format in 1836-44. The first octavo edition dates from 1848-50 and had a number of reprints, of which this is the fourth.
* Field 992; Howes M129; Sabin 43410a (1836-1844 folio).