Stunning Portraits of Indigenous Americans Before the US Government Largely Wiped Them Out

In 1900, photographer Edward Curtis embarked on a journey that would inspire his life’s work: He decided to accompany anthropologist George Bird Grinnell on a trip to Montana to photograph the Sun Dance, a ritual of the Blackfoot Indians. From there, he traveled to Arizona to photograph the Hopi tribes.

A Mandan man holding a buffalo skull in 1908.

Edward Curtis wrote that the Asparoke, another name for the Crow people, first began treaty negotiations with the U.S. government in 1825. By 1868, “they relinquished their claim to all lands except a reservation…This area has since been reduce be cession to about 2,233,840 acres.”

The Native American tribes inhabiting Clayoquot Sound are the Ahousaht and the Hesquiaht. They lived along the west coast of Vancouver. Around 1856, European settlers introduced diseases like smallpox and measles to this area, reducing the indigenous population in the Clayoquot Sound by 90 percent. 
A Clayoquot woman paddling her canoe, 1910.

Though the Kutenai people of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest first encountered European settlers in the early 1860s during the Gold Rush, they never signed a treaty with the federal government. In 1974, the remaining Kutenai tribe declared war on the United States. Though the tribe remained peaceful, the display earned the attention of the government, which gave the tribe 12.5 acres of land that now constitutes the Kootenai Reservation. 
A Kutenai woman with her canoe, 1910.

The Teton Sioux encountered Louis and Clark’s expedition in 1804, when the tribe refused to allow the explorers to pass through their territory without, according to National Geographic, paying a “toll of a tobacco” that would guarantee they could continue their travels unimpeded. 
Two Teton girls, the daughters of a chief, on horseback, 1907.

Navajo men dressed as the war gods Tonenili, Tobadzischini, and Nayenezgani, for the Yebichai ceremony, otherwise known as the Night Chant, 1904.

A Crow man named Two Whistles wearing a headdress made from a hawk, 1908.