1898 4¢ Trans-Mississippi Exposition
First Day of Issue: June 17, 1898
Quantity Issued: 4,924,500
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Watermark: Double line USPS
The design of the 4¢ Trans-Mississippi stamp was taken from an engraving by Captain Seth Eastman, a soldier who used his considerable artistic skills to capture scenes from the Old West.
Eastman was born in Maine. His father had hoped to educate his son at Bowdoin College, where Seth would have been a classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But Seth had other ideas, and attended West Point before his assignment to Fort Snelling, the country’s northernmost frontier post. Fort Snelling has been described as “an extravagant display of American sovereignty that would never be equaled in the two thousand miles that stretched west of the Mississippi.” While stationed there, the soldier-artist amassed a portfolio of paintings devoted to the study of “Indian character, and the portraying upon canvas of their manners and customs, and the more important fragments of their history.”
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s designer and engraver eliminated background figures in Eastman’s original painting and focused only on the racing Indian and buffalo.
The 4¢ stamp features the same border as the rest of the values. Unlike the 1893 Columbian series, the Trans-Mississippi Exposition commemoratives didn’t include the name or dates of the event. Instead, each stamp features a caption with the name of the photograph or painting upon which its design is based.
Printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
The Trans-Mississippi commemorative stamps were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Original plans called for the series to be printed in bi-color. However, the Spanish-American War strained the resources of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which was overburdened by the demand for revenue stamps to fund the war. The Trans-Mississippi commemoratives were printed in a single color, with the 4¢ denomination printed in orange ink. The ink was subject to oxidation, causing the stamps to turn various shades of orange over the years.
About the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition Series
The 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was held to further the progress and development of natural resources west of the Mississippi River. Held in Omaha, Nebraska, the exposition opened on June 1, 1898, and ran for four months. More than 4,000 exhibits showcased social, economic, and industrial resources of the American West. The expo wasn’t a financial success overall, but it did revitalize Omaha, a community that had been devastated by drought and depression.
Over 2.6 million people attended the expo, which featured the Indian Congress, the largest Native American gathering of its kind. Over 500 members representing 28 tribes camped on the fairgrounds and introduced Americans from the East to their way of life. Reenactments of the explosion of the battleship Maine also fueled patriotism and support for the Spanish-American War.
The series is also referred to as the “Omahas” because the show was held in the city of Omaha. An unknown number of unsold stamps were recalled and destroyed.
Bureau Of Indian Affairs
On March 11, 1824, US Secretary of War John C. Calhoun created the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Among the first acts of the new Continental Congress in 1775 was the creation of three departments of Indian affairs: northern, central, and southern. Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry served as some of the early commissioners of these departments, tasked with negotiating treaties with Native American tribes. Their goal was to establish tribal neutrality in the Revolutionary War.
In 1789, the US Congress created the War Department and included Native American relations as part of its duties. Then in 1806, the Office of Indian Trade was established to oversee the fur-trading network, which included some control in Native American territories.
When this system ended in 1822, there was a gap in Native American relations. US Secretary of War John C. Calhoun sought to bridge that gap by creating the Bureau of Indian Affairs on March 11, 1824. It was a division within his Department of War and he created it without authorization from Congress. Because he had created the office in this way, Calhoun retained authority over the office, while the bureau’s superintendent had little power. It would take five years before a bill passed in both houses giving the president the authority to appoint a Commissioner of Indian Affairs to officially direct and manage all government matters relating to Native Americans.
In 1849, the office was transferred to the US Department of the Interior, which brought about several changes in policy and responsibilities. Over the years, tribes that had been moved to reservations suffered from diseases and starvation, leading the bureau to start providing food and supplies. However, by the 1860s, a series of corrupt bureau agents failed to do their jobs properly, leading to widespread hostility on the reservations.
So in 1867, Congress created a Peace Commission to examine the issues and suggest changes. Among their many suggestions was the appointment of more honest agents. While this change was made, their suggestion of removing the bureau from the Interior Department never happened. In the coming years, the bureau had a larger influence on reservations – running schools, participating in law enforcement, handing out supplies, and leasing contracts.
The bureau continued on this path until 1938 when the Merriam Report revealed that they weren’t properly providing services to reservations. Congress then passed the Indian Reorganization Act to help boost the tribal economies and governments. The bureau also expanded its services to include forestry, range management, and construction. The bureau’s services continued to expand until the 1960s, when some of these duties, such as education and healthcare, were passed to other departments.
Since the 1970s, the bureau has followed a policy of self-determination, promoting tribal resources and rights and their ability to manage their own governments. The current mission of the bureau is to “enhance the quality of life, to promote economic opportunity, and to carry out the responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.”
Click here for more stamps honoring Native Americans.
Click here to view the bureau’s website.