University of Arizona

                                             Special Collections will be closed December 20, 2023 through January 1, 2024 in observance of the University Holiday break.

W. J. McGee Photograph Collection

W.J. McGee on Horesback in the Desert


Born in Iowa in 1853, anthropologist, ethnologist, and geologist William J. McGee worked for the U.S. Geological Survey from 1881 until 1893 when the Bureau of American Ethnology was formed. He was in charge of the Bureau from 1893 to 1903. During that time, he conducted field expeditions to study the Tohono O’odham Indians in southern Arizona and Seri Indians in Sonora, Mexico in late 1894 and late 1895. He held various other prominent scientific positions until his death in 1912.

Photographer William Dinwiddie, born in Virginia in 1867, worked for the Bureau of American Ethnology from 1886 to 1895, then became a journalist and war correspondent.

Photographs, taken during anthropological and ethnographical expeditions in late 1894 and late 1895, mostly by photographer William Dinwiddie, of Tohono O’odham Indians, Seri Indians, Mexico scenes, and expedition members. Many of the individuals are identified and activities are described on the photographs.

Images of Tohono O’odham Indians include individuals and family groups, homes, and village views as well as activities such as placer mining, pottery making, hair washing, tortilla making, basket making, and grinding flour. There are also photographs documenting artifacts and structures including baskets, ollas, metates, women’s seclusion huts, chicken coops, and a bee hive oven. There are portraits of identified individuals including Tohono O’odham leaders Francis Rios, Carlos Rios, and Jose Juan Cristobal. Highlights include a series of step-by-step photographs of men building a brush house, men playing a wah-pe-ta game, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet with schoolchildren. The images were mostly taken on the San Xavier Indian Reservation at locations such as Vamori, Cienega, Pitiquito, Fresnal, Little Tucson, Sycamore Canyon, and San Xavier.

Portraits of Seri Indians were mostly taken at their camp at Pascual Encinas’ Rancho de Costa Rica near Hermosillo, Mexico. These include identified individuals and family groups and their homes. On one image it was noted that “the girl declined to remove her shirt when asked.” There are also photographs present of Seri homes, a few artifacts and the expedition camp on Tiburon Island, Sonora, Mexico. A small amount of photographs are also present of Mexican scenes in Sonora including a blacksmith shop, churches, townspeople and adobe homes.