PULLMAN, Wash. — Some 28 panels of early photographs and text by Jane Gay produced during three years she spent in Idaho on the Nez Perce Reservation are on exhibit this fall at Washington State University’s Museum of Anthropology.
The exhibit, “With the Nez Perce During Allotment: E. Jane Gay, Her Majesty’s Cook and Photographer,” curated by Louise Barber of the University of Idaho, will be at the WSU museum through Dec. 18.
Gay and Alice C. Fletcher, special agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were on the reservation from 1889-92. Gay’s letters vividly describe the extremes of their experiences — with both people and the Idaho landscape and climate. Her 400 photographs add to the unique view of the Nez Perce at a crucial period in their history, implementation of general allotment, granting every member of an Indian tribe a plot of land. Tribal surplus land would be sold to settlers. The theory was that the Indians could see by their white neighbors’ examples how to move from their tribal existence into the dominant Christian, Euroamerican civilization.
“The exhibit also gives us a good understanding of the intent of the allotment process and all of the reasons why it went wrong,” said Mary Collins, assistant director of the anthropology museum. “But the most unique thing about Gay’s photographs and letters is the perspective she brings as an independent 19th century woman. Her observations of the lives of Nez Perce women and children during this critical historic period are unparalleled.”