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Edward S. Curtis · 1868 ·
Edward S. Curtis is born in Whitewater, Wisconsin. As a boy, Curtis borrows a manual which instructs him how to make his own camera out of household items. He used a lens his father brought home from the Civil War.
· 1891 ·
Curtis purchases his first photographic studio in Seattle.

"There was never any frivolity about him," said Curtis' sister Eva.

Clara Curtis

·1892 ·
Curtis marries Clara Phillips. They will have four children.
· 1895 ·
Princess Angeline Curtis photographs Princess Angeline, the daughter of Chief Seatlh, for whom Seattle was named.
Grinnell, Merriam, Pinchot · 1898 ·
Curtis rescues three scientist-explorers on Mt. Rainier, George Bird Grinnell, Clinton Hart Merriam, and Gifford Pinchot. Grinnell and Merriam invite Curtis to accompany them on Harriman Alaska Expedition.
· 1899 ·
Curtis joins Harriman Alaska Expedition as official photographer.
· 1900 ·
Curtis is inspired to create The North American Indian as he watches the Sun Dance gathering of Blackfeet, Bloods, and Algonquin on the Piegan Reservation in Montana and hears Grinnell, a Plains Indian scholar, predict that the Indian way of life will soon disappear forever. Curtis estimates his study will take 15 years. It takes 30. From 1900 to 1906 Curtis uses his own resources to finance the project.

· 1904 ·
Thousand-foot-high red sandstone walls line the 30 miles of the Navajo Reservation's Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.
Canyon de Chelly
"Mr. Curtis, I want to see these photographs in books - the most beautiful set of books ever published." ~ John Pierpont Morgan

· 1906 ·
With his personal resources exhausted, Curtis receives financial support from railroad tycoon and arts patron J.P. Morgan.

· 1906 Summer ·
Curtis photographs Apache, Navajo, and Hopi in the Southwest for volumes I, II, and III. Three assistants, a cook, his wife, and 3 children accompany him. At the Canyon de Chelly the party encounters unexpected hostility from the native Navajos. This is the first and last time his entire family went with him into the field.

· 1906 · Pack-train burro slips and rolls down canyon wall, scattering pieces of Curtis' camera. Curtis rebuilds it in 12 hours and secures the case with a rope.

Curtis Pack Train
Atsina Camp · 1907 ·
Curtis goes to Great Plains reservations to study and photograph the Sioux, Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Apsarokee, and Atsina cultures.

  Curtis' Family · 1909 ·
Curtis and wife are legally separated, a scandal in this era. Clara had been raising the children alone with the little money Curtis did not put into the Project. The children remained devoted to their father.

1911 Stock Market

· 1911 ·
Financial panic heightens as U.S. stock market plummets. Subscription sales slump, and Curtis is one step ahead of his creditors.
· 1911 ·
Curtis breaks his hip and suffers life-long limp while filming Kwakiutl whale hunt on Northwest coast. Curtis is slapped by whale's tail as he directs canoe paddlers to move closer for a better camera shot of the whale. The canoe and camera sink as Kwakiutl whalers rescue Curtis.

In the Land of the Headhunters

· 1912-1914 ·
To raise money for the Project, Curtis spends $75,000 making a full-length film about Kwakiutl culture, In The Land of the Headhunters. The film is a commercial failure.

· 1915 ·
Curtis' subscription sales are reduced to a trickle as the public becomes preoccupied with World War I.

  · 1919 ·
In the Curtis divorce settlement, Clara is awarded the studio and all the glass-plate negatives. Curtis and daughter Beth smashed the negatives to prevent Clara from profiting from them.

Ten Commandments · 1920 ·
Curtis moves to Los Angeles with daughter Beth and opens photo studio. To finance the Project, Curtis works as a cameraman for Cecil B. DeMille films, including The Ten Commandments.

· 1922 ·
Curtis now works on the Project in relative isolation. With little public interest in Indians and Curtis out of touch with practicing ethnographers, his work is less often cited in journals and books and is unknown to young scholars.

· 1923 ·
Curtis' daughter Florence accompanies him to study and photograph northern California Indians now living on remote reservations.

  Curtis and Daughter · 1927 ·
Curtis and daughter Beth, who provides financing, sail from Nome to northern Alaska to conduct research for volume XX. Rough weather follows them for most of the trip. The journey home in a leaking boat is a desperate race against snow, ice, and fierce winds.

Curtis writes in his log, "My hunch was that we had about one chance in a thousand. One nice thing about such a situation is that the suspense is short-lived. You either make it or you don't."

· 1927 ·

"Your Honor, it was my job. The only thing I could do that was worth doing . . . A sort of life's work . . . [I] was duty bound to finish. Some of the subscribers had paid for the whole series in advance." (1927, when the judge in the alimony dispute asked why he worked so long at a project that would never show a profit.)

Upon his return from Alaska to Seattle, an exhausted Curtis is arrested for failure to pay alimony for last 7 years.

  · 1930 ·
The North American Indian is completed, but there is no fanfare. Curtis, now 62, half-crippled from injuries and arthritis, in debt, out of a job, nonetheless rejoiced at his accomplishment. For the next 2 years Curtis suffered a complete physical breakdown.

· 1952 ·
Curtis dies at the home of his daughter Beth and her husband Manford Magnuson in Los Angeles.

                     

1907 · volume I published

1908 · volumes II and III published

1909 · volumes IV and V published

 

1911 · volumes VI, VII, and VIII published

1913 · volume IX published

1915 · volume X published

1916 · volume XI published

   

1922 · volume XII published

 

1924 · volumes XIII and XIV published

1926 · volumes XV, XVI, and XVII published

   

1928 · volume XVIII published

1930 · volumes XIX and XX published