Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian
McCracken Research Library Gallery
Edward S. Curtis’s grand work, The North American Indian, provides a permanent record of 80 North American tribes through ethnographic notes and more than 1,500 photographs included in 20 volumes. Accompanying the volumes are 20 portfolios containing 36 photogravure prints each. A selection of these in digital format is on display in this exhibition in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s McCracken Research Library Gallery. Original volumes and a portfolio are included in the display.
Photographer and ethnologist Curtis (1868 – 1952) produced this unique American record at great personal sacrifice. Beginning in 1898, he traveled the American West from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle. Working with written accounts, photographic images, and sound recordings, Curtis gathered and arranged the ethnographic data and took more than 40,000 photographs using only natural light. The massive work was published between 1907 and 1930. The elegant volumes with their stately folio plates were printed on the finest handmade papers of the time. Sadly, the Great Depression contributed to weak sales of the finished volumes, and only 214 of the 500 subscriptions were sold.
The McCracken Research Library holds a rare complete set of The North American Indian. The images shown here are part of the exhibition.
Plate 77: Oglala war-party, 1907
Photogravure, brown ink, 30 x 46 cm
“Here is depicted a group of Sioux warriors as they appeared in the days of intertribal warfare, carefully making their way down a hillside in the vicinity of the enemy’s camp. Many hold in their hands, instead of weapons, mere sticks adorned with eagle-feathers or scalps—the so-called coup sticks—desiring to win honor by striking a harmless blow therewith as well as to inflict injury with arrow and bullet.” —from Edward Curtis’s caption
Plate 124: Plenty Coups—Apsaroke, 1908
Photogravure, brown ink, 46 x 33 cm
“…at the age of twenty-six he had counted a coup of each kind and was called chief. Subsequently his record was four coups of each of the four sorts—striking the first enemy in a battle, capturing a gun, taking a tethered horse from the enemy’s camp, and leading a successful war party—and as no other Apsaroke could equal his achievements, he became, on the death of Pretty Eagle in 1903, the chief of the tribe.” – from biographical information on Plenty Coups
Plate 207: Piegan encampment, 1900
Photogravure, brown ink, 33 x 43 cm
“The picture not only represents a characteristic view of an Indian camp on an uneventful day, but also emphasizes the grand picturesqueness of the Piegan, living as they do almost under the shadow of the towering Rocky Mountains.” – from Edward Curtis’s caption