Fire in 1865 destroyed Smithsonian collection of Indian portraits

A portrait of Tshusick, an Ojibwe woman. The original was lost in the 1865 fire. Image from Smithsonian Institution

A priceless collection of portraits of Indian leaders, warriors and people was lost in a fire at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., on January 24, 1865.

The fire at the building known as The Castle was apparently caused by a poorly-installed wood stove. It was the most destructive in Smithsonian history and it claimed more than 250 historic portraits of leaders like Seneca war chief Red Jacket and people like Tshusick, an Ojibwe woman.

"There’s no way to put a price tag on it. It was an enormous loss," Herman J. Viola, a curator emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History, told The Washington Post.

Some of the portraits by Charles Bird King were lithographed before the fire so those copies survived.

Get the Story:
Hundreds of Indian portraits were lost in the great Smithsonian fire of 1865 (The Washington post 1/23)

Join the Conversation