Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Henry T. Hiester finale: High adventure & loose ends

This account of the life and times of master photographer Henry T. Hiester has gone on for four posts and it's about time to wrap it up --- at least for the time being. The earlier posts are: "Chariton's minor role in a master photographer's life," "Henry Hiester's amazingly creative New Mexico years," "Henry T. Hiester's Chariton year, 1884-1886." and "Henry T. Hiester: Death and Texas, 1886-1895."

But there are some loose ends to mention, even though I can't quite tie them off. I'll keep chewing on this now and then to see if anything else turns up.

One loose end is a thesis entitled "A history of the Mescalero Apache Reservation, 1869-1881," completed during 1969 by Lawrence L. Mehren, then a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona. The thesis, when combined with other records, offers some insight into how Henry managed to be in the right place at the right time to capture some of his images, especially those of the Mescalero Apache and Navajo people.

I didn't include references to the thesis in earlier posts because I can't yet reconcile the timelines of an 1874 flatboat trek down the Rio Grande from northern New Mexico to Mesilla (then a major settlement in far southern New Mexico on the banks of the Rio Grande; now a smaller neighbor of Las Cruces) with the timeline Mehren provides for Henry's work on the Mescalero reservation.

Published records of the Department of the Interior's Office of Indian Affairs and other agencies show that Henry was on the U.S. government payroll during three of the years he spent in New Mexico. During 1873, when he was operating a studio in Santa Fe, he was paid $720 for work as night watchman at the Santa Fe Mint. During 1875, he was paid $800 to teach the new Mescalero Agency school; and during 1877, $1,000 to teach the Navajo Agency school.

The teaching jobs most likely were paired with photography on both the Apache and Navajo reservations. Henry's resulting familiarity with people of the reservations goes a long way toward explaining some of the access he enjoyed.

The river jaunt reportedly was launched by Jack Howland and Henry during August of 1874 and concluded 20 days later at Mesilla, perhaps during early September. Both then reportedly set up studios for short times in Mesilla.

However, according to dates cited by Mehren, Henry had been hired as teacher for the new agency school --- requested by tribal leaders --- by July 15, 1874; the school was completed during late September, according to Mehlen, and the first class --- 39 boys and 26 girls --- was enrolled then.

The year 1874 was a tense one on the Mescalero reservation. After attacks by white settlers in the region, hundreds of Apaches had fled the reservation to seek safety in the mountains. It then became the job of the agent, Williamson Crothers, to track them down and convince them to return.

So also during that September, according to Mehren, "Crothers sent Henry T. Heister, the teacher at the agency, and Samuel Smith, formerly the agency butcher, to search for Mescalero bands. After a series of great hardships, during which they lived on horsemeat alone, they located 300 Mescaleros in the Smoky Mountains, 450 miles south of the reservation. Of these, 250 Apaches, who were armed with breech-loading rifles and possessed a large number of horses, agreed to return to the reservation. Several hundred Mescaleros then on the Plains also promised to return as soon as they dressed a sufficient number of buffalo skins to keep them warm on their journey."

A journey of 450 miles on horseback and the return trip would take an extraordinarily long time and would leave Henry little time for school work during the fall of 1874 if the Mehren timeline is accurate. It's also possible that Henry didn't begin his teaching duties until 1875. Whatever the case, this brief account in the Mehren thesis gives some idea of the adventures our photographer friend may have engaged in during his years in New Mexico. The map here locates both the Mescalero and Navajo reservations in relationship to Santa Fe.


I've written earlier about the 1974 donation by Paul Hiester, Henry's nephew, of the Hiester family collection of Henry's work and related items now included in the Henry T. Hiester/Melander Brothers Collection in the Palace of the Governors Photo Archive, New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe. That collection included several images taken in Chariton.

These are described generally in an online inventory, but not specifically enough to tell us exactly what the subjects are.

Folder 8, Box 1, reportedly contains three Hiester portraits and 15 views of Chariton, Iowa. Folder 6, Box 1, contains 10 Boudoir card views of Chariton, Iowa, Texas, a railroad accident and the Hiester family.

I'm willing to bet the "railroad accident" photo involves that locomotive mentioned in an earlier post that derailed during October of 1884 alongside the Lucas County jail.

But if you happen to be in Santa Fe and are feeling up to it, stop at the Palace of the Governors and do us all a favor by finding out exactly what related to Chariton history is in those boxes in New Mexico.


The portrait at the top here, taken in Chariton 1884-1886 by Hiester, turned up last week as I was leafing through a binder box filled with photographs of unknown subjects in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. The back of the carte-de-visite with Henry's faded stamp is at left.

Are there other Hiester images in the collection? Maybe --- but our photo catalog leaves a lot to be desired and there's really no way to tell short of going through the collection photograph by photograph --- and there are hundreds of them.

Although Henry's stay in Chariton was brief, he most likely took hundreds of images. But how many of them have survived?

The situation is complicated by the fact many of our photographs from that era are embedded in family albums and there's risk of damaging a photograph, an album or both if attempts are made to remove them. But we're certainly going to keep our eyes open for Hiester images in the future.

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