Erwin Smith Captured the Cowboy Way in Early Northeast Texas



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Cowboy Henry Lyman and friend out looking for cattle. LS Ranch, Texas, 1907.

Photo by Erwin Evans Smith.

Born in Honey Grove, near Bonham, Texas, on August 22, 1886, Erwin Evans Smith became a celebrated photographer who captured the cowboy life of the American West in the early 1900s. The Fannin County Museum of History in Bonham offers an exhibit of his life and photography and the bulk of his works are part of the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth.

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


Fred “Kid” Bomar waiting with poised gun, and “Rabbit” the cutting horse. Turkey Track Ranch, Texas. 1906.

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. Using unsophisticated lens and shutter and old fashioned film, he experimented with new methods of developing and printing.

His images are said to be some of the best ever done of range life and provide a look at authentic Texas heritage of the early 20th century.  


Photograph of the Matador outfit eating at the chuck wagon at the time Murdo Mackenzie, center with black hat and beard, took over the management of the ranch.

Smith 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 www.fannincountyhistory.org and search collections on cartermuseum.org.


At the extreme right is Henry H. “Paint” Campbell who established the ranch in 1879 with a half-dugout for headquarters. Matador Ranch, Texas. circa 1905-1910.

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