Mystique of the Cowboy's Life Lives on, Thanks to Pioneer Photographer


Erwin E. Smith (right) was a famous photographer whose work includes "Punching Broncho [sic]" and "Cowboys Eating Tomatoes."

Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum.

Born in Honey Grove, far northeast Texas, on August 22, 1886, Erwin Smith would become a celebrated photographer who captured the cowboy life of the American West before it vanished.

The Fannin County Museum of History in Bonham offers an exhibit of his life and photography.

Smith grew up in Bonham, exhibiting an intense artistic interest as well as an abiding desire to dress like a real cowboy, as evident in photo. Recognizing the cowboy lifestyle was fading away and after studying art in Boston, he left for West Texas to try to capture the images with canvas and paintbrush.

By age 25, he was fully committed to photographing instead of drawing what he saw in West Texas and parts of New Mexico and Arizona.

He died in 1947 and some 1,800 of his photo negatives were loaned to the Library of Congress. In time, his family gave Smith’s entire collection to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth.

Today, he is considered one of the most important photographers of cowboy life. More on Smith -- including the historical marker at Oakwood Cemetery, Honey Grove, where he was buried in 1947 -- is available at

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