Stunning Photos Capture Native Americans in Early 1900s

Posted January 8th, 2016 at 2:39 pm (UTC-4)
19 comments

An Oasis in the Badlands, Great Plains, 1905 (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

An Oasis in the Badlands, Great Plains, 1905 (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Fortunately for future generations, Edward S. Curtis was a multi-media expert more than a century ago, well before anyone knew what that was, or thought to coin the phrase.

Self-Portrait of Edward S. Curtis, 1899 (Public Domain)

Self-Portrait of Edward S. Curtis, 1899 (Public Domain)

Using photographs, film, sound recordings and text, the Wisconsin native created a massive body of work documenting Native American culture in the early 20th century. The North American Indian project provides rare ethnographic information about more than 80 American Indian tribes from 1900 until 1930.

Curtis recorded tribal mythology and oral histories, documenting their way of life, encompassing everything from their food, clothing, dwellings, ceremonies and burial customs. However, it is perhaps the intense photographs, thousands of them, that are at the heart of the collection.

“The essence of the photographs is beauty, heart and spirit,” said Christopher Cardozo, one of the world’s leading experts on Curtis’ work and editor of nine books relating to the photographer, including Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks. “Fundamentally, the work is a healing narrative.”

Curtis captured the images of numerous prominent Native Americans, including Geronimo, Chief Joseph and Red Cloud. His mammoth project includes thousands of photographs and written information bound in 20 volumes complimented by 20 portfolios of additional photographs.

Curtis initially secured $75,000 in financing from prominent American banker J.P. Morgan — an estimated $1.5 million in today’s dollars — that allowed him to tell the story of what Curtis believed might be a vanishing race.

Nez Perce Babe, 1900, Great Plains (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Nez Perce Babe, 1900, Great Plains (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

At the time, Native Americans were being forced onto reservations while their children were taken away to boarding schools to better assimilate into American society. Many Native American parents saw these schools as a tool designed to destroy Indian culture.

Some critics have argued that Curtis’ body of work romanticizes Native Americans from a white man’s point of view. However, Cardozo believes the work has endured for 100 years because it was collaboration between Curtis and about 10,000 native people.

“If you look at all his photographs, you see this incredible vulnerability, intimacy, presence, connection and it’s so obvious when you look at these photographs that the native people were actively participating, actively collaborating, in creating these images,” he said. “This was the imagery they wanted preserved, as much as Curtis did.”

Now, Cardozo is interested in preserving Curtis’ work.

Just 214 complete sets of The North American Indian were initially published. In order to dramatically increase access to Curtis’ work, Cardozo is spearheading what is believed to be the largest republication in North American history; his team is reproducing high-quality recreations of Curtis’ entire North American Indian work, the thousands of photographs while completely re-typesetting all of his 2.5 million words.

He is continuing a quest started by Curtis himself 100 years ago, to document a central part of American history for future generations.

 

Canyon de Chelly, Navaho, 1904, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Canyon de Chelly, Navaho, 1904, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

 

Geronimo - Apache, 1905,  Southwest ((Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Geronimo – Apache, 1905, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Piegan Encampment, 1900, Great Plains (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Piegan Encampment, 1900, Great Plains (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Sioux Mother and Child, 1905, Great Plains (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Sioux Mother and Child, 1905, Great Plains (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

On the Housetop - Hopi, 1906, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

On the Housetop – Hopi, 1906, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Kwakiutl House Frame, 1914, Northwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Kwakiutl House Frame, 1914, Northwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Awaiting the Return of the Snake Racers, Hopi, 1921, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy DelMonico Books • Prestel)

Awaiting the Return of the Snake Racers, Hopi, 1921, Southwest (Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy Christopher Cardozo Fine Art/DelMonico Books • Prestel)

19 responses to “Stunning Photos Capture Native Americans in Early 1900s”

  1. Ebhodaghe Godstime says:

    many feets have threaded this soil.

    They must have opened the heavens to birth the present America

  2. Pete Trujillo sr. says:

    It’s funny because I live on a Reservation in southern California and I even have a Grandson named Geronimo.
    There are areas on my Reservation that are still like the old days and I hope that they never change.
    They are fun to visit and talk about, even after living here for 67 years.

    • Larry says:

      Are related to JC Trujillo? I know him from our rodeo days.
      I live in Montana but grew up in S Cal., Escondido CA.

      • Pete Trujillo sr. says:

        I am not sure who J C Trujillo is. I have a lot of family members in San Diego County, and I live on the Pala Reservation which is close to Escondido. I am sure that we may know some of the same people in the area.
        Pete Trujillo sr.

      • Pete Trujillo sr. says:

        Larry I did a little research on who JC Trujillo was and I found who you were asking about.J.C. Trujillo is the GM of The worlds oldest Rodeo
        in Prescott Arizona and was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1994.
        He lives and works in Prescott. If you google up this info you will be able to find and talk to him through his website.
        I hope this helps you get in touch with James Charles Trujillo. Good Luck.

  3. Daniel Robshaw says:

    Really good pics. Like to see more…

  4. Sean08 says:

    Some Indians were terribly frightened of being photographed and would refuse to have their pictures taken. Many had to be coerced, beaten and some were even roped, tied to horses and dragged through streets before being brought in front of the cameras. That’s the reason some looked huddled, scared and had hunted expressions in their eyes in many of the old photographs.

  5. Dale says:

    my Grandmother is a indian and she did enjoy a great life she was not 100 percent indian so i am Irish i did enjoy many great times with her

  6. Raven Hawk says:

    I hope with all my heart, these photos and the words will be saved for future generations. I would love to be able to see each and everyone of these photographs, read or hear the words and stories of Edward Curtis’s work. My “family” is from Alaska on my fathers side and one of the oldest tribes in the United States. I love listening to the Elders from any tribe, their history, our history. Billy Franks from Nisqually Tribe and my father were very good friends and I had the pleasure of listening to “Grandpa Franks” of the “old days”, Gramma Franks would come to our house and we would dig clams for her and she would bring us Indian bread and peanut butter and jelly from Elder berries she picked in the Mountians. What memories to pass on to my children and grandchildren! Through Mr. Curtis’s work we will not be forgotten; I thank you Christopher Cardozo for keeping it alive.

  7. Gina says:

    You can see the love in all the detail of the baby carrier

  8. David Berlier says:

    My great Grand Mother was full blood Cherokee. She raised my Grand mother in the old ways. You didn’t cut your hair or fingernails but at certain times of the moon, and you buried it or them when you were done. I lived on a res in south Dakota when I was young. The Grand Mothers would come get us and the Grand Fathers would tell us stories. I was so young I didn’t remember the stories till I got older. I always thought the whites had better things than us. I could pass as white. it took me a long time to remember the way I was raised. Now I regret that I didn’t pay closer attention to the stories.

  9. Dr. Masumbe says:

    It is very important to document and keep historical facts. The territory now known as the United States of America was certainly occupied by indigenous people whose history is as important as that of the Settlers.

  10. genny trickett says:

    Geronimo is my man!!! he had charactor, bravery, intelligence and he outsmarted the calvery how many times…He had his people in his heart!!!

  11. Mnogabwutmko says:

    Beautiful indigenous cultures sadly exterminated as a policy of Euro-American nationalism.

  12. Mabry Evenstein says:

    @Mnogabwutmko And how many “beautiful indigenous cultures” were exterminated by the “beautiful indigenous cultures” that were then, in turn “exterminated as a policy of Euro-American nationalism?” All surviving cultures (and most dead ones) were conquerors at one point.

    The labeling of one culture as beautiful and superior and implying that the other is ugly is the essence of the type of hate that displaced Native Americans. The problem isn’t “Euro-American,” but a human problem present in all cultures.

    Hate lives on when we categorize fellow human-beings as “other.” Sometimes we hide that hate in self-righteous condemnation of the past to imply moral superiority in the present. But even as we do that, we prove we are of the same mindset we say we condemn. I fear that the impulse to condemn others in the past reveals more about us in the present than it does about our ancestors.

  13. Susy says:

    Beautiful beautiful photographs. Tears at the beautiful cultures lost in so many ways. I have much respect for and interest in them, ever since learning about the Chumash people when I was a child at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The Chumash room was always my favorite part. Then, my heart broke in high school, after reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” I am not Native American, and I’m sorry for what happened to your cultures and your people. Peace and blessings.

  14. Ken Hissner says:

    I have visited back in 1989 a reservation in AZ after sponsoring a young Native American boy attending the SW School NW of Phoenix. I doubt much has changed since these pictures have been taken. Instead of China manufacturing most of our products the Native Americans could do it just as well or better.

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