Monday, March 14, 2016

Pioneer photographer Evelyn J. Cameron, one of immigrant ‘women brave enough, sturdy enough’ to live on Montana's frontier

Photographer Evelyn J. Cameron with wolf pup. (Montana Historical Society)
 Evelyn Jephson Cameron was among the thousands of women who immigrated from Europe in the closing years of the 19th century to help ‘homestead’ the West.

It is written that she gave up a life of wealth and privilege in England when, in her mid-20s, she moved with her husband, British ornithologist Ewen Cameron, to America's frontier in eastern Montana.

Evelyn J Cameron with “Lexie” her favorite camera.
"Evelyn Cameron thrived in two vastly different social strata. A story of surrendered privilege and of hardships known only to those women brave enough, sturdy enough to live on the Montana frontier of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s,” according to the Evelyn Cameron Heritage website.

"The story tells of an amazing woman who befriended wild animals such as coyotes, antelope and wolves. Finally, it’s the story of the birth and evolution of a great American artist – born in the most unlikely place imaginable.”

"She preferred not having servants and reveled in doing her own housework, gardening, and ranch tending. When Ewen and Evelyn's attempt to raise polo ponies failed miserably, Evelyn took to photography as a way to earn a living. From her photographs, it is obvious that she admired the ingenuity and propensity for hard work that characterized the Montana pioneer" (Lucey, xvi).

Cameron photographs her friend, Janet Williams, tending cattle.
Her 35 years of diaries recorded daily life in Prairie County from 1894 until her death at the age of 60 in 1928.

Her written words and thousands of black-and-white photographs (taken and processed under crude conditions) detailed life on the high prairie of Montana at the turn of the 20th century.

According to Montana Public Broadcasting, Cameron "photographed the changing face of Montana horse and cattle drives, sheep herding, the wool trade, the railroad, and the arrival of homesteaders.”

Evelyn Cameron feeding a sparrow hawk (first published in 1908)
Cameron personified the strength and perseverance of early pioneer women. She thrived in the area's rugged beauty and the freedom life on the prairie afforded her as a woman. It was where women and men worked side-by-side to survive under rough and challenging circumstances.

Ornithologist Ewen Cameron with pet wolves, Tussa & Weecharpee.
Cameron would document everything from weddings to immigrant sheep shearing crews, to technological milestones. "To take her pictures, she often rode horseback for 50 miles or more and frequently climbed precipitous mountains on foot with her heavy camera equipment strapped to her back."

A witness to the end of the open range and the height of the railroad, Cameron's view of the prairie is one that should not be missed. You can view hundreds of her photographs at the Evelyn Cameron Heritage in Terry, Montana.

If you go

- Evelyn Cameron Heritage, 212 Laundre Ave., Terry, Montana. (406) 635-4966.

- Information about: Terry, Montana

- Prairie County Fair -- Aug.5-7, 2016

More information on Evelyn Jephson Cameron
- "Evelyn Cameron : Montana's frontier photographer,” by Kristi Hager, (2007).
- "Meetings with Mrs. Collins: Sketches of life and events on Montana's open range; from the diaries of frontier photographer Evelyn Cameron, 1893-1907,” by Colleen Elizabeth Carter, (2008).
- "Evelyn Cameron: Pictures from a Worthy Life” first aired on PBS, Sunday, March 1, 2009. Written, directed, filmed and produced by John Twiggs, KUFM-TV/MontanaPBS.

-- Julianne G. Crane
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(Photo Source: Montana Historical Society. Click on images to enlarge.)

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