Deep Dive: Exploring the Exhibits

Postcard of Chief Thunderbird at the Shinnecock Powwow (ca. 1950s)

This is a postcard depicting Chief Thunderbird of the Shinnecock Tribe. The central figure in the photograph, he is dressed in full regalia with a white feathered headdress at the Annual Shinnecock Powwow held in the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton, New York.


Born Henry F. Bess, he was a former Riverhead garage operator who would play a vital role in preserving the Shinnecock identity on Long Island. He was known for reviving the Labor Day Weekend Shinnecock Powwow in 1946. In doing so, he became known as Chief Thunderbird, the ceremonial chief and tribal leader of the Shinnecock.


Thunderbird was the last Chief of the Shinnecock Tribe, as well as the father of four daughters and a son, whom he had with Edith Whitney Bess. He passed away at the age of 82 on June 22, 1989. He was buried with his white feathered headdress and moccasins which he wore as the ceremonial leader.


One of his daughters, Edyth Marie Gregoire (born August 30, 1932) was a traveling surgical nurse and founding member of the Seventh Day Wildwood Chapel. She herself had an extended family of 10 children, 20 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren. She passed way earlier this year on May 31st.


All three of the daughters have sadly passed, with only the son Frederick Bess being the surviving child of Chief Thunderbird.


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