Intersections of Disfigurement

As Emily goes Stateside at the end of this week in search of Thomas Jefferson’s attitudes toward disfiguring punishment , it is timely to examine the history of the only transatlantic inhabitant of our banner image (top right), Rosie Ground or Cut-Nose, whose 1926 portrait by Wilfred Langdon Kihn is held by the Wellcome Iconographic Collection (catalogue number L0014922).

By the time Kihn sketched her, she was already advanced in years, but her story is preserved by Adolf Hungry-Wolf in Pikunni Biographies: The Blackfoot Papers, volume 4. According to his account, Rosie, or more correctly Rosa, also known as Kills-in-the-Water, was married twice, first as child bride to Morning Plume (d. 1905) and then as a fourth wife to old Ground. According to Ground’s daughter-in-law Mary, Rosa’s nose was cut off by Morning Plume’s brother, an action justified by his claim that he had found her being intimate with another man. Old Ground, who had know Rosa all their lives, took pity on her after her widowhood and married her as his fourth wife in 1908. Although she had led a reclusive life on account of her disfigurement, he insisted that she appear in public with him, signalling that he, like many others, thought that she had been mistreated by Morning Plume’s family. (In fact Morning Plume himself had willed a child by a younger wife to Rosa’s care on his death – providing her with a source of support perhaps?)

Kihn’s is not the only portrait of Rosa to survive: she and her husband were also painted (by Winold Reiss) and photographed (by James Willard Schultz) in their later years in the 1920s, images of which are reproduced in Hungry-Wolf’s biography of Ground.

Rosa was the last living example among the Blackfeet of a practice, the punishment of women by disfigurement for alleged infidelities, said to date back to ‘antiquity’, and which has parallels across the globe. Whilst European strangers were fascinated by her disfigured face, the images they have left of her capture not her effacement, but her dignity and the strength of her partnership with her second husband.

References:

Adolf Hungry-Wolf, Pikunni Biographies: The Blackfoot Papers, vol 4 (Skookumchuk, BC: The Good Medicine Foundation, 2006), 1085-6.

The James Willard Schultz photographic collection is held by Montana State University

A 1922 exhibition catalogue of other portraits by Wilfred Langdon Kihn can be found on archives.org

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