Inside the Tipi with Roland Reed
by Ernest R. Lawrence and Joe D. Horse Capture
By the dawn of the twentieth century, the era of the American West as a frontier had all but ended. At the same time, the life and existence of its original inhabitants, the American Indian, had reached a point of change where it would never again be as it was.
They no longer traveled freely across the landscape, but instead had been relocated to the confinement of reservations. While all of North America was once their domain, today reservation land occupies as little as 2.3 percent of the area of the United States.
Red Cloud, a war leader for the Lakota Sioux, summarized most succinctly this final outcome of the interactions with the white man when he said:
"They made many promises, more than I can remember, but they kept only one: They promised to take our land, and they did."
Seeing the obviously deleterious effects of the United States government’s efforts to both assimilate and “civilize” Native Americans on reservations, a small group of professional photographers set out to artistically document the ways, mores, and traditional dress of American Indians in their natural environment before their predicted disappearance.
This group of turn-of-the-century photographers became known as Pictorialist, among whom, probably the best-known Pictorialist was Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952). His work has been extensively reviewed and widely published and disseminated.
Royal W. (Roland) Reed Jr. (1864–1934) was a contemporary of Edward S. Curtis, and like him, a Pictorialist. In fact, they were born four years and less than a hundred miles apart from each other in Wisconsin.
Those familiar with Reed’s work might agree that it is equal, both technically and artistically, to Curtis’s. But today, Reed and his work remain largely unknown and unpublished. The few photos of Reed’s that are published frequently appear without attribution.
Reed's portfolio is much smaller than that of Curtis, consisting of only a few hundred images. While the time of Reed’s work basically paralleled that of Curtis, it involved fewer than a dozen tribes. His efforts were solitary and, unlike Curtis's, were entirely self-directed and self-funded.
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Echo's Call, 1913. Roland Reed traveled western North America from the 1890s to the 1910s, creating glass plate photographs to depict the traditional lifestyles of several Native American tribes.
Photo: Roland Reed/ Colorization by J. Anderson
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Roland Reed at a cabin north of Red Lake, Wisconsin, where he stayed for a time while photographing the Ojibwe. An interesting detail is the scoop roof of split and concaved logs.
Photo: Roland Reed
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