• Weird History

Edward S. Curtis's Photographs Of Native American Life Are Hauntingly Beautiful

When European settlers arrived on the American continent in the 15th century, they began a centuries-long process of westernizing the "New" World. The price of this westernization, which has been well documented in the modern day, was the systematic erasure of Native culture. President Andrew Jackson accelerated this process even more, introducing the Indian Removal Act in 1830, forcing Native Americans out of their ancestral lands. It seemed as though the United States was well on its way to wiping out the Native population; and while events like the Trail of Tears further contributed to this effort, one man dedicated his life to documenting indigenous American cultures before it was too late. 

Edward Sheriff Curtis was a Seattle-based photographer who lived with his family above his studio when, one day in 1895, he got the opportunity to photograph Chief Sealth's daughter, Princess Angeline. With the financial support of J.P. Morgan, Curtis spent his life among America's Native tribes - who liked him so much they called him "Shadow Catcher" - ultimately taking over 40,000 photographs and 10,000 recordings of their music and languages. The end result was a 20-volume work that would cost roughly $35 million to make in today's world.

Photos of the Old West are often unsettling; Curtis's are both haunting and beautiful.