There are many images of Native Americans in modern photographic archives, but very few that have been taken by photographers who were themselves Native Americans. Richard Throssel (1882-1933) is one of those few American Indian photographers.
He distinguished himself among the many photographers and artists who came to the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana in the early 1900s by identifying himself as a photographer who was Indian.
Throssel, a Native American of French Canadian and Cree Indian descent, lived on the Crow Reservation from 1902 to 1911 where he worked in progressive roles as a clerk for
the Indian Services and as a field photographer for the reservation assigned to take
documentary photographs of the Crows in a campaign against tuberculosis.
An Indian without a tribal homeland, Throssel was adopted by the Crow people in 1906 and given the name Ashua Eshquon Dupaz or “Kills Inside the Lodge (or Camp).” This name commemorated an event in the life of the man who named him.
Because Throssel was an accepted member of the Crow community, he was able to depict the Crow and nearby Northern Cheyenne from the perspective of a near insider.
Throssel’s images are distinctly different from those of contemporary Anglo photographers. He captured his images of Indian life in a seemingly unobtrusive way in the midst of private, religious, and secular events.
Throssel was one of the earliest North American Indians to use a camera to document his local community. Most of his photographs depict the Crow as they were trying to make the adjustment to reservation life.
Throssel left the Crow reservation in 1911 to open his own photographic studio in Billings, Montana. The foundation of his business was his personal collection of nearly one thousand photographs built during this time on the Crow reservation. His collection was largely documentary in nature, recording day-to-day and cultural life of the Crows in casual snapshots and formal and informal portraits.
However, Throssel also created dramatic, nostalgic images of Indian life. He called these images the “Western Classics” and promoted them to a mostly non-Indian audience. Edward Sheriff Curtis, who visited the Crow reservation several times as he prepared his monumental work, The North American Indian, influenced Throssel’ss sentimental portrayal of Indian life.
The Richard Throssel Collection at the AHC contain materials relating to Throssel’s photographic work with the Crow and Northern Cheyenne from 1902 to 1933. The collection contains nearly 2,500 photographs, glass plate negatives, and lantern slides of daily life, ceremonies, portraits, and village scenes. Also included are images of what is now the Little Bighorn National Monument, daily life in Billings, Throssel and his family, and ranching and scenic views of southern Montana and northern Wyoming.