Performing Archive

Two Whistles

Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps College

In the appendix to Volume four, Curtis gives a short biography of Two Whistles, also know as Ishichoshtupsh. One learns that he was born in 1856 among the Mountain Crow of the Not Mixed clan. Curtis tells the reader that at the age of eighteen Two Whistles led a small party of men and “captured” a hundred horses from the Sioux. That he participated in battles with the Arapaho and Sioux at Pryor creek. Curtis was also keenly interested in Native spiritual practices, and gives details surrounding Two Whistles describes his first fast at the age of thirty-five. “Fasting” was a multi-day ritual, the details of which could vary greatly between Native communities, but often resulted in spiritual visions. During his first night, Two Whistles saw the war bonnet of a Sioux. On the following day he cut the image of eight hoof prints in his arms, and that on that night, the moon came to him and revealed the location of where buffalo and horses could be found, and proclaimed that as a result of this vision he would never be poor.

The reader also learns that in 1887, after a minor uprising, that Two Whistles was shot in the arm and chest and that his arm was subsequently amputated above the elbow. The medicine hawk he wears in his hair was purchased for the price of one Sioux horse. The hawk was his spirit figure, but the image is carefully constructed for the camera and as such, exemplifies the problems of representation articulated by Gerald Vizenor, who suggests that: 

The modernist constructions of culture, with natives outside of rational, cosmopolitan consciousness, are realities by separation, a sense of native absence over presence in history. The absence of natives was represented by images of traditions, simulations of the other in the past; the presence of natives was tragic, the notions of savagism and the emotive images of a vanishing race. The modernist images of native absence and presence, by creative or representational faculties, are the rational binary structures of the other, an aesthetic, ideological, disanalogy.

His notion of disanalogy speaks to this absence, both in the ways that the images inevitably fail to represent complex cultural traditions, like the spirit figure, as anything more that a kind of tableau vivant, and that such cultural performances, or re-enactments, often risk becoming a kind of pantomime of cultural practices. This, in part, can be seen to represent what has elsewhere been called, the violence of the photographic image. It speaks the to potential trauma produced by such partial representations, where some things are figured, while others remain obscured by cultural opacity -- by difference.

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