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Pair of Historic Field Worn Indian Peace Medals Featured in November

Pair of Historic Field Worn Indian Peace Medals Featured in our November 2019 Baltimore Auction

By James McCartney, Senior Numismatist

Author: James McCartney / Friday, October 18, 2019 / Categories: United States Coin of the Week

​Our November 2019 Baltimore Auction offers an incredible parade of treasures for specialists in Numismatic Americana, among which is a pair of rare field worn Indian Peace Medals of particularly desirable types. Included is a 1798 Washington Seasons Medal in silver and a 1799 Draped Bust dollar, both holed for suspension, as distributed by Lewis and Clark circa 1804. These two Indian Peace Medals are invaluable historic artifacts of virtually equal significance. The lifecycle of one is somewhat conventional and as intended, while the other was employed in a fashion that its creators would never have envisioned. Individually they are significant, but as a pair they testify to the narrative of our earliest efforts in diplomacy with the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

The Seasons medals, as they have come to be known, exist at an intersection of the medallic Washington and Indian Peace Medal series, much like the famous Oval Indian Peace Medals produced from 1789 through 1795. The Seasons medals comprise three distinct issues known individually as The Shepherd, as offered here, The Farmer, and The Home, with each one depicting a specific scene of domestic life. Together, they were intended to demonstrate the aspirational lifestyle of a civilized society.

Described as the “4th size” medal in the journals of Lewis and Clark, they served as valuable tools of diplomacy throughout their journey. This is demonstrated by a journal entry from August 17, 1805, which describes the distribution of gifts that day. Clark writes that "each of the other chiefs received a small medal struck during the presidency of General Washington, a shirt, handkerchief, leggings, a knife and some tobacco. Medals of the same sort were also presented to the young warriors who, though not chiefs, were promising youths, and very much respected in the tribe."

Though less famous than their medallic brethren, United States silver dollars, presumably of the present Draped Bust type, played an important role in the journey of Lewis and Clarke. They were used most often in trade alongside other trinkets such as watches, textiles, beads and jewelry. However, we see at least one instance of a silver dollar serving explicitly as an Indian Peace Medal in place of the more formal medals distributed. In the entry for October 29th, 1804 in William Clark’s journal, he writes that they “Collected the Chiefs and Commenced a Council" in order to deliver a speech to several different tribes. At the end of this speech, they called on the Chief of the Arikara tribe, Arketarnarshar, to help them make peace with the others through a communal smoking session. Arketarnarshar had been selected as a guide and interpreter by Lewis and Clark, as he was supposedly fluent in eleven languages in addition to the sign language that served as a universal means of communication among the tribes. For his services, Clark remarks that he "gave this Cheaf a Dollar of the American Coin as a Meadel with which he was much pleased." Identifying this piece as a “Meadel” implies that it was holed, or otherwise mounted for suspension, and intended to be worn as the more conventional medals were.

It is very likely that these two Indian Peace medals been together since the 1804 expedition of Lewis and Clark, over 200 years ago. For the most recent century, they have been treasured in the collection of a single family, having been passed down through the generations before being consigned to this sale. The earliest ancestor in this chain of custody did not know exactly what he had but was still able to recognize these items as significant. He was a collector of Native American artifacts relating to the Columbia River Basin and formed a vast collection that was eventually gifted to the Smithsonian. These two medals were the only items kept by the collector. He acquired them together in the early 20th century but had not been able to properly identify them. In December 1914 he wrote to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, offering photographs of his “Indian specimens” for study, likely referring to the present items. A couple years later on July 12, 1916 he supplied a tracing, presumably of the Washington Seasons medal, to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Indian Affairs in search of more information. The Chief Clerk C. F. Hauke wrote back just a few days later that “This office is unable to identify the one of which you make a tracing. However, there are publications relating to medals [which]…may be the means of placing you on the track of the exact information you desire.”

Answers would not be found until 55 years later when researcher Emory Strong published an article in the May 1971 issue of Northwest Magazine asking for submissions of tokens and medals relating to the Lewis and Clark expedition. The collector had since passed and the medals were now in the care of his son, who saw the article and reach out to Emory for more information. Emory, along with his wife and fellow researcher Ruth, were able to authenticate these pieces and shed some light on their relation to the Lewis and Clark expedition. The medals have since passed down through several more generations but their significance has not been forgotten. It was expressed by the family decades ago that these pieces should remain together as they always have been, and we are delighted to be offering them as a pair to the next generation of collectors. They represent an irresistible opportunity for advanced specialists of Indian Peace Medals or Native American artifacts, though collectors of Washington medals and early dollars will also be drawn in by the incredible historic significance.

These two significant Indian Peace Medals will be offered together in lot 23 of our November 2019 Baltimore Auction. The auction will be available for viewing and bidding on our website, www.StacksBowers.com, or you can contact our offices to secure your copy of the printed catalog. To feature your collection in one of our auctions, speak with a numismatic representative today at 800-566-2580 or email [email protected]. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.