The collection consists of photographs relating to Native Americans, which were submitted to the copyright office of the Library of Congress in and around the early 20th century. Many of the photographs are studio portraits as well as photographs made as part of expeditions and railroad surveys. It includes images of people, dwellings and other structures, agriculture, arts and crafts, burials, ceremonies and dances, games, food preparation, transportation, and scenic views. Some of the photographs were posed to illustrate literary works, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha, while others depict paintings or other artwork.
The collection was formed from submissions made to the Library of Congress as part of the copyright registration process. In 1949, arrangements were made to allow the Bureau of American Ethnology to copy the collection and some negatives were made at that time, largely from the Heyn and Matzen photographs. The project was soon abandoned, however, as too large an undertaking for the facilities of the BAE. In 1957-1958, arrangements were begun by William C. Sturtevant of the BAE to transfer all of the photographs from the Library to the BAE.
Local Call Number(s):
NAA Photo Lot 59
See others in:
Library of Congress Copyright Office photograph collection of American Indians, 1860s-1930s (bulk 1890s-1920s)
In 1965, the Bureau merged with the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology to form the Smithsonian Office of Anthropology, and in 1968 the Office of Anthropology Archives transformed into the National Anthropological Archives.
The collection is open for research.
Access to the collection requires an appointment.
Photo Lot 59, Library of Congress Copyright Office photograph collection of American Indians, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Photographs relating to American Indian or frontier themes, including portraits, expedition photographs, landscapes, and other images of dwellings, transportation, totem poles, ceremonies, infants and children in cradleboards, camps and towns, hunting and fishing, wild west shows, food preparation, funeral customs, the US Army and army posts, cliff dwellings, and grave mounds and excavations. The collection also includes images of prisoners at Fort Marion in 1875, Sioux Indians involved in the Great Sioux Uprising in Minnesota, the Fort Laramie Peace Commission of 1868, Sitting Bull and his followers after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
There are studio portraits of well-known Indians, including American Horse, Big Bow, Four Bears, Iron Bull, Ouray, Red Cloud, Red Dog, Red Shirt, Sitting Bull, Spotted Tail, Three Bears, and Two Guns White Calf. Depicted delegations include a Sauk and Fox meeting in Washington, DC, with Lewis V. Bogy and Charles E. Mix in 1867; Kiowas and Cheyennes at the White House in 1863; and Dakotas and Crows who visited President Warren G. Harding in 1921. Images of schools show Worcester Academy in Vinita, Oklahoma; Chilocco Indian School; Carlisle Indian Industrial School; Haskell Instittue, and Albuquerque Indian School.
Some photographs relate to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876; World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893; Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, 1903; and Centennial Exposition of the Baltimore and Ohio Railraod, 1876. Expedition photographs show the Crook expedition of 1876, the Sanderson expedition to the Custer Battlefield in 1877, the Wheeler Survey of the 1870s, Powell's surveys of the Rocky Mountain region during the 1860s and 1870s, and the Hayden Surveys.
Outstanding single views include the party of Zuni Indians led to the sea by Frank Hamilton Cushing; Episcopal Church Rectory and School Building, Yankton Agency; Matilda Coxe Stevenson and a companion taking a photographs of a Zuni ceremony; John Moran sketching at Acoma; Ben H. Gurnsey's studio with Indian patrons; Quapaw Mission; baptism of a group of Paiutes at Coeur d'Alene Mission; court-martial commission involved in the trial of Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds, 1877; President Harding at Sitka, Alaska; Walter Hough at Hopi in 1902; and Mrs. Jesse Walter Fewkes at Hopi in 1897.
George V. Allen was an attorney in Lawrence, Kansas and an early member of the National Stereoscope Association. Between the 1950s and 1980s, Allen collected an extensive collection of photographs of the American West, mostly in stereographs, but also including cartes-de-visite and other styles of mounted prints, photogravures, lantern slides, autochromes, and glass negatives.
Local Call Number(s):
NAA Photo Lot 90-1
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George V. Allen photograph collection of American Indians and the American frontier, circa 1860-1935
The Edward S. Curtis photogravure plates and proofs for The North American Indian include photogravure printing plates and associated proofs made from Curtis photographs and used in the publication of The North American Indian volumes 1-9 and 12-19. The bulk of the images are portraits, though there are also images of everyday items, ceremonial artifacts, and camps.
Scope and Contents:
The collection comprises 183 photogravure plates (101 folio and 82 octavo) and 96 associated proofs used in the printing of The North American Indian volumes 1-9 and 12-19. The original photographs used to make the photogravures were made circa 1903-1926 and the photogravure plates were made in 1907-1930. The bulk are portraits, though there are also images of everyday items, ceremonial artifacts, and camps. About half of the proofs in the collection are originals used for Curtis's publication, though the collection also includes proofs made in the process of later publication by the Classic Gravure Company (circa 1980). Vintage proofs include handwritten notes, likely made by Curtis Studio employees in Seattle and Los Angeles. Many of the photogravure plates do not have matching proofs; in particular, there are no proofs for the octavo plates.
The plates and proofs are arranged by the volume of The North American Indian in which they were published. They are described in this finding aid by the caption and plate number with which they were published.
Biographical / Historical:
Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer best known for his monumental and now-controversial project, the twenty-volume publication The North American Indian. Here he sought to document in words and pictures the "vanishing race" of American Indians.
Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Edward Curtis grew up on his family's farm in Le Sueur County, Minnesota, from 1874 to 1887. In 1887, he and his father Johnson Curtis settled on a plot near what is now Port Orchard, Washington, and the rest of the family joined them the following year. When Johnson Curtis died within a month of the family's arrival, the burden of providing for his mother and siblings fell to 20-year-old Edward, and Edward set out to do so through his photography. In 1891, Curtis moved to the booming city of Seattle and bought into a joint photo studio with Rasmus Rothi. Less than a year later, he formed "Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers" with Thomas Guptill; the enterprise quickly became a premier portrait studio for Seattle's elite. In 1895, Curtis made his first "Indian photograph" depicting Princess Angeline, daughter of the chief for whom Seattle had been named. The following year he earned his first medal from the National Photographic Convention for his "genre studies."
In 1899, Edward Curtis joined the Harriman Alaska Expedition as official photographer, a position which allowed him to learn from anthropologists C. Hart Merriam and George Bird Grinnell while documenting the landscapes and peoples of the Alaskan coast. This expedition and the resulting friendship with Grinnell helped to foster Curtis's ultimate goal to "form a comprehensive and permanent record of all the important tribes of the United States and Alaska that still retain to a considerable degree their primitive customs and traditions" (General Introduction, The North American Indian). Curtis made several trips to reservations from 1900 to 1904, including a trip with Grinnell to Montana in 1900 and multiple trips to the Southwest, including the Hopi Reservation. He also hired Adolph Muhr, former assistant to Omaha photographer Frank A. Rinehart, to manage the Curtis studio in his absence, a decision which would prove more and more fruitful as Curtis spent less and less time in Seattle.
In 1906, Curtis struck a deal with financier J. P. Morgan, whereby Morgan would support a company – The North American Indian, Inc. – with $15,000 for five years, by which time the project was expected to have ended. Systematic fieldwork for the publication began in earnest that summer season, with Curtis accompanied by a team of ethnological researchers and American Indian assistants. Arguably the most important member of Curtis' field team was William Myers, a former newspaperman who collected much of the ethnological data and completed most of the writing for the project. The first volume, covering Navajo and Apache peoples, was published at the end of 1907, but already Morgan's funding was incapable of meeting Curtis's needs. Despite heaping praise from society's elite, Curtis spent much of his time struggling to find people and institutions willing to subscribe to the expensive set of volumes. After the initial five years, only eight of the proposed twenty volumes had been completed. Fieldwork and publication continued with the support of J. P. Morgan, but Curtis's home life suffered because of his prolonged absences.
In 1919, Curtis's wife Clara was awarded a divorce settlement which included the entire Curtis studio in Seattle. Exhausted and bankrupt, Edward Curtis moved with his daughter Beth Magnuson to Los Angeles, where they operated a new Curtis Studio and continued work on the volumes; volume 12 was published
in 1922. The constant financial strain forced Myers to leave the North American Indian team after volume 18 (fieldwork in 1926) and Curtis made his last trip to photograph and gather data for volume 20 in 1927. After the final volumes were published in 1930, Curtis almost completely faded from public notice until his work was "rediscovered" and popularized in the 1970s.
Curtis's "salvage ethnology," as scholar Mick Gidley describes it, was mildly controversial even during his life and has become ever more so as his legacy deepens. In his quest to photograph pre-colonial Indian life through a twentieth-century lens, he often manipulated and constructed history as much as he recorded it: he staged reenactments, added props, and removed evidence of twentieth-century influences on "primitive" life. Curtis's work continues to shape popular conceptions of American Indians and so, while problematic, his legacy--his vision of American Indian life--continues to be relevant.
NMAI also holds Edward Curtis photographs documenting the Harriman Expedition (1899) as well as platinum prints and photogravures of the images published in The North American Indian.
The Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives holds Edward Curtis prints submitted for copyright (Photo Lot 59) as well as many of his original negatives, photographs, and papers.
Steve Kern donated photogravure plates to the Center for Creative Photography and the Seattle Art Museum at the same time that he donated this set to MAI.
This collection was donated by Steven and Arlene Kern to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in 1984.
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish or broadcast materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to email@example.com.
Indians of North America -- Pictorial works Search this
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Edward S. Curtis photogravure plates and proofs for The North American Indian, Box and Folder Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.
This collection was processed with funding from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.
Typed transcript of Gibbs' notes and comments on them by Catherine Callaghan filed with the Manuscript, 6/1962. Notes on the names of the tribes mentioned by Gibbs made by A.R. Pilling and filed with the Manuscript, 8/1970.
NAA MS 857-c
Manuscript 857-c, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Titles: "Antelope Hunt from a Navaho Drawing, New Mexico;" "Pomo Indian Basket, California;" "Apache Devil Dancer from an Indian Painting, Arizona;" "Pueblo Turtle Dancers from an Indian Painting, New Mexico;" "Eskimo Mask, Western Alaska;" "Blanket Design of the Haida Indians, Alaska;" and "From an Indian Painting on Elkskin, Great Plains."
NAA MS 4883
The Word "Siegriest" appears on all the posters; it is perhaps the name of the artist who did the silk-screen posters.
Indians of North America -- Northwest Coast of North America Search this
Scope and Contents:
Letter transmitting Yakutat (Tlingit) vocabulary, and vocabulary of an Indian language spoken around Fort Ross, California; includes discussion of origin of the term, "Kolosh." Also incomplete clerk's copy of the letter, 1 page.
Biographical / Historical:
Hjalmar J. Furuhjeim was governor of Russian Colonies in America.
NAA MS 528
The enclosures are not present. The Yakutat vocabulary is probably Number 537. No Pomo or other California Indian vocabulary transmitted by Governor Furuhjelm has been located (7/62).