Finding Short Bull

Written by guest blogger, Jeff Gill, program assistant at the Newark Earthworks Center.

Gerard Baker is a Mandan-Hidatsa Native American, and has served in the National Park Service as Superintendent of the Little Bighorn National Battlefield, and in that same role at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. He was appointed as NPS assistant director for American Indian Relations before his retirement last year.

Dr. Baker hasnt retired much, traveling the country to advise and consult on Native American issues. Recently, he accepted an invitation from the Newark Earthworks Center & the Ohio Historical Society to join a tour/symposium on the World Heritage Site nominations for the Ohio Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and Serpent Mound.

On our bus traveling from Serpent Mound up to Seip Earthworks and the Hopewell Site, I had the chance to talk to Gerard about a number of subjects of mutual interest, including OHS’s first Curator of Archaeology, Warren K. Moorehead (serving from 1894-1897). We discussed the history of archaeology in general, and Moorehead in particular, particularly about the change in Moorehead’s understanding of American Indians after his trip to report on the Ghost Dance phenomenon on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1890, and his escort under military guard away from the scene literally the day before the infamous Wounded Knee massacre of Dec. 29, 1890.

There was a question related to the tribal groups involved that carried over into breakfast the next morning, and I recalled a particular picture that is in the Moorehead papers in the OHS Archives; we agreed that it might be useful for Gerard to look at that picture when we got to our last stop in Columbus, at the Ohio History Center, later that day. We would have to work fast to find and show the image to him before he had to leave for the airport.

When our World Heritage Site group arrived in Columbus, Dr. Brad Lepper, the most recent Curator of Archaeology, helped me find the office of Lisa Wood, Curator for Visual Resources. We asked her if we could get a look at the picture in question from the Moorehead holdings, mostly taken at Pine Ridge in 1890. As she opened the folder with the accession information, I read over her shoulder the notes of other items “foldered” in that box, including pictures Moorehead had marked “Hidatsa.”

“Could you pull those pictures, too?” I asked. Just because. Maybe it would be someone whose history Gerard would know.

While Lisa dove into the archives, Brad and I went back into the conference room where Gerard and the rest of the World Heritage team were gathering. We continued our discussion of the tentative list and how to maintain the Ohio Hopewell earthworks in the process, until the next break when Brad said “the photos are probably ready.”

When I looked at the prints Warren had done back in 1890, and read the penciled inscriptions on the back, there was one from the Hidatsa folder that was striking in its own right. Looking at the face staring calmly back across the 120+ years, I felt there was something more than a little familiar about that gaze. An older man, in a turban-like headcovering, fenced about with what turned out to be goose, not eagle feathers; he had two grandchildren at either side, or so the inscription on the reverse stated in Moorehead’s (to me) familiar handwriting, plus a name for the central figure.

Photograph of Short Bull, from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society.

Heading back into the conference room, the discussions had already resumed, so I sidled up next to Gerard’s place, and leaned over to whisper “here’s the Wounded Knee picture we were discussing, but I thought you might appreciate this other photo.” Leaving the photocopies we’d made behind, I walked back around the room to my seat.

Just as I sat down, I felt a hand on my elbow: it was Gerard, who had dashed quietly after me with but a single look at the front and back of the picture I’d passed along. He gestured to the hallway door, and walked through it, so of course I followed.

Out in the hall, Gerard said simply: “That’s my great-grandfather.” There was no doubt about the identification whatsoever. Moorehead had written on the back “Short Bull, oldest Mandan Indian, 72 yrs, died 1907, Fort Berthold, his grandchildren surround him.” Gerard explained that his father had told him, growing up on the Fort Berthold Reservation of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikira or “Three Affiliated Tribes,” about this illustrious ancestor, whose visions had led him to wear just this quite unique head-dress, almost a turban, with goose feathers placed upright in the folds of the material, marking the influence of the Goose Clan for Short Bull’s family.

“I only have one other picture of him, and it’s small, with his face looking away from the camera, plus it’s blurry,” said Gerard softly, looking at the striking portrait we had rediscovered. Short Bull is looking directly at us through the lens, seen in full with four grandchildren (their names, sadly, not noted on the back or in the file) standing all around him.

The other Moorehead photo turned out to be inconclusive and not all that interesting for the reasons we had originally considered (perhaps that’s another post). But it led us to the right folder, and a note from somewhere before Moorehead’s 1939 death, which allowed us to offer Dr. Gerard Baker a glimpse at his own family history, safely preserved in the Archives of the Ohio Historical Society for all these years, waiting for someone to come and match their own stories to this vivid image.

Thank you to Gerard for giving us permission to share this story of his own family reunion with you! He says it might just make the front of his own Christmas cards this year . . .

Gerard Baker, former Superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Historic Monument and retired Assistant Director of Native American Relations for the National Park Service

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