A part of photographer Andrew Joseph Russell’s collection “Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery,” we have this historic photograph showing the construction of railroad lines in Green River Valley in Wyoming. In the backdrop is the landmark Citadel Rock. What is iconic about Russell’s photograph is that it captures a historic moment: railroad construction across the USA.
During the 19th century, railroads spread across the USA. We see the construction workers as well as the smoke of the arriving train. Yet, also in the background, there is the interesting rock formation of Citadel Rock.
This guy is a legendary figure from the Wild West — Bass Reeves. This gentleman was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford Country, Arkansas. After the 13th amendment was passed, Reeves became a free man. Interestingly, his time with the Native population landed Reeves his first job as a tour guide of Native territory.
What makes Reeves a legendary figure is that he became the first deputy US marshal of African descent. He quickly rose up in the ranks because of his solid reputation in law enforcement. All in all, he made 3000 arrests of dangerous criminals.
Horse theft was a serious thing back in the Old West. No one knew this better than Belle Starr, who would eventually be arrested for this crime in 1883. Starr would go down in US history as one of the most famous female outlaws.
While it is not clear what part she played in the crimes her gang committed, she ran in the same circles as Jesse James and the Younger Brothers gang. Whether she was a mastermind criminal or simply guilty by association, Starr styled herself as a Queen bandit, because she dressed in velvet, feathers, or buckskin.
This is probably one of the grisliest photographs in the collection. It is a reminder of some of the darker times of the Old West. During the mid-19th century, there was a great demand for bison bones. In this photo, we confront the true reality of that demand. Herds of bison were eradicated, resulting in a graveyard of massive proportions.
Here we see thousands upon thousands of bison skulls laying upon one another forming a mountain. And the reason for this massive extinction? Well, in this case, was fertilizer. Bison bones were ground up and sold across for fertilizer.
Black Cowboys on Horseback
One of the more obvious stereotypes of the Wild West is cowboys. However, one of the lesser-known facts of this period was African American cowboys. While the photographer of this picture is unknown, we know it was taken in 1880. These African American cowboys are suited out in their cowboy gear: jeans, leather gloves, bandana or scarf, and the stereotypical cowboy hat.
They are clearly professional cowboys because they are comfortably posing for this photo while being on horseback.