Selling the North American Indian:
The Work of Edward Curtis

Created by Valerie Daniels, June 2002

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Program Notes for "The Intimate Story of Indian Tribal Life," 1911

ORCHESTRA PRELUDE, "The Spirit of the Indian Life." Foreword by Mr. Curtis.

I. PICTURE AND MUSICAL COMPOSITION, "Dream of the Ancient Red Man." This dissolving series with impressive music depicts the life of the plains Indian from youth to the after world. The scene opens with an old man beside a stream, musing of the past. He is seen as a proud young warrior, and in the days of his courtship. Then with a mounted war-party--statuesque horsemen under the starlit sky. Following that we see the camp of the enemy, the wild ride of battle, and the return of the victorious warriors.

II. DISSOLVING SCENIC EFFECT of the Hunkalowanpi ceremony, "Offering the Skull." In picture pantomime with music is enacted a most inspiring prayer to the Great Mystery.

III. THE INDIANS of the Palm Canyons and the Cactus Plains.

IV. THE APACHE. A remarkable series of pictures of these desert and mountain people, and a glimpse into their most interesting religious development. Their sacred paintings. Their priests. An analysis of their theology throws remarkable light on religious thought among the various tribes of Indians.

V. THE HOPI AND THEIR SNAKE DANCE. The story of the Snake Dance. Many separate pictures of the most sacred incidents of the Snake rite. Motion pictures of the dance, accompanied by the orchestra.

VI. "EVENING IN HOPI LAND," a changing series of nine scenes, with orchestra accompaniment. The scene opens with a picturesque house-top group at the end of day. As the men look across the desert they see the returning shepherd and his flock, and in the sunset glow the maidens appear at the well. Next is an inspiring Hopi sunset, and as darkness gathers groups of women appear on the high-perched houses against the starry sky. We now see the wonderful moonlit trail passing the gap, and the scene closes with a glorious sunrise across the desert sands.


VII. PICTURESQUE and characteristic scenes from the northwest plains life.

VIII. NORTH PACIFIC COAST TRIBES. The whaling Indians. Their grewsome mummy ceremony.

IX. DISSOLVING MUSICAL SET, "On the Shores of the North Pacific," depicting life by the moonlit ocean.

X. "INVOCATION TO THE BUFFALO," a dissolving musical composition of powerful and impressive appeal to the Infinite.

XI. "THE MOUNTAIN CAMP," a dissolving series of five pictures with accompanying music. The sunlit camp in the forest is the first scene, then a nearer view is had showing the Indians in their dance, and in the third we see the participants more distinctly, the full enthusiasm of their ceremony upon them. This changes to a wonderful evening picture of the camp, gradually subdued by the darkness and quiet of night and slumber.

XII. "THE KUTENAI OF THE LAKES," a musical series of unusual beauty. It opens with a firelit camp upon the shore, changing to a closer view of the women entering the lodges. Then we see canoes and canoe life at dawn; the rush gatherer, the hunter upon the still waters, a sunny shore scene, and the farewell of the lovers. Across the waters, appears a canoe laden with happy, care-free youths, and again, farther away, a woman, with steady stroke of paddle, homeward bound. The series closes with a far distant glimpse of a canoe against the setting sun.

XIII. THE PUEBLO OR STONE-HOUSE PEOPLE. General pictures, illustrative of their life.

XIV. "BY THE ARROW," a musical series of declaration and devotion.

XV. "SIGNAL FIRE TO THE MOUNTAIN GOD," a dissolving scene with musical accompaniment, depicting the devotional hours of a priest of the Tafion people. First he is seen at sunset before one of the wonderful rock shrines or altars of the high mountains. The sacred fire is scarcely visible. The sunset blends into starlight and night, and the glowing flame carries its message of faith and supplication. All through the night he stands on watch, lest the Divine Ones find him unfaithful, and as the Gods of Day drive away the Mysteries of the night, our priest poises in the gray dawn, watching the dying flame.

XVI. THE NAVAHO and their interesting desert life.

XVII. "A JOURNEY THROUGH CANYON DE CHELLY." This is a changing series of eleven dramatic pictures with accompanying music.

XVIII. THE RELIGION OF THE NAVAHO. Their Yebichai dance. Yebichai motion picture.

XIX. "SUNSET IN NAVAHO LAND," and "The Vanishing Race," an evening scene suggesting the thought of the race, already robbed of its tribal strength, its primitive faith, stripped of its pagan dress, going into the darkness of the unknown future.

Reprinted in: Gidley, Mick. Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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