Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Frontier Photographer, Solomon Butcher by Linda Hubalek

The second book in my Grooms with Honor series, Fergus' Honor, debuted recently. I sketched the main character, Fergus Reagan, after reading about Solomon D. Butcher, a well-known photographer who took photographs of Nebraska homesteaders in the 1880s.

Here's Mr. Butcher's biography and samples of his work from the Nebraska State Historical Society.

"Nebraska photographer Solomon D. Butcher produced, over the course of nearly forty years, a record of the settlement of the Great Plains that is both unique and remarkable. Born in 1856 in what was to become the state of West Virginia after the Civil War, Butcher came with his family to the plains of Nebraska in 1880.

This restless young man soon found that he was not up to the rigors of a homesteader's life. He had tasted just enough of it, however, to develop a profound admiration for those with the grit to survive and prosper on the Nebraska prairies. In 1886 Butcher was struck with an idea that was inspired.

Realizing that the period of settlement would soon be over, he set out to create a photographic history of pioneer life. Between 1886 and 1912 Butcher generated a collection of more than 3,000 photographs.

Though he died in 1927 believing himself a total failure, Solomon D. Butcher's work has survived to become the most important chronicle of the saga of homesteading in America."

"One of the more famous Butcher photographs: The Chrisman sisters, 1886. Lizzie Chrisman filed the first of the sisters' homestead claims in 1887. Lutie Chrisman filed the following year. The other two sisters, Jennie Ruth and Hattie, had to wait until they came of age to file. They both filed in 1892."

"The Shores family, near Westerville, Custer County, Nebraska, 1887. Jerry Shores was one of a number of former slaves to settle in Custer County. He took a claim adjacent to that of his brothers, Moses Speese and Henry Webb (each had taken the name of his former owner)."

"The David Hilton family near Sargent, Nebraska. Mrs. Hilton and her eldest daughter were adamant that they not be photographed in front of their sod house, because they wished to send copies of the picture to friends and relatives elsewhere and thought it embarrassing to be seen living in a house of dirt. But they did want to be seen with their new pump organ, so they made Mr. Hilton and the photographer drag the organ out of the house for the photographs, then drag it back in again. "

Butcher's photographs portray frontier life, which future generations would have been hard to imagine. I'm glad they were preserved for us to show what the homesteaders life was like starting over on the Kansas prairie.

Here's the description and order link for Fergus' Honor.  

A sweet historical romance set in 1886.

He's at the right place at the right time to save a woman from falling to her death...but she hadn't planned to survive. Can he convince her life is worth living, with him?

Fergus Reagan's fascination with photography led him to a career of recording people's lives. While in Nebraska photographing homesteaders in front of their humble sod houses, he's at the right place at the right time to save a young woman.

Iris Kerns' suicide attempt was supposed to end her engagement to an abusive man, but her rescuer shows her life is worth living when Fergus takes her home to Clear Creek, Kansas, to help with his new photography studio.

But, the past catches up with Iris, drawing danger to her, Fergus, and his family.

The Grooms with Honor series showcases the six sons of Pastor and Kaitlyn Reagan. The family was first featured in the 1873 year-based Brides with Grit series. Besides the Reagan brothers, the series features other men in their community.

"Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful unto her as long as you both shall live?"

The young men have heard Pastor Reagan say these words to many couples over the years, and they vow to treat all women this way as they walk through life.

Many thanks from the Kansas prairie...
Linda Hubalek


  1. Solomon D. Butcher did such a beautiful job of documenting the settlement of the Plains that I really feel for him that he didn't know what fame would come his way or the importance of his work.
    I am always surprised by how far back photography of historical events began. These photographs make history really come alive for me.
    It must have been difficult for you to write a story that began with a suicidal heroine. You'd have to go pretty dang deep to get those feeling out on the page. As a writer I completely understand how we can be drawn into our own stories. If I hurt someone in a story or kill them, I grieve. If a heroine or hero takes down a villain, I am happy all day. I imagine writing this story was tough for you there in the beginning.
    I wish you every success with FERGUS' HONOR, Linda.

  2. We owe Butcher for documenting such an important part of our history. Thanks for sharing a few of his photos, Linda. Wishing you great success with FERGUS' HONOR.

  3. I love the clarity of the photos. What a treasure to have those. Thanks for sharing with us. I wonder if his photos have ever been exhibited at the Amon Carter in Fort Worth. They have a lot of traveling photo exhibits as well as other western art.

  4. It's interesting to note that they may have had the family organ out and the women were dressed up, but the boys were typical boys and barefoot! Love the pictures.

  5. My name is Sheryl (Butcher) Hadley, and Solomon D. Butcher was my gggrandfather's brother. My gggrandfather is George W. Butcher. He settled in NE too...where a lot of my family still lives today. I'm just beginning my family search, so it was fun to stumble across someone like Solomon who documented much of my family's history in pictures.


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