Page 73a Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Folk Art - General "Little" Phil Sheridan (1831-1888)

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flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure A truly fabulous large and ultra rare piece of historical art.

But who is it?

It turned up as an "unknown man" at a Toronto auction, but came from a Rhode Island estate.

The frame is fitted around an oil painting on a wooden slab which is heavily lacquered and framed with sea shells, two of which have fallen off, and two are damaged.

But then the piece is ancient, well over 100 years old. The portrait has a split behind the ear caused by the wood drying out through time. We originally thought it Spanish-American War (1898) in origin, but the age burn throughout, is considerably older than that...

The portrait is obviously of an American officer, wearing a uniform - epaulettes, collar, and buttons as worn by naval and army officers from the Civil War 1861 to around 1910.

The sash is noteworthy and should be a defining clue as to the man's identity.

After searching through countless photos of scores of US generals and admirals from 1860 to 1900, only one candidate made the cut - famous Civil War General Phil Sheridan, renowned Indian fighter in the 1860s and 70s, and Commander-in-Chief of the US Army from 1883 till 1888, when he died.

It was probably painted by an admirer who may very well have campaigned for him during the Civil War or in the Indian wars.

Folk Art - US General Phil Sheridan
Orig. oil on wood - Image Size - 49 x 47 cm oa
Found - Toronto, ON
Folk art of Civil War generals is exceedingly rare, especially large and well executed pieces of which this is a superlative example. Perhaps one of the following contemporary portraits was used to make this folk art painting of the famous celebrity.
flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure A fabulous cabinet card by famous portrait photographer Napoleon Sarony, of Little Phil Sheridan who never grew taller than 5 feet 5 inches and 115 pounds but cut a powerful swath through American history..

General Grant, the Union Commander during the latter part of the American Civil War, and later US President, commented that he had never heard of a general, anywhere, who was superior to Sheridan, and thinking a moment, added, and probably none who were his equal either.

It is possible that this is the photo used by the folk artist as a reference for his oil portrait. The collar, the epaulettes, the placement of the buttons of the uniform are precise.

The cock of the head and chin, the arrangement of the hair and general features are convincing.

The sash is definitive; Sheridan is the only general we have been able to find who posed with a sash, and he did it often.

The oil very likely dates from the 1870s when Phil was making a reputation as an Indian fighter on the western plains. As head of the Department of the Missouri he was in charge of pacifying the Indians of the Great Plains, an area of 1 million square miles between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It was during his watch that his subordinate General Custer was killed with his command at the Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876 by Sioux Chief Sitting Bull's band. They fled to Canada after the battle to escape Little Phil's murderous wrath.

Sheridan is widely accused of genocide while prosecuting his Indian wars. He is often given credit for the famous phrase "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" which originated when Comanche Chief Tosawi defensively protested, "Me good Indian," to which Sheridan is reputed to have replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Journalists rephrased it to give it a more poetic ring. Later Sheridan disowned the phrase.

Thousands of Indian men, women, and children died due to his ruthless campaigns to remove the Indian factor from the American west. He said he didn't mind women and children being killed if it was necessary for a successful attack. He deliberately promoted the slaughter of the buffalo to remove a food and sustenance staple for Indian people hoping to starve them into submission or oblivion. All part of a long standing US policy of how to deal with non-white, non-Christian populations, whether at home or abroad... while spreading Democracy and Freedom everywhere...

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Cabinet Card, General Phil Sheridan - c 1879
Orig. photo - Size - oa 11 x 17 cm
Found - Green Bay, WI