Lodge Grass, Montana: 1920. David T. Vernon. Collection consists of 120 film negatives (3 x 1.75 inches and 2.5 x 2.5 inches) and 39 snapshots of various sizes from the collection of David T. Vernon (1901-1976).
David Vernon came west as a 14-year-old working the summer in Yellowstone National Park as a horse wrangler. He returned west in 1920 at the age of 19 working two years cowboying in and around Wyoming and Montana, with his longest stint as a cowboy for Spear-Faddis Cattle Company. Founded in 1903, the Spear-Faddis operation was known as one of the largest cattle organizations in Wyoming and Montana by 1920. Spear-Faddis leased millions of acres of grazing lands, much on the Crow Reservation. Ranch headquarters were in Lodge Grass Montana, located near the border of Wyoming in south-central Montana, on the Crow Indian Reservation. Herd size ranged from 15,000-25,000 head. In 1923 the company was split up among partners. Willis Spear and his two sons later founded the infamous dude ranch Spear-O-Wigwam, which operates to this day in the Bighorn Mountains.
David Vernon’s fascination with photographing the west was born during these early years cowboying and continued throughout his life. He also became fascinated with Native American cultures and peoples but did not begin collecting until later in life. In 1922 Vernon returned to Illinois where he went to art school in Chicago and began a career in commercial art and advertising. Vernon worked as a professional commercial illustrator for the Vogue Wright Advertising Company and eventually ran his own company. At some point, the collecting bug hit Vernon and he began actively collecting and dealing in American Indian items, amassing a tremendous collection of Native American Indian objects. Much of David T. Vernon’s collection was eventually purchased by a foundation supported by the Rockefellers who in turn donated the collection to Grand Teton National Park.
This collection of photos is remarkable for its point of view of a cowboy—not an outsider. We find images representing most facets of day-to-day life of a cowboy, which gives the photos an authenticity rarely seen. Also, the idea that a 20-year-old cowboy would bring his brownie camera to shoot photos of everyday life gives an amateurish charm to the images. Not that they are poor images, they just provide an interesting perspective. Many of the 36 snapshots have annotations on the verso and some of the snaps match with negatives in the collection, but not all. The collection provides a mixture of work-related views with the silliness of young men goofing off. Ten photographs portray a family of Crow Indians, and one might guess this family was Vernon’s introduction and which ultimately led to a life-long fascination with Native Cultures. To the best of my knowledge, none of these images have ever been published and were acquired directly from the Vernon family.
This link (https://andy-nettell.smugmug.com/Spear-Faddis-Ranch/) provides scans for about two-thirds of the negatives. I have converted the negatives digitally into positives. Negatives are all sleeved. Item #177