Lot 86
  • 86

Important Nez Perce Beaded and Fringed Hide War Shirt

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • goat hide and weasel fur
composed of finely tanned mountain sheep hide, of poncho form with open sides and partially sewn sleeves, decorated on the mid-section with blue pigment, overlaid across the shoulders and down each arm with hide strips, each sinew sewn in tiny glass seed beads, with a pattern of rectangular panels enclosing a diamond design, rectangular bibs on the neck stitched with linear designs against a red wool cloth ground overlaid on buffalo hide, decorated with rows of dyed quill-wrapped horse-hair pendants and white ermine  drops, the sleeves, cuffs and corners with cut hide fringe.


Chief Joseph

Peo-Peo- Tholekt

Jesse Redheart

Duane Alderman

Wendy Alderman

H. Malcolm Grimmer via Sotheby's private sale

Private Arizona Collection

Grimmer-Roche, Santa Fe, NM

Acquired in 2005 by the present owner from the above


Costumes Brochure, Dr. Francis Haines, illustrated on the cover

"American Indian Art Magazine," 1982, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 11, illustrated and identified as belonging to Chief Joseph

Catalogue Note

Chief Joseph, In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat (Thunder traveling over the mountains), was the last of the great Native American warrior chiefs and was distinguished by his eloquence, even-handed justice and diplomacy. In his book, Chief Joseph: The Biography of a Great Indian, Chester A. Fee wrote: "Chief Joseph...as a human being, a warrior and a leader and the representative of his people, ranks high above King Philip or Pontiac; superior to Osceola, Black Hawk and Sitting Bull, and the equal to Tecumseh, and the noblest of all in times of disaster, peril and misfortune."

Born in Oregon around 1840 in the Wallowa Valley of Northeastern Oregon, he was the son of Tuekakas, or Joseph the Elder. Chief Joseph assumed leadership of the "non-treaty" Nez Perce upon his father's death in 1871. Before dying, his father counseled him: "My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father's body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother." Joseph later recalled: "I clasped my father's hand and promised to do as he asked. A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild beast."

A defining moment in his career came in 1877 when Chief Joseph and his followers refused to recognize an 1863 agreement that ceded their lands to the United States and confined them to a reservation in Idaho. After realizing his two hundred warriors could not win against the U.S. Army, Chief Joseph planned an escape to Canada for his entire tribe. Under his leadership, the Nez Perce tribe covered more than 1,000 miles, defeating one U.S. Army while eluding another. The tribes' retreat to Canada ended in defeat after a four-day siege no more than thirty miles from the Canadian border. It was at this crossroads in his life that he famously stated: "Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

But the fight was not over. A true leader, Chief Joseph felt a keen sense of responsibility and concern for his people. After the defeat of 1877, he turned his efforts to helping them learn more peaceful, settled ways while continuing in his efforts to recover homelands. Towards this end, he made three trips to Washington DC, and met with two presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt.

Chief Joseph died in September, 1904 at the age of 64 in Nespelem, Washington and was buried with a simple service. His remains were re-interred in Nespelem on June 20, 1905 with a great ceremony, including the unveiling of a monument in his honor, orators and giveaway. It was at this funeral giveaway that this spectacular shirt, was passed on to his cousin, a distinguished warrior, Peo-Peo-Tholekt.

Peo-Peo-Tholekt was one of approximately twenty warriors who ranked just below the chiefs and sub-chiefs in tribal importance during the war of 1877. Peo-Peo-Tholekt had achieved fame prior to 1877's retreat and, additionally, played a very active role as a fighter during the tribe's attempted flight to Canada. Afterwards, he worked alongside Chief Joseph to regain the Nez Perce homelands. Written correspondence suggests that after Chief Joseph's death, he became a Chief in his own right. Peo-Peo-Tholekt died in 1935.

At the time of Peo-Peo Tholekt giveaway, this shirt, and one other with the same provenance, was received by his nephew, Jesse Redheart, who was a noted horseman. Many images exist of Redheart wearing the shirt and two are reproduced herein.

Stephen Douglas Shawley, curator of the Nez Perce Historical Park and noted historian, extensively researched the giveaway at Chief Joseph's funeral, and verified the provenance of this shirt. He saw the shirt in the possession of Peo-Peo-Tholekt's descendants in 1982. A signed letter outlining his findings accompanies the shirt.

A superb and impressive work of art in its own right, the shirt is further distinguished as an important historical artifact by its association with Chief Joseph.

For related examples please see Sotheby's, New York, May 2011, lot 16; also see Sotheby's, New York, May 2006, lot 183; and, finally, see Sotheby's New York, May 1996, lot 168.