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William Henry Jackson
Photographing in High Places
Cowan's Auctions, Inc
2006, Spring Americana, May 10, 11 & 12, Lot: 649
On Department of the Interior U.S.G.S. mount, 11 x 14 in., titled in negative Photographing in High Places, with Jackson's credit line, Wyoming, 1872.
The 1872 survey employed the largest field crew yet; 61 men were divided into two divisions. Hayden led one group into Yellowstone, while James Stevenson led the other party into the Snake River country, which included Teton Basin and Jackson Hole. Snake River Division members included the following people: Professor Frank Bradley, chief geologist; Gustavus Bechler, topographer; John Merle Coulter, botanist; C. Hart Merriam, ornithologist; and William H. Jackson, photographer. The Hayden Surveys provided experience and exposure for men who would distinguish themselves in their fields. The 1872 survey was notable also for the number of political appointees included in the expedition; the packers and guides referred to them as "pilgrims." While some carried their weight, others did not. Hayden, mindful of future funding, cultivated the favor of politicians by accepting these pilgrims.
The Snake River Division left Ogden, Utah, on June 24, 1872, and reached Fort Hall, Idaho, on July 3. From Fort Hall, Stevenson led the division into Teton Basin, formerly called Pierre's Hole. They spent two weeks surveying the basin and mapping the Teton Range. Two notable events occurred: N. P. Langford and James Stevenson made the first ascent of the Grand Teton, and William H. Jackson took the first photographs of the Grand, Middle and South Teton. Hayden reported the ascent by Langford and Stevenson in the introduction of his 1872 report, stating so far as we can ascertain they are the only white men that ever reached its summit. Langford also wrote an account of the climb for Scribner's Monthly. Their claim went unchallenged until 1898, when Franklin Spalding, Jack Shive, Frank Petersen, and William O. Owen reached the summit. Owen challenged Langford's claim for reasons discussed in another chapter of this study, launching a controversy that still flares up periodically today.
Meanwhile, Jackson set out from the camp on Teton Creek to find a suitable vantage point to photograph the Tetons. He recalled that this side trip to the Tetons was really secondary to the main object of the expedition, but by this time Yellowstone had lost something of its novelty, and the Tetons, never before photographed, now became of the first importance, so far as I was concerned. Jackson was accompanied by his assistant, Charley Campbell, John Merle Coulter, the botanist, P J. Beveridge, and a packer named Aleck. They ascended Table Mountain situated to the west of the three Tetons. The mules carried food and camp gear, while Jackson's mule, "Old Molly," hauled his precious photographic equipment. They set up camp at tree line, spent three days exploring the area, and sought a good vantage point for photographic work. While making their way to the summit of Table Mountain, they found their passage blocked by a wall of rock. On one side was a sheer precipice, but on the other a ledge supported a bank of hard snow, 'which offered a passage around the wall.' The snowbank formed a dangerous angle, hanging over a sheer drop of several hundred feet. Deciding the risk was worth the view, they first packed a trail on the snow, then carefully guided their saddle and pack animals across the snowbank. Jackson spent most of the day making 8 x 10-inch, 11 x 14-inch, and stereoscopic negatives. One exposure shows young Jackson kneeling beside his dark tent near an abrupt precipice with the Teton peaks looming on the horizon. He arranged the photograph, while Aleck the packer made the exposure. Jackson's photographs of the Grand Teton are among the most famous of his thousands of remarkable images of the American West. The Grand Teton was revealed to Americans for the first time. After ten days on their own, Jackson's party returned to the main camp.