[Cabinet card photograph of Lewis F. Hadley.]. C. C. Cook, photographer.
[Cabinet card photograph of Lewis F. Hadley.]
[Cabinet card photograph of Lewis F. Hadley.]
[Cabinet card photograph of Lewis F. Hadley.]
[Cabinet card photograph of Lewis F. Hadley.]

[Cabinet card photograph of Lewis F. Hadley.]

Fort Smith, Arkansas, [ca. 1885]. Albumen print cabinet card, 6.5” x 4.25”. Verso inscribed, “Lewis Hadley Massachusetts lived among Indians & studied their sign language.” Clipping (8.25” x 8.75”) affixed to board.

A remarkable photo of Native American sign-language interpreter Lewis F. Hadley who undertook missionary work among Plains Indian tribes.

This image shows Hadley holding a pointer and standing in front of his “Indian Sign Writing” chart. Hadley was a teacher, linguist and missionary who lived a good portion of his life among the Native Americans in Indian Territory. Following the Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology’s 1880 publication of a report on Indian sign language, Hadley began devoting himself to the subject. Hadley studied the sign language used between numerous Plains tribes and translated the “element of the Christian faith” into this language to facilitate missionary work. Rev. George Degen—rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Fort Smith—and his wife Edith Degen raised funds to support Hadley’s work. In one such case, Edith Degen traveled throughout New England on a public speaking tour for this purpose. The second of Hadley’s two major works on sign language Hadley's Indian sign talk: being a book of proofs… (Chicago: Baker & Co., 1893) contains over 500 entries illustrated with diagrams. Hadley also worked on a sign language Bible which never saw publication.

The newspaper clipping on Hadley is from The Pansy of Boston (30 Jan. 1892). The article begins by noting that “different tribes of Indians have different mouth or spoken languages, as do white people. To understand each other's speech they must have an interpreter to give its meaning; but they all seem to have about the same sign speech; by using this the different tribes can understand each other when they meet." The article features examples of the sign language: illustrations of hand-signs with corresponding words, such as country, west, morning, wagon, go fast, woman, lightning, afraid, printing and so forth. Hadley explains his intentions: "To spread knowledge among the Indians. To give them the Gospel—the blessed good news about the Lord who came and died for them." He continues: "if all the tribes now know this one Sign Talk, then all can read the Lord's Prayer, and any other part of the Bible, if put in this sign talk. And all the more so because every one can understand a thing better if he can see the language as well as hear it." The article encourages interested readers to write Edith Degen to learn more about Hadley—“a Missionary unlike any other.”

An 1882 article in the Arkansas Democrat, notes that photographer C.C. Cook of Fort Smith was in the city making preparations to open a photograph gallery. A "thorough artist," he is described as the "leading photographer of Fort Smith for many years."

REFERENCES: Meadows, William C., Editor. Through Indian Sign Language (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015); Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas: 28 Dec. 1882), p. 4; Lewis Francis Hadley at fortsmithhistory.org

CONDITION: Photo very good, very light markings at bottom margin; clipping good.

Item #5822

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