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Erwin E. Smith Photographs of American Cowboy and Ranch Life, 1905-1912, in the Library of Congress

This guide gives an overview of more than 1,500 photographic prints by Erwin E. Smith in the Prints & Photographs Division. The photos show ranch life and wild west shows in the U.S. Southwest. The guide includes sample images and related resources.


Photo shows cowboy seated next to his horse on a hill, looking down at other horses
Erwin E. Smith, photographer. The horse wrangler. Copyrighted 1910 June 24. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Erwin E. Smith's photographs portray American cowboy and ranch life in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the early 1900s. The more than 1,500 photographic prints in the Prints & Photographs Division include original prints that Smith submitted for copyright deposit, as well as copy prints made from Smith's original negatives.


Between 1908 and 1910, Smith submitted vintage photographic prints for copyright. Twenty-seven prints (as well as some duplicates) were later transferred to the Prints & Photographs Division (P&P) from the U.S. Copyright Office.

In 1949 the Library received approximately 1,600 original glass and nitrate film negatives (comprising the bulk of Smith's entire body of work) from his sister Mary Alice Pettis. Eager to make the collection available to researchers, the Library quickly made reference copies for most of the images by printing the original negatives.

When the Pettis gift came to the Library, however, the negatives were not organized or labeled beyond cryptic numbers and basic identifications. To make sense of the images, Pettis appealed to George Pattullo, the writer and news correspondent who accompanied Smith on many of his photographic travels (and who probably took the photographs of Smith found in the collection), to assist in the cataloging process. The 70-year old Pattullo studied copies of the photographs sent to him by the Library and provided most of the information used by P&P staff to devise new captions and categories.

In 1986, at the request of Pettis, the Library transferred the original negatives to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, but retained the prints and copy negatives.