Elbridge Ayer Burbank

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Elbridge Ayer Burbank

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Chief Black Coyote, Arapaho — 1901

- Red conte crayon and charcoal on paper
- Paper 10 x 14 in.
- Frame 15.25 x 19.25 in.
- Signed & dated lower right; housed under museum glass

Click image to enlarge.

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About the work

From the Mongerson-Wunderlich Galleries of Chicago, thereafter acquired by the Illinois Historical Art Project until deaccessioned in 2019. 

Burbank’s oil painting of this composition—also dated 1901 and similarly showing Chief Black Coyote in profile—resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

A copy of the original Mongerson-Wunderlich sales invoice from 1997 is available.

Under Rudolf Wunderlich, Mongerson-Wunderlich Galleries was a leading dealer in American art. Wunderlich was one of the foremost experts on Western American art and served as appraiser for some of the leading museums in the country, including the Gilcrease Museum, the Autry Museum, the Frederic Remington Museum, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. 

About the artist…

Born in 1858, in Harvard, Illinois, Elbridge Ayer Burbank created one of the most comprehensive and articulate productions of Native American portraiture ever made.

Burbank’s interest in Native American portraiture was largely influenced by his uncle, Edward E. Ayer, an avid collector of Native American artifacts. Ayer offered Burbank a commission for a portrait of the famous Apache leader, Geronimo. Thus began the first of Burbank’s many trips west, where he eventually painted over 2000 portraits of Indians from 125 tribes. 

From 1897 until 1907, Burbank used the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona, as a sort of home base from which he traveled throughout the West. During that period, he ventured into Oklahoma Territory on multiple occasions, including a visit to the north fork of the Canadian River at Darlington. Among his many subjects was Chief Black Coyote, an Arapaho.

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In a 1910 article titled Famous War Chiefs I Have Known and Painted, Burbank reflected back on his original encounter with Chief Black Coyote years earlier: 

He is the proudest and most dignified Indian I have ever met. He was very anxious that I should paint his portrait in his full chief costume, with his face painted. This same chief was the one chosen by his tribe and others, to go to the north many years ago … and consult with the Sioux in regard to the Ghost dance, and then return to teach, it to his people.

Black Coyote firmly believed in the invulnerability of the ghost shirts worn by the dancers, and boasted that the bullets of the white man could not penetrate them. But when news came of the engagement at Wounded Knee and the killing of scores at Indian braves, whose frozen bodies, clad in ghost shirts, were found after the battle, his faith received a shock.

Black Coyote was extremely anxious to obtain a ghost shirt and offered several ponies in exchange for one. But that was before the fight at Wounded Knee. After that disastrous episode, his ardor cooled. When I asked him about the ghost shirts he abruptly changed the subject.

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