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Photos of the West, 1880-1890
March 6, 2011 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Between 1887 and 1892, John C.H. Grabill sent 188 photographs to the Library of Congress for copyright protection. Grabill is known as a western photographer, documenting many aspects of frontier life – hunting, mining, western town landscapes and white settlers’ relationships with Native Americans.
posted by The Whelk (30 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing! Thanks for the post.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 9:37 AM on March 6, 2011


These are great, but as a special collections guy I wish they would have provided a link to the LC site where the full collection is available.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:43 AM on March 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


I love this sort of stuff. That Brule village shot is awesome.

You will note that is literally "The Best of the Web."
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:02 AM on March 6, 2011


Excellent hooplehead quotient.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:02 AM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Funnily, in all those amazing shots was most struck by the two blokes playing guitar along with someone on a banjo at that railroad worker's camp - for some reason didn't think the guitar was popular there at the time.
posted by Abiezer at 10:25 AM on March 6, 2011


Best of the web.
posted by killdevil at 10:31 AM on March 6, 2011


We may have digital cameras now, but those large negatives have a detail and look all their own, even reproduced on my laptop screen.
I love the depth and detail in this
http://denverpost.slideshowpro.com/albums/001/496/album-200509/cache/west02.sJPG_950_2000_0_75_0_50_50.sJPG?1299428305
posted by cccorlew at 10:32 AM on March 6, 2011


Let me do that as a link....
I love the depth and detail in this
this.
posted by cccorlew at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2011


You know, I'm a sucker for old western movies, but when I watch them I always think in the back of my mind how far off from reality they must be. While I have no doubt that the plots and dialog are a solid miss, when I look at these photos I have to give the location scouts and set designers a lot of credit - with special applause for John Ford in all that he did to capture some of these images on rolling film.
posted by Muddler at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2011


This is Lame.

Literally, one of Indians in the photo is named Lame.
posted by nev at 10:40 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow. Extraordinary. Thanks.
posted by scalefree at 10:41 AM on March 6, 2011


I read a lot about this time period, and I always have very mixed feelings, in light of what we know--and what we observe in these photos. The "Indian School"... which was really a governmental re-education program that devastated generations. The ecological devastation of mining and ranching. The systematic removal of a once-viable culture. That photo of the two white guys standing over the Indian guy, who looks so mild. That one struck me as particularly creepy.

I say this as someone who has a great regard for the spirit of adventure which permeated America's culture at the time--the mind-set that allowed them to build huge city halls in the middle of nowhere, to take wagons and just strike out for someplace new. I know that most of those adventurers had a twisted, resigned-to-white-superiority sort of admiration for the Oglala and Lakota. I've read their words. I just resist saying it's "sad"--because it doesn't even begin to encompass the complicated feelings that exist toward what was happening then.
posted by RedEmma at 10:41 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


These are fantastic. There is probably some fresh history to be revised just based on these pictures.
posted by norm at 11:02 AM on March 6, 2011


Looking at these online is great, but I wish I could sit down with the originals and go over every square centimeter with a loupe.

Fascinating. Thanks so much.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:10 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Photos as "windows into the past" ... in this case, a past unfamiliar to most of us. Fantastic that those great old photographers recognized the significance of the times and had the new technology to record this 'hard history'.

(National Archives photos 1861-1912.)
posted by Twang at 11:19 AM on March 6, 2011


Superb photos!
Someone, please assure me there are high-resolution (i.e. print quality, not screen quality) scans of these in the archive. It's so cool to see these old, historic images, but also sad to think that they may exist to future generations as low-quality 72ppi scans. These deserve to be preserved in as high quality as possible.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:47 AM on March 6, 2011


What struck me:posted by heatherann at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Great pictures. Thanks!

Here's a previous post about Comanche the horse from picture 26.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I literally just finished Buffalo Bill's America by Louis Warren. It's nominally a biography of Buffalo Bill Cody, but it really uses him as a vehicle to discuss everything that was happening in the west in this era and the meaning of the frontier to Americans. It's an excellent book; I highly recommend it.

It's really interesting to look at all the pictures of the Lakota on the Pine Ridge reservation because the Wounded Knee Massacre had happened less than a year before these photos were taken. The "hostile Indian camps" in several photos might refer to groups that participated in the Ghost Dance, a millennial religious movement that prophesied the end of white American expansion and the return of participants' ancestors to earth. Or they may have participated in the Lakota resistance to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' 1890 plan to shrink the Lakota reservation in order to accommodate white settlers and force the Lakota to farm on individual land allotments. Photo #17 identifies the Native American as the "instigator of the Indian revolt at Pine Ridge," which makes the photo's framing a little clearer as the symbolic subjugation of Native American resistance to white America's progressive "civilization" of the frontier.

Photo #25 shows General Nelson Miles, one of the most important generals of the Indian Wars. Miles wasn't present at the Wounded Knee Massacre, but he was pissed when he found out about it. Unarmed women and children had been chased for miles and then killed by army members, and the bodies of many Native Americans were left out in the elements during a 3-day blizzard that followed the massacre. Miles called it "a general melee and massacre," relieved the commanding officer (Col. James Forsyth) from duty, and called a court of inquiry to investigate Forsyth's actions -- when the court exonerated Forsyth, Miles ordered another one. Miles was also good friends with Buffalo Bill, and the two worked together to overrule the federal government's decision to ban all Native Americans from leaving the reservation after the Pine Ridge resistance. Miles and Bill petitioned to release from jail the leaders of the Ghost Dance movement, who had been arrested after Wounded Knee, and many of those Native Americans almost immediately joined or returned to performing in Bill's Wild West show.
posted by lilac girl at 12:02 PM on March 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Someone, please assure me there are high-resolution (i.e. print quality, not screen quality) scans of these in the archive.

Thorzdad, if you go to LC's site (see the link in my first comment) you can download huge tiffs (~50MB) of these images. They definitely do image digitzation right.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:03 PM on March 6, 2011


Wonderful pictures.

Does anyone have any more information about the photographer? I have a sneaking suspicion that I might be related to him (shared last name, a few mentions of Midwest lineage in some Googling I've done.)
posted by SpiffyRob at 2:29 PM on March 6, 2011


Funnily, in all those amazing shots was most struck by the two blokes playing guitar along with someone on a banjo at that railroad worker's camp - for some reason didn't think the guitar was popular there at the time.

You might enjoy this brief history of the guitar in America. I knew Spanish missionaries brought them to the west in the 17th century (every California kid learns about the missions in the 4th grade), but didn't realize that they came with English colonists as well.

Photo 47 is crazy. I always think about the empty landscape around mines as a product of earth moving and toxicity, and forget that they also cut down every tree in sight as a source of power.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:05 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


[this is really, really good]

Thanks, The Whelk! My dad's going to love this.
posted by DakotaPaul at 9:03 PM on March 6, 2011


Wow, I think #37 is Evans Plunge. I went there when I was a kid!
posted by DakotaPaul at 9:11 PM on March 6, 2011


Great set of photos.

Look at #17 and #18.
Is the guy on the left in 17 the same as the guy top right in 18? Same chin. The captions say #18 was two years earlier than #17, so he could have initially been part of a surveying group and then changed roles.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:39 PM on March 6, 2011


After all these years, photo 8 answers the question, "Did Sitting Bull have a brother?"
posted by Sailormom at 5:38 AM on March 7, 2011


Number 46:
Wells Fargo Express Co. Deadwood Treasure Wagon and Guards with $250,000 gold bullion from the Great Homestake Mine, Deadwood, S.D., 1890 Five men, holding rifles, in a horse-drawn, uncovered wagon on a country road.
That job might get the ol' blood pressure up.
posted by norm at 6:31 AM on March 7, 2011


These are great. Thanks a ton.

It's kind of silly of me, but I just began renting Deadwood (HBO series) last month and love seeing things like the Grand Central Hotel in #29.
posted by ghiacursed at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2011


Just imagine living when this was the fastest way to get around, aside from trains.

I'm always struck by how barren the landscapes tend to look in photos of this era. Is it because it was in between the cutting of the original forests and the regrowing?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2011


That's part of it- lots of trees were cut for buildings and fuel. Mining operations ripped out vegetation to get at the minerals. However, the ecology of this area is really varied, with grasslands, and arid pine savannah in the rainshadow of the hills. The Black Hills themselves are very rocky, but are also thickly forested in areas. The thing is, grasslands and savannah look pretty washed out in old photographs. Even if they were lush and green at the time the picture was taken, they don't look like much in sepia.

I would really love to be able to see this photo with the creek and wildflowers in color.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:14 PM on March 7, 2011


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