Monthly E-News from Michael Bouman, Executive Director
White Cloud Comes Home
by Greg Olson, Exhibits Specialist, Missouri State Archives
When we write a story or create a work of art and send it out into the world, we sometimes initiate a chain of events that may find their way back to us in surprising ways. In January of this year, the State Historical Society of Missouri published an article I wrote in their quarterly journal The Missouri Historical Review. The article told the story of an Ioway Indian chief named White Cloud who lived from about 1784 until 1834. White Cloud has long fascinated me because his lifetime coincided with a very tragic period in the history of the Ioway people. At the time of his birth, the Ioway were a powerful and autonomous tribe living in much of the present-day state of Iowa and in northern portions of what is now the state of Missouri. However, just three years after White Cloud’s death, the Ioway were an impoverished and decimated people living on a two-hundred-square-mile reservation west of the Missouri River in what is now Kansas. My article told the story of White Cloud’s attempts to lead his people through this extremely difficult period of their history.
One Saturday morning, about three months after the article appeared in the Review, an elderly man appeared at my front door. He asked me if I “was the one who wrote the article about White Cloud.” A told him that I was. He said “I’ve got something for you.” He led me down the driveway and proceeded to fish a loosely wrapped package out of the back of his Chevy Blazer. “It’s a painting of White Cloud,” he beamed. “I’ve had this for a long time and I thought maybe you could find it a good home.”
We pulled back the wrapping to see the face of White Cloud’s grandson James White Cloud staring back at us. James White Cloud, whose maternal grandfather was Joseph Robidoux, a trader and the founder of St. Joseph, Missouri, lived from 1849 to 1940 and was an important Ioway Chief in his own right.
A self-taught artist by the name of Louis ShipShee painted the portrait. ShipShee was born near Mayetta, Kansas on the Prairie Band Pottawattamie Reservation in 1896. He taught at what was then called Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas and specialized in painting portraits of American Indian chiefs on everything from canvas, to elk hide, to velvet. Since his death in 1975, ShipShee’s paintings have become highly collectable.
After conducting some initial research on the artist and consulting with the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Executive Director, Gary Kremer, we decided that the painting should return to Kansas, where both its creator and subject spent much of their lives. I contacted Suzette McCord Rogers, the curator of the Native American Heritage Museum, a Kansas State Historic Site located a few miles south of White Cloud, Kansas in what was once a mission school for Ioway, Sac and Fox children. I told her it would be wonderful if the painting could return “home” to hang in her museum. As I write this, Suzette’s colleagues at the KSHS are considering the donor’s generous offer to give them the painting.
While the process of sharing the story of the first White Cloud with the readers of the Missouri Historical Review was a very gratifying experience, it pales in comparison to the satisfaction that came with helping Louis ShipShee’s portrait of James White Cloud find its way home.
Greg Olson is currently designing an exhibit on the Sac and Fox heritage in Missouri. Sponsored by the Missouri Humanities Council under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the exhibit is part of a national "We The People" initiative. The exhibit will tour sites in Northeast Missouri beginning probably in the fall.
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