Native Americans and Their Shadow Catchers
An exhibit by the Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections

Apache Encampment
Chiricahua Apache Princess
Guard House
Kas-tziden [Nana]
The "Kid"
Kla-esh [Chihuahua]
Red Stocking
Christian Barthelmess
Camillus S. Fly
A. Frank Randall
Ben Wittick

The Native Americans

Kla-esh [Chihuahua] (Chief, Warrior and Diplomat of the Chiricahua Apache)Migrating from Siberia, various Apache peoples, including the Navajo, settled in the North American Great Plains and the Southwest. The word Apache was derived by the Spanish from a Zuni word meaning "enemy." In earlier times of the tribe, Apachean was the language most commonly spoken. Apachean is part of the Athabascan family, the largest language used by Indian tribes in the 20th Century.

Although skilled for survival in the desert, the Chiricahua Apache found their true home in the mountains where they discovered excellent hunting, seed-gathering and fertile grounds. The rough and rugged terrain also provided them a safe retreat from their enemies. Ranging over great distances, the Apache hunted antelope, deer and rabbit, and gathered wild plants. Raiding supplemented foraging and farming as a means to acquire food, weapons and tools. When white settlers moved into the region, conflict inevitably followed and the Apache earned a reputation as fierce, elusive warriors.

In the early 1870's, after years of war with the United States and Mexico, the Apache were subdued on U.S. government reservations in southeast Arizona and New Mexico. Although the government agreed to supply provisions and protect them from outside forces, promises were soon broken and the Apache were abused. They would often leave the reservations, only to return when they began to run out of ammunition, or winter drew near and they needed food and blankets. Rebellion eventually followed and battles again broke out with the United States and the Territory of New Mexico, ultimately ending in 1886 with the surrender and imprisonment of the Apache.

The Shadow Catchers

Man standing and posing with arm resting atop a camera on a tripod“Shadow Catcher” was a common term given to photographers by the Plains Indians. The black and white quality of photographs alarmed some Indians who believed that control of their shadow meant control of their destiny. Some believed that when the picture was taken away, the person was taken away as well, leading to death.

But not all Indians were frightened by the prospect of having their image captured. Taken during reservation days (ca. 1880s), most of the photographs displayed here were taken in studio settings with artificial backdrops, using costumes and props.

Picture taking was a difficult task on the frontier. Western photographers, usually itinerant, rode horseback with governmental or private expeditions using mule trains, packing giant cameras and equipment. Often lost were the records they kept, as well as the pictures themselves. Occasionally, a roving photographer would team up with a sedentary one who could provide a studio for the processing of plates. Not uncommon was the trading or selling of negatives and prints, and the right to reproduce them. Because of these irregularities, it is often difficult to determine with certainty the origin of frontier photographs.

UMKC 2008 UMKC University Libraries. All Rights Reserved. Part of the University of Missouri System; DMCA and other copyright information; 5100 Rockhill Road | Kansas City, Missouri 64110 Miller Nichols: (816)235-1526 Dental: 816)235-2030 Health Sciences: (816)235-1880 Leon E. Bloch Law:(816)235-1650 Page last updated: 09/10/08; Comments or Questions: Contact Us
June 10, 2008