Cowboy Photographer: Erwin E Smith
About Erwin E Smith  Teaching ResourcesCollection Guide


biography of Erwin E. Smith
Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947) always wanted to be a cowboy and an artist. When he was a boy growing up in Bonham, a town in Fannin County in North Texas, the era of the great trail drives was over, and he feared that the old ways of the cowboy were disappearing. However, the legend and myth of the cowboy was just beginning. Popular literature, art by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, and the fledgling film industry promoted a romantic, yet often inaccurate, image of the cowboy. For his part, Smith resolved to honor the life of the cowboy by presenting as true a portrayal as possible.

Aware that an artist must know his subject intimately to capture details accurately, Smith took every opportunity to gain experience as a working cowboy. As a boy he spent summers on his uncle's ranch near Quanah, Texas. The land bordered the Great Western Cattle Trail, which thousands of longhorns followed north in the 1880s. During the summers, he began to acquire the skills to be a cowhand.

Smith attended two of the best art schools in the country to study sculpture and painting. But eventually he chose photography as his way to preserve a record of the open-range cowboy life. Between 1905 and 1912, he photographed roundups and other scenes on ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Smith's photographs, showing both the romance and harshness of cowboy life, are some of the best-known images of the southwestern range early in the last century.

Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947)
Photographer Erwin E. Smith Riding a Sunfisher, and He is Not Pulling Leather, Bonham, Texas, 1908
Glass plate negative
Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum
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Made possible through generosity of Erwin E Smith Foundation
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