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[Sioux Indian Drawings]

Identifier: VAULT.oversize-Ayer-Art-Sioux.Indian

Scope and Content of the Collection

One hundred sixty unsigned, numbered, uniformly foldered watercolor and pencil drawings attributed to Sioux Indians during the winter of 1913-1914 after a mysterious disappearance of a large number of cattle and failed corn and potato crops left the tribe in starvation. Purchased by Aaron McGaffey Beede of Fort Yates, North Dakota, the drawings depict a variety of images, including warfare, buffalo, horses, men on horseback, the American flag, deer, foxes, guns, bows and arrows, and a representation of costume. There are four drawings of General Custer, Nos. 149-152. Some drawings include notes written by Beede in pencil. Forty of the drawings are attributed to children with nos. 3, 80, 119, 122, 130, and 165 having notes by Beede to indicate that the drawing was done by a child. In addition, there are five color prints, numbered 160-164. According to notes on the verso of No. 160, Nos. 160-162 are copies of the winning entry of a contest sponsored by Beede that awarded $10 to "the picture drawn by an Indian best representing the 'honeymoon.'"


  • Creation: 1913-1914



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The [Sioux Indian Drawings] are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time maximum, and items in each box will be counted before and after delivery to the patron, proper art handling procedures will be strictly enforced (Priority I).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The [Sioux Indian Drawings] are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Aaron McGaffey Beede

Poet, linguist, lawyer, Episcopal missionary to the Indians of North Dakota, and county judge of Fort Yates, Sioux County, North Dakota.

Aaron McGaffey Beede (1859-1934) was born in sandwich, New Hampshire to Captain Aaron Beede and Mary McGaffey. A true Renaissance man, Beede took on many different roles throughout his life, including but not limited to minister, missionary, scholar, lawyer, public official, and author. In 1887, Beede married Rebecca M. Ridley and, three years later, he earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. By 1901, Beede was residing in North Dakota, where he was responsible for most of the Episcopal missionary work targeted at Indian American peoples, a post for which he was well-suited as he had learned the Sioux language at the age of fifteen when he spent two years visiting Sioux and Ojibwa Indians. In 1914, Beede was appointed the first county judge of Sioux County, a position he held for approximately eight years before resigning and beginning his own private law practice. It was during this period that Beede assembled his vast collection of drawings commissioned from American Indians at Fort Yates, North Dakota. Beede died on October 5, 1914, in Rochester, Minnesota. He is buried alongside his wife in a family plot in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Historical Note about the Collection

From a letter dated January 4, 1922 from Aaron McGaffey Beede to Dr. N. W. Jipson: The Indian pictures we have talked about are sent to you, registered mail insured for $100., to-day. There are 120 of the general lot, and 40 by children, the four pictures of Custer between the two lots. They were all made in the winter of 1913-1914, during the "starving time." ----The summer precious no corn or potatoes grew, in this locality, and 35000 cattle of the Indians had all disappeared but a trifle over 5000, as shown by the count, (which I insisted upon) and about 3000 of the 5000 belonged to men who were practically white men. I claimed that the cattle had been stolen, and Congressman Norton claimed that they had disappeared otherwise, not explaining how. Anyway the 35000 the Indians actually had, by their own labor, as shown by the actual count at a dipping for sanitary purposes, had gone. The Indians were on the brink of starvation --- cattle gone and no crops (the only year in many years that corn did not grow, half a crop anyway. There was a conflict between me & the Government, and in the windup there were far-reaching changes made in the Indian service, and the Indians were given fairly ample food for the coming year. Newspapers were full of the controversy.-------I gave paper--not proper paper--to Indians, and color pencils, and paid for the children's pictures 50 cts each, and for the others from 60 to 75 cts each; and the pictures of Custer, the 4 of them, cost me $10.00. No perhaps I paid too high. It was in the early winter, 1913, & I had not yet got food from the Government, and should have given out the scant help anyway, pictures or no pictures, which, with a few jackrabbits, kept them alive until we got food. I want the picture to go to the Ayr [sic] collection. If they see fit to pay me $100, alright. If nothing, alright. It is saving pictures, which will be very valuable in future that I want. The 40 lost in the N. D. museum will likely be found in some heap, when they move into the new building. I hope that they are not really lost. Sincerely, A McG. Beede


4 Linear Feet (3 custom boxes)


One hundred sixty unsigned, numbered drawings attributed to "Sioux Indians" (a general, blanket term used to describe the Santee, the Yankton-Yanktonai, and the Lakota peoples) living in Fort Yates, North Dakota during the cataclysmic winter of 1913-1914, a period known as the "Starving Time." Aaron McGaffey Bead, an Episcopal missionary to the Indians of North Dakota, provided paper and art supplies to the residents of Fort Yates during this period and paid 50-75 cents for each drawing, depending on the age of the artist. This collection of watercolor and pencil drawings, letters, and prints offer invaluable insight into issues of self-representation, historical documentation, and cross-cultural exchange within the early twentieth century American Indian context.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Folders 1-65
Box 1
Series 2: Folders 66-129
Box 2
Series 3: Folders 130-165
Box 3

Collection Stack Location

VAULT 51 7


Gift, Aaron McGaffey Beede.

Processed by

Gordon Dearborn Wilkins and Elizabeth McKinley, 2015.

Inventory of the [Sioux Indian Drawings], 1913-1914
Gordon Dearborn Wilkins and Elizabeth McKinley
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States