You’ve probably learned many myths about Native Americans from TV and the movies. If you’re looking for a real taste of their lives, though, you’re in the right place. These stunning photographs give us all a glimpse into the rich culture and diversity of the indigenous people of North America, as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The fabulously dressed man you see here apparently belonged to the Cherokee. The Cherokee were actually one of North America’s largest tribes when Europeans began to arrive. Back in 1650, in fact, there were 22,500 or so members scattered over a territory of some 40,000 square miles. And many people around today can trace their roots back to these ancestors. Around 820,000 people claimed they had Cherokee ancestry in the 2010 U.S. Census.
Here’s a group of Bannock people in Idaho. The Bannock could be found mainly along the stretch of the Snake River in Idaho, and as the 19th century rolled on they became closely associated with the Shoshone tribe. Buffalo hunting was at the center of their semi-nomadic lives, although they also harvested fruits and feasted on salmon during the summer months. But, sadly, these people saw their fair share of tragedy. The 1878 Bannock War – a rebellion against the reservation program – ended with the slaughter of around 140 warriors. They’ve since dwindled in number, too. Incredibly, the 2010 U.S. census found only 89 people who identified as Bannock.
This Yuma man with his elaborate face paint holds a flute to his lips, and we only wish we could hear the tunes he played. The Yuma people were actually made up of several tribes, including the Maricopa, the Quechan and the Mohave, and you could find them in the vicinity of the Colorado River as well as the foothills of the Chocolate Mountains. For food, they typically cultivated crops such as beans and corn and hunted rabbits and antelope. And there are still plenty of Yuma around today. In 2010 the U.S. Census recorded just over 10,000 people who identified themselves as belonging to the tribe.
Blackfoot family migrating
A family of Blackfoot people is seen here on their way to eastern Canada. And they’re using the traditional carriage vehicle of many Native Americans: the travois. In this case, it’s being pulled by horses, although dogs could also drag this simple contraption across the prairies. How do you make an authentic travois? Well, you just need to bind two crossed poles with buffalo hide or sinew, and you have a neat way of transporting goods or even carrying the ill or infirm.
Chiefs at the White House
It’s 1923, and a distinguished group of Pueblo chiefs have gathered at the U.S. Capitol. They’ve traveled there for a hearing of the Senate Lands Committee, making them the first of their people to visit Washington, D.C. since the time of Abraham Lincoln. The chiefs were campaigning against a bill to allow settlers easier access to Pueblo lands. And, happily, it was a fight they ultimately won.
The railroad arrives
This Native American man stands atop a Californian bluff, looking down at a new arrival in his land: the railroad. To be more precise, that’s the Central Pacific Railroad, which was built over a seven-year period from 1862. And, naturally, railways had a profound impact on America’s indigenous peoples – changing their environments forever and altering their ways of life.
This extraordinary-looking holy man in this 1914 image is a member of the Koskimo tribe. He’s a Hamatsa shaman and can be seen emerging from the forest after days of observing an initiation ceremony. A section of the Quatsino First Nation, the Koskimo lived on Vancouver Island in Canada’s British Columbia.
Edward S. Curtis created this captivating image of a Cheyenne man in 1905. It’s just one of a whopping 40,000 photos of indigenous people that Curtis took over three decades, and he would go on to compile these snaps in his 20-volume collection The North American Indian. Appropriately, The New York Herald called the monumental work “the most ambitious enterprise in publishing since the production of the King James Bible.” However, it sold only 19 copies when it was published in 1930.
We bet the feathered headdresses were the first things you noticed about these two men. And that’s appropriate, as feathers are an important part of Native American culture, symbolizing everything from strength to freedom and wisdom. The most prized examples? Well, they come from the golden eagle and the bald eagle, as those birds soar close to heaven.
Standing in front of their lodge in Loup, Nebraska, this family are from the Pawnee people. The Pawnee tribe lived around Nebraska’s Platte River – often in earthen lodges, though they moved to teepees while hunting buffalo. Nowadays, however, you’re more likely to find these indigenous people further north in the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Another 3,000 Pawnee Native Americans are scattered about the wider continent.
This Hopi man is ready to travel on a fully saddled horse – even though many indigenous people actually rode bareback. And here’s a myth we have to bust: while we usually associate Native Americans with horses, they actually lived without the animals for around 10,000 years. It’s said that the Spanish introduced them to the animals back in the 17th century.
Little Bear was Cheyenne, and he’s pictured here in 1875 in traditional dress with impressive beadwork. A decade before this photo was taken, however, he had the misfortune to witness the Sand Creek massacre of his people. U.S. cavalrymen killed about 150 Cheyenne in a surprise dawn attack in Sand Creek, Colorado. Even worse, the soldiers also burned the settlement down.
Captured in 1859 or 1860, this image shows four of the principal chiefs of the Arapaho people. And the character on the far right is Warshinun – sometimes known by the name of Chief Friday. As a young boy, Warshinun somehow became separated from his people, who lived along the Cache la Poudre River in Colorado. Thankfully, he was eventually rescued by a fur trapper, and for a time he even attended school in St. Louis. That meant he ultimately learned English, which enabled him to play an important role as an interpreter and negotiator for members of his tribe.
Arikara medicine ceremony
Here are four Arikara medicine men performing a ceremony that was intended to bring rain and food to their people. In the late 19th century, government officers attempted to ban such acts of worship – although enforcement of this was nigh-on impossible. This 1908 image, then? It was set up by the legendary photographer of Native Americans, Edward S. Curtis. Apparently, it was he who arranged this performance of the ritual.
Sitting Bull and family
This 1882 image shows the famous Lakota Sioux chief Sitting Bull with his mother, a sister, two of his daughters and a grandson. Famously, he was the principal leader of the Cheyenne and Sioux braves that fought the U.S. Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn. If you don’t remember from history class, General George Custer and his troops had previously threatened a large Native American settlement. Bad idea, to say the least! The Native Americans retaliated, and Custer and 210 of his men were ultimately killed in the ensuing skirmish.
Delegation in Washington, D.C.
This impressive group of Sioux and Arapaho chiefs includes Spotted Tail, Worshinun, Black Coal and Touch the Sky. The two white men? They acted as interpreters. The 1877 delegation to Washington, D.C. came the year after the Battle of Little Big Horn, and the group were asking the U.S. government to deal fairly with them as they were forced into reserves.
Weasel Calf of the Siksika Nation
Weasel Calf of the Siksika Nation poses in full ceremonial dress in a photo from about 1910. The Siksika are part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which is based in Alberta, Canada – although members of the tribe once roamed as far south as the Yellowstone River in Montana. And they had the nomadic lives of Plains Indians, hunting buffalo and living off the land. The around 7,500 Siksika people across Canada today may just get their meat pre-caught, though…
This venerable woman was photographed in 1888, when she was said to be almost 100 years old. She was Cheyenne – one of the so-called Plains Indian peoples who lived in the lands between the Arkansas and Platte rivers. And from 1857, members of the tribe came into direct and often bitter conflict with white settlers and U.S. soldiers. The Cheyenne got revenge of a sort, though, at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Another of Edward S. Curtis’ evocative images depicts a young Apache woman called Yuls-Huls-Walking. And while she can be seen wearing what has been described as a “Christian medallion,” we can assume that she’d actually adopted the religion of the people who had settled her ancestral lands.
Beads for sale
Three women in elegant traditional dress are at a Native American fair in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. They’re selling crafts such as beaded belts and jewelry at a 1941 event organized by the local indigenous association. It’s a neat snapshot of life as it was, and we have the influential anthropologist John Collier Jr. to thank for capturing it for us.
Little Plume and Yellow Kidney
Yellow Kidney and Little Plume are seen here relaxing in their lodge. They were both members of the Piegan – the largest of three tribes that together formed the Blackfoot Confederacy. The other two groups, in case you didn’t already know, were the Kainai and the Siksika.
Apache mother and baby
This Apache mom and her swaddled baby were photographed in 1873 by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. She’s posing near Fort Apache in Arizona, which had only been established three years before this picture was taken. Soldiers garrisoned at the fort were heavily involved in the Indian Wars that raged in the White Mountains region.
This depiction of Navajo women engaged in weaving is one of Edward S. Curtis’ many photographs. The snapper even gave a description of the shot in The North American Indian, writing, “The Navajo-land blanket looms are in evidence everywhere. The simplicity of the loom and its product are here clearly shown – pictured in the early morning light under a large cottonwood.” Lovely.
Chiricahua Apache medicine man with his family
Here we see a Chiricahua Apache medicine man with his family, posed at the entrance of their brush wickiup sometime in the 1880s. When the Spanish first explored America, the nomadic Chiricahua tribe lived in what is now the southwest of the U.S. and the north of Mexico. European settlers ultimately pushed the indigenous people out, however, when they came in the 19th century. And that displacement left the Chiricahua landless for a while until they ended up on reservations in New Mexico and Arizona.
This large Sioux camp with its dozens of teepees was located at Pine Ridge in South Dakota – or it was in November 1880, anyway. And, appropriately, the word “teepee” itself actually translates as “used to live in” – which the Sioux did, as these tents were surprisingly spacious! A typical example could accommodate up to ten adults plus children.
One of the best-known Native Americans, Geronimo – far right in this 1886 picture – was chief of the Chiricahua Apache. Born in 1829, the chief led his people in resistance against both Mexican and American attempts to take Apache territory or force them into reservations. At one point, a quarter of U.S. army forces apparently hunted the legendary leader until he was eventually captured in 1886. He then lived on as a prisoner of war until 1909.
This man’s name may be lost to history, but we can say that he was a chief of the Sioux people – also known as the Dakota. We also know that he took part in an 1862 rebellion that included deadly attacks on white settlers around the Minnesota River. But there were horrific consequences for this insurrection. In the aftermath, 38 Native Americans were executed in a mass hanging at Mankato in the south-west of Minnesota.
Geronimo in top hat
The great Apache leader Geronimo can be seen here in a pretty unlikely scenario. Resplendent in a top hat, he sits at the wheel of an automobile – a Locomobile Model C – in 1905. His companion in the front seat? A Ponca chief called Edward Le Clair Sr. In 1886 Geronimo was the last Native American chief to surrender to U.S. forces. But although he was then officially a prisoner of war, he was allowed to make the occasional trip from his confinement at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Naturally, many Apache bitterly opposed the white settlers who took their lands. This group of scouts, though? They actually worked for the U.S. Army. Yep, the ten men photographed here assisted General George Crook. He was hunting the Apache leader Geronimo, who was finally forced to surrender in 1886 – likely the very year this image was created.
Embarking for England
This party is made up of crew and performers from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show – including the chiefs Blue Horse, American Horse and Red Shirt. And they’re standing on the deck of the S.S. State of Nebraska, which set sail for England in 1887. There, the Native Americans would entertain Queen Victoria and hordes of Britons during the monarch’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
In yet another Edward S. Curtis photo, distinguished Native American chiefs gather sometime around 1900. Starting from the left, we have Little Plume of the Piegan, Buckskin Charley from the Ute, the great Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo, Comanche chief Quanah Parker, Hollow Horn Bear of the Brulé Sioux and the Oglala Sioux American Horse. And even though this photograph is obviously posed, it’s truly splendid nonetheless.
These three impressively costumed figures are Yebichai dancers of the Navajo people. The Yebichai were mythical figures who, as legend has it, created the Navajo and instructed them on how to live harmoniously with their world. As for the Navajo ceremonies themselves? They typically involved prolonged rounds of singing as well as the occasional large-scale circle dance.
This photo from 1906 shows two Hopi women dressed in their finest clothes. And we know that they weren’t married at the time, as their distinctive hairstyles – known as squash blossoms – were only worn by single female members of the tribe. The ’do wasn’t an easy one to master, either! Squash blossoms were constructed around a wooden frame that was only removed after the hair was perfected.
Apsaroke winter camp
It looks like a particularly chilly winter’s day as two Apsaroke men sit astride their horses in this Edward Curtis photo from 1908. The Apsaroke people – also known as the Crow – were part of the Sioux Nation of Plains Indians. They traditionally lived around the Yellowstone River, although they later settled in Montana and divided into two groups: the River Crow and the Mountain Crow.
In this Timothy O’Sullivan photograph from 1873, three fierce-looking Apache braves are dressed ready for war. And between them, they carry the full range of weaponry most commonly used by Apache men: a bow, a rifle and a spear. Don’t be fooled, though! Although members of the tribe have been stereotyped as aggressively warlike, they mostly lived peaceably with their neighbors. There were just over 110,000 Apache people living in the U.S. in 2010, according to official census figures from that year.
Hopi circle dance
A large number of spectators watch as Hopi Pueblo girls and women bearing woven baskets perform a circle dance. In this 1890s shot, the females are dressed in matching blankets and stand facing each other in semi-circles. What’s the significance of this ritual? Well, sorry, but to this day we don’t actually know!
These men coming down a mountain excellently illustrate a skill many Native Americans cultivated: unrivaled horsemanship. The riders are from the Blackfoot tribe, and they’re in what is now the Glacier National Park of Montana. Horses were central to the life of the Blackfoot people – as transport, for hunting buffalo, in conflict and even in ceremonial rituals.
In a photograph taken in 1900 or thereabouts, an Apache girl carries a woven water basket on her head. This is known as an “olla,” and the young woman must have been very strong if it was full of water! Today, these elaborately decorated yet completely functional baskets are highly prized by collectors. That means they can attract bids of thousands of dollars at auction.
These young Hopi women with their magnificent squash blossom hairstyles are engaged in the essential task of grinding grain to make flour. And perhaps the fruits of their labor were later used for a Hopi bread called “piki.” This was created from flour from blue corn, and the dough was baked wafer-thin on large flat stones. How many Hopi are around today? Well, the 2010 U.S. Census registered nearly 20,000 people.
The Apache in this 1886 photograph are prisoners of the U.S. government, although they’ve been allowed off their railroad carriage for a rest break as they journey towards a reservation in Florida. One of their number – third from the right in the front row – is the legendary chief Geronimo. Another is his son, who is seen here on his father’s left. The older man had finally surrendered just a few days before this photograph was taken.
Away from the reservations, though, people in the U.S. tried to grab their piece of the American Dream. That included the folks in the postbellum Deep South, even as they battled against years of economic underdevelopment and racial friction. And these images – many from the earliest days of photography – give an unrivaled insight into what life was truly like in that part of the world more than a century ago. Featuring everything from abundant peanut harvests to Mississippi steamers laden with cotton, the powerful snapshots show a region gradually getting back on its feet.
This image was taken in 1862, and we’re fortunate enough to have a few scant biographical details about the boy. This somber-looking youth’s name was Maximilian Cabanas. After enlisting with the Confederate States Army, he was captured by Union soldiers. Tragically, he later perished in a prisoner-of-war encampment in the North when he was just 16 years old.
After the Civil War
The Civil War is not long over, and it has had a massive impact on these African-Americans, seen here in an unknown location in the South. With the Union victory, they are some of the 4 million souls freed from slavery. For these individuals, despite the obvious benefit of freedom, the future is uncertain in a land devastated by conflict. Reconstruction, the process of rebuilding the nation after the bitter war, has barely begun.
Four young students pose on some steps at Atlanta University, Georgia, in about 1900. The opportunity for African-American women to study at this level was still rare in those times. The photographer was Thomas Askew, himself something of an outlier in his era since he was Atlanta’s first African-American photographer, having started life as a slave.
These travelers, who have journeyed north from Florida, have stopped for a roadside break near Shawboro, North Carolina. They’re actually heading all the way up to Cranbury, New Jersey where seasonal work harvesting potatoes awaits them. Jack Delano, later the official government photographer for Puerto Rico, took this image in July 1940.
For all the world this looks like an original photograph from the dark days of the Civil War. But happily, on this occasion, these are not real Union soldiers, they’re re-enactors. They’re marking Juneteenth at Eastwoods Park in Austin, Texas in 1900. Although Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came in 1863, it wasn’t until June 19th, 1865 that slavery was officially ended in Texas. Austin first celebrated Juneteenth in 1867.
Keen vintage truck aficionados will instantly recognize this vehicle from the 1930s. The rest of us will need to be told that it’s an International C30. This photograph, probably taken in Mississippi, shows people who are likely farmworkers. The image was captured by Marion Post Wolcott, a photographer with the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support farmers impoverished by the Great Depression, many of whom lived in the South.
The S.S. Sidney
The Mississippi riverboat in the background of this shot from about a century ago is the S.S. Sidney. This rear-paddled vessel was built in 1880 for Captain William M. List, who named the boat after his mother. In 1911 the Streckfus Steamers Company acquired the craft. Its new owners were said to be the first operators to have a New Orleans jazz band playing live on a Mississippi steamer. The legendary Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong enjoyed his first paid employment as a musician aboard Sidney in 1919.
At the plow
Looking at this image, you could easily imagine that it’s from the 19th century. Yet in fact this young man in a battered fedora is cultivating a field in South Carolina with a handheld plow and mule in 1937. The photograph was taken by Dorothea Lange, one of the distinguished group of photographers who worked for the New Deal’s FSA.
This image of cotton bales being loaded onto a river steamer is from circa 1890 and was taken in Montgomery, Alabama. “King Cotton,” as it was known, was the lifeblood of the city and gave a start to one Henry Lehman. In 1844 he opened a general store, then diversified into cotton, and later started trading commodities in New York. He was the founder of Lehman Brothers, the company that crashed in a $60 billion bankruptcy in 2008, triggering an international recession.
Blast furnace workers
Proving that the South wasn’t just about cotton and sharecropping, this group of men photographed in 1890 worked at a pig iron plant in Ensley, near Birmingham, Alabama. The three blast furnaces at the foundry where they worked produced some 200 tons of ferrous material from ore each day. The city was named after Enoch Ensley, an industrialist who used his large inheritance to develop extensive coal and iron interests.
According to the original caption for this image from circa 1900 in Mobile, Alabama, the doctors and nurses are about to operate on the patient on the table. You’ll notice that none of the medical staff are wearing either masks or gloves, although the headgear of two of the nurses is fairly extraordinary. Ideas about sterile environments a century and more ago were not what we’d call rigorous.
The original caption for this photograph from about 1900 was “Hillbilly home and woman gathering wood.” The image is from the Tennessee mountains and it’s a testimony to the real poverty in which many Southerners lived a century and more ago. This photo is from the huge Bettmann Archive, founded in 1936 by Otto Bettmann who’d fled Europe to escape Germany before WWII.
This colorful slice of life from Melrose, Louisiana was captured by Wolcott in the summer of 1940. Beers by Jacks and Regal are on offer at Frenchies Bar which also operates as a store selling and ice cream and soda and features a single gas pump. FSA snapper Post Wolcott soon became renowned for the documentary images she created during her four years with the agency.
This photo from circa 1890 shows factory hands at a cotton mill in McComb City, Mississippi. The city was named in honor of Colonel H. S. McComb, who fought for the Union in the Civil War and founded the metropolis in 1872. The entrance in the photo may well be to one of his enterprises, the McComb Cotton Mill. Cotton in the South didn’t just give jobs to farm workers – millworkers too, many of them female, had their part to play in the industry.
In this colorized image published in postcard form in 1906 or 1907, the faithful have gathered for an open-air baptism on the Mississippi River. The Mississippi, at about 2,320 miles North America’s longest river, was a vital artery for life in the South, representing a major transport route for people and goods. But as we see here, it also had an important spiritual role to play as well.
This early 20th-century photograph shows that automobiles had become a part of life in the South by that time. But they had hardly made the horse redundant, it would appear. The driver of this car must have been glad to see the two sturdy steeds that came to his aid when he needed to cross this Mississippi ford.
The sign on the side of this Meridian, Mississippi store advertises “Colgan’s Mint Chips” – just five cents for ten and packaged in a handy metal tube. This product was chewing gum, as popular then as it is now, apparently. That shouldn’t actually be a surprise, since Native Americans had been chewing resin from spruce trees for centuries. Lewis Hine, famous for his documentation of social ills in America, took this image in 1911.
Union troops from the Second Division of the 15th Corps commanded by General William B. Hazen are seen here at Fort McAllister in Richmond Hill, Georgia. Hazen led an attack of 4,000 troops on the fortification in December 1864. After a 15-minute battle, his men overwhelmed the 230 defenders, capturing 15 guns and taking the surviving Confederate soldiers prisoner. The skirmish opened the way for the attack and capture of the Confederate city of Savannah a couple of weeks later.
Chattanooga electric railroad car
You’ve probably heard of the Chattanooga Choo Choo, famously celebrated in big-band music by the legendary Glenn Miller, who had a number one hit with the tune in 1941. Well, this is the Chattanooga electric railroad car. Yep, folks from the Tennessee city could travel around in grand style on this vehicle. Previously, streetcars had been dragged around by horses, but Chattanooga went electric in 1899.
Prisoners at work
The striped attire rather gives it away. Yes, these are convicts, toiling on the roads in about 1870 in the Atlanta, Georgia area. A young lad looks on, hopefully getting the message that crime does not pay. During the years after the Civil War, anyone could hire prisoners and put them to work as they chose. During an 18-month period from 1872, the state of Georgia earned in excess of $35,000 from hiring out prison labor, a substantial sum for the day.
Seniors from Savannah
This African-American couple was photographed in the 1890s in Savannah, Georgia. Jack Landlord was said to be 100 years old while his wife Abby was 110. Assuming that’s anywhere near accurate, that means the two most probably spent the first part of their lives as slaves. Judging by the fact that Mr. Landlord is without shoes, it would appear that the years since emancipation have not been especially kind to the couple.
Durham Bus Station
Here it’s 1940 and a smartly dressed young African-American stands on the concourse of a bus station at North Mangum Street in Durham, North Carolina. Next to him, a jaunty advertising placard declares “Bingo Tonite!” Another, for True Story magazine, claims to have the lowdown on the amorous escapades of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Much more sinister to modern eyes is the sign above the man which reads, “Colored Waiting Room.” It was a time of strict segregation in the South.
These Berckmans on their spacious porch look the epitome of prosperous Augusta, Georgia. In fact, the city has a street called Berckmans Road and it’s not impossible that this wealthy family was the origin of that name. The famous golf course, the Augusta National Club, has in its grounds a mansion called Berckmans Place. That may be the very home where this photograph was taken – modern photos of the property show a remarkably similar porch.
This colorized print from about 1900 shows the docks at Memphis, Tennessee, where stevedores load cotton onto black-smoke-belching steamboats. Tennessee’s cotton farming thrived in the richly productive soil of the Mississippi delta. The city of Memphis was a major player in the textiles industry, helping to meet the seemingly insatiable domestic and international demand for the crop.
Time to sew
These young women, photographed in 1900, are learning to sew at the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, in Augusta, Georgia. founded this educational establishment in 1883 and named it after a generous financial donor, Francine Haines. The facility, which was reserved specifically for African-Americans, combined a kindergarten, a school and a junior college.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers
Although they’re pictured here in Thousand Island Park, New York, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were Southerners through and through, hailing from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. These a cappella songsters were in Thousand Island Park on tour in about 1870, fundraising for their tuition. The photographer was A.C. McIntyre, a well-known chronicler of the public space in its early days.
This 2-ox-power wagon is trundling along in Roanoke, Virginia, early in the 20th century. The hoardings in the background advertise a weird mix of tombstones, dry goods and a drink called Lemon Kela. George Davis took the photograph, which shows that livestock was a long way from being abandoned in favor of the internal combustion engine.
Atlanta in ruins
This shot shows the impact of the Civil War on Atlanta, Georgia which, as you can see, was devastating. There was fighting around the city from July 1864, although it was September before it eventually fell to the Union Army. The photographer of the destruction was George Barnard, who was an official photographer for the Federal Army.
Haywood Patterson protest
Haywood Patterson was one of a group of nine young African-Americans who came to be known as the Scottsboro Boys. In 1931 they were put on trial, accused – falsely – of raping two white women aboard a train in Jackson County, Alabama. The ordeals the young men went through, including jail time, caused an international storm and revealed the deep racial divide in much of the South. Patterson was actually sentenced to death in 1933 although this was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
You’d wonder whether this early automobile’s springs could possibly have survived the punishment this rock-strewn track would have given it. They must have built them tough back in the day. In fact, this photo, taken somewhere in Tennessee, is dated 1903 when cars would have still been something of a novelty. As, it seems, were proper roads.
Perhaps they couldn’t afford chairs? More likely, the painstaking art of mechanical drawing, which these students are learning, is best practiced standing. Today, technical drawing by hand is largely a lost skill because of digital technology, but it was once essential to everything from engineering to architecture. These fellows are at work at the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, in 1899 or 1900.
Working on the railroad
These men mending rails are working for the United States Military Railroad Service (USMRS) during the Civil War in 1862 or 1863 in the north of Virginia. Railroads were a crucial resource during the war at a time when the only alternative means of heavy transport were horses, mules and oxen. It was a key area in which the Union enjoyed superiority. After the war, the photographer of this scene, Andrew Russell, went on to record the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad Company’s transcontinental line.
Here is a group of men gambling with dice. It’s sometime in the 1930s and the location is the coal district of West Virginia, although whether these men are miners or not is unknown. During the troubled economic times of the 1930s, the coal mining industry in West Virginia suffered severely. Many pit workers were thrown into severe poverty.
Judging by the heap of peanuts in this photograph and the young woman’s broad smile, it looks like the harvest has been a success. The image is from about 1870, and it was captured in Richmond, Virginia. Peanuts were first grown as a commercial crop in Virginia in 1842. The excellent growing conditions in parts of the state meant that Virginia became America’s number-one peanut-grower.
Manual typesetting was a highly skilled job, although modern computers mean that in our time it’s largely redundant. But when these students were being taught the craft, it would have been a good route into secure employment in the commercial publishing and newspaper industries. The little boxes held the individual metal letters, punctuation marks and symbols which were assembled to make a page. These young men and women were studying at the Hampton Institute in about 1900.
Cabin in the woods
In its way, this photograph portrays an idyllic natural setting, but you’d have to suspect that it’s a scene of real poverty. This image of an isolated home was captured somewhere in Tennessee. The original caption read, “Rustic cabin in Tennessee with woman and boy.” Hardly lyrical or informative, but it has the virtue of accuracy.
In the days before the modern mega-stores run by the likes of Meijer and Wal-Mart, the typical family-run general store was an altogether more homely affair. This one was in Shiloh, Virginia, and the photograph is from about 1900. Looking at the way the stock is crammed into the limited space is enough to make you giddy. The photographer was H. Armstrong Robert, said to be one of the first to create commercial stock photos.
This photo from circa 1880 shows a bountiful apple harvest in Waynesboro, Virginia, at the Rose Cliff Fruit Farm. According to the legend printed on the barrel ends, these apples are of the York Imperial variety, apparently an excellent choice for cooking. Sadly, this orchard was sold in 1927, and houses were built on the land.
The Summit Avenue Ensemble
This 1900 photograph was taken in the home of Askew, who as previously mentioned transitioned from a life of slavery into Atlanta’s first African-American photographer. The musicians are the Summit Avenue Ensemble and include five of Askew’s six sons. Askew senior was the photographer. His family was part of the prosperous African-American middle class in Atlanta, a group that apparently seldom interacted with its white counterparts.
Off the tracks
What caused this locomotive and its carriages to part company with the rails is unknown, but it was clearly a drastic incident. The photograph is from the Civil War, but we’re not told if it’s a Union or Confederate train. The location is certainly in the South, at Manassas, Virginia. Official United States Military Railroad Construction Corps snapper Russell, whose work we have already encountered previously in this collection, was again the photographer here.