Edward S. Curtis Papers, 1893-1983  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Creator
Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952
Title
Edward S. Curtis Papers
Dates
1893-1983 (inclusive)
Quantity
1.47 cubic ft.
Collection Number
0847
Summary
Photographer of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and California, and creator the North American Indian photography documentation project.
Repository
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
98195-2900
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
speccoll@uw.edu
Access Restrictions

Open to all users.

Languages
English
Sponsor
Funding for encoding this finding aid was partially provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Edward Sheriff Curtis was born in 1868, grew up in Minnesota, and moved to the Puget Sound area with his family in 1887. In 1891 he established a photography business in Seattle. Within a few years, Curtis and his partner, Thomas Guptill, established themselves as the leading photographers on Puget Sound. In 1897 Guptill left the business, and its name was changed to Edward S. Curtis, Photographer and Photoengraver. In addition to photoengraving for other businesses and publications, Curtis's stock in trade consisted of fashionable wedding portraits, society portraits, dramatic prints of Northwest scenery, and photographs of local Indians. As his business prospered, Curtis was able to leave the studio in the charge of others so that he could photograph subjects which interested him.

In 1899 Curtis was chosen as the official photographer for the Harriman expedition, a scientific expedition to Alaska sponsored by railroad tycoon Edward Harriman. The expedition stimulated Curtis's interest in photographing Native Americans, exposed him to scientific methods, and provided him with a number of useful contacts. In the next several years, he continued his studio work as well as his Indian work, but from 1904 on, he spent most of his time away from Seattle. By 1903 or 1904 he began to form a plan for a photographic project that would be "a permanent record of all the important tribes of the U.S. that still retain to a considerable degree their primitive traditions and customs." Reflecting a general belief that Native Americans were a vanishing culture, Curtis embarked on a monumental project that was both artistic and ethnological. His Indian photographs emphasized traditional elements of dress and culture, deemphasizing acculturation. In this he mirrored the interests of ethnologists of the day.

Curtis's project benefited from broad public interest in the West. In 1904 Curtis went to the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology and discussed his plans for a multi-volume collection of photos of Indians. Frederick Webb Hodge, a leader of the Ethnology Bureau, agreed to edit Curtis's collection, The North American Indian . In 1904 Curtis also met Theodore Roosevelt, who became an enthusiastic supporter of the project. Curtis organized an Eastern tour in 1905; his exhibitions in Washington and New York resulted in sales of his pictures, patronage for his fieldwork, and a commission from Scribners magazine for four illustrated articles. In 1906 Curtis sought financial support from J. P. Morgan, who initially agreed to give Curtis $15,000 a year for five years to research, write, and publish 20 volumes of The North American Indian . Each volume included ethnological text illustrated with 75 small photogravure prints, plus a companion portfolio of 36 copper photogravure plates. The volumes were printed on handmade paper with fine engravings and bound in Moroccan leather. The first two volumes were published in Apr., 1908, but the project was not completed until 1930, when volumes 19 and 20 were released. By this time, Morgan and the Morgan estate had contributed half of the project's total cost of $1,500,000.

Curtis concentrated his study on the tribes west of the Mississippi, from New Mexico to Alaska. He began his work in the Southwest in 1904 and made his last field trip, to Alaska, in 1927. He studied over eighty tribes and took 40,000 photographs. He attempted to participate as much as possible in the daily and ceremonial life of each tribe. Although not academically trained, Curtis and his assistants conducted extensive fieldwork. With his assistant, William Myers, Curtis recorded many songs (now in the University of Indiana archives) and amassed information on Indian life. Myers did most of the writing for North American Indian after the first two volumes.

The project suffered a number of delays and temporary setbacks. By 1907 Curtis's reputation had grown and his photographs enjoyed popular success, but he was continually short of funds to cover the cost of the project. He spent the warmer months of each year in the field, photographing and conducting research with his crew, and the rest of the year raising money or promoting the project. There was a six-year lapse between the publication of volumes 11 and 12 due to delays caused by World War I. After the war public interest in Curtis's work had waned and he gave up trying to make advance subscription sales of future volumes. In 1917, after a divorce and a loss of the Seattle studio, Curtis moved to Los Angeles and set up a new studio there. In addition to his studio work and efforts finishing up The North American Indian , Curtis pursued an interest in mining and occasionally took jobs as a cameraman on early Hollywood movies. He died on October 21, 1952, in Los Angeles.

Florence Graybill was Edward Curtis's middle daughter. As a child she was taken on some of his field trips. In the summer of 1922 she assisted Curtis with his work among the Indians of northern California and southern Oregon. Together with Victor Boesen she published Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of a Vanishing Race in 1976. She died in 1987.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The papers of Edward Curtis include Accession no. 0847-001, a small collection that primarily contains correspondence.

The larger collection, Accession no. 0847-003, consists predominantly of Curtis's writings, including early drafts of published texts and unfinished memoirs, as well as correspondence, including letters from Theodore Roosevelt. This accession also contains Florence Graybill's research and writings in a separate subgroup.

Other Descriptive InformationReturn to Top

  • Ts: Typescript
  • TsS: Typescript Signed
  • TDf: Typed Draft
  • XC: Photo Copy
  • w/rev: With hand-written corrections
  • frag: fragment

Publication data are provided whenever known. Titles in quotation marks are actual titles. Square brackets [ ] indicate the subject of untitled writings.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Arrangement

Organized into 2 accessions.

  • Accession No. 0847-001, Edward S. Curtis papers, 1903-1951
  • Accession No. 0847-003, Edward S. Curtis papers, 1893-1983

Acquisition Information

Accession no. 0847-001 (a merger of Accession nos. 0847-001 and 0847-002) was donated by Edward Shell in Jan., 1968. 14 items were transferred to this accession from the papers of Edward's brother, Asahel Curtis, in Dec., 1968. One letter was transferred from within the repository in Mar., 1973.

Accession no. 0847-003 was donated by Florence Graybill in May, 1987.

Processing Note

Initially processed in 1987. Final processing took place in 1992.


Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

 

Accession No. 0847-001: Edward S. Curtis papers, 1903-1951Return to Top

2 1/2" linear (14 items; 1 letter)

Scope and Content: Correspondence of Curtis, an American Indian photographer; lists. Mostly Curtis's outgoing letters to Edward Shell and Alice Daniels (Shell's sister).

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users.

Restrictions on Use: Creator's literary rights not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Acquisition Info: Edward Shell.

Restrictions on Use: Creator's literary rights not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Container(s) Description Dates
Incoming Letters
Box/Folder Accession
1/1 0847-001
Bok, Edward
Nov. 18, 1903
1/1 0847-001
Hornaday, William T.
Feb. 2, 1906
1/1 0847-001
Page, Walter H.
Jan. 23, 1906
1/1 0847-001
Smith, Herbert A.
Apr. 13, 1915
1/1 0847-001
Stevenson, Matilda Coxe
Mar. 15, 1905
1/2-6 0847-001
Stewart, A. B.
Dec. 26, 1905
Box/Folder Accession
1/2-6 0847-001
Outgoing Letters
1905-1951, undated
Correspondence Regarding Edward S. Curtis
Box/Folder Accession
1/7 0847-001
Pinchot, Gifford to Stokes, Anson Phelps, Jr.
Mar. 27, 1907
1/7 0847-001
Blethen, Joseph to Judson, Harry Pratt
Nov. 29, 1910
Lists
Box/Folder Accession
1/8 0847-001
List of Volumes of North American Indian...
undated
1/8 0847-001
Partial List of Patrons of The North American Indian
undated
Box/Folder Accession
1/9 0847-001
Tributes to Edward S. Curtis
undated
1/10 0847-001
Clipping
undated
1/11 0847-001
Covers
1932-1947

Accession No. 0847-003: Edward S. Curtis papers, 1893-1983Return to Top

1.32 cubic feet (3 boxes and 1 oversize folder)

Scope and Content: Incoming letters, writings, ephemera, clippings, photographs. Florence Graybill, daughter of Edward Curtis, used these writing for her book, "Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of A Vanishing Race."

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users.

Restrictions on Use: Creator's literary rights transferred to the University of Washington Libraries. Some restrictions exist on copying, quotation or publication. Contact Repository for details. Copyright transfer applies only to Curtis' and Graybill's writings.

Acquisition Info: Florence Curtis Graybill, Port Townsend.

Container(s) Description Dates
Personal Papers
Incoming Letters
Box/Folder Accession
1/1 0847-003
Roosevelt, Theodore
1904-1906
Outgoing Letters
Box/Folder Accession
1/2 0847-003
To Meany, Edmond S.
[1923]
1/3 0847-003
Unidentified
undated
General Correspondence
Box/Folder Accession
1/4 0847-003
(Mrs.) Gardner
1937
Writings
Box/Folder Accession
1/5-6 0847-003
"Apache"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev (2), XC, XC w/rev.
undated
"As It Was"
Box/Folder Accession
1/7-10 0847-003
Early Draft
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev frag
undated
1/11-16 0847-003
Later Draft
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev. Includes 2 copies of Ch. 12, "The Sea Otter," each with its own revisions.
undated
1/17 0847-003
"The Sea Otter," Ch. 12
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev frag, (very early draft?).
undated
1/19 0847-003
"Whaling," Ch. 4
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev, (very early draft?).
undated
Box/Folder Accession
1/19 0847-003
"The Atsina," Ch. 9
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
1/20 0847-003
"The Awakening"
Scope and Content: Ts, TsS.
undated
1/21 0847-003
"Crisis in an Oasis"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/1 0847-003
"Dancing with Snakes"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev. Published as "Snake Rite" in Westways, Aug. 1974, pp. 28-31+.
undated
2/2 0847-003
[Early Indian Work]
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/3 0847-003
"Experiment"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/4 0847-003
"Foreword"
Scope and Content: Possibly to "As It Was." TDf w/rev.
undated
2/5 0847-003
"The Forgotten Mapmaker"
Scope and Content: Ts.
undated
In the Land of the Headhunters
Scope and Content: Published 1915.
Box/Folder Accession
2/6 0847-003
"In the Land of the Headhunters"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev frag, TDf.
undated
2/7 0847-003
"Prologue"
Scope and Content: TDf, TDf w/rev.
undated
Box/Folder Accession
2/8 0847-003
"The Indian and His Religious Freedom"
Scope and Content: Ts.
undated
2/9 0847-003
[Kwakiutl Wedding]
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/10 0847-003
"The Lost Mine of Dead Man's Gulch"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev, (story).
undated
2/11 0847-003
"Mount Rainier, the Great Peek [sic] of the Pacific Forest Reserve"
Scope and Content: "Mount Rainier, and the Pacific Forest Reserve." TDf frag, TDf w/rev (3), photo lists (2).
undated
2/12 0847-003
"Navajo Yebichai"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/13 0847-003
[Nez Perce]
Scope and Content: TDf, TDf frag.
undated
2/14 0847-003
"The Nez Perce War,"
Scope and Content: TDf.
undated
2/15 0847-003
[Nezz (sic) Perce]
Scope and Content: TDf, TDf w/rev.
undated
North American Indian
Scope and Content: Published 1907-1930.
Box/Folder Accession
2/16 0847-003
"Foreword," by Theodore Roosevelt
Scope and Content: Ts.
undated
2/16 0847-003
"Outline of the Curtis Publication, The North American Indian"
Scope and Content: Ts. By Curtis?
undated
2/17 0847-003
"Southern California Shoshoneans"
Scope and Content: Ts. Published in vol. 15 of NAI.
undated
Box/Folder Accession
2/18 0847-003
"Octopus"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/19 0847-003
[Sea Lions]
Scope and Content: TDf.
undated
2/20 0847-003
"Origin Story--Sioux. First Version"
Scope and Content: TDf.
undated
2/20 0847-003
"The Sioux"
Scope and Content: TDf.
undated
2/20 0847-003
"Sioux Ceremonies "
Scope and Content: TDf.
undated
2/20 0847-003
"Sioux Notes. Visions"
Scope and Content: TDf.
undated
2/21 0847-003
"The Sioux; Chapter"
Scope and Content: TDf, TDf w/rev.
undated
2/22 0847-003
[Skykomish]
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/23 0847-003
[Summer 1923]
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev.
undated
2/24 0847-003
"Travelling the Route of Lewis and Clark; One Hundred Years Later"
Scope and Content: TDf w/rev. Apparently based on Ch. 1 of "As it Was."
undated
2/25 0847-003
"Vanishing Indian Types; The Tribes of the Southwest"
Scope and Content: Ts. Published in Scribner's Magazine, xxxix, 1906, pp. 513-29.
undated
2/26 0847-003
[Whaling Trip]
Scope and Content: ADf.
undated
2/27 0847-003
Fragments
Scope and Content: ADf.
undated
Box/Folder Accession
2/28 0847-003
Notes
undated
2/29 0847-003
Lists
undated
2/30 0847-003
Prospectus--North American Indian
1907, 1911-1912
2/31 0847-003 undated
2/32 0847-003 1912, undated
2/33 0847-003
Reviews
1907-1912
box:oversize
2 0847-003
Reviews
1907
Box/Folder
2/34 0847-003
Clipping--Curtis Article: "Vanishing Indian Types; The Tribes of the Northwest Plains"
Scope and Content: Published in Scribner's Magazine, xxxix, pp. 657-71.
1906
2/35 0847-003
Clipping
1916
2/36 0847-003
Ephemera
undated
Florence Curtis Graybill
Box/Folder Accession
3/1 0847-003
Incoming Letters
1961-1984, undated
Writings
Box/Folder Accession
3/2 0847-003
Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of a Vanishing Race
Scope and Content: Published 1976. Ts frag, written with Victor Boesen.
undated
3/3 0847-003
Miscellaneous
undated
Research Materials
Box/Folder Accession
3/4 0847-003
Notes
undated
3/5 0847-003
Lists
1908, undated
3/6 0847-003
Copies from Edmond S. Meany Papers
Scope and Content: Re: Chief Joseph.
1904-1905, undated
3/7 0847-003
Copies from Various Repositories
1889, 1906, undated
3/8 0847-003
Miscellaneous
1913, 1951, undated
Photographs
Box/Folder Accession
3/9 0847-003
Edward Sheriff Curtis
1899, undated
Box/Folder Accession
3/10 0847-003
Photo Lists
1974, undated
3/11 0847-003
Photo Captions--for Edward Sheriff Curtis; Visions of a Vanishing Race
undated
Writings of Others
Box/Folder Accession
3/12 0847-003
Homer Boelter/Lonnie Hull
undated
3/13-14 0847-003
Beth DeWall Thesis
1980
3/15 0847-003
Katherine Curtis Ingram
undated
3/16 0847-003
Poems
1985, undated
3/17 0847-003
Miscellaneous
undated
Clippings
Box/Folder Accession
3/18-20 0847-003 1964-1984, undated
3/21 0847-003
Re: Chief Joseph
1950-1977
3/22-23 0847-003
Miscellaneous
1967-1983, undated
Ephemera
Box/Folder Accession
3/24 0847-003
Re: Edward S. Curtis
1964-1983, undated
3/25 0847-003
Miscellaneous
1982, undated

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Indians of North America--Great Plains
  • Indians of North America--Northwest, Pacific
  • Indians of North America--West (U.S.)
  • Photographers--Washington (State)--Archives
  • Photographic historians--Washington (State)--Archives

Personal Names

  • Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952--Archives
  • Graybill, Florence Curtis--Archives
  • Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919

Titles within the Collection

  • North American Indian

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Personal Papers/Corporate Records (University of Washington)