- Peoples of the Plateau: The Indian Photographs of Lee Moorhouse, 1898-1915
In this single volume author Steven L. Grafe has compiled one of the most thorough compendiums of the photographic works of Lee Moorhouse between 1898 and 1915. Grafe, curator of Native American Collections at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has also conducted research on Moorhouse.1 With this professional experience and background, Grafe is imminently qualified to provide this new addition to the published photographic works devoted to Moorhouse.
At the beginning of this book Grafe provides a detailed account of Lee Moorhouse and the origins of his interest in photographing Native Americans, particularly those groups living on the Southern Plateau of the tristate area of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Moorhouse began to take photographs around 1898 using gelatin plates and large, heavy cameras and tripods. Moorhouse had a varied background of life experiences, which included his role as Indian agent for the Umatilla Reservation, county surveyor of Pendleton, Oregon, assistant adjutant general of the Third (Eastern Oregon) Brigade, Oregon State Militia, and clerk of the Oregon Supreme Court, Eastern District. His list of acquaintances whom he photographed included such personages as Chief Joseph, Joaquin Miller, Ezra Meeker, and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. His varied experiences and his deep and abiding interest in regional history and geography provided a broad array of topics for his photography. But his interest in photography did not develop until he was about forty-eight years old as a businessman in Pendleton.
Much of Moorhouse’s photography documented the ranching, agricultural, and regional life of the region, and he considered himself something of an authority on Native American culture in the area. Certainly, his role as Indian agent provided impetus for a developed interest in Native American culture in the region. Moorhouse’s photographs of American Indians in many ways represent the then-held stereotypical view that Indians were noble, ancient, and picturesque, and they appear very romanticized. Even so, they are among his best-known work. As was stated of his work by a contemporary critic: “The service which Major Moorhouse has rendered the historian is to preserve in pictorial faithfulness the wild and majestic attitudes of the best of the Pacific Indians as they lived and flourished in the halcyon days gone by” (31). This collection of Moorhouse photographs represents some of the best historically accurate images of Native Americans for the region of the Southern Plateau. The compendium of photographs portrays a historic view of Native Americans as perceived by much of the American public at the time. Ultimately, Moorhouse documented photographically Native Americans during a crucial time in their history, when they were, in reality, between two cultures. Many of the images provide a provocative view of social and cultural change in [End Page 244] process. In this sense Moorhouse provides a photographic essay regarding the absorption of the traditional by an expanding Western culture. This transition is not only preserved in Moorhouse’s photographs, it is also vividly preserved in the eyes of his subjects.
1. Steven L. Grafe, “Lee Moorhouse: Photographs of the Inland Empire,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 98 (Winter 1997–98): 426–77. [End Page 245]