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Reactions: Kalmath Woman

This piercing portrait of a Klamath woman was created in 1923.

Klamath Woman

1923. The North American Indian, portfolio 13, plate 436. 

Curtis gave this description of the Klamath People in volume 13 of The North American Indian,


“The Klamath Indians of southwestern Oregon are the larger of two divisions of the Lutuami, the other being their neighbors, the Modoc. The Klamath have no descriptive names for themselves except máklaks, people, but they have geographical names for the six groups into which they fall. The origin of the name Klamath is uncertain. The proposed derivation from máklaks, their word for people,’ is not convincing. Some other tribes know them by variations of the word Klamath, but it is not certain that these appellations are not simply adopted names. The word has a Chinookan sound, and it is not improbable that if its ultimate origin is not Chinookan, at least its present form is derived from that language. Lutuami is the Achomawi name for the Klamath, and is of true Achomawi origin, meaning "Lake Dwellers" (alútwam, lake). Modoc is from the Klamath Móata-kni, (móat, south; Móatak, Tule lake; -kni, dwellers).


The clothing of Klamath men and women consisted of a robe, moccasins, short leggings, and loin-cloth. According to a man's means and to the season of the year, clothing was made of skin, usually that of a deer, or of woven tules, which sometimes were intermixed with feathers held in place by pine pitch. Women wore bowl-shape caps of twined tules with black ornamentation of fibre from tule rootstocks, and men had for winter use fur caps with rawhide vizor at the front and at the back, and for summer, crownless, vizored hats of tules or of aspen-bark turned inside out and painted red.”

Louise Erdrich, acclaimed novelist and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, describes her reaction when she looks at this portrait of a Klamath woman: 

When I look into the eyes of the women photographed by Edward Curtis, there is an exchange, there is intensity of regard. Curtis mastered the art of making his subject so dimensional, so present, so complete, that it is to me as thought I am looking at the women through a window, as though they are there in the print and in the paper, looking back at me. This is the genius and the gift of the work. Just look into the eyes of Klamath Woman, photographed in 1923. She doesn't quite trust you. The bells on her hat will jingle in a moment, when she turns away to go about her business.

Louise Erdrich, quoted in Christopher Cardozo (ed.), Edward S. Curtis: The Women (New York: Bullfinch Press, 2005), page 3.

Our Reactions series combines photographs and text from The North American Indian with reactions to those images and stories by Native Peoples today. See more Reactions here.

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