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The history of peace medals begins in the colonial period, when the French, British, and Spanish presented medals to important chiefs as tokens of goodwill.  After the American colonies gained independence the tradition of minting these silver peace offerings continued.  In addition to the silver presentation medals, a larger quantity of bronze peace medals was struck in the 19th century, a portion of them from the original silver dies. 
The front side of each medal bears the profile of the then-current President of the United States and the reverse shows various representations of the theme of peace, the most common being clasped hands, a tomahawk, and peace pipe.
Bronze Peace Medals
James Otto Lewis Lithographs

Peace medals were often given to chiefs upon the signing of peace treaties.  James Otto Lewis’ The Aboriginal Port-Folio (Philadelphia: 1835-1836) was the first published collection of portraits of Native Americans and is notable for their direct and honest depictions.  These lithographic prints depict men and women in attendance at treaty councils in western territories.  These examples show two chiefs wearing silver peace medals. 

Kee-o-Kuck or The Watching Fox

the Present Chief of the Sauk tribe and Successor to Black Hawk

Painted by J. O. Lewis at the great Treaty of Prairie du Chien, 1825


The Head Chief of the Miami Tribe of Indians

Painted at the Treaty of Fort Wayne, 1827 by J. O. Lewis

Grave Robbing and Reparations

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a federal law passed in 1990, requiring and establishing a process for federally funded institutions to return Native American remains, funerary objects, and sacred objects to descendants or culturally affiliated tribes.  Edward Henderson’s letter provides an unpleasant account of the desecration of a burial ground and the theft of valuable objects, including the silver peace medal of Tatankamani [Chief Red Wing].

Edward A. Henderson letter; Red Wing, Minnesota.  November 3, 1869.

From the Native American History Collection