Author Timothy Egan in his book Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher crafts a splendid and enjoyable biography of world-renowned American Indian anthropologist, photographer and chronicler Edward Curtis.
Egan captures the epic story of Curtis’s extraordinary creation of the 20-volume The North American Indian, an incomparable photographic and narrative now considered a work of art, documenting the complex and tragic story of the vanishing Native Americans. Egan writes in extensive detail of the thirty years during which Curtis became a slave to the completion of the work, capturing the personal sacrifices and near death adventures necessary for the narrative to be “preciously” Edward Curtis. “This was a place like no other he had seen through three decades of portrait foraging, ” writes Egan. ” Think of it,” Curtis wrote in his diary, ” At last, and for the first time in all my thirty years work with the natives, I have found a place where no missionary has worked.”
At the Little Big Horn battlefield and only after extensively interviewing Sioux who were present that day, Edward Curtis uncovers a very different story of what actually happened at Custer’s Last Stand. ” Let them fight, there will be plenty of fighting left for us to do.” George Armstrong Custer as told to Curtis by Crow Scout White Man Runs Him overlooking the battlefield where General Marcus’s troops were slaughtered.
The reader will meet those who inspired Curtis to pursue his dream including Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, J.P. Morgan, George Bird Grinnell , Chief Joseph and Geronimo. Egan’s portrait of Curtis is explicit in that it would be impossible to find another American who sacrificed to the extent of Edward Curtis to pursue the documentation and preservation of the vanishing way of life of the first Americans.
More than a biography, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher shares with the reader Curtis’s depth of knowledge and understanding of the widely different cultures, rituals, and beliefs of the various American Indian tribes. It is also a wonderfully crafted story of how the creative work of those who possess incomparable talent and vision are often lost in their own time only to attain rightful acclaim by future generations.
I commend Short Nights Of The Shadow Catcher to all who have interest in poignant literature surrounding our first Americans.
Other books I have posted on gordonsgoodreads by Timothy Egan include The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn. Utilize the search tab found here.