Edward Sheriff Curtis was born on a Wisconsin farm in 1868 and later grew up to become a commercial photographer based in Seattle. He photographed Princess Angeline, who was the daughter of Duwamish Chief Seattle in 1895. The city of Seattle was later named after this chief.

This photograph was the start of a new adventure for Curtis. He became fascinated with the lives and cultures of Native Americans and joined many expeditions in order to meet and document more of the people’s lives.

J.P. Morgan approached Curtis in 1906 to discuss the funding of a documentary project on the indigenous people of the North American continent. The result was a 20-volume series called The North American Indian.

Curtis spent more than 20 years on the project and in that time created 40,000 images of more than 80 different tribes. He also made thousands of wax cylinder recordings of native songs and languages. He wrote down oral histories, legends, and biographies.

It should be noted that Curtis somewhat romanticized the photos by choosing settings stripped of any signs of Western civilization. He wanted to give a feeling of pre-Columbian life and not what they were at the time. He saw that their way of life was vanishing.

“Noble savage” stereotypes aside, Curtis’ vast body of work is one of the most impressive historical records of Native American life at the beginning of the 20th century.

curtis-14 1904
A group of Navajo in the Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.

curtis-4 1905
Sioux chiefs.

curtis4x5-1 1908
An Apsaroke mother and child.

curtis4x5-13 1907
Luzi, of the Papago tribe.

curtis4x5-4 1914
A Qagyuhl woman wears a fringed Chilkat blanket and a mask representing a deceased relative who had been a shaman.

curtis4x5-5 1914
Hakalahl, a Nakoaktok chief.

curtis4x5-14 1910
A Kwakiutl gatherer hunts abalones in Washington.

curtis4x5-15 1910
Piegan girls gather goldenrod.

curtis4x5-8 1907
A Qahatika girl.

Apache Nalin c. 1910
A young member of the Apache tribe.

Eskadi - Apache 1903
Euskadi, of the Apache tribe.

curtis-2 1914
Kwakiutl people in canoes in British Columbia.

curtis-1 1914
Kwakiutl people in canoes in British Columbia.

Wedding party - Qagyuhl 1914
A Kwakiutl wedding party arrives in canoes.

curtis4x5-7 1914
A Kwakiutl shaman performs a religious ritual.

curtis4x5-2 1914
A Koskimo man dressed as Hami (“dangerous thing”) during a Numhlim ceremony.

curtis4x5-6 1914
A Qagyuhl dancer dressed as Paqusilahl (“man of the ground embodiment”).

curtis4x5-3 1914
A Qagyuhl man dressed as a bear.

Masked dancers - Qagyuhl 1914
Qagyuhl dancers.

Kotsuis and Hohhuq - Nakoaktok 1914
Nakoaktok dancers wear Hamatsa masks in a ritual.

The Apache c. 1910
An Apache man.

The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other…Consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time. ~ EDWARD S. CURTIS

curtis4x5-11 1907
Hollow Horn Bear, a Brulé man.

curtis4x5-12 1906
A Tewa girl.

The Apache Reaper c. 1910
An Apache woman reaps grain.

curtis5x7-26 1924
A Mariposa man on the Tule River Reservation.

curtis5x7-34 1908
A Hidatsa man with a captured eagle.

curtis5x7-2 1910
A Nootka man aims a bow and arrow.

curtis5x7-4 1910
Piegan tepees.

curtis-3 1905
A Sioux hunter.

curtis5x7-15 1914
A Kwakiutl shaman.

curtis5x7-3 1914
A Kwakiutl man wearing a mask depicting a man transforming into a loon.

curtis5x7-12 1908
An Apsaroke man on horseback.

curtis5x7-7 1923
A Klamath chief stands on a hill above Crater Lake, Oregon.

curtis5x7-24 1900
Iron Breast, a Piegan man.curtis5x7-8 1908
Black Eagle, an Assiniboine man.curtis5x7-6 1904
Nayenezgani, a Navajo man.

curtis5x7-16 1914
A Kwakiutl person dressed as a forest spirit, Nuhlimkilaka, (“bringer of confusion”).

curtis5x7-9 1923
A Hupa woman.curtis5x7-20 1914
Mowakiu, a Tsawatenok man.In the land of the Sioux 1900
Piegan chiefs.