Oklahoma, Historical Indian Photos, 1850-1930. Indian Archives Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
About the Oklahoma and Indian Territory, U.S., Indian Photos, 1850-1930
General collection information
This collection contains almost 800 photographs of Native Americans from Indian Territory and Oklahoma (Indian Territory became Oklahoma upon statehood ) between 1850 and 1930. Photos capture images of both groups and individuals. Records contain references and images of Indigenous Americans, some of whom are still alive.
Included in this collection are photographs of those forced into the residential school system. Residential schools were places of tremendous suffering in which hundreds of thousands of Native American children, some as young as four, were taken from their tribal communities and forced into schools where they were violently punished for practicing their cultures. Neglect, abuse, and death were commonplace.
Using this collection
Photos in the collection may include the following information:
When researching Native American ancestors, knowing the history of your family member or members—especially where they lived—will be helpful when using this collection. Are there any personal documents available? Vital records, marriage licenses, journals, and photos can all provide clues to aid your research.
Most images in this collection are captioned with identifiable information, such as the subject's name, tribal affiliation, agency, or location. This collection may be searched by using personal details. However, detailed information isn't available for all photos, especially group photos. You may also consider browsing the collection by viewing individual images.
Collection in context
The land now known as Oklahoma are the homelands of the Osage, Wichita, Arapaho, Kiowa, Apache, and many other Indigenous nations. After forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of Indigenous peoples east of the Mississippi River, the United States named the region "Indian Territory," and the practice of forced removal became integral to U.S. federal Indian policy for the remainder of the 19th century.
The land in Indian Territory was secured through treaties with the United States and belonged to tribal nations. However, the U.S. violated the treaties it made with tribal nations by seizing collectively owned tribal lands and distributing them to families. "Surplus" lands were sold to settlers. Upon Oklahoma statehood in 1907, over ninety-million acres of land had been removed from Indigenous ownership, but treaties still guaranteed tribal jurisdiction.
While this collection provides historical information, these photographs were created and utilized unethically. White photographers often violated or did not receive consent from Indigenous subjects who were not compensated. Indigeneous subjects were portrayed in a manner that was not representative of their culture and were used as propaganda to support U.S. efforts against Indigenous people such as removal or assimilation.
The Conversation. "Oklahoma is - and Always Has Been- Native Land." Last modified July 16, 2020. https://theconversation.com/oklahoma-is-and-always-has-been-native-land-142546.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Genealogy." Last modified January 30, 2020. https://www.bia.gov/bia/ois/tgs/genealogy.
Oklahoma Historical Society. "Indian Territory." Last modified July 31, 2021. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entryname=INDIAN%20TERRITORY.
Villavicenzio, Monica. "Indian Territory: Tracing the Path to Oklahoma." National Public Radio. Last modified July 26, 2007. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12261992#:~:text=In%201830%2C%20Congress%20passed%20the,it%20included%20modern%2Dday%20Oklahoma.
12 Jun 2023: Changes were made to improve the performance of this collection and 607 new records were added.