The following is an outline of Edward Curtis' life, along with some key events in North American histories that occurred during his time. The Native history timeline is highly selective due to the limited space on this page. Click here for more detailed information.
The Trail of Tears begins. At least 4,000 Cherokee people die due to diseases and harsh conditions on the forced trip from Georgia to Oklahoma.
U.S. Civil War starts.
U.S. President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act, which gives the federal government the power to “exchange” fertile Native lands east of the Mississippi River for arid lands in the West.
After the California Gold Rush began, the state establishes a form of legal slavery for Native Peoples by allowing whites to declare them vagrant and auction off their services.
Congress passes the Homestead Act, making western lands belonging to many Native Nations available to non-Indian American settlers.
U.S. Civil War ends.
During The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo, 8,000 Navajo were forced to walk from their homelands in Arizona to barren internment camps in New Mexico. That same year, at least 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe men, women, and children were killed in the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado.
U.S. acquires Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.
February 19: Edward Sherriff Curtis is born in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
The Curtis family moves to Cordova, Minnesota.
Curtis' brother Asahel is born in La Seuer County, Minnesota.
Curtis works briefly as an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota.
After gold is discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, U.S. troops ignore a treaty with the Sioux and Cheyenne Nations and invade their territories.
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull lead an army of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians to a massive victory over General George Custer and the Seventh U.S. Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Curtis moves with his father to the area near present-day Port Orchard, Washington.
Curtis' father dies three days after the rest of his family joins them in Washington Territory. Edward is now the head of the household.
After Curtis is injured in a lumbermill accident, he mortgages the family home
and buys a part-interest in a Seattle photography studio.
Congress passed the Dawes Act, with the intent to extinguish tribal sovereignty and open up remaining Native lands for appropriation by white settlers
The Wounded Knee Massacre marks the end of most armed resistance by Native Peoples in the U. S.
Curtis marries Clara Phillips in Seattle.
Curtis' son Harold (Hal) is born.
Sometime during this year or early the following year, Curtis takes his first photos of the Coast Salish People who lived in and near Seattle.
The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' “discovery” of this continent by displaying “living exhibits” of Native Peoples.
The first running, gasoline-powered car made in the U.S. is built and road-tested.
Curtis opens his own studio in Seattle. It quickly becomes the most popular place in Seattle for fashionable portraits.
Curtis' daughter Elizabeth (Beth) is born.
The Spanish-American War begins.
Curtis publishes an article about Alaska using photographs taken by his brother, Asahel, but he took credit for the photos. Asahel never forgave him, and the two rarely spoke after this.
Curtis is appointed the official photographer for the Harriman Alaska Expedition. He spends two months with scientists while photographing Native People and Alaska landscapes.
The U.S. Supreme Court holds that racial segregation is not unconstitutional, stating that “separate but equal” laws do not imply the inferiority of one race to another.
After overthrowing the monarchy of Queen Liliʻuokalani, the U.S. “annexes” Hawaii.
Curtis' daughter Florence is born.