A Photographic History of Arizona 1850 - 1920

by Jeremy Rowe
©2002 jeremy Rowe Vintage Photography


Arizona was the West.

Spanish explorers Cabeza de Vaca, Marcos de Niza and Estavan sought riches and cities of gold there. Mountain men like Kit Carson, Pauline Weaver and "Bill Williams trapped its rivers and streams as they pushed the American Boundaries South and West. Explorers from Sparks, Bartlett, and Walker to Wheeler and Powell sent first stories and sketches, then photographs of the scenic beauty and potential wealth of the Western wilderness. Cochise, Geronimo, Natchez, Pedro and scores of Native American leaders who shaped the development of our country's growth called Arizona home.

The Butterfield stage and first wagon, then rail routes that joined the nation crossed the deserts and mountains of what would become the 49th state. Military careers of major figures from Freemont and Kearny to Sheridan, McDowell, Crook and Pershing were formed, for good or bad, by their actions on campaigns in Arizona. Lawmen, scouts and gunfighters who became icons of the West, the Earps, "Doc" Holiday and "Big Nose Kate", Commodore Perry Owens, Tom Horn, the Clantons, and Lowreys, and Al Sieber all left their mark on the territory. Stories and images of events like the capture of Geronimo, the gunfight at the O. K. Corral, the Pleasant Valley War, Pancho Villa's raids and the gold, silver, and copper strikes made banner headlines worldwide and made Arizona the epitome of the West.

Arizona has a wild and significant past that was documented by hundreds of adventurous photographers. Many created collections of photographs, some identified their work, others left only anonymous images and albums to mark their life's work. Compared to other Western states, and despite the importance of the personalities and events that occurred there, the number of Arizona images is relatively small. Unfortunately, for reasons that may include the frontier lifestyle and rough conditions, itinerant nature of much of their business, or other factors, few of Arizona's pioneer photographers left much information about their own lives and experiences.

As a frontier territory many images of Arizona document the individuals, scenes and events of life in the forts and military outposts and wild mining towns, and growing communities of the West. The sparse, decentralized population kept the local scale of photographic operations relatively small, with itinerant photographers far outnumbering established studios until the 1890's. Early Arizona drew many of the nation's finest photographers, and many entrepreneurial lesser talents, to feed the demand for images of the Native Americans, cacti, Grand Canyon, and budding mineral wealth in the last frontier of the 19th century.

The goal of my research is to identify the stories behind important historic images of Arizona in the context of the development of the territory into a state, and to provide a reference tool to assist in identifying images taken in the state before 1920. For additional information refer to my book Photographers in Arizona 1859 - 1920 A History and Directory, which includes several helpful components:

- a brief overview of the history of photography in Arizona from its beginning in the 1850s to its maturation in the decade after statehood.

- an index of photographers active in Arizona between roughly 1850 to 1920, including rough years of operation, partnerships and business locations. (Note: This is a work in progress and will hopefully continue to grow and evolve. Please contact me if you have any additions or corrections. Your help is greatly appreciated.)

- a selection of images of Arizona to demonstrate the range and diversity, and to give the reader a feel for the life in Arizona during this exciting time.

- representative photographic imprints and advertisements of Arizona photographers.

The Birth of the Territory

The lure of wealth drew the first Spanish explorers into what is now Arizona. Though Cabeza de Vaca and Marcos de Niza never found the legendary seven cities of gold, Spanish settlers did find gold, silver, and copper and operated mines in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Missions San Xavier del Bac and San Cayetano del Tumacacori were established in 1700-01, and Tucson adjacent to the Mission San Xavier followed a few decades later.

American trappers first visited the Colorado, Gila, and other rivers of the area in the 1820s. Kit Carson first explored along the Gila in 1827, returning time and again over the next twenty five years. Bill Williams explored the lands above the 35th parallel and French trapper Pauline Weaver visited Pima Villages in 1832. By the early 1840s, trappers and explorers reached the Hopi villages in the North and had cris crossed the territory with the trails that would become crucial trade routes that opened the West.

The Mexican war focused the attention of the nation on America's Southern border. Many of the trappers and early explorers became guides for the American troops. Kit Carson returned to Arizona and served as a guide for the expeditions of Generals Kearny and Freemont. The Mormon Battalion formed under Kearny in Leavenworth, Kansas was charged with capturing the area which is now Arizona, New Mexico, and part of California for the U.S. The Battalion reached Southern Arizona in the winter of 1846 and soon took Tucson which had been evacuated by the Mexicans. The group continued North to Pima and Maricopa Villages and the Salt River Valley and continued to explore Arizona on their travels West into California.

The treaty of Guadelupe Hildago at the end of the Mexican War in 1848 established the Gila River as the Southern boundary. The New Mexico Territory which included Arizona was established in 1850 with the Gila River as its Southern border. The Gadsten Purchase, in 1853 extended the border, creating the outline of the United States that we know today.

The lure of California brought thousands across the territory on the mail coaches and trails that had been pioneered by the trappers, military expeditions and surveys. It has been estimated that at least 60,000 travelers crossed Arizona through Apache Pass, Sonoita, Tucson, and across the Colorado at Yuma on their way to California and the gold fields. Throughout the rest of the nation photography had been firmly established as a business and art and millions of images were being produced each year. During the early 1850s, the "mirror with a memory", the daguerreotype, was the photographic format of choice and was practiced by thousands of full and part time operators. Despite the significant volume of traffic across the territory and the existence of daguerreotypes of California, New Mexico and the other surrounding states, no daguerreotypes which can be documented as having been made in the Arizona portion of the New Mexico Territory have been located to date.

Early images of Arizona came from sketches and illustrations made by travelers or explorers. The personnel involved in the Bartlett survey of 1852-53 included an artist , Henry Cheever Pratt, who recorded the exploration in his sketchbooks. The first sketchbook includes images of the trip down the coast from San Francisco, across to Yuma, and up the Gila to the Pima Villages. Initially, illustrations from the sketches were published in reports on the expedition, and years later, the sketches were synthesized into a series of paintings.

Relations with Native Americans were volatile, shifting from neutral acceptance to hostility as their territories were encroached upon. The Navajo were involved in many early conflicts and the first military post in the Territory, Fort Defiance was built by Col. Sumner in 1852 on the Navajo reservation. Other tribes, most notably the Apache, Mojave, and Yuma were involved in conflicts, many in response to abuse and encroachment by the early settlers and the nation followed the events in Arizona.

Word of the rich mineral deposits in the area ceded by Mexico in the Gadsten Purchase drew initial interest in Arizona. The Arizona Mining and Trading Company was formed in San Francisco in 1854 to explore and commercially develop mines in Arizona. Rich copper ore was found in the South West portion of the Territory near the old Spanish mines close to present day Ajo. Ore was hauled to San Francisco and shipped to Swansea, Wales for refining. The ore was rich enough to turn a profit for the investors despite the tremendous shipping costs.

Though thousands were traveling through Arizona in the 1850s, few called it their home. By 1856, the largest settlement was at Tubac, with about 800 residents and Tucson boasted a population of about 500. The first census in 1860 gave the aggregate population of the Territory as 6,482, identified as 2,421 white (including 132 from Fort Yuma, California), 21 free colored, and 4,040 Indians. Military staff of Forts, Arivaipa, Buchanan, Defiance, and Mojave. Tucson boasted the largest population of 521, with 109 at nearby San Xavier.

The First Photographs

Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives is one of the earliest persons acknowledging making photographs in Arizona. Ives piloted the U. S. Explorer to chart the course of the Colorado River in the U. S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers survey of 1857 and 58. The Ives expedition marked a number of firsts related to Arizona history. At his Northernmost travels along the Colorado River, Ives was likely the first white man to reach the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Photographs attributed to Ives and the expedition are some of the earliest photographic images of Arizona located to date.

Popular interest in Arizona reached an early peak when Captivity of the Oatman Girls was published in 1857. Six years earlier, en route to California on the Santa Fe trail, the Oatman family had been attacked by Apaches. Daughters Olive and Ann had been abducted and been held as captives. After another survivor, brother Lorenzo Oatman, recovered from his wounds he began to search Western Arizona for his sisters. Ann died in captivity soon after the attack, but in 1856 after living with several Arizona tribes, Olive was rescued by Lorenzo near Yuma.

The story of the trials of Olive received national distribution and the book sold through several editions. The engraved image of Olive after her rescue and return to civilization in the frontice of the book was taken from an ambrotype. At least two ambrotype and a number of cartes-de-visites portraits of Olive Oatman with her chin tatoos exist today. Though these images of Ms. Oatman were likely taken after her return to civilization they focused significant attention and interest on the potential danger faced by travelers and settlers in Arizona.

Arizona was recognized as a territory in 1862 by both the Union and Confederate governments. After the war, Arizona became part of the Military District of California under General Irwin McDowell. Throughout the rest of the century, Civil War military figures such as Generals Orlando Willcox, Nelson Miles,George Stoneman, and George Crook, and Colonels A. Katz and Crittenden played important roles in shaping the Territory.

The first military camp in Arizona was Fort Defiance, established in North Eastern Arizona in 1849. Fort Buchanan was established in Southern Arizona in 1857 to protect the wagon and stage routes. Fort Mojave followed about a year later in the North Western part of Arizona on Colorado. Another important early post, Fort McDowell in Central Arizona was established in 1865 providing the skeleton of military protection for the territory.

As California continued to develop and word of discoveries of gold in Arizona drew miners to the territory, travel increased, and additional forts were established. Fort Bowie located in Apache Pass (1862) on the Southern route was in the heart of the Apache lands at the Eastern end of the stage route. Fort Whipple (1863-64) joined Ft. McDowell in the central part of the state to protect Prescott and the rapidly developing Bradshaw mining districts.

The web of forts across the territory continued to develop as word of new strikes spread, or relations with local tribes became strained. Other camps which evolved into more established bases of operation included Camp Lincoln (later Fort Verde) in 1864-66, and Camp Mc Pherson (later Camp Date Creek) in 1866. Fort Apache (1869) in the West-Central part of the territory completed the basic framework of military protection of travelers and the growing number of miners and settlers calling Arizona their home.

The first territorial census, taken in 1864, listed two persons as photographers Francis A. Cook and Charles Rogers. Little is known about the activities of these two men during this time. Rogers left no record of his activities, while Mr. Cook became an important figure in Arizona photography later in the decade.

J. C. Gaige was licensed as a photographer in New Mexico in 1863 and was active in the Military District of New Mexico in 1865, and at Fort Sumner in 1866. Gaige later traveled in Arizona and is one of the first to advertise his services advertising simply as the "the photographer" in the Tucson Weekly Arizonan before he passed away at Camp Goodwin in July, 1869.

French occupation of Northern Mexico regularly raised nationalistic concerns as the West developed after the Mexican war and Gadsten Purchase. Just after the Civil War concern of potential Continental intervention in Southern Arizona may have been stimulated by a Frenchman with a camera. A French survey including a photographer tentatively identified as Rudolph D'Heureuse was active in Mexico and Southern Arizona about this time. A small body of stereoscopic photographs begins in Mazatlan and traces a route up the Baja coast into Southern Arizona ca 1865-68. Images include overviews of the ports and towns as well as mining works Yuma and Fort Mojave, and other as yet unidentified fortifications.

The First Gallery

The first photographic gallery located to date in the Arizona Territory appears to have opened in Prescott ca 1868-69. Francis A. Cook, a photographer, had arrived in Prescott about 1864. No documentation has been located indicating whether Cook operated as an itinerant or in a more formal studio. A notice in the January Arizona Weekly Miner indicated that Carlos Gentile had rented a room and "was taking photographs of Prescott, its people, and vicinity." Gentile had come to Arizona from British Columbia where he had been a photographer and explorer. Gentile had triggered the "Leach River gold flurry" in British Columbia in 1864 when he discovered gold adhered to the photographic plates he was washing in a stream. Sometime after opening a gallery in San Francisco in 1867, Gentile moved on to the Prescott area and was active until 1869 when he sold his camera to Cook and Nathan P. Pierce who planned to run a gallery in Prescott.

The Cook/Pierce gallery became an important fixture in the visual history of the state, being subsequently owned or used by many of the photographers active in Arizona for the next 20 years. Other owners and users of the gallery include E. M. Jennings, William McKenna, Mitchell, the operators working for William Williscraft, and traveling photographers such as Dudley Flanders. A stereograph ca 1875 on a Williscraft mount shows this gallery with its skylight and a trap door on the South side of the building with the optics of a solar enlarger open to sunlight. Several other images of the gallery building were made until at least the mid 1880's.

The Surveys

As they had in the 1840's and 50's, surveys continued to focus the interest of the country on Arizona. Alexander Gardener and William Bell, renowned for their studio work and photographic documentation of the Civil War, accompanied the Union Pacific Railroad Eastern Division survey in 1867 and 68. The photographs from this effort, also known as the Kansas Pacific Railway Survey, were primarily scenic documentation of the proposed route across Northern Arizona and had little commercial potential beyond the report of the survey published in 1869.

The photographers associated with the Powell and Wheeler surveys of the Colorado Plateau 1870s were entirely different matter, producing hundreds of images documenting the geography of the Canyons of the Colorado River and of the Native Americans of Arizona. The images from these surveys were used to support requests for each annual extension of funds from the U. S. Congress and competition between the photographers associated with the survey parties was fierce. Sets of stereographs, some in elaborate blue flocked boxes with embossed titles, and presentation albums of photographs were produced to support the lobbying efforts, and thousands of copies of the stereographs and large format images of the West taken by photographers including Timothy O'Sullivan, James Fennemore, John Hillers, William Bell, and E. O. Beaman were sold throughout the world.

The photographs from the Wheeler and Powell surveys made images of the life of tribes such as the Navajo, Pai-ute, Apache, Navajo and Hopi available to the world. The previously little known Grand Canyon joined Yosemite and the other natural wonders of the West as international curiosities. The resulting interest in Arizona that grew dramatically throughout the next decades drew photographers to the Territory to supply images for the exploding new markets.

The newspapers and periodicals of the time responded to the explosion of interest in the Wild West in the 1870s. Arizona was a microcosm of the mining strikes, conflicts with the Apache, and the outlaws and personalities of the West. The Territory quickly established its reputation as a wild outpost of civilization which was actively promoted in fact and fiction. Woodcuts and illustrations in print were supplemented with real photographs in formats such as cartes-de-visites, cabinet cards, and stereographs sold by photographers who visited Arizona, or by those following the practice of "pirating", freely copying and distributing interesting images that they came across.

The rough lifestyle and difficult travel made photography difficult. Photographers used the wet-plate process, requiring them to carry glass plates, chemicals to sensitize and process their negatives, and a dark tent, in addition to their cameras. Since enlargement was difficult, typically a photographer would carry a camera for each size image that was to be produced. An exception was the stereo camera, which could produce stereographs and the popular cabinet card by changing lenses and septum. The small size of the stereo camera, permitting short exposures and relatively great depth of focus, made stereo the format of choice for many early Arizona photographers.

The Early Photographers