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Chief Joseph's old war shirt fetches US$877,500 at auction

RENO, Nevada--A war shirt worn by Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce tribe that can be seen in a painting hanging in the Smithsonian Institution sold Saturday for US$877,500 at auction, organizers said.

Mike Overby, an organizer of the annual Coeur d'Alene Art Auction, said the shirt that sold in Reno is considered to be one of the most important Native American artifacts to ever come to auction. It had been expected to bring from US$800,000 to US$1.2 million at auction, he said.

“Anything associated with Chief Joseph is highly desirable, and that's a pretty special shirt,” he told The Associated Press.

Chief Joseph wore the shirt in 1877 in the earliest known photo of him, and again while posing for a portrait by Cyrenius Hall in 1878. That painting, which was used for a U.S. postage stamp, hangs in the Smithsonian.

The poncho-style war shirt was made of two soft skins, likely deerskin. It features beadwork with bold geometric designs and bright colors. Warriors kept such prestigious garments clean in a saddlebag on their horse or carefully stored while in camp, to be worn only on special occasions, American Indian scholar Theodore Brasser noted.

The shirt surfaced at an Indian relic show in the 1990s and was sold without any knowledge of its link to the photo and portrait. It changed hands again before the connection was discovered.

1 Comment
July 24, 2012    sacredpipe@
No. NOT a war shirt. There is no such thing as a war shirt. Don't any of your writers understand at all the real and actual history of this man? This garment is a sacred garment. You do know that Joseph was a Peace Chief? In the structure of his tribe, it is well-known that he was a Peace Chief....that is in fact a huge part of his historical fame. Shirts like this were considered sacred and religious in nature. They were prepared and gifted to great people in the tribe to identify their position as holy people, not as war people. There has never been, in any tribe, a type of garment known as a war shirt. The media just likes to say things like this, but they are very inaccurate. In fact, this garment is a sacred object in the eyes of the tribe, and among his tribe, a shirt like this is considered religious property of his tribe, and it would have been passed along to the next religious and ceremonial leader to replace Joseph honestly, this is a ceremonial, religious garment.
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