Photographing Native Americans

The amazing story of the photographer who captured the last old ways of the Apache, the Hopi, the Sioux—Native Americans.

Chief Joseph by Edward Curtis.

Chief Joseph by Edward Curtis.

In the 1890’s, young Edward Curtis was a favorite portrait photographer in Seattle.  Nice little business in town.  Good clientele.  Then Curtis opened his eyes to the vanishing world of native America, and was transformed.  A man on a mission to capture the last great images of American Indians in their teepees and lodges, regalia and battered pride before their traditional world vanished.

It’s an amazing story.  Indiana Jones with a camera.  And a vanishing world of proud Apache, Navajo, Sioux, Cheyenne.

This hour, On Point:  capturing the last great images of traditional native America.

-Tom Ashbrook


Timothy Egan, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, his new book is Short Night of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post “Sometime in early 1896, a young Seattle photographer named Edward Sherriff Curtis, already well known for his polished studio portraits of local civic leaders and business tycoons, decided to challenge himself and photograph a very different kind of subject. He chose “Princess Angeline,” aka Kick-is-om-lo, the sole surviving child of the great Duwamish-Suquamish chief for whom the city of Seattle was named. Roughly 80 years old at the time, Angeline lived in a dilapidated shack on the shores of Puget Sound, eking out a marginal existence by washing other people’s laundry for coins. She was regarded as “the last Indian of Seattle,” and Curtis thought she might make an unusual model for an afternoon’s sitting.”

Cleveland Plain DealerTimothy Egan has made a bonny career writing books of highly readable Western history. He won a 2006 National Book Award for “The Worst Hard Time,” a haunting and well-researched volume that rescued the Dust Bowl from airy abstraction.”

LA Times “Edward Curtis was given many names by the native peoples he encountered in his journeys across the North American continent.”


Check out this collection of photos by Edward Curtis.


Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Oct 6, 2015
Eric Baker, co-owner of the Mo Money Pawn Shop, poses for a photo at the shop Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Phoenix.  (AP)

American gun policy front and center in the 2016 campaigns after the shootings in Oregon. We’ll look at who stands where on guns.

Oct 6, 2015
In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, photo, Dorothy McIntosh Shuemake, mother of Alison Shuemake, browses a picture collage of her daughter at her home, in Middletown, Ohio. Alison Shuemake, 18, died Aug. 26, after a suspected heroin overdose. (AP)

American addiction. From prescription painkillers to heroin. The numbers are staggering. Why?

Oct 5, 2015
Singer-songwriter Sara Barielles on the cover of her new memoir, "Sounds Like Me." (Courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles goes fully confessional in her new memoir, “Sounds Like Me.” She joins us.

Oct 5, 2015
The newest version of the Apple mobile iOS system allows ad-blocking software on mobile browsing for the first time. (Abdullah Syahbal / Flickr)

Are ad–blocking, bots, and mobile gutting economic viability of the internet? We’ll take a close look.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: October 2, 2015
Friday, Oct 2, 2015

We say hello again to our email address (since so many of you did this week) and goodbye to the Log Lady.

More »
Interview With Sen. Bernie Sanders: ‘Count Me As A Radical’
Thursday, Oct 1, 2015

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is making waves in the 2016 Presidential race, and he joined us today from the US Capitol to explain how his campaign message is connecting with voters around the country.

More »
Our Week In The Web: September 25, 2015
Friday, Sep 25, 2015

But seriously — where ARE our podcasts running off to? Plus, more Jewel.

More »