UW-Madison Professor Visits Chief Buffalo Mural Project

Dr. Theresa Schenck from the UW-Madison Department of American Indian Studies stopped in at school today to meet with Lane and Mr. Filipczak about the project.  She gave us wonderful new information about Chief Buffalo and the times he lived in.

Dr. Schenck, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation who is descended from Michel and Madeline Cadotte on her Ojibwe side, was in town to give a lecture on Ojibwe resistance to Christian missionaries.  She has written a number of books and scholarly papers about the Ojibwe people during Chief Buffalo’s lifetime.

She viewed the progress of the mural and Lane’s Chief Buffalo book and came away impressed.

Design Option #7: Portrait of Chief Buffalo by unknown artist. Part of the Madeline Island Historical Museum collection.



Where the image comes from: The top version hangs in the Madeline Island Museum and the bottom version is part of the image collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society and can be found on its website.  This is probably the most well known image of Chief Buffalo, appearing in both Ronald Satz’s Chippewa Treaty Rights and Patty Loew’s Indian Nations of Wisconsin.   The Historical Society website gives this contradictory description suggesting that it is Chief Buffalo’s grandson at the same time it gives details from his life:

Portrait of Chief Buffalo, over-painted enlargement, possibly from a double-portrait (possibly an ambrotype). Grandson of Great Chief Buffalo. Chief Buffalo was a principal Chief of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa (Ojibwa). He was also known as Ke-che-waish-ke (Great Renewer), Peezhickee or Bishiki (Buffalo), and (in French) Le Beouf. He was born at La Pointe on Madeline Island in about 1759, and died 7 September 1855 at La Pointe.

We can’t figure out which image is the original and how it was made.  We assume one was copied from the other.  According to museum staff, the island museum received the top image from the historical society about 50 years ago.  Almost nothing is known about its origins, however. The only information they got at the time was that this was a portrait of Chief Buffalo.

Why it might be him:

  • There isn’t a lot of dispute about this one.  Pretty much every source that uses it says it is him.
  • Buffalo received several medals from both the British and American governments.  He could have sat for this mural in U.S. military uniform during one of the many treaty signings he took part in.

Why it might not be him:

  • It could be another “Chief Buffalo.”  There were two other Ojibwe chiefs named Buffalo in Wisconsin and Minnesota during his lifetime.  His descendants were considered chiefs of the Red Cliff band, went by the surname Buffalo, and were called “Chief Buffalo.”
  • Island museum staff expressed doubts to us on our visit that the technology to make these images existed during Buffalo’s lifetime.  This image does not appear to show a 90+ year-old man, so it probably would have to have been created earlier in his life than the 1850s, which means even earlier technology.