Erwin E. Smith Collection
Photographs of American cowboy and
ranch life, 1905-12
Introduction | The
Photographer | Background
of the Collection | Arrangement
and Access |
Reproductions | Permissions | Collection at
the Amon Carter Museum
Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947) has been referred
to as "one
of the greatest photographers of cowboy life
who ever lived."(1) He
created engaging and action-filled
images of cowboys and ranch life that have
come to symbolize the universal western
cowboy type. Smith's
accomplishments as a photographer of cowboy
and ranch life at the
the twentieth century are manifest in the more
than 1,500 photographic prints in the Prints & Photographs
The Photographer and His Work
Although Smith studied sculpture and painting at two of the best art schools in the country, over time he chose photography as his primary artistic medium.
Self-taught as a teenager, Smith photographed ranch life between 1905 and 1912 in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona during his summer vacations from art school. Convinced that this rugged, arcane lifestyle was disappearing in the face of modernization, he created an extensive and often highly romanticized photographic record of the cowboy world he zealously embraced.
His striking photographs show cowboys roping,
branding, and herding cattle, riding horses,
doing chores, gathering around the chuck wagon,
playing cards, and performing in rodeos. Included
are many group and individual portraits. Smith
also documented--to a much lesser extent--cowgirls,
African-American cowboys, Native American wild
west show performers and lacrosse players, nesters
(traveling farmers and their families), and
small town community events.
Although only modestly successful financially, Smith was the first cowboy photographer to receive considerable national exposure through such popular publications as the Saturday
Evening Post and Cattleman. Some of his best work stemmed from his association with George Pattullo, a former Boston
Herald reporter whose western stories were illustrated by Smith. In 1912 Eastman Kodak Company gave Smith high recognition by using his images to demonstrate the technical excellence that could be achieved with a simple box camera.
Many of Smith's iconographic images are reproduced in J. Evetts Haley's Life
on the Texas Range (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1952). A well-illustrated biography, Imagining
the Open Range: Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum) by B. Byron Price appeared in 1998.
Background of the Collection
The Prints & Photographs
Division holds Erwin E. Smith photographs that
came through two different sources: copyright
deposit and gift.
Between 1908 and 1910, Smith submitted
vintage photographic prints
Twenty-seven prints (as well as some duplicates)
were later transferred to the Prints and Photographs
In 1949 the Library received nearly 1,600 original
glass and nitrate film negatives (comprising
the bulk of Smith's entire body of work), from
his sister Mary Alice Pettis. Anxious to make
the collection available to researchers, the
Library quickly made reference copies for most
of the images by printing the original negatives.
When the Pettis gift came to the Library, however,
the negatives were not organized or labeled
cryptic numbers and basic identifications. To
make sense of the images, Pettis appealed to
George Pattullo, the writer and news correspondent
who accompanied Smith on many of his photographic
travels (and who probably took the photographs
of Smith found in the collection), to assist
in the cataloging process. The 70-year old Pattullo
studied copies of the photographs sent to him
by the Library and provided most of the information
used by P&P staff to devise new captions and
In 1986, at the request of Pettis, the Library transferred the original negatives to the Amon Carter Musuem in Fort Worth, Texas, but retained the prints and copy negatives.
Arrangement and Access
The photographic prints are clustered into
27 photographic prints that Erwin
Smith registered at
for copyright purposes between 1908 and 1910.
original copyright prints are similar versions
of images in the Pettis gift, described below. [View
Erwin E. Smith Collection (Pettis
Reading Room File
About 1,400 selected mounted photographic prints and copy negatives taken between 1905 and 1912, most documenting American cowboy and ranch life on large ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Filed in Reading Room browsing cabinets and arranged by categories; a few unmounted prints are filed at the end.
Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show: Thirty-five
5"x7" photographic prints and copy negatives
depicting cowboys, American Indians, and other
performers in "Pawnee Bill's" [Major
Gordon W. Lillie] wild west shows about 1908-10.
Rodeos: Forty-four 5"x7" photographic
prints and copy negatives show cowboy and cowgirl
performers and rodeo action about 1908-10, in
Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere. [View
Photographic prints, negatives, and transparencies made from the copy negatives are available for purchase from the Library's Duplication Services in various sizes and range of quality. Most of the material may also be photocopied or photographed with a hand-held camera.
Permissions and Credits
There are no known restrictions on publication
of the Erwin E. Smith photographs that the Library
of Congress received through copyright deposit
(LOT 13593, see above). Publication of other
Erwin E. Smith images is restricted; permission
to publish images
Amon Carter Museum (see below).
Erwin E. Smith Collection at the Amon Carter
In 1986 the Library transferred its holdings of original negatives to the Amon Carter Museum. Most of these images and many from other sources can be viewed at their website: www.cartermuseum.org
Copyrights are administered by the Museum for
the Erwin E. Smith Foundation; permission to
publish the images must be obtained from the
Museum. The Museum can provide 8" x 10" black-and-white
photographic study prints for the purpose of
scholarly research. Other formats may be available
for rental. The Museum does not provide enlargements
of Smith's images nor does it provide copies
for purposes other than scholarly research.
For permission and fee schedules, contact:
Amon Carter Museum
3501 Camp Bowie Blvd.
Ft. Worth, TX 76107-2695
(1) Rick Stewart, Foreword to Imagining
the Open Range by Byron B. Price. Fort Worth: Amon Carter
Museum, 1998), vii.
Compiled by: Jennifer Brathovde, Reference Specialist. Last revised: