A "Near Insider": Richard Throssel, 1882-1933
“Throssel showed Crow life from the perspective of a near-insider. He documented a broad range of cultural displays, providing a record of context and change for the Crow's adaptation to reservation life. Many of the works convey spontaneity, with the subjects seemingly unaware of the camera.”¹
A North American Indian of Cree and Scottish heritage, Richard Throssel made a personal collection of nearly 1,000 photographs during the nine years he lived on the Crow reservation.² His work documents a time of adaptation for the Crow people. Like many other tribes in the United States, the Crow faced pressure to assimilate during the early twentieth century. Despite this pressure, men and women of the Crow Nation continued to maintain their belief systems and cultural identities, which they expressed through dress, language, and ceremony.³
According to Peggy Albright, author of Crow Indian Photographer: The Work of Richard Throssel, Throssel was a prolific photographer whose photographs varied widely in intention:
Some of Throssel’s images were used to convey social or cultural information to policy makers. Some were in fact used as government propaganda. Many of the portraits, however, were commissioned by the subjects themselves, and these record personal interactions between the subjects and the photographer. The combined result of all these endeavors is richly varied body of community photography that contains a strong dimension of vitality not typically achieved in photography of the “other.”⁴
In addition to some of Throssel’s photographs having political purposes, Throssel himself became increasingly political as his career progressed. In 1916, the U.S. government selected twenty-three Crows to become citizens. This was part of a federal program aimed to accelerate the transition of selected tribal members’ statuses, so they could live and work without government supervision. Although becoming a US citizen was against Throssel’s wishes, the US government issued citizenship to him anyway. The following year Throssel began to speak out on Indians’ civil rights, opposing white settlement of Indian territory. He eventually ran for public office in 1924.⁵ He was elected to the Montana State Legislature representing Yellowstone County and served two terms.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.
“The portraits are powerful, with each person’s personality shining through. They obviously felt at ease in front of Throssel’s camera.”⁷
-Mary Pickett of the Billings Gazette
- University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Digital Richard Throssel Papers, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives Photographer Files, Helena, MT.
- Peggy Albright and Joanna Cohan Scherer, “Crow Indian Photographer: The work of Richard Throssel,” University of New Mexico Press, 1997, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives Photographer Files, Helena, MT.
Throssel lived on the Crow Reservation from 1902 to 1911.
- University of Wyoming.
- Peggy Albright, Crow Indian Photographer: The Work of Richard Throssel, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997), 67-8.
- Albright, 51.
- Mary Pickett, “Images of the past get new life: book, photos capture a culture on film”, Billings Gazette Sept 14, 1997, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives Photographer Files, Helena, MT.