Louis Shotridge (Stoowukháa)

Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum, image no. 12562 “Situwaka (Louis Shotridge)– Hereditary Chief of the Raven Clan, of the Chilkat Tribe — in the Ceremonial Costume of a War-Lord.” Portrait of Louis Shotridge taken in the Penn Museum, 1912. Clothing shown in photograph is now part of the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Chilkat Tlingit Ethnographer, Assistant Curator, and Exhibit Preparer

Louis Shotridge (Stoowukháa)


Louis Shotridge (Stoowukháa, Astute Man) was born in the village of Klukwan, Alaska in 1882 to Tlingit parents from leading families in their clans. Named after a Presbyterian missionary, he went to a mission school in nearby Haines, where he met his wife-to-be, Florence Dennis (Kaatkwaaxsnéi), whom he married through a traditional Tlingit arranged marriage. When Florence was invited to display and sell her traditional baskets and Chilkat weavings at the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon, Shotridge accompanied her. There he met archaeologist George Byron Gordon from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, who was one of the major purchasers of Tlingit items at the event and who subsequently hired Shotridge to collect more Tlingit artifacts for the museum, making him the first Northwest Indian to work for a museum. He worked for the museum from 1912–32.

In the beginning, his job at the museum was to dress in his regalia and talk to school classes about Indian life. Although Shotridge was successful at this, the museum decided that they could better utilize Shotridge’s assets, such as his access to community, social connections, and insider perspectives, to build a collection for the museum. Shotridge was sent on several multi-year expeditions to acquire and purchase sacred ceremonial paraphernalia and regalia, crafts, and songs, and to take photographs. Shotridge selected items to represent Tlingit social and political structures as well as ancestral histories and the worldviews and values of the Tlingit clans with the intent to document, preserve and share his cultural heritage. However, it is speculated that some artifacts were sold to him without clan consent which fueled criticism by many in his community for his collaborations and collecting efforts on behalf of mainstream institutions.

In 1912, he was introduced to Edward Sapir and began providing essays, information and objects to Sapir. Similarly, after meeting Franz Boas in 1914, he provided him with recordings of Tlingit language and music traditions. As a result, Shotridge soon participated in weekly roundtable discussions with Boas and other anthropologists at Columbia University. Despite his exposure to the academy, he grounded his worldview in Tlingit cultural values and contemporary social and political aspirations. During the fourth expedition, he lost his job due to the museum’s financial crisis caused by the Depression. He returned to live the rest of his life in Alaska.

While at the museum, Louis Shotridge regularly wrote and published several articles about Tlingit culture and traditions in the museum journal, archived ethnographic notes from his expeditions, photographed and described over 500 photographs taken in the field, and documented decorative motifs and house types through drawings. These items built one of the strongest Tlingit museum collections and are housed in an archive at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Phyllis May-Machunda

Shotridge, Louis. 1905-1937. Louis Shotridge Collection. University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives. Call Number: 0047. Includes an assortment of unpublished stories, writings, and correspondences. 

Shotridge, Louis and Florence Shotridge. 1913. “The Life of a Chilkat Indian Girl.” The Museum Journal. 4:3. 1913.  

Shotridge, Louis and Florence Shotridge. 1913. “Indians of the Northwest.” The Museum Journal. 4:3. 1913.  

Shotridge, Louis and Florence Shotridge. 1913. “Chilkat Houses.” The Museum Journal. pp. 81–100.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1917. “My Northland Revisited.” The Museum Journal. 8:2. 1917.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1919. “War Helmets and Clan Hats of the Tlingit Indians.” The Museum Journal. 10:1-2. 1919 p. 43-48.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1919. “A Visit to the Tsimshian Indians.” The Museum Journal. 10:1-2,3. 1919, 49-67.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1919. “Keyt-Gooshe ‘Killer Whale’s Dorsal Fin’ (A Tlingit Dance Baton).” The Museum Journal. 10:4. 1919, 117-148.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1919. “Anthropological exploration of Alaska.” Science. n.s., XLIX: 1273:491. 1919.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1920. “Ghost of Courageous Adventurer (A Tlingit Legend).” The Museum Journal. 11:1. 1920, 11-26.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1921. “Tlingit Woman’s Root Basket.” The Museum Journal. 12:3. 1921, pg 162 – 189.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1922. “Land Otter – Man (A Tlingit Myth).” The Museum Journal. 13:1. 1922, 55-59.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1928. “The Emblems of the Tlingit Culture.” The Museum Journal. 19:4. 1928.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1929. “The Bride of Tongass (A Study of the Tlingit Bridal Ceremony).” The Museum Journal. 20:3-4. 1929.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1929. “The Kaguanton Shark Helmet.” The Museum Journal. Vol. 20, pp. 339–343.  

Shotridge, Louis. 1930. “How Ats-ha Followed the Hide of His Comrade to the Land of the Yek (A Tlingit Legend).” The Museum Journal. 1:3-4. 1930.