UO Libraries
Digital Collections

About - Picturing the Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla Tribes

Major Lee Moorhouse of Pendleton, Oregon was an Indian Agent for the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a photographer. From 1888 to 1916 he produced over 9,000 images which document urban, rural, and Native American life in the Columbia Basin, and particularly Umatilla County, Oregon. So extensive and revealing are Moorhouse's images that his collection is one of the preeminent social history collections for Oregon. Special Collections & University Archives of the University of Oregon Libraries has a collection of 7000 images by Major Moorhouse.

Picturing the Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla Tribes is a collaborative project among the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute (TCI) of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation , the University of Oregon (UO) Libraries, and Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Partial funding has been provided by the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium (NWACC).

The project’s intent is twofold: first, to make the Major Lee Moorhouse photographs of native peoples available to a wide audience; and second, to provide a site for historical descriptions of these images as well as descriptions created by native peoples.

Although Major Lee Moorhouse was a well-known photographer during his own age, for the last seventy years his pictures and their inscriptions have been almost forgotten by scholars and the general public. However, native peoples, who are often the subjects of his photographs, have had a tradition of using these images, when they were available, and of developing narratives for them. These narratives have never been systematically collected or written down. This present project aims to make these images and their descriptions available.

We here present about two hundred and fifty of Major Lee Moorhouse’s pictures of the Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla tribes for tribal and non-tribal members. These are about ten percent of Moorhouse’s pictures of native peoples. It is the hope of the project team that more images and narratives will be made available in the coming years.

Treaty of 1855 flag


In 2001/2002 staff of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute (TCI) of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation began discussing the possibility of a collaborative effort with the University of Oregon (UO) Libraries. TCI had begun to digitize images of their people and describe them in a database built with PastPerfect software. The University of Oregon Libraries owned thousands of images that depicted the people of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla to which the tribes did not have easy access. Representatives from TCI and from the UO Libraries envisioned a project that would provide easy and expanded access to the images for both tribal and non-tribal people. A grant proposal was submitted to the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium (NWACC) which funded the project in April 2002. The project created a partnership between the UO Libraries, owner of the images, with TCI, an organization uniquely suited to interpret and describe them, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), an organization committed to helping educators reach underserved communities through the use of technology.

The project, initially entitled Imagining the Northwest, was established to solve two problems: the difficulty in making fragile source materials widely available, and the need to provide more informed context for a balanced understanding of our history. The Moorhouse Collection, which is a foundation source for the project, includes 2,500 images of Northwest tribal members. However those fragile images are located hundreds of miles away from the tribes, and although a few have been published, the presentation has been framed either by the photographer, a white settler who also served as Indian agent, or by historians. There has been no effective conduit for a tribal interpretation of the photos. The project makes a selection of images from the UO Libraries’ Moorhouse photograph collection available online in a culturally balanced context for use by the TCI, the people it serves, the University of Oregon community, and the general public. One of the primary objectives is to provide the tribal people the opportunity to describe their cultural record in their own words by creating descriptions of images from the Moorhouse collection. Another objective is to preserve images by transferring them from fragile glass plates to a more stable medium. The grant partners agreed to create high-quality analog and digital surrogates for the glass plates in the form of film negatives and digital image files in order to improve access to the images and simultaneously to limit use of the glass plates.

In February 2003, members of the UO Libraries’ Metadata Implementation Group and representatives from TCI met to discuss the project. Staff from the Libraries Catalog Department and the Division of Special Collections & University Archives developed a work plan and began digitizing and describing images in April 2003. To date (October 2003) approximately 200 images from the Moorhouse collection have been digitized and described as part of this project.

Project Workflow

Each of the participating organizations has an important role in the project. TCI selects images from the Moorhouse collection that have significant cultural content for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and also contributes rich image descriptions and subject and class terms. The Libraries’ role has been to digitize the images, create stable film negatives, develop a metadata structure to accommodate multiple descriptions, provide additional free-text descriptions and controlled vocabulary terms to the selected images, and maintain the digital archive. WICHE’s role is to work with members of the UO Libraries and TCI to design the project Web site and develop the user interface to the collection. All of the work is being carried out with a high degree of collaboration.

The project leaders within the Catalog Department began by evaluating separate databases previously created by the UO Libraries and the TCI to describe Moorhouse images. The team reviewed the descriptions in the databases and affirmed the value of the different perspectives they presented. With the help of the Metadata Implementation Group, a data dictionary was created accommodating both sets of descriptive metadata in discrete fields rather than merging the two descriptions within a single set of elements. This data dictionary maps similar metadata elements, such as UO subjects and TCI terms, to common Dublin Core elements. The framework for the collection was built in CONTENTdm by Catalog Department and Library Systems staff. Project leaders within the Catalog Department reviewed standards for content analysis of images, established the standards and mechanisms for creating and adding to controlled vocabularies, and developed training and documentation for project staff in supplying descriptive metadata for the images.

At the selection stage, representatives from TCI chose images for inclusion in the digital library collection in consultation with UO Libraries Special Collections & University Archives staff. At the scanning stage of the project, technicians scanned the glass-plate negatives and rotated, cropped, and saved the images. They also captured image source metadata, such as the condition and dimensions of the negative, and general descriptive metadata, including the title on the image, the photo number, and the date of the photograph. The Image Services Supervisor trained the technicians in the handling of glass-plate negatives and the evaluation of their condition. At the image enhancement stage, technicians evaluated the quality of the images and enhanced the images for electronic presentation. Technicians captured image production metadata, including processing software and processing methodology. At the file processing stage, technicians created derivative image files, including compressed 125 DPI JPEG images for Web display and thumbnail GIF images for browsing. They captured relevant technical metadata concerning these manifestations.

At the record completion stage, Catalog Department staff and librarians examine the images and completed the metadata records. They created high-level descriptive metadata, including subject description, content description, and supplied titles.

At the record review stage, Catalog Department project leaders review the enhanced images and the completed metadata records and release them to the TCI for review and further description. The TCI reviews the images and records and contributes corrections and additions. Finally, project leaders within the Catalog Department review the enhanced images and the completed metadata records and approve them for publication in the digital library collection.

The work of the project continues, with images being scanned and refined, metadata being captured, indexing of images being done by library staff, and additional descriptions and feedback and new descriptions being provided by staff of TCI. Project leaders within the Libraries’ Catalog Department provide overall coordination for the work project, including system maintenance of the Moorhouse database within CONTENTdm.

The Future

The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and the University of Oregon Libraries will continue to work together to select, digitize, and describe appropriate images from the Moorhouse collection for inclusion in this project. As the digital collection becomes publicly available and members of CTUIR and other tribes have an opportunity to review the images, a formal mechanism for feedback will be developed. With additional information from tribal members, the value of the collection will continue to grow, for both tribal and non-tribal people. Recent discussions between TCI and UO Libraries staff have highlighted many other avenues for future collaboration and the partnership between them is expected to continue and expand.

Last revision: 10/09/2011
Comments and questions
Digital Library Services, University of Oregon Libraries