Shinnecock Photo Project attempts to reinforce our connection to the land and aims to present ourselves in a web-based portraiture platform. This project is led by enrolled Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal member photographer Jeremy Dennis.

The Shinnecock Portrait Project is made possible with Special thanks to MDOC Storyteller’s Institute hosted at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, in June 2018.


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Legacy Photos
Chief Thunder Bird, Ceremonial Chief of the Shinnecock Indian Tribe

Collection: Unknown

Date: 1955

Type of Material: Photograph

Source: Shinnecock Powwow 1955 Program

Language: English

Coverage/Location: Unknown

Creator: Unknown

Copyright: No Known Copyright Restriction


The caption on the 1955 powwow program reads: “One day, in the month of August, in the year 1945, my kinsman, Henry Francis Bess sat down with me in the old home of our ancestor Wickham Cuffee. The topic for discussion was the Pow Wow. Would it be advisable to invite other tribes to Pow Wow with us? Many questions arose from our discussion and I, in light of fifteen years of experience, working in our beloved tribe felt we were not ready for such a venture either from business or civic reasons. After much talk and many heated arguments we consulted the Reverend Herbert E. Moyer whose judgment of matters of deep concern had always been of untold value to many of our tribesmen. No immediate decision was reached and Henry F. Bess, known to his tribesmen and other Indians, and a large admiring public as “Chief Thunder Bird” ran and personally financed the Pow Wow of 1945. In a very small measure it was a success. I personally was not yet convinced of the advisability of continuing these affairs as an annual feature.

I have worked with many people from many walks of life and I hold many in high regard and have enjoyed noble friendship, loyalty and other phases of good fellowship; yet there is something about working with Thunder $ird that I feel should be shared with all who know him or have seen him conduct our Pow Wows. Calling on me to present his idea once more, he began: “I had a dream a few nights ago, or I think it could be called a dream. A path was leading from the sky and I saw many of our ancestors arrayed in their ancient Indian garments. They sang and danced and urged me to lead my people to do likewise.”

I studied his face as he related his story and somehow I felt inspired to go along with his program. Under his consecrated leadership the Pow Wow has grown to proportions far beyond our strongest imagination.

Last year his daughter, Princess Chee Chee flew down to Gallup, New Mexico. Among the many ideas which we have tried zealously to carry out has been the building of a new platform, designed by her to represent a huge War Drum. It took many people and much hard work to weave together all the fine details of this proposed construction. First, the very competent and wide-awake Board of Trustees of our tribe, the oldest self-governing Tribe of Indians in the United States, gave their approval and permitted the platform to be erected. The Pow Wow Committee likewise approved the plan and the opinions of three contractors were sought—Mr. Smith of Sag Harbor and New York, Garland Thomas and William Darby, both of Southampton. Mr. Darby put up the construction. The Southampton Fire Department under the leadership of Chief Richard Fowler, packed the heavy five feet of soil into the vast drum by soaking in with the fire equipment. Norman Smith, son of Mr. and Mrs. Sewell Smith of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation and veteran of the Korean conflict, painted the structure to represent a birch bark drum with natural brown drum head.

The Reverend Paul M. Robinson and the Reverend Herbert E. Moyer dedicated the War Drum with a beautiful Litany written by Mr. Moyer. From this point the Pow Wow went into high gear and reached its crescendo on Sunday, September 4th when every available spot on the 1000 acre Reservation was occupied by cars. It was a thrilling experience as Chief Thunder Bird and I gazed across the plains and hills to see cars and people making their way to the platform. Our very capable State, Town and Village police forces maintained order on the grounds and surrounding highways as the thousands sought entrance to the Reservation. So Chief Thunder Bird saw his dream come true.”



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