In this cabinet card photograph, taken in the Dakota Territory at the end of the 1800s, a young Native American woman looks directly into the camera. Her hair and neck are decorated with dentalium shells, an adornment that was highly valued by indigenous people from the Pacific Coast to the Dakotas. The subject of the portrait is identified below the image as “Two Bear’s Daughter.”
The back of this photograph bears information about the maker, photographer David Francis Barry (1854-1934). The image of “Two Bear’s Daughter” must have been taken between 1878 and 1890, when Barry had a studio in Bismarck. During that time, he traveled around the Dakota Territory, as it was called by the United States government at the end of the 1800s, photographing Native Americans, including Sitting Bull, the famed tribal leader who was imprisoned by the government at Standing Rock Reservation after 1881.
Two Bear or Mahto Nunpa (1826-ca. 1878) was a member of the Upper Yankton Dakota tribe. He also lived in the Dakota Territory. Two Bear later made his home at Standing Rock Reservation, which had been established in 1868 by the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Two Bear and other Dakota chiefs signed this treaty, as well as the 1865 Treaty of Fort Sully. Reflecting the tumultuous nature of relations between Native Americans and the United States government, Two Bear was present at the 1863 Whitestone Hill Massacre and fought in the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn.
Two Bear had seven daughters, complicating the search for the identity of the sitter in this photograph. The daughter in this image appears to be a teenage girl. Three of Two Bear’s daughters—Atatewin, Wasacu Wastewin, and Mahpiya Bogawin (also known as Nellie “Two Bear” Gates)—were in their twenties or thirties in 1878, the earliest year that this photograph could have been taken. It is unlikely that any of them are the young woman pictured here.
The woman pictured in the museum’s photograph must have been one of Two Bear’s other four daughters. These include: AsaWin (birthdate unknown), daughter of Two Bear and Hupadutawin; Matokenapewin (b. 1867), daughter of Two Bear and Tiwcantihowin; and Tasinahinwastewin (b. 1859) and Ptesetwin (b. 1861), daughters of Two Bear and Honkakagewin. Barry also photographed one of Two Bear’s sons, Tasonkakokipapi or Young Man Afraid of His Horses.
We may never know which of Two Bear’s daughters is presented in this photograph. However, the process of elimination has allowed us to narrow the list down to four young women. Perhaps further evidence will come to light that will reveal more about the subject of the photograph and the context of its making. If you have any information about Two Bear’s family, the Dakota people in this area, or David Francis Barry’s photography, please let us know in the comments!