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About the Magee Photograph Collection

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The Magee Photograph Collection

The Magee Photograph Collection contains a selection of nearly 1,000 digitized photographic negatives depicting life on the Blackfeet Nation [Browning, Montana] and in Glacier National Park [U.S.] during the early twentieth century. All materials in the collection were originally produced by photographers Thomas B. Magee, 1862-1930 and Henry L. Magee, 1896-1966 of Browning, Montana. The collection was purchased by the University of Alberta in May, 2007 from Donald L. Magee. This collection was also highlighted in OCLC's CONTENTdm Collection of Collections feature in October, 2008.

Thomas Benjamin Magee (1862-1930)

Thomas Benjamin Magee was born May 30, 1862 in East Douglas, Worcester County, Massachusetts. After being orphaned, he was educated in the public schools of Pawtucket, RI. He left school at the age of twelve to seek employment and, in 1883, travelled west to Montana to work in the Miles City coal mines. By 1884, he had moved to Great Falls, MT where he established the city’s first brickyard.

From 1888 to 1896, Thomas worked at the general store of Joseph Hirshberg & Company in Robare, MT and was also in charge of Joseph Kipp’s trader’s store on the Blackfeet Indian agency. He subsequently purchased the drug business of C.M. Lanning & Co. and established himself as a local businessman and postmaster. It was at about this time that Thomas and his brother George took an interest in chronicling local events and photographing the area’s inhabitants and landscapes.

In 1890, Thomas married Julia Grant who was the daughter of James Grant, an early pioneer and one of the first white men to bring cattle to Montana. In the early 1900s, Thomas, Julia and their five sons (Thomas, George, Walter, Henry and Dewey) moved to a ranch in the area now known as Glacier National Park [U.S.]. This would prove to be an ideal location for him to pursue his interest in photography. Park landscapes and the local Blackfeet tribal members became the major focus of his work.

Thomas and his wife Julia became good friends with Walter McClintock, author of The Old North Trail (1910). Mr. McClintock would often come to visit and stay with the Magee family. During these visits, Julia shared her extensive knowledge of native plants which included their names in the Blackfeet language, their uses and related botanical information. McClintock recorded all of this information and referenced it in his book. Julia was acknowledged using her Blackfeet name, “Menaki” – Berry Woman.

Henry Lincoln Magee (1896-1966)

Henry Lincoln Magee was the son of Thomas B. Magee and Julia Grant Magee. He was born on March 6, 1896 and schooled at the Holy Family Catholic Mission on the Blackfeet Reservation and the Fort Shaw Military School.

As a young man, Henry lived with his family in a house on his mother Julia’s land allotment, which was near the current Two Medicine Bridge, east of East Glacier, MT on Highway 2. It was this family home that was later destroyed by a fire that also claimed many of his father Thomas’ photographic prints and glass plate negatives.

One of Henry’s careers involved working for the Blackfeet Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the opening of the Museum of the Plains Indian in 1941, Henry took an interest in photography while working there under the direction of noted Blackfeet historian John W. Ewers. He used his camera to photograph people, events and artifacts while working with the U.S. Government’s photo collection.

Henry and his wife Agnes Douglas Magee had one son – Donald (Donnie) Lee Magee.  After Henry’s death, his son Donald inherited the Magee Photograph Collection which Henry had held in his possession throughout his entire adult life.

Donald Lee Magee (b.1938)

Donald Lee Magee is the son of Henry L. Magee and Agnes Douglas Magee. He was born on May 13, 1938 and completed his early schooling at the Blackfeet Boarding School, a U.S. Government school, and Starr School. After attending high school in Cut Bank, MT and Browning, MT, Donald enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After being discharged from the Marines, Donald married Dolores Higgins. Shortly thereafter, the couple were moved to San Francisco, CA as part of the U.S. Government’s Indian Relocation Program. Donald, Delores and their three children (Dawn, Darren and Dustin) moved back to Montana after three years when Donald’s father Henry fell ill. Donald soon found himself employed at the Museum of the Plains Indian, where he would work for thirteen years. While there, he pursued crafts such as sculpting, painting, doll-making, and the refurbishment of maintenance of the museum’s dioramas.

Donald became concerned about the preservation and survival of the Magee Photograph Collection upon his retirement from his various Blackfeet Tribal Government appointments. He felt strongly that the collection’s educational, historical and cultural value should be shared and made more accessible to others. He also considered the collection to be of particular significance to the people of Blackfeet Nation and to the sister nations of the Kanai (formerly Blood), Northern Peigan and Siksika that together make up the Blackfoot Confederacy.

In May, 2007, the University of Lethbridge Library accepted the Magee Photograph Collection from Donald after it was purchased by the University of Alberta. The collection was subsequently digitized, described, and made available via the Internet by the University of Lethbridge Library. The physical collection now resides at the Bruce Peel Special Collection at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Physical Collection Contents

The physical collection consists of an assortment of negatives, contact prints, full-size prints, stereoscope cards and a various artifacts. A selection of photographic negatives and stereoscope cards were digitized by the University of Lethbridge Library with the permission of the Bruce Peel Special Collection Library, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where it now permanently resides.

Digitization of Black & White Photographic Negatives

According to the official acquisition report, there are 858 negatives in the collection. After a thorough investigation of the collection, 897 negatives were scanned and added to the ContentDM collection.

Scan details:

Not every negative in the Magee collection was digitized. Certain bags of negatives were too warped to allow for easy scanning; as the content of these images was already represented in the scanned collection, they were left out of the digitized collection. There were also a few negatives that were damaged by water or age, and a clear scan was impossible; these images were also left out of the digitized collection.

Digitization of Stereoscope Cards

According to the acquisition report, there are 58 stereoscope cards in the Magee collection. In reality, there are 59 cards in the collection. All 59 cards were scanned and added to the ContentDM collection.

Scan details:

File Naming Convention for Digitized Materials

The naming convention used for the digital images relates back to their location within the collection, as well as the type of the original media. The prefix (letters) is made of three two-letter parts. This is then followed by a sequential number, which was assigned in order as the items were scanned. For the stereoscope cards, 3 digits were used (001). For the negatives, 4 digits were used (0001).

Following this naming convention, the first stereoscope card from the set “The Blackfeet Through the Stereoscope” would be named MGSTBF001. The first image made from the bags of negatives would be named MGNGBG0001. The bags, envelopes and boxes containing the stereoscope cards and negatives have been tagged with a small note indicating the names of the images within. (example: MGSTGP001 – 030).

Subject Headings Used to Describe the Collection

The Magee Collection subject headings were based on the modified Library of Congress (LOC) subject headings used by the Glenbow Museum & Archives. While the style remains the same as the LOC headings, the Magee Collection headings more closely reflect the content of the images and their specific provenance. The “Siksika” and “Blackfeet (USA)” subject headings were used interchangeably.


There were numerous individuals from the University of Lethbridge Library, Galt Museum & Archives [Lethbridge], Glenbow Museum & Archives [Calgary], and the University of Alberta Libraries whose efforts contributed to the success of this project.

Special thanks to Paige McGeorge who led the implementation of this project as part of her activities while employed as a summer co-op student at the University of Lethbridge Library in 2007.

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 Content Revised: February 25, 2010

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