23 Wonderful Color Photos of Native Americans in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

As a filmmaker, Paul Ratner is drawn to images. His first love of film came from old black and white movies by world cinema auteurs like the jarring works of Bergman, Eisenstein, Bunuel, Lang, Dreyer, Ozu and other great masters.

“For a while in college, it felt almost like cheating to watch a film made in color,” he said. “As I grew older, I accepted color and now find it hard to stick to a monochrome diet. Life seems too resplendent for just one tone.”

While making Moses on the Mesa, a film about a German-Jewish immigrant who fell in love with a Native-American woman and became governor of her tribe of Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico in the late 1800s, Ratner developed a passion for researching old photographs of indigenous people.

“Many of the photographs I found were colored by hand, as color film was only the domain of experimentalists until 1930s (thanks, Kodachrome!) Painting on black and white prints was an art in and of itself, and many of the colorized photos exhibit true talent which preserved for us the truer likeness of the people many a hundred years ago thought were vanishing. Of course, Native Americans have not vanished despite the harrowing efforts of so many. They are growing stronger as a people, but a way of life they left behind is often only found in these photos.”

Minnehaha. 1904. Photochrom print by the Detroit Photographic Co.
Amos Two Bulls. Lakota. Photo by Gertrude Kasebier. 1900.
A medicine man with patient. Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. 1905.
Chief James A. Garfield. Jicarilla Apache. 1899.
Bone Necklace. Oglala Lakota Chief. 1899.
Charles American Horse (the son of Chief American Horse). Oglala Lakota. 1901.
Acoma pueblo. New Mexico. Early 1900s.
Cheyenne Chief Wolf Robe. Color halftone reproduction of a painting from a F. A. Rinehart photograph. 1898.
Eagle Arrow. A Siksika man. Montana. Early 1900s. Glass lantern slide by Walter McClintock.
Chief Little Wound and family. Oglala Lakota. 1899.
Strong Left Hand and family. Northern Cheyenne Reservation. 1906.
A Crow dancer. Early 1900s.
Thunder Tipi of Brings-Down-The-Sun. Blackfoot camp. Early 1900s.
Handpainted print depicting five riders going downhill in Montana. Early 1900s.
Old Coyote (aka Yellow Dog). Crow. Original photo circa 1879 (color tinted circa 1910).
Piegan men giving prayer to the Thunderbird near a river in Montana. 1912.
Arrowmaker, an Ojibwe man. 1903.
Northern Plains man on an overlook. Montana. Early 1900s. Hand-colored photo by Roland W. Reed.
“Songlike”, a Pueblo man, 1899.
Geronimo (Goyaalé). Apache. 1898.

Blackfeet tribal camp with grazing horses. Montana. Early 1900s. Glass lantern slide by Walter McClintock.
Handpainted print of a young woman by the river. Early 1900s.

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