The Photographs of Charles O. Farciot

by Jeremy Rowe
©Jeremy Rowe 2002

The 19th century saw a new breed of pioneer traveling westward across the country in search of gold and opportunity. The California gold rush of 1849 saw the first explosion in the rush to the American West in search of instant fame and fortune. As new bonanzas were found over the next 50 years, flocks of men followed the quest from California to Colorado, the Black Hills to Arizona, and on to the final frontier, Alaska. Occasionally one of these pioneers carried a camera, and the images they produced provide a legacy and offer insight about the excitement and hardship of 19th century life.

The frontier life in Territorial Arizona has become known throughout the world as the epitome of the Wild West. However, with the exception of a small number of often reproduced images that support these stereotypes, most of the photographic legacy of early Arizona is little known today. Despite its lack of recognition, much of our knowledge about life in 19th century Arizona is due to images left by these pioneer photographers. In particular, stereoscopic photographers made by traveling photographers and local entrepreneurs captured the ephemeral life at the edge of society - the miners, camps, and frontier towns that paved the way for the towns and cities that defined first the territory, then our state.

Many of the nation's finest photographers were drawn to Arizona to capture images of the camps, towns, and personalities to feed the curiosities, and lucrative markets of the East. Some came to document the expeditions and surveys to the great West (Alexander Gardener in 1868, William Bell, E.O. Beaman, William Henry Jackson, John Hillers, Timothy O'Sullivan, et al in the 1870's). Others, like Carleton Watkins and Charles Savage, came to document the progress of the railways as they reached Yuma and Tucson on their way across America. Many, like Charles Farciot, came from California and returned after completing his photographic excursion. Some established galleries, others traveled from town to town making photographs of early Arizona.

Some of the early Arizona photographers are familiar to us today - Williscraft with his studio operators, Mitchell, and Baer of Prescott, Buehman of Tucson, Rothrock of Phoenix, and C.S. Fly of Tombstone. By the turn of the century, the growth of photographic publishing houses such as Continent, Underwood, Keystone and others brought a flood of images of Arizona to parlors and schools across our country. But many pioneer photographers left their mark only in brief notations on the back of the small collections of stereo views and photographs that they made. Others that weren't identified have lost their provenance and exist only as image of unknown people, locations, and events.

Today, these images of Territorial Arizona are scarce and highly coveted by museums, researchers, and collectors. Unfortunately, concern for these images is a recent phenomenon that emerged in the last half of the 20th century. Until recently these photographs have not been particularly valued. As a result, most of these images have been lost to physical damage, destruction, carelessness, and time. Because the work of most of these pioneer photographers received limited distribution, in many cases only copies for the client or sitter, much of this work is still unknown. Today, even less is known about these men behind the cameras and the lives that they led as they traveled throughout Arizona making images.

Occasionally, one of these obscure photographers produced a body of work of significant quality and scope, capturing a particular time or event in a way that lets it live on for viewers over a century later. Charles O. Farciot was one such photographer. Little is known about Farciot, but the exciting events in Arizona during the brief time that he worked, as well as the quality of his work justify his place among Arizona's best 19th century documentary photographers. Few of his images are familiar today, primarily as uncredited reproductions in articles, journals, and books about the history of Arizona. The details of most of Farciot's life are lost to us now, but his legacy in a collection of stereo photographs and albums of his work in first in Arizona, and later in Alaska, help to give us a feel for the man, his life, and his work.

Charles Farciot was born in Switzerland in 1839 (1), the year photography was introduced. His early history is yet to be uncovered, but by the early 1860's Farciot had crossed the Atlantic and was living in Pennsylvania. At the outbreak of the Civil War, in April of 1861, he enlisted in the 17th Pennsylvania Volunteers. After serving 3 1/2 months in the militia he was discharged in Philadelphia.(2) Later in the war, on October 23, 1863, Farciot re-enlisted, this time in the Navy, and served aboard the Pinola patrolling for blockade runners along the coast of Texas. In 1864, Farciot transferred to the U.S.S. Gertrude stationed out of Galveston, Texas. At the war's end, Farciot was discharged at Mare Island, California.(3)

Farciot's whereabouts for the next 14 years remain a mystery and his story continues when he surfaces in Arizona in 1878. During the next four years, Farciot produced a series of stereo views and an album including 110 images of his life and travel between Charleston, Tombstone, and Globe in south central part of the stat ethat document life in one of the most exciting periods in Arizona's history. Fortunes were being made and lost in the new mines. Geronimo and his band were in control of the southern half of Arizona, and Tombstone was to grow from an unknown claim to become the largest city in Arizona. During this period, Farciot visited many of the mines and growing new settlements during their heyday and made striking photographs the soldiers, settlers, and scouts that called Arizona home. The quality of these images indicates a good working knowledge of photography by that time, but where or how Farciot obtained this experience is as yet not known.

In correspondence of September 14, 1879 to William L. M. Jacobs & Co. of Tombstone, Farciot indicates that he has just returned from " a trip & I took views of most of the mines." This correspondence also indicates that Farciot was working with "very influential Gents from Philadelphia" in an attempt to acquire some of the new mines that were being opened during Arizona's silver boom of the late 1870's. He further indicated that "a great many mines are daily (sic) being discovered, & mostly by men with but little money, or given to drinking, & by watching chances, very good purchases can be made." (4) The album created during his stay in Arizona, now in the collection of the Arizona Historical Society, includes some images from that excursion (in the form of 91 mounted halves of stereo pairs).

Beginning about 1879, Farciot toured the state in search of mining claims, and taking photographs. He traveled South to the Huachucha mountains and Harshaw near the Mexican border. His northern boundary appears to be the White Mountains in central Arizona, where he photographed Camp Apache, and the scenery along the White and Black rivers. Sacaton near the stage stop of Maricopa Wells in Pinal county marks the western limit of Farciot's travels. His route appears to follow the mining strikes of the time, with prolonged stops around Globe (including Pinal, McMillenville, and Silver King) and the Tombstone area. In addition, Farciot visited the forts and military posts throughout this section of Arizona. Photographs dated 1881 of both Globe and Tombstone appear in the album, indicating additional travel during that time. His fascination with mines and mining has left us an invaluable record of the people and places that had a major impact on the future of the territory and our state.

Though Farciot's occupation was later listed as an engineer (5), he apparently operated a "formal" photographic studio for at least a short period. One image in the album is a shy self portrait of Farciot hiding behind a horse in front of his small adobe photo studio at Pima Villages in central Arizona. The door frame of the studio displays 7 stereo views offered as examples of his work.

Farciot settled for a time in Charleston, Arizona, and began working in whole plate size in addition to stereo. The photographs of this period include 19 larger format views as well as a number of half-stereo images of Charleston and the Tombstone area. The subjects of these views span a range from the "First House in Charleston" (J.W. Stewart's Bar Room) to the mines, hoisting works, and mills, to the new shops of Herman Welisch and Herrera & McClure. The style and size of these images raises the possibility that Farciot may have operated a more formal studio in Charleston as well, possibly as a competitor to C.S. Fly's Charleston gallery that opened in 1880. (6) One image from this series is particularly intriguing, a portrait of Charles O. Farciot in front of his residence. Farciot owned this lot, the South East side of block C on Pioneer Street, between 3rd and 4th streets until it was transferred to Hugh Duncan in 1883.(7)

At some point during his stay in Arizona, Farciot made the acquaintance of one of Tombstone's most famous personalities, Ed Schieffelin. Schieffelin had made his fortune in Arizona, by finding the Tombstone mine, the first strike in the rich Tombstone/Charleston area. (8) Schieffelin enlisted the help of two partners to develop the rich claim, his brother Effingham, and an assayer Richard Gird. The three worked the claim and made their fortunes by selling out to investors from Philadelphia, with the Schieffelins selling first. Gird first maintained his ownership as a partner, then ended his involvement when he sold his portion. (9) By the mid 1880's, the town of Tombstone that had grown near the mine was larger than San Francisco and became known to the world as the site of the Earp/Clanton shoot-out at the O.K. Corral and the heart of the legendary West.

Wealthy after selling his claim and looking for a new challenge, Ed Schieffelin visited a new frontier, Alaska, with Effingham in the Spring of 1882 (10). With visions of new strikes and even greater wealth, they returned to California to acquire the resources for more concentrated exploration. Later that year, the Schieffelins returned to Arizona, enlisted the services of Charles Farciot and Jack Young and began planning the first commercial expedition to prospect in Alaska.

As they prepared to leave, the party gathered in San Francisco for a portrait. The photograph, taken in the studio of Farciot's brother-in-law Edouart, shows the explorers gathered around their leader, Schieffelin, with Farciot seated on the right. Even with Farciot's family tie to the studio the travelers must have paid dearly for the portrait - a huge mammoth plate albumen print on a labeled mount identifying the sitters. Farciot's stereo photographs of Arizona later appear published by EDOUART & COBB, 504 Kearney St. San Francisco. This raises the possibility that Farciot may have sold the negatives to Edouart before the expedition party left San Francisco. The numbering of the captions of these stereoviews (located to date) indicate a total of at least 69 stereo views in the "Arizona Views" series that was offered by Edouart & Cobb (11). In addition, there is only a partial duplication with the 91 half-stereo images in the Arizona album, raising the possible number of individual titles to about 150.

The expedition party built a small steamer, the "New Racket" in San Francisco and chartered a schooner to take them and their boat up the coast to Alaska. Before leaving, the group added a new member, Johan Jacobsen of the Berlin Museum. (12) They arrived in St. Michaels, Alaska and steamed up the Yukon River. Jacobsen left the party when they reached the Tanana river and the expedition continued up the Yukon to Nuklukayet, arriving in August of 1882. When the party reached their winter quarters, Farciot and two other members of the expedition Young and Sauerbrey built a cabin while the Schieffelins prospected the area. The group spent the winter of 1882-83 and continued to work at prospecting through the summer of 1883. (13)

A photograph album of the Alaska expedition contains 45 6 1/2" x 8 1/2" photographs of the New Racket, the expedition team, their winter cabin, the Tananah and Nuklakahyet natives in the area, and scenery of the area. (14) One series of photos claims to have been taken on a dog sled trip with the temperature of 50 degrees below zero. Another shows a small steam launch built by Farciot. It is not documented, but highly likely that Farciot was the member of the party that made these photographs.

Due to the limited success in locating a workable claim, in 1883 the party decided to return to St. Michaels and disband. Before the original departure from San Francisco, Schieffelin had agreed to provide transportation back to San Francisco and "$200-300 travel money" to each member of the expedition in case of failure. (15) All but one took advantage of the offer and returned to Arizona. Farciot decided to stay in Alaska with a group of traders, McQuesten, Harper, & Mayo, who had purchased the "New Racket" and retained Farciot as their engineer. (16) He remained in Alaska for several years before returning to San Francisco in 1886. (17)

Once again, there is a gap in information about the later part of Farciot's life. He applied for and received his military pension soon after his arrival in San Francisco and stayed for the next few years. At some point, Farciot moved to Chino Ranch, California (which was owned by the Richard Gird who had been Schieffelin's partner in the Tombstone mine) (18), and was employed once again as an engineer, operating an engine at the beet sugar factory there. Farciot died of a heart attack on October 27, 1891. (19)

The photographs produced by Charles O. Farciot have been remained virtually unknown for over 100 years. The few exceptions, images used to illustrate texts and articles on the history of Arizona fail to credit Farciot as their source. The picture of territorial Arizona provided by the stereo views and his Arizona album gives us a view of the booming mines and towns that they fostered which were to become a foundation for Arizona's statehood. Similarly, the Alaska album provides a view of the natives, pioneers, and hard life in territorial Alaska and the "last frontier" before the gold rush of the 1890's.

Many questions remain about Farciot's origins, his life, and the whereabouts of the negatives and the other stereoview and photographs that he created. Hopefully additional information will come to light and help to complete the story of this exceptional pioneer engineer/photographer.


1. U.S. Naval Pension Records
2. Dyer, Frederick Henry, A Compendium of the War for the Rebellion, T. Yosoloff, New York, 1959, Volume II, page 1584.
3. U.S. Naval Pension Records
4. Letter dated September 14, 1879 from Charles O. Farciot to Mr. L. M. Jacobs & Co. of Tombstone in the author's collection.
5. Drysdale, A.C., From Tombstone to the Yukon: Ed Schieffelin's Alaskan Expedition, The Alaska Journal, Vol 13, No. 3 (Summer 1983), page 11.
6. Tombstone Nugget, January 15, 1880.
7. Fulton, Richard W. & Bahre, Conrad J., Charleston, Arizona, A Documentary Reconstruction, Arizona and the West, Vol. 9, No.1 (Spring 1967), page 50. (Farciot is incorrectly listed as "Farciah")
8. McClintock, James H., ARIZONA, The Nation's Youngest Commonwealth within a Land of Ancient Culture, Volume II, S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1916, page 410.
9. Lockwood, Frank C., Pioneer Days in Arizona, From the Spanish Occupation to Statehood, The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1932, page 212.
10. Drysdale, A.C. page 11.
11. Stereoview in the collection of the author. 12. Webb, Melody, The Last Frontier, A History of the Yukon Basin of Canada and Alaska, University of New Mexico Press, 1985 page 103.
13. Drysdale, A.C. page 11-12.
14. Photograph album in the collection of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California.
15. Drysdale, A.C. page 14.
16. Webb, Melody, page 71.
17. U.S. Naval Pension Records.
18. Carl Chafin interview, July 24, 1987, Arizona Historical Society, Tucson.
19. Chino Valley Champion, Friday, October 30, 1891, pg.2 col.2.

©Jeremy Rowe 2002