Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947) always wanted to be both a cowboy and an artist. As a teenager, he worked on various ranches throughout the Southwest, using his camera to document the cowboy way of life that was fading away before his eyes. From 1905 to 1912, he divided his time between home in Bonham, Texas, art school in Chicago and Boston, and ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, where he made some of the most important photographs of cowboy life on record.
But Smith didn't just photograph cowboy life—he lived it. He knew firsthand the varied jobs of all the players involved in managing cattle, from the range boss to the wrangler, the bronco buster to the line rider, the cook to the cutting horse. He wanted his photographs to capture both the rugged realities and the romance of life on the open range. This Web site presents more than 750 images from the surviving collections of Smith's work. These online reproductions were made from Smith's original negatives, irreplaceable objects that capture the old-time cowboy as he really was—a working man on horseback.
As with any online publication, this site is a work in progress and will be expanded on an ongoing basis. The works are categorized in the left-hand margin, but they are also searchable by words in the titles and subject headings. The abbreviated codes at the end of the title information identify the specific collection:
EES: Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on Deposit at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
This project was made possible through generous support from the Erwin E. Smith Foundation, which was set up by Smith's half-sister, Mary Alice Pettis, to foster an appreciation for his work and to advance an understanding of the history of the open-range cattle industry in the Southwest.
MAP: Erwin E. Smith Collection, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of Mary Alice Pettis
Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947)
Cowboys Around the Hoodlum Wagon, Spur Ranch, Texas, ca. 1910
Gelatin dry plate negative
Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum