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Native American History and Culture: Finding Pictures

An overview of Prints & Photographs Division visual resources, including photographs, drawings, engravings, lithographs, posters, and architectural drawings, related to North American indigenous communities. Includes search strategies and tips.

Introduction

The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division preserves and makes available thousands of pictures related to the history and culture of indigenous North Americans. The vast majority of these images are photographs. Other material includes drawings, engravings, lithographs, posters, and architectural drawings. Most of these images have documentary importance. Some reflect the artistic development of graphic art and photography.

While pictorial material relating to American Indian culture was produced as early as the fifteenth century, the Prints & Photographs Division's holdings in this area are strongest for the period 1860 to 1940. Most of these pictures, particularly those made before the mid-twentieth century, were produced by European Americans. Acquiring works by members of tribal communities is a collecting priority for the Division. Use the links on the left to explore the Prints & Photographs Division's collection material related to American Indian history and culture.

Please note that terminology in historical materials and in Library descriptions does not always match the language preferred by members of Native communities, and may include negative stereotypes. Item descriptions often include direct transcriptions of original captions. The Library presents the historic captions because they can be important for understanding the context in which the images were created.

Featured Content

<em>Members of the Native American Women Warriors. Left to right, all U.S. Army: Capt. Calley Cloud, Crow, based at Fort Riley, Kansas; Spc. Krissy Quino

Members of the Native American Women Warriors. Left to right, all U.S. Army: Capt. Calley Cloud, Crow, based at Fort Riley, Kansas; Spc. Krissy Quino

Image comes from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive. Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Highsmith's images show American structures and landscapes, as well as Americans at work and play. Native American images from this collection depict the Million Indian March in Washington, D.C., festivals, powwows and other gatherings.

Group of Pueblo Indians photographed at the U.S. Capitol today. This is the first time since the Lincoln Administration that the Pueblo Indians have sent a delegation to Wash. They appeared before the Senate Lands Committee, 1923. National Photo Company Collection.

Group of Pueblo Indians photographed at the U.S. Capitol today. This is the first time since the Lincoln Administration that the Pueblo Indians have sent a delegation to Wash. They appeared before the Senate Lnds Committee, 1923. National Photo Company.

Image from LOT 12337 (Native Americans and Eskimos -- Inuit), from the National Photo Company Collection. LOT contents are divided into four sections. Section 12337-1: Indians visiting Washington, D.C. includes Southern Cheyenne, Osage, and Yakima chiefs; Hopi Indians perfoming snake dance and war dance at Capitol; representatives from unnamed Connecticut state tribe, etc.; Section 12337-2: Indian chiefs. Include individual portrits (most identified on the back of the photograph) of chiefs from Apache, Brule, Cheyenne, Sioux, Shoshoni, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Osage, Kiowa, Pima Tonkawa, Warm Springs, Comanche, and Flathead (Salish) tribes, etc.; 12337-3: Eskimos. Includes half-tone reproductions of reindeer herding and freighting in Alaska; group portraits of Eskimo women with reindeer; a grouup of children sitting on porch; and an Eskimo man smoking a cigar. Section 12337-4: Hopi. Includes a series of photographs documenting stages of a snake dance and other ceremonials in a pueblo village, including a purification ceremony. etc.

 

Indian mother and baby-wigwam, circa 1888. Drawing by William Allen Rogers.

Indian mother and baby-wigwam, circa 1888. Drawing by William Allen Rogers.

Image from the Cabinet of American Illustration (CAI). Among the CAI collection of original drawings by American book, magazine and newspaper illustrators from the period 1850 to 1930 are about twenty-five works which depict that depict American Indians subjects, primarily in sentimental wilderness scenes, as a hostile threat to settlers in the West, or as a spiritual force in nature.

Princess Winona from the Dakota Sioux legend

Princess Winona from the Dakota Sioux legend "Lover's Leap," 1905. Photo by Siegel, Cooper & Co.

Image from LOT 12898 (Portraits of Native American performers with Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show). LOT includes studio portraits of Dakota performers with Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show dressed in costumes and posed in front of painted backdrops. Images include individual portraits of Sleepy Bear(?) dressed as "medicine dancer," Running Bear, Black Heart, Picks His Arrows, and Princess Wenona, and a group portrait of Princess Wenona, Gordon W. Lillie (Pawnee Bill), and other Dakota men. Also includes images of performers posed in tableaux including "The Departure of Minnehaha," "Pocahontas and John Smith," "The Departing Race," "The Death of Custer," and two scenes of Princess Wenona with rifle and deer.

Cliff Dwelling of Keet Seel, Navajo Reservation, Kayenta, Navajo County, AZ, 1976. Prepared under the direction of the National Park Service. [HABS ARIZ,9-KAYT.V,1- (sheet 1 of 3)]

Cliff Dwelling of Keet Seel, Navajo Reservation, Kayenta, Navajo County, AZ, 1976. Prepared under the direction of the National Park Service. [HABS ARIZ,9-KAYT.V,1- (sheet 1 of 3)]

Drawing from the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection (HABS/HAER/HALS). The largest and most widely used architectural collection in the division, HABS/HAER/HALS includes photographs, measured drawings, and written historical documentation on thousands of structures. Dozens of existing surveys relate to American Indian history and culture. The above drawing comes from a survey of a Cliff Dwelling of Keet Seel, Navajo Reservation, Kayenta, Navajo County, AZ.

A corner of Zuni, 1903. Photo by Edward S. Curtis.

A corner of Zuni, 1903. Photo by Edward S. Curtis.

Image from LOT 12317 (Zuni Indians of New Mexico), an image group from the Edward S. Curtis Collection. LOT includes portraits of men, including a Governor and a house chief (head rain priest), and women, many wearing jewelry and traditional clothing, some identified; men hauling wood on a donkey, drilling beads with a pump drill, grinding medicine, and firing pottery; women carrying water jars on their heads, making bread, and making pottery; shrines and effigies; waffle fruit and vegetable gardens; views of the village including terraced houses and street; ruins of the pueblo Hawikuh; still life pottery; and Onate's inscription on Inscription Rock.

Rant-Che-Wai-Me. Female Flying Pigeon / Lithograph by Lehman & Duval lith., 1837.

Rant-Che-Wai-Me. Female Flying Pigeon / Lithograph by Lehman & Duval lith., 1837.

Image from the McKenney & Hall Lithographs, from the Popular Graphic Arts Collection. Thomas McKenney, a long-time key administrator of federal Indian policy and the first director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, maintained an active interest in preserving the historical record of American Indians. He established the Indain Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and commissioned artists such as Charles Bird King and James Otto Lewis to paint the portraits of Indian delegates in traditional clothing. Lithographs of the portraits, with accompanying text by James Hall, were published in the History of the Indian Tribes of North America between 1836 and 1844, and are held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. About one hundred twenty large prints and twenty-five smaller lithographed plates from McKenney and Hall's publication are held by the Prints & Photographs Division.