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Curtis aimed to record as many Indian groups as he could, believing that Anglo culture would soon overwhelm all American Indian cultures. He felt strongly about photographing his subjects in their own settings, which often meant arduous travel. At the same time, he committed himself to using the best—and hence most expensive—printing methods available for his works.

While friends, colleagues, and the press provided some support, Curtis had to depend primarily on himself to keep the project going.

“Mr. Curtis, there are many demands on me for financial assistance. I will be unable to help you.”
~ J.P. Morgan to Edward S. Curtis upon first hearing his proposal, 1906

Millionaire arts patron J.P. Morgan (left) — famous for never changing his mind—was eventually swayed by the beauty of Curtis’ photographs to support the North American Indian Project. Curtis won financial support from Morgan for the fieldwork portion of The North American Indian.

In exchange for $15,000 a year for five years, Morgan would receive 25 sets of the volumes and 500 prints. Curtis personally assumed the financial burden of getting the works published. He also took charge of planning and managing the expeditions.

“Mr. Curtis, I want to see these photographs in books—the most beautiful set of books ever published.”

~ J.P. Morgan to Edward S. Curtis after seeing his photographs, 1906

Morgan’s money covered photographic equipment, interpreters, ethnographic writers, and other field costs for The North American Indian.