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Hundreds of photos of San Diego County Indian life are being catalogued and digitized by the <a href="http://www.sandiegohistory.org/front-page ">San Diego History Center</a>.

November 29, 2011 1:52 p.m.

Guests: Therese Chung, SDHC Project Manager

Larry Banegas of the Barona Band, Project Liason to the Indian Community

Related Story: Indian Life In Old San Diego Captured By Photographer

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: The photo collection of a New Yorker who settled in San Diego in the late 1800s is about to become available to the public online. The reason Edward Harvey Davis's photographs are of so much interest is his documentation of Indian tribes in San Diego county. His fascination with Indian culture has left us a legacy of information which the San Diego history center is about to decipher and release. I'd like to introduce my guests, Therese Chung is project manager with the San Diego history center. Therese, welcome to the program.

CHUNG: Thanks for having me, Maureen

CAVANAUGH: And Larry Banegas is of the Barona band of mission Indians, project liaison to the Indian community. Good to meet you.

BANEGAS: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Therese, tell us a little bit with who this photographer, E. H. Davis, was.

CHUNG: He was originally from New York, and he came out to San Diego in the mid-1800s for health reasons. And actually moved to mesa grande out in the east county around 1888. While he was living there, he worked primarily as a rancher and a fruit grower and developed a great love and interest in Indian culture. And as a result of this interest in Indian culture, he began collecting Indian artifacts. And eventually, he Amissed such a large collection that a representative of what was the precursor of the Smithsonian's -- then known as the Museum of the American Indian in New York, a representative came out to California and purchased the collection from him, and later employed him as a field collector for the museum

CAVANAUGH: He's been described as quite a character. Why is that?

CHUNG: He had a wonderful life, really. He got to do what he really loved to do. He was able to travel around not only San Diego County but also throughout the southwest, particularly Arizona. He also travelled quite a bit through Mexico, through the states of Baja, Sonora, Oajaca, Jalisco. And he was able to interact with the native communities there, collect artifacts, take photos, write down stories and keep journals and just live this amazing life, and this is all the beginning of the 19 hundreds. So it was -- a lot of the places he went to at the time were very remote and hard to get to. He lived this sort of adventurous life of discovery

CAVANAUGH: Did he ever articulate where his fascination came from for Indian culture?

CHUNG: Not that I know of. It seemed like something that developed once he moved out to mesa grande and just lived amongst the mesa grande and the Santa Isabel Indians.

CAVANAUGH: Didn't he have a bit of a concern that he was seeing a culture that was being over taken?

CHUNG: He was. It was kind of the common theme at the time that the worse thanization was taking over. So he felt that it was also important to document this way of life that was rapidly disappearing. So you can see that in a lot of his photographs. He was able to capture this time period that 20 years later didn't really exist anymore. So he was lucky to be there at that point in time of history

CAVANAUGH: Now, you say that a lot of his photographs and his artifacts went do the Smithsonian. How did San Diego history center end up with them?

CHUNG: That's a great question. We actually have about 7,000 photographs and negatives that were conate bide his granddaughter, Nancy Davis Wilson. And they don't -- she donated them to us in 1986. And along with the photographs and negatives, she also donated a collection of stories, articles, and about 62 journals that he kept during his travels and just, like, daily diaries.

CAVANAUGH: That's a lot of stuff.

CHUNG: It is. It's a treasure trove of information

CAVANAUGH: Now Larry Banegas of the Barona band of mission Indians. One of your jobs as project liaison to the Indian community about this cache of photographs to to try to figure out where they were taken, and which band of Indians are depicted and so forth. How did you approach this job?

BANEGAS: The majority of the pictures I would say are of the dumb y natives. There are also LuiseÒos, Cahuilla, and this project is really important for our people to see because it's like a snapshot around the turn of the century of what our people were doing at the time. And some of the pictures have some sacred images that we had to deal with that we needed to communicate with the local tribes. And that's been part of my job as a liasson, to communicate with the community to show them what we do have and help identify all these pictures.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, can you tell us what kind of sacred images might have been captured in this of these photographs?

BANEGAS: Well, sometimes we have ceremony, and there are certain objects that we use to facilitate the ceremony. And so these objects are sacred, and they're made for that particular time, and then they are destroyed. So they have a lot of image power they represent. So once they're done, then you're not supposed to see them. And there are other things like urns that he had taken pictures of that people were very sensitive. And most of it was around ceremonial or burial types of images that we had.

CAVANAUGH: Do you know if there were any objections to him taking photographs at the time?

BANEGAS: Well, I don't think so because our people wouldn't have given him permission to do this. So I assume he had a good relationship with them, and they allowed him to take these pictures. And as I understand it, sometimes they made a special artifact for him just to take the picture. It wasn't the actual item itself, but it was something that represented that item.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. I'm wondering, what couldn't of reaction have you gotten to the Indian bands that you have reached out to and shown these pictures to?

BANEGAS: At first, it was guarded, I would say. And they wanted to know where the pictures were, but also images of their families. So they first of all wanted to know how they could get them back and use them for their own scrap books or for their own use. But since that time, we have had several meetings. And I think the community has accepted what we're doing because this is a treasure we have here in San Diego that not only the native people can, but I think the general public in San Diego could use as well because a picture tells a thousand words, and we have 7,000 images here

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know again what we're talking about. We're talk about this trove of pictures, a 19th century photographer, Edward Harvey Davis, who lived in San Diego, and he took pictures of Indian culture, lots and lots and lots of pictures which now come into the possession of San Diego history center. And my guest, Therese Chung is project manager on how to catalog and digitize these photographs. And Larry Banegas of the Barona band of mission Indians is project liaison to the Indian community. So how, Therese, do you go about cataloging and particularing out what these pictures actually are? You have so many of them.

CHUNG: We were lucky because Davis was very good at keeping notes. And frequently, on the original photograph, he would jot down on the back of the photo the subject of the photo, the name of the person, are the date, and the location frequently. So we were lucky to have that information there available. We're also working with piecing back recommendal negative envelopes that the photographs originally came into that have additional information, and then we're also going through his notebooks because when he -- especially withheld travel, he would take very good notes of where he was going, what he was doing, and who he was photographing.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

CHUNG: So we've been pretty lucky in that way. But we've also as part of the meetings we were doing out in the Indian community, in addition to introducing the collection to the Indian community, we're also asking for their help in identification as well because sometimes something as simple as a spelling of a name can be tricky, and he would hear it and write it down the way he thought it would be spelled. But today, that may not be the correct way or one of the ways to spell it. So we also have been asking for help and identification from the community.

CAVANAUGH: Have people actually recognized member business of their extended family in any of these photographs?

BANEGAS: Oh, yes. And some even knew Mr. Davis and his family because he lived out in the mesa grande area.

CAVANAUGH: He died in 1950, right?

CHUNG: Yes

BANEGAS: Yeah, so they had a relationship with him. So the people received it well.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I wonder, Larry, for you and for the people you show these pictures to in the various Native American tribes in San Diego, it must be a sort of a sometimes a bittersweet experience because the photos reveal the hash living conditions of the tribes at the time. I'm wondering what do you see when you look at these photos?

BANEGAS: I think that's true. But I alsoing think within the harshness, there was a different time and mace. And these people lived a different life. And although it might have been difficult, it was from what I see with the environment, a very beautiful period of time because they had a more of a natural -- they were closer to the natural. And yes, it was difficult, but to me, I think it was a different time. And I see a lot of serenity in these pictures. But also I think San Diego, there are a lot of pictures of places in San Diego that many people haven't seen. I mean, for San Diego, it's a portrait of its landscape as well.

CAVANAUGH: You know, as Therese was telling us, E. H. Davis, the photographer, took a lot of these pictures because He's afraid that parts of this culture was going to be lost if they weren't documented. Have parts of the culture been lost? Are you seeing things in these photographs that no longer exist?

BANEGAS: Definitely, yes. There is a loss of some of the culture. And that's why this project is so important because it's a reminder of what they used to do. And also to help remain, you know, the culture. So I thank Mr. Davis for that because I see it as a great educational tool for the native people as well as San Diego, for both sides to see what this world was like at one time and appreciate that.

CAVANAUGH: So Therese, when will happen to these photos?

CHUNG: The final goal of the project is a website that will be available through our -- the San Diego history.org website, and it'll have the digitized pictures and the catalog records. That website will become available at the end of the project, which eight be late spring of next year. And then there's two other follow-up projects that we're hoping to undertake. One would be an exhibition of the photographs. We're in the really early planning stages so confirmation of an opening date just yet. But we would love to do a photography exhibition of these photos supplemented with objects that Davis collected. And a second project that we are hoping to do would be an oral history project because in the going to these community meetings, we've met so many wonderful people, elders with so much information, and it would be a perfect time right now to get a lot of their stories down and recorded for history as well.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both in closing, how do you expect people will use this information? Especially beyond the exhibition which sounds fascinating. But beyond the exhibition when these pictures are on a website and they are available to the public at large?

CHUNG: I think it's a wonderful tool to learn about the past and history. One interesting story we heard about one of our meetings was there's a ceremony called November 2nd the candle lighting ceremony at the cemeteries. And somebody mentioned they teach their kids about the ceremony, and the kids are so young that they think the ceremony is a new thing. But the photographs actually capture the fact that it's been going on for at least over 100 years. The photos go back to 100 years ago, and to see that continuation of that particular ceremony through time I think is really wonderful as a tool to show that some things change and some things stay the same, and how similar they are

BANEGAS: We just scratched the surface. So it will continue. And I see families using this as a future reference to their families and continue to look up their -- the background and their ancestry, and as Therese was saying, for the ceremonies and those type of things that are very important to the culture and the retaining of it want

CAVANAUGH: Well, it's a large, major important project, and I wish you both a lot of luck with T. I've been speaking with Therese Chung with the San Diego history center, and Larry Banegas of the Barona band of mission Indians. Thank you both for coming in and speaking with us. Thank you, my pleasure.

CHUNG: Thank you.