Our collection of McKenney & Hall prints is from the landmark book, The History of the Indian Tribes of North America, a three-volume series originally published in 1836 that features biographies and one-of-a-kind lithograph portraits. These prints were reproductions of paintings originally completed by Charles Bird King.
Thomas McKenney was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1821, and soon after accepting that position, he began to commission portraits of Native Americans visiting Washington D.C. by the painter Charles Bird King. In 1828, McKenney commissioned lithograph reproductions of the paintings in an effort to make the Native American portraits more accessible. To accompany the prints, McKenney enlisted author and Treasurer of the State of Illinois James Hall to write biographies for each of the Native Americans featured in Charles Bird King's original paintings. The task proved to be incredibly difficult since King had only included little more than a name with his portraits. Over the course of eight years, Hall tracked down the vast majority of the subjects in the original paintings and meticulously recorded their stories.
In 1858, King's original paintings were relocated and archived at the Smithsonian Institution. However, several years later in 1865, a fire engulfed the entire floor the paintings were stored on, and over 295 of the portraits were destroyed, with only 5 spared. McKenney & Hall's expansive collection of lithographs are the only reproductions of Charles Bird King's original paintings ever produced, and they preserve the legacy of these important works and the Native American subjects they depict.