A CHEYENNE AT THE SMITHSONIAN
Tichkematse. Photo by T.W. Smillie.
Photo Lot 24. Neg. 73-9466
A fascinating early employee of the Smithsonian Institution was Tichkematse (Squint Eyes),
a Cheyenne Indian who worked for the institution in a variety of capacities between 1879
Raised to a life based on buffalo hunting, Tichkematse was among a group of
southern Plains warriors who were held as prisoners of war by
the United States government from 1875-1878. While imprisoned, he learned to speak English
and to read and write. Upon release he attended school at the Hampton Institute in Virginia for about a
year before coming to the Smithsonian. There he was trained in the preparation of bird and
mammal specimens for study and display. He proved so able a naturalist that he was
detailed to accompany a government expedition traveling the remote Florida waterways to
counsel with members of the Seminole tribe. Tichkematse used this opportunity to collect
bird specimens for the museum.
|Tichkematse also shared knowledge of his own culture with the Smithsonian
staff and visiting public. When he was not busy guiding visitors through the galleries and
interpreting the Indian exhibits, he worked with anthropologist Frank
Hamilton Cushing who was studying Indian sign language. There were so many different
languages spoken on the Plains that the Indians of the area had developed a shared
language based on gesture to facilitate communication between people of different tribes. Cushing's notes of his work with Tichkematse are preserved in
the National Anthropological Archives of the National Museum of Natural History.
During his time at the Smithsonian, he also produced drawings illustrating his old
life on the Plains, full of buffalo hunts and battles as well as everyday camp life.
Above: Tichkematse demonstrating Plains sign
language for Frank Hamilton Cushing. The wig he is wearing for this photograph was
apparently intended to make Tichkematse look "authentic." Photo Lot
24. Neg. 46,601.
Left: Four drawings by Tichkematse, ink and
watercolor on paper, 1878-1881. MS 290,844. Click on images to view an enlargement.
Below: Four hunting scenes. Ink and
watercolor on paper, 1887. MS 7500.
In 1880 he returned to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation in what is now Oklahoma, but
he continued his affiliation with the Smithsonian. He was active in collecting bird and
mammal specimens as well as craft items acquired from Cheyenne friends and relatives,
which he shipped to the museum.
In 1881 Frank Cushing recruited Tichkematse to join an
expedition he was mounting to locate and acquire information about the language and
customs of the Havasupai Indians who lived deep in the Grand Canyon. He went along on that
rough desert journey as companion and assistant, and continued to assist Cushing during
his subsequent months at the Pueblo of Zuni.
Tichkematse's direct association with the Smithsonian ended in 1881, but it was not the
last that he was heard of there. In 1991 the National Anthropological Archives acquired a
set of drawings that Tichkematse had produced in 1887 while he was enlisted with the Army
as a scout at Ft. Supply, Indian Territory.
The drawings represent a series of vignettes
of a hunting party arranged for Major John Dunlop who was visiting a fellow officer at Ft.
Supply. The drawings show the officers as well as Tichkematse and several of the other
scouts in their military uniforms hunting a wide variety of animals.