Edward Curtis was fascinated by the story of the Native Americans from childhood. His in-depth knowledge of the various tribes increased in parallel with his skill as a photographer during his participation in a number of scientific expeditions in the 1890s. In 1896, Curtis began to take photographs of the Native American tribes (by 1930 he had taken over 40,000 negatives of eighty tribes) and evolve his hugely ambitious plan for a comprehensive work which would illustrate his romantic vision of Native American life before the disastrous impact of European contact. With the enthusiastic support of President Theodore Roosevelt (who wrote the foreword to the present work) and the financial backing of J. Pierpont Morgan (Curtis was introduced to him by Roosevelt), the publishing project finally got under way in 1906. Pierpont Morgan died in 1913 just before the completion of the ninth volume, but his son agreed to continue underwriting the project; between them, they eventually contributed about a third of the $1,500,000 cost. What had originally been projected to take five or six years eventually stretched to twenty-three, finally reaching a conclusion in 1930 but leaving Curtis a broken and bankrupt man. Nonetheless, his grand design was completed, and his work remains as his monument.
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