As Hiram Powers was making this sculpture, he wrote, “The time is not distant when the last Indian will pass away,” and described this figure as “the last of them all … fleeing before civilization [and] looking back in terror.” At the same time, the U.S. government was using genocidal strategies to remove thousands of Indigenous people from their homes. The Last of the Tribes embodies the myth of the “vanishing race,” a discredited belief that Indigenous people in North America would, when they came into contact with Euro-Americans, become invisible through extinction or assimilation.
Powers based this work on classical sculpture to draw a parallel between the destruction of Indigenous life and the fall of ancient Rome. His model was an Italian woman and the elaborate design of the figure’s skirt was largely his invention. Fictive representations of Native Americans were popular among artists and authors. Like James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (1826), this sculpture represents a Euro-American fantasy that North America’s first inhabitants would quietly disappear and obscures their continuous fight for their land and survival.
The Last of the Tribes
- modeled 1867-1872, carved 1876-1877
- 66 1⁄8 x 22 3⁄4 x 32 in. (167.9 x 57.7 x 81.3 cm.)
- Credit Line
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase in memory of Ralph Cross Johnson
- Mediums Description
- Figure female – nude
- Ethnic – Indian
- Allegory – other – survival
- Object Number
- Linked Open Data
- Linked Open Data URI