During my time in the Special collections and university archives ministry, I have had the privilege and responsibility of mounting or assisting in the development of exhibits for our ministry. Exhibits are a way to show our users and community the material we have on a specific subject or theme. Each exhibit area often tells its own story about Nevada’s history or culture. We use material appropriate for this theme from all our collecting areas: collections of manuscripts, books, photographs, maps, drawings, publications and others. By using these different materials, we can tell a more complete story to those viewing the exhibit, as well as demonstrate the types of materials we have that can be used by anyone interested.
We are not able to be as thorough as we would often like for certain exhibits, as we rely on the documents we collect from those who donate their personal or family papers, or the records of organizations or of companies. Documents may be incomplete because they have not been kept over the years. For example, people move or family members die and materials are thrown away. Disasters occur that ruin papers and photographs. The preserved objects come from different generations and the memories of the details have disappeared by the time they are given to us.
This fact is especially true when examining photographs. We receive many photographs that have little or no identification about them. This is very frustrating as we want to be as specific as possible with our information. Sometimes we can use the collateral material that might come with the photos to see what we can uncover, but often the photos come on their own. It’s up to us to try to figure out who the people are, what the event is, who took the photo, and when the photo was taken. An advantage is that the image was taken by a professional photographer because the photo can be tagged somewhere with that person’s name. This can be a start!
The mining exhibit currently on display at the Knowledge Center includes a very large reproduction photograph of Gould and Curry Mining Company miners posing for a group photo. What can this photograph tell us? The four rows of miners are most likely preparing to descend into the mines for their shift but were stopped to commemorate their work by the photographer. The photographer brought them closer to each other to integrate them as well as possible. There are 33 men who are either seated on the ground in the first row, seated in the second row and standing in the 3rd and 4and Lines. Some of the men have their lunch buckets and one has a lantern that he will take underground with him. Most men are dressed for their dirty work with a layered shirt or two. They wear different types of hats covering each head, some with brims, others more like a cap, except for one man in the 3rd row that does not wear a hat. He sports a white shirt and vest on which a watch chain can be seen. He’s not dressed to go underground, so he probably works in the office. As was the custom in the late 1800s, the men all sport mustaches or beards.
There are parasites among the rows of men. We can see parts of two people standing to the left of the back row. Are they more of a team worker who didn’t show up on time and just decided to have their picture taken at the last minute? Maybe rambunctious teenagers crush the shot? Some men have children with them. There is a girl in the front row on the left, wearing a frilly blouse, and three boys on the right in the first and second rows, sitting or standing near whom we assume are their fathers. And next to the boys in that front row is a big black dog with a white chest wearing a hat! The hat was probably placed there by the smiling man whose hat is missing, holding the boy in the front row.
The image was taken by James H. Crockwell probably around 1888 or 1889. Crockwell had a photographic studio on C Street in Virginia City during those years. He traveled all over Nevada and also Utah to take pictures of mining camps. He closed his Virginia City studio in 1889 after his daughter died in a studio fire. While he had worked with other photographers in Nevada and Utah in the 1880s, after this tragedy he moved and set up another studio in Salt Lake City. He became Utah’s official photographer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Born in Iowa in 1855, he retired from photography in 1900 and died in Alameda, California in 1933.
The photo was probably not a spur of the moment Crockwell took. He had to arrange with the superintendent of the mining company to have the workers available for the group photo, and this information had to be given to the men on the day and time the photo would be taken. Knowing that this information may have given some of the men, or their wives, the idea to bring their children. But who brought the dog?
This picture is one of my favorite pictures because there is humor in the picture. I appreciate the man who anointed the animal with his hat. Crockwell allowed the dog to remain in the photo, being part of the community he was documenting. The presence of a dog wearing a hat in the group gives the photo a certain lightness, a certain humanity in contrast to the dangerous underground work that the men were soon to undertake for their employer. But I often wonder about this dog. Was he one of the worker’s dogs? Was he just wandering the mining company grounds and following the workers? Or did the dog belong to our photographer James Crockwell?
It’s not uncommon to see dogs included in these photos around the same time. Indeed, dogs have been part of our lives for centuries since they were domesticated. People have had a strong bond with their dogs due to their loyalty as well as their ability to herd and serve as hunters. Many dogs came west in wagons during the California Rush and then on the train. Who could leave their pet behind?
A pair of photographs leads me to believe that another photographer was accompanied by his dog on his photography trips. Romanzo E. (RE) Wood was an itinerant photographer who took pictures of landscapes with his stereo camera. Based in California, he took images around Marysville and Tahoe and the surrounding area from around 1875 to 1905. In his “Views of Lake Tahoe and Vicinity” series of stereographs, there are two views which show the same black dog in the foreground. In his Photo “Boom of the logs”, the logs are towed by a steamer near the edge of Lake Tahoe. A black dog lies with his back to the camera on the shore. In “Scenes at Tallac–Yanks–No. 3”, this black dog is again in the foreground. Another woman is sitting with her back against a tree with a dog sitting beside her and two men standing at the background among the trees Thanks to the digital work of staff at the Merriam Library, California State University, Chico, where the RE Wood Collection is located, we know that the photo was taken in Pacific Grove, and we know the name of the dog! Their copy of this same image is annotated by Wood who says: “Old Bate Noir, the dog Cleo [Wood’s daughter] named, is at the front and he is a good dog !! »
James Crockwell took another photo at the Gould and Curry mine from another shift. We don’t know if it’s a later shift the same day or not, but it has a different, more formal feeling perhaps. This time, there are 42 men in the group. They still sport mustaches and beards. They wear hats and caps. More men have their lunch or dinner buckets in their hands and one is holding a lantern. A man, probably from the Bureau of Mines, is dressed in his suit and jacket in the upper right row. But there are no children present. The only dog you can see is the head of a sleeping one who is lying at the edge of the photo next to the man on the far right in the front row. It’s not the same hat-wearing dog we’ve seen before.
James Crockwell took group photos of miners at other Comstock companies. The photographs show men similarly dressed in their working clothes, many with their buckets and lanterns, most with hats and caps, and lots of facial hair. Only the one on the first shift at the Chollar mine again includes children. But none of them include another dog, wearing a hat or otherwise. I’m sorry not to see this good-natured dog again.