The Western Americana Collection recently acquired an album of ninety-one photographs of scenes in Northern and Central Mexico in the 1880s. The images present city views, street scenes, cathedrals, and various merchants and workers. Sixty-one of the photographs are attributed to William Henry Jackson (1842-1943), while nine are attributed to French photographer Abel Briquet. Notable among the remaining unattributed photographs are nine candid street scenes in Villa Lerdo, Durango.
William Henry Jackson, known for his iconic Indian portraits and landscape photographs of the American West, traveled to Mexico in 1883 under commission of the Mexican Central Railroad Company to document the inaugural passage between Ciudad Juárez and Mexico City (Debroise, 76). While documenting the Mexican railroad, which connected with the Santa Fe Railroad, Jackson also directed his lens toward the surrounding landscape, city views, buildings, and local inhabitants. In the same year, French photographer Abel Briquet was commissioned by Compagnie Maritime Transatlantique to document the ports of Mexico (Debroise, 79). Like Jackson, Briquet also turned his gaze to the inhabitants and surrounding cities. While Jackson only stayed briefly in Mexico (returning in 1884 to finish documenting the railroad), Briquet stayed on and opened a photography studio in Mexico City in 1885, making him the first commercial photographer in Mexico.
The newly acquired Mexico album supplements the department’s two significant portfolios containing William Henry Jackson photographs of the American West: Photographs of North American Indians (WC054) and the Sheldon Jackson Collection of Indian Photographs (WC055). Both of these portfolios have been digitized in full and are accessible via the Princeton University Digital Library. See: Photographs of American Indians and Sheldon Jackson Collection of Indian Photographs.
Debroise, Olivier. Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico. Translated and revised in collaboration with the author by Stella de Sá Rego. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.
Frontiersman and stage entertainer William F. Cody launched his Buffalo Bill Wild West show on the plains of Omaha, Nebraska, in 1883. Though the touring show had a slow and unprofitable start, by 1886 it had found its financial footing. In 1887, to coincide with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the entire troupe (cowboys, Indians, horses, buffalo, wagons and all) sailed abroad to England. The London performances were an immediate success, even the Queen attended, prompting a second European tour through France, Spain, Italy, and Germany beginning in 1889.
The Western Americana collection recently acquired a complete 40 issue set of illustrated adventure tales that were likely published to coincide with the company’s travels through Italy: Buffalo Bill: Il Domatore delle pelli rossi. (Buffalo Bill: Tamer of the Redskins). The issues were published by Edoardo Perino in Rome in 1890, the year the troupe performed in Rome and the year Cody had an audience with Pope Leo XII at the Vatican. The Italian tales and illustrations display the same melodramatic style found in the American Buffalo Bill dime novels and stage plays that helped spread Cody’s fame in the 1870s. Interestingly, several of the illustrations in the Italian Buffalo Bill are attributed to French artist Paul Philippoteaux, best known for large cyclorama paintings depicting historical battles, such as the Battle of Gettysburg.
As seen in the images below, issues of Buffalo Bill: Il Domatore delle pelli rossi were sold for 5 centimes, while the entire collection could be purchased for 2.50 lire. The set is now quite scarce: a copy is recorded in the Biblioteca Universitaria Alessandrina in Rome and the Princeton copy is likely the only set in the United States.
Blackstone, Sarah. Buckskins, Bullets, and Business: A History of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Westport, CT: Greenwood Pres, 1986.
Kasson, Joy S. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.
Russell, Don. The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.
Thanks to the generous gift of Larry S. Pierce, the library recently acquired an 8×10 field camera manufactured by the Rochester Optical Co., ca. 1905. The camera, labeled as the “Improved Empire State,” includes the camera body, lens board & lens, extension rail, a cable release, and three plate holders. Two of the plate holders are stamped “Drake Brothers Studio, Silverton, Oregon” on the inside cardboard septum (the septum being a sheet that separates one side of the plate holder from the reverse side, thus allowing each plate holder to house two undeveloped negatives). Photographers June Drake and his brother Emory Drake founded Drake Brothers Studio in 1900, and the brothers operated together until a fire destroyed their studio in 1908. June Drake continued, however, to photograph in a new studio until his retirement in 1960.
In 2012, the Manuscripts Division acquired an archive containing nearly nine hundred photographs taken by the Drake brothers. Along with the studio stamp on the back, many of the photographs contain detailed manuscript notes by June Drake. The notes include dates, identification of individuals, and the names of buildings and streets (many of which no longer exist in Silverton). For more information about the archive, see: Drake Bros. Studio Photograph Collection.
The Western Americana Collection recently acquired a work often described as the first published music written by a Native American author: Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies, harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. (New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1845). Commuck, an Indian of Narragansett ancestry, was born in 1805 in Rhode Island and lived for several years at Brotherton, New York. After marrying Hannah Abigail, a Pequot Indian, in 1831, the pair headed West, eventually settling in Brotherton, Wisconsin where Commuck wrote his hymnal.
Though Pequot author William Apess published Son of the Forest in 1831, a milestone in Native American print culture, Thomas Commuck’s preface to Indian Melodies speaks of the adversities Native American writers still faced in 1845 in gaining acceptance as legitimate authors:
The author of the following original tunes wished to get some person better educated than himself to write a preface or introduction to his little work; but on reflection it occurred to him that he could tell the public all about it as well as anyone else; so he concluded to make the attempt. He is, however, fully aware of the difficulties attendant upon an attempt to appear successfully as an author before a scrutinizing and discerning public, especially when unaided by the influence of wealth, or a long list of influential friends…. Add to this circumstance of having been born, not only in obscurity, but being descended from that unfortunate and proscribed people, the Indians, with whose name a considerable portion of the enlightened American people are unwilling to associate even the shadow of anything like talent, virtue, or genius, and as being wholly incapable of any improvement, either moral, mental, or physical, and wonder will cease to be a wonder. (Commuck, iii)
Indian Melodies contains 120 Christian hymns, to which Commuck assigned names of Indian chiefs, tribes, and places (which bear no relation to the lyrics), forming a complex archive of Native American history:
As the tunes in this book are the work of an Indian, it has been thought proper by the author to have it all of a piece. The tunes therefore will be found to assume the names of noted Indian chiefs, Indian females, Indian names of place, &c. This has been done merely as a tribute of respect to the memory of some tribes that are now nearly if not quite extinct; also a mark of courtesy to some tribes with whom the author is acquainted. (Commuck, vi)
The entire preface is provided in the following gallery.
Commuck, Thomas. Indian Melodies. Harmonized by Thomas Hastings, Esq. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, for the Methodist Epicopal Church, 200 Mulberry-Street. James Collord, Printer, 1845.
Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native American Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Round, Philip. Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Robert Stevenson. “Commuck, Thomas.” Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06197 (accessed August 9, 2013).