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Course & Subject Guides

Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, Spring-Summer 2018: Alaska, 1928

This library guide is an overview of the Archives & Special Collection exhibit on Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian.

A Chronology of the Life of Edward S. Curtis: The Alaska Expedition and the Publication of the Final Volume of The North American Indian on the Alaskan Eskimo, 1926-1930

                 Map of Alaska and map legend    Map of continental U.S.

Map of North America: Showing the research areas, cities, and rail routes important in Edward Curtis's Life by Eric Elias. In Lawlor, Laurie. Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward S. Curtis. New York, [1994].

1926-1927

1926

  • The fifteenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Southern California Shoshoneans, the Diegueños, the Plateau Shoshoneans, and the Washo. 
  • The sixteenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Tiwa and the Keres.  The field work for this volume was done in 1905, 1909, 1917, and in 1924 by William E. Myers, who spent the entire season in the field.
  • The seventeenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Tewa and the Zuñi.  The field work for this volume was done in 1905, 1909, 1917, and in 1924 by William E. Myers, who spent the entire season in the field.
  • SUMMER.  William E. Myers, who began working with Curtis in 1906 at the age of twenty-eight, and who has been Curtis’s accomplished colleague on The North American Indian, leaves the project.  Curtis hires Stewart Eastwood, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania recommended by Frederick Webb Hodge.  Curtis meets Eastwood in Oklahoma, and together they spend the summer working on the field research and photographs for volume nineteen.

1927

  • SUMMER.  Curtis, his daughter Beth, and Stewart Eastwood spend three to four months travelling throughout coastal Alaska working on the field research and photographs for volume twenty.  Curtis and Beth both kept daily journals of the Alaska trip, which began when the party traveled by steamer from Seattle to Nome on June 2, 1927.  Curtis returned to Seattle on October 9, 1927.
  • OCTOBER.  Curtis is arrested immediately upon his return from Alaska for failure to pay alimony.  Curtis and Clara appear before a judge in Seattle on October 12, 1927, where Curtis testifies that he receives no salary from the project, and that J. Pierpont Morgan and Jack Morgan have invested $2.5 million dollars to date in The North American Indian.   In regard to the Curtis Studios, located in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, the photography studio is owned and operated by his daughter Beth, and she supports him financially.  The judge dismisses the case after the failure of both parties to produce the alimony document.  The story appears in the Seattle Times, Post-Intelligencer, and the Seattle Star.

Curtis device

1928-1930

1928

  • JANUARY.  Curtis is compelled to relinquish his ownership and copyright of The North American Indian, along with the copper- and glass-plate negatives to J.P. Morgan & Co.  The parties agree that Curtis is able to finish the publication of the final volumes of The North American Indian.
  • The eighteenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Chipewyan, the Western Woods Cree, and the Sarsi.  Curtis pays tribute in the introduction to William E. Myers, for his many years of “ardent, faithful, and self-sacrificing” work on The North American Indian

1930

  • The nineteenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Indians of Oklahoma, the Wichita, the Southern Cheyenne, the Oto, the Comanche, and the Peyote cult.
  • The twentieth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Alaskan Eskimo, the Nunivak, the Eskimo of Hooper Bay, the Eskimo of King Island, the Eskimo of Little Diomede Island, the Eskimo of Cape Prince of Wales, the Kotzebue Eskimo, the Noatak, the Kobuk, and the Selawik.  Curtis pays tribute in the introduction to J. Pierpont Morgan and his son Jack Morgan for their “constant patronage,” and to all “those other friends who offered every encouragement during the formative period of the work and who never lost faith in its ultimate fruition…  It is finished.”  With the completion of the project, Curtis and The North American Indian are caught in the maelstrom of the Great Depression, and dragged into obscurity.

Curtis device