An Inventory of the 1874 Buffalo Hunt Photograph Collection at the Texas State Archives, 1874
George Robertson was an Austin-area photographer employed by William Oliphant during the 1870s. The two met in 1868 working in the Washington D.C. gallery of Alexander Gardner, noted photographer of the Civil War era. In 1872, Robertson came to Austin in order to work in Oliphant's studio on Pecan (now Sixth) Street. In 1874, he accompanied a buffalo hunting expedition to the Buffalo Gap area of Taylor County, Texas. The stereoscopic photographs of this expedition were published by Oliphant in his popular series, Life on the Frontier. Eventually, Robertson also went along with a geographical survey of Texas to take photographs for the same series. Nothing else is known about Robertson, though he may have operated a photography gallery in Brenham in the late 1870s.
In 1873 a group of assorted adventurers and frontiersmen led by Theodore Tuschinski and Newton Mayfield assembled in Austin to undertake a copper-mining expedition to the unsettled area of the Texas Plains around Wichita Falls. The expedition was a financial failure, and in order to recoup the losses of the stockholders, Mayfield agreed to lead the men on a buffalo-hunting trip back into the Plains region. At that time, buffalo meat was much in demand in Texas markets, and hides could be sold for high prices in Texas and farther east. As provisions were prepared, prominent Austin photographer William James Oliphant assigned Robertson to the group, in order to document the trip for Life on the Frontier.
In January 1874, the group set out from Austin in four wagons to the northwest. They traveled 120 miles beyond the frontier post of Fort Griffin to Buffalo Gap, a north-south gap in the hills of the Callahan Divide. Over the next two months, the expedition camped twice in different areas of the gap, and hunted the herds of buffalo that traveled through. The group spent its days killing and processing buffalo for their hides and meat, as well as smaller numbers of deer, skunk, badger, and wolf. When the storage in the wagons was filled to capacity, the group struck camp and headed east 300 miles to Waco. There, they sold their hides and meat for approximately $1300, which amounted to about $100 per participant after paying expenses.
(Sources include: Webb, Walter Prescott. "A Texas Buffalo Hunt with Original Photographs,"Holland's Magazine (October 1927): 10-11, 102; Webb, Walter Prescott. "Buffalo Hunt"True West (January-February 1961): 6-9, 36-39; Curlee, Kendall. "Robertson, George", The Handbook of Texas Online, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frocw; website viewed on May 8, 2013.)
William James Oliphant was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on September 30, 1845. Oliphant moved with his family to Austin, Texas in January, 1853, where his father was a prominent jeweler on Pecan (now Sixth) Street. Upon the onset of the Civil War in 1861, fifteen-year-old Oliphant lied about his age and enlisted in Company G, Sixth Texas Infantry, Army of Tennessee. During the war, Oliphant was shot at least seven times and captured twice. Upon returning to Austin in 1865, he began a career as a photographer, studying the craft at the studio of Stone and Waggoner, which was located above his father’s jewelry shop on Pecan. Opening up his own shop at that location in 1868, Oliphant traveled that year to Washington D.C., to study with famed photographer Alexander Gardner. It was in Gardner's employ that Oliphant met fellow student George Robertson, who came to Austin in 1872 to work at the Pecan Street studio. Until he closed it in 1881, Oliphant operated one of Austin's premier photography studios. He specialized in stereoscopic and landscape photography and won six blue ribbons at the Texas State Fair in 1876.
Oliphant retired from photography in 1881, possibly due to the lingering effects of war wounds. He then entered public service in a variety of positions, including chief corresponding clerk of the Texas State Comptroller’s office (1881-1886), deputy collector for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (1887-1890), and a position in the Travis County Tax Assessor's Office (1905-1927). Oliphant was married three times, and one of his four children from his second marriage (Jane Elizabeth) eventually married notable historian of Texas Walter Prescott Webb. Oliphant died at his home on November 11, 1930, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Austin.
(Sources include: Webb, Walter Prescott. "A Texas Buffalo Hunt with Original Photographs,"Holland's Magazine (October 1927): 10-11, 102; Webb, Walter Prescott. "Buffalo Hunt"True West (January-February 1961): 6-9, 36-39; Young III, William Russell. “Oliphant, William James,” The Handbook of Texas Online, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fol10 ; website viewed on May 8, 2013.)
The 1874 Buffalo hunt photograph collection consists of 10 photographs plus film copy media. All the images were originally stereoscopic photographs taken as part of a popular series of approximately 100 pictures published by William James Oliphant, entitled Life on the Frontier. After a period of obscurity, the original glass plate negatives were re-discovered in 1926 by Mabel Brooks of the Texas State Library in the home of Max Wolff, while searching for pictures of nineteenth-century Austin. The silver gelatin modern prints held by the Archives were developed circa 1926 from copy negatives made from the original glass plate negatives. The current location of the original glass negatives is unknown. The pictures comprise scenes from the 1874 hunt for American bison (buffalo) to the region of north central Texas that would become Taylor County, specifically Buffalo Gap. The subjects depicted include the expedition on the move, camp scenes, buffalo skinning, and the processing of the hides and meat. Identified members of the expedition include Robertson, Henry Hoke, John Logan, George Madison, Newton Mayfield, and Emil Oberwetter. Each image consists of one black and white 7x9 inch print, and assorted film copy media.
Restrictions on Access
Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives search room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
Researchers are required to use gloves provided by the State Archives when reviewing photographic material.
(Identify the item), 1874 Buffalo hunt photograph collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: unknown
Accession information is unknown.
EAD finding aid prepared by Jonathan King, May 2013
Texas Digital Archive link by Halley Grogan, August 2016
Photographs described in this finding aid have been digitized and are part of the Texas Digital Archive, available online at https://tsl.access.preservica.com/tda/prints-and-photographs/#buffalo.
Detailed Description of the Collection