Photographers in Routt County, Colorado

This blog post presents a chronological listing of photographers who had studios in Routt  County in the 19th century.  (In 1911, the western portion of Routt County split off to form Moffat County.) More detailed posts for some of these photographers are available on the blog.

Routt and Moffat Counties are located in the northwest corner of Colorado, best known for the Steamboat Springs ski resort.   Even today, the counties are a bit off the beaten path, located about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Denver, even longer in snowy weather.

In the 1890s, the population fluctuated between 2,500 and 3,600 people, compared with about 25,000 today.  A few locals set up studios in Craig and Steamboat, but most ceased operation after a few years.  Given the scarcity of residents in the 19th century, traveling photographers provided an incentive for locals to have their portraits made.  Some photographers, like George McDonald, had mounts printed especially for their stay.  Others likely used mounts from their home base, making it difficult to determine if the photographs were made in Colorado or if the people traveled to other states to have their portraits made.

1892                                                                                                                           Luke & Haskinson, a partnership of Wellington O. Luke and an unknown person named Haskinson, active in Craig, CO.


Amos Snuffin Bennet lived in Axial, Colorado, a now-extinct town in Moffat County.  He specialized in making photographs of wild game, landscapes and portraits.  Bennet often served as a guide to hunters and fishermen visiting the area, photographically documenting their adventures.


Mary Augusta and Allen Grant Wallihan, were the most prominent photographers of the area.  They produced two compilations of  wildlife photographs, Hoofs, Claws and Antlers of the Rocky Mountains (1894) and Camera Shots at Big Game (1901), both with introductions by Theodore Roosevelt.  The Wallihan’s photographs were exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition and in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.


Man in bed
G. W. McDonald, photographer. Unidentified man in bed. Museum of Northwest Colorado, 2012.004.31

George Willis McDonald (b.c.1862-1911)  was born in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada around 1862.  In 1890, he began his photographic career in Denver, Colorado with a studio at 1206 Larimer Street.  In 1893, he ran a branch studio in Georgetown, Colorado and in July 1894, he worked in Steamboat Springs.  McDonald maintained a photo studio in Denver until his death in November 1911.

Mrs. Ada Edgar Wither (b. 1870?)                       Ada Edgar married Peter Richie Wither at Hahn’s Peak on November 15, 1890.  They lived in Steamboat Springs through 1894.  Ada worked as a photographer in Steamboat.  By 1895 the couple lived in Denver.  The couple divorced by 1900.  On February 7, 1900, Ada married Lewis C. Davis in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  They lived in Erie Colorado.


Two people on bicycles
W. J. Johnston, photographer. Portrait of Hugh McKenna (1869-1930) and wife, 1890s.  Museum of Northwest Colorado, 2015.005.305.

William James Johnston was born in January 1857 in Portsmouth, Ontario. As a young man, he moved to Wyoming, settling in Green River as a photographer.  He partnered with Charles Baker, as Baker & Johnston in Evanston, WY.  Johnston worked as a photographer in Wyoming throughout the 1890s.  He traveled to Meeker, Craig and Hayden, Colorado in 1895.    

In 1904, Johnston patented the Cirkit panoramic camera.  The camera rotates on a tripod and can capture a 360-degree view, excelling in recording group portraits and city views.  He sold his rights to the camera, with the exception of the Canadian rights, before moving home to Ontario.  He founded the Panoramic Camera Company of Canada.  He opened a photo studio on Ontario’s Victoria Street and specialized in panoramic photography.  He remained in Toronto until the early 1920s when he relocated to California to pursue mining interests.  Before the end of the decade, Johnston was back in Ontario.  He retired from photography in 1930.  He died in October 1941. He is buried at St. John’s Norway Cemetery in Ontario.


Aaron August Brown, photographer. Hinman Children: clockwise starting at top: Mary Alve Retta, Hattie Georgia, Leone, Edward, Abbie, and Helen. Museum of Northwest Colorado, 2012.004.617.

Aaron August Brown                                               Aaron August Tägtström was born in Sweden on July 1, 1860.  In 1887 he immigrated to the United States and changed his surname to Brown.  Having learned photography in Sweden, Brown set up a studio in Rawlins, Wyoming, one hundred miles north of Craig, Colorado.  Brown traveled to Craig in July 1895, to spend a few days making portraits.  A year later he returned to Craig for ten days, with J. Ernest Ralston as his assistant.  He promised to complete all his orders before they moved on to Hayden and Steamboat Springs.  In 1900, Brown was granted a patent for a bicycle with a motor driven by compressed air.  In 1902, Brown moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he continued to work as a photographer.  The last twenty years of his life were spent in the chiropractic trade.  On September 20, 1929, Aaron August Brown died in San Diego, California.  His remains lie at San Diego’s Greenwood Memorial Park.  


Ninion H. Conley was born on December 14, 1857, in Minnesota.   Conley was based in Primghar, Iowa.  He traveled through northwest Colorado with his tent gallery in 1896, visiting Meeker, Craig and Steamboat.  Two years later, he set up his tent gallery in Osceola and Ely, Nevada.  He returned to Primghar, Iowa where he died on March 13, 1902.  

John Ernest Ralston was born in Indiana.  He worked as a photographer in Iowa before coming to Craig, Colorado in 1896 to assist photographer Aaron A. Brown.  Ralston worked briefly in Boise, Idaho, before settling in Seattle, Washington for the majority of his career.  Between 1904 and 1906, Ralston worked in the studio of Edward S. Curtis, the well-known photographer of Native Americans.  Ralston was an active member of the Photographers’ Association of the Pacific Northwest.  Ralston worked in Seattle until the mid-1940s when he retired from photography.  John Ernest Ralston died on August 7, 1949 in Seattle and was buried in the city’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.

1896-1904                                                                                                               Dan Diamond moved to Craig, Colorado in 1896, where his mother and two brothers resided.  Craig operated a gallery from his home and also set up a photo car for his travels, working in Craig and Steamboat.


Herbert Lincoln States was born on February 16, 1869 in Michigan to George William States and Harriet T. Lincoln States.  In the 1880s, the family moved to Delta, Colorado.  H. L. States married Hattie Almira Castle on November 26, 1887.  By 1894, States operated a photography studio from a tent in Delta.  He accepted grain, butter and eggs for payment.  In October 1895, Frank L. Bishop took over gallery duties.  In 1897, H. L. States settled in New Castle, Colorado.  Later that year, he photographed the aftermath of Colorado’s worst railroad wreck to date, when a Rio Grande passenger train crashed head-on with a special Colorado Midland stock train.  He spent summers at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, before moving there year-round in 1899.

By 1901, States had left Colorado.  He pursued photography in Provo, Utah, Council, Idaho, Cambridge, Idaho, and Toledo, Oregon.  Herbert L. States died on April 24, 1926 in Cambridge, Idaho.

Herbert Lincoln States, photographer. Steamboat Springs, circa 1899. Museum of Northwest Colorado, 2014.098.009.


Thomas E. Barnhouse (1831-1911), a prolific photographer based in Grand Junction, Colorado set up his tent gallery in Steamboat in August 1899.  Barnhouse, a Civil War veteran, had a long career as a photographer.  His life will be profiled in a future blog post.


Group of women
Ed Rodstrom, photographer. Group of women including Cassie Finley (bottom left corner) and Cullie Melugin (bottom right corner) Museum of Northwest Colorado, 2016.091.002.

Carl Edward “Ed” Rodstrom was born on March 3, 1875 in Hobart, Indiana to Swedish immigrants Ingel Rådström and Anna Christine Davidson Rådström.  Around 1880, the family moved to a farm in Prairie, Nebraska.

Ed Rodstrom learned photography in Holdrege, Nebraska.  He would pursue a life-long career in photography traveling through Nebraska, northern Colorado, and Kansas, before settling in Dallas, Texas.  Rodstrom died on February 9, 1970 in Dallas.  His older sister Lydia ran a photo studio in Omaha, Nebraska for many years.


Thank you to Daniel Davidson, Director, Museum of Northwest Colorado, for extensive research assistance and Naylen Wheat, Office Manager/Registrar, for providing the scans,