3 volumes, folio (20 1/8 x 14 1/2 in.; 511 x 368 mm). BINDING: Expertly bound to style half green morocco and green cloth covered boards, spines with raised bands in seven compartments, lettered in the second and fourth, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt, period marbled endpapers.
Light and scattered foxing, generally not affecting images.
Upon publication of the first edition, a small number of text and plates were sent to Charles Gilpin in London, who represented the work as "Agent for Great Britain and Ireland." Cancel titles, reset and undated, were printed in England with Gilpin's imprint added. This is perhaps the rarest of the folio issues of McKenney and Hall.
After six years as Superintendent of Indian Trade, Thomas McKenney had become concerned for the survival of the Western tribes. He had observed unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the Native Americans for profit, and his vocal warnings about their future prompted his appointment by President Monroe to the Office of Indian Affairs. As first director, McKenney was to improve the administration of Indian programs in various government offices. His first trip was during the summer of 1826 to the Lake Superior area for a treaty with the Chippewa, opening mineral rights on their land. In 1827, he journeyed west again for a treaty with the Chippewa, Menominee , and Winebago in the present state of Michigan. His journeys provided an unparalleled opportunity to become acquainted with Native American tribes.
When President Jackson dismissed him from his government post in 1839, McKenney was able to turn more of his attention to his publishing project. Within a few years, he was joined by James Hall, the Illinois journalist, lawyer, state treasurer and from 1833 Cincinnati banker, who had written extensively about the west. Both authors, not unlike George Catlin, whom they tried to enlist in their publishing enterprise, saw their book as a way of preserving an accurate visual record of a rapidly disappearing culture. The text, which was written by Hall based on information supplied by McKenney, takes the form of a series of biographies of leading figures amongst the Indian nations, followed by a general history of the North American Indians. The work is now famous for its colour plate portraits of the chiefs, warriors and squaws of the various tribes, faithful copies of original oils by Charles Bird King painted from life in his studio in Washington (McKenney commissioned him to record the visiting Indian delegates) or worked up by King from the watercolours of the young frontier artist, James Otto Lewis. All but four of the original paintings were destroyed in the disastrous Smithsonian fire of 1865 so their appearance in this work preserves what is probably the best likeness of many of the most prominent Indian leaders of the early 19th century. Numbered among King's sitters were Sequoyah, Red Jacket, Major Ridge, Cornplanter, and Osceola.
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