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Masterwork: Gertrude Käsebier
Classic portrait of Charging Thunder and his dog.
Charging Thunder, American Indian photograph from glass negative. ca. 1900
Charging Thunder, American Indian photograph from glass negative. ca. 1900

Before becoming one of the most influential American photographers of the 20th century, Gertrude Käsebier (1852–1934) was a wife and mother, experiences that informed her hallmark studies of women and their children. She also had an independent streak. At 37, an age by which most women of her day had settled into domesticity, Käsebier enrolled in painting and drawing classes at the Pratt Institute, then switched to photography and made it her career.

Käsebier later opened a portrait studio on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and, in April 1898, watched as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West troupe paraded past it on their way to Madison Square Garden. Among the performers was a contingent of Lakota Sioux. Inspired by the respect she had for the Sioux people of her Colorado youth, she asked William “Buffalo Bill” Cody for permission to make studio portraits of those traveling with the show, and Cody agreed.

Käsebier’s photographs—some of her portfolio’s most introspective and highly regarded—focus on the Native performers as individuals rather than cultural objects. Charging Thunder and his dog (shown here) were among her subjects. A few years after Käsebier took his photo, Charging Thunder went to England as part of Cody’s Wild West show and remained there after the show returned to the U.S. He died in 1929.

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Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

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