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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mirror of Our Conscience: Surviving Photographic Images of California Indians Produced Before 1860


Photographs of the Indians of California taken prior to 1860 are exceedingly rare. They are so rare that as of this writing only one original daguerreotype of a California Indian is known (Plate 1). This surviving example was retrieved from a trash pile in an old house in Los Angeles (Harrington 1954: 195). Tentatively identified as a portrait of a Southern Maidu, this image may have been made as early as 1850 (Kroeber and Heizer 1968:9).

Beyond the single daguerreotype mentioned, our knowledge of other pre-1860 photographic images of California Indians is largely limited to drawings, paintings, and engravings supposedly based on original photographs. Some copy reproductions of lost or otherwise misplaced daguerreotypes and ambrotypes are also known. Still other information must be drawn from the photographic literature of the era—brief mentions of the previous existence of early images.

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