Fragments of the Old West – Wee-a-Wah

Taken at Fort Washakie, Wyoming sometime in the 1880’s by artist/photographer Merritt Dana Houghton, this cabinet photo depicts a member of the Eastern Shoshone (Kuccuntikka) people by the name of Wee-a-Wah. According to the photograph’s period inscription, his name translates as White Horse. Even after quite extensive research, I have unfortunately been unable to find any personal information regarding this man.

Wee-A-Wah

Above: Dressed in his best, Wee-a-Wah posed for photographer Merritt Dana Houghton sometime in the 1880s at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

The Eastern Shoshone had been living at the Wind River Reservation and around Fort Washakie since the signing of the Fort Bridger Treaty in 1868 and this man’s wardrobe in clear evidence of this fact. Although of an overall distinctive appearance, virtually every item worn by Wee-a-Wah had been either purchased from white suttlers at Fort Washakie or from reservation trading posts. There is nothing of indigenous manufacture in the way of dress to be seen. On his head is a somewhat battered silk top hat. He has also acquired an 1883 pattern U.S. Army tunic and is wrapped in a fringed plaid blanket. In his right hand is a store bought folding fan. While trade goods were highly prized by indigenous peoples, the complete lack of traditional elements in his attire speaks in volumes to the forced loss of ancient culture in the face of the overwhelming and relentless advance of European/American “civilization”.

Wee-A-Wah Reverse

Above: The photograph’s reverse side with its subject identified in a period inscription and bearing the stamp of photographer Merritt Dana Houghton. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com.

The photographer – Merritt Dana Houghton – was born in Illinois to Canadian parents on May 31, 1846. He first shows up in Rawlins, Wyoming in the 1880 census when is he is listed as a “Photographist”. He was noted as an artist perhaps more than a photographer and produced a large number of “bird’s eye” maps and renderings of western towns and localities. He was married at this time and he and his wife Frances had one child – Charles born about 1877. He was later active in Spokane, Washington and died there in 1918, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Fort Fetterman

Above: A bird’s eye view of Fort Fetterman from C. G. Coutant’s History of Wyoming by Merritt Dana Houghton. c. 1899. Source: Wyoming State Museum, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

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