This book winner of the National ook Award, published by Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcort, in 2013 of 325 pages supplemented by an index and 25 pages of notes and sources presents a history of the early days of photography as well as of the Indians through the tragic life of Curtis. He's born in February 1868 in Whitewater, WI, the second of four children to Johnson Curtis and Ellen Sheriff, a dirt poor family. His schooling is only through the sixth grade because at 14 he went to work on the railroad to support the family. The hard luck of the father plagues Edward too who moves with him to Puget Sound to homestead in the fall of 1887; they send for Ellen and the two youngest siblings in May 1888 but Johnson dies three days after their arrival. At only 20 Ed is the sole support again of the family but at 22 suffers a severe fall at work and is bedridden for a year, the hard luck of the father almost seems hereditary. While he is healing he is inspired to photography, by 1891 he is off to Seattle and marries Clara who visited him while he was bedridden. By 1895 they have a son and Curtis is rather successful in Seattle so he brings his mother, siblings and Clara's sister to live with them. He and his brother Asahel "have an explosive spat" over photographs and never speak again.
The last paragraph of the epilogue, pgs. 324-325 sums the tale, "Though Edward Curtis never made a dime producing what was arguably the most expansive and comprehensive publication undertaken by a single citizen of the US though he went to his death without the acknowledgement he so wanted in life, and though he paid for his obsession with the loss of friends, a marriage and the irreplaceable hours of watching a family bloom, he always believed his words and pictures would come to life long after he'd passed--the artist's lasting reward of immortality. A young man with an unlived in face found his calling in the faces of a continent's forgotten people, and in so doing he not only saw history, but made it."
I give this book 5 stars *****; a tragic tale that made my heart ache but taught me a lot of history and meanings of many Indian words.
|Back cover of the book|