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People Escaping from the Indian Massacre

Adrian J. Ebell, 1862


Adrian J. Ebell was 22 years old and fresh out of Yale when he traveled to Minnesota to photograph the Indians. Together with an assistant named Edwin R. Lawton, he arrived at the Sioux Agencies along the Minnesota River just five days before the surprise attack on the Upper Sioux Agency that launched the first of the Indian Wars on the Northern Plains.

When word of the attack reached nearby missions, the missionaries and their families (and guests including Ebell and Lawton) fled to safety. Many of the refugees were guided by friendly Indians. This carte de visite by Ebell was taken when the group paused to eat on Thursday, August 21, 1862. In the middle ground, to the right of center, two women in bonnets can be seen kneading dough for bread. The party reached safety after two more days. Ebell and Lawton travelled on to St. Paul, where Joel E. Whitney’s gallery began making prints of this photograph for sale.

Ten months later, the war between the Sioux and government troops in Minnesota had escalated, and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published an article by Ebell entitled “The Indian Massacres and the War of 1862.” The illustrations included a wood engraving based on Ebell’s photograph of the refugees. In a strange case of journalistic license, the meal the group is preparing was changed from dinner to breakfast. The engraver also made a number of changes to the composition of this early documentary image.

Click here    to see how this photograph appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1863

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