February 26th, 2009
The black and white image displayed is a photograph that was taken in 1861 during the Civil War. The photograph is titled “Swearing in Native American Civil War Recruits.” The photo was most likely taken in Wisconsin based upon information about two of the four men in the picture, but the photographer is unknown. The image marked a historical moment in history; Native Americans were going to war side by side with white and African American men, and appeared to be going to fight for their country. In reality, however, the Native Americans signed up for the war in an effort to preserve their freedom, maintain their unique cultures, and protect their ancestral lands. It is estimated that around 28,693 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
In the photograph, the white man on the left wearing the cap was Thomas Bigford. Bigford was a farmer from Taycheedah, Wisconsin who served as a local recruiting officer during the war. The other recruiter sitting down was Adam Scherf from Stockbridge, Wisconsin. Scherf was known to have served in the same regiment with Bigford’s son, Royal. The two Native Americans in the picture stick out because of their appearance. The Native Americans’ hair is cut short and one of them has facial hair; their style is similar to the way a typical white man would look during the late 1800’s. Normally, Native Americans had long straight hair usually worn in braids and had no facial hair. In the photo, they are wearing long pants and a jacket. The jacket looks very worn, which could represent the social class the Native Americans were perceived to be in. Native American attire was typically made out of animal hide or wool. Some examples of common Native American clothing are featherhead dresses, beaded jackets and shirts, woolen sweaters, and jingle dresses. The Native Americans in the photo are from the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin.
The “Swearing in Native American Civil War Recruits” photograph is now displayed in the Wisconsin Historical Society. The image is in Album 13 (The Civil War-Portraits, Military Camps, and Military Training). The photograph is the only Native American picture the historical society has of Indians from the Civil War. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a large number of Native American photographs from the Wisconsin Region in other years.