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This index contains a chronological guide to the letters exchanged between Edward Curtis and Harriet Leitch. You can also browse through the letters by clicking on the "Browse This Collection" tab above. To see the transcribed set of letters click here.
Letter from Beth Curtis Magnuson, Edward S. Curtis' daughter, responding to Harriet Leitch's inquires about her father. She informs Ms. Leitch that her father is still alive and would be happy to answer questions regarding The North American Indian.
Introductory letter from Harriet Leitch to Edward Curtis informing him that the Seattle Historical Society has recently inquired several volumes of The North American Indian. She expresses her interest in learning more about how the work came together and asks questions about Curtis' process. Ms. Leitch also mentions that there is interest in writing an article on Curtis and the North American for the Seattle Times newspaper and asks if he would be willing to provide a photograph of himself for the article.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch responding to her request for more information on the creation of The North American Indian. Curtis promises to send publicity materials related to the work. He notes that it may take some time to pull the materials together since he is in poor health and will need to send them to his youngest daughter to be typed up because he does not own a typewriter.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch promising to send her more than 200 reviews of The North American Indian supplied by his clipping agency. He discusses rediscovering his writings relating to his trip to the Arctic and a daily log that recorded his team's experiences in the field. Curtis also recounts how he acquired his bad leg, stating "While making a motion picture of a large whale, he became annoyed and with his tail smashed our whaling boat with a swat of his tail. I came out of the smashing with a broken hip. It’s more than twenty years since that mishap and I still limp slightly. At the time of the northern trip I limped badly."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch where he describes employing a clipping bureau to collect reviews of The North American Indian during its publication period. Curtis writes "during that time I received but one adverse comment, that was a howl as to the cost of the published work." He writes about his experience working on the Nez Perce volume and suggests that Leitch reads his account of the Nez Perce War in Volume VIII noting "My account of that affair will differ radically from the white man’s version." Curtis also discusses how he and his team collected the tribal dialects, vocabularies and songs that appear in The North American Indian.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch in which he responds to her inquiry as to whether he would consider writing an autobiography. Curtis notes that his health and finances prohibit him from undertaking such a project and describes how publishers have told him there is now little interest in books focusing on Native Americans. He writes that he has already given a publisher a book written by him on the topic of the Pacific shores with a large chapter focusing on the history of sea otter hunting and trade. Curtis states that he spent many months on the work but his publishers say there is not enough interest to produce it. Curtis suggests Leitch looks at his two previous books. "Indian Days of the Long Ago" and "The Land of the Head Hunters," if she is able to find them at the library.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing his progress in compiling materials to send and noting that his health is further improved. He promises he has not forgotten her request for a picture of him but the photo he thought to send looked to similar to Bill Cody and may cause confusion. Curtis describes spending time in New York with Cody and says they were sometimes called the "Cody Twins." He notes that this confusion was a common occurrence.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch and Minnie Harris (of the Washington State Historical Society). Curtis discusses the importance of The North American Indian for posterity and describes the long hours that he put into the work. He reflects on his childhood and how his father's illness caused him to begin working at an early age. He writes "As I look back over my scrambled life I realize that I have rarely taken a Sunday off and but one week vacation, its safe to say that in the past sixty years I have averaged sixteen hours a day, seven days a week." In a postscript, he adds that his health has taken a turn for the worse and doctors want him to return to the hospital--an idea which he resists.
Letter from Harriet Leitch to Edward Curtis informing him that she and Lucile McDonald, a Seattle Times journalist, were in the process of reviewing the materials he had sent for an article in the paper. Leitch shares a few more questions that McDonald has about Curtis's experiences writing The North American Indian. She adds that they would like to include several pictures from the Pacific Northwest Volume in the article.
Note from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch responding to her questions about how long he lived in Seattle and how he began taking pictures of Native Americans. In response to the question "How did you get the confidence of the Indians?" Curtis writes "I said we, not you. In other words, I worked with them not at them."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch stating that work on his book "The Lure of Gold" is going slowly due to his poor health. He reflects on his time doing research for Cecil B. DeMille for his film "The Ten Commandments." He notes that the "writers of the Old Testament were rather careless with facts + figures" and explains he needs to be very careful with double checking his research for "The Lure of Gold" because when it is published, it is likely to arouse controversy.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch, apologizing for his slow response and explaining he is deep in his work on "The Lure of Gold." He writes that the size of the project is overwhelming and he is "praying that I will live long enough to finish the job." Curtis discusses his climbs of Mount Rainier and his friendship with Ella McBride. He notes that she was one of the few women to summit the mountain unassisted and describes her as "my star helper" both in climbs of Mount Rainier and later, as an assistant in his photography studio. He writes that she lived with the Curtis family and was like a second mother to his daughters.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing his further work on "The Lure of Gold." He writes about the overwhelming nature of covering 200 years of history, describing the notebooks he has filled with his research. Curtis states "Why any one of my age should attempt such a task is beyond my understanding."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing his progress on "The Lure of Gold." He notes that publishing firm has expressed interest in publishing the work but he had to let them know it would be at least two years before he would be able to complete it. Curtis writes "For one of my age, that’s looking far ahead."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch, explaining he was delayed in sending a response to her last letter due to the fact that he misplaced her address. He writes about continuing his work on "The Lure of Gold" and expresses excitement that he has been excited to join an expedition of the Pan-American Scientific Research Association to the Amazon. The expedition will travel down the Pacific Coast, through the Panama Canal and south to Brazil. He adds that there will be a doctor that accompanies the expedition so he will be in good medical care throughout the journey.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch in which he further discusses the Pan-American Scientific Research Association expedition to the Amazon. Curtis describes the route the expedition would take up the Amazon River to the town of Manaus where they would establish their headquarters for the duration of the trip. Curtis notes that the expedition is now unlikely to move forward due to friction in the group directed towards the leader, Fred J. Matzler. He writes "No words can express my disappointment in the collapse of the Pan American Expedition. During all my active life time I have wanted to see the Amazon and the Andes Mountains."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch in which he briefly touches on discussing "The Lure of Gold" before moving on to talk about the financial difficulties he experienced while producing "The North American Indian." He writes "[...] once upon a time I was confronted with the North American Indian quota which was 1,800,000 plus. I have always thought that ignorance alone allowed me to tackle that task?" Curtis also touches on his continued struggles with arthritis and shares that his youngest daughter, Billy, has recently moved to Australia with her husband. He says he has encouraged Billy to keep notes on the journey in hopes that she can one day use her talents as a writer to compile a book on the subject. Curtis ends with the story of when he helped to bury Chief Joseph, writing "In order to bury him the second time we had to dig him up: I did most of the digging. It was a very hot day and the Noble Red Men said “let the white men do the digging they know how.”"
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch, discussing his journey with Ella McBride and the Mazamas to the summit of Mount Rainier. He shares that it was on a similar guided tour of Rainier that he met the men who would later invite him to join the Harriman Expedition to Alaska as the photographer. Curtis encourages Leitch to review the volumes describing the Expedition so that she may see the photographs he took of the journey. He adds that his daughter Billy has been forced to return from Australia prematurely due to the sudden ill health of her husband.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch explaining that his poor health and ever present arthritis has forced him to stop work on "The Lure of Gold." He shares that his friends expressed concern over the time he spend hunched over his desk writing the material and that shelving the manuscript "was a serious blow and hard to take."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch repeating some of the news shared in his letter of December 17, 1950. He discusses his poor health leading to the necessary step of stopping his work on "The Lure of Gold" before moving on to recounting the Christmas holiday. He adds that he has decided to have a new picture taken of himself on his 83rd birthday to replace the one taken many decades ago that was used to promote "The North American Indian." Curtis writes "I hope you will be pleased with the Birth Day picture. Knowing my age you may be surprised."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing the new photograph he plans to have made of himself on his 83rd birthday. He writes that he would like to see the new photographed published in the Seattle newspapers and is receiving many requests for autographed photos from organizations such as the University of Washington and the Seattle Historical Society.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing the production of his birthday portrait. He writes "It was the first time in eight years I had been to the studio; some of the girls threatened to kiss me – think of that – at my age." Curtis also writes about the distribution of the photographs to Seattle newspapers and others who have sent him written requests. He says that he has been delayed in responding to some of these requests due to the fact that the letters were lost while he was in a period of poor health and he has only recently uncovered them. He asks for Leitch's help in making sure the autographed photographs are properly distributed and adds that one should be sent to the Seattle Public Library as well.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch mentioning the Curtis Studio on Wilshire Boulevard which he states he has not been involved with for several years. He adds that this has caused much confusion because some of the requests sent to him regarding autographed portraits have been misdirected to the studio. Curtis also discusses photographing Princess Angeline in Seattle, stating that he paid her a dollar for each portrait and added "This seemed to please her greatly and with hands + jargon she indicated that she preferred to spend her time, having pictures made than in digging clams."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing his trips to Alaska with the Harriman Expedition and on other occasions. He encourages Leitch to review the volumes on the Harriman Expedition at the Seattle Public Library and states "If I had time to spare, I could write a fat book on the story of the expedition."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch enclosing a previously unmailed letter of several pages. In his letter, Curtis describes how he came to be associated with the Harriman Expedition while helping guide some of the men associated with the group on a climb of Mount Rainier. He confirms he was the youngest man on the expedition and the only member still alive. He also describes meeting George Bird Grinnell and later joining him during his trips to the Blackfoot tribe to witness the Sun Dance. Curtis writes that he began taking pictures among the tribes of the Puget Sound two years prior to the expedition. He notes with pride that some of these photos won the grand prize in the National Photographic Exhibition. Curtis describes his first meeting with J.P. Morgan and how he agreed to take on the work of "The North American Indian" with no reimbursement for his work. He explains that up until his meeting with Morgan, he only intended to make photographs with descriptive titles but Morgan decided there should also be a text to accompany the photographs. Curtis writes "When it was decided that there should be a complete text with the pictures the question was as to who should write it. Mr. Morgan decided that question without delay. In making decisions he spoke to me directly you are the one to write the text, you know the Indian and how they live and what they are thinking." Curtis also describes how he had the help of Seattle Times owner Joe Blethen to travel to Arizona and New Mexico where he studied the Hopi tribe.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch describing a visit from Lillian Smart of the Seattle Historical Society to his home in Los Angeles. Curtis writes that Smart attempted to rush him out to a recording studio so he could make a recording of Pacific Coast history but he protested, saying he need more time to gather his thoughts. Curtis wonders if he offended Smart by refusing to do the initial recording. He states that he hasn't heard back from the Historical Society after letting them know he completed a script for the recording and was now ready to go to the studio.
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch briefly touching on his time near Nome, Alaska. Curtis writes that he has yet to hear back from the Seattle Historical Society about making a recording of Pacific Coast history and that there has not been much change in his poor health. He writes that he is now having his groceries delivered to his home because he isn't well enough to go out. Curtis states "I am in hopes that I will not be in Los Angeles next fourth of July. In fact I hope I won’t be here next Christmas. My main object in moving is to get away from the smog and give my eyes a chance to function."
Letter from Edward Curtis to Harriet Leitch explaining that he has not been able to write to her recently due to his arthritis and failing eyesight. This was the final letter Curtis sent prior to his death. The postscript reads "P.S. My address is still and yet at 8550 Burton Way. The most discouraging place I have ever tried to live in."