Frederick Monsen

Frederick Monsen was born in Norway in 1865. Sources differ as to when his family immigrated to Utah, but they agree that it was when Frederick was still young. He was a professional artist, topographer, writer and photographer. He joined the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1880s, and accompanied the Army during the Apache campaign that ended with the capture of Geronimo in 1886. From 1886 through 1911 he traveled throught the southwestern United States often living with Native Americans and photographing their lives. Monsen wrote, “Only to be among these Indians, to hear them talk and to observe their treatment of one another and of the casual stranger that is within their gates, is to have forced upon one, the realization, that here is the unspoiled remnant of a great race, a race of men who have, from time immemorial, lived quiet, sane, wholesome lives, very close to nature.” Three of his photographs have been posted in Pigtails here.

Frederick Monsen; “Dr. Monsen and Indian Children of Yuma Tribe, Colorado River, Arizona”; ca. 1900; Toned gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; P1991.12.3

Other prominent photographers that documented the traditional Indian life of that time were Charles Lummis, Kate Cory, and Edward Curtis. Monsen differed from his contemporaries in that he included far more images of children, especially girls, in his work. The photo of the girl and her dog was labeled on the back by Monsen, “Hopiland. Arizona. Hopi children are most attractive. One wonders why it is that Indian children are so much more tractable and kindly disposed than white children. This is perhaps due to the attitude of the parents who never speak harshly to the little ones. Children are never punished and yet are most obedient youngsters.”

Frederick Monsen – Popomana, Hopi maiden of Shongopovi (c1890)

Another difference between Monsen and his contemporaries is that Monsen did not go out of his way to avoid nudity. Monsen wrote on the tag for A Study in Bronze, posted here, “Hopiland. Arizona. When Dr. Monsen first visited the Hopi Indians (1886), very few clothes were in evidence. Fully developed girls were often seen wandering about the pueblos or engaged in household duties without a stitch of anything to cover their nakedness. They attracted no attention from the male members of the community, and not until clothing was insisted upon by the missionaries was there any lapse from the tribal laws of morality. Photograph. A Study in Bronze.”

Frederick Monsen – Hopi Baby, First Mesa, Arizona (c1890)

Frederick Monsen – Hopi Baby from the Pueblo of Oraibi (c1890)

He wrote on the tag for the photograph here “Hopi maidens of Walpi, Arizona. During the summer months no clothing is necessary or required and the children enjoy great freedom. Unless missionaries are in evidence, the children until they are 10 or 12 years old run about naked.” Another print of the same photo was labeled by Monsen as Sichomovi instead of Walpi. Both are Hopi Pueblos. The Hopi live on a reservation in Arizona, in homes traditionally built of stone. They speak an Uto-Aztecan language. The following two photos show girls dressed for cool weather and with the elaborate hair style that is typical of the Hopi.

Frederick Monsen – Popomana (Gray Butterfly), Hopi Maiden (c1890)

Frederick Monsen – Hair Styling (c1890)

The next five photographs are Hopi girls from various pueblos. Yeshima was from Oraibi Pueblo, Arizona, which claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited town in the United States. Acoma, New Mexico disputes that claim. Both Oraibi and Acoma have been inhabited at least as far back as the twelfth century.

Frederick Monsen – Hopi Children of the Pueblo of Walpi (c1890)

Frederick Monsen – Hopi Girl, Pueblo of Mishongnovi (c1890)

Frederick Monsen – Portrait of Young Hopi Girl Called Little Blue Butterfly (c1890)

Frederick Monsen – The Daughter of the Chief, Loluloma, Shoshongnovi (c1890)

Frederick Monsen – Yeshima, Young Girl of the Pueblo of Oraibi (c1890)

Talimka and Yalatza lived in Hano Pueblo, which is on the Hopi reservation and associated with the Hopi Tribe, but the people there are ethnically Tewa. Hano people are presently trilingual; they speak their native Tewa dialect, similar to the language of some tribes in New Mexico. They also speak Hopi and English.

Frederick Monsen – Talimka and Yalatza, Sisters Pueblo of Hano (c1890)

The three girls standing on the sand were from Acoma, New Mexico. Monsen labeled the photograph as follows: “Acoma, New Mexico. A pueblo of the Keresan family of Indians situated on a rock mesa 357 high about 60 miles west of the Rio Grande river. At the time the picture was made (1887) the young girls were often seen naked, in fact very little clothing was worn by any of the Acomas.” Most of Monsen’s photos are labeled with only a few words describing what was photographed and where. A few have more comments, but even those do not usually have dates. This is one of the few Monsen photos that can definitely be attributed to a particular year. The year, 1887, was early in Monsen’s Indian photography experience.

Frederick Monsen – Three Young Acoma Indian Girls Standing Together on the Sand (1887)

Early in the twentieth century, the book With Kodak in the Land of the Navajo was written and illustrated by Frederick Monsen, and published by the Eastman Kodak Company. The book can be considered an advertisement for Kodak. Monsen writes of the difficulties in using the old tripod mounted cameras with fragile glass negatives. Long exposure times required unnatural poses. Indians who had never seen a camera were intimidated by what appeared to them to be some kind of weapon. Monsen wrote, ” It was early in my experience that I realized how utterly all photographs failed to show the Indian as he really was. … because it was impossible to make anything else with the photographic apparatus of that day.” Then Monsen started using small Kodak cameras and he was able to take much better pictures, in his estimation. You can compare the photo of the three Acoma girls taken in 1887 with the photos of Mojave children, taken circa 1911, and see if you agree.

The next three photos are of girls of the New Mexico Pueblo tribes.

Frederick Monsen – Acoma Children at Home (c1887)

Frederick Monsen – The Daughter of the Governor of Isleta (c1900)

Frederick Monsen – Young girls of Isleta Indian Pueblo (c1900)

The next two photos are of girls of the Navajo and Zuni tribes. It’s amazing that Yanaba could have the skill to weave rugs at only five years of age.

Frederick Monsen – Yanaba, Five-Year-Old Navajo Blanket Weaver (c1900)

Frederick Monsen – Zuni Girl Mothering Little Sister (c1900)

The last three photos are some of Monsen’s latest work among Indians. They are photos taken in the area where the Colorado River forms the border between California and Arizona. Other photos from this area show girls with long hair and boys with shorter hair. In the photo Mojave Indian Children on the Banks of the Colorado River in Arizona I believe the smaller of the two sitting children is a boy, and the other two are girls. I believe that both children in Mojave Indians, California are girls. The surviving Monsen photographs are apparently those used in his public lectures or books, most of which had subjects posed discretely so their sex was often not obvious.

Frederick Monsen – Mojave Indian Children on the Banks of the Colorado River in Arizona (c1910)

Frederick Monsen – Mojave Indians, California (1911)

Frederick Monsen – Yuma Indian Girl (c1910)

All of Monsen’s original photographs taken prior to 1906 were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake. Fortunately, prints of some of the photographs were in collections outside of San Francisco, and these have survived.

Native American Beauties

In the year 1500, Pedro Cabral became the first European in recorded history to visit Brazil. He seemed particularly impressed by the beauty of the Indian girls he encountered, and he wrote,

Aly amdavam antr’eles tres ou quatro moças bem moças e bem jentijs, com cabelos mujto pretos comprjdos pelas espadoas, e suas vergonhas tão altas e tam çaradinhas, e tam limpas das cabeleiras, que de as nos mujto bem olharmos nom tijnhamos nenhuūa vergonha.

The translation, according to Alessandro Zir is,

In that place, three or four young women walked among them, very young and very heathen, with very black hair, long to the shoulder blades, and their shames so high, so shut, and so cleaned from hair that, so well we look at them, we felt no kind of shame.  -Luso-Brazilian Encounters of the Sixteenth Century, a styles of Thinking Approach by Alessandro Zir, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011

The word vergonhas, which he translates as shame, was a euphemism for genitals. Four hundred years later, the Indian girls of tropical South America became a favorite subject for photography. The first photo is of two girls of the Canela tribe in Brazil. The photograph, taken between 1908 and 1946, is from the Coleção Etnográfica Carlos Estevão de Oliveira of the Museu do Estado de. Pernambuco.

(Uncredited) - Canela Tribe Girls

(Uncredited) – Canela Tribe Girls

These Okaina girls were photographed by Thomas Whiffen in 1914 in either Peru or Colombia.

Thomas Whiffen - Okaina girls (1914)

Thomas Whiffen – Okaina girls (1914)

This photo is of a South American dance. It was published in The Secret Museum of Mankind in 1935.

(Uncredited) - Snake Dance of Amazonian Girls

(Uncredited) – Snake Dance of Amazonian Girls

Indian girls impressed early European visitors to North America as well. William Strachey, secretary for the Jamestown colony in Virginia wrote, in 1612, an account of Pocahontas coming to Jamestown naked and turning cartwheels with the boys of the colony:

Pocahontas a well-featured but wanton young girle . . . sometymes resorting to our Fort, of the age then of 11, or 12 yeares…would gett the boyes forth with her into the markett place and make them wheele, falling on their hands, turning their heeles upwardes, whom she would follow, and wheel so herself naked as she was all the Fort over . . . .

Although Pocahontas has been a subject of several artists, she is usually depicted as older and fully clothed.

A statue of a young Pocahontas stands in Gloucester County, Virginia. The sculpture by Adolf Sehring was completed in 1994. This photo is from a postcard by Michelle Harbour.

Adolf Sehringwas - Pocahontas (1994)

Adolf Sehring – Pocahontas (1994)

David McFall made a nude statue of Pocahontas Pocohontas La Belle Sauvage in 1955. However, Pocahontas appears to be about 20 years old in this statue.

In Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians
by George Catlin, first published in London in 1844, Catlin writes of his visit to the Minataree Indian village on the Upper Missouri River. He wrote:

In this manner we were conveyed to the middle of the stream, where we were soon surrounded by a dozen or more beautiful girls, from twelve to fifteen and eighteen years of age, who were at that time bathing on the opposite shore.

They all swam in a bold and graceful manner, and as confidently as so many otters or beavers; and gathering around us, with their long black hair floating about on the water, whilst their faces were glowing with jokes and fun, which they were cracking about us, and which we could not, understand.

In the midst of this delightful little aquatic group, we three sat in our little skin-bound tub (like the “three wise men of Gotham, who went to sea in a bowl,” &c.), floating along down the current, losing sight, and all thoughts, of the shore, which was equi-distant from us on either side; whilst we were amusing ourselves with the playfulness of these dear little creatures who were floating about under the clear blue water, catching their hands on to the sides of our boat; occasionally raising one-half of their bodies out of the water, and sinking again, like so many mermaids.

Catlin was a pianter, but unfortunately did not paint a picture of this incident.

The anthropologist Frederick Starr photographed this girl in Silao, Mexico, while doing research among the Indians in 1896. The image is scanned from the book Partial Recall, edited by Lucy R. Lippard (1992).

Frederick Starr - La Pinta, Silao, Mexico (1896)

Frederick Starr – La Pinta, Silao, Mexico (1896)

Frederick Monsen was born in Norway in 1865. He immigrated to America, and became a photographer. He accompanied the Army on the expedition that captured Geronimo in 1886. He is best known for his early 20th century photographs of Indian life in the southwestern United States. The first two images were photographed in about 1907.

Frederick I. Monsen - Nude pueblo Indian girl holding small child at swimming pool (c1907)

Frederick I. Monsen – Nude pueblo Indian girl holding small child at swimming pool (c1907)

Frederick I. Monsen - A Study in Bronze (c1907)

Frederick I. Monsen – A Study in Bronze (c1907)

The third image by Monsen was taken in about 1890, and was published in National Geographic in 1921.

Frederick I Monsen - Three naked, Hopi girls sit together on a rock ledge (1921)

Frederick I Monsen – Three naked, Hopi girls sit together on a rock ledge (circa1890)

The photo of this Hopi girl is by Edward Curtis.  Curtis (1868–1952) is one of the most famous photographers to specialize in American Indians.  He began photographing Indians in 1895.  In 1906, J.P. Morgan financed a project to photograph and document as much of the remaining traditional Indian culture as possible.

Edward Curtis - Hopi Angel (c1905)

Edward Curtis – Hopi Angel (c1905)

The next two photos are of Kiowa girls, both from the early 20th century or late 19th century.

(Photographer Unknown) - Kiowa Girl (c1900)

(Photographer Unknown) – Kiowa Girl (c1900)

(Photographer Unknown) - O-o-be-aka Oyebi Kiowa girl (c1894)

(Photographer Unknown) – Oyebi Kiowa girl (c1894)

A photo of an Apache girl.

(Photographer Unknown) - Apache girl (c1880)

(Photographer Unknown) – Apache girl (c1880)

The next photo is from the cover of a book about Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman captured by the Comanche Indians.  I could not identify the photo or the photographer, but it is not a photo of Cynthia Ann Parker herself.  It is possible that it is her half-Indian, half-White daughter, but that would only be speculation.

(Photographer Unknown) - Comanche Girl (c1870)

(Photographer Unknown) – Comanche Girl (c1870)

Although documenting the photographers and dates of these photos on the internet is difficult, it is our hope that a reader who is expert on South and/or North American Indians might come forward with more definitive information.  -Ron