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Emmons, George Thornton (1852-1945) | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Name: Emmons, George Thornton (1852-1945)

Historical Note:

George Thornton Emmons (June 6, 1852 - June 11, 1945) was an ethnographic photographer and a U.S. Navy Lieutenant. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland the son of George Foster Emmons. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1874 and in 1881 attained the master rank, in 1883 lieutenant j.g., and in 1887 lieutenant. In 1882 Emmons was stationed in Alaska and stayed there through the 1880s and 1890s.

During his time in Alaska Emmons came into contact with, and became very interested in, the Alaska Native cultures of the region, particularly the Tlingit and Tahltan. He began recording information and collecting artifacts of the Tlingit and Tahltan during this period and became a dedicated student of native life traditions, such as Chilkat blanket-weaving, bear hunting, feuds, and the potlatch.

Emmons’ interests in Alaska Natives put him into close contact with the American Museum of Natural History, which purchased his first two collections of Alaska Native artifacts in the 1890s. In conjunction with the American Museum, a few years later Emmons completed Ethnological report on the Native tribes of Southeast Alaska, elaborated from the museum collections. He thereafter became a regular contributor to The American Museum Journal (forerunner of Natural History journal) and other scholarly periodicals.

In 1899 Emmons retired from the Navy, left Alaska, and took on special projects for the federal government. He returned to Alaska in 1901 to locate border stone markers between Canada and the USA. He gave advice in 1902 about Alaskan game and forests and salmon fishery. In 1904, he gathered information about white settlers and Alaska Natives and asked President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate in Alaska Native conditions, because of starvation among the Copper River Indians. He was supported by Roosevelt and presented in 1905 a report to the Congress.

Toward the end of Emmons’ life he began to organize his notes and prepare a manuscript on the Tlingit. When he died in Victoria, British Columbia in 1945, the encyclopedic book was still unfinished. The work was subsequently taken over by Frederica de Laguna in 1955 and finally published 1991 with the title The Tlingit Indians.

Source: wikipedia.com, accessed Dec. 3, 2007.

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