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Course & Subject Guides

Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, Spring-Summer 2018: The Pacific Northwest & New Mexico, 1909-1925

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 Pacific Northwest, Moving Pictures, Morgan & Roosevelt, and a Studio in Los Angeles, 1910-1925

                 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].

1910-1912

1910 

  • Clara and Curtis separate, and he moves into the Rainier Club in downtown Seattle.
  • SPRING.  Curtis, William Myers, Edmund Swhwinke, and two crew members descend the free-flowing Columbia River in a small boat.  Curtis photographs and does field research on the Indians of the Columbia Plateau and the Lower Columbia River.  He later writes of the annihilation of many of the Columbia River tribes due to disease and alcoholism. 

1911      

  • The sixth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Piegan, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho.  
  • The seventh volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Yakima, the Klickitat, the Salishan Tribes of the Interior, and the Kutenai.  The field work for this volume was gathered from 1907 to 1909. 
  • The eighth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Nez Percés, the Wallawalla, the Umatilla, the Cayuse, and the Chinookan Tribes.  In this volume, Curtis writes eloquently on the life and death, and the harsh treatment endured by Chief Joseph and the Nez Percé Indians by the United States government.  
  • NOVEMBER 15.  Curtis introduces a stage show with slides, film, and musical accompaniment titled,Edward S. Curtis and his Indian Picture Opera:  A Vanishing Race, to publicize his work and to solicit subscriptions for The North American Indian.  The Indian picture opera debuts at Carnegie Hall in New York on November 15, 1911, after sell-out performances in other East Coast cities and runs through the end of 1912.  Curtis is able to create motion by using his hand-colored slides with a stereopticon projector.  The images are accompanied by a musical score, Indian Scenes:  Five Pieces for the Pianoforte, written by Henry F. B. Gilbert, and influenced by the music on the wax-cylinders recordings made by Curtis.

1912-1914           

  • Inspired by the success of his musical opera, Curtis makes plans to produce, write, and direct a film based on his experiences among the native Kwakiutl peoples (Kwakwaka’wakw) of British Columbia.  Curtis views the film as a financial opportunity and as a way to promote The North American Indian.  He organizes a film company and hires George Hunt, the Tlingit-English ethnologist, linguist, and artist. 

Curtis device

1913-1914

1913      

  • MARCH 31.  J. Pierpont Morgan dies at the age of seventy-five in his sleep at the Grand Hotel in Rome, Italy, while traveling abroad on March 31, 1913.  His son, Jack Morgan, takes control of the family business and continues to support Curtis and The North American Indian
  • APRIL 16.  The ninth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Salishan Tribes of the Coast, the Chimakum and the Quilliute, and the Willapa.  It is printed with a dedication dated April 16, 1913, “In Memory of Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan.” 
  •  FALL.  Alolph F. Muhr, the photographer and photoengraver who has worked with Curtis since1903, dies at the age of fifty-five.  Curtis acknowledges Muhr’s excellent work in volume ten.

1914      

  • Indian Days of the Long Ago, written by Edward S. Curtis, is published by World Book Company, with photographic plates by Curtis and drawings by Frederick N. Wilson.
  • DECEMBER 7.  Curtis’s narrative silent film on the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw) titled, In the Land of the Head-Hunters, opens at the Casino Theatre in New York and at the Moore Theatre in Seattle with live music composed by John J. Braham.  The film is shot entirely on location in the Queen Charlotte Strait of the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada.  It sets a groundbreaking precedent as the first motion picture to feature an all Native North American cast. 

In the Land of the Head Hunters poster

Courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine

Curtis device

1915-1921

1915     

  • In the Land of the Head-Hunters, the book written by Edward S. Curtis to accompany the film, is published by World Book Company with a photographic frontispiece and plates by Curtis.
  • The tenth volume of The North American Indian is published and devoted to the Kwakiutl.  A portion of each field season from 1910 to 1914 has been spent among the Kwakiutl tribes, and a thinner paper has been used to accommodate the amount of exceptional material that has been gathered. 

1916 -1917   

  • The eleventh volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Nootka and the Haida. 
  • Edmund Schwinke, who has worked for Curtis beginning in 1910 as a hired hand, then field journalist, and finally as a cameraman on the film In the Land of the Head-Hunters, leaves the project at age twenty-eight.
  • OCTOBER 6.  Clara Curtis files for divorce in King County, Seattle, Washington.  She petitions the court for the family house, the photography studio, and alimony support for the youngest child Katherine, who is seven years old.  The divorce headline appears in the newspaper the Seattle Star
  • William E. Myers spends two years travelling throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon working on the field research for volumes thirteen and fourteen.

1919      

  • JANUARY 6.  Theodore Roosevelt dies in his sleep at the age of sixty at his home at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York on January 6, 1919. 
  • JUNE.  In the divorce settlement of Curtis v. Curtis, Clara is awarded the family home, the photography studio along with all of its contents, and a monthly support payment of one hundred dollars.  Beth Curtis, who has been running the studio, which is now located at Fourth and University, across from the Cobb Building in downtown Seattle, is involved in destroying all of Curtis’s original glass plate negatives before Clara takes possession of the studio.

1920-1921

  • Edward S. Curtis opens an office and studio at 668 South Rampart Street in Los Angeles, California, with his daughter Beth.  In Los Angeles, Curtis works as a still photographer and camera operator for the film studios in Hollywood.  

Curtis device

1922-1925

1922

  • The twelfth volume of The North American Indian is published and is devoted to the Hopi.  Curtis conducts field research among the Hopi in 1900, 1902, 1904, 1906, and with Myers in 1911, 1912, and 1919, to acquire the material and images for this exceptional volume.
  • First Americans, a pamphlet written by Marah Ellis Ryan and Edward S. Curtis, is published by the Indian Welfare League in Los Angeles, California.
  • SUMMER.  Curtis and his twenty-three year old daughter Florence spend three to four months traveling throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon working on the field research and photographs for volumes thirteen and fourteen.

1923

  • Curtis, along with other Los Angeles-based artists, museum professionals, writers, and lawyers, helps to organize the Indian Welfare League.  The League’s goals are to provide employment and legal assistance, and to lobby for citizenship rights for native peoples.

1924

  • The thirteenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Hupa, the Yurok, the Karok, the Wiyot, the Tolowa and the Tututni, the Shasta, the Achomawi, and the Klamath.  The field work for this volume was conducted in 1916 and 1917 by William E. Myers, and in 1922 by Curtis and his daughter Florence.  In the introduction, Curtis express his disgust at the historic and current treatment of the Indians of Northern California and Southern Oregon:  “The conditions are still so acute that, after spending many months among these scattered groups of Indians, the author finds it difficult even to mention the subject with calmness.”
  • Curtis is forced to sell all the rights to his film In the Land of the Head-Hunters, along with the master print and negative, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York for $1,500.   

1925

  • Travels to New York for a business meeting with Jack Morgan on the future of The North American Indian.
  • The fourteenth volume of The North American Indian is published and comprises the Kato, the Wailaki, the Yuki, the Pomo, the Wintun, the Maidu, the Miwok, and the Yokuts.  The field work for this volume was done in 1915, 1916, 1922, and 1924.  Curtis again express his revulsion at the historic and current treatment of the Indians of Northern California in the introduction: “Robbed of their lands by treaties unkept or unratified, they became what the state and the Federal Government term a problem.  The situation is a striking illustration of the recognized fact that the only Indians who received anything like fair treatment were the fighters, the tribes that killed ruthlessly and brutally.  The peaceful Indians were driven from their lands, killed or outraged on the slightest provocation.”
  • SUMMER.  Curtis and William Myers meet in Montana and travel north into Alberta, Canada, to work on the field research and photographs for volume eighteen.

Curtis device