One of William Henry Jackson’s first jobs was as a photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad, which took him to many of the historic sites along the overland trails in Nebraska, including Scotts Bluff. Today, visitors can follow a hiking trail past Eagle Rock through Mitchell Pass, parallel to the original Oregon Trail. – COURTESY NPS.GOV –
William Henry Jackson learned how to retouch photographs when he was only 15 and found a job in a photographer’s studio in New York. He furthered his understanding of the art of photography while working in a studio in Rutland, Vermont, before serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He returned to photography after that war and found work in Style’s Photographic Gallery in Burlington, Vermont.
Jackson went West in the spring of 1866, arriving in Nebraska City, Nebraska, where he found a job working for a freighting company hauling goods to Montana’s mining country. His route took him along the Oregon Trail, where his artistic endeavors included sketching points along the trail. He spent two years traveling the trails and sketching before he opened a photographic studio of his own in Omaha.
Jackson’s selection of a new base for his photography put him in the perfect location to find work taking photographs of the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, and that opened the door for him to travel in 1871 with Ferdinand Hayden’s Geologic Survey.
We’ll begin following Jackson’s trail at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which has on display transcontinental railroad construction photographs, including some taken by Jackson, along with a firearms collection, display of railroad signals and lanterns, and one of the three ceremonial spikes used when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific were joined at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869.
The Durham Museum in Omaha, located in the beautiful Union Station has a wide variety of exhibits including train cars. Railroad Town at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska, is definitely worth a stop on the drive west from Omaha to Scotts Bluff National Monument. The monument, one of the most significant along the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express national historic trails, is fortunate to have the largest collection of original work by William Henry Jackson.
The monument’s archive includes the multi-talented Jackson’s drawings, paintings, and photographs. Displays include reproductions since many of the original images are fragile, and there have been some closures of the visitor center during 2020. These images, many of which can also be viewed digitally at WHJCollection.com, shows the full depth of Jackson’s work.
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