Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Gold! Riches and Ruin |Natives and Outsiders

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator | Mar 26, 2015

    For years George Carmack, the son of a California forty-niner, took credit as the first to discover gold in the Klondike in 1896. However, two First Nations men who were related to him by marriage may have been the first. Historians now acknowledge that Skookum Jim Mason, the brother of Carmack’s wife, Kate, and Tagish (or Dawson) Charley likely made the find. Regardless, as the word spread it triggered a massive stampede to the Far North.

    The Canadian government foresaw the need to establish a law enforcement presence along the border between the United States and Canada, and in the communities growing and developing in response to the gold rush. The rapid increase in population led to the Yukon Territory’s establishment as a province. Many American gold seekers didn’t realize at first that the discovery existed in another country, and they chafed under Canadian authority.

    A vibrant and diverse indigenous population had long occupied the region. Because of their familiarity with the landscape, many First Nations people were hired as packers and guides on the trails to Dawson, and some worked mining claims. Although many of the outsiders adopted aspects of Native culture, such as wearing parkas and mukluks, overall the Yukon-Klondike gold rush led to the systematic degradation of the Native cultures in the region. 

     NWMP Constables Leason

    Klondikers and Indian Packers                      

    NWMP Constables Leason, Cutting, Brown, Harrington, Ward, Livingstone, Campbell and Ball posing on White Pass Summit beside Union Jack and US Flag with Unidentified Civilian at Extreme Right, 1899
    Image courtesy of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Historical Collections Unit; 1933.8.1

    Klondikers and Indian Packers near Stone House, Chilkoot Trail, Alaska, 1897
    Photographer: Frank LaRoche
    Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections; LaRoche 10042

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  • Gold in the Black Hills

    by James H. Nottage & Johanna M. Blume, Eiteljorg curators | Mar 26, 2015

    Hedren-3 - resized for blackhills blog

    Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, 1874
    Image courtesy of Paul L. Hedren

    A treaty with the Lakota Nation in 1868 guaranteed the tribe’s right to occupy its beloved homeland, Paha Sapa, the Black Hills of Dakota Territory. As rumors of gold being found in the region spread, the government at first discouraged trespassers on the Indian land. However, in 1874 the Army sent Lt. Col. George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry to explore the region. The expedition entered the Black Hills with more than 1,000 men, 100 wagons, a brass band, geologists, and reporters. When gold was found, word spread rapidly, and the rush was on. Although efforts were made initially to stop intrusions on the Lakota land, the tide of prospectors swept in, unrestrained by the federal government.

    President Ulysses Grant tried but failed to purchase the Black Hills from the Lakota. Abandoning efforts to keep intruders from the Black Hills, the government summarily ordered the Indians onto a reservation by January 31, 1876. The war that resulted is sometimes referred to by the Lakota as “the fight where we lost the Black Hills.” To this day, Lakota writers and leaders make the violation of the 1868 treaty and the taking of the Black Hills a core theme of their advocacy for tribal rights.

    Gold has been found at several places. . . . I have on my table forty or fifty small particles of pure gold . . . most of it obtained today from one pan full of earth.

    —George Custer’s report to General Alfred Terry, 1874

    The Americans stole my country, and the gold in the Black Hills. We asked the Americans to give us traders, instead they give us death. All of them robbed, cheated, and laughed at us.

    —Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull), Hunkpapa Lakota 1877

    All of our origin stories go back to this place. We have a spiritual connection to the Black Hills that can’t be sold. I don’t think I could face the Creator with an open heart if I ever took money for it.

    —Rick Two Dogs, Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, about 2011

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  • Gold Fever

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Mar 22, 2015

    Ho for California

    Take notice. Ho! for California!: A meeting of the Citizens of the Village of Canajoharie and its vicinity, will be held at the house of T. W. Bingham, . . . Jan. 16, 1849 
    Letterpress print on paper
    Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
    BANC PIC 1963.002:1802—A

    This mountain-mass of gold, is an immense magnet, whose attractive power is drawing men from all parts of the world to itself.
    —Reverend Elisha L. Cleaveland, 1849

    As word of the gold discovery spread, thousands of people from all over the word prepared to undertake the arduous journey to California. Depending on the departure point, there were a number of routes to the gold country.

    Thousands migrated west by foot and with wagon trains along a network of trails that worked its way across the continental United States. These overland routes seemed direct enough, but they contained a host of unpredictable dangers. Misinformation from guidebooks meant many left ill prepared, and accidents, disease, supply shortages, breakdowns, and bad weather all posed serious threats once the trip had begun.

    For others, routes to California by sea offered a slightly safer alternative. Clipper ships departing from Eastern ports were the safest option, but this route also took the longest, as the ships had to travel south around the southern edge of South America before turning north to San Francisco. A popular alternative was to go by ship as far south as Chagres, Panama, disembark, then travel across the Isthmus of Panama to Panama City by foot or in smaller river boats. Once on the western coast of the country, travelers boarded a second ship that would take them onward to California. However, the demand for ships heading north was far greater than the supply, which left many eager gold seekers stuck in Panama City indefinitely.

    In addition to the tens of thousands who journeyed to California from the East, thousands more traveled from Europe and across the Pacific Ocean from places like China, Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands. 


    Map of Overland Routes to California|
    From Precious Dust, 1994


    Map of Water Routes to California
    From Precious Dust, 1994

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  • The Discovery of Gold in California

    by James Nottage, Eiteljorg chief curatorial officer | Mar 22, 2015
    My eye was caught by something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and shape of a pea. Then I saw another.

     —John W. Marshall on the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, January 24, 1848

    The first discovery of gold in Mexican California, which took place near Los Angeles in 1842, was a minor finding that attracted little attention. At that time the attitude of “Manifest Destiny,” which promoted the idea that the young nation must expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was embraced by many Americans. This belief became the justification for a controversial war with Mexico beginning in 1846. Texas was annexed that year, battles were waged through the fall of 1847, and on February 2, 1848, the United States took control of much of the Southwest, including California. At almost exactly the same time, gold was discovered in Northern California.

    James Marshall was building a sawmill to cut lumber for construction on John Sutter’s buildings in the Sacramento valley. Sutter had a land grant from the Mexican government, and he employed many local Natives and veterans of the Mormon Battalion as laborers on the site. About January 24, 1848, bits of gold were first found in the millrace. At first the discovery was a distraction from other work. Soon it dominated hurried conversations and reports in area newspapers. By March, the rush was on.
    John Sutter portrait
    General John A. Sutter, 1851
    Stephen William Shaw
    Oil on canvas
    Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; BANC PIC 19xx.017—FR

     Gillespie drawings

     The Discoverer of California Gold, [John Marshall] Coloma, Dec 20th 1851
    Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, Dec. 1849
    Charles Gillespie
    Pencil on paper
    Loan courtesy of Richard M. Rogers

    Gold Mining in California, 1871
    Currier & Ives
    Hand-colored lithograph
    Loan courtesy of Greg and Petra Martin

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  • Appraisal Day Next Saturday | Find out if you've got valuable heirlooms or a hunk of junk

    by Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art | Mar 16, 2015

    Wes Cowan
    Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan's Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in Historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow.

    On Saturday, Mar. 28,  from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Eiteljorg will host Appraisal Day, featuring Wes Cowan, star of the PBS television series History Detectives and featured appraiser on PBS. Cowan, aided by other experts from Cowan’s Auctions Inc., in Cincinnati, will teach museum guests how to spot treasures and will provide on-site appraisals of items, including Native American objects, Western artifacts, coins, jewelry, timepieces, paintings, photographs, documents and decorative arts.

    To register, call or email Erinn Wold at 317.275.1310 or email Erinn at to reserve your space.

    Cost: Museum Members: $15 for the first item and $10 for each additional item (up to three items total).

    General Public: $20 for the first item and $10 each additional item (up to three items total).

    Price includes one adult admission to the museum. Each additional person must pay admission to the museum.

    For anyone wondering whether the “junk” gathering dust in the attic or sitting at the neighborhood garage sale is valuable or merely a curiosity, Cowan offers the following hints:

    1. Paintings: Check authenticity - There is nothing worse than spending hard earned graydonappraisalfairmoney on a beautiful painting by a favorite artist only to find out it is a fraud. Fakes have become more prevalent in the world of antiques, duping everyone from dealers to collectors to institutions. When dealing with a major artist, it is always important to check for a comprehensive publication of the artist’s extant works.  If any useful information is revealed, make copies and keep these with the piece. They are vitally important and directly affect the value of a painting. The easiest way to determine whether a signature is authentic is by placing the painting under a black light or a powerful UV light. This process also helps to determine the amount of prior restoration to a painting. Later overpaint by a conservator or a false signature will fluoresce a dark purplish black under UV light rays.  These can be removed if a painting were cleaned, because they are sometimes applied over a varnish.

     DSC_91072. Furniture: Condition is important: Original upholstery and construction elements add value to a piece. Original finish on a piece may be a different story. In general, collectors prize early hand-made pieces that retain their original finish.  Surprising as it may seem, a piece of grungy, age-darkened and stained piece might fetch astronomically more than its clean, refinished cousin of the same age.  Why?  Because nearly every piece of furniture made before the mid 19th century has been refinished at one point in its history, making those few that haven’t exceptionally rare.  But few collectors worry about the finish on furniture made during the machine age because some many more pieces were manufactured. So, should you refinish Grandma’s oak kitchen table made in 1910?  You bet.  Stripping away that grunge and grime will expose the beautiful grain and color of the wood, and provide a fine, clean eating surface, and won’t affect its value.

    JackLewisJoeMoran 3. Know what’s hot…: Just for example, collectors, for years, have placed a premium on things associated with the country’s westward expansion. Big money is spent on the era’s books and other printed materials, photographs, firearms and other weapons and cowboy and Indian artifacts.

    4. …But learn about what you are interested in collecting: Go to the library, search the Internet, read, and visit exhibits at museums.  The educated buyer is the smartest buyer.

    Call or email Erinn Wold at 317.275.1310 or email Erinn at to reserve your space.

    Considerations when making your reservation:
    - Appraisals are focused upon Jewelry, Timepieces and Coins; American Indian art; Western and American paintings; Sculpture; Furniture and Decorative arts; and historical Americana and Western artifacts. (no pop culture items) 
    - Appraisal items and bags will not be allowed in the museum galleries. 
    - Please do not leave appraisal objects unattended. 
    - No refunds will be given for appraisals. 
    - Pre-registrants are guaranteed an appraisal time. 
    - Appraisals for walk-ins will be available on a first come, first serve basis time permitting. 
    - Observations of appraisals will be allowed in accordance with space capacity of the Clowes Ballroom. 
    - The Eiteljorg Museum and Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., are not responsible for loss or damage to items brought for appraisal. 
    - For insurance purposes, the Eiteljorg Staff cannot handle, store or be responsible for appraisal items.


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