The son of a wealthy Pittsburgh carpetmaker, Walter McClintock became entranced by the American West after traveling there in 1895 to recover from a serious case of typhoid fever.
In 1896, he traveled West again as a photographer for a federal commission investigating national forests. While there, he came into contact with the Blackfoot community in northwestern Montana and began a life-long interest in them.
Over the next 20 years, the Yale graduate took several thousand photographs of the Blackfoot Indians — a name thought to have been acquired because of the black color of their moccasins, which were painted or darkened with ashes — and their culture.
McClintock believed Indian communities were undergoing rapid, dramatic change. Fearful that their traditional culture would be lost, he wanted a record their way of life before it completely disappeared.
He wrote books and gave lectures based upon his experiences interacting with the Blackfoot people.
One of McClintock’s favorite images was of a Blackfoot lodge glowing from within, “emanating a warm, radiant incandescence”, according to author and historian Sherry L. Smith, who says the photographer “tried his best to enter that lodge and explain its interior life to other Americans”.
During the early part of the 1800s, the Blackfoot numbered approximately 20,000 people.
However, ravaged by diseases brought by white settlers, starvation and war, their population was reduced to fewer than 5,000 by the turn of the century.
Today, there are about 16,000 registered Blackfoot Indians living on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Below are some hand-colored, transparent glass lantern slides McClintock took around the turn of the century. The originals are housed at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
A lantern slide is a positive print of a photograph on a glass slide that is often hand-painted to be more visually appealing.
In McClintock’s case, the slides also represent an idealized version of a vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age.