Reality Over Romanticism: Fred E. Miller, 1868 - 1936
"His pictures [...] are expressive above all of the experience of a people changing--a culture forced rather suddenly to give way to a very different culture. The stories in the Indian faces--of sadness, anger, ironic humor, bewilderment--are captured not by the shutter, but by an artist who knew how to invoke truth in his subjects, and how to compose that truth in his own medium."¹
Fred E. Miller lived and worked on the Crow reservation for twelve years before retiring and spending the rest of his life in Hardin, Montana. He was eventually adopted into the tribe and known as Boxpotapesh or “High Kicker” for his impressive punts on the reservation football field.²
Miller was a professional photographer before moving to Crow Agency. He took an estimated 500 photographs of the Crow during the time he lived in and around the reservation.³ In contrast to other photographers of the time, Miller took candid shots of daily life, rather than glorified, posed portraits of a “proud dying race.” According to Miller's granddaughter, Nancy Fields O’Connor, because he lived among the Crow, “[Miller] was permitted to photograph them intimately. The privilege was not given to others.”⁴
A good friend of Miller described him as being, “‘obsessed,’ […] by concern for the Crows, their land rights, the condition of their lives.” Shortly after Miller married Emma Smith, who was part-Shawnee, Chief Medicine Crow and the tribal council proposed Fred and Emma become Crows.⁵
Today, only a fraction of Miller's original collection survives. According to Fred Miller’s daughter, Hulda Miller Fields, his collection of approximately 500 glass plates was sold to a photographer in Billings. Later, a drug store owner who was a friend and admirer of Miller purchased the plates. He displayed prints in his drug store for many years, but he eventually sold his store to a large corporation. The negatives remained in the basement until the store needed the space, and employees took the collection to the Billings dump where it remains to this day.⁶Note: To view information about the photo, click on the photo once. To view the full-sized photo, click on the photo again. Use the back arrow in your browser to navigate back to the exhibit.
- Nancy Fields O’Connor, “Fred E. Miller Photographer of The Crows”, University of Montana, Carnan VidFilm, Inc., Montana Historical Society Photo Archives Photographer Files, Helena, MT.
- Jean I. Castles, “‘Boxpotapesh’ of Crow Agency”, Montana the Magazine of Western History Vol. XXI, No. III, Summer, 1971, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives Photographer Files, Helena, MT.
- Peggy Albright, Crow Indian Photographer: Richard Throssel, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997), 98.
- Nancy Fields O’Connor.
- Nancy Fields O’Connor.
- Jean I. Castles.