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Meanwhile, Curtis was beginning to gain national recognition through articles and publication of his photographs. In 1904, encouraged by the popularity of his Indian images, Curtis began in earnest to photograph other tribes throughout the West. He hired Adolph Muhr to manage his darkroom in Seattle and began to spend more and more time in the field. By now Curtis had envisioned a plan to document all of the tribes west of the Mississippi that still maintained to a certain degree their native lifeways and customs. Curtis agreed with the common scholarly opinion that very soon all Native American cultures would be absorbed into white society and entirely disappear. He wanted to create a scholarly and artistic work that would catalog the ceremonies, beliefs, daily life and landscapes of this "vanishing race." In that same year Curtis traveled to the East Coast to discuss his ideas with Frederick Webb Hodge and William Henry Holmes of the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology. Mr. Hodge would become a lifelong friend to Curtis as well as editor of the entire North American Indian project.

During this time Curtis made another very fortunate connection. A few years earlier he had won a top prize for a portrait of a girl he had submitted to a Ladies Home Journal contest. As a result, Curtis was asked to photograph President Theodore Roosevelt and his family. The invitation gave him the opportunity to show Roosevelt some of his Indian photographs and the President was greatly impressed. Curtis developed a friendship with Roosevelt, who encouraged him in his work throughout his career.
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Theodore Roosevelt, 1904