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Charles Howard

A private in the Fourth Infantry, Charles Howard served as photographer for the Stanton Expedition in 1877, traveling throughout eastern Wyoming, western Nebraska and into the Black Hills of Dakota Territory.

Early years

Charles Howard was born, according his enlistment record, about 1842 in Rockingham County, Virginia. He enlisted in the army in Cleveland, Ohio on June 16, 1875 and was described as 5 foot 5 inches tall, with hazel eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion. From Cleveland, he was sent to Newport Barracks, Kentucky and then forwarded to Fort Omaha, Nebraska. A musician by trade, Howard was assigned to the Fourth Infantry Band stationed at Fort Bridger, located in the southwestern corner of Wyoming Territory. He left Omaha on September 7 with 158 other recruits and traveled by rail to Carter Station. From there, the company of recruits marched the eleven miles south to Fort Bridger, arriving on the afternoon of September 10, 1875.[1]

Where Private Howard learned his darkroom skills or obtained his camera is not known. He was soon active however, producing landscape views of the Black River Valley and the nearby Church Buttes in the Green River badlands, as well as views of Fort Bridger. Howard also produced tintype portraits for officers, soldiers and their families at the post.

Life for Private Howard at Fort Bridger was probably typical of the experience of most soldiers stationed at frontier posts. Private Howard's duty with the regimental band however did afford him a few privileges and an occasional opportunity to travel off the garrison. In July 1876, for example, he and other bandsmen were invited to Ogden, Utah Territory, to perform at the town's centennial celebration. Private Howard was then granted three days leave in Salt Lake City. Here he could have obtained additional photography supplies at establishments such as the Art Bazaar, the studio of the noted photographer Charles Savage, before returning to Fort Bridger.

The Stanton Expedition

In the spring of 1877, Captain William S. Stanton, Chief Engineer for the Department of the Platte, began preparations for his continued work mapping the major roads in Nebraska and Wyoming. Hearing of Private Howard, Stanton wrote to the commanding officer at Fort Bridger requesting the services of the soldier. "I have thought it would be an excellent opportunity to get a set of photographic views of the posts and the most characteristic features in the scenery of the regions visited," Stanton wrote, "including views in the Black Hills and at the large Indian encampments." The engineering officer also noted that the photographic expedition might also be "to the advantage and perhaps profit of the man himself."[2]

Private Howard was detailed for duty with the expedition, departing Fort Bridger on June 27, 1877. His camera, chemicals and developing equipment were forwarded to Cheyenne shortly afterward, where the expedition assembled on July 5 to make final preparations for their departure. In Cheyenne, Howard produced his first photographs of the expedition, including a view of the Cheyenne Army Depot. From this collection of warehouses, army supplies were unloaded from rail cars and shipped overland to military posts throughout Wyoming. He also made a least four images at nearby Fort D. A. Russell. Stanton's expedition departed on July 11, mapping the road north towards the Black Hills.[3]

Second Cavalry Camp near Fort Fetterman, Wyoming Territory. Photograph by Private Charles Howard,
September 1877. Courtesy Signal Corps Collection (RG 111), Still Pictures Branch, National Archives.

The expedition spent two weeks at Fort Laramie and then continued north, arriving in Deadwood on August 11. The expedition then surveyed the road west from Deadwood. Shortly after crossing into eastern Wyoming, the expedition camped near Sun Dance Hill, near present Sundance, Wyoming. Several members of the survey part climbed to its summit and Private Howard photographed the prominent landmark. The expedition arrived at Cantonment Reno (Fort McKinney) on August 26, where Howard produced several photographs of the post and its buildings. The expedition then headed south to Fort Fetterman. Arriving on September 4, Howard also produced images of this post. The expedition then headed south to Rock Creek Station on the Union Pacific Railroad and then returned to Fort Laramie.

The Stanton Expedition next traveled to Camp Robinson and the Red Cloud Agency, arriving on September 30 just over three weeks after the famed Oglala war leader Crazy Horse had been fatally bayonetted. Private Howard produced some of his most important images of the expedition during their four days at Camp Robinson. He appears to have also made a quick trip to nearby Camp Sheridan and the Spotted Tail Agency.

The expedition then headed north to the Black Hills again, this time mapping the northern extension of the Sidney-Deadwood trail. They returned along another Black Hills trail, arriving back at Camp Robinson on October 25, the same day that the Oglala left the Red Cloud Agency for their new home on the Missouri River, escorted by two companies of the Third Cavalry. With winter rapidly descending on the northern Great Plains, the Stanton Expedition departed Camp Robinson on October 28, heading south to Sidney Barracks through four to six inches of snow. The weary party arrived in Sidney on November 2 where Private Howard produced one of his final photographs of the expedition. After four months in the field, the soldiers had mapped some thirteen hundred miles of trails through western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming and the Black Hills of Dakota Territory. "I have made quite a collection of negatives this season," Private Howard wrote to a friend at Fort Bridger, "but had a pretty rough trip of it.".[4]

After the Expedition

Following the disbandment of the Stanton Expedition, Private Howard was ordered to Omaha where he remained for some eight months, printing his photographs. By early 1878, he had opened his own photographic studio on Douglas Street and began producing his images as large format prints as well as stereoviews and carte-de-vistas. His catalog of views listed 78 images for sale. While in Omaha, Howard apparently met photographer D. S. Mitchell who had recently established the Great Western Photograph Publishing Company with his partner, Joseph H. McGowan. Howard apparently joined the firm under the name Mitchell, McGowan & Company who marketed and sold Howard's views as a set of 43 stereocards called "Military Posts and Indian Views."

The photographic partnership broke up in the fall of 1878. McGowan moved to North Platte and Mitchell opened a new gallery called the Bee Hive Studio on Sixteenth Street in Omaha. Lacking funds to complete his survey of military roads, Stanton decided not to attempt another summer of field work and released Howard from his service in Omaha. In July 1878, the photographer/soldier was transferred back to his old company, now stationed at Fort Sanders near Laramie, Wyoming. At Fort Sanders, he continued to take photographs and he reprinted many of the original Mitchell, McGowan & Company images, suggesting that he may have kept some of the negatives when the partnership was dissolved.

Charles Howard completed his enlistment and was discharged from the Army in June 1880.[5] What became of him or his negatives after this remains a mystery. No further documentation of this soldier/photographer has yet been found.

Examples of Photographs

Only a small number of Private Howard's original photographs have survived. Here are the known examples:

From Fort Bridger, circa. 1875-77

Black Fork Valley at Fort Bridger. Brigham Young University.
Officers' Quarters, Fort Bridger. American Heritage Center.
Portrait of Nelson and Edgar Carter, Carter Collection, Wyoming State Archives.
Portrait of unidentified child, Carter Collection, Wyoming State Archives.

From Stanton Expedition, 1877

Fort Laramie. Denver Public Library and National Archives.
Old Bedlam, Fort Laramie. American Heritage Center.
Indian Graves near Fort Laramie. Smithsonian Institution.
Sundance Hill. Denver Public Library
Fort McKinney. U.S. Military Academy
Fort Fetterman. Nebraska State Historical Society
Camp of 2nd Cavalry, Fort Fetterman. Three known copies: Signal Corps Collection (RG111), National Archives; Daughters of the US Army Collection (RG315), U.S. Army Military History Institute; private collection.
Group of Officers, Fort Fetterman. American Heritage Center.
Camp Robinson. U.S. Military Academy and South Dakota Historical Society.
Red Cloud Agency. Wyoming State Archives.
Crow Butte. Denver Public Library
Arappahoe Chiefs, 'Group'. Denver Public Library
Gen. Bradley's Quarters, Camp Robinson. Denver Public Library
Group of Officers, Camp Robinson. Denver Public Library
Post Sutler Store, Camp Robinson. Denver Public Library
Red Dog's Village. Nebraska State Historical Society.
Beef Issue, at Red Cloud Agency. Nebraska State Historical Society.
Little Big Man's Tepees, Red Cloud Agency. Smithsonian Institution.
Camp Sheridan, Nebraska. U.S. Military Academy and Smithsonian Institution.
Sioux Village on White River. Smithsonian Institution and Denver Art Museum.
Minneconjoux Village. Denver Art Museum.
Beef Issue at Spotted Tail's Agency, Neb. Princeton University and U.S. Military Academy.
Spotted Tail's Family. U.S. Military Academy and Museum of New Mexico
Crazy Horse's Grave. Bourke Collection, U.S. Military Academy.
Sidney Barracks. Denver Public Library
Unidentified group, possibly of surveyors on Stanton Expedition. Private collection. Sold on ebay Dec. 2007.

From Fort Sanders, circa. 1878-80

Officers Quarters, Fort Sanders, Wyoming. American Heritage Center.
Unidentified 3rd Cavalryman. Private Collection. Published in: Douglas C. McChristian, Uniforms, Arms, and Equipment: The U.S. Army on the Western Frontier, 1880-1892, vol. 1 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007) p. 16 (figure 1.4).

Reprinted Photos by Other Photographers

Portrait of Brigadier General George Crook, taken in January 1877 in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, by D. S. Mitchell. Reprinted by Private Charles Howard. Wyoming State Archives.
Portrait of Young Man Afraid of His Horses, probably taken in the fall of 1877 at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, by D. S. Mitchell. Reprinted by Private Charles Howard. American Heritage Center.
Unidentified Apache. Original image taken on Wheeler Expedition, 1872; reprinted by Charles Howard, Fort Bridger. Cowan Auctions, June 2007.


1. Register of Enlistments, U.S. Army, vol. 74 p. 91 (microcopy 233 roll 39); Regimental Returns, 4th Infantry, National Archives.
2. Stanton to Flint, June 14 and June 15, 1877, Press Copies of Letters Sent, Chief of Engineers Records, Department of Platte (RG 393), National Archives.
3. Details of the expedition's movements is based on "Annual Report of Captain W. S. Stanton, Corps of Engineers, for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1878," Annual Report of the Secretary of War, Appendix RR, serial set volume 1846 (Washington, D.C., 1875.
4. Private Charles Howard to James Carter, dated "Sydney", Neb., Nov. 3, 1877, Carter Papers, private collection.
5. Register of Enlistments, loc. cit.; Federal census for 1880, Fort Sanders, Albany Co., Wyoming (T9 roll 1454 p. 54B), National Archives.


"Soldier With a Camera: Private Charles Howard's Photographic Journey Through Eastern Wyoming, 1877," by Ephriam D. Dickson III, Annals of Wyoming, vol. 77 no. 4 (Autumn 2005) pp. 22-32.
"Crazy Horse's Grave: A Photograph by Private Charles Howard, 1877," by Ephriam D. Dickson III, Little Big Horn Associates Newsletter, vol. XL, no. 1 (Feb. 2006) pp. 4-5.
"Capturing the Lakota Spirit: Photographers at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies," by Ephriam D. Dickson III, Nebraska History, vol. 88 no. 1&2 (Spring-Summer 2007) pp. 2-25.

— Ephriam Dickson

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