Last updated: September 22, 2016
This lithograph from the collection is of an Osage woman named Mohongo, or Sacred Sun, from a portrait by Charles Bird King. The image was part of a set of books called, The Indian Tribes of North America with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs, published between 1837 and 1844 by Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas L. McKenney and editor James Hall.
Thomas McKenney conceived the idea of having portraits made of American Indian tribal leaders who traveled to Washington, D.C. to conduct business with him in his position as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He hired a well-known artist, Charles Bird King, to paint the portraits in oil, which were later made into lithographs so that they could be reproduced for inclusion in a series of books. The Indian Tribes of North America was published in three folio sized volumes from 1837 to 1844 each with hand colored lithographs and biographies of the subjects written by Hall.
The original King paintings were later given to the Smithsonian Institution, and you can see some stereographs and a drawing of the way they looked when on display at the Smithsonian's website here:http://www.si.edu/ahhp/CB_King_Exhibit Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of the original portraits in 1865.
The series was sold by subscription, with 1,250 subscribers. The original set owned by Charles Dickens is now at the University of Washington. You can see a video about the books owned by the Topeka and Shawnee Public Library here: http://tscpl.org/art/52-for-150-whats-so-special-about-the-history-of-the-indian-tribes-of-north-america
Mohongo had an extraordinary adventure that took her from her people to great acclaim at the French court, then desperate poverty and danger in a foreign land, and then through the help of America's favorite Frenchman back to the United States to meet the president and finally return to the Osage people.
In 1827, a French con artist named David Delauney was able to convince a group of seven Osage Indians, including Mohongo and her husband Kihegashugah, that he was a representative of the U.S. Government and meant to take them on an official visit to Washington. The Osage accompanied Delauney down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where they boarded a ship for Washington. It was only when the ship landed in LeHavre, France that the Indians were told that they would be, for a short time, the star attractions of a "Wild West Show."
The Osage were exploited as they danced their way across Europe, making stops in France, the Netherlands and Germany.Initially, they were greeted by the French people with great interest. They met the king and many other French dignitaries and even attended the Paris Opera.You can see an engraving of their visit to the opera house here: http://historyhappenshere.org/node/6933
When the popularity of the troupe waned, Delauney abandoned them in Paris.Wandering about the city streets, the Osage could not speak French and refused to beg for food.To add to their plight, Mohongo was pregnant.Finally, they were brought to the Marquis de Lafayette, who kindly paid the price of their return to America. Smallpox struck on the Atlantic voyage, killing Mohongo's husband and two others. The survivors landed at Norfolk, Virginia, where they lived a hand-to-mouth existence until they were brought to the attention of Thomas McKenney. Mohongo and her son met President Andrew Jackson in 1830, who gave them the peace medal shown in the Charles Bird King portrait. Finally, after a three-year odyssey, Mohongo and her child were then returned to the Osage nation in Kansas.
The University of Cincinnati has a very nice exhibit on this set of books at this link: http://digitalprojects.libraries.uc.edu/exhibits/mckhall/intro.html
and you can learn more about Mohongo from the State Historical Society here: