A Chief of the Multnomah Tribe

Artist: Hermon Atkins MacNeil (American, Everett, Massachusetts 1866–1947 Queens, New York)

Date: 1903; cast ca.1907

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: 37 x 10 x 10 1/4 in. (94 x 25.4 x 26 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Bequest of Jacob Ruppert, 1939

Accession Number: 39.65.54a, b


In 1902, MacNeil was commissioned by the family of David P. Thompson, a prominent businessman and public official in Portland, Oregon, to execute in bronze a commemorative memorial as Thompson's gift to the city. The resulting work, The Coming of the White Man, depicts a chief of the Multnomah tribe and his medicine man standing on a large, boulderlike pedestal. The monument, unveiled in 1907 in Portland's Washington Park, is situated on a hill overlooking the Columbia River Gorge by which Lewis and Clark had come through the Rockies. In planning his nostalgic image of one of the vanishing tribes of the Pacific Northwest confronting the unseen white man, MacNeil took care to ensure ethnographic accuracy and scrupulously studied details of dress. Because the figure of the chief was particularly admired, MacNeil modeled it on a smaller scale and issued it as a statuette, of which some twenty were cast in bronze. Titled A Chief of the Multnomah Tribe, the subject is represented in a dignified standing pose with head raised defiantly and arms folded across the chest. The model wears a feathered headdress and a bow and quiver of arrows not present in the original group. Jean Holden, the artist's biographer, wrote in 1903: "superstitious, without experience, and without a common language, Multonomah [sic] meets the stranger like a brave man who feels the inviolability of the human soul and dares the rest. From the crown of his head to the sole of his well-planted foot, he shows no excitement."