Amos Bennet, “The Snake King of Colorado”

Amos Snuffin Bennet was born on December 20, 1869 in Omaha, Nebraska to Elisha Bennett III and Esther Ann Snuffin Bennett.  The family moved to Arapaho County in Colorado Territory a few months after his birth.  By 1892, Amos Bennet lived in Axial, Colorado, a town that no longer exists in Moffat County.  Like his peers, A. G. Wallihan and his wife, Mary Augusta Wallihan, Bennet 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.  His  work won second prize in a contest offered by Forest and Stream magazine.  

Amos S. Bennet, photographer. “Wild Game Photos taken expressly for Overman Wheel Co., Denver, 1890s.  History Colorado. Accession #92.11.20.

Bennet excelled as an athlete, riding his bicycle nearly 200 miles over the mountains from Denver to Axial, an early instance of mountain biking.  He wrote an essay about his journey for the August 1893 issue of Sports Afield.  He often took his camera and his rifle along on local rides.  One day while out photographing elk, he later shot an antelope with his rifle.  He slung the more than 200 pound beast over his shoulder, and then rode seven miles back home on his bicycle.  

On another occasion, Bennet crawled on his hands and knees to sneak up on a herd of antelope with his camera.  Bennet reported in Cycling West that “I had crawled about half the distance necessary when suddenly I dimly perceived something gliding right out from under my hand seemingly, and the next instant heard the sharp whir-r-r of a rattlesnake. It is needless to say I stopped right there! When I got my eyes mopped out and could see plainly I was glad I did. To my startled vision the ground ahead of me seemed alive with the reptiles. The whole prairie was one writhing, twisting mass and the air was vibrating like a buzz saw with the alarum of their tails.”  He used his Kodak to courageously capture images of the snakes.  

During the summer of 1897, snake charmer, Harry Davis, hired Bennet to provide rattlesnakes for a Denver display during the festival of Mountain and Plain.  Bennet captured twenty snakes at Fortification Rocks, a location north of Craig, known for its substantial snake population.  Bennet used a five-foot long pole to handle the snakes but Davis wrestled the snakes with his hands, receiving a non-lethal bit on his finger.

On September 28, 1898, Bennet married Alice Belle Caster.  On their wedding trip, the couple visited Meeker and Denver, Colorado.  There is no further mention of Bennet’s photography in the local press.  After his marriage, he worked as an engineer and carpenter.  In 1903, the Bennet’s departed Colorado for points west, settling in Klamath Falls Oregon in 1909.  Two years later, Amos S. Bennet died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the young age of 41.  He left his wife and two young children.  


Thank you to Keegan Martin, Digital Imaging Assistant, History Colorado for providing the scan and Elisabeth Parker, former assistant chief, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress for proof-reading.  


Wildlife Photography by the Wallihans

Allen Grant Wallihan and his wife, Mary Augusta Wallihan lived in sparsely populated northwestern Colorado where they were skilled with both the gun and the camera.  Mary picked up a camera first, but soon both Wallihans shared this passion.  Most publications credit Allen as the photographer and overlook Mary’s involvement, a common occurrence in photographic history, as women photographers were often considered assistants or helpers, rather than working behind the camera.

Mrs. Wallihan
Mrs. Wallihan.  Craig Press, January 31, 2009

Mary Augusta Higgins was born on February 22, 1837, at Oak Creek, Wisconsin to Elihu Higgins and Eliza (Rawson) Higgins. Mary’s father was one of the first settlers at South Milwaukee and Mary was purportedly the first “white child” born at Oak Creek. She married Cullen Farnham on June 1, 1865, at Croton Falls, New York.  The 1870 census lists Cullen and Mary living in Waukesha, WI, with Mary’s parents. In the 1870s, she and her husband were living in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Mary filed for divorce in 1877, claiming that Farnham had abandoned her without financial support. They divorced in 1880 and shortly thereafter she moved to her brother’s ranch in Routt County, CO.

Mule Deer
First Scent of Danger, Plate no. 22, Mule Deer, Buck and Doe.  From Hoofs, Claws and Antlers of the Rocky Mountains.

Mary married Allen G. Wallihan, twenty-two years her junior, on April 16, 1885, at Rawlins, WY.  The couple lived in remote northwestern Colorado, twenty miles from their nearest neighbor.  Mrs. Wallihan learned to shoot a rifle, first to protect herself when her husband was away, but she also became a proficient hunter.  She developed a love for wildlife the led her to acquire a camera from a missionary that she used to photograph the local deer.  She learned the craft of photography from books and manufacturer’s catalogs. 

In 1888, she initiated a project, with her husband, to document Colorado’s widlife, becoming perhaps the earliest wildlife photographers. They used a crude large-format camera on a tripod, taking 4-1/4 x 6-1/2” glass plates.  As they learned more about photography, they upgraded their equipment, purchasing better cameras and lenses, using both 5 x 8” and 8 x 10” cameras.  They printed cyanotype proofs before selecting which negatives to make into finished prints that would be mounted on cards.

Mountain Goats
On Guard. Plate No. 7, Rocky Mountain Goat. From Hoofs, Claws and Antlers of the Rocky Mountains.

The Wallihans produced two compilations of  wildlife photographs, Hoofs, Claws and Antlers of the Rocky Mountains (1894),  with an introduction by Theodore Roosevelt, was published by Frank S. Thayer in Denver.  Camera Shots at Big Game (1901) was published by Doubleday, Page & Co. and also included an introduction by Theodore Roosevelt.  The Wallihan’s photographs were exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition and in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

Mrs. Wallihan died on September 27, 1922, after suffering a stroke.  She was 85 years old.  She is buried near her home in Lay, Colorado.

Allen G. Wallihan was born at Footville, Wisconsin, on June 15, 1859 to Pierce and Lucy (Flower) Wallihan.  He had ten older siblings. Wallihan arrived in Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, and worked unsuccessfully as a miner.  He lived in Colorado Springs and Alpine, before moving to a horse ranch in Routt County in 1882.  He homesteaded on 160 acres in Lay, a small town twenty-two miles west of Craig, where he lived for the remainder of his life.  

Wallihan served as the postmaster of Lay for about fifty years.  He spent the latter part of his career as a U. S. Land Commissioner, surveying, platting, and overseeing the sale of the public lands in the county.  He also owned an interest in a large tract of bituminous coal.  After Mary Wallihan’s death in 1922, Allen married Essaye Cook on September 26, 1927.  Allen G. Wallihan died on December 14, 1935, after a stroke.  He is buried in Lay, CO in a casket he himself made.


Thank you to Beverly Brannan, former curator of photography at the Library of Congress, for proofreading.