Montana: 1920s. Sixty-three postcards measuring 4 x 6 inches, mixed media images some with graphite and watercolor over photographic exposures. Typewritten captions to versos. Item #List419
Christian F. Schuster was a lumber man, boy scout and amateur archaeologist from Holyoke, Massachusetts who spent a series of seventeen summers living with the Piegan Blackfeet beginning in 1923. He was given the name Aainiakoi Plitaa, or, Morning Eagle by the Piegan chief Curly Bear in an adoption ceremony. The collection here documents his adoption by the Piegan tribe. Composed of sixty-three photographs, is one of the most striking visual records we have encountered of American Indian life from this period, due to the sympathetic eye of the photographer and visually arresting hybrid technique of watercolor, pencil and photographic exposure at work in the images.
We cannot confirm the identity of the artist further, but it is possible that it was Lone Wolf, or Hart Merriam Schultz, the son of James Willard Schultz, who was a prolific artist and illustrator during this period. Lone Wolf would later operate a guest house called the Lone Wolf Guest Ranch and Club, and we have found another account of a white adoptee purchasing some artwork from Lone Wolf in the early 1930s. The hybrid technique at work here was also used by De Lancey Gill, the prominent BAE photographer, taught to him by William Henry Holmes. Schuster himself took at least some of the photographs, as noted in the captions.
The images show life among the Blackfeet several decades after the last buffalo hunts had failed in 1882, in a period when this and government policy had made reservation life difficult. Akipuni, or James Willard Schultz, is featured in several of the images, along with Curly Bear, Stabs-by-Mistake, Red-Boy (who Schuster would later advocate for following a wrongful conviction), and many others. The images show candid scenes of Piegan life during the period in many aspects: religious
ceremonies, hunting, singing, etc.. The transition to reservation life is apparent in both the scenes and the captioning, with the Piegan leading a semi-nomadic life limited by the absence of the buffalo and indifferent government policy. Schuster’s role as an advocate is on display, with one caption reading “My tepee at the flatheads/ they had the poles all set up / the big council was a success / we hired a lawyer / killed the stealing of timber.” Another narrates a trip to visit another tribe, possibly Crow: “We were on making plans / of our visit to the old time / enemies who lived beyond / the backbones (Rocky Mts.)... We would talk at the great council / about the wrongs to the Indian… We rolled many of our belongings in
bundles and threw them out. We joined the paraders in this song. WE WERE STRIPPED!”
Schuster’s visits to the Blackfeet were reciprocated, with a number of Blackfeet visiting Schuster in his Western Massachusetts home and setting up a camp on the banks of the Connecticut River. He would eventually amass a collection of several thousand artifacts, which he eventually sold to the Museum of the American Indian. The circumstances of Schuster’s adoption are murky. It is possible that it was done as part of a contest, as we found record of the Blackfoot author and adoptee James Willard Schultz, or Apikuni, sponsoring adoption contests through the magazine American Boy. We find records of some other adoption ceremonies during the period. Schuster would later do advocacy work on behalf of the Blackfeet, assisting in the eventual pardon of a wrongly-convicted young man named Red-Boy, or Peter Stabs-by-Mistake, in the 1920s. Later, Schuster was also
adopted by the Apinakwi Pits tribe.
Overall a moving and visually striking account of Piegan life in the 1920s, uncommon in its insight and exceptional in its visual appeal. Postcards are well preserved in very good to excellent condition with some light normal wear and some tanning to versos.
Offered in collaboration with Daniel / Oliver Gallery.