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Plains and Plateaus  

In the summer of 1900 by invitation of George Bird Grinnell, Edward S. Curtis traveled to Montana to witness the annual sun dance of the Blood, Blackfeet and Algonquin tribes. He described the event as wild, terrifying, and elaborately mystifying. This experience profoundly affected Curtis and served as a major impetus for the development of the North American Indian project.

Curtis returned to the Great Plains and Plateau regions of the United States numerous times during his fieldwork for The North American Indian. It was at this time that he photographed some of the best known Native Americans in history, among them Red Hawk, a sub-chief of the Ogalala Sioux and the subject of one of Curtis' best known photographs, An Oasis in the Badlands.

During one visit in 1907 Curtis spent several days traversing the area surrounding the Little Bighorn River and the famous Custer Battlefield site. He was joined by three Crow Indians who had served as scouts for Custer right up to the battle on June 25, 1876, thirty-one years before. Through these meetings, as well as others with Red Hawk and a group of Cheyenne who fought along side the Sioux in the battle, Curtis was able to piece together a more complete account of Custer's Last Stand. In it he determined that Custer was partially responsible for the outcome of the massacre.

Curtis also had an opportunity to photograph perhaps the best known Native American of all time. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce visited Seattle in 1903 to lecture on behalf of his people. He visited the Curtis Studio and sat for a portrait session. The resulting images are prominently featured in Volume and Portfolio VIII and were produced less than one year before Joseph's death.

Of the twenty volumes and portfolios comprising The North American Indian, these eight focus on The Great Plains and Plateau regions:

Vol. III, 1908. Teton, Oglala and Brule Sioux, Yanktonai, and Assiniboin.
Vol. IV, 1909. Apsaroke (Crow) and Hidatsa.
Vol. V, 1909. Mandan, Arikara and Atsina.
Vol. VI, 1911. Piegan, Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Vol. VII, 1911. Yakima, Klickitat, Kutenai, Flathead, Kalispel, Spokan, Nespilim, and Kittitas.
Vol. VIII, 1911. Nez Perce, Walla Walla, Umatilla, Cayuse, Wishham, and Chinook
Vol. XVIII, 1928. Chepewyan, Cree and Sarsi.
Vol. XIX, 1930. Wichita, Southern Cheyenne, Oto, and Comanche.


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