James Monroe Peace Medals, 1825
The photos of the above peace medals were taken by Kelly and Tammy Rundle (producers/directors/writers of Lost Nation: The Ioway) at the Nelson Pioneer Museum in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Ioway artist and anthropologist, Lance Foster (author of "The Indians of Iowa") remarks:
When meeting with government officials, such as when making treaties or during
visits to Washington DC, chiefs and headmen were generally given a medal to
indicate status and rank, as well as recognition as a tribal leader by the
government. These medals generally portrayed the President who was in office at
the time, so they changed over the decades. These medals were often later passed
down through the family. Some of the Ioways who went to France with Catlin were
given medals with Louis Philippe (King of France at the time) on them.
Historian Greg Olson (author of "The Ioway in Missouri") notes:
The interesting thing about peace medals is that they became status
symbols for the native leaders who received them. Colonial
governments learned that they could elevate the status of chosen
tribal leaders by giving them medals that others in the tribe might
covet once the chosen leader returned home. Long before the United
States gave them out, the French, British and Spanish also distributed
medals to select leader they wanted to cultivate as friends.
The British did this with an Ioway leader known as Le Voleur in the
1770s and the U. S. did it with Hard Heart in 1809 and with others
after that. When these leaders returned to the Ioway villages from
their meetings with the colonial powers, their medals gave them a
status similar to that which was afforded those who wore the bear claw
necklaces that appear in other portraits. In short, colonial powers
used the medals as one way to upset the balance of traditionally
balanced tribal power structures. Once that balance was upset, they
used the instability to their advantage.
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