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Iron Tail (1862-1955), Sioux Veteran of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee / Brummett Echohawk, March 3, 1922 - February 6, 2006, Native American; Pawnee (Artist)


For this portrait, Brummett Echohawk (Pawnee) chose to depict Oglala Lakota Chief Iron Tail realistically, creating a humanizing and empathetic likeness. Chief Iron Tail had been forced to appear in the notorious Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, an exploitative touring exhibition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that was intended to display Indigenous Americans as the vanquished, racially inferior Other.1 Chief Iron Tail’s image was widely documented and distributed by white society during this period for entertainment. In fact, Buffalo Bill’s colonial propaganda caught the attention of aspiring American sculptor James Earle Fraser, who combined the likenesses of three prominent but unrelated Indigenous Chiefs—Two Moons, Big Tree, and Iron Tail—to create the profile image on the 1913 Buffalo Indian nickel.2

Echohawk’s true-to-life drawings are an extension of his World War II battlefield sketches, which were widely referenced by contemporary media for honestly capturing the reality and brutality of war. In this portrait, his meticulous attention to accuracy and detail can be strongly juxtaposed with the extractive, inaccurate, and voyeuristic representations produced by non-Indigenous artists throughout Chief Iron Tail’s lifetime.

In the same way that Gilcrease’s collection of Indigenous paintings upends clichéd Western depictions by providing decades of visual history and narrative-based self-representations, Echohawk’s portrait lends a restorative quality to images of Iron Tail.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

This text was developed from an interview with author and attorney Walter Echohawk, nephew of Brummett Echohawk, by Jordan Poorman Cocker, June 21, 2021

1 Dreesbach, Colonial Exhibitions.
2 MacDonald, “The Buffalo Nickel Indian,” 79.

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Iron Tail (1862-1955), Sioux Veteran of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee
Brummett Echohawk, March 3, 1922 - February 6, 2006, Native American; Pawnee (Artist)
Native American; Pawnee
charcoal on paperboard
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of Otha H. Grimes
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
1981; 1327.1260; 28930
Signed by hand in charcoal, "Echohawk 1955" in lower right on recto; Handwritten notes are present in sketch; Inscribed by hand in ink, "Iron Tail (1862-1955) Sioux Veteran of Little Big Horn & Wounded Knee" in upper center on verso; Stamped in black ink, "BRUMMETT ECHOHAWK P.O. BOX 1922 TULSA, OKLAHOMA" in center on verso.
Not On View

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