Olin Levi Warner, born Suffield, CT 1844-died New York City 1896
7 3/8 in. (18.6 cm) diam.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, A Gift of Alison Warner Waterman in memory of her mother, Frances D. Warner
No sooner were the last Indian tribes onto reservations than Americans determined to celebrate their valor and nobility. Olin Warner was commissioned by his friend Charles Erskine Scott Wood to commemorate these western Indian chiefs, who had been relocated by the government. Wood had served under Nelson Miles, the Army officer ordered to capture Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce. Joseph had resisted the government’s policies to the last and led his people on a long march almost to the safety of the Canadian border before he admitted defeat, stating, “I will fight no more forever.”
Wood copied down the chief’s words, and was so disgusted by the government’s Indian policies that he resigned his Army commission. To honor Joseph and other Indians he admired, Wood asked Warner to portray them with the same dignity accorded to ancient Roman and Greek leaders—in profile, on bronze medals made to resemble antique coins. Chief Joseph, who had invited Wood’s son to live for a while among his people, sat for his portrait in Warner’s Portland, Oregon, studio. Wood recalled years later that Joseph had counseled his son to “be brave and tell the truth.”