12 photos
Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947)

Often referred to as "one of the greatest photographers of cowboy life,” Smith created engaging and action-filled images of cowboys and ranch life that have come to symbolize the universal western cowboy type.

Born and bred in Texas, he was introduced to cowboys and cattle ranching at an early age. As a teenager, worked as a cowhand and carried a camera with him to document the lives of cowboys, presenting as true a portrayal as possible. Of this period, Smith would say, "As well as I like works of art I don't believe I would have resorted to art as a profession if it had not been for the disappearance of Western life which awakened in me a desire to dedicate my observations, as it is a last resort to recall those stirring scenes."

Between 1905 and 1912, Smith spent his summers photographing on the ranges in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, creating a body of work that remains some of the best of its kind. During this time, he documented ranch owners, trail bosses, bronc-busters, and day-to-day life of the cowboy, including trail drives, roundups, chores, and recreation. Not impressed with artists and photographers who exaggerated and romanticized cowboy life, he tried to create an authentic record, which accurately captured the lifestyle, from daily life to clothing, and tools.

Bonham, TX - Bronco Buster, 1907

Bonham, TX - Bronco Buster, 1907

Bonham, TX - Chuck Wagon on the Move, 1906

Bonham, TX - Chuck Wagon on the Move, 1906

Tascosa, TX - Cutting Out From the Herd

Tascosa, TX - Cutting Out From the Herd

Tascosa, TX - Map in the Sand, 1907

Tascosa, TX - Map in the Sand, 1907

Bonham, TX - Erwin E. Smith on Bucking Bronco.

Bonham, TX - Erwin E. Smith on Bucking Bronco.

Bonham, TX - Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer

Bonham, TX - Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer

Bonham, TX - Horse Wrangler

Bonham, TX - Horse Wrangler

Tascosa, TX - Rocky Trail, 1907

Tascosa, TX - Rocky Trail, 1907

Bonham, TX - Saddling the Bronc, 1907

Bonham, TX - Saddling the Bronc, 1907

Bonham, TX - The Stray Man, 1907

Bonham, TX - The Stray Man, 1907

Tascosa, TX - Taking a Break

Tascosa, TX - Taking a Break

Fighting It Out in Texas

Fighting It Out in Texas