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Painted lodges - Piegan. Edward S. Curtis

[Detail] Painted lodges - Piegan. Edward S. Curtis

Historical Research Capabilities: Researching the Lives of Native Americans

Curtis played upon stories of Indian warriors and staged photographs invoking by-gone images of Indians on raiding parties for his 20th-century audience. In his essay, "Edward Curtis: Pictorialist and Ethnographic Adventurist," Professor Gerald Vizenor describes Curtis's photographs as "simulations of the real." Curtis provided costumes and paid Native Americans to pose in staged scenes. Vizenor highlights "Oglala War-Party" as an example.

This photograph was published in 1907, at a time, according to Vizenor, "when natives were starving on reservations." Research the Oglala people to find out where they were living in 1907 and under what conditions they lived. What was the history of their relationship to the U.S. government? Given the information you uncover, is Curtis's photo an accurate representation of the Oglala people? Why might Curtis have chosen to create this particular depiction of Native Americans?

Examine the photographs of war parties of Apsaroke, Brule, and Atsina and the captions Curtis wrote for each of the photographs.

  • What is the image of the American Indian reflected in these photographs?
  • Choose one of these groups to research. Does the picture of that group accurately reflect the "spirit of the past"? Does it romanticize the lives of the American Indians? Use your research to explain your answers.