Warren County Historical Society Presents …

The Digital Version “REWIND”

May 1, 2017



Yellowstone Photographer

A young man from upstate New York is key in inspiring the birth of our

National Parks.


     2016 was the 100th anniversary of our National Parks.  While others, such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Perkins Marsh & Co. were influential in the foundation of the potential parks, there was another young artist and photographer, from the east, who inspired the establishment of the first National Park. His photographs of the Yellowstone area were presented to legislators who were so astounded with the portfolio’s beauty that the only conclusion was, ‘preservation of this land’ is necessary.

     This pioneer was WILLIAM HENRY JACKSKON, born in Keeseville, New York on April 4, 1843.  William was the first of seven children born to George Hallock Jackson and Harriet Maria Allen.  William’s mother was a talented watercolorist, a graduate of the Troy Female Academy and the Emma Willard School.  William’s passion was painting and by age 19 he had become a skillful artist.  After his childhood in Troy, New York, and Rutland Vermont, he enlisted in October 1862 as a private in Company K of the 12th Vermont Infantry of the Union Army.

     His Army career was spent sketching various scenes of Army life; he served 9 months, saw one battle – the Battle of Gettysburg – and he was mustered out on July 14, 1863.  Jackson returned to Rutland and, having broken his engagement to Miss Carolina Eastman, he left for the West.

     In 1866 he boarded a Union Pacific Railroad train, to the end of its line, joined a wagon train heading west to Great Salt Lake as a bullwhacker on the Oregon Trail.  He wandered the Oregon trail and eventually opened a photographic studio with his brother Edward, in Omaha in 1867.  He acted as a “missionary to the Indians” around the Omaha region, and produced  his famous photographs of  the American Indians:  Osages, Otoes, Pawnees, Winnebagoes and Omahas, during this time.  [bullwhacker – a driver of an ox wagon or other heavy freight wagon especially in the settlement of the west.]

Wm Henry Jackson developing photographs on site. Photo courtesy of Life Magazine.


     Photography was difficult in those days the COLLODION-COATED glass negatives were bulky, gooey and cumbersome.  Jackson hauled some 300 pounds of equipment to sites, photographing the new Pacific Railroad line.  Around this time (1869) Ferdinand Hayden organized an exploration of the Yellowstone region  Hayden had heard of Jackson’s acclaimed photographs and asked him to join the exhibition as a documentarian.  Among the expedition was painter Thomas Moran, geologist George Allen, mineralogist Albert Peale, topographical artist Henry Elliot, botanists and other scientist who collected numerous wildlife specimens and other natural data.

Jackson was always looking for the best place to get the perfect shot. Photo courtesy of Life Magazine.


     Jackson’s accomplishments were many.  He photographed the Yellowstone region, Colorado’s Rockies as well as the Mount of the Holy Cross, Ute Indians, and the Anasazi dwellings at Mesa Verde Colorado.  From 1890 to 1892 Jackson produced photographs for many railroads, such as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and New York Central.  The B&O used his photographs in their exhibition at the World’s Columbian Exposition.


Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska houses the largest collection of Jackson’s paintings in the world.  In 1897 he sold his entire stock of negatives to the Detroit Publishing Company and joined the Company as President.  In 1932 the Company’s assets were liquidated.  Today Jackson’s Detroit photographs are housed at the U.S. Library of Congress.  Jackson moved to Washington, D.C. in 1924 and produced murals of the Old West for the U.S. Department of the Interior building.  He also acted as a technical advisor for the filming of “Gone with the Wind.”

Jackson liked to include people in his photographs to give the viewer perspective of the vastness of the landscape. Photo courtesy of Life Magazine.


One of Jackson’s paintings of Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of Life Magazine.

     In his autobiography, Jackson recalled that there was another photographer who had recorded Yellowstone at about the same time he had, but the other’s work was lost in Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871.  “That my pictures were the only ones published,” wrote Jackson “is something for which I have to thank Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.”

      Jackson lived to the age of 99 when he died in New York City on June 30, 1942. William Henry Jackson is buried at Arlington Cemetery.


Photograph courtesy of Wikopedia.

This article was written by Judy Melkonian for the Warren County Historical Society

Research material and photo sources include:


Life Magazine’s special issue:  Our National Parks Vol 3, No.4, 2003.


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