Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Erwin E. Smith - A Lost World of Cowboys

Erwin Evans Smith was born in Honey Grove, Texas in 1886, but his soon widowed mother remarried and moved him to Bonham, Texas as a small child.  Bonham was the home town of legendary cattleman John Chisum, but real ranch country was about a hundred miles west of there.  Two things were noticed about young Erwin early on.  He was artistic, taking up drawing at age five and photography at age 12, and he was obsessed with becoming a cowboy.  He convinced his stepfather to send him to work on ranches during summer breaks from school.  This continued after he went away to art school in Chicago and Boston, and he became both a competent cowboy and photographer.  Knowing the days of real traditional cowboys were numbered, he made it his business to photograph the lives of the men he worked and lived with.  The fact that he was one of them made his 1908-1912 work all the more poingnant and meaningful.  Today is the first of several series of posts I will be doing featuring his photos.  Below, Mr. Smith on his horse:

I feel a personal connection to Erwin Smith's work for two reasons.  First, I grew up in the remnants of the culture he so beautifully chronicled, and second, he actually photographed at least one blood relative.  My grandmother knew I was gay long before I did and told me when I was about 12 that if I wanted to be happy, I would get an education and get out of West Texas.  I took her advice and don't regret it, but there is a part of me that is still a cowboy.



  1. How incredible! I hope you wrote a journal of sorts, I find the culture fascinating. Funny how the women in our lives know before we do, my Mum told me after my grandmother passed not to worry about Patrick he will be just fine. We were lucky to have them to guide us.

    1. Lucky, indeed. I didn't keep a journal, but I am dictating my memories. It's odd how certain things stand out and other things can trigger memories, most, but not all, pleasant. Smells are a big item. Tack leather, tired horses, singed hair from branding calves, hay, grain stockpiles, and the fragrance of the huisache (type of acacia) trees my grandfather planted around the tack house are all special.

    2. Okay Jerry, when is YOUR book coming out? What a read that would be!

    3. No date yet, but I'm working on it.

  2. I enjoyed this series. Thanks!